I got a cabin with some friends and went snowboarding over the weekend, and in the evening I had the interesting opportunity to do some gaming with a large group of 10. We grabbed a deck of cards and started playing the game of design. Read on to see how we had more fun then Scattergories!
10 is a really interesting number of players with cards. Your hands have to 5 cards or less. 5 cards actually works really well, because there are 2 cards left over to work with, and there are a number of interesting win conditions possible with 4 or 5 cards from poker. But it’s also bad because losing a player puts you at 9 players, creating 7 left-over cards and a very awkward situation. Practically, any good game should scale up or down a bit, so this proved a challenge, but made it feel like virgin design space.
- First, we tried a “reverse” draft mechanic. With a hand of 5, we passed a card to our right repeatedly, and the first to get a straight flush hand won. The 2 extra cards were public and considered part of everyone’s hand. People really liked the draft mechanic, the luck involved in winning (ie anybody could win at any time), and the speed of the game, which took about 5 minutes. 5 minutes is awesome. All the other card games were jealous. But I was concerned because there really wasn’t much skill because there was so little information available about other players. You could be able to get very good at this game, but it was hard. We tried different methods of reversing the draft direction to help – but reversing was too confusing and slow, and didn’t really give enough information anyways. The game was too fast!
- So suggestions started coming in from the group and the first was to get their greedy hands on those 2 cards in the middle of the table. Swapped for a card from their hand, in fact, at any time. This turned the game more into a variation of Spit then draft. While you could theoretically still pass cards, everyone was way more focused on watching the cards on the table. The kinetics of it was very exciting, games were still fast, and there was more yelling and cries of “cheater!” then I’d heard in a month. I had to step in a couple of times and stop the game tell things were sorted out. But… People disliked how competitive it was and how speed rather then thought was emphasized. Honestly, it felt like being back in high school, and might have appealed more to that crowd. But we’re not in high school, so, moving on.
- But at least with Spit-variant you had a sense of what cards people needed. You couldn’t do much with it, but it was progress. So we tried taking out the real time aspect and doing it in turns. It didn’t work – going around the table took a lot of turns and swaps, and couldn’t the game slowed down tremendously. We dropped down to 9 at this point, which led to a “mystery deck” of that players hand that people could swap with instead of with a face up card. But while I knew what peope were trying to get now, the game was still to slow, and I wasn’t interacting with them again. Essentially, to fix this we were headed to 9 player go-fish. So we called it a night. We played for about 2 hours.
- Evolving games can be more fun then the game itself! People love to be designers. Even though I wouldn’t call any of the above a great game, everyone still seemed to have a real blast, because people were simulataneouly playing the larger game design game.
- We had some good ground rules: Have an arbitrator, majority votes, try only 1 or 2 rules changes at a time, keep the games short, and yes/no vote on the rules changes after each game. No idea was bad, so if there was only 1 idea on the table, then the doubters just sat through the short trial run. Don’t be afraid of major design space changes. Non-designers will yank your game around, but they get excited about it. The Spit game above wasn’t where we wanted to go, but it was a fun break from the pace of draft.
So, what would I have done next? I think I came away with 3 games that I would have liked to try:
- Go-fish variant: Hands of 5, on each turn player asks for a suit rather then a specific card. Everyone else puts down a card face-up, of that suit if they have it. The asker may then swap a card from their hand with any player’s face-up card. The asker then puts a card down on the table as well (any card). Then all players pass the card on the table to the right. First to 4 of a kind or maybe straight flush wins. 2 extra cards are shared. Ways to interact with the entire table, and less hidden information. But the play flow could be an issue. Would scale to larger hands well.
- True Draft variant: Pass around hands of 5. Each player picks 1 and places it on the table, every other card face down. Then they pass the rest of the hand to the right. Player with best poker hand wins. 2 cards in the middle are shared. Probably would do rounds and assign 3/2/1 points for 1st/2nd/3rd. First to 5 points wins. Draft is lots of fun, and this is as straight a conversion of that as I can think of.
- “Reverse” Draft variant: I’d like to try the first game from above again, but each player would have 2 cards face up on the table at all times that they are not passing. That should help solve the hidden information problem, and let the draft card swaps provide the desired interaction.
I’d definitely do this again. It was a lot of fun and I think opened my friend’s eyes a bit towards what I do for a living.