Mother: A Game of Fort/Da

The following is a game I created for Ian Schreiber’s Game Design Concepts course.  The assignment was to create a game that introduced children to the concept of grief.  The rules are slightly modified here to incorporate some feedback from others.

Mother: a Game of fort/da

Players: 2 to 4

Materials:

  • One game board
  • Four six-sided dice
  • One “Mother” token

Board:
The board consists of five vertical tracks.  The center track is eight spaces long.  The space on the bottom of this track is labeled da and the space at the top of this track is labeled fort.  Two tracks of six spaces are to either side of the central track.  The spaces are labeled with numbers from 1 to 6, with 1 on the bottom.  These four tracks are labeled “Need.”

Setup:
Each player takes one die and selects one of the four Need tracks.  Players place the die with the number 1 showing up on the space marked 1 on the track they have chosen. The die shows how many happiness points a player has and the track shows how much need for care they require.  The Mother Token is placed on the da space in the central track.  Determine who goes first (if a decision cannot be reached, the youngest player goes first).

Objective:
Gain six happiness points while no other player is on their sixth need space.

On Your Turn:
If you are on the sixth need space when you begin your turn, reduce your happiness points to 1 and move to the first need space.  Your turn ends and play passes to the left.

At the beginning of your turn, your need increases.  Move your die one space forward on your Need track.  In addition, Mother ages.  Move the Mother token forward one space toward fort.  Mother never moves away as a result of your actions, but instead always moves away because of some other action.

After this, you must choose one of the following to perform:

  • Move Mother one space toward da.
  • Gain one point of happiness.
  • Move your die one space back on your Need track.
  • Give another player one point of happiness.
  • Move another player one space back on her Need track.

These are explained below.

Move Mother one space toward da:
Mother gets the strength to live a bit longer.  If you move Mother one space toward da, you must give something up for her.  Move one space forward on your need track OR lose one happiness point.  You may only lose one happiness point if you have more than one.  You may only move forward one space if you are not on the sixth space.

Gain one point of happiness:
If you choose to gain one point of happiness, you must choose to either move yourself or mother forward one space.  You may only move forward one space if you are not on the sixth space.  Remember that Mother does not move forward as a result of your actions.  Instead, this is the realization that Mother has gotten even older.

Move your die one space back on your Need track:
If you choose to move back one space, you must choose to either lose one point of happiness or move mother forward one space.  You may only lose one point of happiness if you have more than one.  Remember that Mother does not move forward as a result of your actions.  Instead, this is the realization that Mother has gotten even older.

Give another player one point of happiness:
If you choose to give another player one point of happiness, you must lose one point of happiness.  You may only take this action if you have more than one point of happiness.

Move another player one space back on her Need track:
If you choose to move another player one space back, you must move one space forward.  You may only take this action if you are not on the sixth space.

At the end of your turn, if Mother is on the board, move back one Need space.  If Mother is on the fort space, Mother is removed from the board and will not return this game.  If there are no players on the sixth space and you have six happiness points, you have gained enough happiness to take care of your siblings and the game is over.

If the game has not ended, play passes to the left.

Ending the Game:
The game ends at the end of a turn.  The following must be true to end the game:

  • No player is currently on her sixth Need space.
  • The player ending her turn has six happiness points.

Optional Variant:
Instead of ending the game, a player removes their die from the board and will never return to the board this game.  The game continues until only one player remains.  That player will never leave the board.  This variant is better used with older children.

Notes:
This game is based on the fort/da game that Freud’s infant grandson would play to cope and play with the loss of his mother.  fort is the German word for “Gone” and da is the German word for “There.”  The child would throw a wooden reel tied to a cord out of sight and say (what was recognized as) “fort” and then he would pull it back and say “da.”  Freud theorized that this play was a coping mechanism, by which the child put the disappearance of his mother under his control.

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