Tag Archives: kill your darlings

death, revisited

On Monday, I posted about a breakthrough I had over a nagging issue in LXIX: The Year of Four Emperors. I tested the changes with some folks at Madison Board Games & Beer Tuesday night and I’m very pleased by the results. I’m play testing again tonight with a designer buddy and a couple of heavy strategy game lovers. We’ll see how that goes!

LXIX at Board Games & Beer
LXIX at Board Games & Beer

The cards were always numbered 1 through 9 in six suits. Each time you played a card, before executing an action, you advanced the date marker on the calendar track a number of days equal to the number on the card played. The calendar had three spaces that granted bonus actions if you hit their number exactly.  That has been part of the card design and play mechanism since the very beginning. The problem was, it was easy to forget to advance the calendar, especially if you weren’t going to get a bonus anyway.

The problem was, it was easy to forget to advance the calendar, especially if you weren’t going to get a bonus anyway.

I’ve always felt the bonus actions were interesting, even if they weren’t an integral part of the game. They added an extra decision point during play: do you play card A for it’s effect or card B for a possibly-lesser effect, but hit a bonus action space? Additionally, the bonus actions can help make up for a less-than-ideal hand of cards.

I’ve taken the numbers off the current cards, leaving me with a 54 card deck in 6 suits with 9 cards in each suit. Within each suit there are 3 ranks of cards, with 3 cards appearing in each rank.

I added 9 icons to the deck, evenly distributed, such that each icon appears once per suit and an even number of times within each rank across all suits.

In play, when you match an icon you previously played, you get a bonus. The icons are distributed such that a match must be in a different suit and is 2/3 likely to be a different rank. You need not pay attention to what the previous player played, and if you forget it, it doesn’t affect anyone else. It enhances the effects of the bonus actions on “bad” hands, too, as you can only get the bonus if you’re playing cards in multiple suits. You’re no longer rewarded for playing in your strongest suit, as could happen with the calendar system.

I really think this is the solution I’ve been looking for.


death of an inelegant darling.

I think I’ve found a means to finally do away with my most inelegant darling, the troublesome calendar track in LXIX: The Year of Four Emperors, while still providing for a bonus action system. I think it’ll be something players can safely ignore, but will still benefit those who need it most, which is really what the bonus actions were intended to do. I’m eager to play test it this week at Board Games & Beer!

die, my inelegant darling, die!

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?