Card games

Another microgame idea — Monstrosity

Product of another sleepless night. Tentatively entitled ‘Monstrosity’. This is for a deck of 18 cards, which depict 1–6 of either velociraptors, shoggoths or zombies. The idea is that you’re a mad scientist who’s breeding these creatures up in your lab: except sometimes enemy scientists interfere, and they get loose and eat each other. I’ve tred it for two players, and I think it’d be worth trying for 3 as well (although with less cards to play it might turn out to be trivial, longer-term balance tactics might become more of a factor. Hmm, we’ll see.)

So you deal out all 18 cards between the players, who pick them up as a hand of 9 cards. Each player chooses one card and puts it face down in front of them. The cerature depicted on this card is their favourite kind of creature, which they will score more for at the end.

Play alternates. On your turn you must play a card from your hand, either (a) onto a face-up stack that accumulates in front of you, or (b) onto your opponent’s similar face-up stack. In either case you should place it so it covers the existing stack (so there is a memory element involved).

After all cards have been played from hand, you score. Each player spreads out their stack and adds up the total of each monster type. So you might have in your stack eg. 3V, 4S, 1Z, 4Z, 6V, 5V, 2S, 1S. That’s a total of 14V, 7S and 5Z. Reveal your face-down card, which hopefully was something like 1V. So your basic score is: your total for your favourite monster [14V in this case] minus (the difference between the other two [7S – 5Z = 2]) = 12.

(The thematic idea of this is: your favourite monsters are temporarily protected, so the other two kinds eat each other 1:1. Then any that are left eat some of your favourite monsters 1:1 before being eaten themselves.)

The slight wrinkle that I’m not sure about is: as well as the card you’ve placed face down designating your favourite kind of monster, its number could also designate a card that you’re allowed to ignore. So in this case, because you had a 1V stashed, you could ignore the 1S card, giving you a score of 13 rather than 12. The tactics element to this is that if you stash a large-valued card, it has more chance of rescuing a bad result, if you need a big swing. But as you don’t score for the stashed card, it’s removing more creatures of your favourite type from your total if you stash a big one. I’m not sure if this is really tactical depth: need to play it a lot to find out. Also, I don’t have a thematic explanation for this mechanism.

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that this game could be played with ordinary playing-cards rather than monsters. But where’s the fun in that? (Where by ‘fun’ I mean ‘marketing value’.)

10 replies on “Another microgame idea — Monstrosity”

Reminds me of a joke I saw on Facebook this very day:
What do you get if you cross a cow with an octopus?
A stern rebuke from the Research Ethics Committee and an immediate cessation of funding.

Strategy questions – assume for simplicity that you and the opponent did not choose the same suit (which should be very rare):

1) Is there ever a reason not to play a card of your own suit onto your own pile?
2) Is there ever a reason to play a card of your opponent’s suit into their pile (assuming you know which suit that is)?

Assuming the answers to the above are “no” and “no” respectively, then the strategy is to try to end up with about the same proportion of the third suit (in value, not cards) as you have of the enemy’s suit. At the start of the game you know how much of your suit the enemy has, let’s call this ‘Y’. Also, you have some amount of the enemy’s suit (but don’t know which it is yet) – let’s call that ‘E’. Two cases can apply:

A) The total value of the third suit (always 21 in fact) is greater than the total of Y and E.
B) It isn’t. (This will be more rarely the case.)

In case A you’re trying to dump cards in the third suit onto each other, but in case B you’re trying to play them on yourself. So, third strategic question:

3) In case B is there ever a reason not to play every card in your hand in front of yourself (once you know you’re in case B)?

Initially you don’t know the opponent’s suit and so it would be suicide to play a card onto their side of the board, but you can usually confirm you’re in case A and therefore want to play neutral cards onto the other side of the board. This being the case, your best opening is to play a card of your own suit in front of yourself, at which point my last question arises:

4) In case A is there ever a reason not to play all cards from the neutral suit in front of your opponent?

If the answers to the four questions are all “no” I think this might represent a problem of sorts.

Possibly the face down card value could be used somehow to break up this situation or maybe a change to the monster fighting rules at the end might make the decisions a bit less straightforward?

I think your analysis is correct, but a couple of things I’m not sure about. My intention was that the game is most interesting while you’re still trying to work out which is the opponent’s suit. Once you do know that, then it becomes a perfect-play exercise as you say. So I’m thinking of it as a game of bluff and misdirection.

So from that point of view, giving your opponent information about which is your own suit is a bad thing. So the obvious tactic of playing all your own suit out in front of you will allow your opponent easily to optimize their play around you. If you can actively mislead them (by playing mixed suits, or starting off with another suit – high-risk, as to start with you also don’t know which is neutral), you have an advantage.

So I think the answer to your questions is indeed all No, but in the case of the 4th question, you may not know which is the neutral suit until it’s too late to fully follow that play rule. (And, as the moves dictated if the suits are the other way round are pretty much opposed, guessing wrong too early is fatal.)

In the case of the 3rd question, the play pattern doesn’t change if you get the suits the wrong way round, but you can’t be sure if you’re in case B until you know for certain which is the neutral suit. So again it would be rash to commit to this too early.

I easily might be missing something though which explodes these comments and makes bluffing impossible or pointless against a rational opponent. I’m notoriously poor at this sort of analysis! So I very much appreciate your help in thinking it through.

So I’m thinking of it as a game of bluff and misdirection.

I like this concept a lot, but right now I don’t think it works.

Suppose we each have 3+ cards in our own suits and (whether we know it or not) are in scenario A. Suppose that I’m playing first (which should give you an edge).

Dom: 2V
Mo: 2Z
Dom: 3V
Mo: 3Z
Dom: 6V
Mo: 5Z

The trouble is that at this point I can tell whether Zombies is your suit or not by whether I hold two or three Zs myself. If I have three then I’ve just won the game because your failed bluff cost you 10 points (which is HUGE).

The problem here is not that you should have stopped bluffing sooner. The problem is that I can see too many Z cards for this to really be your suit. So for a bluff to be convincing you have to have four cards in the suit (and hold at least one back of course). But if you really have four you’d normally be much better off with them as your real suit. That is, unless you were 4/4/1 in which case you’re going to lose anyway because I had a five card suit!

Basically, bluffs are expensive to make and cheap to call. I can’t come up with any situation where a bluff would be beneficial.

Mm, you make a good point. I wonder if that could be helped by taking two cards at random out of the deck at the start? That way you couldn’t be sure if your own Z cards were the whole remainder of the suit, or if there were some missing.

I think you’re right though that a pure bluff couldn’t really be sustained past round 2, which probably makes it impractical.

I wonder if there’d be value in a play rule that you couldn’t play two consecutive cards of the same suit (unless no option). That would break up any bluff and also mean you couldn’t stifle the game early by immediately playing two big cards of your suit. And it would increase the chance of accidentally giving the opponent some points. OTOH this might just be frustrating. Perhaps tackling it through scoring/eating would be better.

Assuming your monsters don’t practice cannibalism, then you can’t put two of the same monster cards together – they’ll get friendly and begin developing microgame ideas, and won’t watch their backs and will doubtless get eaten.

[…] playable and less niggly and frustrating (which it was a bit, in places). I also took Hands Up!, the new microgame also mentioned here, but didn’t get to test it, as I came home earlier than usual to spend more time with the […]

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