David Madore's WebLog: Quest for a game

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Quest for a game

Now that I have a nice deck of tarot cards, I would like to find something to do with them other than simply watch them. I don't believe in cartomancy, so I won't try reading the future (actually I did once, and it predicted that terrible disaster would befall me shortly, so I decided I really didn't believe it). Instead, I would prefer some real card game. I could play French tarot (English version of the rules here)—assuming, of course, I found some people willing to play with me, but let's suppose that that's not a problem. Indeed, there would be a definite kind of snobbish refinement, quite characteristic of me, in playing ordinary French tarot with XVth century Italian cards; meaning, in particular, that you need to remember that The Tower beats Death but Death beats The Hermit, and so on (neither the numbers nor the labels of the arcana are written on the cards). That's not really a problem, but I don't find the rules of French tarot very intersting, in particular because the rules for scoring are far too complicated in my opinion.

So I would like another game, and since it very certainly doesn't exist already, it would have to be invented. So this is essentially a call to anyone with a fertile imagination for inventing card games: please send me any suggestions. I used to have a great mind for coming up with games when I was little, but I really can't find much inspiration here and now.

Here are some properties I would like this game to have. First, it should at least be playable by three through five players, but it would be nice to have it work for other numbers of players. Second, it should be played with the seventy-eight card tarot deck, and make best use of it. For those who don't know what it is like, here is a brief description:

  • Fifty-six cards, called “minor arcana” by occultists, the ordinary (non-trump) cards, are grouped in four suits of fourteen cards each. The four suits are: swords, staves, cups and coins (normally corresponding to the ordinary French suits: spades, clubs, hearts and diamonds respectively, which modern French tarot decks also use). The fourteen ranks in each suit are: ace, deuce through ten, knave, knight, queen and king (in the ordinary, non-tarot, deck of cards, which is probably derived from the tarot, the knave and knight have merged, or the knight has disappeared, leaving the jack).
  • Twenty-one trump cards, called “major arcana” by occultists. They are named as follows: The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Justice, The Hermit, The Wheel of Fortune, Strength, The Hanged Man, Death (sometimes unnamed), Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgement and The World, and are sometimes numbered in this order from one to twenty-one (modern French tarot decks just have numbers and have dropped any associated picture).
  • One last card, usually grouped with major arcana (as number zero, or unnumbered, or sometimes as number twenty-two or even twenty-and-half), stands apart from the rest: The Fool (possibly the ancestor of the Joker of modern non-tarot card decks; in modern French tarot decks it is called The Excuse).

Now I want a game that makes the best possible use of the deck. The four suits should probably play symmetric roles, or, if they don't, the difference should be somehow related to the four tokens (swords, staves, cups and coins, that is). Ranks deuce through ten should definitely play parallel roles; the ace might be special, but normally it should be “lower” than deuce and not “higher” than king. More importantly, knave, knight, queen and king should not simply be ranks eleven through fourteen: since they are represented specially, they should probably act specially. Similarly, the major arcana shouldn't simply be used as cards with numbers one through twenty-one: since they have special names, these names should somehow indicate what the cards are used for; and certainly The Fool should be very special.

Having twenty-two special cards may seem a lot. The idea I had in mind is that the game should be playable without the major arcana, but very simple and rather boring. These twenty-two cards should be the spice of the game, with twenty-two different magical powers. Maybe some principles can be inspired by the commercial game Magic: the Gathering, which has certainly shown it possible to come up with a great variety of different, unique, effects in a card game. The numbers associated to the twenty-one major arcana excluding The Fool should either not be used at all (each is unique) or be used only secondarily (as in, when two cards conflict, the higher one wins). Similarly, the knave, knight, queen and king (and perhaps the ace) should probably be special, but each in its own suit, and the order associated with them should either not be used at all or only secondarily. All these conditions mean that the rules of the game make an intelligent use of the deck as it is.

Aside from that, of course, there are usual conditions: luck should play some role, but not too much (the game should not be perfect-information), and there should be at least some strategy and intelligence involved. The game should be fair to all players, and none should be grossly at an advantage. And so on. Well, the usual stuff. I prefer a game with no scoring at all, or the simplest kind possible (just count how many rounds each player has won, something like that).

So if you can invent (or if you already know!) a game that satisfies these criteria, or a non-trivial part of them, or if you have some partial ideas, or any bright comment to make, do not hesitate to write to me (david[plus]www[at sign]madore[dot]org) to share your wisdom. Otherwise, I will continue searching (and post ideas that I have).

Incidentally, if and when someone comes up with a set of rules that seem to make sense, they have to be field-tested, so I will be looking for volunteer willing to try playing the game: let me know if you are interested.

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