Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A game of Intrigue

So me and my friend this guy I used to know modify or design lots of games. Sadly we never write down or lose the rules and our notes to most of these so they never end up going anywhere. One of the oldest games we designed is a simple card game played with regular playing cards. We called it Intrigue. Its for 2-4 players, maybe could stretch it to add a one or two more players but you risk running out of cards sooner or later.

It works like this: every one is dealt 7 cards and then try to make the best hand they can by trading with other players or drawing from the blind or discard piles. What makes it interesting, at least to us that designed it originally, is that when you are making these trades you not only don't have to tell the truth, but are encouraged to lie about what it is you are trading. The interesting thing is when oddly enough both sides tell the truth in what they trade because that usually is exactly what you didn't want.

For example: Say I have the 3 of hearts in my hand and I want to get rid of it. And lets say what I could really use to help make my hand even better is the 7 of clubs. I might propose a trade to one of the other players saying "I will trade you the queen of spades if you have the jack of diamonds." Now the other player is pretty sure I am not really trading the queen, nor am I really looking for that jack, so now he has a choice: he can gamble that what I'm saying is a queen is actually some card that could help him and in turn get rid of some card he doesn't want hoping that hurts me even more than the card I'm getting rid of; or he can decline. And if he happens to have the jack and its not helping his hand he can trade that to me knowing that it isn't likely to help me out at all or I wouldn't have asked for it. The other player could counter offer a different card if he so chose but since it's just as likely to be a lie the only real point to that is to confuse the issue.

Confused yet? It takes playing the game a few times before you figure out what's going on really and how you can best try to fool the other players to doing what you want them to. I can't give away all my secrets here, and truth be told I can't remember most of them anymore anyway since it's been so long since I've played the game.

Originally it was designed as a gambling game for a D&D world we were playing in. Eventually after many revisions and refinements to it we figured out how to actually add said gambling into the game. We were playing with poker chips denoted with 5 and 10 at the time so that was the scale we used. When you propose a trade you put forward a 5 chip and if the other player accepts he puts forward a 5 chip as well into the pot. If you buy a card off the blind instead of trading that cost you a 10 chip since you aren't trading with anyone. And taking the top card off the discard pile costs you 15, since not only are you not trading with someone, but you know exactly what you are getting. My notes don't seem to say but I believe we also had an ante of 5 to start out the pot each hand.

After you deal out the cards to the players you deal out a 6 card blind and start the discard pile out with a 7th card before removing the remainder of the deck from play. We found limiting the blind like this promotes trading, which was after all the whole point of the game, while still leaving a few more extra cards that can be brought into play if the trading stalemates. See eventually people just keep trading the same bad cards around so the blind offers a way to change them up a little. Since you can only have 7 cards in your hand drawing from the blind or discard pile requires that you then discard a card.

The game moves in turns. Starting to the left of the dealer and going around clockwise each player decides to propose one trade to one other player or draw from the blind or discard piles. If the trade is declined by the other player that's too bad, you used up your turn all the same. Play continues for as long as everyone is willing to keep trading. Eventually someone will declare they are happy with their hand and call an end to the hand, preferably at the end of their own turn but I can't recall if that was firm in the rules. Each remaining player gets one more turn to try to better their hand, but obviously the player that declared they were done will no longer trade, so if it's a two player game that just leaves the blind.

Scoring the hand: This is where we had to do the most refining which took hours of playing and seeing what was most fair. Each card in your hand can only be scored in one set and must be used in a set if possible, so choose your sets wisely. Sets can be pairs, 3 or 4 of a kind; or straights of 3 to 7 cards. The ace card can be either low or high in a straight, but can not span the gap. So a straight can be ace, 2,3; or queen, king, ace; but not king, ace, 2. There is also the full house set, which is a 3 & 4 of a kind in the same hand. You also get bonus points for a flush set, all the cards in a particular set are the same suit; and a full flush, all 7 cards in your hand are the same suit regardless of if they are used in a set or not.

A pair is worth 5 points, 3 of a kind is worth 20 points, 4 of a kind is worth 40 points, and a full house is worth 75 points (20 & 40 points from the 3 and 4 of a kind plus 15 bonus points).
A 3 card straight is worth 15, a 4 card is worth 20, 5 cards is worth 30, 6 cards are worth 40, and a 7 card straight is worth 50 points.
A flush set is worth +5 points per card in the set. For example a 4 card flush straight would be worth 20 for the straight and another 20 for the flush (5 points per card times 4 cards).
A full flush is worth 50 points plus the value of any of the sets that might have made it up plus the face value of the remaining cards unused in the sets.

(This is where my notes become less clear. What I have written down is opposite of how I remember us playing it so I will first tell you how I remember us playing it. And then in brackets after that write down what my notes actually say and you can make up for your own mind which is better.)

Cards not used in a set are worth their face value, face cards are worth 10, and the ace is worth 15. This means that most cards are actually worth more outside of a pair then inside so watch out.

[Only face value of cards used in set.] This is what I have written down and would mean cards not used in a set don't score you any points, which is counter to how I remember it. But it every well could be that we changed that particular rule the last time we played and I took these notes and since it was the most recent change I just don't remember it. It does however mean that sets of higher valued cards are worth more than sets made of lower valued cards, because you get the value of the set plus the face value of the cards in that set. That would be the reason we changed that particular rule, but I still can't remember for sure.

That's the end of the hand. The person with the most points wins the pot. If you weren't playing for money I suppose you could just have a running total from one hand to the next and the first person to a set number wins. I'd set that number at 500 for shortish games and 1000 for longish games. It all depends on how long each hand takes you and your friends to play through.

That's the game. It can be lots of fun to play and unfortunately for me I haven't had a chance to play it in a long time. I just found my notes from the last time we played and thought I'd type them up here so I also knew where to find them in the future. And now other people can play the game if they want to. It would be particularly interesting for me to find my notes on the scoring from 5 years ago when I first wrote them down so I could compare the changes made. If I do I will probably put them in a comment so you can see the evolution of the game.

And please, if you do play the game with your friends, leave me a comment on what you thought of it, and any changes you can see that we should make to it. I'd just be happy to know other people are playing it. Any one with kids who play I'd love to know their ages. All games have a 5+ or whatever for recommend age for kids to play, and I have no idea at what age, if any, you would want to encourage your kids to become better liars. My totally uneducated guess would be to not recommend this game for play by kids under the age of say 10. But I'm not a parent so do I know.

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