[In the Lab] Superhero Audition Card Game

Woke up this morning with a weird little idea that I am not sure works mechanically. The premise is taken straight out of the old superhero audition gag. A panel of elite superheroes judges a parade of absurd potential recruits. Your goal is to pick the most and least likely candidates to join the team.

Setup and Components

There is a tableau of superhero cards (two per player, but at least six) arranged in a single row in alphabetical order. The superhero cards in the tableau show only the hero's picture and their name, nothing else.

Each player has two superhero cards kept hidden in their hand. Each card depicts one of the superheroes out in the tableau. The cards in players' hands are the same, but distinguished by a different border and orientation so you don't get them mixed up with the cards in the tableau. (Think of these like city cards from Pandemic.)

Next to the tableau is a deck of crisis cards. The crisis cards each describe a different kind of test for the superheroes to face.

Lastly, each player has a star token and a flop token. The star token and flop token have identical backs and shapes, but still have distinguishing marks so you know which player owns them.

How to Play
Step 1: Crisis
Reveal a new crisis card and read it aloud to the whole group. Discuss who would be the best and worst superhero for this crisis. You have no real information about the candidates except their appearance and their name, but feel free to make stuff up.

Examples: A meteor is going to hit the city! We need a host for this children's charity event! Alien shape shifters have replaced the president! The public is turning against superheroes! The supervillains escaped superjail!

Step 2: Recruit
Put your star token on the hero you think is best suited to this crisis. Put your flop token on the hero you think is worst suited to this crisis. Make sure your tokens are face down so no one can tell who you've voted for best or worst.

Example: Player 1 places tokens on Doctor Dimension and Ghost of Tesla. Player 2 places tokens on Ghost of Tesla and Spader-Man. Player 3 places tokens on Doctor Dimension and Spader-Man. Player 4 places tokens on Spader-Man and Vampire Matt.

Step 3: Resolve
Reveal each token. If you own the card with the hero who got the most star tokens, you gain one point. If you own the card with the hero who got the most flop tokens, you gain one point. (If there is a tie for stars, the hero closest to the crisis deck wins. If there is a tie for flops, the hero farthest from the crisis deck wins. Heroes who get only star tokens or only flop tokens take precedence over any heroes with mixed results.) If you gained points, you must reveal that hero in your hand. Otherwise, you can still keep your hand secret. Once scoring is complete, put your hero back in your hand.

Example: Spader-Man is unequivocally the winner of the most stars. Doctor Dimension, Ghost of Tesla, Rooster Jones, and Vampire Matt each got one flop token, so let's figure out how to resolve this tie. Doctor Dimension and Ghost of Tesla are out because they also got star tokens. That leaves Rooster Jones and Vampire Matt. Vampire Matt is the farthest away from the crisis deck, so he wins this tie. So, Player 3 reveals he has Spader-Man and gains 1 point. Player 4 reveals he has Vampire Matt and gains 1 point.

Step 4: Promote
Rearrange the heroes in the tableau, in order of stars and flops. The hero with the most star tokens moves to the place closest to the Crisis Deck. That hero is considered to be in First Place. The hero with second most star tokens (and no flop tokens) is in Second Place, and so on. Next, heroes who didn't get any tokens, or had equal numbers of flops and stars, are arranged in the middle of the tableau in alphabetical order. Lastly, the hero who got the fewest flop tokens is placed next, followed by all the heroes who got more and more flop tokens. The tableau should now reflect the current ranking of each hero. Return all tokens to their owners. Return all tokens to their respective players.

Example: Spader-Man got the most stars, so he moves to first place. Next, Doctor Dimension, Ghost of Tesla, Lady Livery, Nightvision and Squint, and Zoobot either got no tokens or got equal numbers of flops and stars, so they're arranged in alphabetical order. Lastly, Rooster Jones and Vampire Matt each got the same number of flop tokens, so they're arranged at the end of the row in alphabetical order.

Step 5: Trade
All players discard one or both of the heroes in their hand. Once this is done, shuffle the discard pile. Players must now draw cards from this pile to a full hand of two cards. In effect, this is a blind trade. Why would you want to do this? The closer a hero is to first or last place, the more bonus points you'll get if they're in your hand at the end of the game. So if you have a middling hero in your hand, there's nothing to lose. Also, if your hero was in first or last place in the previous round, players may be less inclined to vote for or against that hero in the next round.

Example: Players 1 3, and 4 discard their cards and draw up again from the shuffled discard deck.

The next turn begins with a new crisis card in Step 1 and the rest of the turn continues as described above. The game lasts at least three turns or one turn per player, whichever is higher.

The game ends after five crises. At the end of the game, you will score bonus points for the heroes in your hand. Score 3 points if one of your heroes is in first or last place. Score 2 points if in second or second-to-last place. Score 1 point if in third or third-to-last place. The player with the most points wins.

So yes, this is sort of a mashup of Apples to Apples, Dixit, and Who Would Win? It's another one of those games where I wonder if there's enough commercial potential for publishing. I like the simplicity of the superhero cards. Lots of room for cool new artists to get a spotlight and plenty of room for expansions.

There is a problem I can see already: Regardless of the crisis, what's the motivation for anyone to put tokens on any hero but the one they have in their hand? That will result in a persistently even distribution of tokens across the whole tableau.

So, we might need a reason for people to favor any hero besides the one in their hand. One way to do this would be categorizing and quantifying crises into a variety of silos (Physical 5, Mental 4, Social, etc.) and giving the heroes corresponding stats. A crisis would then be resolved somewhere between Steps 2 and 3. Each hero rolls one d6. 4-6 is a success. 1-3 is a failure. A hero must roll as many as times indicated by the Crisis number. Stars and flops give +1 or -1 to each die roll. If the hero gets one failure, they didn't resolve the crisis. The hero with the most failures is eliminated from the game and removed from the tableau.

Making this even more complicated, you could also have heroes who grant bonuses or penalties to heroes to their left or right in particular categories. But that's a little out-there. Perhaps rejected heroes become villains, who augment the remaining crises?

The problem with elimination is that we'd need more heroes at the beginning or reduce the endgame condition from five crises to three, just so there isn't a total overlap between the first placers and last placers.

Anyhoo, this is the general idea.

EDIT: I see two other solutions:

Apples to Apples Solution
There is no tableau or tokens. Only one deck of superheroes cards and a deck of crisis cards. Five superhero cards are dealt randomly to each player.

At the beginning of a turn, one player takes the role of judge and draws a crisis from the crisis deck. The other players offer one superhero card face down to the judge. The judge shuffles the cards and lays them out face-up. The judge decides who would be the best suited to this crisis and least suited to this crisis.

Whoever owned those selected heroes earns one point. Play until each player has been the judge once. Win by having the most points at the end of the game.

Consensus Solution
There is only the crisis deck and the tableau of superheroes. No player has cards in their hand, but they do have their tokens. The tableau is not arranged in alphabetical order and there is no first, second or third place. Play occurs as noted above until Step 3. Here's what's different:

You score points for consensus. If you are the only person to place a star or flop token on a hero, you score one point. If several players placed star or flop tokens on the same hero, you each score one point per token. Star and flop tokens cancel each other out, which reduces the potential score for a hero.

This opens up a potential for debate, bluffing and "take that." Players low on points can form alliances to create consensus blocs, which might form unbeatable unions. Perhaps if we inject some betrayal temptation?

Perhaps there is a third token, a STEAL token. It does not count as a flop or a star, but instead simply gives you all the points from that hero. It looks just like the other tokens, so you know for sure that anyone with three tokens might not be trustworthy. Fortunately, the STEAL token may only be used once by each player. So, a player with two tokens may not be trustworthy, but you know he won't steal all your points.

EDIT2: And in what might be a way-too-streamlined direction, I could remove Crisis cards entirely. They'd be replaced with the remaining deck of superheroes that are not in the tableau. The question for each round is "Who would pass this hero's test?" Maybe the heroes in the deck are villains and the question is "Who would beat this villain?" There is something appealing about that kind of minimalist presentation.


  1. Couldn't you just say: Can't vote for your own.

  2. And if you're caught voting for your own?

  3. The simple solution is to think like the players are adopting the superheroes in their hands as their secret identities. At any point, another player can "call out" another player if they think they know Chuck is WeaselBoy or whoever. And some penalty is resolved based on that.

    So Chuck can feel free to play on WeaselBoy as much as he wants, but "dashing into the phone booth" one too many times might make it obvious that that's who he is.

  4. What about not letting the players look at their hand of cards until after the Resolve Step? Including having to wait until the next turn after making the required trade in Step 5.

    On the first turn people would be voting completely on the merit of the hero's names. On future turns they'd know at most one of the cards in their hand.

  5. How about "you don't get the point if you voted for your own, but everyone else still does"?

  6. Ah, that is an interesting idea indeed! Perhaps points awarded for guessing a secret identity correctly and taken for incorrect guesses?

  7. Ah, I see. So you're working with incomplete information when you make your judgments. Do you vote based on perceived merits or simply on who you think you're going to get the most points from? Could be an interesting dilemma.

  8. Oh nice! That's an elegant solution.

  9. Love it. But then I am a sucker for Supers themed stuff.

  10. Oh yeah, I never had a doubt about the premise. Just wondering if the game works. :P

  11. See James Knevitt's thoughts on ownership and biased decision-making here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/111756607933939087755/posts/jW9oL322xH2

  12. Correct. Though I don't know if that completely solves the problem. Four of the tokens are still very likely to get spread out to the four known heroes.

    But I guess you would still have the decision on whether to put your star or flop token on your one known hero. So you'd still be trying to think about it at least a little bit in terms of the merits of that hero because obviously you'd want to match what other people might put on your hero.

    People could think about trying to game the system by deliberately picking the most "anti" choice with their remaining token, but since any of the other 7 heroes could be theirs they could be sabotaging themselves. Unless there's a hero that one player keeps every turn because it is staying near the front or back of the line. Everyone would know who has that card.

    Maybe that last problem could be fixed by instead of choosing which hero to trade away yourself in Step 5, your neighbor picks one of your cards at random to put into the pot. Then you're allowed to throw the 2nd card in as well if you wish.

    I actually like your stats and Crisis Resolution idea. But that might be tacking on more than the game needs.

    I also like the LEADER and JUDGE idea from G+. The "I split, you choose" mechanic seems neat but I don't think it is often used (in board gaming.)

    Rambling over.

  13. Thanks, Brenden! Never fear rambling. Hell, look how long my post is. :P


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