Cambist Booking

Summary: A Cambist is a manual showing exchange rates of different currencies and measurements. Cambist Booking is intended to spark conversation about what priorities or objects you would exchange for each other, and at what rates.

Tags: Large, Repeatable, Experimental

Purpose: Taking its title from the excellent short story “The Cambist and Lord Iron,” Cambist Booking is about understanding the idea that everything is, ultimately, trading off against everything else. The extra hour you work earns you a bit of extra money, the money can buy you a coffee so you get up earlier and have an extra hour, you spend that extra hour studying for a better job – but at each step you could have chosen to spend things differently.

Materials: You need a big stack of index cards or paper, and a pen or pencil for each participant. Before the meetup, write on each index card something people value. A workable list is provided here.

Announcement Text: Hello! This event is for general socialization, and also running a game called Cambist Booking. If you’re familiar with the Slate Star Codex post Everything Is Commensurable, or the short story The Cambist and Lord Iron, then this game should sound somewhat familiar to you. It works like this: each person will get a some cards with things you might want on them. You’ll go around asking other people what their cards are, and deciding how to compare the two values – is a sportscar worth more or less than a year’s vacation? Is an hour long massage worth more or less than a new album by your favourite band? We’ll pass out the cards at the start, keeping some in reserve for new arrivals, and spend the time talking about what we value and why.


Explain the following rules to the audience as you deal out the cards and pencils. Deal them out as evenly as possible – it’s fine if everyone only has one.

We’ll start with a big deck of index cards with things people generally like. Everyone is going to get at least one card, plus a blank card and a pencil. At the top of the blank paper write “Bookings” Then we’re going to mingle, asking each other at what rate we would trade the thing on one of your cards for a thing on the other person’s card. For instance, if I have “A mediocre laptop” and you have “A plane trip anywhere you want” then maybe I think I’d trade two mediocre laptops for one plane trip anywhere I want. I write down, on my booking’s paper, “2 mediocre laptops = 1 plane trip anywhere.” Maybe for you, you’d value a plane trip as worth exactly one laptop, so you would write that exchange rate down on your book. Look at each other’s Bookings, and feel free to discuss the exchange rates you have listed! Find someone else and do it again!

The object of the game is twofold: First, to get as many exchange rates possible. Second, not to get Dutch Booked – that is, never to allow any sequence of exchanges to leave you with less than you started with. For instance, if you’d trade two laptops for one plane ticket, and one plane ticket for one bicycle, but you’d trade one bicycle for one laptop, then you have a problem- Someone could repeatedly trade you bicycles for laptops and laptops for plane tickets in a way that leaves you worse off every time.

Notes: This totally isn’t dutch booking, which is about odds, but I don’t actually know the economic term for what’s happening here. Corrections on titles are appreciated!

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