This past weekend, I began work on a new game. With Anarchs Unbound winding down (just about ready for the editor!), I wanted to switch gears and move toward a smaller, more concise type of game that emphasized short play sessions rather than slotting into a larger RPG-style campaign model. Card games are perfect for this sort of thing and they’re also good player values. You can buy the card game once and have infinite hours of play from it. With that in mind, I dove into a new card game design.
Going into the design, I knew I wanted a few specific behaviors, and those helped me define the experience as a multiplayer card format. In particular, I wanted:
• Multiple choices for actions on a single turn: Many card and board games restrict the type of action a player makes, but I wanted a more Magic-styled “here’s what you can do this turn — pick one” sort of approach. This works well for card games, as it makes the sequence in which you play from your hand of cards interesting, with the hand becoming a sort of micro-economy of actions.
• Table talk: Man, I love table talk. The art of the deal, running a hustle at the table, and convincing a friend of a specific course of action and then being able to honor that tandem or betray the alliance is fun stuff.
• Imperfect information: Games thrive, I think, when players have enough information to inform their decisions, but when they have to discern some of the secrets other players may be hiding. Poker and Magic are good examples of this, as you have to tailor your strategy not only to accommodate the cards you know you have, but also the cards you think your opponent has. And then, when additional players enter the mix — when it’s more than just a one-on-one experience — it really blossoms into intrigue. Lots of critical thought.
• Simple systems: Multiplayer games work well when the participants have several courses of action, each of which is straightforward, and the permutations of those actions offer a variety of outcomes. I didn’t want a complex system that pulled the player into its depths and effected a race to complete, I wanted a breadth of possibilities that could play out differently based on player inputs. The critical thought for the imperfect information shouldn’t become overwhelming in its technicality in this case.
• Lead with rules rather than setting: Pretty straightforward on this one. I wanted a fluid system structure up front, rather than having an abstracted narrative that I needed to design to fill. I can fill in the narrative later, if I decide I even need one.
With all of these combined, I built a playable prototype of a sort of political game. Each player has the ability to put a negative card on himself or any other player, which is the base interaction. The player also has the ability to hide cards in play in front of him, broadening the imperfect information aspect. Different cards allow players to move those allocations of negative cards, bolster them, protect them, etc. So, on your turn, you may want to play a negative card, play a positive card, hide a positive card, bluff and hide a negative card, or play a negative card on yourself to subvert the standard course. It makes for a sort of protracted social yomi that works well around the table.
As to physically printing the game, I’m looking into DriveThruCards, which both Gareth and Bates recommended. I’ll also put up the rules and prototype card sets here soon, in case you’d like to give it a shot.