Can You Use Formal Verification on a TableTop Game? (The Challenge)

Marianne Bellotti
7 min readApr 10, 2022

The amazing things you learn by applying a tool to inappropriate challenges.

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I am designing a tabletop game.

The idea came to me while cleaning out a box full of old conference swag I have collected from years of tech conferences. At one of the last four Shmoocons — or perhaps it was at B-sides? — I had picked up a copy of Backdoors & Breaches, a tabletop card game about security compliance.

I’ve never actually played B&B because I’m not a security professional and I’ve always found the cards to be so overloaded with jargon it’s difficult for me to grok the strategy around the game play. But I like the idea of games as teaching tools. Particularly for challenges where participants dismiss the need for strategy. When the card pack emerged from its nest of corporate branded drink koozies, lanyards and laser jet printed brochures disguised as white papers my first thought was, “something like this should exist for legacy modernization.”

I immediately started trying to figure out how the mechanics of such a thing would work. I had the perfect use case for it. I was in the process of planning a two-three week train trip to smaller American cities with great tech communities (Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Detroit-Chicago was my plan). My book Kill It With Fire was about to come out and I wanted to get out there and help drive pre-sales. Since I often travel alone, I always look for opportunities to hang out with locals. Setting up talks with local meetups and hacker spaces seemed like a fun way to experience the real city, but setting up local game nights seemed even better.

Especially because game nights were the preferred networking events of the communities where I did my most impactful modernization work. Known as the Digital Coalition, several times a month you could find software engineers from 18F and USDS rubbing elbows with policy wonks from the Hill and the West Wing over board games.

Of course this cross country trip was set for the summer of 2020 … so you already know how the story ended. Covid-19 shutdown cities, threw entire supply chains into disarray, and pushed game nights into the realm of closed circles and pandemic “bubbles.”

Marianne Bellotti

Author of Kill It with Fire Manage Aging Computer Systems (and Future Proof Modern Ones)