Hi all, I'm still working on that still nameless medieval card game I mentioned in an earlier thread. (Working title "King's favor" at the moment :) )
It is progressing quite well and I'm pretty pleased with player's reactions so far. It is a reworking of classical card game concepts but with several modern twists and a brand new deck with four suits representing medieval classes but with a different value spread.
The basic mechanic is open-ended trick taking where players compete with cards played until no one can answer the last bid. Scoring is based on who wins the most cards in the same suit and a bonus if you manage to win at least one card of each suit by the end of the game round.
So, all is well here and I feel that the mechanics have finally slid into place. There are no glitches and exploits that I've managed to detect, but i feel the game lacks a... "WTF moment." It all plays smooth and well, and there is a degree of tension but imo there should be a point when one player can dare other players for a greater gain (and risk).
At the moment, I have the following: The leading player may bid one or several of his scoring counters when he plays the first card (leads). If all other players "pass" nothing happens and he wins that card. However, if someone takes up the challenge then two things can happen: If leading player wins, his investment doubles from the bank; if he looses the player who answered the challenge takes counters directly from the challenger.
While the mechanic seems quite elegant and simple on paper, I found that during playtesting players almost never use it. I can't fathom why this is so. I'm rethinking the whole thing from a game theory perspective and the cost-benefit analysis seems to favor taking risks, especially when being an underdog, as well as taking up challenges since there is nothing to loose. Dunno, I'm a bit stuck. Anyone has an idea why this is happening or maybe if there is some better optional bidding mechanic for the game?
I'm not much of a traditional card player. Could you give an example of play so I can wrap my head around the basic mechanic, please? Doesn't need to be exhaustive, but I'm confused where the bids come in relative to the card play and what the counters are all about. I learn better from examples....
You could simply try another set of players, perhaps a blind test without you (just read rules/play, then writing a report).
If I had to guess, I'd say you were running up against a psychological problem.
If I'm understanding your rules, the only time a player loses money is when he leads with a wager and loses. In that case, the winning player takes money directly from his pot. Otherwise, everyone collects money from the bank.
Psychologically speaking, "losing what's mine" is more threatening than "seeing someone else take more from the bank" -- even if it's mathematically better on average.
It might be an interesting experiment to play with the wagering rules to spread the risk around. For example, if the starting player leads with a bit, other players must "call" to stay in the round, and the player who takes the trick also takes the pot.
Alternatively, you could let the lead player declare the round "double or nothing," in which case the value withdrawn from the bank doubles.
I'm not suggesting these as permanent -- or even reasonable -- rule changes. Rather, they are litmus tests to help you determine if the psychology of risk biases players against your current bidding mechanic.
It could be that your risk/reward isn't worth it. If the risk is even with the reward many people will elect to not go forward. Perhaps raising the reward and lowering the risk. That will also give incentive for other players to try to block it.
If my understanding of the way tricks work is correct, it may be that each trick is too predictable to be worth bidding on.
I'm thinking of Bridge, where a good Bridge player will know with almost certainty whether he will win or lose the trick as soon as he plays the leading card. It is a rare thing that a good bridge player will be surprised by the outcome (either a surprise loss or a surprise win), to the point where if you manage to out-wit your opponents and win a trick that by rights you deserved to lose it is called a Finesse.
If your game has a similar level of predictability on each trick then bidding is irrelevant. If you know you are going to win, then all your opponents also know it and they will just pass. If you know you are going to lose you obviously won't bid (unless you think you can bluff them).
Poker uses an ante to encourage players to play (instead of just passing all the time); you could consider if that would work for your game.
Another option would be a blind bid -- the leader plays a face down card and bids (min 1), then all others must decide to match or pass before the leader reveals his card.