Friday, December 13, 2019

A deck of cards is a an abstract strategy game

I’ve been meaning to try out Card Capture for a while. A solitaire deck builder that just uses a regular deck of cards? That’s something that I have to look into. The idea taps into both the possibilities and the limitations of a deck of cards.

(This was going to be a review of Card Capture but the tangent just went to far. I do like to ramble)

A deck of cards is the most amazing tool you can have in your gaming library. It _is_ a game library, one you can fit in your pocket.  It is the most flexible game system you’re going to find and there are hundreds of games for it andit’s something that you can usually get non-gamers to play.

At the same time, a deck of cards is very abstract. Which doesn’t make any difference for traditional games but can make a more ‘modern’ game seem thin and dry, particularly if there is a theme attached to the game. 

Which, quite frankly, doesn’t seem quite fair :D I’ve seen a lot of trick taking games that might have spiffy artwork and a theme but really aren’t that far removed from Whist or other trick taking games. But even that teeny tiny step away from abstraction makes a difference. I love abstracts and even I know that that little bit of flair makes a difference.

(And there is an actual practical reason for this. Theme and specialized cards can make a game more accessible. Easier to process and understand. But that’s a whole other topic and I have already rambled far afield enough)

Which isn’t to say a regular deck of cards can’t work as a ‘modern’ game. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Lamarckian Poker, even pickup games with strangers. Admittedly, it uses many elements from traditional games but blends them in a way that feels non-traditional. 

On the other hand, even though you can easily play it with a regular deck of cards, I enjoyed The Shooting Party a lot more after I made a themed deck. A big difference between those two games is that Lamarkian Poker is built on mechanics and The Shooting Party is built on theme. 

Fundamentally, while no one lists a regular deck of cards as an abstract strategy game like Chess or Go, it is very much an abstract system and suffers when theme is pushed onto it. (Unless you view it as it’s own theme. Individual cards and poker hands are iconic, after all)

A deck of cards is a door to so many games, ancient and new, but we have to respect its limits.

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