October 2014

Game Makeover: Nines – Round 4

Design Workbench

Catching Up

In this round I am going to catch up on a few things that have happened over the previous rounds, but I have been building information over time.

Player Order

At first I was concerned that the player order would have some impact on which player went out first or the score (First Player Preference). Playtesting statistics so far don’t show a bias, even though in my testing statistics Player 1 is always the player to the left of the dealer, their average score is in line with other players at 2, 3, and 4 player counts.

In any case, I had some ideas to mitigate any problem that may exist which at this point are not implemented. On the shelf for future reference if needed are:

  • Players draw from the market in reverse order during the Start Phase.
  • The deal passes to the person who was the first to complete their Cabinet in the previous hand.

Round Dynamics

One of the issues that I wanted to work on in this game was the lack of variability in how each round, hand, and game played out. To be fair, each round has a slight arc, but the game is really just a series of rounds. There is not much difference in play one round to the next. Did the introduction of the Action Cards have any impact? With the introduction of some “Take That” opportunities there could be a pile on the leader in later rounds, but not so much if the “Take That” is limited or light as we have seen so far. So this is what a round looks like and how the use of Action Cards varies within them:

Game Makeover: Nines – Round 3

Design Workbench

Player Interaction

The next aspect of the game I want to address is the lack of player interaction. As the game stands, the only interaction is the occasional time that one player has a discard that the next player wants and the first player has the reasonable ability to hold onto it for a while. This doesn’t happen often since,

  • Many of the discards are done blindly from the unrevealed cards in the grid.
  • The discarding player often has no real choice in where to place a new card (and therefore which card will be discarded).

So there are few opportunities for even this light decision.

The way I see to incorporate some player interaction is through some actions that players can take on one another (seems obvious enough). Since this is a card game, those actions will be on cards, Action Cards. With a variety of actions possible on these cards, I can address some of the other aspects of the game that need work like dealing with some of the frustration related to the randomness of the unrevealed cards and adding some variety and decisions to change up each round.

I can also see a potential use for those unwanted high point cards, but for now I’ll just introduce the Action Cards to the deck and see how they work in play.

Here is a list of Action Cards that came about fairly quickly, categorized by their general effect (help me, hinder you). I wanted 3-4 cards in three levels of impact:

Game Makeover: Nines – Round 2

Design Workbench

Starting the Game

The first thing that bothers me about this game is the first thing that happens. Each player turns up 3 cards as their starting collection. At least in the version I was taught, they can put these in the grid however they want, but this is still very random and a player can feel like they have nothing to start with.

So I introduced a market at the beginning to “buy” the first three cards. Instead of dealing 9 cards to each player and then turning up 3 each, I dealt 6 cards to each player and then turned 3 cards up in the center to form a market. Players in turn select one of the cards from the market and a new card is turned up to replace it. Once all players have 3 cards from the market, they arrange their grid. Technically, it does not matter if the 6 unrevealed cards are dealt before or after the market, but for now we’ll stick with the deal being first.

Thematically, the collectors start their collection by going to an estate sale or collectibles auction. The competition for the treasures is heavy, but they eventually come home with their first 3 clocks. This is called the Start Phase or the Auction Phase. So the game now has three distinct phases:

  • Start Phase: Drawing from the market and setting up the initial 3 x 3 grids (Cabinets).
  • Collection Phase: Drawing/Discarding and placing new cards into the Cabinet.
  • End Phase: Once one player completes their Cabinet to the end of the hand.

Game Makeover: Nines – Round 1

Design Workbench

I immediately had several ideas about how to change up this game and noted them on my planning board (subject for another article). However, I am applying the changes stepwise and analyzing the results before making other changes.

Theme Me

Since this exercise not only started with a mechanism, but a complete game, any theme at this point may be considered to be “pasted on.” However, I am generally a theme-first gamer so the first change I want to make to the game is to apply a theme so that all future decisions are impacted by and hopefully will conform to the theme. Like making over a room in the house, we already know the purpose of the room and are starting by pasting on the wall paper before we have selected the furniture and wall-hangings. We are setting the décor of this room with the theme.

Game Makeover: Nines – General Playtesting

Playtesting

A few words about the playtesting approach are in order so they are not necessary in every posting.

Approach

Most of the changes made are playtested one at a time to avoid ambiguous cause and effect unless two or more changes can be made either to complement one another (intentionally as a unit) or it is quite certain that they have unrelated effects.

Player Types

See my other post about using Player Types in Playtesting . A high level description of their strategies and how they are exhibited in this game follows. Due to the multiplayer solitaire history of this game, the player types that focus on their own collection will be the most common among players who know the game. In rough order of expected occurrence:

Player Awareness

Generally, in an actual game, players are often aware of the habits/tendencies of their fellow players which can impact their own strategies. They may react anywhere along a spectrum of:

  • Ignore – hold to their principal tendencies.
    • Even though every time they open the door they get a bonk on the head, they keep opening the door.
  • Adapt/Morph – change their tendencies to mitigate the effect of their opponents’ tendencies.
    • Every time they open the door they get a bonk on the head, so they stop opening the door.
  • Respond/React – change their play style to counter their opponents’.
    • Every time they open the door they get a bonk on the head, so they jump through the door with a shield raised, swinging a mallet.

This dynamic is hard to simulate, so I stick pretty much to an initial Player Type regardless of the other Player Types in the game. (Though some Player Types have adaptation built in, they aren’t changing type). This is one of many reasons why real playtesters are important.

Player Types

Since I (like anyone designing games, I suppose) have to do significant playtesting solo – simulating multiple players – I have identified several player types to emulate. Unfortunately, “Player Type” is not a very descriptive term. You might think of the “Alpha Gamer,” “Sore Loser,” or “Sore Winner” as player types, but I would call these Gamer Personality Type. There are other uses of the phrase, but the term as I am using it might best be described as “Player Engagement Type” which I will explain.

Playtesting

Playtesting is a critical part of the game design and development process that is apparently given less attention that is healthy to the hobby. (I say that assuming that game designers don't set out to produce broken or awful games and end up there primarily due to a lack of playtesting). This notebook will document some of the research, efforts, and insight I make in playtesting.

Objective

Study playtesting efforts of my own and others and post any research and insights regarding:

  • Playtesting Methods
  • Prototyping Tips and Tricks
  • Playtesting Tools
  • Playtesting Resources

Hopefully, you will find the resources here interesting and helpful to your own playtesting process.

Game Makeover: Nines – Glossary

Glossary

In addition to the standard card playing terms, I have derived a few new ones for this makeover. Not all are used right away, but I will keep a running glossary in a separate post that can be referenced at any time. This may look like a lot of terminology for a simple game, but it is intended to be used intuitively. Defining terms helps that happen.

Game Makeover: Nines – Traditional Variants

Imperfect Record:

In comparing the rules as I have learned them with what I have found online, it is obvious that I am working from an imperfect record of the original game.

Traditional Game Rules

Most people learn the rules for games from someone else, never have to read the rules, and therefore don’t really know if they are playing the game according to the rules.  This lack of rules knowledge is even greater for traditional games where the rules have been “handed down” verbally many times without any reference to the actual rules if indeed they exist. It is interesting to compare rules for the same game with someone who has learned them through a different genetic tree.

Like comparing documents derived through different paths from the same origin, one might reconstruct the original document. Don’t worry, I won’t go through all that, but an interesting side exercise for my Game Makeover of Nines is to compare some rules variations. I located several rules sets online, but for expedience will stick to a comparison of the rules as I learned them (hereafter known as the “JP Document”) to the rules recorded in BGG (hereafter known as the “BGG Document”). Let’s compare and evaluate the variations and maybe speculate a little as to why the variants exist. My assumption is that variations probably represent house rules made over time to tweak the game in different ways to make it shorter, easier, more fun, etc.

Game Makeover: Nines – Introduction

Introduction

I hope to spawn some dialogue about the redesigns described in this Game Makeover blog. However, in these first few entries much of the work described has already been completed and my actual efforts will probably be ahead of the postings for a few weeks. I don’t want this to discourage commentary, but I also don’t want my responses or lack of direction changes to be an indication that I am not listening to feedback. I figure that most of you reading (someone is reading, right?) are catching these much later than when they were posted anyway, so no harm done.  On to the makeover!

Game Makeover: Nines - Original Rules

Description and Rules

“Nines” is a simple set collection card game for 2 or more players played in a series of hands. The game is played with 2 or more standard decks of cards (jokers included), depending on the number of players. We play 2 decks for 2 – 3 players, 3 decks for 4 – 6 players. (I have not played with more than 6 players, but presumably the game will scale with more decks – it just won’t be fun.)

Setup

  1. At the beginning of each hand nine cards are dealt face down to each player.
  2. Each player turns over 3 of their 9 cards at random and arranges their cards into a 3 x 3 grid, putting the 3 face up cards wherever they want.
  3. One card of the stock is turned over to start a discard pile. The stock is the draw pile.
  4. The first player is the person to the left of the dealer.

Game Makeovers

Not that I don’t have enough to do in working on several original designs and concepts, but the brain is always looking for creative distractions to “recharge under load” and to break out of neural pathways that rut so quickly. Who knows, maybe this process will result in something worthwhile itself as well.