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.



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.



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.