Fun with Pyramids

I recently bought Pyramid Arcade, a big box from Looney Labs that contains no less than 22 board games. Some of them are silly, and some are quite challenging, but they’re all a bit peculiar. Looney players have invented more of their own games that use the same generous set of components, so I thought, why not? What follows are my proposed rules for a new game I call Braces. The name Color Shift has also been suggested.

After playing a test game remotely with a volunteer who also owns Pyramid Arcade, I’ve changed the rules a bit. More changes may follow.


Braces is a two-player game for Looney Labs Pyramid Arcade. It uses the 5×5 plastic board, all of the black and white pyramids (three trees), one tree of the clear pyramids, and also (not initially in play) all of the pyramids of two colors. Giving the red ones to the player with the black pieces and the blue or green ones to the player with the white pieces seems pleasing, but really it doesn’t matter; any colors will work, as long as each player has the complete complement of one color in addition to the blacks or whites. I recommend green rather than blue, because notating a game (see below) works better with (g). A notation of (b) is ambiguous because it could mean either blue or black.

Two number dice and the treehouse die are used, as in many other pyramid games.

Braces is set up rather like a chess-type game, but there is no capturing. Instead, your goal is to transform all nine of your opponent’s pieces from black or white to color. How you do that is described below under “Bracing.” The player who succeeds in transforming all of her opponent’s pieces to color wins immediately.

Initial setup: The black and white players each begin with three trees positioned on the three middle squares on their side of the board. The tree of neutral pyramids is placed on the center square. This poorly lighted photo shows the initial setup:


A stack is a group of two or more pieces located on the same square. Pieces are added to a stack only at the top (except when swapping — see below), and a piece added to the top of a stack must always be the same size as or smaller than the piece below it. That is, a stack always has the larger pieces below any smaller pieces. You can never stack a larger piece on top of a smaller one.

A stack is capped when at least one piece within it belongs to the opponent of the player whose piece is at the top of the stack. A neutral piece at the top of a stack does not cap the stack; if the top piece is neutral, the stack is not capped, even if it was capped before the neutral piece was added.


Players alternate, each in turn rolling the dice and moving one or more pieces based on the dice roll. As in other Pyramid Arcade games, if the two number dice show different numbers, the number of moves you can make is indicated by the larger of the two, and if they’re a double you can optionally re-roll.

Unless other rules intervene, moving a Large costs 3, moving a Medium costs 2, and moving a Small costs 1. Unless you’ve rolled a TIP (or turned a WILD into the TIP), you must use all of the value of the number die; you can’t use just part of it and stop, unless the use of some portion of the roll leaves you with no legal moves. (This is not likely.) You can freely split your movement values between different pieces.

Each player moves her own pieces. The transparent pieces are neutral and can be moved by either player. In general, during your turn the transparent pieces function exactly as if they were your own pieces, except that if you move one onto another piece it doesn’t cap the stack.

Pieces move orthogonally, forward/back or from side to side to an adjacent square. Diagonal moves are allowed only by the AIM action (see below). A piece that is moved twice is allowed to retrace its move, returning to its starting square. Pieces can be stacked to an arbitrary height on the destination square, but a piece can only be stacked on another piece of the same or a larger size. If the number on the die allows it, a stack of pieces that all belong to one player (or are neutral pieces) can be moved as a unit without being pulled apart and put back together: A Large-Medium-Small stack, for instance, consisting entirely of one player’s pieces (with or without neutral pieces, which wouldn’t be part of the move), could be moved a single square by a roll of 6.

A piece that is within a stack but not at the top can be moved normally, leaving the stack, unless one of the opponent’s pieces has capped the stack. If one of your opponent’s pieces has capped the stack, your pieces (but not your opponent’s) require one extra movement value to move (see “Capping,” below).

A piece must end its move either on a vacant square or on top of another piece of the same or larger size. In a multi-square move, each square in the move must be through a square where your piece could stop. For example, a Medium couldn’t move through a square where there is only a Small. The Small would block the movement of the Medium.

Pieces can never move into the middle of a stack; a move onto a non-vacant square must always result in the moving piece being at the top of the stack.


In this game, your goal is to move your pieces in such a way as to transform the opponent’s pieces from black or white to color. You may also find it useful to re-transform one of your own pieces from color to black or white. To do this, you brace the piece that will be transformed. A piece is braced when two of your pieces of the same size as the piece you’re bracing (or one of your pieces and the corresponding neutral piece) are on squares that are orthogonally adjacent to it.

Pieces of different sizes never create a brace. The brace action occurs when the second piece in the brace moves into position, creating the brace. The piece that is braced need not be at the top of its stack.

A piece that is within a stack (at the top, or not) can form half of the brace of another piece that is on an adjacent square. However, the two pieces forming the brace must be on different squares, and a piece cannot brace a different piece that is in its own stack: Bracing occurs only when the two pieces that form the brace are on squares adjacent to the piece being braced.

A piece within a stack that has been capped by the opponent can’t form half of your brace. The opponent’s cap removes your piece’s ability to brace. This limitation does not apply, however, to neutral pieces in a stack that has been capped. Neutral pieces can always help create a brace.

A black or white piece that has been braced is immediately replaced by a color piece of the same size, which is put in the same location. The color piece still belongs to its original player, and can be moved exactly as before.

There is no reason to brace one of the opponent’s color pieces or a neutral piece. Moves that would create such a brace are allowed, but meaningless.

You can brace a piece during a move, replace it with its corresponding piece, and then continue moving the same piece that created the brace.

It is occasionally possible to brace two pieces with a single move. This is allowed. However, they must be on different squares. You can’t brace two pieces within a single stack at the same time. If they’re both in the same stack, you can choose which piece you are bracing.

You can brace one of your own color pieces. This returns it to black or white. This is an important way to avoid losing the game!

Here’s an odd edge case. Other pyramids have been removed to make the situation easy to see. White would like to move the neutral Large from C2 to C3 so as to brace the black Large on D3 and turn it red. The neutral Large can’t be moved to D2 because the blue Small is in the way, so moving to C3 is the only way to do that. But a neutral piece can be used for bracing by either player. If the neutral Large moves from C2 to C3, it will also brace the red Large on B3. Red is the black player’s alternate color, and if black made that move, the red Large on B3 would be re-transformed to black. So is the red Large turned to black at the same time the black Large turns red? Yes.

It will sometimes happen that at the start of your turn, you’re bracing a piece, either your own color piece or one of the opponent’s pieces. You don’t get to switch its color; color transformation occurs only pursuant to a move (or swap) that creates the brace. As a result of this rule, it can be a good defensive move to move a neutral piece next to your own piece of the same size, so that the opponent won’t get to move it to that square and thereby transform your piece.

To win the game you must turn all of your opponent’s pieces from gray-scale to color.


Since the Small pieces can move quite freely, they may all be converted to color rather quickly. At this point they become mainly an annoyance, though they’re good for blocking your opponent’s moves. The swarming action makes them more useful. A swarm of three Smalls (either your own or including a neutral) can transform a medium or large. The same geometric rule as bracing applies: All three of the Smalls must be on squares adjacent to the piece that will be transformed, and they must all be on different squares.


When one of your pieces ends its move atop one of the opponent’s pieces or atop a neutral piece that sits, in turn, above one of the opponent’s pieces, the piece or pieces that are not on top are said to be capped. A neutral piece can end its move atop one of your or your opponent’s pieces; this is not capping, and it has no effect, except to remove a cap if there was one in force, because the piece that was on top is no longer on top.

The rules on capping do not apply to neutral pieces themselves. A neutral piece can always move out of a stack without penalty, no matter what’s on top of the stack.

A piece can be moved out of the middle or bottom of a stack without penalty if the stack consists entirely of pieces belonging to one player and/or neutral pieces. (Note that in the case of a DIG action, this applies to a stack consisting entirely of your opponent’s pieces, with or without neutral pieces.) However, when a piece is in a stack that has been capped by the other player, the piece being moved incurs a penalty of 1 when being moved out of the stack. A Small requires a movement value of 2 to move by 1 square (removing it from the stack) and so on. If the stack is doubly capped by having two of your pieces on top, your opponent’s piece requires a movement value of 2 extra in order to move out of the stack, and so on.

To reiterate, if your piece has been capped, it can’t function as part of a brace.

Treehouse Die Options

Use of the power of the treehouse die in any given move is optional, not required.

TIP (total improvisation permitted): Instead of being constrained by the value on the higher-value number die, you can freely choose any number up to and including 7 for your move. You’re not required to use all 7 of the movement values.

HOP: If you roll a HOP, any pieces that you move during your turn can optionally leap over a single adjacent square for free and land on the next square after it. This is a 2-square move, but it costs only one of the piece’s movement value. For instance, when a Large hops over an intervening square, it has incurred a movement cost of only 3, not 6. A piece can hop over a square where it would not be permitted to stop. For instance, a Large could hop over a square containing only a Small or a stack of Mediums and Smalls. Since the piece that is hopping never occupies the square over which it is hopping, it can’t form a brace from that square. Any or all of the pieces that you move in a given turn can HOP.

SWAP: Before or after moving any of your pieces, you can swap the positions of one of your pieces with one of your opponent’s pieces (or with the neutral piece) of the same size. Pieces within a stack can be swapped. A brace can be created by swapping: The arrival of the piece in its new location is considered a move (though in this case there is no movement cost) with respect to creating a brace. Swapping is a good way to eliminate (or create) a capping situation.

Occasionally it can be advantageous to swap two of your opponents’ pieces, or two of your own. This is permitted. (They still have to be the same size.) If one is a black or white piece and the other is color, this action can put you in position to brace one of the swapped pieces.

Unlike the HOP action, the SWAP action can be performed only once during a given turn.

DIG (do it globally): Instead of moving one of your own pieces or a neutral piece, you can use some or all of your die value to move one or more of your opponent’s pieces. Care is required; if you move the opponent’s piece in such a way as to brace one of your own white or black pieces, your piece will immediately convert to color.

AIM: Any of your moves can be diagonal rather than orthogonal (or a combination, in a multi-square move — one square diagonally, another orthogonally, and so on).

WILD: Take your pick of any of the other five options.

Game Record Notation

To keep a game record or play a remote game over the Internet, I suggest the following notation system. The squares should be indicated using chess algebraic notation, with square a1 at the white player’s near left corner. The columns will be notated a, b, c, d, and e, the rows as 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Pieces will be noted as S (Small), M (Medium), or L (Large). When a piece is transformed, use an X.

To record a move, first, note the treehouse die and numerical die values — for instance, DIG 5/2. Then indicate the moves and any results of the moves, starting with the location of the piece before it is moved — for instance, Sc3-c4-c5. This means that the Small starts on c3 and moves through c4 to c5. Moves by other pieces within a single turn should be separated by semicolons. For instance:

DIG 5/2; Sc3-c4-c5 XSd5; Ma1-a2.

It will occasionally be necessary to indicate which of the pieces of a given type on a given square is being moved. In this situation the color should be added in parentheses — for instance M(w)a1-a2 for a white Medium. (n) or (t) can refer to the transparent neutral pieces, (b) to black, (r) to red, and (g) to green.


Optional rule: In addition to bracing, a piece can be transformed by withdrawing. When two of your pieces of the same size are adjacent to a pyramid at the start of your turn, you can move them both away (assuming you have enough movement value available) in order to transform the pyramid from which they have withdrawn.

Optional rule: A piece within a stack can be used to brace another piece within the same stack.

Optional rule: A piece that has been transformed by the opponent from black or white to color can be braced by the opponent a second time. When a color piece is braced by the opponent, it is captured and removed from the game. At this point, the player who has only two remaining pieces of that size can still re-transform one of them from color to black or white by using the neutral piece of that size, but the opposing player who caused the color piece to be removed from the game can no longer gain a bonus move (or a bonus re-transform) by transforming the other piece(s) of that size to color, since there is no longer a set of three. As a corollary of this optional rule, if all three of your pieces of a given size have been removed from the board while one of the opponent’s pieces of that same size is still black or white, you can no longer win, so your opponent wins.

Optional rule for a longer game: Each player has two colors in addition to black or white. For example, the white player may have green and yellow pieces in reserve, the black player purple and red. To win the game, you must transform each of your opponent’s pieces twice — first from white to green and then from green to yellow. This is likely to be optically messy and therefore confusing, but it’s a reasonable extension of the basic rules. Another option would be that if you’re using two pieces of your original type (black or white) to do the brace, you get to transform the opponent’s piece twice, from white directly to yellow. This is a bit fussy, but it would speed up the game just a bit.

Optional rule: You can transform your opponent’s color piece a second time, turning it transparent (neutral). This can only happen twice during a game for pieces of a given size, because there are only two more sets of transparent pyramids. The point of this rule is that doing it wouldn’t help your opponent (who could still move the transparent, neutral piece just as if it were her own piece), but it will help you, because now you can move it too even when you haven’t rolled a DIG. In addition, your opponent can never use it to cap any of your pieces. Also, your opponent will never be able to re-transform it to black or white, thereby avoiding a game loss. Once it’s transparent, it stays that way.

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