The Adventures of Altac Pomo

Played two at a time

Goal: to finish your degree and get a job without losing your spirit. To do so, you need to interact with other players and create your own winning card set (or deck).

Required equipment: Starter card set, additional (blank) cards, pens

Starter card set:

  • Advisor (one-star Status card)
  • Required reading (one-star Achievement card)
  • Love of reading (one-star Passion card)
  • Dingy apartment (one-star Life card)
  • Trashy reading (one-star Sanity card)
  • Experience record card, divided into Play and Win sections

Play: card duels

There are two types of activities in the game: card play and card creation. Card play is a simple duel: each player shuffles her or his cards, deals from her or his hand, and whoever has the higher rank in the pair wins the duel:

  • More stars beats fewer stars
  • For cards with the same number of stars, Status > Achievement > Passion > Life > Sanity > Status. (So Status beats every other card except Sanity.)

If both players show cards with the same number of stars in the same category, each player sets aside that card and selects another card, with play continuing until there is a winner. At the end of a card duel, each player puts her or his mark (which may be simply initials) on the other player’s experience record card. The experience record card has two sections on each side: Play and Win. You always put a mark in the other player’s Play section, and if the other player won, you also put your mark in the Win section.

Card creation

As you accumulate experience, you can exchange the marks of other players on your experience record card into the right to create new cards in your deck. Each card you create will be in one of the five categories above, with 2-5 stars depending on how many experience marks you exchange, and the mark of a fellow player (who saw you cross off the requisite marks on your experience record card), and on the mostly-blank side, a declaration of Creative Commons license. It is through the creation of new cards that you progress in the game, either to finish your degree or to get a job.

Stars: Each mark on your experience record card is worth one star. (You must have at least two marks to create a card. You cannot create a new card with only one star.)

In addition, for THATCamp and THATCamp only, you have the right to create a new card for every comment you add to the bottom of this post. (I will put my mark on your card for these new cards–find me and I’ll be happy to read the comment and initial your card. You need to play at least a few card duels between comments, so you have something to write about, so if you write more than one, I’ll ask to see your experience record card.)

Categories: You pick the category.

Specifics within categories: you pick what you get within the category, but you should keep in mind the requirements for graduation:

  • Two Status cards in the following areas: teaching, presenting at a conference, being an R.A. for a professor, working on a committee.
  • Three Achievement cards: one each in theory, methods, and content. Label each achievement card with both the general and specific (e.g., Cupcake Theory).
  • Two Passion cards: a pre-dissertation scholarship project and your dissertation project
  • Two Life cards, which are nonspecific (you can create your own such as relationship, join a fitness center, child, moving)
  • One Sanity cards: you have to create your own!

You will see that all of the starter cards are marked “CC BY” to indicate Creative Commons license. As you create your own additions to the cards, you will declare what license each card has.


You win by graduating and/or getting a job. Graduating requires that you create 10 cards (see the degree requirements above). Getting a job requires creating cards worth at least 25 points.


If you play this game, please comment below and help improve the game by answering the following questions:

  • Best parts?
  • Weakest parts?
  • Suggestions for change?



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  1. dorn

    This WP installation isn’t letting me edit the post after publishing, so let me add the following:

    1) This is the other gradgrind game. I am creating the starter sets this morning (Saturday). Please see me to grab one!

    2) Additional challenge: Always have in your hand at least one more card in the Passion/Life/Sanity categories than Status/Achievement categories. (A graduating hand has, at minimum, 7 Status and Achievement cards and 8 Passion, Life, and Sanity cards, if you include the starter set.)

  2. David Morgen

    So we’re playing the game in and around the other sessions that take place throughout today and tomorrow?

  3. Andrew Famiglietti

    Sooo, you’ve rigged this so winning is almost impossible, and largely arbitrary, right?

  4. dorn

    Andrew: No!!! Please tell me what’s happening that makes it feel as if getting to a degree or job is impossible.

    For those who are making cards and see the end of blank cards, I ran out of cards (long story short: I thought I had put another pack of blank index cards in my luggage). I’ll go out and get more tonight for blanks. And you can use blank pieces of paper of the approximately-right size.

  5. dorn

    David: yep.

  6. Andrew Famiglietti

    I think the current placement statistics for recent PhDs speak for themselves :(. My generation of scholars is finding employment to be tentative at best.

  7. dorn

    Andrew: I meant the game, not life. This is the optimistic game. For the pessimistic game, try GSBS.

  8. Ashley Cotter-Cairns

    Would like to see some of the graphics you’ve implemented. Am having a hard time visualizing the game — is it going to be published?

  9. dorn


    At THATCamp I gave out 7 sets of handmade cards. Haven’t gotten feedback yet. Look below and you’ll see that the blog is CC BY, and that’s my approach on the game, too. Make your own deck, or several, play with friends, mess around, make it commercially. As long as I’m credited, I’m happy.

  10. Ashley Cotter-Cairns

    Hi Dorn, I have freelance artists who could do that for sure. Would not want to profit from anybody else’s idea without giving more than credit though!


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