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.
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.
The new rules for the Start Phase look something like this:
- Draw one card from the market in turn order starting with the player to the left of the dealer.
- Replace the card in the market with the top card from the draw pile.
- Continue until 3 cards have been drawn.
- Arrange Cabinet however you want.
Working It Out
So have I made any progress with these changes?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We’ve taken a chip out of frustration at setup, but the biggest frustrations, during play, haven’t been touched yet.
- Shuffling within the game has been eliminated, so the hands go quickly. (Now there is only scoring between hands.)