Glass Bead Game

Recently I read Hermann Hesse’s novel “The Glass Bead Game”.  The game is somewhat central to the storyline, but the mechanics are never fully explained.  It’s very complex though – it’s about making new connections between ideas in beautiful new ways.

I imagined what the glass bead game might look like:

There are thirteen columns on the board, with each column representing a musical note, C to C.  The beads not yet in play are off to the right.  The different colors and different symbols give the bead different play mechanics.  Maybe a bead with the symbol for “War” destroys one adjacent bead of the player’s choice when placed on a black square, for instance.  There could also be different interactions depending on the proximity of different beads – there could be an effect when “Mathematics” is placed beside “Astronomy.”

The bead color may indicate the length of a note that will be placed on the musical staff on the bottom.  An orange bead placed in the “F” column could cause a half-note “F” to appear on the staff, for instance.  Basically the players are creating a song together.  They alternate placing beads on the board, and there are multiple boards (that’s the tabs along the top – there’s three now but could be many, many more) going on in the same game.  Each board has its own independent musical voice – the final result is the song created from the combination of each board’s music staff.

Most people would come up with garbage in such a game – it would be a painful sequence of noise, not music, that would come out of most games.  But in “The Glass Bead Game,” the game is incredibly complex and only mastered after years of study and effort, so I think this would be in keeping with the theme.

Obviously I don’t have all the details worked out yet, and doubt I ever will.  But its been a fun thought / game design experiment.


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