More Game Design with Factors of 60 [Tsundoku]

Building from my previous post about using factors of 60 as the basis of a set collection game, let's consider how the game might be played. To recap: TSUNDOKU is a game where you gather a bunch of books and try to read as many of them as possible.

I have a long google doc I keep that documents various ways to acquire cards in a game. I keep this list as a source of inspiration when I just need to start somewhere in a new design. 

I think I'll take a cue from Magic and consider the Winston Draft format. Under normal rules, the Winston draft works like this [source]: 

All supplied products are put into one large stack and separated into smaller piles with one card each at the beginning. Usually four piles are used. These piles are face up and the cards in the pile are known. The first player must choose a pile. Then one card from the stack is added to each pile, meaning the chosen pile is now one card while all other piles are two cards. Players take turns taking piles in this manner until the stack is used up.

This appeals to me because I really want my games to be "shuffle and play" setup with minimal fuss about sorting decks and arranging game zones.

The one downside of this format is some amount of downtime while one player has the spotlight, browsing all the stacks and considering their options. Of course, by the time it comes to each player's turn, they've had all that time to review each stack as it's built up and plan for which one they want to grab. So, some plusses and minuses.

In my previous post, I considered the core loop of this game as rapid input and slow output. In the theme, that means gobbling up a big bundle of books, but then needing some downtime to read them. My game design experience tells me that players may find it a bit dull to take an entire turn just to bank some cards. Reading the book should be as exciting as acquiring it, even if they're not done at the same pace.

I'd like to explore giving the active player and non-active players different experiences at the same time. So while the active player "shops" the draft piles, the non-active players are "reading" their cards. The longer the active player takes their turn, the more time the non-active player has to progress their game state.

Something like this:


Shuffle all the cards into a single deck. The game will be played with a number of card piles in the middle of the play area, faceup. The number is equal to the number of players, plus one. Deal one card from the deck to each of the piles. You're ready to play. Choose one player at random to be the first active player.


As the active player, you may do one of the following: Browse (up to 3 times) or Buy.

BROWSE: Draw and place one card from the deck onto each pile, faceup. You may Browse up to 3 times or until the deck is empty. After that, you must Buy.

BUY: Take one pile of cards and place it in front of you faceup. This is called your "Unread" stack. Then your turn as the active player ends. The player to your left takes the next turn as active player.

Each time the active player Browses, the other players may Read, Sort, or Finish.

READ: Choose one card from your Unread pile and add it to your hand. It must be placed on the left of your hand. You may not have more than five cards in your hand.

SORT: Re-arrange your hand of cards.

FINISH: The rightmost card from hand and place it in front of you facedown. This is your "Finished" stack. You may Finish multiple books at once if they are in a continuous group sharing the same Genre.


The game ends at the end of a turn when the deck is empty. Each player scores cards in their Finished stack. Ignore any other cards.

Given that this deck has 60 cards, I can math out how quickly the deck will run out at certain player counts:

  • 2-Players: 3 Piles: 20 Browses
  • 3-Players: 4 Piles: 15 Browses
  • 4-Players: 5 Piles: 12 Browses

I can also figure out how many times each player will have a chance to browse, at a maximum.

  • 2 Players each have 6.666(...) chances to browse. (Because three cards are lost from the deck each time you browse.)
  • 3 Players each have 5 chances to browse. (Because four cards are lost from the deck each browse.)
  • 4 Players each have 3 chances to browse. (Because five cards are lost from the deck each browse.

The non-active players have that many chances to read, sort, or finish their books. I can see that having such a short deck for a drafting game that sessions will be drastically shortened by each higher player count. In a worst case scenario of 4-players, each player only has one full turn to get their best pile of books, then spend the rest of the game fiddling with their hand of cards to optimize that scoring. That's not enough time to build up an Unread stack, let alone get any reading done. 

So I can adjust some parameters.

  • Limit to only drafting and scoring: I could simplify the game a great deal by going back to basics of Winchester drafting. I could convey the tension of an unread pile by saying ONLY complete trilogies may score points at the end of the game. Any incomplete trilogies do not count. I'll be honest, this is the most appealing option to me, but let's consider some other options before we commit to this.
  • Limit the game to two players: That ensures each player has at least more than one turn to draft and manage their hand. There aren't enough two-player drafting games out there, certainly even fewer with this ease of setup. Normally a 2-player drafting game has some elaborate draft pool structure to build (7 Wonders Duel, Siggil), so there's some commercial appeal here. 
  • Limit the non-active player's options: If I reduce the shorten of reading, it allows players to bank their cards more quickly. I could say "Each time the non-active player Browses, you may move one card from your Unread pile to your Finished pile." There's no middle-zone with your hand to deal with. This might be too tight, since you'd really be dissuaded from Browsing more than once. Instead I could remove the non-active aspect entirely, then just say "On your turn: Browse the piles, then Buy one pile, then Read one book." That's a concrete bottleneck and reduces cognitive load, focusing on endgame set collection.
  • Extend the game: I can change the Endgame trigger to an End of Round trigger. You'd keep your Finished pile, but then shuffle any Unread piles into the main deck again for a new round. That adds a strategic layer to adding more cards to your hand, since it lets you plan across rounds. Each round would be shorter than the last, since more cards get locked away in hands or the Finished stacks. The endgame trigger should probably be three rounds. This also adds opportunities for mid-game scoring so players feel a sense of progress.
There's one other factor I've not discussed when designing a 60-card deck: Most factories produce cards in increments of around 54. Using 60 cards immediately kicks us up to another sheet and its commensurate cost, all for just 6 extra cards. The most cost-effective way around this is to either shrink the cards (but non-standard sizes have their own extra costs) or add more cards to the game (filling out the remaining 48 spaces on the sheet). 

My self-published games are produced with print-on-demand service DriveThruCards, so sheet count isn't an issue for me. Instead, I must consider the size of tuckbox available. DriveThruCards offers three tuckbox sizes for a US poker deck: 54 cards, 72 cards, or 90 cards. I'm already over the limit for the smallest size. 72 ought to be just right, since my games also use cards for a "cover" and as rules pages. I'm cutting it close though! If I add any other components like an active-player marker, I could hit the limit before heading to the next higher box size.

Anyhoo, I'm getting way ahead of myself now. I still need to make some decisions about the core gameplay before I worry about production constraints. (After all, I haven't even considered the costs of illustrating 60 books covers!)

Tell me your thoughts on this game idea so far!


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