Monthly Archives: December 2015

5e as Boardgame

I hate homework.

D&D has two conflicting drives at its core: play Tomb of Horrors, and play Dragonlance.
If you’re doing ToH or Ravenloft or any other super-unfair meatgrinder, you want Dungeon-World Playbook-style chargen: print off a specialized character sheet, make 4-11 choices from narrow menus or even from between only 2 choices, then immediately start playing.

Of course to some degree that’s impossible: D&D has Math and that math isn’t necessarily smoothly representable asa function of level (fighters get extra attack… Now! And they get an ability score increase which we assume goes to strength here, and…).
But 5e did us the favor of putting a lot of the scaling in HP and HD — d20 rolls do increase, but not all that frequently.

So: could an enterprising DM who wanted to run something halfway between I6 Ravenloft and DL1 Dragonlance make pregen-y playbooks, with enough hooks to make things interesting?

I’m thinking something tactile and super boardgamey: this is the Tier I Paladin playbook. It goes from level 1 to level 3. It’s suitable for a beginner-box kind of thing. It has most of the things filled in except for a few blanks, which are abstracted (like: dwarves and elves might lose their straight-math boring stat bumps entirely, just keeping the more interesting resistances, powers, etc). But it’s on a similar keel to the power level it should have, and because it’s so targeted, it has a chance in hell of fitting all of its rules on one side of a sheet of paper.
Anyway: there’s also a Tier II Fighter, levels 4 to 10 (or whatever it is these days), Tier III Warlock 11 to 16, and I wouldn’t bother myself but Tier IV Cleric, 17 to 20.

They’d have gear, but a random table or choose-one of personalizing gear.

They’d have actual graphic design layout making access to what their actual capabilities are not a chore.

And ideally, just enough customizability to satisfy me.

They’d be AWFUL for the 3.x style of character build that just explores the rules and builds a character in the abstract. But I don’t care. I want to play, and play a lot, and that means low to no barriers in front of that playing.

I have some time off, so I’ll see what I can rig up. Of course these are reductive; the point would be to make something approximately balanced at the same table as gamers using the real PHB, so those who really really really want an archery Paladin could, I dunno, be as poorly supported as they are now?


It didn’t work, and I learned a lot.
It’s too busy — too many cards meaning too many things in too many contexts. Trade is named in a way compatible with Race For The Galaxy, and as a result, incompatible with any reasonable definition. The turns DRAGGED, as a result of information paralysis.

Starting over.

You are the oligarchs of a shattered empire. You are attempting to accrue more influence than your nemeses. You do so by assigning agents honors and titles in the lands of the empire, and ensuring dynastic succession within the six clans before some event befalls them.

Call a run of cards ordered by the length of time revealed a “river”. When you are instructed to take a card from a river, you may take the oldest card for free, the second oldest for 1 influence (placed on the oldest), the third oldest for 2 influence (placed on the two oldest), and do forth.
When you select a card with influence on it, you get to keep the influence.
Maintain the rivers at one more than the number of players, turning over new cards from the appropriate deck as needed, possibly shuffling discards to cycle the deck.
If you’ve played Small Worlds, this is familiar as the race selection algorithm.

Areas of play
There are two rivers used in this game: the Succession, formed of the personality cards, and the Horoscope, formed of the events and the locations. There is also the Empire, an unorganized pool of locations revealed but not yet purchased, and each player’s fief, the set of personalities and their stack of claimed locations.

Separate the decks for the Succession and Horoscope. Deal the aces into the Empire. Give each player 7 influence, less 1 per player (so 5 for a two person game).

Order of play
Play proceeds in turns.

On your turn, in order:

You must select a card from the Horoscope.
If that card is a location (or event-location), it immediately enters the Empire.
If the card is an event, at the end of your turn you will use it during the discard phase.

You may select a card from the Succession. Take that card into your fief. If it matches a suit with any other personalities in your fief, you’ll discard cards during your discard phase.

For each personality in your fief (including the one you just took, if any), you may select an ace or location from the Empire sharing one or more suits (including the one you just took from the Horoscope, if any). Put the card under the personality; if you remove the personality from your fief, you’ll discard the locations (or aces), too.

Discard and score:
You can only have one personality of each suit, and no player may retain personalities matching the event suit.
As a result, you’ll discard and score cards now.

Discard personalities sharing a suit with other personalities from your fief until no two personalities share a suit. For each card (person, location or ace) discarded in this way, score 1 influence.

You and all players will also discard personalities matching this turn’s event (if any). Each player gets 1 point if they discard only personalities as a result of this. You get 1 additional point if any players discard any cards.

Discard the event (if any).

Personalities are discarded and cycled to refill the Succession.
Events, locations and aces discard forever: once you can no longer refill the Horoscope, the game ends.

Count influence, and add it to the highest ranked card (personality, location) in your fief, counting crowns as 10.
The highest total wins.

Decktet Game #2: Oligarch

I wrote that last post in order to write this one ūüôā

Let’s call it Oligarch. I suspect it’s for 2-4 players.

You will need:
1 36-card base decktet deck
A bunch of counters or scratch paper. Think poker chips, you’ll probably want a few denominations.
Time. Dunno how much.

You’re¬†one of the oligarchs of a little country. You are picking the ministers with whom¬†you curry favor and utilize to ensure control over¬†the provinces of the empire¬†as a whole. The winner is the player¬†who, at the end of the game, has amassed the most points of influence.

Lay each of the 8 base decktet pure Location cards (except the event-location cards, Origin, Market and End — those function as per events)¬†out face up. These form the Board — they’re the provinces over which you set¬†your ministers to govern in order to gain influence. Their placement doesn’t matter.

Lay a deck of base decktet Personalities out, and deal the top 5 out in a row (like the Small Worlds river of races). These are always kept sorted first by rank (lowest rank first), and then by order revealed, and are refilled back to 5 whenever necessary from the deck, which can shuffle. These are the ministers which you, as oligarch, are attempting to curry favor with.

Shuffle the base decktet events into an Event deck. Stick the six aces at the bottom of this deck (for timing). These are the various eventualities which are besetting the empire¬†— current events, uncovered new lands, etc. It also has a river, refilled back to 3 whenever necessary — you can slightly predict the future, seeing which events are coming. This river is also kept sorted.

Read crowns as “10”, and aces¬†have rank 0.

Give each player 5 “influence” tokens to start.

On your turn, do each in order:

  1. Exhale, inhale: You must untap all cards you control and score influence for them:
    1. For each of the six suits, gain 1 influence if you control cards (personalities, aces, locations, event-locations) such that you control 2 instances of the symbol, or you control one such symbol and there is an event with that symbol (or a claimed event-location with that symbol) in play.
  2. Event: You must¬†play¬†the lowest ranked¬†event from the event river, and then refill it to 3. If it’s empty, shuffle the event discard the first time; don’t the second time.¬†It’ll apply to everyone as long as it’s showing.
    1. Discard all unclaimed events (event-locations, aces, etc) sharing a suit with the event. This causes their sequestered cards, see below, to discard.
    2. Each player chooses one:
      1. Discard an ace (of any suit).
        1. Get one victory point.
      2. Sequester all (remaining) location and personality cards sharing a suit with the new event. Sequestering means you get one token per discarded card, and place each of them beneath the new event, until it is claimed (if appropriate) or discarded.
        1. Claimed aces are immune to sequestering, they just stick with their owner.
        2. Event-locations sequester by discarding.
        3. The owner gets a victory point if the sequestered card was of higher rank than the event.
  3. Employ: You may claim one personality from the river of visible personalities and move it to your play area.
    1. Fill the river back up to 5 cards from its deck, ranked in order, if necessary.
    2. The lowest-ranked card costs 0 influence.
    3. You must place 1 influence on each card below the one you want to take (like Small World), so the the second-lowest rank card showing requires placing 1 influence on the single-lowest rank card, third-lowest on both of those, fourth-lowest on all three below it, etc.
      1. When you take a personality with influence on it, you take the influence.
    4. You must discard any personalities you have which share a suit with it.
      1. Aces¬†are immune, and don’t cause this discard.
  4. Exchange: You¬†may¬†trade goods with other¬†player’s locations. Despite the name, this is¬†not optional for the other players; think Magic the Gathering fighting mechanics, a little.
    1. The active player is the buyer, and declares one or more location cards which are buying, and from which player they are buying.
    2. For each player being bought from, their untapped cards are their potential sellers. The selling player temporarily associates each buying card with one or more of their sellers. Selling cards must share a suit with the buyer.
    3. For each 1 buyer/n sellers set:
      1. If there are no sellers of the same suits as the buyer’s card, the buyer gets 3¬†victory points.
      2. If there are sellers of the same suits, but the sum of their ranks is less than the rank of the buyer’s card, the buyer gets 2¬†victory points.
      3. If there are sellers of the same suit and the sum of ranks is higher than the buyer, no victory points are gained.
  5. Exploit: You may claim a number of location cards from the board and move them to your play area.
    1. Tap one or more personalities (or aces). Each tapped personality gives you one of each of its suit symbols.
    2. You may also purchase a suit symbol from an unclaimed event (including the one just revealed), at a rate of 3 victory points to 1 suit symbol.
    3. Take any number of locations such that the total number of locations is fewer than the number of suit symbols.
    4. If you tapped a total of ranks of personalities higher than the total of ranks of locations claimed, take 1 influence.
      1. Crowns contribute 10 towards this.
      2. Aces contribute 0 towards this.

When you can’t draw¬†an event, shuffle the event discard the first time.

The second time you can’t draw¬†an event, the game ends once the river is empty; the player with the highest victory points wins.

Authors Notes:

The “decks” are the source of randomness here, there’s no hidden information.

You’re building a little engine, subject to frequent disruption from events, which¬†set your strategy: which suit(s) to concentrate upon, and how much, compared to your opponent?

Your engine is personalities, which are defensive and allow purchase of locations, and the locations you can buy with them, which drive scoring per round in a heavy way, since the depth of locations you can bring to bear is worth a lot of points.

The events encourage diversity, while the exchange mechanism encourages depth within a stack.

I kind of wonder whether inverting the Board and the River (so that the ministers are all visible and are bought with locations, and the locations are ranked and purchased with influence) would be more fun.

Decktet Reference

Of course there’s the decktet references that already exist¬†—¬†¬†,¬†–files/welcome-page/DecktetReferenceCards.pdf¬† and¬†–files/fortunes/DecktetInterpretations_2.pdf which lists the individual cards.

Here’s their¬†information summarized in tabular form.
I notate the six suits as Suns, Moons, wAves, wOods, wYrms, and Knots, so that each has a single character symbol.
I notate the ranks as ACE, PAwn, COurt, CRown, for similar reasons.


Since the whole thing is¬† CC attribution —¬† — so too is this.


More Decktet Noodling: Part 2

Okay. I got to try out my new Decktet game, working title Barony.
It’s okay. Needs tweaks. Replacement rules text:

Barony: A deck-building game for 2 or 3 players.
TL;DR: Bid on cards to take them into your deck (with the value of a bid being the number of shared symbols between your card and the card upon which you’re bidding, ties broken by most recent bid winning). Scoring at the end is based on what remains behind in the deck and what you have in your own deck. Being good at winning bids means removing cards which you’re good at bidding on from the deck, which means weakening your end game position. Being bad at winning bids means your opponents get to dictate policy in the game, which means weakening your end game position. You have to strike the happy medium better than they do.


Deal each player 3 cards drawn from the 4 pawns, 4 courts and (if 3 players) Excuse cards. These are their starting resources, left face up in a neat row before their owner. Any remainder (for a two person game) are discarded entirely from play, and not used at all.

The resources a player owns will be momentarily expended throughout the game, but never leave permanently. They will also increase resources by winning bids against the other players.

Separate the Decktet into the twelve 2-5 cards (stage I), the twelve aces and crowns (stage II), and the twelve 6-9 cards (stage III). Shuffle each separately. These decks are stored face down and used one at a time, stage I and, when empty, stage II and then stage III.

The stages (and “hands” dealt from them, called Markets, and their discard piles, called the shared discard pile) are not owned by any one player.

Select one player to start as Prime.

Turn order:

The prime player flips 3 cards face up from the current stage to form a Market (and, when interacting with the shared decks, they will do all of the grunt work, shuffling etc).

Each player, starting with the Prime, may either Pass* (they may no longer participate in this Market) or choose a card in the market and bid 1 card from their resources towards that card.

Bid Value: An Aside:

A bid’s value the number of shared symbols between the bidden card from the player’s resources, and the biddee card in the marketplace. The valid symbols are the numbers 2-9 and the six suit symbols;¬†the crown, pawn and court symbols do NOT count as shared symbols for this purpose.

For instance, 9/Sun/Moon played against the Ace of Suns is a 1 point bid. 9/Leaf/Water against the Ace of Suns is a valid, but 0 point, bid. 9/Leaf/Water against the 9/Sun/Moon is _also_ a 1 point bid, because the 9s match. 9/Sun/Moon against 3/Sun/Moon is a 2 point bid, because of the matching suit symbols. The Crown of Suns played against the Ace of Suns shares 1 symbol; played against the Crown of Moons it shares 0 symbols.

Back to Turn Order:

Indicate the card upon which you are bidding and the cards with which you are bidding from your resources (probably slide¬†those cards you are bidding forward, forming a second rank of cards). Once you’ve chosen a card to bid upon, you can’t change it for the rest of this Market.

When the bid returns to you, you may pass, you may bid additional cards and add the number of additional shared suits as before (which may be 0), or you may have won the bid, if all other players have passed.

The highest value of bid (as in, most shared symbols) is winning. If there is more than one equal highest value of bid, the most recently played bid is winning.

Resolving a Completed Bid:

Once all players but one have passed, the winner of the bid takes the card upon which they were bidding into their resources, face up, and takes those cards which were used in the bid and sets them aside (or places them face down or whatever). The loser(s) of the bid retain the cards they used for bids, unexpended. Place the other two cards from the Market into a shared discard pile.

If there is no winner because no bids were played, end the stage immediately, dumping the remainder of the stage into the discard pile.

The last person to win a bid is now Prime Player.

Completing a Stage:

When a stage can no longer yield¬†a Market of 3 cards, all expended resource cards return to their owner’s resources, and the Prime Player replaces the deck with the next stage’s deck (discarding any remainder from the stage). After completing stage I, move on to stage II. From stage II, stage III.

At the end of stage III, shuffle all of the discards into two piles, stage IV (of 12 cards) and stage V (of at least 12 cards, though if there were previous no-bid rounds, it could be more). Though the cards are now mixed in type, play otherwise proceeds as normal, with the prime player revealing a Market, and each player bidding on them in turn, etc.

At the end of stage V, repeat the process, making a single stage VI out of all of the discarded cards (at least 16 cards, though if there were previous no-bid rounds, could be more). This is the last stage: when stage VI ends, the game is over and the non-claimed cards are used for scoring.


Lay out the remaining discards (expected 11 cards, though more if there were no-bid rounds). For each card, each player scores the number of aces and crowns they have which share a suit with it (so 0 points if they have no matching aces or crowns, up through 4 points if they have both aces and crowns of both suits for a number card). Aces and crowns themselves can score 1 point from their same-suited opposite number.

The Excuse: If used, the no-suit Excuse is a wildcard. It is always of value 1 when bidding (as though it had a single matching symbol). It matches any Aces and Crowns remaining in the shared deck during end game scoring.

Authors Notes:

Compared to the previous proposal, I’ve twiddled a lot.

Firstly: The hands refilled too frequently; as a consequence, you could¬†(almost always) strongarm someone who hasn’t passed recently¬†by dumping your hand since they’d be unable to bring their trumps to bear, as a consequence you basically take turns selecting cards and trumps barely mattered. Also, bidding was kind of clumsy.
Both are addressed by the new bid counting rules, since all that “more cards” gets you is a re-up to your bid, not a new required matching dimension. Same with the new refill rules and bid-discard rules. Might be too “hungry” a game, with nobody ever having¬†cards to answer bids; we’ll have to see.

Secondly: Going first meant¬†you pick the card, but the other person almost always gets to take it. Which is weird, because basically you’re just giving them cards, so you’re basically playing the deck in turns. By each person selecting their own card from the market to bid on (and it can of course be a shared card, but doesn’t have to be), each deck strategy is rewarded somewhat, and you can “defend” cards you want when you see them, instead of having to luck out and be prime player when they become visible and just trying to deny the other guy cards, which is totally not the point anyway.

Thirdly: “Shuffling” four cards sucked. The “resources tableaux” removes randomness, but avoids you having to shuffle a very small hand. I worry that it makes “having a lot of resources” super valuable, but I do note that since you can mount a challenge cheaply, the poorer player can still¬†drive the richer player’s expenditures up if they have good suited cards. Otherwise, they’re what we like to call “losing”. That’s a thing.

Fourthly: Because you selected aces and crowns so late, you had to “remember” everything that has already gone out. Feels like too much state to hold in brain. Moving that to stage II¬†means you have some interesting cards with which to bid from stage I and have already taken a little shape, without it being so late that the game is already “set”, and the ensuing 4 phases can be done with knowledge of strategy.

Fifthly: Ending during Phase IV leaves too many cards behind to score. We should use Phase V. That’s easy enough ūüôā Because you no longer re-up on passing, what had been called Phase IV got split into IVa and IVb, and because I didn’t want to bother with that, I just shifted everything back to make room. Again, fine.

And finally, Knots: Scoring with the square of your single-pips was just too much. I dunno, I still like it, but it felt like double-dipping. So now you just score the count.

* I’ve considered maybe awarding a Pass Token when you pass: worth 1 victory point at end of game, to keep things sporting. I’ll try it both ways.


More Decktet noodling

I recently sold my Dominion collection to make way for something new (as yet unidentified — I like Dominion very much, but I rarely got the chance to use that specific set).

The question: can we build an interesting 2-3 player deck-building card game using the 45-card Decktet? I hope so! As I wrote this, I ended up feeling like it’s a bit seven wonders, too. Go figure.

The Decktet is much tighter than a standard Dominion game’s cards — 45 cards against dominion’s starting 100 kingdom + 36 victory + 130 coins, a few curses, whatever else. A fifth of the cards, more or less. So we gotta be tight.

Dominion’s mechanism is that you trade velocity for position — building an engine which can slide into the finish line as your deck slowly cripples itself with useless victory points. This one will be based on being able to decide the locations to which cards will go, choosing between the ability to dictate the fates of each card versus actual holding positions for each card.

Start with the deck: separate the pawns, courts and the Excuse. Shuffle and deal each player 3 cards; omit the Excuse if two players. Discard any remainder to the box; they won’t be used.
(The Excuse is read as a one-symbol wildcard during play, and aids scoring).

Make a deck of the two-suited 2-5 (Stage I) and 6-9 (Stage II) cards, and the single-suited aces and crowns (Stage III).

Order of Play
Each stage is a standalone shared deck from which the active player will reveal three cards (“The Market”) and select one to bid upon (“The Prize”). A round of bidding will ensue to the left; the ultimate winner takes The Prize to their personal discards and discards the remaining Market to the shared discard. If there is no winner, the entire Market is discarded. The winner then passes play to the left.

After Stage III is played, there is a final stage where the whole of the Market’s discards are shuffled and comprise a final Stage IV deck, which, when unable to deal a Market of 3 cards, ends the game immediately.

After each Stage, all players discard their hand and draw a new one of 3 cards from their personal deck (which begins with 0 cards), as well as whenever they pass. Recreate a personal deck as needed by shuffling personal discards.

A bid is played against the Treasure, and whatever Standing Bid is currently winning. Cards played to bid remain in front of their owner until the Treasure is taken, at which point they move to their owner’s personal Discard pile.
A card is read as having each symbol appearing on it (the types are called “a suit”, even though that includes the rank; the count of how many are present called “pips”) separately; The Sun/Moon/9 has 3 pips of 3 suits, “Sun”, “Moon” and “9” (and, as noted above, The Excuse is a one-pip wildcard of any suit, so could be any of those values or others besides). Aces and crowns are read as having 1 pip of the indicated suit (no suit for rank).
The Treasure sets which suits are trump; S/M/9 would make those 3 suits trump, while the Ace of Waves would set only Waves trump. A bid must have at least 3 pips of any suit, and at least as many pips as any currently winning bid (regardless of suit). A bid must also equal or exceed the number of pips of any of the trump suits in any preceding bid. Otherwise, the last-played tying bid is currently winning, and will resolve when the turn returns to its bidder with all other players having passed, at which point it resolves as per the turn order above.
Announce bids as “three pips, two trump”, for instance, if playing S/M/3 on a treasure of S /M/9.

Passing on a bid excludes the player from participating further in the current bid, instead causing them to discard their hand and draw a new one of 3 cards and await the conclusion of the bid.

Reveal the remaining cards from The Market and the Shared Discard.
For each such card, each player counts the number of aces and crowns they have of its suit(s) anywhere in their control (deck, hand, discard etc).
They score that many points, squared (so 1 point for a single ace or crown, through 16 points for all 4 matching aces and crowns). This number might need tweaking.
The Excuse may be used during this scoring, for a single card, to increase the number of trumps held by one (potentially scoring 25 points).

As a side note, I suspect you could stretch this game to more players by using two decktets. If you do, consider the “squigglies” that mark the separate instances to bind to all suit symbols; all cards from the “other” deck would be automatic notrumps, to prevent a single-suited blitzkrieg from becoming unstoppable.

Authors Notes:
Each Treasure seized aids bidding on future cards of its type, improving the odds of winning bids on the score-determining aces and crowns. However, it also “gunks up the works”, since it cements one into those suits, and in being removed from the shared Deck, won’t score at the end!
Winning multiple aces and crowns in common suits, then, is a strong signal to other players to remove the cards of those suits from the Deck to avoid multiplication of your end-game advantage, while restricting your ability to do anything other than bid on those suits.

Each Stage I-III is 12 cards, 4 bidding rounds, thus 4 treasures and 8 discards (mostly: some noise from no-win bids). Stage IV is the sum of the previous 3 discards, 24 cards (ish), 8 rounds, thus 8 more treasures and 16 discards (thus 20 rounds ’till game ends).
One could theoretically drive the game to a stage V with those discards, 5 rounds, 5 more treasures, 11 more discards, and even a VI with those, for 3 rounds, 3 treasures, and 8 discards, and even…!
I worry that the more trips through the Deck, the more “overfit” things become: Stage V might be worth it, but Stage VI and onwards just feel forced to my eyes. But playtesting will tell!
By the same token, I’m worried that the way biding and drawing works will do something weird like forcing play into “each player always just discards their hands to win a bid on their turn and then passes”, at which point we’re just taking turns drawing cards. There’s a little wrinkle in that the active player selects the Treasure before placing a bid, so getting to be active player with an empty hand is still a “turn”, but still. Geeze. My hope is that optimal play prefers to hold a card or two in reserve to avoid passing, but I might need to tweak things to arrange that.