Symmetry vs. Practicality in Card Games

Tonight I'm testing the first prototype of Nine Lives with significant changes to the deck structure. For background, check out my posts on wabi-sabi card game design vs. symmetrical mandala card game design.

Nine Lives thus far has been a very symmetrical composition featuring nine different cats, each on nine different cards. The cards were sequentially numbered from 1-81, but because of the symmetry, I could organize each cat so it an equal chance of being the highest or lowest card in any random hand. Five out of every nine cards of each cat had 1 to 5 scratch marks on it, in ascending order, capping at the highest sequential number within that cat's sub-set of cards.

In several rounds of playtesting, I made tweaks to the rules but I knew eventually I was going to need to fix some more fundamental problems.
  • For one thing, the deck was unwieldy to shuffle. 81 cards is a feature in any retail game, but the POD market's price tolerance is slim so I gotta find a more efficient size.
  • In terms of gameplay, putting undesirable scratch marks on high cards was an unfortunate choice. Because bids go in ascending order, people who got first bid would inevitably avoid the scratch cards and the poor saps forced to bid with the high card would end up having to collect it.
  • It's hard to count cards with a deck this size, which is itself not necessarily a bad thing in most games. However in this case, I do want players to be able to count cards a bit. A fewer number of cards for each cat would help.

9 Lives Cards9
So I'm making some changes tonight:
  • Cut the deck down to 45 cat cards, with five cards per cat. This makes the cats a little more organic, and certainly makes a small enough deck for publication, but it doesn't divide up well.
  • Ideally, I'd like to make a 60-card deck, since that divides so well for a 2-6 player game, but we'll see how 45 treats us. If I can get reasonable 6-player game from a small deck, I'm all for it.
  • Within each cat's sub-set, set the highest scratches in the middle with progressively fewer scratches the farther out you go.
  • Add powers to only the highest three cards within each cat's subset. (Yes, I'm testing adding powers to the game.) When players bid, any powers on their bids are resolved in descending order, so there would be some incentive to bid high. (Lifting from Libertalia here.)

I'm also designing icons to communicate those powers which are hopefully clear enough. The icons above represent the Alley, the central lane of cards available for collection; the Kennel, an individual player's tableau of cards; the Litterbox, the discard pile; the Hand, well paw.

I'm most iffy on the paw icon, since it breaks the metaphor of the game's theme. That might end up just being a hand in the end, which isn't such a bad thing. It's very possible to stretch a game's metaphor so thin that it no longer serves its role as a play aide.

Right, now I'm rambling. We'll see how tests go!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.