Designing a Social Game – Part 1

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I love rules, I love new mechanics, and I love designing new games and giving life to old mechanics. My google drive is filled with pages and pages of partially written rulebooks, new mechanics, or just goals and concepts. My gaming shelf has boxes of prototypes, blank cards, stickers, beads, and other supplies. Most of my games take one simple idea, and polish it as much as I can. I dislike games that try to be too many things at once, and end up being a headache to teach. This brings me to my current venture, a social game I call Cliques.

Making something I want to play

Why a social/party game? Because I need something to play at my parties… and I think I can do better than what’s out there. I understand that games which can accommodate a large number of players are usually social deduction games like Resistance or Werewolf. Those games can be fun with the right group, but can also be exceedingly frustrating. I want to make a game that is just as strategic, but something that everyone can have a good time with all the time.

I’m just not very good a lying…

Brain storming

I set out to list out my requirements for the game. Initially, they are

  • Must play 12 or more players
  • No downtime at all for any player
  • Logic, strategy, and tactics must be involved
  • Does not focus on lying until your pants are on fire
  • Encourages conversation and jokes
  • Creates lasting experience

That’s it, I don’t have any mechanics in mind, and definitely no theme.

Eureka

The page remained the same for weeks. I look at it with a blank face every few days, hoping to type something else. A theme, a revelation, a fresh mechanic, anything really. Until one day, I saw the trailer for “Wonder” (When I went to watch “Daddy’s Home 2” at Christmas time…). Just like every other movie involving an elementary or high school, there was a scene with the main character holding the lunch tray in a cafeteria. He doesn’t know where to sit, no one wants him. All the other kids already have friends and groups they belong to. Something clicked in my head that made me pull out my phone in the theater (I’m sorry!!!) and wrote the word “cliques” on that page.

Overused teenage movie trope to the rescue!

I got home, and over the next few weeks I fleshed out more and more of the game. I combined my favorite mechanics from games such as “2 Rooms and a Boom”, “Spyfall”, and “Codenames”, added a little dash of flavor, and began writing the rules.

Hurdles

Pretty soon after I wrote the rules I came across a major problem. To explain the problem I need to explain a little about the game. Cliques is a party game where players try to group up with their own team, which is determined by a card they are dealt. How do they know who has what card? Each player also has a secret word, which is shared among members of their team. Each team member has the same secret word (eg. Jocks, Nerds, etc…). In my head this mechanic is perfect. There can be so many different types of cliques, and they are all secret, and every game is different. In practice though…

Even before making a prototype, I was worried about printing cost… thanks Mom…

I spent weeks mulling this over. I almost gave up on the idea. Let me tell you why this doesn’t work. Say you are playing a game with 4 cliques, and 4 people per clique. Each person in the clique will have the same word. So I need 4 cards for every single word. If the game has just 20 words, that is 80 cards dedicated to just words. And that’s not even considering the insane amount of time it would take to set up and organize. I need to totally rethink this. I posted this question on Reddit, and got suggestions like using smaller cards to cut cost, sharing cards, using a sheet of paper with all the words etc.

The solution

Those ideas were helpful, but not exactly what I needed. I took the idea for a table of words and went with that. So in my head I had a codename style table, with teams on the columns and a number from 1-5 as rows. Instead of getting a card with the word on there, the player would get a card with a number. They would then refer to the column and row on the table to find their word. What I thought would be a limiting factor (all players can see the word options) became a logical puzzle that actually lowered randomness and increased strategy. So problem solved, it is time to make a prototype.

Is there a plugin for this?

Sooooo… I got really lazy and didn’t want to write a bunch of words on cards. I decided in my big head that I want to make an app to generate the table instead. This is fine, except that I have never written an app before. This wordpress site is my only foray into HTML and CSS, and I was scared to touch Javascript. I buckled down and decided to do some tutorials and lessons online. Going at a snails pace, I managed to create a functioning table that makes a new random array of words each time. I bet if a web developer came to read the code, they would throw up in their mouth. The code is pieced together from snippets copied from stack exchange. The important thing though, is that it works.

Probably would’ve been faster to just write the words on cards

To further prove my laziness, I’ve also made it so that I can playtest it with just a regular deck of cards. The suits would be the teams, and the numbers A to 5 would be the rows on the table. Time to playtest, except a second hurdle comes into play

Hurdle #2

I did not know how to set up the game. There, I think that’s a pretty big problem. I need to deal out the same numbered cards to the same team cards. The players also cannot know what number went with which team, and who has what card. It took a few days before I realized that all I needed to do is to use clips. I would clip all the same numbers together, mix them up face down. Lay out all the team cards on the table, and deal a clipped set of numbers to each team. I would then clip the pairs (number and team) together, and shuffle those. I would then finally deal one clipped pair per player. The idea then evolved to using card sleeves, putting multiple cards in the same sleeve, making things easier to shuffle. Finally I am ready to playtest.

Game night

The weekend comes. This time there were 7 of us. We played a few published boardgames before I announced “Hey, would you guys mind playtesting a game I designed?”. Thankfully the group agreed. I went ahead and started explaining the game while I did the setup. It’s a simple game, and didn’t take long to teach. We soon got started playing. There were a lot of laughs and lots of talking and conversation, which was good. There were also a lot of confusion, which was bad. After the first round, people weren’t sure what to do anymore. There was almost no carry over to the second round. We played the game a few more times and the results were the same. The conversation part was great fun, but too short. I needed to make a lot of rule changes to make the win mean more meaningful.

“Who here likes Bingo??” “Me! Oh, and my wife is dead… I think” – Actual quote from game night

Back to the drawing board

I need something that carries over to the 2nd round. The obvious thing would be points, but that would be too easy. I also don’t want players to keep track of points, especially when this game is supposed to play 10+ players. I also need a way to take away some of the confusion. Increase structure, reduce randomness. I want to try and solve both of these problems together. I came up with a little “point” system I call influence. When you win in round 1, you gain influence, which makes your actions more powerful in round 2. Hopefully with the more powerful action in round 2 you can win round 2 as well, and gain more influence. Finally in round 3 you use those influence to achieve your objective and win the game.

That’s the idea anyways, I also made a timer in the app to limit the amount of time available for conversation based on player number.

Game night #2

There’s a couple more people for the second playtest. As usual, I set up the game, pulled out the tablet and generated a new array of words. I explained the new rules to a lot of head nodding from the veteran playtesters, and off we went. The game went a lot more smoothly this time. People liked the structure the new voting phase provided, and they like being given a chance to cast an extra vote or to veto someone out using their influence. The constructive feedback from this session was that the win condition still seemed very sudden and anticlimatic. Also, people that never earned influence felt like they didn’t have a choice. People still loved the core mechanic of the game, which was the conversation portion. I was very optimistic after this playtest, as I feel I’ve finally got a winner here.

“I like it dirty, do you?” “Sometimes, but I also like vanilla” – Actual quote from game night

To be continued…

Captain Sonar

Captain sonar header
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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Set Up
  3. Gameplay
  4. End Game
  5. PDF Manual
  6. Buy now at $39.99

Introduction

Captain Sonar puts two submarine crews together in a battle to the death. Each player has a unique role. Everyone must work together to find the location of the enemy sub, charge up your weapons, and hit the target. The surviving submarine wins! This reference would be for real time gameplay only, requiring a minimum of 4 players.

Set Up

Split your group into 2 teams and determine the roles the players will take. If playing with less than 8 players, the Captain will also take the role of First Mate.

  • Place the screen in the center of the table
  • Each player takes their corresponding role sheets, with captain and radio operator on both sides using the same map
  • Use the darker side of the sheets for real time
  • Radio operator takes a transparent sheet
  • Each player receives erasable marker
  • The captains will pick a starting dot and mark it with an X

Gameplay

Start the game with both captains announcing “DIVE!”. The game is played simultaneously with no turns. You are free to move around as fast or as slow as you like. Overall, each “turn” or movement will consists of these steps, which must be performed before moving again

While all this is happening, the Radio operator is listening in to the enemy captain to figure out where the enemy submarine is. You are free to converse and strategize with your team.

Captain

As the captain, you are responsible for

Moving the submarine

The captain will announce a compass direction, and indicate the movement on the map. Each movement will move the sub one space. Follow these rules when moving

  • You cannot backtrack or run into your previous path
  • You cannot move across an island
  • You cannot move into your own mine
  • You must wait for OK’s from first mate and engineer before announcing the next course

Surfacing

Whenever you cannot move, you must surface. You can also choose to surface whenever you want to do repairs and erase previous paths. When you do, follow these steps

  1. Announce “Surfacing!”, and your current sector
  2. The engineer begins repairs by drawing line around one of the 4 sections on the top of his sheet, and initial
  3. Pass the sheet to a teammate and continue tracing the lines around other sections
  4. Show it to the enemy engineer to confirm all lines are within the outline
  5. Once confirmed, erase all lines, initials, and breakdowns
  6. Announce “ready to dive”
  7. While this is happening, the captain erases all previous paths, keeping only the current location
  8. Captain may now announce dive and continue moving

Activating systems

Whenever a gauge is full for a system, that system is ready to be activated. The first mate will erase the gauge for the system after it is activated. Follow these steps

  1. Confirm that there are no breakdowns effecting the system
  2. Raise a fist and announce “STOP”. Everyone stops what they’re doing
  3. Announce a system to activate, and resolve it
  4. Continue play

First Mate

The first mate is in charge of charging the different systems on the ship. Fill out a segment of a gauge whenever the captain moves the ship. Indicate to the captain when a system is charged so they may use it. You may also activate the drone and sonar without the captain’s direction. You are also in charge of tracking the ship damage on the top right. The sub is lost if it takes 4 damage.

Engineer

You are in charge of breaking down the sub. Everytime the captain announces a direction, you must cross out one of the symbols corresponding to the direction.

Radiation breakdowns

The radiation symbols can be crossed out, and has no effect on the systems. When all radiation symbols are crossed out, the sub takes 1 damage, and erase ALL breakdowns from the submarine.

Complete area breakdowns

When all symbols on a compass direction are crossed out, the sub takes 1 damage, and erase ALL breakdowns from the submarine.

Self repair

Whenever all symbols connected by a line are crossed out, you may erase the marks from only those 4 connected symbols.

Radio Operator

Whenever the enemy captain announces a direction, the radio operator draws it on the transparent sheet. You may also track locations of mine, surfacing actions, and silence system. Move the transparent sheet around the map to deduce where the enemy ship can be, with the help of drone and sonars. Regularly update the captain with useful information.

End Game

The game is over whenever a sub takes 4 damages. The surviving submarine team wins.

7 Wonders

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Set Up
  3. Gameplay
  4. End Game
  5. PDF Manual
  6. Buy now at $34.95

Introduction

7 Wonders is a card drafting game where players pick the cards they want to build up their civilization. There are multiple paths to score victory points. The game is played over three ages, each containing more powerful cards. The player with the most victory points at the end of the third age wins. This reference is only for 3 players and up.

Set Up

Set up the decks according to player number, adding the indicated number of guild cards to age III.

Player # Cards removed Guild cards added
3 4+, 5+, 6+, 7 5
4 5+, 6+, 7 6
5 6+, 7 7
6 7 8
7 use all cards 9
  • Each player will take a Wonder
  • Take 3 coins

Gameplay

The game is played over 3 ages. At the beginning of each age, deal 7 cards from the designated deck to each player. The players will simultaneously pick a card from their hand and place it face down, take one action, then pass the card to the adjacent player in the direction indicated on the back of the cards. This continues until the players have only 2 cards in hand. One last card is chosen and the action performed. The left over card is discarded. At the end of each round, score the military cards.

Military card scoring

Compare the number of shield icons on your tableau with your neighbors. The player with more shields gains either 1, 3, or 5 victory points depending on age. The player with fewer gains -1 VP. Keep track with military tokens. No effect if tied.

Card actions

Players can choose from 1 of 3 actions

Contruct the card

Reveal the card and place it in your tableau, gaining its effects. You must be able to satisfy the construction cost or prerequisites to build it, otherwise it is discarded. All player boards initially provide a free resource as indicated. You can buy resources from your neighbors for 2 coins to meet requirement. See the the last page of the Manual for detailed card effects.


Build a Wonder stage

Instead of revealing the card, you can place the card under the first available wonder stage to build it. You need to satisfy the cost of constructing the wonder. Follow these rules when building wonders

  • Building the wonder is not a requirement
  • You must build from the first available stage
  • You may construct stages of your wonder at any Age
  • Gain the effect of the wonder when it is constructed

Discard the card for 3 coins

Discard the card face down into a discard pile for 3 coins. Any card that cannot be constructed will be discarded instead.

End Game

The game ends at the end of Age III. Resolve the military cards one last time. Calculate the final score by adding the following scores

  1. Military
  2. Coins
  3. Wonders
  4. Civilian structures
  5. Science
  6. Commercial structures
  7. Guilds

Sushi Go Party!

Sushi go Party
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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Set Up
  3. Gameplay
  4. End Game
  5. PDF manual
  6. Buy now at $19.93

Introduction

Sushi Go Party! is a fast paced card drafting game. Players are creating a menu of sushi and other Japanese foods to score as many points as they can. The game is played over three rounds, and the player with the most points wins.

Set Up

  • Each player choose a color, place pawn at 0 on score track
  • Decide which cards to use using the tiles, make sure there are
    • 1 Nigiri
    • 1 Roll
    • 3 Appetizers
    • 2 Specials
    • 1 Dessert
  • Place corresponding tiles on game board
  • Place dessert cards to the side, shuffle other cards together

Gameplay

The game is played over 3 rounds. Shuffle in a number of desert cards each round and deal cards to each player depending on player number based on this chart.

Player count 2-3 4-5 6-7 8
Dessert
added
Round 1 5 5 7 7
Round 2 3 3 5 5
Round 3 2 2 3 3
Cards dealt 10 9 8 7

Each turn happens simultaneously. All players will choose a card from their hand to play, and reveal them at the same time. The remaining hand is passed clockwise until it is empty. The current round ends and is scored. Score according to instructions on card, track score on tracker. Begin next round by returning all non-dessert cards. Add required desert cards for the round, shuffle and deal cards for the next round. The game ends after 3 rounds. Dessert card points are added to the final score.

End Game

The game ends after 3 rounds have been played. Score the last round as normal. Add on the score for dessert cards. Player with the most points wins. Ties broken by number of dessert cards.

Bohnanza

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 Table of Contents

Introduction

In Bohnanza, players are farmers planting beans in their fields. Through proper timing of trading and harvesting the beans and their stocks, they aim to be the most profitable farmer. The player with the most coins at the end of the game wins.

Set Up

  • Deal 5 cards to each player
  • Place deck, 3rd bean fields in middle of the table
  • Pick starting player

IMPORTANT: Players may never change the order of their hand.

 Gameplay

Each player has 2 bean fields to work with. Players may buy a third bean field for three coins at any time. On a turn, players will do the following 4 actions. At any time, players may harvest their bean field to gain coins.

When the deck runs out, reshuffle the discard pile to create a new deck.

Harvesting beans

Players may harvest any time. Look at bottom of bean card to see how many cards to flip over as coins when a certain number of beans are traded in. Coins are kept with the player and the other bean cards are placed in discard pile. Player must choose a field with 2 or more beans to harvest unless both fields have only 1 bean each.

 End Game

The game ends when the deck runs out 3 times. The current round finishes (possible for only one card in market). The player with the most gold coins wins. Ties broken by most cards in hand.

Citadels

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 Table of Content

  1. Introduction
  2. Set Up
  3. Gameplay
  4. End Game
  5. PDF Manual
  6. Buy now at $24.04

Introduction

Citadels is a game where you recruit different characters each round to help you gain coins, build buildings, and cripple your opponents. Characters are chosen in secret, but are revealed and played in turn of character rank. The game ends when one player has 7 districts in their city. The current round is finished and scoring begins. The player with the highest score wins.

 Set Up

Use one of the preset options in the manual or make your own set of unique district and character cards. You need a character from each rank. The rank 9 character is only used in games of 3 or 8 players.

Shuffle the unique district cards with the other district cards, deal 4 to each player. Place the remaining cards face down in the middle. Shuffle the character cards and place the corresponding character tokens in a row in order in the middle of the table.

Each player takes 2 coins from the bank. Choose one player to take the crown.

 Gameplay

Dealing the character cards

The player with the crown take the deck of character cards and shuffle them. The crown player then discards a number of cards face up and face down according to the number of players playing.

Players Faceup Facedown
4 2 1
5 1 1
6 0 1
7 0 *1

Selection Phase

Starting from the crown player, each player takes a character card in secret and passes to their left. After the last player has chosen, they discard the unchosen card with the others.

Turn Phase

Player take turns in ascending rank order by calling out each rank. During a turn, a player will first gather resources by taking 2 gold or taking 2 district cards, discarding one to bottom of deck. The player may also build a district by paying the cost, use the character ability once, and use the effect of their unique districts. The player who took the crown this round will deal the character cards for the next round.

 End Game

The game ends when a player has built 7 districts. The scoring goes as followed:

  • Points equal to cost of district
  • One district of each type – 3 points
  • First to 7 district – 4 points
  • Anyone else to has 7 districts – 2 points
  • Extra points from unique districts

In case of ties the highest numbered rank character in the last round wins.