Monday, May 23, 2022

Playing cards are a language

Looking at the Mystery Rummy series (and it has, frankly, been too long since I’ve played one of those games), I am reminded about how they are all built on the framework of public domain games. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of theme and special rules involved in making them into bona fide designer games. But the core idea is rummy. It’s right there in the name.

From that point of view, I remembered that a lot of games, particularly card games, have public domain games as their skeletons. Indeed, trick taking games and climbing games form their own vast subcategory. 

In fact, I didn’t know about the Casino/Fishing family of card games when I played Lamarkian Poker. It didn’t seem quite so original after I learned more about those public domain card games but I still think it’s a great design. With just a few tweaks, Lamarkian Poker uses an older design to give a consistently rewarding gaming experience, one that I’ve played with a wide variety of people.

It’s not a new technique. Years after I first played Uno, I found out about Crazy Eights. And to be honest, both I and our eight-year-old would rather play Uno than Crazy Eights. I’m not a huge fan of Uno but I think that action cards make for a more dynamic game.

I don’t view this as a form of cheating in design work or shortcuts that somehow lessen the value of a game. Playing cards have a long history, involving a variety of formats and a ridiculously vast nunber of games and rule sets. I have long held that a deck of playing cards is the most flexible game system you can have and I haven’t found any reason to change that opinion.

Playing cards aren’t just numbers and suits. There are a wide variety of interactions that have been developed and codified over literally centuries. Playing cards are their own language and designers are constantly finding ways to use that language to say new ideas. 

A game that I have long enjoyed Sticheln subverts many aspects of trick taking games with its anti-trump and pain color rules. However, it only works because there are previously existing paradigms for it to subvert.

No one is going to reasonably accuse Bridge of being a ripoff of Pinochle. The same goes for more recent card games.

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