Forks Designer Diary 2: Making it Rain with 18 cards

Often the best way to help promote creative fecundity is to restrict things. My boss used to blinfold people and get them to describe polyhedrons to help with their use of descriptive language (note: he was a teacher). So it’s no suprise that 2017s BGG 18-card microgames competition got me thinking. Make a game with only 18 cards. Including rules and tokens in that 18. I love challenges like this, that make you rethink your ideas and conceptions, and trim down all that’s unnecessary. I wasn’t going to enter, but during the day my mind kept on coming back to it, and to my previously thought of as-yet-unamed-not-quite-social-deduction game.

As I mentioned prevoiusly, I got rid of the role cards, so the only things left were a tracker and the values. The tracker could be put onto three of the cards, along with the rules, leaving 15 for play. Obviously 15 cards is nothing, games would be over in a heartbeat, so how to extend? Recycle the discard pile. A small change, but one that leads to more complex situations. Now every card you discard has the opportunity to affect the score multiple times, whereas the ones you keep are out the game for good. The restriction had bought about an interesting predicament for players.

The system was set, now for a theme. I needed something strictly binary which players could push for, and settled for Rain or Sun. Players now had to take payment for the weather, but by doing so were making it less likely for that weather to happen.

 

So I entered, and got joint best game! Which naturally I was delighted with. Looking back, it is a fun little thing, but the main issues were: the lack of cards in the game, even with recycling the discards it was too few and the number of cards needed to make the recycling have a big impact was massive. The second was choosing any other player. A lot of downtime was coming about from this decision, which also resulted in some players having very few cards in their hand and fewer decisions to make. I loved that central mechanic and decision point, but it was just slightly lacking and I wasn’t sure why (until another competition some time later).

You can tell I'd just discovered photoshop filters

If you want to try Rainmakers it only needs 2 sheets of A4 and can be downloaded here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/19rUsTvn6RS3Gr_Llx_J83RIrm3Obobnm/view

Forks Designer Diary 1: Choices

Forks started out as a social deduction game. It’s moved away from that in its various iterations, but the first idea, borne from playing a lot of resistance, was one of shared problems in which you need to work out who you can trust. At it’s most basic:

Begin with 32 cards, ranging from -8 to +8

Draw 3 cards keep 1, pass 2 to any other player.

That player keeps one and discards the other.

A tracker in the center records the total value of cards discarded. If total is negative the bad guys win, otherwise the good guys win.

Immediately there are a couple of issues with this. Whilst in theory this allows for deductive logic- Give someone a negative and a positive and you’ll know from which they discard which team they’re on (unless it’s a bluff); in real life it falls down in a fair few places:

Well actually one place really- where are the choices?

You’re good? Keep the lowest value card and pass /discard the others.

Bad? Do the opposite.

The only choices come from choosing who to trust, which players have little information about to begin with, and really players only need to trust one other player.

And a game without interesting choices is not much of a game.

So instead it became a semi-coop. Whoever kept the highest value cards won if the discarded total was positive, otherwise only the bad guy(s) won. In this case, with an added incentive for players to keep the high value cards, fewer baddies were needed to even things out. But this still has problems:

Are there really interesting choices for the baddies here? If every player is now wanting high value cards, what’s to differentiate the baddies from the goodies in how they play? And, more importantly, the semi-coop problem:

If players aren’t going to win, what’s to stop them throwing the game to the bad guys?

I’ve found this is a key issue for many semi-coops, and have never seen a solution I’m 100% satisfied with. I play games with loads of different people with different views, and the question of is it okay to sink a game you’re losing just so someone else doesn’t win is still unanswered. There have been 100+page threads on forums about it, and it’s not something I want here. The fix: give people a legitimate reason why they want the value to be negative, make it a possible way to win outside of being on the bad team.

Now, if the final discarded score was negative, players with the lowest possible score won. This turned out to be a really elegant solution, but it meant one thing- there was no use in the traitor anymore. Now players could switch allegiance depending upon which cards they had, in fact it didn’t really make sense to think of them as teams or allegiances anymore. The choices of what to do were never obvious and always impactful. And so, the game was no longer Social Deduction.