Italian Cats? Further Notes on Nine Lives Card Game, Influenced by Scopa
Since the most recent post on Nine Lives, I've had a chance to playtest the game about five times with two different groups comprised of around ten players, aged 9 and up. Naturally, I've found some bugs.
- Scratches: Presently the penalty for scratches is that only the player with the fewest scratches from a specific cat can score for that cat. In other words, once you had a few cards with no scratches, there was no reason to ever risk getting another card if it even had one scratch. If you did, you would risk allowing another player to undercut you by getting just one no-scratch card.
- Trading: The trading mechanic itself was a little complicated. Eventually I streamlined it to something more simple: You may take one card for free from the alley, or you may take X by trading in X cards from your tableau.
- Bidding: It was cool that bidding a card added it to the alley. This made bidding a tense decision, knowing that a card might give you better position but also make that card available to someone else. Unfortunately, this had the side effect of allowing a player to collect a card into their tableau that they bid themselves. Next time I playtest, I want to try that as the only source of cards for the alley. This makes the game a completely fixed economy, allowing each player to know just a portion of what cats will be available this round.
- Scoring: As noted up top, scratches are the problematic part of scoring. Otherwise, scores seemed to be mostly balanced somewhere between 7 and 13 in a three-player game. More players made scores lower. There was only one game where the winner secured a handful of exclusivity bonuses and beat everyone else by around ten points. Hard to say if that was a bug or simply skillful play.
After playtesting for a while, the group decided to pick up a game of Scopa, the traditional Italian card game. None of us had ever played before, so we learned from the rulebook. As I've mentioned about folk games, they're usually full of weird exceptions and local idiosyncracies without much cultural context.
Sure enough, the game tended to drag, scores were awkward to calculate, and we abandoned it after a few rounds. Later, I learned that the game is better as a four-player partnership game, despite the box saying it could play with up to six. I can see how it would be a bit faster with a smaller group.
But aside from that, I was stunned with the similarities between Scopa and what I was trying to do with Nine Lives. It had the same basic skeleton: Each player has a hand of cards, must trade with a central lane, collect cards into a tableau, then score based on a variety of set collection mechanics.
So, I'm going to test a few things I learned from Scopa in my next playtest of Nine Lives.
- Trading: You may take one card for free from the alley, or you may take X by trading in X cards from your tableau. This remains the same from my last playtest.
- Setup: Each player begins with a starting tableau of twice number of players in the game, randomly drawn from the deck. The alley begins empty.
- Exclusivity Score: If you're the only player with a specific cat, score 1 point from that cat.
- Majority Score: If you have the most cards of a cat, score 1 point from that cat.
- Safety Score: If you have the fewest scratches from a cat, score 1 point from that cat.
- Variety Score: If you have the most different cats across your whole tableau, score 1 point for each cat.
- Reward Score: At the beginning of the game, draw three cards from the deck and set them to the side. They will not be part of any trades. These cats are especially missed by their owners. If you have even one card from a rare cat, score 1 point from that cat. If you have majority of a rare cat, score 1 point from that cat.
Each other player must discard a random card from her hand to the alley. Achoo!
Trade one card from your tableau for a card of higher rank from another tableau.
Trade one card from your tableau for a card of lower rank from another tableau.
Trade one card from your tableau for a card of the same cat from another tableau.
Each player takes a random card from the hand to her left.
Trade one card from your tableau for a card of equal scratches from another tableau.
Flip over a face-up card in any tableau so it is now face-down. (These don't score at the end of the game.)
Score 1 point if this is the only Shiny bid this turn.
Flip over one face-down card from any tableau so it is now face-up.
These actions are a little hard to remember, so I'd probably have to incorporate them into an icon on the card. Again, testing testing testing required.