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.

There is value in deriving something new from something known; those who know the original are on their way toward understanding the new. It is a form of assimilation. Resistance is futile.

One might criticize, “A makeover isn’t original and is a waste of time.” I think that makeovers are not only valuable exercises, but they also result in very viable games. There are many and one might even say that most games are makeovers of previous games since something truly new comes maybe once a year. Here are a few popular makeovers of very simple traditional games:

Cheesonomics: Go Fish

Diamonds: Whist

King of Tokyo: Yahtzee

Oddball Aeronauts: Top Trumps

One Night Ultimate Werewolf: Werewolf/Mafia

Objective

Redesign a traditional game or game system to make a more modern, fun, interesting, probably less random and more interactive game while maintaining enough of the original game that it is still obviously “in there.” In this process I expect to post:

  • An evaluation of the existing game/system for what is working and what needs work.
  • A description and rationale of each “improvement.”
  • The evaluation – redesign – playtest cycle for major changes.
  • Any tools that I use or create in the process.
  • A description with rules and PnP files (as appropriate) of the “final” product (at least as far as I intend to take it) and a comparison to the original.
  • (Maybe) A step or two further; breaking my first rule of trying to maintain a recognizable semblance to the original game and seeing how far I can take the design.

Hopefully you find this discovery process interesting and maybe even gain some inspiration from it.

 

Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines

This is the first in the Game Makeover series.

From this page you can learn about the original game, read about the background to some of my decisions and methods, or jump right into the makeover.

There will be images displayed throughout the series. You can see the full Nines Makeover Image Gallery here.

Subject: 

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.

Objective

  1. Score the fewest points by:
    1. Making the most sets of the same number in rows and columns of the grid. All cards in a set score 0.
    2. Having the lowest point total of cards that are not in sets; including some special cards that score 0 or -3.

Play

  1. In turn each player does the following:
    1. Draw one card from the draw or discard piles.
    2. Either:
      1. Replace any card in their tableau with the new card played face up and discard the card that was replaced.  -OR-
      2. Discard the card that was drawn.
    3. Their turn is ended.
  2. Play continues until one player has all nine cards in their tableau face up. They are done.
  3. The rest of the players turn all of their cards face up in place.
  4. The final round is completed with the rest of players having one more turn.

Scoring

  1. The hand:
    1. Kings always score 0.
    2. Jokers always score -3.
    3. All of the cards in a set score 0.
    4. Cards not in a set:
      1. Jacks and Queens score 10.
      2. All other cards score face value.
  2. The game:
    1. Keep a running total of player scores at the end of each hand.

Winning

As soon as at least one player has reached a predetermined score (usually 100) the player with the lowest total score wins.

Subject: 

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!

Objective

Redesign the traditional card game Nines (Nines on BGG) (also known as 9-Card Golf) to make a more “modern,” fun and interesting game while maintaining enough of the original game that it is still obviously “in there.” Let’s see how far I can get without making a different game.

Why Nines?

I started similar tweaking on a standard trick-taking game, but that is all the rage now; most recently by the grand master of card game makeovers, Mike Fitzgerald, in Diamonds (Stronghold Games, 2014). So I will leave my efforts for another day and makeover a game that is certainly less familiar, but hopefully just as ripe for the picking. Although Nines has an abysmal 3.25 average rating on BGG, there is some good in it. It is a typical traditional, family card game that appeals to those who would also like SkipBo (BGG average rating of 5.30). Please don’t let that stop you from reading on… I have played many games of Nines with family and friends and somewhere around the house there is always 3 decks shuffled together for this purpose.

Concerns

First a couple concerns that I need to remind myself occasionally to keep this endeavor in check:

  • Right out of the chute I am concerned with being able to keep the game appropriate for the casual card players who usually play it…
  • …while extending to other gamers. This tightrope may be razor thin.
  • Since the game is so simple, I am immediately adding to it and adding… “mechanics soup, order up.”

At a Glance

In this first post let’s just take a glance at how Nines is played, what’s good about it and what needs work . I’ll post these on a separate page so I can easily refer to them later. One of the first challenges is to define what the game is today – variants abound – so I will simply start with how I have been taught to play. The “original” rules are in a separate post so they can be referenced easily.

Note: As the design evolves, there will be new rules introduced and existing ones changed. For expedience, I won’t post every new rule set, but will try to describe those changes. When I have reached a game and rule set that I think are final, I’ll post the new rules in the Games section.

Subject: 

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.

Variations

The variations are tabulated below with a color key indicating their relative benefit:

  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Neutral

BGG Document

Comparison

JP Document

Setup

Turn over two cards in different columns.

JP makes for a quicker hand and some (minor) decisions on placement – mitigating luck.

Turn over 3 cards and arrange however you want.

Game Play

A drawn card may be played face down on the tableau.*

BGG allows for some deception / bluffing, but with the option of only turning over 1 card at the end, it is minor.

All cards drawn that are placed in the collection go in face up.

The game is one hand.

BGG is faster. JP mitigates good/bad luck potential of one hand.

The game is a series of rounds to a predetermined score.

Final Round

Players have the option of turning one card over before their last play.**

JP allows for greater shift in final round – mitigating luck. (Though potential is still relatively small). Sometimes a set is made with the revealed cards.

Players turn over all cards once one player has completed their collection.

Scoring

Only cards in columns can count as sets.

JP allows for more sets and 2nd sets require only 2 cards – essentially applies a graduated scoring mechanism.

Sets can be made in columns and rows.

Aces score 0 points.

Minor difference. Aces (and 2s) are usually mixed with Kings and Jokers to make low scoring non-sets anyway.

Aces score 1 point.

* Not certain if this is only applies to cards drawn from the draw pile.

** Not certain if this is instead of drawing a card.

Subject: 

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.

  • Action: Specifically, the action described on an Action Card.
  • Action Card: A card that describes an Action on it.
    • Collection Actions: Actions that involve Clock Cards in that player’s 3 x 3 grid.
    • Card Actions: Actions that involve drawing and discarding cards.
    • Interactive Actions: Actions that can involve another player's 3 x 3 grid.
  • Action Space: The space below the grid where unused Action Cards are kept.
  • Cabinet: The thematic reference to the 3 x 3 grid or Complete Collection.
  • Clock Card: Any of the cards that have a clock on them and are used in collections.
  • Clock Type: The type of clock (effectively, suit and corresponding color) depicted on a Clock Card.
  • Collection: Any row of 3 Clock Cards that have the same point/time value.
  • Complete Collection: The 3 x 3 grid of Clock Cards.
  • Key/Key Card: Any Clock Card that also has a key on it.
  • Lock(ed): A row in the 3 x 3 grid that has been locked with a Lock Card.
  • Lock Card: A card that depicts a lock and is used to lock a row.
  • Lock Space: The space to the immediate left of the grid where Locks are placed.
  • Revealed: A card in the grid that is face up.
  • Reveal(ing): Turning a Clock Card in the grid face up.
  • Set: Any row or column of 3 Clock Cards that have the same Clock Type/color/suit.
  • Shelf: The thematic reference to the rows in the grid.
  • Time/Value/Points: All refer to the point value of the Clock Card indicated by the time on the clock.
  • Unrevealed: A Clock Card in the grid that is face down.
  • Used/Unused: An Action Card that has / has not been used for its Action.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines – Initial Assessment

Initial Assessment

Before doing a makeover of the game, I want to consider "what works" and "what needs work" in this initial assessment.

What Works:

Now with the rules understood, let’s see what is good about the game – what works.

  • Accessible
    • Simple Rules
    • Teach/Learn in 2 minutes.
      • No rules exceptions.
    • Simple Components
      • 2 – 3 standard decks of playing cards.
  • Scalable
    • 2-3 players with 2 decks.
    • 4-6 players with 3 decks.
    • Can push to as many players as you have decks (yawn).
  • Quick Setup (Initial)
    • From opening the packs of cards to playing the first hand is about 3 minutes.
  • Quick Rounds (Low downtime between plays in a round).
    • Typical time for a round is maybe 10-15 seconds per player.
  • Quick Hands
    • Typical time for a hand is about 5-6 minutes per player.
  • Game Length
    • Players can decide on a threshold score to end the game (and therefore the approximate duration of the game).
  • Scoring
    • “Low Score Wins”
      • Not rare in card games, but also not that common, trying to score low adds interest to the game.
    • Quick and simple scoring method. Though, you need a pad and pencil.
  • Finish Final Round
    • Once one player initiates the end of the hand, all other players get a final turn.
  • Streamlined
    • A combination of other factors listed here, but the game is just very smooth in operation.
  • Cascading (though Random)
    • Since discards can often be beneficial to the next player (particularly since many are discarded blindly) it is typical for a bunch of benevolent discards in a row.  In the metagame this often resolves to essentially passing the discard to the next player instead of discarding it with a sigh and an, “oh, sure!” (or something close to that).
  • Visual
    • Building the tableau in front of you has an attraction as well as it provides everyone with easy visual cues as to how close someone is to ending the round..

What Needs Work:

It appears that there is plenty to like about this game (though the reasons may be thin), but what makes it less than great – what needs work? (In no particular order).

  • Unmitigated Randomness
    • Easily 90+% luck. Make that 98% luck if all players have “card sense.”
  • Few Decisions
    • There are very few decisions and most are dead simple. (At least, a positive in that is even the most AP prone players don’t have much to cogitate on.)
  • Bland
    • Although the game is also called 9-Card Golf, it really has no theme. The golf reference is simply related to the similarity to golf in the objective is to score the lowest on 9 cards/holes and in some cases, the game is played in 9 or 18 hands.
  • Multiplayer Solitaire
    • There is almost nothing a player can do to affect another player.
    • The progress of other players is only interesting when they are close to ending the hand.
  • Game Length
    • The typical score threshold to cause the end of game is 100. The threshold has to be set high enough to mitigate a few random bad hands causing the end, but low enough to mitigate the game overstaying its welcome. Due to high randomness and low variation, that perfect threshold may not exist.
    • The end of the game is uncertain and not in full view of the players. (Not uncommon, but I think less than desirable for this simple, already very random game).
  • Redundancy
    • Play is essentially the same with very little change within a round, a hand, and a game. Someone may press their luck a little more if they need to make a big point swing in the last hand – go for broke – but there is little they can do if the cards aren’t there.
    • There is no narrative arc to the game.
  • Wasted Information
    • The card suit is ignored – half of the information is wasted.
  • Wasted Cards (Chaff)
    • Many cards have no real value in the game other than as filler. Any card with a value above 5 or 6 is generally ignored in collections unless luck has it that a pair is made quickly. It would seem that if few players are interested in face cards, the one player that is will easily collect them, but another player will be urged to rush to a finish to catch them with lots of points.
  • Frustration
    • Related to randomness. Since discards are often done blindly, the player often sees that they have discarded something they really wanted. Although, this has a gambling attraction for some.
  • Hand Setup
    • Although relatively quick in theory, shuffling 162 cards, particularly for a set collection game, every 12 minutes is wearing. (This is when the players refill their tea and chat about the weather.)
  • Narrative Arc
    • As suggested by the Bland and Redundant issues described, there is no narrative much less a narrative arc to this game. Maybe one isn’t to be expected, but we’ll watch for indications of what can be done.
Subject: 

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:

  • Perfectionists: In this game, a Perfectionist will try to get every Set and Collection possible to score 0 or less and won’t worry too much about the progress of other players.
  • Soloists: In this game, a Soloist completely ignores opportunities to impact others and does not try to hold cards that the next player can use.
  • Rushers: In this game, a Rusher hopes to catch others with an incomplete collection started with higher cards or with high cards yet Unrevealed.
  • Pushers/Pressers: In this game, a Pusher is willing to start Collections with higher cards, hoping they will be discarded by others and therefore abundant.
  • Opportunists: In this game, an Opportunist will ditch a Collection that has cards that are in decreasing number and take advantage of Action Cards.
  • Long-Gamers: Though the “long game” here is not very long, in this game, a Long-Gamer is more likely to hold onto their original Collections, waiting for the right cards to come.
  • Fiddlers: In this game, a Fiddler will most likely take advantage of Action Cards unless there is an obvious play to the Collection. They will focus on Action Cards that effect their own Collection.
  • Meddlers: In this game, a Meddler will most likely take advantage of Action Cards unless there is an obvious play to the Collection. They will focus on Action Cards that effect the Collections of other players.
  • SOBs: In this game, an SOB will most likely take advantage of the “Take That” Action Cards unless there is an absolutely perfect play to the their Collection. They will retaliate when possible.
  • Snipers: In this game there are not a lot of opportunities to be so selective with sniping, but a Sniper will try to attack the leader.

Note: The specific strategies of each of these player types varies based on the elements of the game at the time of testing.

Subject: 

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.

First Thoughts

While extending the theme of golf may seem like the obvious choice, there is nothing about this game that makes me think of golf. However, a collection of things that have point values equal to the depicted number except the highest depicted point card has a value of zero made me think of clocks. So, some early thematic thoughts:

  • The 12 o’clock card scores zero. 12:00 is also 00:00.
  • Of course, these clocks have to be collectible so they are fancy and/or antique.
  • The collection already has clocks in it: some (3) that are known and some that are of unknown value.

So if the numbered cards are replaced by cards:

  • With clocks with times on the hour of 1 – 10,
  • And the Kings are replaced by 12:00 cards,
  • What about the Jacks and Queens? What about 11:00? Pitch them all.

OK, I have already broken the theme. I am using clocks on the hours without 11:00, but I’m moving on.

Early Graphic Design (concept)

Employing the clock and collections concepts to the graphic design and art:

  • The card faces for point cards have clocks with their faces depicting their values as times 1-10 and 12 on the hour.
  • The card faces depict suit (still 4) by the type of clock depicted (traditional mantle, pendulum, torsion pendulum, etc.)
  • The jokers are special clocks that do not match any others. For now, they can still be in their packing crates marked Fragile. (They must be Italian clocks).
  • The card backs depict a dusty clock obscured by cobwebs and in sepia tone or grey scale.

Name Me

So now the game is one of collecting clocks, but oddly enough, for the time displayed on their faces, not for the type of clocks. Collecting clocks for an odd reason? Hmmm. Welcome to:

Eclectic Clock Collectors

Story Me

A peculiar and scary old gentleman has hired you to complete his collection of antique clocks. He has three shelves with enough room to hold three clocks each. His collection starts with three clocks that you have identified and (for now) six clocks that are too dusty to recognize. More than just collecting clocks, though, the old collector says he is "saving time." You aren’t sure what he means by this, but he says you will be rewarded for collecting clocks that have stopped at the same time.

Playtest

Prototype

Using the 3 standard decks that I had assembled to play the original game, I just eliminated the Jacks and Queens.

Playing

I simulated 2 and 4 player games several times. The Jacks eloped with the Queens and were not missed. The increased percentage of valued cards (Joker, K, A, 2-5, maybe 6) is real. Though not highly perceptible, in game speed, the frustration of getting one of those usually unwanted face cards is gone.

New Rules

The deck has changed, but there are no specific rules changes yet.

Working It Out

So have I made any progress with these minor changes?

  • Bland
    • I have a theme that is at least a little more interesting and has potential narrative for game mechanisms.
  • Wasted Components
    • I have trimmed the deck by 15% and eliminated cards that are mostly overlooked or unwanted. Though, still a long way to go on this one.
  • Wasted Information
    • I haven’t addressed this directly yet, but I am making an artistic commitment to suit which will have to be addressed.
Subject: 

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.

Ending the Game

At this point I also tinkered with the end of the game. Playing to a predetermined threshold is not uncommon, but it is arbitrary. Playing 9 or 18 hands (to simulate holes in golf) is arbitrary and a long game. I decided to see how the game would play with no shuffling and playing once through the deck(s). This would provide a predictable end to the game, keep the game length about the same for any number of players, and maybe add some interest on the last hand when the draw pile, and therefore time, is running out.

Playtest

Prototype and Playing

Still using the 3 standard decks that I had assembled to play the original game, I played several 2, 3, and 4 player hands using the 3 card market to select the original 3 cards for each collection. At this point, I am neglecting the higher player counts mostly since it takes so much more time to test and I am making minor changes and refining. The market is definitely most interesting at the lower play count (2-3) than at 4, since each player has a greater chance of getting a second card from the market that they have their eye on. If this doesn’t play well at higher player counts, I am assuming for now that more cards in the market will remedy the problem, so I am moving on.

Playing to the end of the deck (at its current size) the hands per game look like this:

  • 2 players = 4 hands
  • 3 players = 3 hands
  • 4 players = 2 hands
  • 5+ players = 1 hand with 3 decks, but boosting with another deck for every two additional players should get 2 hands.

While I was at it, I tinkered around with the idea that the players could go to a 3-card market for the entire game, but this did not seem viable in the current state, at least, so I dropped it.

New Rules

The new rules for the Start Phase look something like this:

Start Phase

  1. Draw one card from the market in turn order starting with the player to the left of the dealer.
  2. Replace the card in the market with the top card from the draw pile.
  3. Continue until 3 cards have been drawn.
  4. Arrange Cabinet however you want.

Working It Out

So have I made any progress with these changes?

  • Unmitigated Randomness
    • At least some of the randomness in setup has been mitigated. Players have options for the cards that they will keep instead of being completely at the mercy of the deal.
  • Multiplayer Solitaire
    • The improvement here is small since it only lasts as long as the setup, but right away the player is trying to guess how the other players will choose their cards. Many times the selection is obvious, but a mid to high rank pair in the market is an invitation, especially in a 2 or 3 player game.
  • Few Decisions
    • There are a few decisions that have crept into the setup as well to pick a strategy, though still light, on what collections a player may want to start with.
    • With the deck running low in the last hand players may have to change their strategies.
  • Game Length
    • The market adds a little time to the setup, but the increase is negligible or there maybe even a decrease since the players are likely to have a better start. Presumably, we have essentially cut through the first few rounds.
    • With the “once through the deck” idea, game length is at least predetermined.
  • Frustration
    • We’ve taken a chip out of frustration at setup, but the biggest frustrations, during play, haven’t been touched yet.
  • Hand Setup
    • Shuffling within the game has been eliminated, so the hands go quickly. (Now there is only scoring between hands.)
Subject: 

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:

  • Help Me Cards
    • Related to the Collection:
      • Dust the Shelf: Reveal any unrevealed card in your collection. (Cannot be the last card in a Collection)?
      • Get an Appraisal: Peek at any unrevealed card in any player's collection (including your own).
      • Spring Cleaning: Swap any 2 cards on your shelves (revealed or unrevealed).
    • Related to Drawing/Discarding Cards:
      • Collector's Road Show: Draw 3 cards (or some number related to the number of players) from the draw pile and use the Card of your choice. Return the others in any order.
      • One Man's Trash: Draw 3 cards (or some number related to the number of players) from the discard pile and use the Card of your choice. Discard the others in any order.
      • Time and Time Again: Play Again.
  • Hinder You/Take That Cards
    • Back in Time: Turn over any revealed Clock Card in any player's cabinet.
    • Steal a Minute: Steal a revealed Clock Card from any collection.
    • Time Out: Send any Clock Card from anyone's collection to the discard pile.
    • Time Travel: Trade two Clock Cards between any 2 players.
  • Other Cards
    • New Action: I threw these in and played an action that would come to mind – what I wish the card would allow me to do at that time.
    • Swap Meet: Trade one Clock Card with any willing player. (I found there was a shortage of “willing” players – even when they were all me – so this is retired for now).
    • Time Warp: I wanted an action that would change the time on a Clock Card, but this is not feasible at this time.

A few of these actions may result in an empty place in a player’s collection. For now all the Action Cards have the wording: “That player immediately replaces the card with the top card of the draw pile, in the same state (revealed/unrevealed) as the card that is replaced.”

I created them through thinking about a combination of thematic, clock collecting/time-related ideas, and typical card effects. As a result, they all have time themed names that are descriptive of the action. Unfortunately, they are a mixture of names that represent physical things you may do related to collecting clocks and concepts related to time. So, though they sound consistent, they aren’t really. Even so, they will do for now.

Playing with Probability

Also at this time, I decided to try playing with the number of 10s in the game. I had wanted to do this earlier, but this change required a change to the testing decks (to be easily tested) that I was dragging my feet on. Since 7, 8, 9, and 10 are generally unwanted cards, I doubled the number of 10s in the game. New players of the original game usually ask if they can collect Jacks and Queens together anyway. So now there are:

  • 3 cards in 4 suits for values 1-9 and 12.
  • 6 cards in 4 suits for value 10.
  • 6 cards (total) of no suit for the “Special Treasures” valued at -3.
  • 3 cards of no suit for each of 10 “Action Cards” with no point value.

Playtest

Prototype

At this point the original decks aren’t going to cut it without modification, so I created labels for each card that I applied to the original decks. The Clock Cards have a clock face with the number that is their point value in large print. They are in 4 colors (black, blue, red, and green). I pasted over the Jacks for the second set of 10s. The Jokers now say “Unique Treasure” and have a picture of a crate with a “FRAGILE” sticker on it. The Action Cards have their name, a brief description of their effect, and a picture of an alarm clock.

 

Playing

There was a lot to test here so the improved prototype was very helpful. Especially since I was trying to determine the impact to the duration of hands and games, trying to figure out what a card means would be too disruptive. As it was, adding the Action Cards to the deck had several unwanted impacts, like increasing the deck size and therefore eliminating any chance of running out of cards in the final round. I was fine with the deck as is for this testing, though, as I was mostly interested in testing the actions allowed by the Action Cards – do they work, are they fun, etc. I played many 2, 3, and 4 player games and revised the actions throughout the process.

I also created a spreadsheet for recording several statistics for every hand and game, paying particular attention to the use of Action Cards. The spreadsheet allows for testing alternate scoring mechanisms and summarizes the results for the different player counts to show any oddities. (average, min, and max of time, cards, and scores).

As for the 10s, they are a lot more attractive now and make for great fodder for the Action Cards that manipulate cards in the Cabinets.

Note: With the addition of action cards that affect how cards are drawn, I have all but eliminated the possibility of using the market once the hand begins.

New Rules

As a result of having the Action Cards in the game, I had to create a few new rules. Some may be temporary, depending on how the Action Cards are ultimately implemented, but these will work for now:

Start Phase

  • If an Action Card is drawn for the market, set it aside (“burned”) and draw again.

Collection Phase Rules related to Action Cards:

  • An Action Card can only be used once.
  • An Action Card must be either played for its Action immediately or discarded.
    • If used for its Action, the card is discarded perpendicular to the discard pile to indicate that it is used and cannot be drawn. (Years of Canasta taught me this trick.)
    • If discarded unused, it is placed in the discards normally and the next player may choose to draw and use it.
  • If the use of an Action Card creates a hole in a player’s collection, the player immediately draws a replacement card and place it face down to fill the gap.
  • Once a player has completed a collection on a shelf (all the same number) that shelf is locked and another player cannot use an Action Card to disrupt it. (This may be temporary. I am considering the concept of “locking” a shelf and how that may be implemented.) This is to limit the ability of the “Take That” mechanism to drag out a round.

Working It Out

So have I made any progress with these changes?

  • Unmitigated Randomness
    • The Action Cards allow for several mitigations to randomness:
    • Pre-mitigation: Drawing multiple cards and choosing one.
    • Post-mitigation: Shuffling clocks on the shelves and between players.
  • Few Decisions
    • The Action Cards introduce quite a few new decisions and some that can be quite interesting. EX: I may want to force you to discard a low point card, but the next player will get it from the discards, so I may be better off causing you to discard a mid-level card that is paired up.
  • Bland
    • Some new actions that relate to collecting clocks have been added that generally function within the game as the thematic action would indicate.
  • Multiplayer Solitaire
    • Some actions have been added that allow players to effect other players directly.
  • Game Length
    • The Action Cards themselves do not add significant time to the game, but they present tougher decisions that can result in slowed play; particularly with higher player counts. EX: If you can trade a card with any of 3 other players, you are considering as many as 24 other cards.
  • Redundancy
    • The Action Cards do much to eliminate the redundancy of the game. With about 25% of the cards now providing an alternate play, most rounds are impacted by the Action Cards.
  • Wasted Cards
    • The 10s are now a vital part of the game and actually add interest to the use of Action Cards.
    • The 7, 8, and 9 point cards are still mostly unused and unwanted, so there is no progress on these (yet).
  • Frustration
    • The Action Cards alleviate some of the frustration by providing other means to get the cards you need and to retrieve a card that was lost.
Subject: 

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:

Round Dynamics Observed:

  • Early Round:
    • Establish Sets
  • Middle Round:
    • Collect Sets
    • Adjust Sets (based on card count/availability and potential risk, etc.)
  • Late Round:
    • Finish Sets
    • Limit Losses

Round Dynamics and Actions:

The Action Cards definitely have an impact on the decisions available and options taken, but the general round dynamics stay pretty much the same. Here is how the Action Cards seem to be used based on type:

  • Reveal Actions seem to have little importance in the Early Round and pick up slightly in the Middle Round.  They are very situational and pick up in the Late Round.
  • Draw Actions seem to keep the same relative importance in the Early and Middle Round – they are mostly situational – but pick up in the Late Round.
  • Interactive Actions have little use in the Early Round but seem to increase in importance in the Middle and Late Round.

Playtest

Prototype

There were no updates to the prototype for these changes.

Playing

I continued to collect stats on the use of the Action Cards and noted (not hard stats) these uses by Action Card type and point in the round:

  • How many Action Cards are “burned” in the initial market?
    • Since at this point there is no way to add an Action Card to the grid, they are immediately “burned” and a replacement card added to the market.
    • The number of Action Cards burned this way was frustratingly high, but I must have patience for now.
  • If an Action Card is drawn from the draw pile is it likely to be used?
    • A high percentage of Action Cards were used.
      • Sometimes the rationale was purely to prevent the next player from having the action available to them.
  • If an unused Action Card is in the discard pile is it preferred over drawing an unknown card from the draw pile?
    • This was highly situational as described in the Round Dynamics and Actions section above.
  • If an Action Card is drawn from the discard pile is it likely to be used?
    • At this point there is no other reason to draw an Action Card from the discards.

We’ll look at these questions again as we continue to incorporate the Action Cards into the game.

Working It Out

This round did not introduce any changes, so there isn’t much to report here.

  • Unmitigated Randomness
    • The potential changes to player order were intended to address any problems here that may turn up, but as yet, I don’t have the data to indicate a problem.
  • Few Decisions and Redundancy
    • Not only did the Action Cards provide new decisions, but these decisions and when an Action Card is seen as a good option vary throughout the round.
  • Hand Setup
    • Having the Action Cards implemented as separate cards in the deck, makes managing the deck a little more fiddly. So this is something to monitor as they are fully implemented.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines – Round 5

Design Workbench

The Key to Incorporating the Action Cards

As mentioned in previous rounds and in “What Needs Work,” the 7, 8, and 9 point cards are generally not used and not wanted. The 10 point cards had a similar problem until I doubled the number of them in the deck. Certainly it would not be advisable to double the count of all the unwanted cards, but I have been saving the 7, 8, and 9 cards for this next change.

Since there are 3 different types of Action Cards and 3 values of unwanted Clock Cards, I have applied the actions to the point cards. (I have been heading this direction from early in the design process, but didn’t want to give life to an idea that I would later have to kill). I have called the ability to use the action on a Clock Card a Key (picture a clock winding key). Since the lower point cards are more likely to be kept in a collection, they might best be used for the higher value actions. However, the difference between keeping a 7 or a 9 seems to be negligible – the decision is based more on the perceived availability of the cards than the avoidance of a penalty. So I have applied the “higher value actions” to the higher point cards, which seems to be more intuitive to the casual player. The perceived value of a particular action is subjective and some players would not value some of the actions at all (e.g., a Take That action is undesirable to some). So here, higher value = greater blast radius (impact):

  • 7 = Iron (black) Key = “Help Me” Collection Action Cards
    • Originally, I called these Brass Keys which seemed more thematic for collectible clocks, but the color is too close to gold, so I quickly changed to iron.
  • 8 = Silver Key = “Help Me” Drawing Action Cards
  • 9 = Gold Key = “Hinder You” Take That Action Cards

Graphically, these cards continue to have the clock, but also have a picture of the appropriate key. They can be used as either a Clock Card or to activate/acquire an Action Card, though the likelihood of them being used as a Clock Card is even less than before.

Locking-in Progress

Until this point I have had a rule that a Take That Action cannot be done on a Clock Card that is in a completed collection – the shelf was described as “locked.” It was convenient to have locking happen automatically for a while, but now it is time to consider how a player can lock a shelf. If the player has the option to take a turn to lock a shelf a few positive things happen that are described in the Working It Out section below.

Micro-iterations: Making these changes at the same time might be moving two balls at once, but I see them as integral and did short iterations (a few hands) on each. The decision to take an Action Card is based mostly on the current state of the collection.

Playtest

Prototype

These were the changes for this prototype:

  • I pulled the Action Cards back out of the deck and pasted a picture of a lock (of the appropriate material: Iron, Silver, and Gold) on the back.
    • I hope this is a good idea because pasting on the back of the card essentially commits to pulling these cards out of the deck.
  • I wrote the name of the appropriate key on the faces of all the 7, 8, and 9 point cards.

Playing

Separating the Action Cards from the deck cut the deck size back down and eliminated the confusion about what to do with them. I like the decision on what to do with a Key Card and have used them for the Lock to protect a row with a completed set or a low total. Their use to buy and Action Card is still uncertain because there are 3 or 4 possible Action Cards in the draw pile for each type of key. I thought about laying out the different types, but this made a mess in the center of the table. The table starts to look a little overwhelming for a casual gamer. Eventually, I decided to provide the option to use an Action Card immediately or to save it for later. This seems like a solid change; making the randomness of the Action Card drawn less bothersome and providing another option, but at the cost of a turn. The new rules are below.

Having to buy the locks is a nice addition. Leaders are quick to spend a turn to protect what they have accumulated.

  • How many Action Cards are “burned” in the initial market?
    • This problem has been eliminated.
  • If a Key Card is drawn from the draw pile is it likely to be used to acquire an Action Card?
    • Except in the case when an equivalent Key Card was placed in the collection during the initial draft, this is exclusively how the card will be used.
  • If an unused Key Card is in the discard pile is it preferred over drawing an unknown card from the draw pile?
    • This often seems like a press your luck strategy (since the exact Action is not known until after the Action Card is drawn).
    • This may be done to acquire a Lock to protect valuable rows.
    • Providing the Action Card Space to accumulate Action Cards makes them even a little more enticing.
  • If a Key Card is drawn from the discard pile is it likely to be used to acquire an Action Card?
    • Except in the case when an equivalent Key Card was placed in the collection during the initial draft, this is exclusively the reason to draw it.

Though, there are a few more ideas worth investigating, the current rules and configuration need more playtesting to collect statistics and to accumulate player comments before changing more.

New Rules

  • When a Key Card is used to buy an Action Card, the Action Card can be:
    • Used immediately for its Action.
    • Used as a Lock to protect a row in the grid.
    • Placed in the Action Space for later use. A card in the Action Space may be played on any turn instead of taking a normal turn. The options for use are the same as when drawn.
  • When a Lock is played to protect a row, it is played Lock side up to the Lock Space – the space immediately to the left of the row.

Working It Out

So have I made any progress with these changes?

  • Unmitigated Randomness
    • Allowing players to put an Action Card in the Action Space for later use mitigates the randomness of the card drawn. It can likely be helpful later.
  • Few Decisions
    • Having the option to keep an Action Card for later use, though at the cost of another turn, makes the decision a little harder to turn down.
    • Having the option to lock a shelf – protect it from changes – provides players another decision that makes the game more interesting. The decision to lock/not lock might be based on the other player types at the table which adds to the metagame.
  • Bland
    • Hopefully, the game is getting a little more interesting.
  • Multiplayer Solitaire
    • With the ability to lock a shelf, but requiring a turn to do it encourages other players to interfere with progress more quickly.
  • Game Length
    • The game length has not changed significantly as a result of these changes. The setup is a little longer to setup the Action Card draw piles.
  • Wasted Cards (Chaff)
    • Although there are several Clock Cards that are still not interesting as Clock Cards, they have value for their actions.
  • Frustration
    • Having the option to lock a shelf allows players to lock in progress and protect themselves from other meddlesome players.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines – Going Micro

Introduction

At the time that I am doing this makeover, card games, particularly ones derived from traditional games, are quite popular. Even more popular are “micro games” and micro card games are all the rage. There is much discussion among game designers, developers, publishers, and enthusiasts about what makes a game “micro.” I won’t dwell on that, but will proceed with the following definition:

A micro game is significantly simpler, quicker, and smaller (has few components) relative to a “full size” game of the same genre while providing a similar experience.

Some call it streamlining, but I would hope that most games, including “full size” games go through a streamlining process throughout development anyway. So it is more than just streamlining.

So, in Microsizing Nines (or more accurately, Eclectic Clock Collectors) I am going to trim the game that I have designed to this point (somewhere between Round 5 and 6) down to its very basics. I will also strip the theme and look for an appropriate one that matches the final game play (or leave it abstract).

Global Objectives

I would like to keep some of its basic game play and introduce some “improvements” while avoiding some obvious traits. Here are some main objectives to guide development.

  • The rules will be very simple – even simpler than the base game.
  • The strategy will be “deeper” while the game will still be accessible for casual play.
  • The opportunity for combos (back-to-back actions that are more impactful than the actions alone) will be opened.
  • The micro game will be even more of a race than the base game.
  • Although the game will naturally have some memory element, it will not become a “memory game” (a game where one’s memory of the hidden information is the central element to winning).

There will be images displayed throughout the series. You can see the full Nines Micro Image Gallery here.

The rules for this game will be periodically updated at this location: Nines Micro Rules.

A Print-n-Play version of the game is available here: Nines Micro Print-n-Play.

Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Round 1

Design Workbench

Design Objective

The goal of going micro is to drop the game down to its bare essentials in components and rules while keeping the essence of the game. I’ll start by dropping the card count down (assuming 2 players) to:

  • 18 = Minimum for the player grids.
  • + 3 = A trade row of 3-5 cards (depending on player count, maybe n+1)
  • + 3 = A few cards that are taken out of the game to hide some information; hopefully, making it more than a puzzle and keep it interesting.
  • = 24 Total cards.

Now let’s see how that meshes with the card characteristics:

  • Every card has a point value, but the 0 and “Treasure”/Wild (-3) cards stay in the game.
  • All point cards 1-x have an action.
    • Options for Point Value – Action card combination.
      • Coincident Value System: Action ranges in scope/value coincident with Point Value. Lowest point cards, highest value, have the highest value actions. Since this game has negative scoring, I will start with this option.
      • Counter Value System: Action ranges in scope/value counter to Point Value. . Lowest point cards, highest value, have the lowest value actions. This is the likely eventual outcome since it balances the two values a card may have so that all cards are attractive – there are no cards that are a bad draw.
      • Some other pattern or arrangement based on playtesting.
  • Potentially: Cards can change orientation (square cards or tiles).
    • This allows actions that change card orientation.
    • This may change the actual value of the card or just how it is scored.
    • Keeping this in mind, but not implementing at the outset.

That allows for:

  • Point cards 0 – 6 in 3 colors. (21 cards)
  • 3 Wild cards.
  • = 24 Total cards.

Setup

  1. Deal 3 cards to form a “Trade Row.”
  2. Players take turns drawing one card from the “Trade Row” and replacing it from the stock to a total of 3 cards drawn.
  3. Deal 6 more cards face down to each player.
  4. Players arrange their cards into a 3 x 3 grid however they want.
  5. The 3 cards forming the Trade Row remain between the players.
  6. The remaining 3 cards in the stock are set aside without looking at them. They are out of the game for this round.
  7. Optionally, about 12 “lock tokens” are placed near the trade row.

Play

The basic rules with some options to try are:

  • Each player in turn does his choice of one of the following actions:
    • Reveal a card.
    • Conceal a card to use its action. (See available actions below.)
    • Lock a card, a row, or a column. (Or a diagonal?) Your choice.
      • This can be designated by turning the card sideways or setting a lock token on the card(s). Since card orientation might be introduced as important later, I am using the lock tokens.
    • An option to try later: Unlock a card, a row, or a column. (Or a diagonal?) Your choice.
  • The start player switches to the last player in each turn.
    • This provides the opportunity to play action combos that compound and/or protect the results.
    • This may effectively reduce this to a 2 Player game only.

Additional rules:

  • Locked cards cannot be manipulated by either player.
    • However, concealed cards that are locked will be revealed and scored at the end of the round.
  • Wilds – Score Options: (in order of preference and testing)
    • Option 1: (but may be too powerful)
      • Count as any color/suit.
    • Option 2:
      • Count as any number only.
    • Option 3:
      • Count as -3. (Like the Treasure cards in the base game).

Actions

The initial Action descriptions and Point – Action combinations are below. I am starting with basic actions, but there can be further changes (e.g., a Reveal Action may become a Reveal or Peek Action).  The rank of Actions is estimated and may prove to be different based on playtesting – due to unexpected uses and possible combos.

Points

Action on Card

Player Affected

Basic Type

6

Reveal a card in any player’s grid.

Either (+/-)

Reveal

5

Reveal two cards in your own grid.

Self (+)

Reveal

4

Trade a card in your grid with the Trade Row.

Initially, the card must be revealed, but also try concealed cards and leave them at their current state (revealed/concealed) in the Trade Row.

Self (+)

Trade

3

Swap any two cards in your grid.

Self (+)

Move

2

Force another player to trade a card with their choice of card from the Trade Row.

Initially, the player forcing the trade can designate the card to trade, but also try allowing the affected player to choose.

Other (-)

Trade

1

Trade a designated card with another player. The player taking the Action gets to select both cards.

Self (+)

Other (-)

Trade

0

At this point I am keeping this action open. It is also worthwhile trying to keep these cards face up, by not having an action. There may also be other actions that are worth trying out.

 

 

There is still room for another action or two to replace one or more of these. As in the original Nines Makeover, I want to look for moments in playtesting when the player thinks, “I wish I could…” Alternately, if the cards are symmetrical, new actions can be related to changing the orientation of any card in any grid. In the back of my mind I see a possible future for this design where the values of the cards are represented by patterns rather than numbers and a row of the same cards with the same orientation is absolutely obvious and pleasing.

End of Game

  • Once one player has revealed all cards in their grid, their round is finished.
  • The other player(s) gets to take one more turn.
  • The other player(s) reveals any concealed cards.
  • The round is scored.
  • The player with the lowest score wins. (Still using low scoring model for now).

Glossary

Since I have scrapped the theme, there is less to report here, but I also want to change the definition of “Set” to be consistent with typical card games.

  • Action: The action described on a card that can be enabled/activated by concealing the card.
  • Coincident Value (System): Lowest point cards, highest value, have the highest value actions.
  • Collection: Cards in a row or column (and optionally diagonal) that are all the same color.
  • Counter Value (System): Lowest point cards, highest value, have the lowest value actions.
  • Grid: The 3 x 3 grid of cards in front of each player that acts as their hand.
  • Lock(ed): A card that is prohibited from any further action by any player.
  • Set: Cards in a row or column (and optionally diagonal) that are all the same number.
  • Single: A card that is not part of any Set.
  • Trade Row: Three cards between the players that are used initially to draw a starting hand and that remain throughout the game to be traded when an appropriate Action is used.

Scoring

  • Wild Cards: Wilds count as any number or color desired when scoring any set or collection.
  • Sets: Cards in a set score 0. A set is any row or column (and optionally diagonal) all of the same number.
  • Singles: Cards not in any set score their point value (0 – 6).
  • Collections: Any collection of all the same color in any row or column (and optionally diagonal) scores -3.
  • Locks: Locks have no impact on scoring. (I don’t anticipate this changing, but have them listed here in case there is cause to change this.)

Playtest

Prototype

Here is a great use for Uno cards – one might say a better use for Uno cards. I separated out cards from an Uno deck that match the stats for this game (3 Wild and 1 each of 0 – 6 in 3 colors). I printed stickers that describe the actions for each card and affixed them to the appropriate cards. I added 15 black tokens to represent locks to complete the components. As mentioned earlier, the lock function can be further simplified by turning a card sideways to signify a lock, but I am keeping card orientation open for other possibilities for now and don’t want to train my brain that it strictly means locking a card.

Playing

After the first few plays, it is obvious that this microsizing has turned a relatively simple game into a brain-burner. (The original Nines game could be described as very simple). With the various scoring options, the plan of attack can be very mathy. However, there is still the option of playing conservatively and only using obvious actions, so the game may still be very approachable.

The Draft

Depending on the cards that are turned for the Trade Row, the initial draft is fairly straight forward. There can be some decisions based on:

  • Color vs. Point Value: Pick a card with a matching color to one(s) already drawn instead of a lower number that does not match.
  • Action: Pick an action that the player can see as useful based on other actions already drawn or generally useful.

Although the typical decision is still very simple, having any decision and a better chance of getting something useful mitigates the luck of the draw.

Grid Play

Depending on what cards are in the grid at the outset, the first few turns might be fairly straightforward; reveal a few key cards in your own grid to determine the best strategy, but they can also be very tricky and highly interactive; go after the opponent’s low point cards to 1) get a lower score and 2) take away their ability to get at your cards.

Switching the first player each turn provides the opportunity for combos which make planning moves more complex and interesting.

More plays and introducing some of the options discussed here (e.g., optional point-action cards, use of diagonals, peeking instead of revealing, exchanging concealed cards with the Trade Row, etc.) are necessary to do a deeper analysis.

Working It Out

So have I made any progress with these changes?

Unmitigated Randomness

  • The Trade Row provides some mitigation.
  • The Actions that allow trades with the opponent and the Trade Row and swapping cards in the grid provide mitigation.

Few Decisions

  • The number of decisions for a player that wants to do the math have jumped up significantly.

Bland

  • At this point this game is an abstract, so there is nothing thematically to make it more interesting.
  • The complexity and opportunity for combos have made it technically very interesting.

Multiplayer Solitaire

  • There is definitely much more player interaction and interdependence (Actions that affect the Trade Row or the availability of desirable cards in the opponent’s grid.)
  • It is hard to figure what the opponent will do so it is not like playing against an AI, but more playtesting is necessary to see if dominant strategies emerge.

Game Length

  • The limited number of cards and the almost automatic progress toward an end make this a bit of a race.

Redundancy

  • There is little wasted action in the game now, so there aren’t repetitive, meaningless turns.

Wasted Information

  • Essentially every card has 3 properties: Value, Color, and Action (Wilds excepted). All of these have importance in every game.

Wasted Cards (Chaff)

  • There are no wasted cards. Technically, I could eliminate 1 set of 3 cards, but at this point having 3 set aside to keep some mystery in the game is a bonus.

Frustration

  • There may still be some frustration but it is more likely to come from option overload. We’ll have to watch for an AP problem. Not that anyone (except “That Guy”) would spend all night on a turn, but this is supposed to be a quick game.

Hand Setup

  • Even with the draft from the Trade Row at the beginning of the game, this is a very quick setup. All the cards get oriented the same at the end of a hand and all get shuffled together, so a new hand is very quick to setup.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Round 2

Design Workbench

Design Objective

It didn’t take very many more test games to figure out that a stalemate condition could arise; where Player 1 would perform an Action (or more likely 2 Actions) and Player 2 would immediately perform an Action (or likely 2 Actions) to exactly counter or undo Player 1’s Action(s). Now Player 1 is set to do the exact same thing. Details are discussed a little later in the Grid Play section.

Let’s see how we might fix this issue without creating more rules.

Playtest

Prototype

We started with the same prototype, but changed it in the middle of this test as follows. All Actions were moved to the card opposite them in the value order: The “1” Action became the “6” Action, the “2” became the “5”, etc. So now the Value-Action table looks like this:

Points

Action on Card

Player Affected

Basic Type

0

At this point I am keeping this action open. It is also worthwhile trying to keep these cards face up, by not having an action. There may also be other actions that are worth trying out.

 

 

1

Reveal a card in any player’s grid.

Either (+/-)

Reveal

2

Reveal two cards in your own grid.

Self (+)

Reveal

3

Trade a card in your grid with the Trade Row.

Initially, the card must be revealed, but also try concealed cards and leave them at their current state (revealed/concealed) in the Trade Row.

Self (+)

Trade

4

Swap any two cards in your grid.

Self (+)

Move

5

Force another player to trade a card with their choice of card from the Trade Row.

Initially, the player forcing the trade can designate the card to trade, but also try allowing the affected player to choose.

Other (-)

Trade

6

Trade a designated card with another player. The player taking the Action gets to select both cards.

Self (+)

Other (-)

Trade

 

The cards now look like the ones pictured here.

Playing

The Draft

My son and I just played the draft part of the game multiple times trying the two different point-action systems to see how the system affected the strategy:

  • Coincident Value: Low point (high value) cards have high value actions.
    • As noted before, the choices are pretty obvious here.
  • Counter Value: Low point (high value) cards have low value actions.
    • Wow! The player may set out on a completely different strategy based on the cards that are available and the cards taken by the opponent.

Although the typical decision is still very simple, having any decision and a better chance of getting something useful mitigates the luck of the draw.

Grid Play

An unintended consequence of combos is potential stalemate. Since an action card is concealed to use its action, without the first player switch each round it would take two turns to use that action again and the other player could change their grid to prohibit making the exact same action. With the first player switch, though, a player can repeat the exact same action and the other player can take the exact same defensive action to undo it; thus creating a stalemate scenario. An option to deal with this could be to introduce new rule(s) to prohibit or mitigate the potential: (with some quick observations)

  • Temporarily lock a card that has just been either used for its action or manipulated by an action.
    • Prohibits player from using it differently.
  • Conceal a card that has just been acted upon by an Action.
    • Assumes that Actions cannot be performed on concealed cards.
    • Slows game play – the objective is to reveal all the cards. Another cause to conceal them draws out the game.
  • Prohibit taking an exact opposite action (an undo action).
    • Not horrible.
  • Prohibit using the exact same action two turns in a row.
    • Not horrible, but more to track.
  • Institute a threefold repetition rule as in chess that immediately initiates the end game when the same play has been made three times in a row.
    • Could be catastrophic to the game – could happen on round 1-2-3.

Ultimately, introducing a new rule is not desirable; especially since one of the main objectives of micro-sizing the game is to trim it down to the absolute minimum rules. So a system approach would be far better. A change to the Counter Value Method for the point-action system may be the key.

New Rules

The objective of this round was to mitigate the stalemate condition without introducing new rules. So far, it appears that we have accomplished this, so no new rules are introduced here.

Working It Out

So have we made any progress with these changes? There are several impacts of these changes with the most dramatic listed here.

  • Few Decision: The Counter Value system increases the number and complexity of decisions available.
  • Multiplayer Solitaire: The Counter Value system also adds more risk-reward calculation to interactions so knowing what is in the other player’s grid is more important.
  • Game Length: The game doesn’t appear to necessarily take any longer, but with more analysis comes more time. More playtests are necessary to determine this impact.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Round 3

Design Workbench

Design Objective

Now that we have a sense of how the game plays, we are ready to make a few more changes. Although we started with fairly stripped down rules, we are going to try to strip them down a bit more. Previously we only allowed Actions and Locks to be played on Revealed cards. That made it simple to think about what was happening, but also imposed a rule; “the card must be revealed” that may not be necessary and may actually inhibit the game play. So what if the state of the card Concealed/Revealed doesn’t matter?

Is the game more interesting? Is it easier or more difficult to understand, explain, score, play, etc.? What new problems may arise from this new mechanism? Does it reduce or increase the rule set?

Playtest

Prototype

There are no changes to the prototype in this round.

Playing

Opening the ability to affect Concealed cards changes the game significantly.

The Draft

There are no changes to the draft this round.

Grid Play

Some observed impacts of this rule simplification so far are:

  • Positive:
    • The first obvious positive impact of manipulating Concealed cards is the introduction of bluffing. It may not be obvious until you play the game, but the first time a player decides to Peek instead of Reveal, the other player is immediately curious and probably nervous about that card.
    • Trades with the Trade Row “open up” a bit. It seems that in most games trading with the trade row goes stale fairly quickly unless a player can force trades. Now, with Concealed cards in the Trade Row, players seem to be more interested in them. They are more willing to press their luck than to trade for a less optimal card.
  • Potentially Negative:
    • It depends on what you are looking for in the game, but one of my initial goals was to not make this a “memory game” – one where memory plays a principal role in winning. Manipulating Concealed cards and Peeking at them without Revealing them certainly increases the role that memory plays in the game. Though, each player can choose how much they want to play this way and there remain other viable strategies that don’t require so much memorization.
  • Still Uncertain:
    • Although the rules are generally simpler with this implemented, it may be harder for players to understand the simplified rules. Understanding the best direction requires further testing. In playtesting so far the first and common question is, “When I move/trade a Concealed card, do I Reveal it?” Rather than the obvious, “Leave it as is,” the expectation is one of the following:
      • Always Reveal a moved/traded Concealed card.
      • Reveal a moved/traded Concealed card if the card it was swapped/traded with was Revealed.
    • Keeping cards Concealed can increase the total game time. So far it hasn’t been obvious, but more playtesting is required. It will definitely be a negative if the game is routinely and measurably longer and if the race element of the game is negated.
    • Part of the interest in the game is related to programming Actions – setting up a trade with a predecessor Action. With Actions now on Concealed cards, there appears to be less forward planning and programming required. More playtesting is required to see if this is a real change and whether that change is positive or negative.

New Rules

Playing the game now with the ability to affect Concealed cards creates the possibility for more options to the Actions and requires some revision to the rules.

  • Obviously, all references to “Revealed card” in the Actions are removed.
  • All “Reveal” Actions now read, “Reveal or Peek…” The Player can Peek at the card and then decide whether to Reveal it or not.
  • The End Game can now be initiated before all cards are revealed, so this rule must be changed. There are a couple options yet to be tested:
    • Once one player has revealed all unlocked cards in their grid, their round is finished.
    • Once one player has revealed or locked all cards in their grid, their round is finished.
    • Once both players pass on taking any action in successive turns, the round is finished.

Working It Out

So have I made any progress with these changes?

  • Few Decisions
    • The players now have the additional decision to Peek or Reveal.
    • The decision to use an Action is more frequent – they don’t require as much staging.
  • Multiplayer Solitaire
    • Actions on Concealed cards have opened more trades with the other player.
  • Game Length
    • Possibly negatively impacted due to more turns used to Reveal all the cards, but this requires more testing. Locking Concealed cards may mitigate the effect.
  • Redundancy
    • More options available every turn means less redundancy in those turns.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Round 4

Design Workbench

Design Objective

Now with a game that seems to be pretty solid and fun it is time to introduce Orientation as a card state. Orientation is the final (at least that we can think of at this time) card state important to the game. Its importance comes from the original goal of having a purely graphical game in which the scoring is obvious by the appearance of the grid. Along with making orientation important comes providing an action to manipulate it.

Will card orientation introduce more fun and new (desirable) player challenges or just complicate the game with little or no benefits? Let’s see.

Playtest

Prototype

There is one simple change to the prototype this round. We add an action to the “0” cards that allows changing orientation. So the Value-Action matrix now looks like this: (The Conceal/Peek changes from Round 3 are also incorporated).

Points

Action on Card

Player Affected

Basic Type

0

Change the orientation of any card.

Either (+/-)

Orient

1

Reveal/Peek at a card in any player’s grid.

Either (+/-)

Reveal

2

Reveal/Peek at two cards in your own grid.

Self (+)

Reveal

3

Trade a card in your grid with the Trade Row.

Self (+)

Trade

4

Swap any two cards in your grid.

Self (+)

Move

5

Force another player to trade a card with their choice of card from the Trade Row.

Other (-)

Trade

6

Trade a designated card with another player. The player taking the Action gets to select both cards.

Self (+)

Other (-)

Trade

You may notice that the updated “0” cards in the image are a new set of Uno cards. This is due to the fortunate circumstance of having to provide my original set to someone else to test. The image also shows a Yellow “0” card which we haven’t used yet and is an indication of what is to come in the next round.

Playing

The initial and expected use of the “0” action is to reserve the action to change the orientation of the other player’s that affects the scoring of 2 rows/columns.

The Draft

There are no changes to the draft this round.

Grid Play

Orientation is intended to be a third priority scoring element - on the order of something like this:

  • Numbered Sets = Meat
  • Color Collection = Potatoes
  • Orientation Collection = Gravy

Some observed impacts of introducing the Orientation Collection so far are: (with a few solo tests)

  • Positive:
    • There is an additional option available to the players.
    • There are no bum cards, so each player has points and actions equating to a valuable draw every game.
  • Possibly Negative:
    • Potentially introduces too much fiddliness.
    • Based on the current rules, orientation may be almost completely ignored.
  • Still Uncertain:
    • The scoring method in general is still uncertain and Orientation may point out some flaws. (Which is positive in progressing the game design, but uncertain in outcome.)

Much more playtesting is required at this time. This should be close to the final 2-player game unless something needs to be thrown out. The scoring mechanism still needs trimming which could affect the whole game play, but here is a good spot to test the smoothness of play further before making those changes.

New Rules

With card orientation now playing a role in scoring the game and with an Action related to changing orientation, some new and revised rules are required:

  • Any time a card is Revealed, the player taking the Reveal Action may set its Orientation however they desire.
  • Scoring:
    • There are now two types of Collections; Color and Orientation.
    • Collections: Any collection of all the same color or orientation in any row or column (and optionally diagonal) scores -3.
      • We are starting here for simplicity (not in scoring necessarily, but in degree of change from one rule set to the next). We expect that the scoring for an orientation collection if done this way will be less than that for color (probably -1) or to take a different approach to scoring altogether.

Working It Out

So have we made any progress with these changes?

  • Few Decisions
    • Orientation provides another option which results in additional decisions and more complex decisions. However, orientation may be an almost trivial aspect so the impact to decisions will likely be small. (Though at least the small impact is in the right direction).
  • Bland
    • At this point orientation does not have an impact here, but this element is being introduced to see if a purely graphical card/tile can replace the current numbered cards. If successful, this should have a big positive impact on the “blandness” of the game.
  • Multiplayer Solitaire
    • The “0” action allows players another option to affect each other’s grid. However, it still needs to be seen how often that action is used. As with the decisions, the impact is small, but in the right direction.
  • Game Length
    • No significant impact.
  • Redundancy
    • No significant impact.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Round 5

Design Workbench

Design Objective

In this round I will try to address two seemingly unrelated observations: The “1” Action (Reveal/Peek at any card) does not get used much and a player may run out of time sooner than they want. According to the major objectives for this game, both of these observations may not be recognizing negative conditions, but they may be more pronounced than desired. Let’s break them down a bit into what is actually positive about these observations and what might be negative:

“1” Action

  • “Is there really a problem?”
    • The 1 Point card is intended to have the least valuable action and therefore should not get used much.
  • “Yes, but…”
    • It should get used occasionally and I don’t think it is used at all.

Player Running out of Time

  • “Is there really a problem?”
    • The game is intended to be a race and quick, so players should run out of time.
  • “Yes, but…”
    • Some players (mostly Perfectionists) prefer to have more time to organize their tableau better.
    • Some manipulations just take a few rounds to complete.
    • As long as both players are cool with another round or two, what’s the harm. A player that wants to keep the game a race can still do that.

Playtest

Prototype

There is a simple change to the prototype for this round. Simply add the word “Conceal” on the 1 and 2 Point cards.

Playing

The expected use of the conceal action is to slow down the opponent:

  • A player always has the ability to conceal a card by using its action, so buying time this way is always available anyway.
  • This action can break an opponent’s combo.
  • This action can slow down the opponent long enough to essentially extend a combo across turns.

We saw this action used immediately in the first games played with the new rule, so something is right. Better yet each time it was used the player performing the action had a sense of success and the player acted upon had to modify their strategy. Though the action wasn’t met with frustration or anger, but more of a, ”Nicely played.” After a dozen or more playtest with two different groups this looks like a positive change.

New Rules

The rules changes to accomplish these tests are really simple. Add the word “Conceal” to the rules and on the cards as such:

  • 1 Point Card: Reveal, Peek, or Conceal any card in any Grid.
  • 2 Point Card: Reveal, Peek, or Conceal two cards in your Grid.

Working It Out

This change was intended to have two specific effects, but have I made any general progress with these changes?

  • Unmitigated Randomness
    • Players have a little extra leeway in rearranging their grid to overcome the input randomness.
  • Few Decisions
    • There is now a “real” decision for the 1 Action.
  • Multiplayer Solitaire
    • The new conceal action is mostly used on the opponent, so keeping track of their grid is now more important.
  • Game Length
    • From early playtesting, these changes appear to extend the game on average by about one action.
  • Redundancy
    • A player can use the conceal action to break the opponent’s repetitive combo.
  • Wasted Cards (Chaff)
    • The 1 Point card plays into more strategies.
  • Frustration
    • The “Take That” aspect of concealing an opponent’s card may cause some consternation, but so far it doesn’t appear to be frustrating. However, one playtester admitted that he was sheepish the first time he used the action on his opponent, who also happened to be his wife. Once she had a chance to use it effectively, though, the gloves were off.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Round 6

Design Workbench

Design Objective

Since it has been a while since I last reported on this project and the game is actively being playtested, I thought I should report on progress even though there are no major changes. I propose a few tweaks here that may cause changes to the rules and the cards, so by the next round I may post all new documents for rules and for building a deck. Historically, I have introduced new ideas in this notebook after they have been tested and changes decided. I am going to break form in this entry and suggest a couple new rules that we will be testing in the coming weeks. With many successful tests behind us, these are in the range of fine tuning. We are not experiencing any major problems with the game.

Playtest

Prototype

The prototype hasn’t changed from the last round, but I have a proposed change this round that may change it for next round.

Playing

The first thing worth mentioning is I have offered to play other games to my key 2-player tester and he is only interested in playing this game. We have played about 30 games (10 sets of 3 games) and are still discovering new tactics and strategies within the game. Surprisingly, one recent tactic is at the setup. We are taking more stock in what the other player has showing in placing our initial 3 cards; anticipating cards to be traded away and others to be unavailable for matching.

Stalemate

With many games under our belts, we have now had one instance when we could have hit a stalemate; each player uses their two actions to counter the other player’s turn. The change many months go to allow two actions per turn has mitigated this possibility, but apparently it hasn’t destroyed it entirely. This was the scenario:

  1. Player 1 was using a 5: Force Trade with the Trade Row to force Player 2 to trade an important card (one of a set) to the Trade Row. This required 2 Actions each turn – Conceal the card to use its Action then Reveal it.
  2. Player 2 was using a 3: Trade with the Trade Row to get the card back. This required 2 Actions each turn – Conceal the card to use its Action then Reveal it. Player 2 did not have the ability to use another card action to disrupt the Player 1 action (force a trade, swap a card, etc.).

Although it is not uncommon for each player to have the necessary cards for this to happen, it just doesn’t because there are many other actions available. However, it was late in the game and Player 2 was ready to conclude the game, but could not get enough actions to Lock or Reveal the remaining cards. Player 1 did not have any other valuable actions and was not happy with his grid.

A rule to call the game after a certain number of repeats could help, but the timing of that call would have been very important since it was the difference of a set to Player 2 and coincidentally an unused Wild. The point swing would have been 8 points for Player 2; the set was of 3’s and there was a 0 in the Trade Row, but it could have been a lot more. Ultimately, Player 1 decided to reveal his last card and force the end game since neither player was advancing.

Point-Action Value Adjustment

As we have been playtesting, we have realized that the action to swap two cards in your grid (the 4 Action) is probably the second most valuable. Meanwhile, the action to force a trade with the Trade Row (currently the 5 Action), even though it affects the other player, is possibly less valuable than even the action to trade with the Trade Row (currently the 3 Action). So a new alignment of Point-Action Value may be in order. We will test this in the coming weeks.

New Rules

Stalemate

At this point, with only one occurrence in many plays in which the players worked it out, I’m not ready to create a new rule to deal with the stalemate. A chess-like “threefold repetition” rule may be necessary, but I would like to avoid that still. It would be better to prevent the condition, so it is on the playtest hit list.

Peek at the Trade Row

Note: There were a few rules changes in Round 5 and as we have been playing another opportunity to simplify has arisen. The new rule is to change:

  • 1 Point Card: Peek at, Reveal, or Conceal any card in any Grid.

To:

  • 1 Point Card: Peek at, Reveal, or Conceal any card.

This allows a player to use the action to Peek at or Reveal a card in the Trade Row. It also opens up the action to Conceal a card in the Trade Row, but I doubt anyone would do that. However, there have been a few times when a Player may want to know what is concealed in the Trade Row.

Dealing with a Dud Hand

Although it hasn’t happened yet in our playtesting, it is possible that a player could get a grid that does not have any actions that allow manipulating it. There are only nine cards in the game with actions that will move a card in a player’s grid (3 each of 3, 4, and 6 – the 5 moves a card in the opponent’s grid). Fortunately, three of the remaining four point cards that would make up that player’s grid are the lowest cards, so they will likely still get a low score. They would also almost certainly have at least one 2, so they could rush to the end game as they discover their predicament and catch the other player with unmatched high cards. Even so, that isn’t very exciting. Additionally, if they have any Wilds, they may get stuck with them going unused and a 5-point ding to their score.

For them truly to be stuck, the other player would also have to withhold using the 6’s and possible 5’s to trade cards in their grid as well. It just isn’t very likely. However, I am going to test a new rule to help mitigate this remote possibility. Since the Wilds have such scoring power, they have no actions and they have the penalty for non-use. In a hand like I’ve described, though, they are dead weight (with a rope around your neck). So here’s a new rule that we will implement to see if it ever gets used (for this reason or any other):

  • A Wild may be traded with the Trade Row as an action.

Although, the intent has always been to take three cards out of the game to eliminate the possibility of perfect information, optionally this rule could allow for trading with the discards. This trade makes 3 more cards available to the player.

This should require a truly desperate player to take advantage of it. This now brings the total cards in the deck that have a move action to twelve (half of the deck). It would take (almost literally) a perfectly awful deal for a player to get no cards that have a move action. Since there are three cards in the Trade Row and three cards out of the game, one player may still get no movement cards. Going back to an early decision in the design, the draft is also intended to mitigate a bad draw of cards. each player will have access to a minimum of five cards through the draft; two in addition to the three they take. So a player has a total of eleven cards available. I would really like the number of cards that activate movement to be at least 14 to completely remove this from possibility.

Alternatively, allowing for trading with the discards brings the total number of cards available to a player to fourteen, assuming the payer gets to choose from them, which eliminates the problem. However, it also could be used to gain additional information about the opponent's cards, which is not the intent and at this point undesirable.

So, the questions is whether this issue is more important to remedy than the actions available on the 0, 1, 2, and 5 (soon to be 3) cards; particularly, if it is more important than including orientation in the game, since that action hasn't been activated in the game yet. A truly bad deal could result in a score of 18 (allowing for trading away a Wild).

Self-Activating

Finally, until now there has been a rule that a card cannot be used to take an action upon itself. Given the stalemate condition discussed earlier and a common desire to break this rule, I am reconsidering this rule. We will test some games with the rule removed to see if it has a positive impact.

Summing Up

So incorporating all these suggestions into the Point-Action Value chart we get: (Green is new, Red is changed).

Points

Action on Card

Player Affected

Basic Type

0

Change the orientation of any card.

Either (+/-)

Orient

1

Reveal/Peek at/Conceal any card.

Either (+/-)

Reveal

2

Reveal/Peek at/Conceal two cards in your own grid.

Self (+)

Reveal

3

Force another player to trade a card with their choice of card from the Trade Row.

Other (-)

Trade

4

Trade a card in your grid with your choice of card from the Trade Row.

Self (+)

Trade

5

Swap any two cards in your grid.

Self (+)

Move

6

Trade a designated card with another player. The player taking the Action gets to select both cards.

Self (+)

Other (-)

Trade

Wild

Trade this Wild with the Trade Row.

Self (+/-)

Trade

Working It Out

The new rules to allow Peeking at a Trade Row card and to allow trading a Wild to the Trade Row make a little progress on opening up the game more.  Unfortunately, the discovery of the stalemate condition causes us to lose ground on a few factors:

  • Few Decisions
    • Simplifying the 1 Point card Action provides another choice for that action.
  • Game Length
    • A stalemate condition can drag out a game.
  • Frustration
    • A stalemate condition is frustrating.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Round 7

Design Workbench

Design Objective

In the last round, I proposed some rules changes to address a couple issues that had come up in testing that, though rare in occurrence, were frustrating problems when they did occur. In this round I will discuss how I have addressed those issues and what appear to be some final refinements. We are nearing the end of this game’s design phase and are at a level of refinement that can only progress through hundreds of playtests by dozens of people.

Playtest

Refinements through playtesting have been slow to reveal themselves because I am now trying to address issues that happen very infrequently.

Prototype

The prototype hasn’t changed from the last round, but I have posted a new set of stickers to make the cards. Remember, these can be applied to a set of Uno cards. This is easier and faster than printing and cutting a set of cards anyway. I bought an Uno deck at a major chain discount store for under $6.

Playing and New Rules

After the last round we had a few open items that I will close up now.

Stalemate

This problem has not come up again in playtesting and some of the changes made open up more actions such that it may be all but eliminated. At this time I am still not implementing a special stalemate rule, but will consider it again when the game development moves into massive playtests.

Dealing with a Dud Hand

This issue still hasn’t happened in our playtesting, but a better resolution/prevention dawned on me during our first playtest after Round 6 was reported. The change is to incorporate a fairly common bad luck mitigation mechanic that actually works well in this game. The rule looks something like this:

  • Conceal 2 cards with the same point value to use any available action in any player’s grid.

This is the good old mitigation of; if you don’t have something valuable, you can use two things that are not valuable to mimic the valuable thing that you don’t have.

Self-Activating

For the sake of having the simplest rules, I have conceded on allowing a card to perform an action on itself. This is the case of a card being concealed to use its action and then making that same card the object of this action. The reason that I concede now is that it opens up the number of actions allowable on any grid and in particular may help a player who otherwise has limited actions; particularly ones that allow movement.

Ultimately, this rule is one that needs a lot of playtesting to determine if it has an impact, but we will play it this way for a while and see if there is any difference in ease of learning the rules and game play.

Working It Out

These last changes move the game in the right direction in a couple aspects:

  • Few Decisions
    • Simplifying the 1 Point card Action provides another choice for that action.
  • Game Length
    • Mitigating a dud hand keeps the game moving along.
  • Frustration
    • Mitigating a dud hand eliminates some possible frustration.
    • Self-activation eliminates the frustration of being stuck with a card that needs the action that it depicts. This happens fairly frequently – maybe once per game.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines Micro – Final Round

Design Workbench

Design Objective

A theme and a name.

As discussed in the early entries of doing these makeovers, I prefer to start a game design from a theme, but by their nature, these makeovers start with one or more mechanics. Finally, though, I am theming this game as the last improvement for this first stage of development.

There is contradicting advice available in the marketplace of game design ideas about whether to present a game design to a publisher with or without a theme. In this case, I can see that basically, the game is an abstract and any theme is to make it more interesting. Obviously, the theme is not integral to the mechanisms since it is being applied to a mostly completed design. However, I have been thinking about the theme for this game over time and the theme I have in mind is not a wholesale paste-on. I think it fits quite well.

The theme came to me when I had the unfortunate experience of finding a packrat living under the hood of my truck in May 2014. (I don’t drive the truck often, especially in in the winter, as it is expensive to drive and I bought it primarily to tow trailers with horses or ATVs and that doesn’t happen often in the winter).

Playtest

Prototype

Unfortunately, I do not have the graphics skills to prepare a prototype that represents the theme well, but I do have some changes that are an attempt at evoking the theme while maintaining playability. At the same time I will try to apply some colorblind-friendly practices that my Uno-based prototype was lacking.

Working It Out

At last I have entered this game into the games section on the website as “Picky Packrats.” You can read the description and instructions there, but for those who have read this far, here’s the pitch!

The Pitch

In Picky Packrats you are packrats arranging the treasures you have collected in your middens (nests); adding treasures that you find by raiding the house or other packrat middens. You are very particular and want everything "just so." Unfortunately, you, like most packrats are forgetful, so you need to remind yourself of what treasures you have already packed away, while you try to arrange them in your midden to near perfection. When you really like where the treasures are, you can cement them into your midden. Once you or another packrat has either revealed everything or cemented everything in your midden, you compare middens. The pickiest packrat; the one with the most organized midden, wins!

 

Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines – Thinking Outside the Box

Design Workbench

Design Objective

It has been a while since I first did the makeover of Nines to form Picky Packrats and I have played hundreds of rounds of the game as-is. So, why would I change anything? Well, to see if I can make it better. In this design round, we break the game layout out of the box and into a circle. A circle is more reminiscent of the rat midden that our theme is suggesting and it opens the game up to more scoring possibilities.

Playtest

I have played a few full games of 4 rounds each with my fellow expert player to test out the new layout and accompanying rules changes.

Prototype

The prototype hasn’t changed from the last round, but ultimately the game would layout better with symmetrical circular or, better yet, octagonal cards. Circular are easily doable thanks to the ubiquitous Spot It and circular cards are available on Game Crafter. Unfortunately, octagonal cards or tiles just aren’t a thing. Hexagons, of course are everywhere in gaming, but they just won’t do.

Playing and New Rules

The rules are essentially the same with a minor change that has a measurable impact on play and scoring. Instead of arranging the cards into a 3x3 square (really a rectangle with standard cards), the tableau is arranged into a circle of 8 cards around 1 in the center.

Scoring

Scoring changes as follows:

  • Any 3 numerically matching cards across the center or around an arc cancel out.
  • Any color matched cards of 3 or more across the center or around an arc score -1 for each card in the match. So, -3 for any match across the center and potentially, with at least 2 wildcards, -3 to -8 around an arc.

Simpler Yet Harder

Although the change provides more options and flexibility to overcome a bad deal, it also seemed to make the decisions harder; trying to get more out of the color-matching.

Wilds in the Center

When playing the original game, the first discovered Wild card seems to find its way to the center position. This is even more apparent in the circular layout since the game is basically opened up to what would have been diagonal scoring in the 3x3 grid. However, additional Wilds have more scoring opportunities in the arc.

What’s in a Circle

If I had simply described the change as allowing diagonal scoring, it might seem that would be the same as a circular layout. However, conceptually it is very different. Particularly with the addition of scoring arcs for numbers and colors. Although it is essentially the same thing with a grid, the scoring arc is much more readily understood when it is an actual arc. When we laid out the cards, we placed the cards longways away from the center, but the obvious choice would be to use cards that naturally layout either omnidirectionally (circles) or that fit like a quilt (octagons).

Working It Out

These last changes move the game in the right direction in a couple aspects:

  • Few Decisions
    • This change seems to make decisions simpler, but the tendency to maximize the scoring opportunities (which actually minimizes the score), made the game brainier.
  • Game Length
    • The games did not seem to last measurably shorter or longer once we played a few rounds and were accustomed to the change. After many plays, I suspect that the average number of rounds will be very slightly fewer and the time per decision will be very slightly longer.
  • Frustration
    • The change seems to decrease frustration since there are more choices for matching (3 instead of 2) and color plays a greater role.
  • Marketing
    • Octagonal cards or tiles will raise the production cost of the game. Since the cost is going up, though, maybe tiles will feel more substantial and add a tactile value to playing.
Subject: 

Game Makeover: Nines – Further Exploration

Design Workbench

Introduction

With the Picky Packrats game essentially design-complete, I do not intend to dedicate much more time on the Nines game framework – at least for now. However, through the design process several other alternate uses of the framework came to mind that might be explored. Some of these mechanics seemed like great ideas, but were left out of the design for various reasons: They didn’t fit the original game of Nines and its target player, they added unnecessary complexity to a game that was intended to be dirt simple, or they didn’t fit the feel or theme of the game. I describe them here with a minimal amount of detail in part for posterity, but also in case one of them insists on my attention. Game design pieces conceived in the process of one game’s design process tend to find their way into other games. In fact, I describe a different game at the end that incorporates some of these lost ideas.

Alternate Directions

Here are some of the alternate or additional mechanics that have come to mind through the design process that I chose to leave out (or at least, leave for another day).

Common Initial State

The initial state in Picky Packrats still retains much of the randomness present in the original game of Nines. As stated in my original objectives, I was trying to mitigate the absolute randomness of the game, while trying to maintain an “acceptable” amount to keep the game recognizable to those who play the original. There are many who enjoy this input randomness.

A game with a common initial state (like chess or checkers) probably tends toward the abstract, which was admittedly my starting point, but not my desired endpoint. A common initial state also results in a greater competition of skill, which was definitely outside the realm of the family game I was targeting – one in which new or young players don’t always get pummeled. Also, given the game’s simplicity, this would drive the game too much toward puzzle instead of game.

Common Actions – Action Selection

Obviously, Action Selection (like in worker placement games) is an extremely useful and appreciated mechanic. There are many flavors of this as well, so it is difficult to address the mechanic so generally.

In Picky Packrats due to the minimalistic approach and also the intent of each card having variable and conflicting value – point vs. action – action selection was not really an option. It could effectively be achieved if each player started with the same deck, but there are many reasons for this combination to be ignored.

In designing Eclectic Clock Collectors, I definitely considered using a limited supply of known actions that players drew. This would accomplish much of the typical outcomes of the action selection mechanic; known, limited actions, blocking, etc.

Special Information – Cards Held in Hand

Special information, like holding cards in hand only known to one player, can add a greater degree of strategy to a game.

In part in trying to maintain a semblance of the original game and especially targeting the prime objective of paring down the components to the bare minimum, I opted to exclude any player cards held outside of the tableau. The cards that are left out of the game accomplish part of the objective of special information (technically imperfect information), but does not gain all the benefits.

However, in my original Nines makeover, Eclectic Clock Collectors, players can keep action cards for later use, which tries to take advantage of this mechanic, though still a slightly limited way (only certain cards can be held).

Spatial Elements – Orientation

Obviously, Picky Packrats is a very spatial game (pun intended), but throughout, as much as I wanted to incorporate card/tile orientation into the game, ultimately I didn’t. Orientation just seemed like a great fit for the framework, a missed opportunity or even a missed requirement. I leveraged all other states and attributes of the cards – Location, Exposed Side, Content (Point Value, Color, and Action). However, it never seemed to fit with the direction I took, particularly in scoring.

Finally, when the game transmogrified from Nines Micro to Picky Packrats, card orientation especially felt like it was perfect, but for a different game. Orientation seems to fit best with a game that:

  1. Tiles (or at least, square cards, but chunky, weighty tiles in particular).
  2. A Prescribed Pattern (rather than general layout objectives like in Picky Packrats).
  3. A Thematic Reference (a reason why orientation matters).

Variable and Hidden Objectives

The variable objectives mechanic opens a lot of opportunity within a game to pique player engagement and to extend re-playability. In Picky Packrats everyone has the same objective (make sets and collections). The sets in rows and columns is the very basis of the original game and adding the color collections was as far as I wanted to deviate from that original framework for this game.

Making the personal objectives hidden can prevent others from dashing their opponent’s efforts too easily. Given my primary objective in the design of increasing player interaction, this mechanic may have moved the design the wrong direction. Hidden objectives can also add an element of deduction to the game – what is she trying to build over there? Given the intended short duration of the game, though, that deduction may have been a lost cause.

However, both variable and hidden objectives could still be integrated into Picky Packrats with a slightly modified scoring model.

Variable Player Powers

The variable player powers mechanic also opens a lot of opportunity within a game to pique player engagement and to extend re-playability.

Variable player powers may not be the first thing you think about when you think of packrats, but it is not outside reason that one packrat would have special abilities or, at least, preferences. This mechanic could still be added to the game without much effort and without breaking the game (given testing), but was beyond the level of complexity that I desired for the game. I was trying to keep it accessible to players of the traditional Nines game and this mechanic would put the game firmly outside the reach of the targeted players.

A  New Game Emerging

Miniature Golf Course Designer

This game design has been developing in my mind in parallel with Picky Packrats and has almost been compelling enough to pull my attention to it next. I intimated the possible direction by calling Nines Micro “Miniature Golf.” I think it has potential to be a great game, but a few reasons I am leaving it on the shelf for now are:

  1. I don’t want to be constrained to one game framework (or to appear to be limited in my ideas).
  2. I have only limited time to dedicate to this endeavor and other design ideas are boiling over on their back burners.
  3. Picking it up while Picky Packrats is still fresh in my mind may drive me to use too much of the same material and concepts.

That said, Miniature Golf Course Designer was evolving precisely because I was not using some of the mechanics that came to mind in Picky Packrats that made perfect sense for this game. Thinking of the Mystery Rummy series of games reminds me that exploring different games within a simple framework is not always such a bad idea.

Some reasons why Miniature Golf Course Designer deserves some attention:

  1. It leverages some of the alternate mechanics considered in Picky Packrats that were grudgingly left out.
  2. It leverages all attributes of a tile’s state (Location, Exposed Side, Content, and Orientation).
  3. It is (to my knowledge) a previously unexplored theme.
  4. It is a very “fun” theme – who wouldn’t want to design their own miniature golf course?
  5. Though of the same origins, it is a very different game from Picky Packrats and Eclectic Clock Collectors.

You can read all about Miniature Golf Course Designer in the Games section. At the time I am writing this, it is in the Concept phase, but maybe by the time you are reading this it has progressed from there. I may not cover its development process in this blog as closely as I have done for Picky Packrats and Eclectic Clock Collectors, but the outcomes will be (hopefully) maintained in its Games section entry.

 

Subject: