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Totem: a game that uses only regular playing cards

3 replies [Last post]
ansierras's picture
Joined: 04/09/2012

I've been working lately in several ideas for games using only "standard" gaming items such as regular playing cards, counters of any kind, 6-sided dice, etc.
I'd like to get your opinion on some of them and possibly new ideas to develop them further.
To play Totem you will need 2 decks of cards.
Separate the numbers from the figures and take out the jokers. Shuffle each of these decks and deal n+1 cards from the numbers deck and 3 (?) from the other deck. N is the number of players (3 or 4 ideally).
In a player's turn, they must take one card from the available ones in the middle of the table and decide to use it to either START a new totem or grow an already started one the have from previous rounds.
Any card can be used to start a new totem.
To grow a totem, you need to play a card in a stacked manner on top of the previous one. If the card you are using is a number card it has to match suit and be of a higher or equal value. If you are using a figure card it only needs to match the suit.
A figure card is considered a "break" in the totem and after that any other suit can go on top of it.
After each round, the cards that were not used are discarded and new ones are layed out.
Once the game is finished (still don't know what the end game trigger is) players score their totems depending on how many sections (suits) each totem has and which figures they used to close each section.
If you used a J or a Q you score the highest number of the cards of that suit you used below. If you used a K or an A you score points equal to the number of cards of that suit in the totem.
Extra points will be awarded if a totem has all 4 suits, and I would like to award different points for each of the 4 figures. Similarily, extra points would be awarded to the player with the highest (most cards) totem and the player with the most totems in total.

This is what I have so far. I'd appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
I read your idea and...

I haven't had time to think about it all. But for the various scoring... I would try to keep it simple: 1 to 2 ways to score points. You've got like 3 or 4 ways and I don't think that they vastly improve the design.

Instead of focusing on ONLY one (1) totem, I would like say the first player to complete 3 Totems FIRST is the winner.

Now the hard part: rules for what is a COMPLETE Totem!?

Maybe you need to achieve a POINT TOTAL. Like 30 points per Totem where Face cards are worth 5 points and Aces and up are 1 to 10 points.

Something not too complex like that could work. Cheers!

Note #1: There are some limitations (like 3 Totems) because you want there to be some catch-up mechanics and not only 1 Totem ... The point system is BASIC and the "score" (30 points) is arbitrary ATM and would need to be playtested to see what works best.

All-in-all you do have an INTERESTING concept... Feel free to use, adapt or ignore the suggestions in this comment.

Note #2: Three (3) also works great in terms of overall play time, like "3" x 10 minutes each Totem = 30 minutes for the overall game time. Time is also a consideration. But for something quick and fast play, I think 30-minutes is enough (not too long and not too short).

Note #3: If you think about the scoring a bit (5 = Face and then values 1 to 10) you'll figure like 3 to 4 Face cards (15 to 20 points) plus some maybe 2 to 4 cards (for the remaining 10 to 15 points) gives you a good balance.

Another scoring mechanic is the "Tallest" Totem (most cards) that could earn +5 Bonus Points, you mentioned all 4 Suits in one Totem could also be +5 Points, etc.

ansierras's picture
Joined: 04/09/2012
thank you so much!

These are all great advices. I very much appreciate it. I had not thought about the play time and I think that is a CRITICAL thing in a simple game like this.
Also a catch up mechanism is (in my opinion) always the hardest thing to design in order to make it fair for everyone. So that's a tricky one.
All your ideas give me a lot to think about. Thank you so much again :)

Drion22's picture
Joined: 04/20/2019
Here's some feedback


I tested the game with a 3 player setup. I refilled all the cards on every player's turn
Here's some takeaways:
-the setup is a bit clunky and still very luck reliant even with the separated decks
-since only the face cards score, they are the only ones really worth taking and the high number cards can quickly run out, forcing someone random to eventually take a low value number card
-once someone has a high number card, and there is a matching suit jack or queen out, the best value play is to take that card, even if it doesn't give you anything, which hurts both you and the other player, while leaving the 3rd and 4th players at a positive
-there is a physical limit to the height of totems between 5-8 cards, but you can stack along their long side to help it. There shouldn't be more than 3-4 totems as there are only 4 suits

Since this is a drafting game, you could try bringing the value of cards closer, like making the number cards be worth their value in points and the Kings and Aces be worth double the number of matching suits, so every card would be worth between 2-10 points
This way you can also use a single deck to deal the selection of cards out from.
Some issues are that face cards are still pretty valuable being able to reset things, and high number cards are worth more since Jacks and Queens can double them, so you may want to bump up the power of low number cards by giving either cards 2-4 the power that you can place any suit on them, or make jacks and queens be worth the value of 10 minus the lowest number card beneath them, so they bump up the smaller numbers instead of doubling the big ones.
You could also try the time tested alternative of hand-drafting (sushi go! , magic: the gathering), where you deal everyone 15 cards, everyone places one down, and you pass your hand of cards to your left, and you repeat this until cards run out. This gives a clear end to the game and limits totem sizes, while giving a high skill ceiling in the form of keeping track of the other hands and what other players might pick.

Hope this helps!

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