Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rummy Variant vs Set Building

I've been calling Cow Tipping, a card game Tasty Minstrel is planning on releasing next year, a Rummy variant. This is mostly because in the game you are putting together a run or a set like you do in Rummy. The rules as written force you to discard a card, and then allow you to draw one from opponent's discard piles or from the top of the deck (which is like Rummy). Before that happens, if you have a sufficient set or run, you can discard it in order to claim a scoring card (which, obviously, will help you score points). Then you refill your hand to 7 cards.

I've decided that I'm not sure when a game is a Rummy variant and when it is simply a set building game. How many aspects must be similar before a game is considered a Rummy variant? There are specific definitions for "Trick taking" and "Climbing" games - is there such a definition for a Rummy game?

I'm considering trying the following changes in order to inject more control and player choice into this particular set building game, because as written I don't think it feels enough like you're building a set:

Set building on the table in front of you.
Rather than building up these sets and runs in your hand and then discarding them to take a scoring card, I think it might be good to construct the sets on the table in front of you. To keep it simple, you are allowed 1 of each type of set (1 Set and 1 Run), and each turn you can add to them until they are sufficient to exchange for a scoring card. If you cannot add to either of them, then you have to discard one and start a new one. This I think will encourage people to be drawing cards when possible that add to their sets, and to start to build sets that they have cards in hand to add to it with. In addition, this will give players (who are interested in watching for it) a reason to discard 1 card over another - THIS card will hep an opponent, THAT card won't, so I'll discard that one! Currently you can't really know whether THIS card or THAT card are safe to discard, so you just pick one.

Card drawing vs Card playing
Instead of filling your hand every turn, I would like to try a mechanism wherin you draw cards. Borrowing from Thurn & Taxis a little bit, I would like to see players having the opportunity to draw more cards and play fewer in one turn, in order to build up their hand, and in another turn have the opportunity to draw fewer cards and play more. I also want to maintain players having to discard a card for other players to use each turn, so the rule I'll try is that you can either Play 3 then Draw 2... or Play 2 then Draw 3. One card must be played to the discard pile each turn. The other card (or cards) must be played to your sets in play. If they do not legally combine with the cards in play to form a set, then you have to discard what you had and start a new set with the card you play.

This brings up a question I hadn't considered. Suppose you have a red 2, 3, 4 in play, and you have a red 6 in hand but no 5. Can you play the red 6, as it's legally part of a set that is simply unfinished yet? I think so, but you wouldn't be able to cash in that set until it is complete. It seems like it would be really tough if you had to lay down the cards for a Run in order, and there's no similar restriction for the Sets.

The point of these changes, as I mentioned, is to make it feel like you are building a set, and to give players some reason to do one thing over another, while still keeping the game fast paced and light.

Scoring in Rummy games is often based on what cards you have left in hand when someone 'goes out' (and in that case scoring is bad). In Wyatt Earp for example, scoring is based more on majority of each color for which you have sets in play, which is very different than the scoring in Gin Rummy for example. In Cow Tipping, scoring is of course based on the scoring cards you collect during the game. It's sort of another set collection mechanism in that you score more for having more of the same color or type of car. It's been mentioned by players that the scoring is too complicated for the game, and I think that's true - you have to do a lot of math to add up the points you get for sets of cars, then do it again for sets of colors, then add the 2 results together for your total score. I'm not sure what better scoring method there could be, but there's got to be something similar that is easier to calculate.


Sean McCarthy said...

So what does building sets on the table get you? The main effect is that other players can see what you're doing.

You're thinking this will add tactics; I think it would mostly remove it. If you can see explicitly what everyone else needs, you know exactly what not to discard. A large part of your decision is practically made for you, because you know you should discard certain cards.

On the other hand, if all you know about other player's possible wants are what they've picked out of discard piles, you have to think a bit harder to know what's safe to discard. You can use probability (based on which cards you've already seen), infer what possible sets people might be making based on what they've picked up or even declined to pick up, or even just look at which types of sets they might want to be making for scoring purposes.

Actually, I think that's the main appeal of Rummy.

If you still don't think that's enough clues, maybe making the drawing a bit more open would help. You could have 3 face up cards to draft from in addition to the possible discard piles you can pick from. There are lots of ways to do that.

Seth Jaffee said...

You are correct, another (probably better) way to allow players to actively build a set would be with more options when drawing. The building sets in front of you does two things, and maybe I was not accurate in my blog post as to the reasoning for it...

1. It helps players decide what to discard - which, as you indicate, might be bad instead of good. Without more openness in drawing then there's no basis to decide what to discard. With more openness then maybe your right, playing face up sets may effectively make people's decisions for them (see Keltis).

2. It goes hand in hand with the draw X / play Y mechanism. I like the idea of being able to build up your hand, or throw it down faster (see Thurn & Taxis). this has less to do with the feeling of set building, except perhaps that you might draw more cards until you have set brewing in hand, then draw fewer cards and play more in order to get that set realized and cash it in.

Looking at Wyatt Earp again, that game allows you to draw 2 cards a turn, or just 1 if you like the top discard. Maybe something like that is needed such that if you are drawing exactly the card you want, then you have to 'pay' for that by not getting as many cards. I wonder if that need apply here.

Seth Jaffee said...

I think I would like to just say that the 2 or 3 cards a player draws in a turn can come from any combination of he deck or any opponent's discard pile (but at most 1 from each discard pile). I feel you might need this kind of openness in order to get the feeling of set building.

In the 2 player rules there's an additional card which is face up, that gets replaced only if someone draws it. You can draw that card instead of someone's discard. I was thinking that would be good to have in multiplayer games as well, as player's discard piles change every single turn (by definition), and it would be nice to see a player's discard and that card which work together and have a chance to get both.

Perhaps the rule should be hat at most 1 draw comes from a discard pile (or this extra card) and the rest from the deck?

Another option is this... instead of each player having their own discard pile, just have multiple (3?) discard piles in the game, and when you discard, you choose which pile to discard to (and therefore which card to cover up). That might be a neat twist to the Lost Cities style of discarding!

Anonymous said...

I think Sean is right in that it's the ability to see what other people are drawing (or not) that probably defines a Rummy variant. Hence Ticket to Ride qualifies - and IMO improves the system slightly by having essentially 5 discard piles but no ability to draw from the "real" discard pile (which in that game doesn't really matter anyway until it is back in the draw deck.)

I can understand your dilemma about runs vs sets but I don't know enough about the game to know how bad an issue that would be. Building your cards openly does seem quite interesting but will probably introduce hellish levels of AP.

-- David

Seth Jaffee said...

Thanks for the comments - I'll make another blog post to this effect, but it's all moot now, I think.

I'm pretty sure the ideas I had about the Thurn & Taxis mechanism are too complicated for the game and in fact would not work that well after all. Instead, I realized yesterday, something very simple fixes most of what I thought were problems with the game...

Instead of refilling your hand to 7 each turn after tipping, simply draw 2 cards. No hand limit, no Elsa card artificially restricting whether you can tip or not. It worked very well and made the game a lot better as far as I'm concerned.