Decktet and discovering a number of games that I enjoy, most notably Magnate, but I’ve also played Jacynth, Goblin Market, and Emu Ranchers. Beyond the Decktet, the things calling to me include IceHouse/Tree House, Piecepack, as well as possibilities unlocked with 6 suited decks such as the beautiful Blue Sea deck. And I’ve always appreciated traditional card games as well, Euchre, Rook, President (& Asshole), Golf in particular.
Part of my interest is driven by the idea that you can have this relatively compact set of components that can be used to play many different games, perhaps even a lifetimes worth. And the range of potential games spans across the whole gamut from heavy strategic games to light fillers. What’s not to love about it?
The other part of my interest is from the standpoint of being a game designer. I’m fascinated with the numerical dimensions of traditional card decks and their derivatives, the subtle symmetries and idiosyncrasies they contain. I used to own a Tarot deck (later sold in some Garage sale), an acquisition fueled by an interest in exploring the mystique of the cards, its symbolism, and its history. I should probably pick up another one someday.
As a tool, game systems often provide all the parts you need to test out a concept initially and see if the dynamic works in principal. Hegemonic’s conflict system started out using a deck of traditional cards with 1 suit removed.
There is one potential game system that I’ve hoping to find for a while now – and its driving me closer to just designing it myself. Which is what the rest of this post is about.
Early on in my BGG days (2010) I was really intrigued by structure of the Rage decks I stumbled across – decks which are now out of print, but that also lack the mystique of traditional playing cards. A Rage deck consists of 6 suits (denoted only by color) with ranks 0-15 (16 cards be suit) in addition to 16 bonus action cards. The arrangement, in some ways mirrors the structure of a Tarot deck, which consists of the Minor Arcana (4 suits with cards ranking from Ace, 2-10, Jack, Knight, Queen, King) and the Major Arcana or Trump Cards (of which there are 22).
A number of proprietary designs use a similar structure. Battle Line is 6 suits with ranks 1-10, plus 10 extra (tactics) cards. The granddaddy appears to be the Sticheln decks, which contain 6 suits as well (by color), with ranks from 0-18, plus three 19’s and three 20’s (total of 120 cards).
But, my major gripe with using decks like Rage or Sticheln, should I manage to find one, is that they quite literally lack character – there are no face cards, they are all numbers. In addition, one of the key attributes of traditional cards is that the four usual suits can be paired in interesting ways, e.g. by color, by pointiness (spades with diamonds, clubs with hearts), by their rank (low = clubs + diamonds, high = hearts + spades). The purely numerical/colored decks lack this.
Most other 6 suited decks maintain this relationship of the suits to some degree – i.e. the Blue Sea Deck adds two “blue” suits that are stars and squids. Yet another little detail that is missed in many is the easy mnemonic for remembering suit order; which is the alphabetical listing of the suits. Bridge suit order is used for most other games where suit order matters (at least here in the US), which is alphabetical as follows: clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades. That also distinguishes the lower suits from the upper suits. A minor gripe with the Blue Sea deck is that you now have three suits starting with the letter “S.” Okay – so it’s a nitpicky complaint, but there you have it.
And, lest I be accused of not paying attention, I am aware of the Rainbow Deck – and it is an intriguing system that of course provides a lot of opportunity for new games – but I also find there to be something a bit soulless about it. It’s too mechanical and well structured, and like the purely numerical decks, it lacks character.
So, what is all this pointing towards? I’d love to have a deck that accomplishes the following:
- Expands the traditional French deck structure (13 cards per suit) to 6 suits
- Fit/accommodates the Tarot structure literally, which requires additional face cards (the knight), plus the 22 Trumps.
- Provide card values from 0 to 20 (that’s 126 total cards)
- Have the new suits extend the suit interrelationships and established characteristics in way that feels appropriate to the spirit of system – be evolutionary.
- Look for opportunities accommodate other games that make use of special cards in some fashion.
A New Deck
I’ve taken a stab the assembling the bones of a new 126 card deck that has the flexibility to be used and adapted to a variety of games. Here’s the basic structure.
6 Suits, ranked as follows: Clubs, Diamonds, Gears, Hearts, Portals, Spades
Hearts/Diamonds are RED
Clubs/Spades are BLACK
Gears/Portals are BLUE
Why Gears and Portals?
First, let’s examine some of the historic associations/roots of the existing suits (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Card_suit). It’s worth noting at this point that the standard French suits (Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, Spades) had corollaries with other European countries, most notably Germany and Italy. The Italian suits were Cups, Clubs, Coins, and Swords, which relates to the Tarot suits of Cups, Clubs/Wands/Staves, Coins/Pentacles/Discs, and Swords. German/Swiss suits included Hearts/Roses, Bells, Acorns, and Leaves/Shields.
Additionally, there are other layers of meaning in the existing suit relationships. Hearts were associated with the Clergy, the element of water, and love/joy/happiness. Diamonds were associated with Merchants, the element of fire, and money/risk/excitement. Clubs were associated with Peasants (workers), the element of earth, and work/effort/achievement. Lastly, Spades were associated with Nobility, the element of air, and problems/sickness/trouble.
I’d like to tie (or perhaps unify?) in this new deck the French, Italian, and German iconography and symbolism through the face cards, and perhaps by tweaking the traditional Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, Spades icons as well such that you end up with the following associations:
Clubs: Acorns/Wands/Batons/Staves - Peasants - Earth
Diamonds: Coins/Pentacles/Discs - Merchants - Fire
Hearts: Cups/Roses - Clergy - Water
Spades: Leaves/Shields/Swords - Nobility - Air
Historically, many five suited decks used the 5th suit as an expression of the “5th element” – being the aether/void or some other mystic energy/substance. This is where “Portals” as a suit comes in, the Portals being a way to connect with the beyond and this 5th element. It also represents a connection to the past, a lost era of mysticism, and by consequence is aligned with the caste of Seers/Mystics/Historians.
The Suit of Gears, in opposition, is representative of knowledge, insight and an understanding how the universe works. It’s technics and science, and it is forever turning towards the future. The suit is associated with Technicians/Scientists/Researchers.
The last aspect of the suits, and to add a new twist to the fabric, is that each suit is also paired with a secondary color, building off the established associations and providing a new dimension along which to group-off suits, by cool colors vs. warm colors. Taken together, the color scheme is thus:
Clubs: BLACK with Umber (a warm reddish/brown) – Earth
Diamonds: RED with Yellow – Fire
Gears: BLUE with Gray – Knowledge
Hearts: RED with Purple – Water
Portals: BLUE with Orange – Aether
Spades: BLACK with Green – Air
No onto the ...
0-20 in each Suit. The ranks are broken up as follows:
A (1): Aces
2-10: Numbered cards
J (11): Jacks
L (12): Lords/Ladies
Q (13): Queens
K (14): Kings
W (15): Wizards/Witches
T (16): Traitors/Technicians
17: Tarot Trump 0-5 (I to V)
18: Tarot Trump 6-11 (VI to XI)
19: Tarot Trump 12-17 (XII to XVII)
20: Tarot Trump 18-21 (XVIII to XXI) plus Rook and Egg
I feel like this scheme gives a consistent framework to each of the suits. The 12th rank (Lord + Ladies) is historically “Knights” in the Tarot deck, but I’m avoiding reusing letters, since the “K” is already used for the typical King denotation. There is some historical evidence for using Lords/Ladies or alternatively Dukes/Duchesses – I could go either way there. Another alternative could be Cavaliers ("C").
Wizards seems fitting given their historic origin and use in other games (e.g. Wizard) and that they reflect a sort of end-of-life wisdom. They can be seen as advising the King (e.g. Merlin), and in a strange sort of way may rank higher by consequence. The face card artwork could also include both male and female depictions as a sort of Wizard/Witch duality to mirror the Lords/Ladies.
The Tarot’s Major Arcana trump consume all but two of the cards in ranks 17 thru 20. I imagine the suit icons + numbers will remain in the card corners with main frame of the card depicting the associated Tarot trump image and bearing the roman numerals of its Trump order.
Last – I had two card slots left at to the 20 rank. I keyed in on the idea of having a “Rook” card (since I like Rook, and the Rook card is valued at 20 points) and as it’s opposite the “Egg” card. Who knows what that might be used for, but we can all sit around debating which came first I'm open to other ideas.
So there you have it.
I’d be curious to hear people’s reactions and whether they have alternative ideas or arrangements to consider. I will say that I went through a big list of games that used a variety of deck structures, and I think this deck could readily be adapted to play many different games.
Now to find the right artist...