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Getting rid of Numbers !!!

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Martin-r-m's picture
Joined: 07/26/2012


i have designed Mathtornado, a quick and fun cardgame. You can check it at

This game uses easy math calculations to be solved. Now I want to transform this math ( math is as good in a game as spinach on a kids menu burger) into somthing more compelling. One possibility would be to replace numbers with geometric figures as triangles, blocks or circles in different colors which have to obey some kind of rules. I dont like this idea as this kind of mechanic is used by a lot of games. So what can I come up with to replace my numbers ? Animals ? People ?
I am stuck on this one....

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Error or on purpose


I noticed that on the card sample you used "Mathe Tornado" instead of *Math*. Is this on purpose or an error?

Martin-r-m's picture
Joined: 07/26/2012
German version


I have made the german version first, "Mathe" is german for "Math". I didn´t translate the back of the cards, but will change that for the english version. Thank you.


Joined: 04/30/2013
im abit confused, are you

im abit confused, are you just trying to give a theme to your game? or replace the figures altogether?

it seems the amounts are rather integral to your game

i could see geometric shapes working though

2 triangles make a hexagon
2 quads make a octagon
a tri and a quad make a heptagon
and so on for the names of all polygons after a triangle

or maybe the "glueing" of the shapes together like:

putting a quad(4 sided) and a tri(3 sided) together, requires one side to be used up in putting or glueing the 2 together, forming the following equation
(4-1)+(3-1) = 5, a pentagon

its sadly just another form of mathematics, and i dont think presentation will be too good if you use polygons

your request is just weird, the mathematics was integral to your game, if not the whole game, removing that is pretty much saying you are making a whole other game

that aside, i feel mathematics is pretty much the fundamental of most if not all games with little to no positional data

Martin-r-m's picture
Joined: 07/26/2012
using something logic

I wanted to get rid of the abstract element of this game.

I wanted to use faces. If there are 2 redhaired faces, you could lay down a third redhaired, The same with beards or glases. The problem is, that there aren´t enough possibilities I can use, so it didnt work out.

kpres's picture
Joined: 04/20/2013
It would be a different game.

Your game looks great with numbers. If you replace numbers with other symbols or objects, you might end up with a different game entirely. This game reminds me a little bit of another game I played. It was highly intellectual and extremely interesting. It was an abstract strategy game. It works like this:

100ish cards, each with three symbols on them. Each symbol came in three different shapes, three different colours, and three different shades.

Game set-up:
You had some cards in your hand and there were some cards on the board. In order to take a card, you had to put one down from your hand.

The goal of the game was to try to create sets of matching cards: three of a kind that share a property, three of a kind that are completely not alike, etc.

Unfortunately, I completely forget the name of the game :(

RGaffney's picture
Joined: 09/26/2011
Faces could fly. They could

Faces could fly. They could all be portraits, Use hair color, eye color, gender, age (young adolescent, adult, elderly) Race, Top clothing color, Background setting, Animal companion, Chin structure, nose type, frame, drawing style.

Joined: 04/08/2012

If you use the portrait feature on the cards, wouldn't this feature be similar to the kids game, "Guess Who?"?

Martin-r-m's picture
Joined: 07/26/2012

"Guess Who" has a different mechanic. But using faces has a other problem. In mathtornado there are 3 objects on every card. The player starts with 5 cards making it 15 symbols in his hand, 2 or more players make x*15. Using a option with 2 outcomes like gender will alway have a row that works with nearly every card. Even 3 outcomes are not sufficient to stick to the mechanic of mathtornado. So this didnt work.

RGaffney's picture
Joined: 09/26/2011
Trans-male, Trans-female ,

Trans-male, Trans-female , XX, XY, XXY, XYY?

Maybe also not good for kids game.

Could combine two attributes to make more, so big nose/ small mouth is a type, big/big, small/big, small/medium, etc

Joined: 05/27/2012
never ending series

I try to convince you that Kpres is on the right track. Depending on what skill you want players to train. Counting, pattern recognition, collecting sets...?

Maybe never ending series is what is needed. Examples

- regzr

Martin-r-m's picture
Joined: 07/26/2012

Just now I prepare everything for the game designers meeting in Göttingen, but when I have time again......

I will try out using countries, flags, landmarks.....
maby states of the USA ?

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Nautical flags???

Martin-r-m wrote:
I will try out using countries, flags, landmarks...

You could try *Nautical Flags*:

It is a mix between shapes and colors. Each flag has a meaning if you use the standard one. The ones in the sample I modified for my own purposes.

On this WIKI are the default flags:

Each one has the letter conventions used (A = Alpha, B = Bravo, C = Charlie, etc.) which also could be GOOD for your game... You wanted to get rid of *numbers*, what better than FLAGS that symbolize LETTERS!

I'm not sure how your original game plays - but you could create something unique with those flags (You could also put hints on the cards to tell players what letter it is...)

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Came up with this idea...

questccg wrote:
The ones in the sample I modified for my own purposes.

In the flags that I altered, you could create a game that instead of adding numbers, you add NAUTICAL FLAGS to form a *new* flag.

For example: In the 2nd row, 1st column there is a flag with an "X".

How it was MADE was by combining: "M - Mike" + "Z - Zulu"... So M+Z produces that *new* flag...

This would be great instead of arbitrary shapes like Circles or Triangles, you could use combinations of Nautical Flags (or Letters) to make a real COOL game!

Hope you like this idea (It came to me while in bed at 1:30 AM)!

Hopefully the idea sounds good in the AM! :)

Good luck with your game!

Joined: 01/26/2009

It appears that all you need is a set of objects that have a predefined set of properties that are only linkable based on what other properties the other two objects have.

Numbers are not integral to the play of the game at all. All they do is provide a UNIVERSAL AND OBVIOUS idiom in which to express these connections.

You simply need to think of the mathematical operations as “LINKING” the cards played across a row.

(For simplicity's sake only, I have discussed these mechanics as if a player were only considering how or whether to play in a single row, and only considering what to play in the third column. I understand that the rules allow for play in any column at any time while considering options for all three rows simultaneously - but explaining mechaincs while considering all of these options is unnecessary to illustrate the point of how to modify your existing mechanics)

In the case of Mathe Tornado, a "4" has many properties - it can be linked to any number 1 - 18 by another number played with it (since those are the lowest and highest numbers printed on the cards). Its "linkable" properties are only defined once a second card is played next to it, which then reduces its number of "linkable" properties to ZERO, ONE or TWO.

The “rules” that you have set forth in the game that define what “linkable properties” are possible are the set of properties a number gains after having addition or subtraction performed on it (the “+/-” card), and the result of such an action (the “=” card).

To explain this using the math, a "4" is an object, that when paired with "ANY" other card allows for the possibilities of linking it (ultimately) with a 1,2,3,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17, or 18 object (notice no “0” and no “4”). Once the "ANY" card is replaced with a "SPECIFIC" card, the number of "linkable" properties is reduced significantly:

EXAMPLE 1) if a 4 is in the first column, and an 18 is played in the second column, the number of objects that the "4" and the "18" can be linked to is reduced to ZERO by the rules of the groupings (4 + 18 = 22, and there is no "22" card, or 4 - 18 = -14, and the rules do not allow for a negative result in the total column).

EXAMPLE 2) if a 4 is in the first column and a 5 is played in the second column, the number of objects that the "4" and the "5" can be linked to is now ONE - ONLY a card with a "9" in the total column will allow the three to be appropriately "linked" to one another.

EXAMPLE 3) if a 4 is in the first column and a 3 is played in the second column, the number of objects the "4" and the "3" can be linked to is now TWO - cards containing either a "1" or a "7" in the third column can allow the three to be "linked".

All MATH does is provide a mechanic to establish properties that define the linkings. For this area of the game’s behavior, however, this makes math an ideal choice for PROPERTIES and, consequently, numbers an ideal set of OBJECTS.

Finding another way to have the objects linked is relatively easy – you simply need a set of objects with no DEBATABLE PERSONAL CONTEXT to the game players, and that has a set of OBVIOUS and relatively UNIVERSAL properties.

Regarding “UNIVERSAL”, most everyone for which this game will be age appropriate will understand addition and subtraction, so that is a VERY universal set of properties that the objects share (the objects in this case being NUMBERS). You just need something else where the properties of the objects seems intuitively obvious to those who would play the game. FOR EXAMPLE: If your objects are ROBOTS, then showing one that is made of grapes might not be intuitively obvious from the picture without explanation or context, and may result in the player describing the property of “made of grapes” as “purple” or “bumpy”. However, showing a robot that has 3 arms will intuitively and obviously separate it from a robot showing only 1 arm, and “number of arms” can be one of the properties that links the cards. Showing a robot with arms fits the UNIVERSAL definition of what a robot “could be”, as opposed to a robot made of grapes (which very few, if any, people would consider to be a possible property of a robot outside of the context of this game).

Regarding “OBVIOUS”, the intended audience for this game will not often need a calculator to subtract 8 from 13 – the result of the operation provides an obvious set of cards that will work in the third column (anything with a “5” in the correct row of the third column will work). Once again, as an example, if you use robots and would like “color” to be one of the properties in question, creating a “grey”, a “silver” and a “blue” may not be a good idea, since at first glance (and depending on the publisher’s printer) blue, silver, and grey may seem so similar as to defeat their intended distinctiveness. Choosing “GOLD”, “SILVER” and “RED” would be better choices, because it will not only be obvious to the players that the three are different, but that they CAN BE CATEGORIZED by such a distinctively different property among the robots.

Regarding “DEBATABLE PERSONAL CONTEXT”, consider choosing food items as your objects. If the first column contained gravy and the second contained bread, a player might play an apple in the third column, and an argument such as the following might ensue:

Player 1: “You can’t play ‘apple’ there – how does that link to ‘bread’ and ‘gravy’?”
Player 2: “Thanksgiving stuffing has apples in it, and since stuffing ALSO has bread and gravy in it, they all go together.”
Player 1: “I have NEVER had stuffing with apples in it – that sounds gross!!”
Player 2: “My mom’s stuffing has ALWAYS had apples in it for as long as I can remember, and it’s NOT gross – you’re gross!!”

(cue hair pulling and scratching noises, sounds of the board being upended in frustration and anger, etc…)

By allowing the personal preference of what foods go together to define what links the objects, you have introduced a DEBATABLE PERSONAL CONTEXT into the mechanics of the game. In some games (the ungame, scruples, outburst, scattergories, etc.) not only is personal context allowable for debate in most instances, it is an INTENDED MECHANIC FOR THE GAME. This game does not appear to be a good fit for this type of mechanic, however.

My suggestion is this:

1) Choose a set of objects with OBVIOUS and UNIVERSAL properties FOR EACH ROW on your card (possibly ROBOTS for the blue row, ALIENS for the green row, and DRAGONS for the red row – but if fantasy is not your favored milieu, you do not have to use my suggestions).

2) Establish the properties that each will exhibit and which will allow them to be “linked” to one another, yet will be UNIVERSAL and OBVIOUS, without allowing a DEBATABLE PERSONAL CONTEXT. *NOTE: BE SURE TO REMOVE ALL OTHER DIFERENTIABLE CHARACTERISTICS UNLESS THEY ARE A 'LINKING' PROPERTY (for example - if you choose COLOR as a property, do not make some of your objects 'COLORLESS' and then include "WHITE' as a color. Players may not be able to tell an object that is unable to be linked by color because it has none from a 'WHITE' object without explanation or an index - instead either remove COLOR as a property, or make sure that ALL objects can be defined, and therefore linked, by color - this will also mean that if you decide to eliminate color as an option, you MUST make EACH robot a different color, so as to have NONE of them able to be linked by color - otherwise, if you make ALL of them COLORLESS, then ALL of them will match by the fact that they have no color).

3) Scale the number of occurrences of each property so that certain properties are almost guaranteed, while others are considerably rarer (giving rise to the ‘Old Maid’ effect, wherein a player may end up with a card that is unplayable. If they cannot link it in the blue row, they will need to link it through either the red row or green row in order to get rid of it, or else wait until the game state changes to allow that card to be played). This will keep with the “cornered” effect of the playability that FORCES a player to use a card where they ordinarily wouldn’t want to, simply because they have no other choice based on the linkings available to them (limited resources/forced move mechanics).

4) Possibly investigate what happens if you allow more than one property to be available for “linking” three of the objects (multipliers on score, making other players draw an extra card, allowing for a discard or draw/discard – essentially allowing for a “swap-out” of a card in a player’s hand, etc…). That way, you can introduce strategy that does not currently appear to be there (if a player is able to link two properties of objects in the blue row, then that player can make the opponent with the fewest cards draw, or if a player is able to link objects across two different rows in a single play, ALL opponents are forced to draw).

Another way to “link” the three columns is through TIME.

You might have three PROGRESSIONS (a plant growing from a seed, a building being built, Pangaea separating into the continents, etc… - each contained in 10 or more obvious stages, where which comes before or after which is INTUITIVELY OBVIOUS by the size of the plant or the positions of the continents for example), and then have your “+/-” and “=” cards replaced with left-to-right arrows.

Then, you only allow cards that come AFTER the previous step of the progression to be played across an arrow. This accomplishes the same effect with regard to restricting the number of possibilities played in each column. And, if you had wildly differing steps on each card (the blue row has step 4 in a sequence, the red row has step 10 in a different sequence, and the green row has step 1 of a sequence), then the sequential steps for the red row, for example, might become impossible unless someone plays over that card in the same column with a card that lowers the step number of the sequence so that other, later step in the sequence can be matched with it.

You could then have steps 1 -> 5 -> 11 be considered a match (but 3 -> 1 -> 8 would obviously not be) because in each column, the step comes AFTER the previous step in the sequence. Your "BONUSES" then could be if the steps are ACTUALLY in sequence (for example 2 -> 3 -> 4), then that player can force other players to draw, or give one of their unplayable cards to an opponent, etc.

(For example: if you had the above card in the leftmost column, then the red row would be nearly impossible, if at all, to link with since it is unlikely that someone will have steps for the red row on other cards where the red sequential step is higher than 10. Someone would have to match a card that overwrote say, the green step 1 with a green step 2. The card with the green step 2 might have a red step 4 on it, making the likelihood that someone could play a sequential step or two higher than 4 in the red sequence much more possible).

I have only outlined 2 different ways in which the game mechanics of MATCHING THREE CARDS ACROSS ROWS BY PLAYING CARDS THAT ESTABLISH MULTIPLE SIMULTANEOUS COLUMNAR VALUES can be accomplished. I am sure there are others, but I think I have been wordy enough.

I hope this was helpful.

Martin-r-m's picture
Joined: 07/26/2012
Great work !

Wow, what a great work ! Thank you very much. I will have to read it some more times but I am shure that I will be able to create something new but first I will be in Göttingen on the game designers meeting with 200 game desingers.

verspielte greetings


Joined: 04/30/2013
good but not good enough


yes your analysis is very sound, but even so, substituting numbers for something else, like robot parts, is like comparing playdough to wooden blocks

numericals are abstract enough that they can be increased and decreased with any other number in the set, however long or large the set is, just like playdough where any amount can be removed or plastered together

something else, especially if we are talking about something aesthetic related. using shapes just isnt univeral enough, and what is a picture but a combination of shapes. my recommendation of polygons not only is just as abstract as mathematics, but also less aesthetically pleasing

the main problem is, currently the game using numbers as the "theme", any card can be the component and the answer at any moment, at least until it reaches the maximum value. the best solution would be to find something which has that property of being the component and answer at any moment


at the moment however, all i can think of is to have a limited set of shapes, with a limited set of combinatons most probably obvious from observation, while tweaking the icons on the cards, such that the combination of icons on the card has a relatively high probability(or your desired probability) of at least one icon being able to be the component or answer

theres also the option of changing the criteria of joining the 2 components together, or lowering the criteria of an acceptable answer, but loosening the rules to be im-precise may lead into player discussion which can cause alot of problems socially if your unfortunate player happens to be playing with the wrong kind of player

another option might be color, but it will not be kind on the colorblind, and a last recommendation will be a combination of shape and color, such that the color is a binding that makes the card remain usable at most moments of the game, while maybe the shape combinations score more points, but i am not fond of such a clunky solution

Joined: 01/26/2009
arithmetic and numbers aren't the mechanic.


The fact that you are combining the numbers is not the mechanic.

The mechanic is this:

How do you create a card depletion or scoring mechanic in the following way:

I have a 3x3 grid.
I have cards that MUST be played to fill an entire 3-row column with a single card.
There are 2 "linking" fields between the columns where the cards are played that denote THE SPECIFIC RELATIONSHIP THAT THE THREE COLUMNS MUST SHARE TO BE RELATED ACROSS EACH OF THE ROWS ACCORDING TO THE RULES OF THE GAME.


1) they fulfill the requirements of the linking fields for the column(s) that they border AND


The number version fits these guidelines as well as the "attribute" model AND the "sequence" model that I outlined.

In addition to the description being accurate, the rules state that the THIRD CARD PLAYED MUST MATCH THE OTHER TWO. In that case, EVERY CARD PLAYED THAT COMPLETES A ROW (an equation in the arithmetic version) IS BOTH AN ANSWER AND A COMPONENT.

Even the "2nd" card MUST be the "ANSWER", even as it is the "COMPONENT". Just because the "answer" is by itself on the right side of an equal sign does NOT necessarily make it THE ANSWER.

For example:

4 + x = 17

Solve for x.

You will need to play a "13" card in between the "+" and the "=" in order to complete the sequence across the rows. The only important thing here is:

WHAT CARD WILL FIT FOR "x" THAT I CAN PLAY ACCORDING TO THE LINKING MECHANIC (in this case, addition within an equation)?

So - what is the "ANSWER"? Is it 17, or is it 13? Since you need to solve for "x", the "ANSWER" you are after is 13.

You are putting too rigid a definition on what was created originally, and Martin-r-m was asking SPECIFICALLY to tailor the game OUTSIDE of the rigid stricture of arithmetic.

***This is a PERFECT example of how a mechanic can be described for the Monthly GDS, yet have so many wildly varying interpretations of the mechanic that all fit.***

Also, a note regarding colorblindness: there are articles that cover how to create a grayscale theme using rich colors that will be differentiable by those with color-blindness, yet still be in color for those without. I believe that actoally has a colorscheme specifically outlined that has a R-G-B numbering system for digital color schema for printing.

Joined: 04/30/2013
fine, even if you define

fine, even if you define addition and subtraction as linking, my concern is to practically find something which can replace the universally abstract nature of numbers, NOT to explore its realm of possibility

so, say i use simple shapes instead of numbers, following the methaphor of wooden blocks and playdough. a square and triangle make a house shape. or when put in another order, taking a triangle out of the house shape makes a square

to continue making use of the house shape, you will need to create more complex shapes. so the (house + triangle) or (house + square) or (house + circle) or (house + X... this would have to occur for more or less every other shape

and aesthetically, the complex shapes might not be easily recognised. maybe its just me, but every alternative seems to bump into the problem of semi-specific combinations, regardless of how they are linked

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