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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

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Zomulgustar
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Joined: 07/31/2008

It isn't done baking yet, but I figured I'd throw in this Christmas-y filler (stocking stuffer?) while the spirit lingers. I'm hoping that it contains the seeds of a rock-solid game, but those might just be nuts.
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FRUITCAKES (C) 2005 Andrew Juell
Ages 10 to adult
4-8 players

EQUIPMENT
96 Gift Cards (8 colors, numbered from -6 to +6 with no 0)
96 Gift Tags (8 colors, 12 small cubes each with one marked side)

OVERVIEW
On each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the players give each other the gift that keeps on giving: fruitcake. Though some of the packages you'll receive will start to look mighty familiar before the season is over, you can't keep regifting forever. Sooner or later, you're just stuck with them. When it's all over, you don't really want to be the person with the most fruitcake...I mean, who actually eats the stuff? It's more important to give than to receive, after all, and if you can give the best gifts even to the people who have everything, you can relax in the knowledge of a job well done.

SETUP
Sort out the cards and cubes so that each player has a complete set of 12 each with matching colors. The player who most recently ate fruitcake goes first. If none of the players are brave enough to have done this, determine the starting player randomly.

PLAY
Each turn, you choose a fruitcake card to place face down in front of another player ('under their tree'). Place one of your tags, marked side up, on the present to indicate that you are the most recent giver. You may choose to give a new fruitcake by playing from your hand, or you may re-gift one from under your tree. If regifting, turn the visible marked side down to avoid confusion. Note that you may examine the values of the fruitcakes under your tree at any time.

There are two restrictions on (re)gifting. First, 'no tagbacks': you may not give a fruitcake back to the person who gave it to you. Regifting is tacky enough as it is, after all. Secondly, you can't play favorites: if a gift would result in a player having too many tags of any single color under their tree, you have to give it to someone else...or you might be stuck with it. Note that the tag you add to the gift as you give it counts towards this limit. The maximum allowed tags of each color varies with the number of players in the game:

Players......Tags
..4...........4..
..5-6.........3..
..7+..........2..

However, if nobody notices these breaches of etiquette and the next player's turn is completed, you're considered to have gotten away with it and play continues normally. (edited to add) You only give one gift each 'day', so once your turn is over, play passes to the left.

VICTORY:
After the last player gives his twelfth and final gift, the game is over and the winner is determined. This is a two step process: first, the player with the most valuable gifts is identified. All fruitcake cards are turned face up, taking care to preserve the association between the cards and the cubes. Each player then totals the values printed on the cards in front of them. The players who do not have the highest total discard the cards and cubes in front of them, but retain those of all players involved in a tie for highest. All unplayed cards left over in players' hands are discarded as well. Only the remaining cards will be used in determining victory.

Now each player multiplies the value printed on the remaining cards by the number of cubes of their color on each. Thus, a player with two cubes on a +3 card and one cube on a -2 card scores (2*3)+(1*-2)=6-2=4 points. The player with the most points wins. Players tied for the most points share victory.

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This is my first writeup of the rules, so please forgive any obvious typos/blunders, as I've got a LOT on my plate right now. While I'm still wide open to suggestions for rules changes, my primary concern is with the theme. While fruitcakes are commonly associated with regifting in sub-upper-crust America (and generally in a humorous rather than offensive light), they do not occcupy a similar role in Europe to the best
of my knowledge, and regifting itself might be several more notches twward being outright offensive as well. Any feedback on likely reactions from German companies would be especially appreciated, as well as any fixes which would make the idea more palatable. Some of the mechanics originated from a half-formed game of Machiavellian politics (see below), but I really think the fruitcake theme works better with this...would it be better to retheme completely?

Even if the theme is acceptable, some playtest feedback indicates it might be enhanced substantially by adding backstory, most specifically including a compact noun indicating the player who received the greatest total value of gifts in an intuitively justified way. Anything else that helps justify the victory condition better would also be welcome.

The first playtest used simple colored cubes as labels, and thus didn't have the 'no tagbacks' restriction, as it was unenforceable. The second playtest used stackable chips, which clearly indicated the most recent giver, but made it more difficult to scan other players' presents to determine if a particular gift/regift was legal. I'm currently planning on marking one side of each of the cubes, but if anyone has any better ideas, I'm all ears. Graphic design was never my forte.

The design began with the ending: what if I could turn what would normally be a kingmaker effect into the central point of a game and make it work? You can never directly help yourself, but you don't really want to be the king anyway...you want to be the power behind the throne. The victory condition suggested a theme, but to keep things interesting it seemed that other players should have a way of knowing what favors other players had done for each other, and then the thought came that they could pass the favor on...which connected to 'regifting' and the current theme. Of course, this necessitates extensive hidden trackable information, which is normally a big no-no in my book, but I'm hoping that two wrongs will make a right, or at least three lefts.

As for actual rules issues, the original decks were positive 1-8 except 6, negative 1 to 5. Several players felt that the negative cards should be stronger, so I'm putting this tweaked version here for now. I'm concerned that the low-absolute-value cards will always see very little play, but there's no obvious way to prevent a lockup unless a player can ALWAYS give from his hand. Is there a simple way to reduce the handsize while avoiding lockup? Less useless cards means cheaper production, after all.

Speaking of lockup, it's also the reason why the turn order is simple pass-to-the-left. Several players indicated that it seemed more natural to have the new player-to-move be the player who was given the last gift, but I couldn't find a simple workaround for a clique of people giving to each other cyclically and locking the others out. If you have any suggestions which would fix this, they'd be quite welcome.

The 'no playing favorites' rule is a little bit kludgy, but turned out to have
pleasant emergent effects in play while simultaneously preventing a degenerate strategy of everyone piling gifts on a single unfortunate player. I might try a game or two using a more straightforward version, keeping track of the number of times you've given a gift to each other player, rather than the tags in front of them. Though simpler to say and a bit more intuitive, it would require additional components to track, and I suspect would not do nearly as much to prevent pileons...or endless circulating fruitcakes for that matter...I like the idea of ones you just can't get rid of.

To encourage more use of negatives, it was proposed that a card's value should be inverted in sign if it ends up under the tree of the original giver. As a generalization of this, it was also proposed to make each gift worth a different value to each player color, simultaneously making it more realistic and less easily duplicable with a few standard card decks. However, one of my playtesters felt that a lot of the appeal of the game lay in the ability of experienced players to track the cards, and this would make it substantially more difficult to do. Also, it was proposed to replace the near-zero gifts with collectables that are near-worthless individually, but greatly increase in value the more of them end up under the same
tree. Do any of these ideas, or one of your own, especially appeal/seem appropriate? Or is the game near-overcomplicated as it is?

It was also suggested, since there was frequently no way of passing on a particularly troublesome fruitcake toward the end of the game, that each player would be allowed to use their turn to eat a fruitcake under their tree once per game. I've yet to test this, but it doesn't seem like it would be too unbalancing...but is it necessary? It was also suggested to have the last person to give each gift count for more points in the final scoring...haven't tried this yet, though.

I'm guessing that 8 players might make the memory issues too difficult, but I'm not sure where to put the cutoff, short of extensive playtesting. Also, I'm struggling to support <4 players with this game, though I'm convinced it's possible. The game seems to work with three players simply by removing the 'no tagbacks' rule and upping the tag limit to 6, but the former change seems counterthematic. Shuffling the deck of a
fourth color and splitting those color cubes evenly among the real players might work, letting them take turns as any color they have as they wish...call it 'Secret Santa' I suppose. Any other suggestions?

Thanks in advance for your feedback!

Triktrak
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

That's a lot to digest :). I guess I'd have to really playtest it to feel the game, but it soulds like a great idea and a very novel cute one at that. If it works and doesn't get too complicated it would probably be marketable (maybe unusual outlets like Hallmark would be interested, since they are heavily into seasonal stuff).

As just an idea to throw out there, what about having one individual secretly determined to like bad fruitcake. This sick individual would actually welcome the nasty stuff. Maybe his score could be inverted and the negative points count toward positive.

I happen to like fruitcake, and I get weird looks when people hear this.

Zomulgustar
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

I'm glad you like the idea. ^_^ Thanks for the Hallmark suggestion. In addition to having a very significant chunk of their stores devoted to seasonal items, I'm pretty sure they get the deepest bulk discount for cardstock already...just a question of tweaking the machines to cut to a smaller size, I guess.

The one problem with a unique 'traitor' (to good taste) is that either the player knows their own preference, in which case they have a unique advantage over the other players, or they don't, in which case an already-chaotic game effectively has the rule to determine the winner reversed in sign at random. If the game lasted longer, it might work to have everyone know whether their own score was "red #s + blue #s -" or vice versa, and judge on the basis of what was passed on and what kept what each player's preference is, but I personally think it's best to keep preferences public knowledge. It's difficult enough to keep track of the cards you know to be out there as it is...thanks for the suggestion, though.

emxibus
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Re: Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

I like the theme. It sounds like it would be great to play at family gathering during the holiday season, but because of the theme I'm not sure that it would get much play during the rest of the year.

Zomulgustar wrote:

PLAY
Each turn, you choose a fruitcake card to place face down in front of another player ('under their tree'). Place one of your tags, marked side up, on the present to indicate that you are the most recent giver.

When you choose a fruitcake card to place face down, where is this card coming from? Is this card from your hand (like choice 2)? How does a fruitcake card get more than one tag on it?

I have some thoughts on the cubed tags, but I would like to make sure I understand how they work more before commenting.

Xaqery
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Joined: 07/26/2008
Re: Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

I just need a couple clarificatios:

Zomulgustar wrote:

EQUIPMENT
96 Gift Cards (8 colors, numbered from -6 to +6 with no 0)
96 Gift Tags (8 colors, 12 small cubes each with one marked side)

What is the Mark? Probably doesnt matter but I think this is a place to add some more personality as well as more rules or mechanics. Like each player could have 4 snowflakes, 2 snowmen, and 2 christmas trees. They can then choose to use differnt marks at differnt times.

Quote:

PLAY
Each turn, you choose a fruitcake card to place face down in front of another player ('under their tree'). Place one of your tags, marked side up, on the present to indicate that you are the most recent giver. You may choose to give a new fruitcake by playing from your hand, or you may re-gift one from under your tree. If regifting, turn the visible marked side down to avoid confusion. Note that you may examine the values of the fruitcakes under your tree at any time.

What is the confusion being eliminated?

I need to read it some more

- Dwight

Zomulgustar
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Re: Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Quote:

When you choose a fruitcake card to place face down, where is this card coming from? Is this card from your hand (like choice 2)? How does a fruitcake card get more than one tag on it?

I have some thoughts on the cubed tags, but I would like to make sure I understand how they work more before commenting.

You may choose either a card from your hand (in which case it will have only your one tag on it), or a card already face-down in front of you given to you by another player (in which case it will already have their tag(s) on it, to which you add yours). The marked side of the tag-cube is used to indicate the person who most recently gave the gift, since they can't be the next to receive it. Sorry for any confusion with my wording...

Zomulgustar
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Re: Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Quote:

What is the Mark? Probably doesnt matter but I think this is a place to add some more personality as well as more rules or mechanics. Like each player could have 4 snowflakes, 2 snowmen, and 2 christmas trees. They can then choose to use differnt marks at differnt times.

Interesting idea. I was just going to use a dot of white-out for the prototype (I only have five different colors of cubes right now anyway, though I'd found 8 sufficiently distinct chips). Perhaps you could have different levels of investment in the gifts? One kind of tag gives you x2 credit for that gift in the final scoring, another gives you x-1...adds to the importance of early bluffs.

Quote:

What is the confusion being eliminated?

The marked side indicates the most recent giver, so having two marked sides up would make it ambiguous who this was. Best to make sure this is correct while it's perfectly clear who's doing to the giving.

markmist
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Re: Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Zomulgustar wrote:
Each player then totals the values printed on the cards in front of them. The players who do not have the highest total discard the cards and cubes in front of them, but retain those of all players involved in a tie for highest. All unplayed cards left over in players' hands are discarded as well. Only the remaining cards will be used in determining victory.

Now each player multiplies the value printed on the remaining cards by the number of cubes of their color on each. Thus, a player with two cubes on a +3 card and one cube on a -2 card scores (2*3)+(1*-2)=6-2=4 points. The player with the most points wins. Players tied for the most points share victory.

I don't understand your victory conditions as worded. Do you mean that the players who do not have the highest total after values are counted up are out? If so, the scoring would only go to the cube multiplier if there was a tie in total value? Please reword this so I can understand your scoring.

If I am understanding your basic concept, then you should score pts for both having the best gifts and gifting the best gifts, correct?

Zomulgustar
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Re: Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Quote:

Do you mean that the players who do not have the highest total after values are counted up are out?

Not the players, just the cards in front of them. The cube-multiplication is the actual scoring, not a tiebreaker. The first step only determines which gifts contribute to the scoring. It's usually better to have lousy gifts in front of you, since your labels will probably be underrepresented under your own tree.

Quote:

If I am understanding your basic concept, then you should score pts for both having the best gifts and gifting the best gifts, correct?

No...you score points by giving the best gifts to the player/s who receive the best gifts overall...and sometimes you've given it to them twice.
Sorry if I wasn't clear...does that help?

You have to try and figure out where the good gifts are collecting by watching how the cards you haven't seen move, and the reactions of the others upon receiving them. Then you want to either make sure your labels under that tree are on the best gifts, or play enough negative value under that tree to move the scoring to the tree where your best gifts are, keeping in mind that the cards are unlikely to stay where you first put them.

emxibus
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Re: Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

I think I finally understand how scoring works. You want to have your tags on the gifts under the tree of the player with the highest card total?

One question on

Quote:

VICTORY:
After the last player gives his twelfth and final gift

I'm assuming that the "gift" is a associated with the tag, so when all tags are used the game ends?

Zomulgustar
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

On the best gifts under that tree, yes. And more than once if you can manage it. Every time you (re)give a gift, you attach one tag, so once you've given twelve gifts, you've used your last tag.

Is there anything I could do in the rules themselves to make the scoring more clear? It can't be a good sign that a bunch of game designers reading over it are having trouble figuring it out...but it seemed to work well enough in person. Perhaps a full scoring example, or some brief comments on strategy?

markmist
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Zomulgustar wrote:
Is there anything I could do in the rules themselves to make the scoring more clear? It can't be a good sign that a bunch of game designers reading over it are having trouble figuring it out...but it seemed to work well enough in person. Perhaps a full scoring example, or some brief comments on strategy?

I think a full scoring example would really help. Once I see how it is supposed to work, I can give you some suggestions on how to reword the rules to make it more clear.

Zomulgustar
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

I won't vouch for the realism of this example (I'll record an actual ending position after next game), but hopefully this will do for now.

The last gift is given, and the players carefully turn up the cards in front of them.

Red has (-6,-6,6) for a total of -6
Yellow has (-6,-5) for a total of -11
Green has (-5,5,5,6,6) for a total of 17
Blue has (-4,3,4,4,5,6) for a total of 18

Now the cards in front of Red, Yellow, and Green are discarded along with the associated cubes.

Now we look at the tags on the remaining gifts:

-4 : Y
3 : R
4a: YG
4b: RG
5 : RYB
6 : RYGGB

So the scores are:

R: 3+4+5+6 = 18
Y: (-4)+4+5+6 = 11
G: 4+4+(2X6) = 20
B: 5+6 = 11

So Green wins the game.

disclamer
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Ok, I like this. It took me a few tries to wrap my brain around the scoring, etc (your wording in the Victory section is misleading).

I have a physical production suggestion which might lead to some interesting gameplay possibilities:

Make the gift tags out of cling vinyl. You can buy it in sheets of various colors and for prototyping, you can even find gift tag shaped punches in craft stores.

They will stick to laminated or smooth finish cards and can be layered so tracking Who, When and How Often is a snap.

I'm sure there are other possibilities, with these.

The only games I know that use cling vinyl pieces (aside from ColorForms activity sets) are the Farming Game and the similar Construction Game.

disclamer
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Have you given any thought to limiting the number of times a fruitcake can be re-gifted?

Zomulgustar
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

A bit...but perhaps not the consideration such a rule deserves. In the absence of the 'no playing favorites' rule restricting tag counts by color, I'd imagine a restriction on the total number of tags would do little to deter pile-ons. If you mean in addition to the NPF rule, it seems a bit redundant...
Aside from being easier to track than the NPF rule, is there an advantage I'm not seeing to restricting total tag count per gift rather than color tag count per tree?

disclamer
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Ease of tracking was my first thought. I like easy tracking in a light(er) game.

The pile-on problem is everyone dumping all their +n fruitcakes on one player to 'guarantee' that he is the one with the highest total, right?

If there were a 3-tag limit on gifts with no tag-backs, a player could re-gift any fruitcake he received without fear of it returning to him, unless he was the 3rd recipient. That has good and bad aspects.

It would stop endlessly circulating fruitcakes.

I don't have the math to prove it, but I'd wager it would make lock-ups much less likely. Of course, that's pure conjecture based on wildly uninformed guesswork. I'd be interested to learn the truth of this.

If it does turn out to make lock-ups highly unlikely, you could then reduce the card count. I'd like to see players face the 12 Days with only 10 (or 8!) presents:

-6, -4, -2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (7,8)

disclamer
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

hmm.. I didn't catch this obvious problem last night but, with less than 12 cards, a person who has received no gifts would be unable to give one after his cards run out.

perhaps that was the lock-up you were referring to...?

Zomulgustar
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Game #75: Fruitcakes by Zomulgustar

Pretty much, yes. Situations can arise where a player is unable to re-gift any of the gifts under their tree, and there need to be enough cards that no-one can possibly end up in this scenario with an empty hand. The 'lockup' I referred to was the inability for a player to take either action. Provided a player always has the option to play from their hand, the numbers in the table should guarantee there's always at least one other player you can give a fresh gift to.

The pile-on problem is, as you said, a group of players giving consistently to the same opponent, to ensure that scoring occurs under their tree. The 'victim' can only give away one gift per turn while receiving up to (#players-1), thus leaving them with no effective recourse, and not doing much for the strategic choices of the other players either. I think that counting the individual colors is almost as quick as counting the total number of cubes 'under the tree', though it is still easily the most time-consuming portion of the game with the interfaces I've tried to date. Hobby Lobby doesn't have cling vinyl...looks like I'll have to order online.

I'm not sure 'endlessly' circulating fruitcakes are that much of a problem in themselves...they're thematically amusing while they last, and there's always at least one player in the loop who benefits more by putting a fresh gift. Like the "It's Good to be King" loop in Citadels, it could lead to a repetitive behavior, but it's not one that's ultimately rewarding.

I agree, though, that if there's some means of ensuring a player may always either gift or regift, starting with less than 12 cards is desirable from both a manufacture and a theme standpoint.

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