I have recently been working on a new card game, called Moderation. It plays a lot like Hearts or Spades, but with an emphasis on balancing your points instead of only gaining or losing points.
Moderation is, if I might say so myself, a quite interesting take on traditional trick taking games like Hearts or Spades. Instead of trying to gain as many or as few points as physically possible, you want to end at as close to, but not under, 0 points as possible. It is slightly different than Hearts, where you also want to be as close to 0 as possible, because you can gain AND lose points in the game.
In this post, I will go over my thought process and the design challenges I faced while building this game.
Moderation, like most games, was created out of inspiration of another game. The main one, as has been said quite repeatedly, is Hearts. I’ve always been a fan of Hearts, I played as early as 5 years old, and I appreciated the depth of the game despite the lightweight rules.
There has always been one problem with Hearts, it is very easy to “strategically” break. All you gotta do is take no tricks, and as long as someone doesn’t try to get all 26 points (which would instead give everyone else 26 points), you were fine. So I thought, what if instead of points being only a bad thing, they were sometimes good?
A Different Angle
The idea of values being both a good and bad thing has always intrigued me.
In Klei’s Don’t Starve, the aim of the game is to not starve, which is done by eating food that raises your “belly” stat. Normally, that is always a good thing, but one character will actually consume more “belly” points per minute the higher his total “belly” score is. So, instead of cramming all the food all the time, you often have to regulate your “belly” to keep your total expenditure to a minimum.
Moderation’s theme, about keeping your sugar levels moderated, as well as the mechanics basically came together simultaneously. In our house, we like to keep a close eye on a food’s sugar levels. In general, we try to limit the amount of added sugar and get enough protein and fibre to balance things out. This, of course is a simplistic view of maintaining a balanced diet, but it lends itself well to creating a game.
I was able to quickly come up with the base rules of Moderation, as I used Hearts as inspiration. In fact, from first thought to first prototype took basically an hour, and 20 minutes of that was just printing and cutting out labels.
Of course, I ran into a few design challenges with the first prototype.
One of my main complaints about Hearts was that it was often advantageous to literally never take tricks. That narrows a lot of the interesting choices you can make, as taking a trick is almost universally a “bad thing.” Of course, if you take a trick, you are scrambling to undo that mistake you made, and then you are back to square one.
This led to a few rule additions.
The first was an incredibly clunky “at the start of each round, you lose 5 points” or a “you start at -5 points.” That was just awkward, hard to explain, and didn’t flow with the theme. I was able to change it to the current trick-less penalty, where you lose 7 points if you go a round without taking a trick. This actually did two things, it provided an incentive for players to take tricks, and allowed people at high point values to slowly work their way down.
Now Onto The Testing
If this game sounds interesting, let me know and I can send you a printable Moderation kit that you can test with. This game is not quite done yet, but it is still quite fun as-is.