How Many Things to Build the Future? is a game of collaboration, conversation and construction. A simple set of rules turn 50 objects into an environment for two or more people to think and talk about big ideas in simple, physical ways.

A work by Hamish MacPherson

This is a collaborative game for two or more people playing together in one group. The game cards are used to select an abstract word (for example ‘future’ or ‘thought’) that the group must arrange some or all of the objects in response to. The cards also determine how the group works together (for example ‘work in silence’ or ‘think of it as a dance’). The rules are deliberately open so that players work together to deal with any uncertainty.  At the end there are no winners or losers.

Number of players: Minimum 2 but works better with more. The ideal maximum depends on the size of the 50 objects being used – all players should be able to comfortably reach all the things. For example 1 inch blocks work well with up to 5 players; 2 inch blocks would work well with up to 7; chairs work with as many as 20 players.

Duration: The game can be played for just one round which could last as little as one minute but more likely to be 10-15 minutes. The game can be played for a set length of time or number of rounds or until players decide to stop.

Audiences: The game can be played with friends and family; used by groups to get to know each other; as a creative warm up; as a devising tool; as an art installation; an educational tool; or as an alternative method of academic discourse, for example at a symposium.

The game is self-contained and can be purchased below along with groups of things. It can also be run by Hamish as a workshop or installation, or customised for particular events or organisations. Use the contact form lower down the page.

What people have said

A great game to travel from words to images, to construct entire landscapes full of meaning with very simple elements, and to notice how creative processes work for you.

Eva Recacha, choreographer

A delicate piece of game design that allows for real and robust play around what we mean when we try and communicate.  

Hannah Nicklin, Theatre-maker and game designer/writer

Highlights the power of play and creativity in problem solving, debating and exploring new intellectual territories. I see endless possibilities for how it might be used, and I look forward to experimenting with it in other contexts, such as teaching, in the rehearsal room and to pass the time with strangers on a slow train!

Leo Burtin Creative Director, Talk with LEAP

basic set.jpg

How Many Things to Build The Future? 2017 edition

Standard poker-size deck with title card, 3 rule cards, 45 game cards, 5 blank cards (to create your own rules) and a plastic storage box.

£17 including postage and packing (UK)


Wooden things

50 handpainted hardwood cubes (2.5 cm) and cotton storage bag with drawstring opening (30 x 25 cm).

£20 including postage and packing (UK)


Plastic things

50 hefty white cubes (2.5cm) with cotton storage bag with drawstring opening (30 x 25 cm). One set available.

£20 including postage and packing (UK)


Granite things

50 grey granite cubes (2cm) with cotton storage bag with drawstring opening (30 x 25 cm). One set available.

£20 including postage and packing (UK)

If you would like to buy something or make an enquiry please use this form:

How Many Things to Build the Future? is essentially a game about metaphor and the relationship between abstract concepts and concrete forms It draws on the work of linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson [1] who explore how metaphors shape not just how we communicate but how we think.

When players collectively try to build an arrangement in relation to the word ‘freedom’ for example they can see, touch and co-create each other’s responses. Through the activity of arranging and negotiating, players enter into verbal and physical conversations about their understandings of these words.

Moreover the game offers opportunities to renovate old or familiar concepts with new meanings because the materials are limited (wooden blocks) and players are working with each other. As Maria Popova writes “a great metaphor is also an original one, thus forming new, uncommon associations of common elements rather than relying merely on the familiar ones — a beautiful manifestation of combinatorial creativity at play.” [2]

The game is influenced by Friedrich Froebel’s educational ‘gifts‘ for pre-school children through which he pioneered the idea of play based learning. Although metaphor use does begin at pre-school age [3] “Children’s metaphorical competence, it seems, is limited to basic perceptual metaphors, at least until early adolescence” [3] and so the game is aimed at older children, and adults.

Metaphors are often rather neglected in the classroom, and when it is taught it is often in literary terms for example “all the world’s a stage”. But metaphor operates everywhere; mathematics, economics, politics, science and so on. “Developmental psychologist Stephen von Tetzchner (…) goes so far as claiming that ‘the role metaphors have in language makes the understanding and use of metaphors the most important developmental aspect in school-age children and the young'” [6]

An important part of the game is the selections of a method for working together (for example “the person with the next birthday directs everyone else”; or “work in silence”) and then for reflection (“everyone take a minute to describe what happened”). Although the game is very open, these methods avoid anyone taking a constant lead and create room for different voices and different kinds of contribution. This is useful for any group dynamic which will may have it’s own established dynamics and hierarchies. The game is not competitive but is about collaboration and awareness of each other’s thinking, creating opportunities to literally see how people think.

How Many Things to Build the Future? is a game by Hamish MacPherson, a London-based artist who uses ideas and methods from choreography and dance to think about politics. He makes workshops, games, performances, writings, images and other things in artistic, academic and community contexts.

His other games include Breastbeating, a card game simulating an after work session in the pub where the only thing you have to do is complain; and Living Spaces / Dead Spaces, made with Michael Such, winner of the 2016 Golden Cobra Award for Best Somatic Elements.

[1] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (2003) Metaphors We Live By
[2] Maria Popova. 2013. The Magic of Metaphor: What Children’s Minds Reveal about the Evolution of the Imagination
[3] Stella Vosniadou. 1986. Children and Metaphors
[4] James Geary. 2012. I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World
[5] British Council. 2004.  Exploring metaphors in the classroom
[6] University of Gothenberg research project Metaphors we learn by: Children’s understanding of science