This is a rare moment when I get to talk about two things I’m passionate about: game design and Sherlock Holmes!
One of the oddities of game design is the confusion around what parts of a game are protected by law, and what parts aren’t. For many years, it has been asserted that the rules and mechanics of a game cannot be protected, but the presentation can. This is why, for example, there are probably hundreds of platforming games where the character runs to the right and uses jump as a primary means of movement and attack, but very few of them (legally) feature a character named Mario. Similarly, any card game can turn a card sideways to express that it can no longer be used, but only games made by Hasbro (such as Magic: The Gathering) can use the term “tap” for this action.
In reality, the line between “rules” and “presentation” isn’t that simple. There has been a long history of video game cloning. It’s happened in the tabletop RPG space as well, and made even muddier by the d20 Open Game License and a number of successful “retroclones” that emulate previous game designs to various degrees of fidelity. Further, where public domain begins and ends is even more complex. And thus we get to the Great Detective himself.
Continue reading The Case of the Cloned Game
One of the advantages of a good vacation where you can really unplug is that your mind can focus on things you wouldn’t normally have time to consider. Naturally, as folks who work on games professionally, my wife and I think about games.
So on our recent cruise, when we had some time to kill, we bought two decks of cards and set about writing a new variation on the game “War” that didn’t suck as much. This new version (tentatively titled “Tactical War”) attempts to reduce the randomness of the original game, add a layer of player choice, and remove the “death spiral” design of the original. It’s been through a few iterations, but if other folks want to play it and give more feedback, I’ll be happy to keep this post up-to-date with the latest rules and clarifications.
Tactical War Rules
- Each player starts with their own deck of playing cards (two Jokers included.) Ideally, each deck has a different back, to make sorting the decks back out easier.
- The players also need some marker to show who sets the battlefield. The box the cards came in works fine.
- Before play begins, each player shuffles their deck, and presents it to their opponent to cut. Each player then draws a hand of five cards.
- The first player to set the battlefield is determined by random determination for the first round, or with whomever lost the last round.
- At the start of each turn, both players draw their hands up to five cards.
- The player who has the marker can decide if they want to “set a battlefield” for the turn. If they choose to, they play a card from their hand and declare what limits are on the battlefield.
- The “battlefield” is limited by the suit or color of the card played, depending on what the player declares — for example, a Two of Hearts can be played to limit the battlefield to “red cards” or “Hearts.” If there is no battlefield card in play, there are no limits on the cards for that turn.
- Once a battlefieldis played (if any), each player must try to play a card that fits within the presented limits. If they have no cards that fit within the limits, theymust play any card from their hand instead.
- The highest card played that fits within the limits wins the turn. If one card fits and the other doesn’t, the card that fits automatically wins.
- If neither card fits the limits, the highest value card wins.
- If the cards are of equal value, a second card is played that also fits the limits. If these cards tie, a third card is played, and so on.
- If both hands are emptied and the cards are still tied, the top card is revealed on each deck until a winner is determined.
- Once the turn is won, the winning player can choose to put their opponent’s card (not the card that set the battlefield) into their hand instead of putting it into their score pile.
- Any cards not put into the winner’s hand (including the card that settle the battlefield) are then put into the player’s score pile. The market then moves to the player on the left.
- Play continues until one player runs out of cards in their deck. All other opponents then put all their cards into their own score pile.
- The score piles are counted, and then the total written down. The decks are divided back out, and play continues until a set score is reached (typically 200). That player is the winner.