Over on their Tumblr, my friends at Cardboard Edison posted a quote from game designer Darrell Hardy:
“If you need to remind players of a rule, it may not be elegant enough.”
Origins Award-winning game designer Dave Chalker calls these “Hand Slap” rules, because he has to slap someone’s hand every time they forget that rule and reach for the board in error.
I have a game with a Hand Slap rule.
When you play a card in LXIX: THE YEAR OF FOUR EMPERORS, the first thing must you do is advance the date on the calendar track, then you choose and execute an action. You earn a bonus action if you hit certain spaces on the calendar track. The bonus spaces on the calendar track add an additional decision point on your turn: do you play card A for it’s effect or card B for a possibly-lesser effect, but hit a bonus action space? It I feel it’s an interesting, if not entirely integral, piece of the game.
Everybody forgets to move the calendar.
I love LXIX. It’s one of my best designs. I’ve been steadily refining it for the last year and it really sings now, except for that darn, hand-slappy calendar move rule.
Argh! Why is that rule so frustratingly hard for people to remember?
Why can’t I just give it up?
I don’t know. Sure, yeah, it’s my darling so I’m supposed to kill it, but why can’t my play testers just get it right?
Obviously, this is a source of frustration for me. I should just get rid of the damn rule and try something different, but I’d rather people just paid better attention when playing. Then again, there’s already plenty to pay attention to in LXIX, and this one little rule probably wouldn’t be missed by anyone but me.
But it’s my darling, how can I possibly kill it?
First, a little background.
LXIX: The Year of Four Emperors has roots in CRIBBAGE. It was born as a four-player iteration of a system I designed for a two player game that borrows and adapts some of the mechanisms of Cribbage. In the conversion from two to four players, some of the cribbage mechanisms were dropped to compensate for other added complexities. The last vestiges of Cribbage in LXIX are the crib, in the form of hidden scoring regions, and the count, in the form of the calendar track. I hate to lose these last, tenuous connections to the game that inspired it.
I have an idea or two about how to fix this problem. The calendar track is just too easy for people to forget to use. The calendar probably has to go, but I’d love to keep the bonus actions in there somehow, because I think it’s an interesting decision point and it feels good when you get one. They can also be a big help for someone who drafted a less than ideal hand.
In Cribbage, you score points if you match your opponent’s played card during the counting. Perhaps you can get a bonus action if you match your opponent’s card in LXIX? There’s no calendar track to remember and you only have to pay attention to the last card played. More importantly, If you forget it, it doesn’t affect the other players turns.
Another option is to remove the bonus actions entirely. I’m not as big a fan of this idea, but it has some benefits. For one, it would allow simultaneous card play. If you don’t have to pay attention to your opponents’ card values, you don’t need a strict turn order. The order of resolution becomes more important, leading to a simplification and strengthening of another mechanism in the game: the combined turn order and tie breaker mechanism.
The next step is to play test–ideally several games in succession with the same group–to assess the impact of these various changes. Any volunteers?