Seven Minutes of Terror: The Card Game

(Image source: Science in a Can)

As you probably know, there are a million ways that this mission could have gone awry, but only one way for it to succeed. 36 weeks of travel through interplanetary space led up to just seven minutes of terror. But they made it! Here's a loose idea for a game simulating the years of planning leading up to a hold-your-breath moment of tension. The core of the game is something like co-op Go Fish.

Setup: Use a standard 52-card deck. Deal seven cards to each player. Set the remaining cards in a deck in easy reach of all players.

The player who has been the closest to outer space takes the first turn. On your turn, you can plan, research, then, optionally, build.

Plan: Tell another player you need cards of a specific rank. For example, tell another player "I'm planning 3s." To state this, you must have at least one card of the rank you asked for in your hand. The other player must then hand over a card of that rank, if she has any. If she has none, she tells you to "research."

Research: Draw a card from the deck.

Build: If you receive the card(s) you wanted by planning or researching, you may take another turn. If you now hold a pair of one rank, three-of-a-kind of one rank, or four-of-a-kind of one rank, you may place the cards face up in front of you. Once a set of one rank has been built, no further sets can be built from that rank nor can cards be added to an existing set of that rank. So if you built a pair earlier in the game, you cannot add any more cards to make it a three-of-a-kind or a four-of-a-kind.

Play proceeds to the left.

If each player discards a face card, a new round begins. Otherwise, that was the last round.

Endgame: The game ends at the end of a round in which each player cannot discard a face card.  This represents the tenuous funding cycle for space exploration. So, yes, the game could end in one round. At the end of the game, all players discard their sets and reveal their current hands. Proceed to Landing.

Landing: Here's the big moment! At the end of the game, the starting player draws seven cards one at a time and reveals each one. Check if that card matches any rank from a player's hand. For example, if you draw a 3 and there is a 3 your hand, that's a match.
  • If no cards match, the rover landed safely and will begin its mission!
  • If one of those cards has a rank matching a set in play, there was a minor glitch but the rover survived the landing fully operational.
  • If two cards match, there was a severe malfunction of a core system. The rover landed, but only sends back garbled data.
  • If three cards match, mission control just lost contact with the rover entirely.
  • If all cards match, the rover suddenly sends back loud, crystal-clear data showing life on Mars!
Congratulations to the Curiosity team! Remember, folks: Get off the rock!

Update: Revised the endgame. Now, you discard your sets and compare the last seven cards to your hands. Also made seven-card hands the default.


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