Game Makeover: Nines – Further Exploration

Design Workbench


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.