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New Card Game - Crab Tactics

NOTE: I've since updated this game with a different theme, and have moved development discussion to a different entry. Please help me continue development by posting your questions and comments here:

Mountaineers Card Game Discussion



After playing a dreadful dice game called Bowling Dice - which turned out to be nothing more than throwing the dice and challenging the score-keeper to learn the scoring process for the original sport of Bowling - I challenged myself to come up with a more interesting game based on the Bowling sport that shifts the theme quite a bit. This quick sketch is the result.

Should you have any feedback, please share it below. Thanks!

Photos of the cards I make, and eventually photos of a game in progress, will be added later. Once completed to my satisfaction, I'll be releasing the game as pay-what-you can on and other platforms. Also looking for other suggestions in the online merchant-space, so if you have advice, please share.



Players: 3 - 5
Time to Play: 30 minutes
Luck (1 = none, 5 = completely): 3
Skill: (1 = none, 5 = perfect information): 4


Earn points by out-guessing and skillfully choosing cards from identical hands. Each turn, players play cards from their hand - simultaneously revealing the first, then one player at a time chooses and reveals their second card of the Round. Watch out, though... players who show matching cards don't earn points for them, and the Bottom Feeder can end up foiling your plans for Ultimate Crab status...! After ten Rounds, the player with the most points wins.


Each player has an identical mini-deck of 15 cards. There are cards numbered 1 through 9, and various Special Effect cards. The final card of the set is the King Crab token, and is given to the selected first player.

Player start a Round by drawing a hand of 3 cards, then they must draw the top card from their deck and place it face-up on the table in front of them. Starting with the King Crab and moving in clockwise order, each player must select and reveal a second card from their hand until all players have done so. To end a Round, scores are recorded and the King Crab token is passed to the player with the current highest score.

Players may discard any remaining cards in their hand (though it's not required), each player discards the cards they played into their own discard pile, then start the next Frame.

Limited "table-talk" is permitted, but no specific details about a player's non-revealed cards, hand, etc. may be discussed. Also, if a player has no cards remaining in their draw pile, they shuffle/mix the cards currently in their discard pile to create a new draw pile. Players -never- share or pass cards between one another.

Different Special Effect cards are listed below.

  • Number cards: a number card on the table adds its value to that player's score, as long as it matches no other card revealed in that frame.

  • Claws Out: A player who reveals Claws Out may either add 5 points to their score for that round, -or- discard it and play any Number card from their hand and score it regularly, instead. I'm Crabby is Unblockable and provides a guaranteed 5 points for the round, but it can be traded in for a higher-scoring Number card in some cases.

  • Big Claw: a player who reveals Big Claw must also play a Number card during that frame (either before or after the Big Claw). If a Big Claw is the second card played, then you may follow-up this card with a Number card and score it regularly. The Big Claw is worth 10 points, but can be blocked by a duplicate Big Claw.

  • Bottom Feeder: a player who reveals Bottom Feeder must also play a Number card during that Round (either before or after the Bottom Feeder). The player of a Bottom Feeder card scores only the lowest non-duplicated Number card played that Round. If there are no non-duplicated Number cards played during that Round, then the Bottom Feeder scores 0 points.

  • Hard Shell: a player who reveals Hard Shell makes all the cards they've played that Round unblockable. Note that if you play a Hard Shell card along with a Number card, you will always score points for that Number card, but anyone who has played that same Number won't score it unless they too have played a Hard Shell.

  • One-Two Pinch Combo: a player who reveals One-Two Pinch Combo will "steal" one point from a player on one side of the table next to them and then steal two points from a player on the other side of them. This will likely reduce the points earned by those other players, but no player can earn fewer than 0 points (so you don't have to worry about "negative" points). If this card is duplicated, then it earns the player 0 points for the Round.


The player with the most points at the end of the 10th Round is the winner.

If there is a tie, the players involved must play an 11th Round to resolve the Ultimate Crab.

Have fun...!!!


A Likely Modification

Currently thinking of ways to implement a selection-and-reveal of second cards one-by-one, as well as a way to change the first player of each Frame. There may be a new iteration of the ruleset shortly.

EDIT: version 3 is now in the original post, and non-simultaneous selection and reveal is now implemented.

Assets & Playtest One

Here are the cards I made for the first iteration of Bowling Tactics.

Each player has a mini-deck of 12 cards, and 9 of them are just numbers. I was going for pure functionality for this first version, though I did put a little flair around the border (very un-bowling-like, I must admit). Also, each mini-deck has its own colour (this is the pink one), and the back-side of the card has that colour lining its edge so the mini-decks can be quickly divided between players should the cards be stored in a single stack.

I had a three-player game playtest today. This was the first time it had hit the table, ever. There were 10 Frames/rounds, and for scoring I put that Frame's score first, followed by the player's total score. Here's the score sheet:

If it's difficult to read:

  • Player 1 = 106
  • Player 2 = 107
  • Player 3 = 121

Scores were fairly consistent, and it seemed like Player 3 had a lucky break that put his score essentially one Frame ahead of the other two. I'm Player 1 on this sheet, and at least I think my score in this game is on par with what I'd have at an actual bowling alley... :)

For now, the only change I want to try for the next iteration is to shuffle the player's mini-deck between each Frame. This is suggested by the other playtesters, and while I still have reservations about it, they did make good arguments for the change.

For one thing, a player never wants their Gutter Ball to come out at all, so a player may choose to hang on to it in hand once it's there. This is a safeguard, but it also effectively removes a card from that player's hand.

Secondly, a fact made clear during play was that the Strike and Spare are less-powerful when they come out as the first card played. Much like the Gutterball, the player may want to hang on to them in hand for a later Frame - though this presents them with the same dilemma as if they were holding the Gutterball.

Finally, on a positive note I saw some aggressive play late in the game. In Frame 9, Player 2 sabotaged Player 3 by willingly duplicating a number card, causing neither of them to score it. Note that Player 2 was able to score 5 points, but Player 3 only scored 2. It's these kinds of moments that indicate there's a suitable amount of player interaction, plus meaningful tactics and choices.

Not bad for a game that is done in less than 20 minutes. In any case, although it may be a low bar being set, I think this is leagues better than the game that inspired this exercise.

Some thoughts

You could play this with a deck of playing cards with each suit forming a mini deck by making player guides that denote that 10=strike, jack=gutter ball, king = spare.

Some possible alternative abilities, mostly for thematic integration, but I think they add a little strategy as well. Spare-play this after any card but a strike. If that card is not duplicated, the score of the frame is 10. If you reveal a strike on the flip record a score of 15, you do not get to play a second card. You could make these cards duplicate cancelable, so the would work like the rest of the cards. Note that players would be able to cancel a strike by playing a strike.

You could combine the spare and strike cards into two spare/strike cards. If they are revealed off the top they work like the strike card. Players can play these cards out of thier hand to either cancel another strike or they can be played as a spare to increase the frame score to 10.

You could make the player with the highest score is the first player in each frame. This would let players that are behind choose to cancel the leading player or play high non duplicated cards to increase their own score.

Feel free to disregard, use or improve upon. Good luck with your game.


Thanks for actually reading and responding, Fri. :)

Fri wrote:
You could make the player with the highest score is the first player in each frame. This would let players that are behind choose to cancel the leading player or play high non duplicated cards to increase their own score.

I think this is very smart...! The whole point of canceling is to make sure that players can keep up with one another, so this makes a lot of sense. If there are ties from one Frame to the next, then the player who most-recently scored points will be First Player.

Regarding different scores for revealed Spares and Strikes: the thought of duplicating these cards to cancel them out seems hardcore and cut-throat. We'll give it a try this week.

Practically anything would be better than the original, even if it doesn't look much like bowling at the end of it. I'm sure a re-theme could be applied to this game, should it actually acquire some attention.

Thanks again for helping me think more about how to make this game work...!

I've been reading off and on... diagonally.

I had this idea of using a STANDARD Deck of 52 Cards (no Jokers) and each player is given thirteen (13) Cards from his/her own SUIT.

-Ace (1) to 9 = Value rolls
-10 = Re-shuffle
-Jack, Queen and King = Spare or Strike

When a player DRAWS his/her own "10", you take all the cards that have been played already (whichever ones) and re-shuffle them and form a NEW Deck.

Prior to this, you draw cards from your OWN Deck (per suit) and play the cards as per normal rules... But each time you DRAW, you discard that card into the DISCARD Pile. Then when you get the "10", you take your Hand, Deck and your Discard and shuffle them TOGETHER...

This would really lend well to your game. And works with a STANDARD Deck of 52 cards meaning you can have from 1 to 4 Players out-of-the-box.

Why is this in any way significant???

Well will the "10" (re-shuffle), you have better odds of drawing MULTIPLE Strikes or Spares given a re-shuffle. I'm not saying it will happen all the time but it may happen enough to have higher scoring... And it varies according to how each player's "Deck" (13 Cards) is randomized.

Also you may re-shuffle more than once depending on how the cards come out too...

Just something to think about... Like I said, I read diagonally ... But what I propose is IN-LINE with all the rules you've already stated. It's just some minor EDITs and having each player have his/her own "Deck"...

Cheers @let-off studios!

Note #1: It may also change the number of players... (Max of 4 players if you use a STANDARD Deck of cards). I read all the technical rules again ... And I don't THINK a 1-Player game is possible anyways...

With MY edits you can PLAY ALONE... But there is no gutterballs in this case. Because there are NO opponents' to play off of (matching card)...

I'm sorry I have been working hard all day and...

I'm not sure I understand the RULES of this game.

Correct me for all mistakes that I make in understanding how to PLAY the game.

So you draw a HAND of three (3) cards. Next each player plays a HIDDEN card (let's say 4-Players - why not!?) then each player needs to PLAY a second card that is revealed (and BOTH cards cannot exceed 10 Points in TOTAL). Next REVEAL the "hidden" cards and any doubles or more are removed from play (gutter balls).

Add the points to the scorecard(?)... If you play a "Strike" or a "Spare", you respectively earn "+10" or "+5" points.

I honestly don't think you NEED a "Gutter ball" card, all matches are effectively "gutter balls" (and worth 0 points).

Is there anything that I missed??? I don't like the PLAY A GUTTER BALL concept and I feel the "matches" account for lost rolls (and therefore gutter balls)...

A few of notes:

1. This game doesn't use Bowling scoring at all... That's an important note and if you want to say this is a "bowling" game... You should work to ensure that scoring is IDENTICAL.

2. Like I said you DON'T NEED a "gutter ball" card. Why would anyone in their right mind use this card?! I see the "matches" as "gutter balls"...

3. I like the SECRET Card ... It adds an element of surprise.

4. Open Frames should be values UNDER 10 points.

5. If you play a "Jack", "Queen", "King" it's a SPARE.

6. If your SECRET Card is not chosen when playing a FACE CARD, it's a STRIKE.

7. As mentioned if you PLAY a "10", you re-shuffle your Hand, Discard and Deck into one NEW Deck and "draw 3 cards" for your Hand.

These notes are observations and ideas that you may like. Best of LUCK(!?) with this "bowling concept".


Note #1: Another way of SCORING a "SPARE" is that both cards you play ADD-UP to TEN (10). FACE Cards guarantee a SPARE but could also be STRIKES (if no card match the hidden value card)...

Note #2: After each turn, players draw +2 Card to offset the two (2) cards played in the previous round.

Note #3: Strategically if you draw a "10" you'll want to ensure that the FACE CARDS have already been played and DISCARDED. Re-shuffling gives you HIGHER chances of SPARING and STRIKING. If you draw a "10" you can WAIT until later ... but it does HAMPER play since you've only got 2 cards to play with (in your HAND).

There are PLUSES and NEGATIVES to the "10" as proposed. But definitely ADD more chances to roll more SPARES and STRIKES by using the FACE CARDS.

Again no worries if you don't like these IDEAS... Just sharing my take on the game and how it could be improved ever so slightly.

Note #4: Where I would DEVIATE from a STANDARD Deck of 52 cards is that each PLAYER has TWO (2x) Fives (5s). So when you Draw a "5" you are NOT "fncked" with no match for a SPARE. Having two (2x) fives in the deck makes it possible to score a spare with another "5"...

Another small comment...

I'd make each player's Hand for Five (5) Cards to allow players to have a better chance of having a SPARE using the 2-Card Method (not the FACE cards). Having a couple EXTRA cards in-hand would definitely make the game a bit SMOOTHER when it comes to TRYING to get cards that are within the correct range (1 to 10 points).

Just something else for you to consider...

I'd make the HAND Five (5) Cards. Regards.

Note #1: And as I think about this... I am going back to that EXTRA Five ("5") that I was suggesting. Maybe you could playtest the game with two (2x) sets of FACE cards per player. What I mean is 2x Jack, 2x Queen and 2x King... That may also increase the scoring to more SPARES and STRIKES too...

I wouldn't double the ENTIRE deck because that would be "pointless" but adding an extra "5" and double the amount of FACE cards ... Might make the game feel MORE like an Actual Bowling game and could maybe even support the 300 Points for a PERFECT Game!

More Responses

TL;DR: A few clarifications on previous comments. Fri's suggestions went very well. Sticking with reshuffle decks when draw pile is exhausted. Likely changing the theme to crabs stuck in a bucket, dropping the bowling connection entirely.

First things first...

questccg wrote:
Like I said you DON'T NEED a "gutter ball" card. Why would anyone in their right mind use this card?!
The Gutterball may be revealed as the first card drawn. This is a blind draw, and it's certainly possible to come out at that time. It's unlikely that players will play this deliberately - though it does happen depending on the circumstance.

questccg wrote:
(and BOTH cards cannot exceed 10 Points in TOTAL)
This is not correct. There's no limit to the value of the cards a player can play in a single Frame.

questccg wrote:
I had this idea of using a STANDARD Deck of 52 Cards (no Jokers) and each player is given thirteen (13) Cards from his/her own SUIT.
The only issue with this is that it limits the game to four players. A five-player game was fantastic, so I would not want to remove the possibility. Maybe if someone wanted to do their own homebrew version of this for fewer players, it would work (something I ought to include in the rule sheet, perhaps?). Also, while the current iteration provides each player with a deck of 12 cards, I am considering a 13th card, featuring an ability for the lowest-scoring player.


I implemented the two suggestions Fri mentioned in their previous comment for last night's playtest:

  • All cards can be canceled by duplicates, including Strikes and Spares.
  • The player with the current highest score is the First Player.

These were both excellent additions...! It made for tense scenarios, where even though the current leader might have had a jump on the rest of the players, they knew that they were at the top of the heap and everyone was chasing them.

We also attempted a game with full shuffles of each player's mini-deck before every new Frame, but as it turns out the original method (shuffling only after your draw pile was exhausted) was more satisfying overall. It cuts down on fiddly-ness, and there's more player interaction as people attempt to watch others' discard piles - at least in the early game.

The "King of the Hill" vibe and constant sabotage (including some surprising, deliberate plays of the Gutterball) brought an image to mind, very very far away from bowling: crabs in a bucket, trying to claw their way out.

As soon as this idea was out in the open, the players almost instantly picked up on the theme, dropping the bowling connection entirely. Not gonna miss it, to be honest. :)

Thank you for all the feedback and ideas...! This game is a lot of fun right now. :)

Sorry the ideas didn't work out...

questccg wrote:
(and BOTH cards cannot exceed 10 Points in TOTAL)

let-off studios wrote:
This is not correct. There's no limit to the value of the cards a player can play in a single Frame.

See that's what I was implying with Bowling... You always TRY to score "10" points. That's why I misunderstood. Oh well no worries. At least you tried some of the suggestions. No doubt they were just ideas and untested.

Also I did not know the the initial DRAW was "BLIND"! I thought you chose from your Hand which card you wanted to play "face-down". (Not Blind). That is a big difference. Blind makes it more about LUCK or being UNLUCKY. Choosing makes it more strategic in trying to PREDICT your opponent's move.

Anyhow... You tried them... They're not FUN and they don't work for this game.

Like I said, they were only ideas. I had no way of playtesting them to see how they stack up with existing rules.

BUT... I want to add one thing: if it's going to be a BOWLING Game... Most people would expect the Scoring to be IDENTICAL to Bowling... And 300 Points a PERFECT GAME. You may re-theme the game... And that's fine. I'm just saying that if you're selling it AS a "Bowling" Game...

HOWEVER... You are NOT... So it doesn't matter. This is just but one opinion on the matter... I'm sure you can find people that will say... "Who cares if the scoring is different than Bowling... It's a game and we like it ... It's a lot of FUN!" And there you go...

Sorry my ideas were not as fruitful as I thought they might be... But your playtesters know better.


an alternative way

You've done well to get some interactive play in a bowling game. My first thought was that the card numbers 1-10 could be the pin locations and that playing those cards would aim the ball at that pin, causing a particular pattern of pins to fall. For example, the 1/ace could be a strike if played on the first go or it could create a split, or the 10 would only hit the right most pin.

Players could choose right or left handed play which would slightly adjust the angle their ball hits the pin, each with a different pattern of pins toppled.

Players could be dealt 3 cards and place one of their choosing face up in the center. Then other players could swap one of their cards for one in the center if they wanted.

My other thought was of lawn bowls (popular here in Australia but perhaps not in other parts of the world?). Two players each with four balls, alternate turns to roll a ball down and try to get it as close to the target as possible. They often bump and move the target. It's very strategic and may lend itself more naturally to an interactive board game.

Responses, Name Change

Thanks for the compliments! It's been an enjoyable process to start with one game (which I felt was lackluster, if not entirely terrible) and be inspired to come up with an entertaining, more interactive game that also requires sone decision making on the part of all players.

Pretty much left behind the bowling theme at this point, but you do bring up another way to go about a game like this that leaves the original theme intact.

gamesomuch wrote:
My other thought was of lawn bowls (popular here in Australia but perhaps not in other parts of the world?). Two players each with four balls, alternate turns to roll a ball down and try to get it as close to the target as possible. They often bump and move the target. It's very strategic and may lend itself more naturally to an interactive board game.

I also enjoy the game you describe here! In the 'States, it's more commonly-referred to as bocce or bocce ball. There are leagues and apparently it has strong traditional ties to the Italian community.

Maybe there's a tabletop version that someone can develop, similar but different to various crokinole and sliding-puck tabletop games?

In any case, I ought to change the name in the heading to the working title of the game I've been developing: Bucket o' Crabs. Thanks again for the feedback, gamesomuch!

Version 4 Update

Just a brief note to let you all know I've updated the game to version 4. The original post has been updated to reflect this. It has all new (that is, non-bowling) terminology included, along with the proper Special Effect cards and their description.

Should you have any feedback, please comment here. Thanks!

More thoughts

Glad that your play testers where not too crabby about canceling spares and strikes (or whatever they are called now). I like what you have done in regards to integrating the new theme. Except for the 1 2 pinch, IMO this one seems like it would be a little tedious for what it is. A play test will ferret out how tedious it is.

You could let the king crab draw an extra card. This is meant a small incentive to be the person that goes first.

You could combine abilities and low numbered cards, so that they are more on par with the highest number cards. I am not sure if it would be better if the cards played would both activate the special ability and give points or let the player choose what it does. AP during the card reveal phase is something to consider. Also I would think special abilities would be cancelable, but maybe not. You already have some special abilities that tie in well with your theme. If you want some more suggestions for special abilities let me know.


I think I'm crabby is it own card, but it is not formatted that way.

Big claw references frame instead of round.

Suggestioned tie breaker revsion:

If the is a tie for first, [all or tied] players play an additional round. (Not sure if all players advance to the extra round or not.Clearing up the edge case of tie in the 11th round)

Feel free to disregard, use or improve upon. Good luck with your game.

Updated Cards - Oct 2022

King Crab is the First Player token, and is a unique card. It moves around the table based on who has scored the most points so far in the game.

The rest of the cards are found in each player's deck.

One-Two Pinch! is worth 3 points, and is unblockable. In addition, the player that plays it reduces the points earned by the opponents on either side of them by 1 and 2, respectively. The player chooses which penalty is applied to which opponent. Note that two of these on the table next to one another may present an interesting dilemma, and when even more come out on the same turn, then points can fluctuate wildly (though in any case, no one can record a score less than 0 for a Round).

Claws Out! is a replacement for the Spare card previously displayed. The player can either earn an unblockable 5 points, or can choose to play any number card from their hand. This number card isn't unblockable and is played by overlapping Claws Out!, essentially replacing it. There are some instances when a player may be able to earn more than 5 points, and/or want to block an opponent's points by duplicating a number card the opponent has played.

Hard Shell! renders all other cards played by that player as unblockable. If opponents have played the same cards, then those cards can still be blocked unless they are otherwise unblockable (as in the case of Claws Out! or an opponent who has played Hard Shell!).

Bottom Feeder is a replacement for the Gutterball! card previously displayed. The player will earn points equal to the lowest non-duplicated number card on the table. This is actually more useful than folks might realize at first glance. Note that - at least, at this point - the Bottom Feeder can be blocked when also played by an opponent.

Big Claw is a replacement for the Strike! card previously displayed, and is slightly-adjusted. This card is worth 10 points, and allows the player to play two more cards (so their tableau for the Round is 3 cards, total), including the card revealed at the start of the Round. They can play two more number cards along with Big Claw or other special effect cards. As always, most of the cards can be blocked when someone plays a duplicate, but then that's where Hard Shell! can serve as insurance for high-scoring Rounds.

The additional cards bring a player's mini-deck to 14 cards each, and the total cards required for the game is 71. That's... kinda weird. So it goes. :)

Looking forward to playtesting this later in the week. While I have some reservations, I'm wholly interested and curious to see how the changes force players to interact with one another even more. We'll see how it goes.

Revised Version Playtest

Scores for tonight's playtesting session:

As I suspected, the One Two Pinch! is the most finicky card, and didn't seem very popular. The post-game discussion tonight regarding this card revealed that tokens to clearly-label penalties (a "-1" and "-2" token passed to opponents) would be helpful. Although I'm simply tempted to toss-out this card as being unpopular and fiddly (not to mention the fact it would require additional components beyond just cards), I may give it one last chance with the use of these tokens.

Everything else seemed to work out very well. Scores were generally close, with several occasions where players would make surprising jumps and close in on the leader. Even up to the last Round, there's still hope that someone can eke out a victory if they're not too far behind. The fact that duplicate cards are cancelled provides tension in each Round, and maybe even a "kingmaking" opportunity every once in a while.

The Hard Shell! wasn't as unbalancing as I'd feared. The Big Claw seems to be an opportunity card, very useful for those who want to gain some ground.

Positive marks for most of everything in this iteration. Another playtest will determine whether the One Two Pinch! needs to go.

-1 and -2 ,on the sides of one two pinch card/other thoughts

Could you add a -1 and -2 to the sides of the one two pinch card? Then the player could place the card so the numbers "point" to the players that they want to reduce the score by one or two. For usability the numbers could appear bothright side up and upside down.

Could you move to more standardized penalty to reduce the fiddliness? Like -2 points to each player or each player randomly discards a card.

This is functioning as a small catch the leader mechanism. Could you implement another catch the leader mechanism?

Good luck with your game. Feel free to use disregard or improve upon.

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