There’s an episode of the television show Parks and Recreation where Ben Wyatt, a character feeling stuck in a rut between jobs, creates a tabletop game to keep himself busy. The game, Cones of Dunshire, is a Settlers of Catan-esque board game in which players attempt to build and conquer mini civilizations. It sounds fun, yes, but it doesn’t actually exist. So my friend, Tozzi, made it.
At its absolute simplest, the purpose of the game is to collect four cones. To collect cones, you must first earn sub-cones. To get sub-cones, you need to “build” different structures on the board’s hexagonal spaces, or “hexes.” To build, you roll a certain number of dice of various shapes to determine how much “roll sum” (points, basically) you have to “buy” resources and moves with that turn. But first, you roll four dice to figure out how many dice you roll with during your official roll.
If that sounds convoluted, that’s because it is, but that was part of the joke on Parks and Rec—the game was too complicated for anybody to actually play. But Tozzi, armed with a semi-newfound passion for playing and designing tabletop games, wanted to try it.
No boxed version of the game exists (a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game was launched a few years ago but failed), so Tozzi found a blueprint for the board, 50 pages of game cards and a 30-page PDF outlining the rules, created by game designer Isaac Childres on his website, cephalofair.com. Tozzi spent about 40 hours constructing the game from December to mid-February.
Once it was finished, he gathered seven of us together—“Be warned, though,” he texted. “It’s an all-day game.”
An astute observation from The Architect.
We got together on a cool, rainy Saturday in New Hope. After setting up the board and choosing our avatars—color coordinated with our building pieces and made up mostly of old Pokémon and Nickelodeon toys—we settled in at around noon.
Two hours later, we finished…reading the rules.
Tozzi condensed them into two-page packets, which he handed out to all of us for easy access during the game. Feeling confident enough to at least stumble through a round, we started playing.
Each of us was assigned a character that went along with our avatars: two wizards, a maverick, the arbiter, two warriors, a corporal and a ledgerman. I was a warrior represented by The Flesh from Nickelodeon’s “Action League Now!” shorts (he’s super strong…and super naked). We were each equipped with a variety of at least 60 pieces representing troops, farms, barracks, forts, transportation hubs, industrial corridors and commercial hubs.
The first round was a little slow-going as we all got used to our characters’ abilities and the game’s rolling and building rules. But as each turn progressed, we understood more and more. The game wasn’t super difficult. There were just a lot of elaborate steps, rules and abilities to keep in mind when taking a turn (“So I have to build a farm before anything else?” “So I can’t just plow through Marty’s troops?” “Are the cones a metaphor?” “Has anybody seen the green and yellow four-sided die?!”).
We broke for about an hour to eat and walked to a local burger place after a few turns. A few turns, in this case, were equivalent to several hours, so a dinner break was more than welcome.
When we finished our burgers and milkshakes, though, the walk back was fairly silent. A few turns under our belts, we started to seriously strategize and got right back to business when we sat down again.
I got a little greedy and decided to scavenge one of my friend Dan’s hexes; he immediately paid me back by decimating my army and getting deep into my territory. Marty, the ledgerman—sort of like the game’s banker—raised and lowered resource prices throughout the game. Fans of Parks and Rec might be disappointed to know that he did not keep his hat on when required, though that’s definitely because Tozzi made a hat small enough for a toddler. Arbiter Graham played and traded agriculture cards, all either giving or taking food or farms from whoever played them.
There were some chaos cards played courtesy of the wizards—more than once we were banned from buying resources, building or both for an entire round—but one played toward the end of the game essentially quadrupled the amount of building we were able to do in one turn. We all earned all four sub-cones during that turn, consolidating several hours worth of gameplay into about 45 minutes. It was basically a race to the finish from there.
Ten hours after first roll, we crowned our Lord of Dunshire. We did get restless toward the end, and even toyed with pausing for the night and starting again in the morning, but we pressed on. And I’m glad we did. It was a fun test of friendship, one that I knew we’d pass.
Most of the group we played with has been been friends for almost 15 years—this wasn’t the first board game we’ve played together, and it won’t be the last, but it was definitely the most rewarding. And maybe 10 years from now, like Ben, we’ll play the sequel, Cones of Dunshire: The Adventure Continues: The Winds of Tremorrah. I call the lamplighter.