A Wagering Game Where Wagering Controls the Odds and the Payout [In the Lab]

Poker hand and Chips

After listening to James Earnest and Jason Morningstar talk about randomness in game design, I got to thinking about a peculiar mechanic. Imagine a wagering game in which the more you wagered, the less likely the odds of winning, but the greater the payout if you do win. You control (or at least partly control) the risk, though.

Each player has a supply of cards that are identical except for their suit. Each player has her own suit. Cards are numbered in ascending numerical rank. Suits are never shuffled or mixed, so one player is always Hearts, another is Clubs, and so on. Each card also lists a bonus effect.

The Wager
At the start of the turn, each player places face-down in front of them up to three cards from their supply. This is a player's wager. When all players have wagered their cards, reveal them.

The Prestige
Shuffle the remaining cards into a single deck. Draw three cards from the deck and reveal them to all players. This is the prestige.

The Score
If any of the cards from the prestige are your suit, you earn points equal to the rank of all your wagered cards.

The Effects
Each wagered card has a special effect. Players take turns resolving any special effects on wagered cards. Only one effect may be resolved per turn until all effects have been resolved. Then players discard all their wagered cards.

End of Round
Sort out all players cards from the deck and return them to their owners. Wagered cards remain discarded, however. Thus a new round begins with each players' supply of cards diminished by whatever wagers they've made in past rounds.

End of Game
The game ends when any player has only two or fewer cards left in their set. The players score bonus points for treasures (see below) and the player with the most points wins.


So that's the idea. I'd like to brainstorm various effects and figuring out how to wrap these into some kind of theme.

In particular, I'd be cautious about any royal, fantasy or pirate themes so as to avoid comparisons to Love Letter, Chronicle, or Libertalia. Granted, the gameplay is different from all these games, but they're also all ranked-character-cards-with-effects.

Let's get brainstorming!

A List of Conditions
  • If this is lower/higher rank than any card in the prestige.
  • If this matches the rank/suit of a card in the prestige.
  • If this does *not* match the rank/suit of a card in the prestige.
  • If you're the only player to wager this rank.
  • If another player wagered this rank.
  • If you did/did not score points from the prestige.

A List of Effects
  • Earn X bonus points, and your opponents earn Y bonus points.
  • Keep this card to face-up to your side as a Treasure. (Earn more bonus points at endgame.)
  • Earn X bonus points per opponent's Treasure.
  • All players must discard one Treasure.
  • You may keep one of your unresolved wagered card as Treasure. Do not resolve its effect.
  • Draw a discarded card back into your supply. (Don't show it to the other players.)
  • The player with the lowest ranking wager must discard a card at random from his set.
  • Resolve another player's wagered effect as if this were that card.
  • Resolve another of *your* wagered effects as if this were that card.

The game could be just fine without conditions. I worry about analysis paralysis here. These conditions do give further incentive to control the odds of the prestige in various ways: "If I wager Card A, I shouldn't wager Card B, because that will decrease the chances of Card A being resolved."

I'm not sure if that's as interesting or fun as simply saying: "I resolve Card A, which gives me treasure."


  1. It would seem to me that you need some sort of tension in the opening set up... perhaps varying the number of cards that you are wagering? This would allow you to trade off your odds of winning vs. your payout.

    E.g.: Wager 6 cards and the 7 remaining cards are put into the shared deck vs. Wager 3 cards and the remaining 10 cards go into the shared deck.

    Also an option would be to have 2 draws - one of 3 cards (per your example) and other for the "trump" - special effect on game play or wagering.

    I think the draw down of the hand mechanism as proposed would lead to some players being really left out in later rounds.

    Of course, the classic game with vaguely similar wagering is horse racing - parimutuel type betting. Not sure that leads to a theme or other ideas.

    ... though Chariot racing games are always a hoot.

  2. Yup! I think we're along the same lines here, regarding the opening setup. I worry that without an upper limit on wagers, players will optimally just play an even 50/50 split between their cards' values to maximize odds for maximum reward. When you add the special effects on top of that, it gets to be even more of a headache, I fear.

    1. As a disclaimer....I design casino games for a living....and over the years various people have tried the "choose you volatily model" on numerous thing...and generally, the result has always been a failure. And the choice is usually always the middle choice: the easy bet is no fun due to lack of payout, and the high payout choice always feels bad because it never wins.

      Roulette (and horse racing) gets around this model because the player is allowed multiple bets to cover the ugly ugly dry spells of the big win option.

      Now, a game with no money involved probably has different reactions. Since there is no physical risk short of losing the game, I'd imagine that the low volatily option is never selected, unless there was a future strategic option to do so.

      You can see this reaction in playing Texas Hold'em for free (or at low stakes)...in which case it's impossible to get anyone to fold and almost everyone stays in to the end...resulting in a game that is very much a random card draw as opposed to skillfully reading players and cards odds.

  3. How about some sort of deal (say 6 cards to each) for the available deck, and use the point values to determine the size of the bet and the value of the drawn prestige cards to determine Win, Place, and Show (with High card for Win to create a tension between putting the points into your wager or your odds of victory).

    Possible Prestige variant: Draw cards one by one until there are 3 suits drawn for the top three positions. The total of the cards of the revealed suits determines placement.... this could create a nice "race" feel and some tactics as to what cards to put into the Prestige pool.

    Different deal thought:

    The one thing I don't like about this is that there is no compensation for drawing a bunch of low value cards.... perhaps something like dealing cards to each player face up (from their suit as you posed) until they hit a point value, say 30, so that if your cards are small, you have a larger hand?

    If you go with the Chariot race theme, there are lots of fun opportunities for mischief.


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