Scenic: Form, Function, Efficiency

Continued from “Refining Card Layout & Iconography

My starting point in designing Scenic was simply that it was to be a card game, based around a single deck. Investigating a short print run of the game, or even Print on Demand, from The Game Crafter showed me that they printed cards, 18 to a sheet, so originally I was working with any multiple of that. 3 x 18 is a normal 54 card deck. Adding an extra sheet of 18 would give me a slightly larger deck of 72 cards. So with that flexibility I began to think about the Form of the game.

Game Function – Draw, play, discard

My initial thoughts were that the cards you would be able to play each turn should be an unknown quantity. I didn’t want you to be able to plan too much ahead. Draw cards, play a card, discard the rest was my original thoughts. Drawing 2 cards to play 1 and discard 1 seemed limiting, so my first rules were that each player would draw 3 cards, play 1, and discard 2. You would go through the deck pretty quickly, but when needed, the discard pile would be shuffled and would become the new deck to draw from again. A deck of 72 cards would allow two players to play nine hands without shuffling. And three players could play eight hands without shuffling. My son-in-law made two comments when I explained these rules to him for the first time; “That’s a really inefficient use of cards. And you must have nine hands no matter how many players, so that everyone always has the chance to collect a full Panorama.” Wise man, my son-in-law.

Efficient manufacture

Whilst investigating the idea of a medium print run, in case a kickstarter of the game went gang busters, I discovered that a 54 card deck is the most cost effective way to print. Obvious, in retrospect, that they would adjust manufacturing so that it would be best to produce a standard deck of cards. So I now had two goals that would shape the Form of the game; reduce it down to a more efficient 54 cards & alter function of the game so that we could have nine hands, with up to four players, without having to reshuffle the discard pile … if possible.

Four players, each playing 9 cards, is a total of 36 cards. There is no way for the players to be drawing more than 1 card per turn without going over the 54 card max. We do have some flexibility in the set-up/the initial dealing of hands, but is there enough randomness with only drawing 1 card for turns two through nine? There might be …

 Randomising your hand with a limited deck

Sushi Go! has a great mechanic for giving you a new set of cards each turn. They have players mimick a Sushi Train, and have all hands passed to the player on your left/right after each card is played. With a five player game, you see five totally different hands, before your original cards return to you. So the idea of using something similar occurred to me. Draw 3 cards at the start of the game. Play 1, keep 1, pass 1. So at the start of the next turn, you have the card you kept, the card you received from another player, and a new card you draw from the deck. You are back up to 3 cards with minimal drawing from the deck and no discard pile. Rinse and repeat. But there is a problem with that …

Scaling game Form

Whilst the hand passing in Sushi Go! keeps things random for a large number of players, it is a different game when you are playing with just two. By the second turn of a two player game, I know what cards I will be able to draw from on every turn, because I have seen all the cards in play, and we are just swapping the hands back and forth between the two of us. It’s a different game, with a different strategy. Likewise, in the two player versions of Scenic, I can see a problem with just swapping an unwanted card back and forth. It seems to me that this game play won’t scale down well from a four player game to a two player game. So I am leaning towards drawing new cards from the deck, and discarding, rather than swapping between players. This will keep the Form of the game consistent, no matter the player count. It will require a reshuffle for a four player game, but I believe it’s necessary for consistency of play.

Game Function with two or three players

Each player in a game will draw 3 cards initially. They will play 1, keep 1 and discard 1. Then they will draw 2 cards for turns two through eight, giving them a 3 card hand each time. They will continue to play 1, keep 1 and discard 1. On turn nine, the last turn of the game, there will be no need to keep a card, so they will only draw 1 card, to give them a hand of 2. They will play 1 and discard 1. Each player will draw 18 cards during a game. Three players can do this, from a 54 card deck, with no need to shuffle during play.

Four player game

With a fourth player, the initial hand of 3 cards will use 12 cards from the deck. Each subsequent hand will use 8 cards (2 cards going to four players). After six hands, 52 cards will have been drawn. The discard pile, at this point, will contain 24 cards (4 cards discarded each of the six hands) which will be enough for the final three hands of the game.

Form, Function, Efficiency

Now, if we went back to a 72 card deck, we wouldn’t have to shuffle for a four player game. We could sacrifice Efficiency of manufacture for the Function of the game. But it would increase the cost of the deck by about 33%, so it’s not really a worth while trade off. Or, as noted above, if we only drew 1 card per turn, we wouldn’t have to shuffle, thereby sacrificing game Form for Functionality. But, as the designer, I don’t find that to be a worth while trade off, either. At the time of writing, I believe the game play outlined above is the most Efficient combination of Form & Function.

Continues in Kickstarter Stretch Goals

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