Not sure if it’s apparent, but I like games. I’ve always been into games since I was a wee lad playing Hearts with the family.
Yes, while you were playing your poketmans and your Mr Mario Brothers games, I was playing Hearts at a table with real cards. Only real gamers will understand. Of course, everything can be improved, even 300 year old card games played by old people and nerds.
One of my favourite methods of game design is the “fix what’s broke” method, where you take a previous game and try to fix what you consider is wrong with the game, or just to take the game in another direction.
This method is the basis of most game mods, many of which evolve into full fledged games.
Anyways, I was playing a game of Hearts online one day, and I realised that there is only one strategy: avoid points. Yes, you could shoot for the moon and try to get all 26 points in a hand, but that’s just another way of trying to ensure you don’t get any points. There is only one tactic used by players, and I found that boring.
Hearts has one important value: your score. When you have only one important value, there are just two ways it can move: up and down, and in Hearts you can only move up.
That’s when it hit me:
What if you couldn’t just move up? What if you could move down?
A New Twist
I quickly jotted down a few notes and made a rough prototype.
Instead of each heart being worth one point (and the Queen of spades being 13), what if every card had a different point value? Hearts would obviously all be worth points, but the other three suits could be worth positive or negative points. Whenever you take a trick, you get the total points from all the cards, which totally means you could end up with a negative score.
But that didn’t really solve the problem, there was still only one strategy: to lose points. But, one of my favourite game mechanics is to punish over-extension.
Many games feature mechanics that can punish someone for winning too much. RTS games make your units require an upkeep cost, Magic the Gathering makes you lose if you draw your whole deck, and Chess can make your own units block off your King’s escape. What if you got so far into the negatives, you lost?
I then had my game’s goal set: to be the person with the lowest score, but not below 0 when the game ends. If the game ended, and you had -8 points, you lost. After this, all that was left to do was tweak the individual mechanics and values.
Reflections From Testing
Testing the game found that it was just as good as I expected. When every trick matters, people think about their hand a lot more. Also, the threat of winning too much constantly hung over people’s heads, and made “rushing to 100” a valid strategy. If you found your opponents were very low, and you were very high, it was perfectly reasonable to try to nab up all the +point cards, dump all the -point cards to your opponent, and finish off with them all in the negatives.
A Theme For Everyone
All that was left was to figure out a theme, something that showed the difference between overindulgence and under-indulgence, and how both were bad.
My first thought was food. If you eat too much, you become unhealthy and overweight, but if you eat too little, you starve to death. You have to walk a line between over and under eating, and that pretty much informed my entire theme.
The different suits were different types of food, and each one had a point value. Hearts were all worth positive points, so they were themed as Sweets. Clubs were all negative points, so they were themed as Veggies. Spades and Diamonds, which had an even split of positive and negative points, were titled as Protein and Grains.
This also showed that man cannot live on celery alone, and that sometimes you can have a cake. Remember, moderation is not about denying yourself life’s sweetness, but allowing yourself to indulge every once and a while.
To check out the complete game and rules, visit The Game Crafter