Quick card game

DeReel's picture

Here’s a first draft for a quick card game (32 cards-deck). Let me know if you know something like this and also, what could go wrong.
-It’s a game of cards and storytelling. You will narrate a story together, and in parallel you will try to gather cards of one suit to lay them down in front of you and tell the end of the story.

Set up the game, dealing every player 6 cards. Each one of you puts one card face down in front of them.
To start the game, turn your card face up and narrate what it represents.
A face up card gives you control over what happens to what it represents. For simplicity, when I say “your card”, I also mean “what it represents”.
Whenever you want, you can put down cards face up in front of you, but you can never take them back in hand. That’s for putting down a card.
Each turn, please play one card.
You can play any card you own. When you play a card, it exchanges its location with that of any other card. That’s for playing a card.
Each turn, please narrate what happens to any one card in front of you. Try not to be original, just add your bit to the story.
After 6” turns, the game ends. Count 1 point for each card in the largest suit in front of you. Whoever has more points narrates a happy ending. Ex aequos share this narration

Paul T.'s picture

This is an interesting and simple idea.

I think it needs further explanation of at least an example.

For instance, how do the exchanges work? If an exchange is forced, then does it happen before or after the narration? How can you force an exchange with a card in someone’s hand (is it drawn at random)?

Would this be better with a different card set (not standard playing cards), like Tarot or something more unique on each card?

DeReel's picture

I know it needs explaining, but I am also trying to minimize explanations so the rules fit on a playing card. I feel a bit ashamed to realize that I make you the guinea pigs in this without making it clear in advance. I'll try and not do that in the future. Still, I'll take advantage of your interest to write down a whole wall of text :D

The first counter intuitive bit is the game play : you don't narrate the cards you play, but "one card in front of you". Playing a card really is discarding it, which tells me I should change the name of this move to "discarding" ! Every turn, you have to discard a card, you lay one in front of you if you want to, and you have to narrate a card. If you want to follow another order, the game doesn't break. So I figure this falls in order pretty soon, probably "laying down a card and telling" in the first turn. Maybe some people will discard a card last (as it makes no difference), but in the coming turns, someone is going to want to exchange a card, put in front of them the card they just grabbed, and narrate about it, because that's the reason they exchanged it in the first place. So, the turn order falls in place by itself "organically" I believe. Same goes for speaking in turns : if someone didn't take their turn, they are going to want to take it. The number of visible cards for each player helps them count the number of turns played. I use tokens, or cards, precisely because I like speaking in turns but many storygamers told me it was limiting, and here we are with this compromise of playing tokens (there's initiative in it).
The second counter intuitive idea is in the design goal. There are two games really : a close-to dumb card game, and a close-to dumb storytelling game. And what's counter intuitive is that I try for the two games to interact as little as possible. The expected effect is that players will play fast and without effort, flux state kicking in. Taking advantage of the way our brains are wired as ethically as I can.

The exchange with a card from the hand is "blind". This makes exchange with visible cards a better trade. Combined with the discarding cards mechanic, this makes play focus on a reduced set of cards : the main story elements.

The card game is not so dumb, but hovers betweeen 7 families and Rochambeau (with more than 2 players). If you try, you'll see that the first strategy is to lay down your "scoring suit". But then people are going to steal it from you, a la 7 families, without the difficulty of memorizing the cards, because they are visible in front of you. The reply to that strategy is to lay your "decoy best suit" and keep your "real best suit" in hand. People are then going to try and hack your hand directly. But it's costly, because they don't know exactly what they'll get. After that, the card game finds its strategy balance : trying to score without letting others score, with all strategies you see fit.

For the story game, having a main actor in the story makes narration easier, so you focus on preparing, laying down and keeping for yourself the best "actors". Some creative types will want to scratch their brains to make up a best actor out of a card they own or covet, and that's not bad. The stories I want to emulate have frequent deus ex machina, and the last rounds of play can have these.

You are right that playing with a normal deck of card is not optimal. The game is intended to be played with a deck like Once upon a time, only with suits, made by a professional illustrator. For playtests, I use tarot cards : ace and figures from each suit and a set of cool arcanas. Even with these, it takes weathered fictioneers to see the "young Dartagnan" under the ace of swords. With more descriptive cards, it'll be easier to see what to play : the bag of money, the stick or the policeman, for example, should appear as "problem solvers" in the players' eyes.
The game still needs structure, which I will get by declaring a model structure (intro->knot, complications, climax).
It also needs better pacing which I will get by limiting the number of cards you can lay down in front of you, and making sure nobody can clean you dry easily. Something like "you can lay down 1 card per turn" + "you can always lay down one card when you have none".
I definitely don't want card "powers" that change the rules locally. That would be mathematically interesting, but it's not that kind of game. For the same reason, I try not to think of the possibility of creating a third space, laying down cards face down, and only turning them face up when you narrate them. This makes the card game take too much bandwidth, when it should be a literal no-brainer.

Paul T.'s picture

That’s a lovely phrase!

Your explanations are quite helpful, and it’s good to see the reasoning behind the model. I think this kind of pairing often has potential.

I wonder about the six turn limitation and the lack f story focus framed by the cards. Is that ever a problem in play?

For instance, if the story has a main character, they will be represented by a single card, which means that, unless people are constantly stealing it from each other, only one player actually narrates about the main character. There could also be a problem with lack of reincorporation as the end of the story appears.

But perhaps there are some good tricks to getting around this. How has it gone so far in playtests?

My impulse for this game is to make a “deck” of index cards, marked with suits but otherwise blank. (I guess this would be extra easy if you had four different colours of index cards).

When you play one on the table, you write the story element it represents on it. By the end of the game, then, you have a deck of labeled story elements (and, in theory, you could use them again to “retell” the story in a different way).

DeReel's picture

The first characters introduced get stealed a lot, mostly because you need to steal something and they are sitting there. I also learned from playtest that, even mid-game, character introduction is vital to the story. This lead me to a change that adds even more value to established characters : the first time you narrate about a card, you only name it, describe it, and tell its "purpose", and that's it, it's an "impending actor". Like "this is the cup of poison. It's a tin goblet with basic decorative bumps and lines. It will bring death on whoever drinks even a gulp of it." With the first characters described, the story focus is made clear. To enforce this I always recite : "keep it simple, be direct, tell the obvious, (ad lib)".

The X cards / X turns limit is awkward and clumsy : sometimes it's too much, sometimes not enough. I can't find a good end game condition. A triggered event with a part of surprise would be best, to avoid gaming initiative (with the actual rules, the last card played has an advantage in safety). Drawing cards to make the game last longer is easy and attractive. I may build something with purposes (see below), like "when X characters have fulfilled their purposes or can't fulfill them anymore" that determines a happy or tragic ending. I edited the first post to try that and generally address your feedback.

There's always some characters that don't get reincorporated, specially when they belong to a low scoring suit. I don't mind that : the suits work like themes or factions, with players spontaneously creating a continuity between characters of the same suit. A strange effect, not reliable, but noticeable, is when a suit grows to scoring number range, it will attract attention and get incorporated more. The reasoning is something like : "it has value (A), I should use it (B)", with a fruitful confusion between A (in the card game) and B (in the story). I would love it if people played that game with index cards and intend to add some blank cards to the deck to communicate this, but it's not the best for a first contact with the game.

Paul T.'s picture

The expanded and revised text in the original list is much better. (Although I don’t love using editing for this kind of thing; it makes the thread very hard to read for other people, as well as impossible to learn from the changes being made. I would always prefer to see multiple iterations of the rules as the thread goes - much better for readability and more educational for readers.)

Why do you think that index cards wouldn’t be good for a first time? It seems to me that the gameplay is identical; just easier to follow mentally. Am I missing some aspect of the game?

DeReel's picture

I agree, it didn't feel right. Here's the new rules with the first draft back to its first state in OP.

-It’s a game of cards and storytelling. You will narrate a story together, and in parallel you will try to gather cards of the same suit to lay them down in front of you and tell the end of the story.

Set up the game, dealing every player 5 cards.
Each turn, please exchange one of your cards with any other.
When you exchange cards you force an exchange between a card you own and any other card you wish. You can either give away a card from your hand and take another card in your hand, or giveaway one of your visible cards and put down in front of you the card you get. You can take someone else's card from their hand, from in front of them, and you can even take one of your own cards (but many will wonder why you do such a thing). Of course, if you take a card from someone else's hand, you probably don't know what you'll get. Anyway you do the exchange, that’s called exchanging cards.

Each turn, put down a card face up in front of you. That’s called putting down a card, and the card is then made visible. A visible card in front of you gives you control over what happens to what it represents. For simplicity, when I say “a card”, I also mean “what it represents”.

Each turn, please narrate what happens to one card in front of you. If it's the first time in the game someone narrates about this card, simply say what it represents, describe it, and state its purpose, and that's it. Like : "It's a posse of riders. They are fierce and noble. They are seeking the outlaw." On a later turn, you'll be able to narrate what happens to this card... if it's still yours. I any case, try not to be verbal or original, just add your bit to the story, saying the next thing you see.

If you have no card to tell about, just put one down. If you have no card left in hand, draw one. You can arrange turn order any way you like.

When as many characters as there are players have achieved their purposes or can't resolve them anymore, the game ends. Count 1 point for each card of the major suit in front of you. Whoever has more points narrates the ending. Ex aequos share this narration, with the youngest going first.

DeReel's picture

I am not sure what the question is. I can say I made various costs and marketing hypothesis. A deck is a nice medium. But I hope players will outgrow the starting deck and realize the game is not in the cards.
I think you mean : why don't you start with blank cards right away ? And that's a topic in itself.

Paul T.'s picture

However, I’m not really interested in the marketing aspect - that’s a whole other kind of concern. I’m just talking about gameplay here.

(And besides, it wouldn’t be that hard to find a compromise, like beautiful illustrated cards with a blank space on them for writing with a dry erase marker.)

DeReel's picture

I already have a plaintext.txt version of the game I want to play. That's settled for me. From there, I want to engage various audiences, and make use of the constraints the various markets give me, a sort of buddhist adaptative design ;)
Like : free printed pdf and improvised tokens are good for internet ttrpgs enthousiats, index cards are good for a family table, dry erase flashcards (in fact laminated flashcards) bring a semi-pro feel when playing with pupils or at game conventions. A deck of card is the easisest to start with for many people. (Btw, I looked into ringed index cards and dry erase flashcards, they look nice but the ecological costs skyrocket.)
If you want to play with index cards, there are other, better fitting mechanics to use : instead of discarding the cards you don't want, you can now play the cards you want (because you already chose what's on them). There's a domino-chain of changes like this you just have to follow, and pick options along the road depending on the table audience and the experience you want to get.
Ex : A card played is discarded at the end of the conflict. OR For one card write on a card your opponent engaged in a conflict.
Cards are either freely authored within a category (skill, item, drive, bond, theme, wildcard etc.) OR blank, and the various possible combinations form your character template.

Paul T.'s picture

Ah! In that case, I may be missing something about gameplay. I thought the intent of the rules is that the cards are completely undefined until played. For example, I play a Jack and I announce that it’s the prince. Right? In that case - just for trying it at home, I’m not talking about marketing or production - would index cards work well? You put it down and you writ “The Prince” on it. Or am I missing something?

DeReel's picture

You need to follow the suits. For the scoring - from a playing perspective; for the themes - that's their purpose from a designing perspective.
Also, some cards are more incarnate as people (the gendered ones) other as inanimates or abstracts. This diversity is useful too, to make themes live.
So I'd say as with all Tarot (/divinatory) mechanics. The choice is free but guided.