Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Standard Cards, Game #2: Feud

(I don't remember the rules of Game #1, but I think it's somewhere on this blog!)

I spent the weekend at http://tableflip.us/ in San Francisco. Met smart and interesting people and played and learned table top and social games.

Scoundrels is approaching a shippable/kickstarterable state, so I'm starting to get the itch to design a new tabletop game. In that vein, I've always enjoyed designing games within a standard 52-card poker deck, so today I came up with a quick little game.

Standard Cards, Game #2: Feud (2-player variant)

-Split the deck into suits.
-Take one red and one black suit. Place the King, Queen, and Jack from red in front of the other player and give them the Ace from that suit as well. Do the same for yourself with the black suit.
-Shuffle the remaining number cards from these suits together.
-Split the number cards evenly, and add your Aces to your hand. (You may look at your hand.)

-Choose one of the cards in your hand and lay it face down in front of you. Your goal is to predict the color of your opponent's card. Play an odd card to predict they will play the opposing color, play an even if you predict they'll play the same color. If you win, your opponent discards their card, if they win, you discard yours. (Play the Ace to predict they will play the same color as you. If wrong, you lose.)
-Ties initiate a Feud. Leave the cards on the table and continue play until there is a tie-breaker. All tying cards are now discarded, and the loser discards their final played card as well, while the winner keeps their final card. Additionally, the loser discards a Royal [see "Royals Rules"]. The Feud is now over and play returns to normal.

-Upon one player losing all their hand cards or their King.

Royals Rules:
-The King is worth 3, Queen is worth 2, and the Jack 1.
-When you lose a Feud, you discard the Royal worth the number of tied battles. E.g. if a Feud ends after 2 ties, the loser discards the Queen. If they don't have the Queen, the player discards their lowest Royal. If a Feud ends with 3 or more ties, the loser's King dies and the game is over.
-The Queen and Jack at any time may be swapped into or out of the hand (except they may not be swapped after both cards of the round are revealed or during a Feud). While in the hand, they may be played like any number card. They cannot defend the King, but they win any battle against an opposing color. They lose against the same color.

Hope you enjoy!
-Randy O

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fracking: the Minigame

"Hydraulic fracturing is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid." [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing]

During November I found myself watching horrifying and bleak videos about a destructive oil extraction process called "fracking" which is threatening communities around the country, contaminating water supplies and soil. 

We as a society/species are living and breathing and dependent on resources, but how far are we willing to go to gather one resource rather than investing in safer/more renewable resource production?


I thought about fracking a bit. What bothers me is not really knowing how bad the environmental effects might be, how much fracking actually contaminates the environment. It seems to be approved with little fanfare or questions, and then a midwest town suddenly discovers that its drinking water is flammable.

I wanted to make a game about how collecting resources can be dangerous. Over a couple months of pondering, I came to the conclusion that my game would be about a "city" that continually shrinks. To keep the city alive, the player would have to quickly tap on several types of resources spawning around the screen. The player could resort to "fracking" a resource to make it worth more, but this would also spoil an area of the screen permanently, such that any resources spawning in that area were now worthless.


We don't really know how many resources we need to survive in the real world without destroying our future, we can only guess. But a game is controllable. Setting specific worth of resources, generation times, etc, is how I present my vision, my views. So I decided there should be exactly enough resources to keep the city alive indefinitely.

But testing the prototype, I discovered that with enough resources, a good player would never lose. I needed scarcity of resources; the balance needed to be set against the player-character's survival. By giving the player less than they could live on, I forced fracking to delay the inevitable death of the city.

Additionally, I made contaminated areas slowly shrink, based on my coworker Ian's negative response to their permanence. They were a pointless chokehold to him, which is what I wanted players to realize through lots of play. I worried that by lessening their effects, I was misrepresenting how deadly they might be in the real world. Instead, the game became more compelling. When contamination is permanent, you are being told fracking is evil, rather than learning it. And once you've been told something, there is little value in hearing it again. When it is not so clear, you learn it through experience.


As I've grown as a designer, I've become ever more interested in designing games with "replay value". Not in the unpleasant commercial sense, but rather that I don't like a game "telling" me what it's about.  Many of the games I play only once, it feels like I've been given a statement, an answer, by the system[s] of the game. I learn quickly that X is bad and Y is good. Maybe the story or art or music leaves me with questions, but I took all from the mechanics. I'd rather the mechanic also leave me with questions.

By taking player feedback and adjusting only a few numbers this way or that, I was able to make "Fracking" ask questions, instead of stating things explicitly. I find myself replaying it, trying to learn the relative values of fracking, and the alternate, less destructive harvesting mechanic.

I messed with the numerical values of fracking, trying to remove my bias. Fracking now plays an important role in my game. It is dangerous and often helps kill the city, but played cautiously enough it prolongs the city's survival more than without. Making and playing this game has made me consider the concept of fracking in a more pragmatic light. The original game concept that fracking is "evil" has been altered. It is instead a dark gray area. 

Fracking is a dangerous avenue that we are pursuing, but it's not evil. It is only reflective of humanity's ubiquity, our presence encroaching onto every surface and, as with fracking, into every crevice. We grow, we consume, else we die. My little game neglects to represent our growth, instead representing only the shrinking space and resources we have to operate an ever expanding machinery of food and waste and shelter.

I'm still opposed to fracking, primarily because it's not a solution to our bigger problem of oil-dependency. But survival is tough when we don't have the resources to sustain how long and increasingly we've been suckling at mother nature's teat.


"Fracking" will be available soon in an update to my game Distractions, available right now for free on iOS.