November is NaNoWriMo. If you’re not up on your abbrviations, that’s National Novel Writing Month. It’s been going on since 1999, with the goal of writing a full 50,000 word novel in a month. In 2010, a new idea called NaGaDeMon was introduced – National Game Design Month. It’s similar – design and play a game in one month. This year, I’m taking the challenge.
My game is called Tricks and Treats. It’s based on an idea I had several years ago, but shelved. Recently, I’ve been thinking about it and refining the idea, and I thought it would be a good one to pursue this month. It’s a trick-taking game with a Halloween theme. I know Halloween is over, but it just seemed too perfect of a match to pass up. I’m looking at it as a 3-6 player game right now. In this post, I’m going to document the rules as I have them in my head right now.
The game needs a deck of 60 cards, with 12 cards in five different suits (numbered 1-12). It also needs 82 tokens. 60 of these tokens match the cards. The other 22 are treats, special abilities that you can gain throughout.
The first thing that happens is that you flip over tokens until you get one that matches a card (in other words, until you get one that is not a treat). That token is set aside as it indicates the first starting card. The remaining 81 tokens are mixed face down and then put into a 9×9 grid. The box should be placed on one side of this grid to indicate which side is left (important for determining trump). You’ll then randomly flip over five tiles. Any revealed treats should be removed from the grid and placed in what will be known as a mixer pile. If, after revealing five tiles, there are fewer than two that match cards (called trump tokens), continue to reveal one at a time until you get two. If, at any point before the third mixer, there are fewer than two trump tokens, reveal five, set aside any treats, then continue to reveal until there are two trump tokens face up.
Each player is dealt an equal number of cards – 20 for 3 players, 15 for 4, 12 for 5, 10 for 6. The player who has the card that matches the starting token will go first, with the starting token then going into the mixer pile. The winner of each trick will lead the next one. Standard trick-taking rules apply – you must follow the led suit if you can, and may play any card if you can’t. The winner is the player who played the highest ranked card in the led suit as long as trump wasn’t played. Trump is determined in this game by the face up trump tokens. If a trick contains one card that matches a trump token, the player that played that card wins the trick. If there are multiple cards that match trump tokens, order is determined by the tokens’ relative positions on the grid – first, the closest to the left (on the side with the box), then the closest to the top (again, relative to the box).
If you win the trick with a card that matches a trump token, you may claim that token, removing it from the grid. It will be worth one point for you at the end of the game and cannot be taken from you.
You can also choose to flip over a random face down token (and must do this if no cards match trump tokens). If the revealed token matches a card, you claim it immediately. If it is a trump token that does not match a card in the trick, it remains face up in the grid as a future trump. If it’s a treat, you take it and place it face up in front of you (unless it’s a mixer). Treats that are not used before the end of the game are worth a point each.
When every player has played all of their cards, check to see if the game has ended (10 or fewer tokens left). If not, check for a mixer, then redeal with the player who won the last trick going first.
What I hope sets this game apart from other trick-taking games is the introduction of the treats. You can play a treat during the game to give yourself a little boost. And, as I said, if you don’t play a treat, it will give you a point at the end of the game. I need to play around with the ideas for the treats, but here are some ideas I have so far:
- Bomb – When revealed on the grid, the bomb is removed from the game. All adjacent tokens (orthogonally and diagonally) are removed to the mixer pile. If the bomb has not been revealed when the third mixer occurs, find it and remove it from the game.
- Candy – Worth 2 points instead of 1 at the end of the game.
- Compass – Move the box to any other side of the grid. This changes the definition of left, and thus changes trump order. Removed from the game after use.
- Evil Eye – Play this on another player that is going to play a card after you. Whatever that player plays, it cannot win the trick. Removed from the game after use.
- Ghost – Remove a single face up trump token from the board and put it in the mixer pile. Remove the ghost from the game after use.
- Master Trump – Play with your card to win any single trick, no matter what else was played. Remove from the game after use.
- Mixer (3) – When a mixer is revealed, place it on the box. If another mixer is revealed while there is one on the box, put it in the mixer pile. If, at the end of the round, check to see if there is a mixer on the box. If so, flip all remaining tiles in the grid face down and mix them together with the mixer pile. Form a new grid by making the biggest square you can (16, 25, 36, 49, or 64 tiles), then filling in the right side, then filling in the bottom. The mixer token is placed to the side face up so everyone knows how many mixers have occurred. After the third one, there will be no more mixer piles – if a token would be placed in the mixer pile, remove it from the game instead.
- Poison – Must be played before a trick begins. Discard one card from your hand, then everyone else randomly discards one card. Remove from the game after use.
- Spy – Peek at a face down token in the grid. Return to the mixer pile after use.
- Swap – Must be played before a trick begins. Swap hands with another player. Remove from the game after use.
- Switch – Switch the position of two face up tokens on the grid. Return to the mixer pile after use.
- Thief – Able to steal any treat (except another thief) from another player. Once used, the thief is returned to the mixer pile.
When the game ends, each player counts up the total number of tokens in front of them, gaining one point per token (2 for a candy). The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken by the player with the most remaining treats.
A couple of thoughts on variants. My initial idea for the game was that when a trump token was removed from the game for any reason (because it was claimed by someone, removed by a ghost, etc.), the matching card would also be removed from the deck, meaning the deck would shrink throughout. I abandoned that idea, but I think it might make an interesting variant.
Also, if I end up with a lot of treats, players could choose which ones they want to use, or randomly include them. You’ll always need three mixers, but the others could be flexible.
So that’s my game. My goal for the month is to get it prototyped and maybe get it cleaned up some. I think it would just be an accomplishment for me to get it done, even if it never gets published. If anyone has any thoughts for me about Tricks and Treats, good or bad, let me know. Also, if anyone else is participating in NaGaDeMon, let me know that too and I’ll check out what you’ve got. Thanks for reading!