Optimal Card Hand Size

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Nooteboom
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Joined: 09/27/2014

When designing a board game which utilizes cards, what is the maximum number of cards to allow a player to have in their hand? Whether the limiting factor is space to hold them all, or too many cards leading to confusion, what should the absolute limit be.

To expand on this. What games have you all played that have had too many cards in your hand at one time. What about too few? All game mechanics aside, do you feel that there is an optimal number of cards for a player to have in their hand at one time?

Tbone
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Joined: 02/18/2013
I've seen a lot of games with

I've seen a lot of games with a starting hand of 7 discard to 10. If its a card heavy game that is pretty much standard.

MarkD1733
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Joined: 07/05/2014
depends on a lot of things, I think

I would say 3-8 is a range you will probably fall within. If you wish to read the rest of my banter, please do. Otherwise, 3-8 cards with 5 cards being the nice poker-sized hand with plenty of options would be my starting amount.

Considering you are not playing Werewolf with a single role card and no one wants the mega-ultra-colossal loser hand you can get playing UNO, I think you need to consider what are the mechanics involved in the game besides the cards and what amount of choice does a player have in using the cards. Do they need to hold many cards even though the choices are few? Does each card do more than one thing? 3 cards that can be used individually 3 different ways represents a possible 9 choices--if they can be used in combination, then the number of choices increases signifcantly. You said this is a "board game that utilizes cards" rather than a "card game." Let's take a couple examples and explore a bit...

In the simple card game Guillotine, a player starts with 5 action cards and along the way can end up with more or fewer depending on how the cards are played...no limit either way, but you always pick another action card as part of your turn. These action cards are single function, but they are all different types of effects.

Contrastingly, in the board game Founding Fathers, you only have a hand of 3 usually, except for certain situations that give you 4 or very rarely 5. These cards are multi-functional (you can use them to vote, debate, enact events, or be discarded for new cards). You always draw up to your max hand of 3 (or 4 if you have John Langdon's persistent event).

Pandemic and Castle Panic are cooperative board games that have maximums of 7 and 5, respectively. Then you must begin wasting cards to the discard pile.

In Succession, there are 3 different types of cards, and each player holds 4 cards to start. You can gain more along the way, I believe.

In Ticket to Ride, there is no limit to the number of train cards (right?) a player can have. You can select 2 "regular" cards or 1 visible wild card. However, you can play sets of cards which can be up to 6 at one time.

My point with all of these examples is that I don't think there is a formula. I think there is a question as to whether the number of cards along with the other game mechanics provides the right amount of options so that the player has a tough choice to make. For example, if the cards can be used individually for combat OR used in combination for bidding or payment, it may be that a maximum of 4, 5 or 6 forces some tough decisions while providing many ways to play them. However, with a mechanism like set collection, it may be that you don't want to limit as much.

If there is a thematic link, that may influence this decision as well. For example, if the theme was about the 4 elements or 4 food groups...that could be your limiter. If you were playing 1 card per day in the game, then you might be limited to 5 (weekdays),6 (with a day of rest), or 7 (full week). You get the idea here, I'm sure.

If you consider strictly physical functionality, I think anything in the range of 3-8 seems reasonable. However, I also think those other factors I discussed above will be more influential in my opinion.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

truekid games
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Joined: 10/29/2008
Is it a kid's game? Then how

Is it a kid's game? Then how many cards they can physically hold at a time is an issue. A good rule of thumb is that they can be expected to hold 2 less cards than their age. (Obviously they can hold more, but how many can they move around in their hand and evaluate the information on also figures into that).

If they're not a kid, the answer is based on something very different: how many pieces of information do those cards represent?

In Ticket to Ride, you may have 15 cards in your hand, but maybe only in 5 different colors. Since those colors are generally all played together (and are almost certainly grouped together in their hand), they're not holding 15 different pieces of information, they're holding 5.

In Founding Fathers, each card has several different attributes and several different actions you can perform with each card. A 3 card hand in that game is closer to 9 pieces of information (or more).

6 or 7 pieces of information (or, lets say, viable actions you can take with the cards in hand) is a good target number before you start reaching overload with most people.

Nooteboom
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Joined: 09/27/2014
Bits of Information

Thanks for all the great feedback guys. I really like the idea that it is the number of individual bits of information that matter more than the actual number of cards. It makes a lot of sense because most of the games that I can think of that have large hand sizes, have multiples of similar cards.

MarkD1733
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Joined: 07/05/2014
How much information is a good way to think about it...

"How much information in your hand?" is a good way to look at this question. Nice truekid. I would add that how many are expected to be played at a time is also to be considered. If it is one only, then fewer cards might make more sense, otherwise there may be too much information or too many options to make a quick, effective choice. If they are to be played in sets, or in combinations in some way and you can go through many at once, then a larger hand would make a little more sense.

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