9 Lives: A Game for up to 9 Players. Maybe. [In the Lab]

This will be one of those loose ideas that likely has a bunch of inherent bugs right off the top, but it's too big for Twitter so I'll note it down here for future reference. The basic idea is inspired by 7 Wonders' unique niche as a game with enough depth for gamers to enjoy it, but accommodates group sizes that would normally fall into the domain of party games. It's rare to find that combination.

Of course I wanted to make one.

I thought about other mechanics and games that might fit this unique niche of group size but adequate depth. Auctions (Felix), voting (The Resistance), card drafting (7 Wonders), simultaneous action selection (Race for the Galaxy), trading (Bohnanza) all help facilitate fun, rich play with large groups. In researching further, I found a write-up on Baccarat, which I must admit I've never looked at much. It has two interesting features. (Interesting to me anyway.)

  • Baccarat can take up to 9 players, crowding around a casino table.
  • Hands are valued according to the "ones" digit of the sum of their cards. A hand of 2 and 3 is worth 5, but a 6 and 7 is worth 3 (the "ones" digit of the total is 13). Thus the highest value of a hand is 9.

Nine... Nine... Maybe this hypothetical game could be a reference to a cat's "9 lives." A loose theme, to be sure, but perhaps enough to inform the artwork and make it appealing to a broader audience. I can see a deck of cards being ranked 1 through 9, each featuring one through nine 1950s mod-style cat illustrations within or around a large numeral. I'm imagining specifically Ale Giorgini's art style, seen above. Anyway, here are my extremely loose notes on how this game would actually play.

Art by Jane Foster


The deck is comprised of nine suits themed around things cats like, such as mice, fish, yarnballs, etc. Each suit has cards ranking from 1 to 9, featuring one to nine cats. In addition, there are also nine Dog cards ranked "zero", without suits. So 90 cards in the deck total.

To set up, each player is dealt a dog card. Then each player is dealt six more cards from the rest of the deck. This is her starting hand. Each player chooses two cards to set aside into her sideboard.

Each turn proceeds in two phases. In the first phase, each player plays one card face down in front of herself until all players have made their choices. Then all players reveal their choices at the same time. In the second phase, this is done once more, again choosing one card and revealing it at the same time. This results in a pair of face-up cards in front of each player. The turn will result in either a BUST or a SCORE on the following conditions.

If there are one, three, five, seven or nine dogs revealed, the turn is a bust and no points are scored and the turn is over. If there are two, four, six, or eight dogs, they cancel each other out and are ignored and you may proceed to scoring.

Note the following, depending on the size of the group.
  • 2-3 players: Anyone who played the highest sum. (1st place)
  • 4-6 players: Anyone who played the highest (1st place) and second-highest (2nd place) sums.
  • 7-9 players: Anyone who played the highest (1st place), second-highest (2nd place), and third-highest (3rd place) sums.
Any 1st place players earn points equal to the "ones" digit of their paired sum. For example, if you were in first place with a sum of 13, you would score 3 points.

Any 2nd place players earn one point less than the 1st place player, to a minimum of 1 point.

Any 3rd place players earn one point less than the 2nd place players, to a minimum of 1 point.

Shuffle any played cards and place them in the bottom of the deck. Keep remaining cards in-hand. Each player replenishes her hand from her sideboard or from the deck. All sideboards are replenished from the deck. Play continues for an agreed-upon number of turns.

The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

A few interesting notes on this whole notion.

  • Playing a high pair gives you better chance for victory, but doesn't necessarily net you the most points.
  • The best possible pair is 18, which is the highest pair and earns the most points.
  • The average pair's sum will be 9.5, but only just barely passing that mark doesn't earn the best points. You're best option is to either vastly surpass that point or bide your time with a throwaway pair.

All this is hypothetical until it gets tested though. I'll add that to the pile of untested game ideas I've got sitting around the house.


  1. Couple thoughts. One, what is the current function of the sideboard? Did you mention, in this transcription of your notes, what it does?

    Secondly, have you looked at how the game changes after the initial deck runs out (which is after just the second turn at max-players)? Because at that point, players can theoretically start accumulating more than one dog in their hand at a time, which seems like it will greatly affect bluffing and strategy.

  2. Presently the sideboard acts as a luck mitigation tactic. You can pull a card from the sideboard or take your chances from the deck. Perhaps it's better to draw from a public tableau, Ticket to Ride-style?

    I was also curious about double-dogs, but I'm not sure how it affects gameplay. Curious to see it tested.

    Also, I don't really need suits, I suppose. Just nine of each numeral in the deck. I made them suits more out of habit than necessity. Interesting.

  3. Ah... okay. I didn't pay attention to the timing of the replenish phase. I was distracted by the first turn set-up of the tableau, which seemed like a not very heavy decision to set up, and left me wondering if the sideboard was meant to protect a couple cards from mechanics that could affect the cards in your hand. My mind leapt to different mechanics than the ones you actually had in mind.
    Now that I understand, I like the personal mini-tableaux much better than the public TTR one. Very neat, tidy (so tidy I missed it) application of the chaos/order musing from earlier.

  4. Perhaps endgame bonuses for collecting various sets of suits? That's an old reliable mechanic, but works best when other players can interfere with each other's ability to score those sets. Hm. I'm thinking about Love Letter-style powers now. Hm. HM.


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