I had an opportunity to play Kakerlakenpoker ("Roach Poker") recently at PAX East. It's a very clever bluffing game featuring a deck of eight different vermin, eight cards of each. In the setup, you deal the complete deck evenly as possible to the whole group of players.
On your turn, you pass a card face down to another player of your choice and state the identity if that card. You may lie about this. Then that player has two options:
- Pass: Pass this card to another player, stating its identity. Again. That player may lie when doing so and she doesn't even have to look at the card before passing it. This passing continues until only one player has not been passed this card. Then, this last player has no choice but to proceed to the "Call a Bluff" option.
- Call a Bluff: When you are passed a card, you can agree or disagree with the last stated identity of that card. For example, I pass you a card while stating, "This is a roach." You could say, "Yes, this is a roach." Or "No way, that is not a roach." Then you reveal the card. If you're right, I take it back and lay it face-up in front of me. If you're wrong, you take the card and lay it face-up in front of you.
The game ends when one player has taken three cards of the same type. There are no points or even any victory conditions, there is simply one loser and the game ends.
I was very impressed with how much social interaction came out of such a simple rule set and cards. I tend to design these games with minimal interaction, abstract mechanics and sometimes opaque victory conditions. It was refreshing to see another perspective on the bluffing genre.
Naturally, I got to thinking about how to hack it for team play and hidden agendas. Here are some loose thoughts.
- Players are spies for rival factions, trying to plant different types of surveillance "bugs" in enemy hands. Microphones, GPS trackers, etc. However, the world of espionage is so paranoid that you can't be sure who is working for whom.
- Each player's allegiance is dealt secretly during the setup, so no one knows who anyone is spying for, at least at first. There is no preparatory phase wherein players find out which team each other is on at first.
- The goal is to force any spy from the opposing team to get three bugs
and/or pass secret documents to spies on your own team.* In order to succeed at the goal, you must identify the other spies' allegiance.
- When a card gets passed, note who originally dealt that card. When the bug finally reaches a target, the bluffing rule continues as noted above, with one addition.
- If the target failed the bluff, he must reveal his identity to the original dealer.
- If the target succeeds at the bluff, the original dealer must reveal her identity to the target.
So as the web of identity gradually gets unraveled, players can start kind of planning in public. "I don't know who else at this table is in the blue team, but I'm just saying, THAT guy is red team. Go get 'im!"
Of course, the way cards bounce around the table complicates matters quite a bit. You may try to indirectly plant a bug on an opposing spy and instead end up bugging one of your own team. Oh noes!
* I removed the secret documents idea for now because it was adding some unnecessary complications to what is a relatively simple game.