Author – Max Kämmerer (@maxkaemmerer)
Where to Buy – https://maxkaemmerer.itch.io/etched-in-stone
Etched in Stone by Max Kämmerer fits entirely on a bookmark. Really, excluding the beautiful image on one side, the game fits entirely on half a bookmark. There are no frills to this game. There is no complexity to speak of. There is no pretense. I can summarize the rules in the barest handful of words: find a rock near the water and tell stories about it with a partner. Despite its simplicity, this tiny game created one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had in my fifteen years in this hobby.
Maybe not despite the simplicity. Maybe because of it.
My wife Jenna and I played this while walking on the beach with our boys. The game is only for two players, but the boys didn’t mind not being included. They were busy pretending to be water benders and trying to befriend seagulls. Important work. My wife chose a cracked black stone, mostly smooth save for the gray, craggy edge along one side.
Per the game’s rules, we started with the stone’s most recent history. Jenna found a thin white scratch on the stone’s underside and told me that yesterday, a chocolate lab dashed over the rock before splashing into the waves despite her owner shouting for her not to. The dog came back to the shore, a wagging mess of wet fur, seaweed, and sand.
When it was my turn, I pointed out a scuff I hadn’t noticed and said it was made by the high heel of a bride who was doing her best not to sink into the sand as her wedding photographer took far too many pictures. Finally, tired of the struggle, she took off her shoes and scrunched her manicured toes into the wet sand. Comfortable for the first time all day, she didn’t notice when a stealthy wave came in and stole the sequined shoes for itself.
And on and on we went, telling mundane stories about the marks on a random stone on a random beach. We laughed at the absurd stories, got quiet during the sad ones, and told the tales of that rock all the way back to the volcano that birthed it. As we walked, we sketched little designs in the sand about each story and, by the time we turned around and headed back to the car, the tide had claimed them all.
At the end of our walk we had to choose what to do with this stone now that we had spoken all its secrets. Initially, I wanted to keep it as a reminder of our game but we decided to give it back to the ocean instead. After all, it wouldn’t be fair to keep a stone with such an illustrious history on some dusty shelf for the rest of its days. And maybe, after a few hundred years, the ocean will return the stone to the shore and another family will find it and tell our story. Here’s hoping it’s a happy one.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this game, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. I purchased this game as part of an amazing bundle that helps support at-risk and houseless youths through the Horizons for Youth charity. Seriously – it’s such a good bundle.