If you live in the HRM I'd be happy to come out and give you a demonstration of Thief. It takes about two hours to play, and it's best with about 4 people. I've played it with everyone from 12 years old to mid-sixties and it was always a good time. Send me an email at samsamfraser at gmail dot com and we can make an arrangement.
I was the first guy in my group of friends to buy a deck of Magic cards, back in the summer of '94 or '95. I bought them at a pet store! I remember the way they smelled when coming out of the deck box, a wonderful smell of cardboard and special inks that quickly became associated in my mind with excitement and discovery.
I played a lot during high school, but didn't sink a whole lot of money into the game, and went for about 10 years without playing much at all.
But recently a friend of mine has got into it big time, partly spurred on by the Steam games, and he now has about a dozen different decks. It didn't take me long to dig out my old boxes and put together some Legacy decks with my old favourite cards. Now we've got a whole league thing going on with an A group and a B group. Fun stuff for sure.
A lot of things about the game have changed, I've noticed. The rules have been refined considerably of course, especially the timing component; the game is now simpler to play but still allows for complexity and deep strategy. Abilities that used to take a whole card full of small print have been condensed into a word or two. The art and design of the cards have improved considerably as well.
But the problems with the game are still there. The biggest problem for me is the money: if you don't spend a lot of money on new cards, your decks won't win. Simple as that. The power of some of the rare cards dwarfs the cards in your average deck, and no matter how well you play a deck with a mythic rare will win. This takes some of the fun out of the game. The league we have set up mitigates this loss quite a bit though, since there is no expectation that a B group deck will beat an A group deck, and so the competition is at a different level and facilitates a different style of play.
This problem, intrinsic to the nature of all CCGs, was the main reason I started designing Thief. In Thief, all the cards are created by you the player, therefore any card's value is determined not by its rarity but by its in-game power and usefulness. A card that always helps you out in a sticky situation is just better than one that doesn't, no question of rareness or *shudder* dollar value.
Of course there are a whole host of other problems that come about when you allow your players to start creating cards, and the rest of Thief's development cycle was about trying to solve these problems. What happens when too many cards are added to the deck? What can you do with cards that are so powerful they unbalance the game? What about feature-creep, or in this case, Option-creep?
Thief is balanced now, and though it doesn't have the same level of strategy that Magic does, I still think it's a better game. Sure Thief has uber-powerful cards like Magic does, but someone will always find a way to undermine that power. They don't have to go out and buy 50 booster packs to find the card to match it, they can just create it on their own during the game. The ebb and flow of power in Thief, over the long term, make it a much more interesting game than Magic can ever be.
I've applied for the Self Employment Benefits program available through CEED, the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development. If I'm accepted, I'll be able to work on Thief and other Organic Games full time! They work with you to set up a demanding timeline which would see me publishing games within about eight months. I would have a lot of work to do to get it to that point, but that's exactly the type of work I want to be doing. There's not guarantee that I'll be accepted into the program, and if they don't think it's a viable option then I'm out, but I put together a good proposal and now I'll have to wait and see. I will find out in a week.
Objective: To connect a group of hunters with the object they are seeking.
A jar of uncut pickles for each player.
Thumbtacks or similar.
Other materials as needed, ex: a dollar bill, ladies underwear, etc.
Each player or group of players first goes outside and locates a group of hunters. They may not being hunting deer or rabbits, but may be hunting other things such as oil futures, an easy lay, a place to sleep at night, etc. To make it sporting, the group of hunters should be larger than the group of players.
The players approach the hunters, but not so close at to interrupt their activities. One player selects an item that best represents the object that the hunters are hunting, and attaches it to the Pickle by means of the thumbtacks. The player then lobs the Pickle at the hunters, in a smooth and high manner so as not to dislodge the thumbtacks and to disguise the direction from which the Pickle originated. Before the Pickle lands, the players shout "Hunt the Pickle!" at the hunters, to provoke confusion and to incite a scramble for the sought-after item. To achieve maximum effect, this should be bellowed by the entire group of players.
The winner is the player who lobs the most pickles before getting beaten up.
Thief is a new kind of game. Years in development, it's the only game that allows you to create new content - changing the setting, characters, items, or any other aspect - in a persistent way, without the need of a judge or game master. Purely by playing the game, you influence the style and content of the game so that everything gradually changes to reflect your gaming group's imagination and humour.
Thief is a table-top card game. It is collaborative yet competitive but above all it is creative. Virtually all of the cards were created by players during playtesting and then incorporated into the published version. And yet it remains a challenging game - tough to win and at times cut-throat. Stories are told but it is not an exercise in "collaborative story-telling."
The basics: each player is a thief who is trying to steal loot. Loot is hidden in buildings which are placed on a map which represents a city. The loot is protected by cards that represent obstacles blocking the way: security checkpoints or bizarre contraptions or physical impediments. To defeat the obstacle the players must use the cards at their disposal, items or skills that they can use to overcome what is in front of them and get closer to the loot.
As the players throw themselves against security defences, a cop is hot on their heels, chasing them down before they steal the loot. Getting arrested is a major setback.
During the game players will create new obstacles for their opponents to face. They will also create new items or skills they can use to help them reach the loot. These cards are not just temporary: they are put into the game forever. They might be used next game in a totally different way than expected, creating unpredictable scenarios not found in any other game.
What happens when a shrink ray meets three men with swords and an armed pet store owner? How can you use a crowbar and a shield to get over a pit full of spikes? What can you do when you find yourself on a hot-air balloon with a battering ram? Play Thief to find out!
There is a problem with Dog Eared Superhero. On any turn, is very likely that the card you create won't be accepted into the game. In a four person game, 75% of the time, your cards will be ignored and discarded. This really hurts the players engagement level, for if, over the whole game, their moves don't have much of an effect, why bother staying interested? If players have to force themselves to maintain interest in the game, the game is bad. It is the game's responsibility to get the players interested and maintain that interest, not the other way around.
So I have a possible solution. If instead of one card being chosen every round, one card was removed every round, I think players would be much more engaged. In a four person game with four cards being created every round and only one being discarded, players would then be striving toward being one of the three remaining cards, a much more achievable goal than being the only one of four cards to be selected, as it is now. It's an inversion of the voting mechanic. The incentive is for the player to not be the worst instead of be the best.
So if four cards are created and one is voted off, the three remaining might be completely at odds with each other, so we can't allow all of them into the game at once. There still has to be a selection mechanic, a choosing mechanic. This is the idea I want to try out for a new Location developing game, similar to Dog Eared Superhero:
Players are developing a location: ie a building or city or even empire.
There are different sub-areas within that location that players can contribute to: Physical Description, Major Events, Major Characters, etc.
Every turn players write a card and put in contention for a specific sub-area. All players create cards at the same time.
Players go around and vote for the card they want to see removed. Any card that gets 2 votes is removed from the game. Cards with 1 vote are not removed, but they can't be included in the game.
Cards without any votes can enter the game and are placed in the sub-area they were designed for, but they must be paid for. The cost to bring a card in-contention into the game is equal to the number of cards already in that sub-area. The player must discard that number of cards from their in-contention pile, which would be the cards with one vote on them.
I think this mechanic would increase player engagement. It brings the focus to the in-contention pile. Players want to build up this pile so they can pay to enter new cards in the game. The cards included in the game that describe the location accrete more slowly and across the several narrative paths of the sub-areas, rather than the one narrative path of Dog Eared Superhero. I'm curious to see how that would affect the narrative development of each game.
The rules for Dog Eared Superhero can be found here.
There's a great segment on checkers which talks about how two master players in the 19th century played 30 or so games together as part of a competition. Over 20 of them were the exact same game, ending in a draw. So this game that they played over and over again must have been the best game of checkers they could have played, otherwise they would have changed their moves somehow. Since they were the best checkers players at the time, that means that this game they played was the best checkers game ever. That's it, no better checkers games can be played, ever. Checkers was won. From a certain perspective, after that game there was no longer any reason to play checkers.
Checkers, for this reason, is a dead game. For someone who studies the game, there will be no more surprises. It has nothing more to offer. Chess, on the other hand, is very much alive. The sheer number of possible moves is so vast that it would take an incomprehensibly long time to play every single possible game of chess. The number of possible chess games is, however, finite, and there is some single set of moves, a single strategy, that is more powerful than all others. It's only a matter of time before we find it.
In fact, any game that doesn't contain any randomness will one day, like Checkers, be solved. Randomness, added to a game by dice or by a deck of cards, for example, adds a lot of time to a games lifespan. But randomness only delays the inevitable, for sooner or later someone will figure out the probabilities of every possible outcome of the dice or cards or whatever, and will craft a winning strategy accordingly.
Consider Risk. It's a game that relies a lot on randomness (and starting positions), but there is certainly a winning strategy that accounts for the possibility of each different outcome. The dice are factored into the strategy and thus become largely irrelevant. Thus, a player with the perfect strategy will nearly always win, despite the randomness involved. Is Risk a game that is still alive or is it dead? Once that perfect strategy is found, I would say that it is dead, since the outcome of the game is pretty much determined before the game starts.
My games can never die. They are continually being revitalized by new content created by the players. It is impossible to craft the perfect strategy for Thief or Dog Eared Superhero because so much depends on the subjective decisions made by the other players. Playing Thief, you may think you have a great strategy to defeat all the most difficult obstacles and grab all the loot. But the other players can and will create a new card that foils your plans and puts you back to square one. In Dog Eared Superhero, you might create a series of cards that the rest of the players love and will vote for, but there is nothing you can do if another player creates cards that the other players love even more, with the result that the chosen cards completely changes the direction of the character's development, away from your original plan. These games can be played hundreds of times by the same group of people and there will always be new content leading to new situations and new challenges. Each game is unique and alive.
There is a problem with Thief. There is very little direct competition between players. Has been this way forever. RIght now if you want to take down the player with the most loot to prevent them from winning, your goal is to get to the loot first so they can't take it. But that's your goal for the whole game anyway; there's no change in strategy according to the situation. Not good, needs to be fixed.
I'm going to instate a new type of card to rectify this. The Effect Card. It's an idea that has been going around in different forms for a while, and it has the potential to come into existence now using Option cards but it hasn't materialized so I need to get the ball rolling by giving it a name. The idea is that you play a card that directly impedes your opponent's progress. It lasts for one turn only, like Options. It is played as your opponent comes up with a plan to defeat an Obstacle, and will interfere with that plan, perhaps negating it entirely. For example, Jim is facing a Giant Moat Filled With Barbed Wire and is using his Winged Kicks to fly over it. All of a sudden, there's a hurricane! Frank has played an Effect card that changes the weather to something that prevents the buoyant sneakers from being used. Back to the drawing board for Jim. It stays raining for the rest of Jim's turn, which might affect his plans down the road.
There is a nice balancing benefit of the Effect Cards. Create a Cards have until now been used as a get-past-an-obstacle-for-free card. You have a problem, a CaC will fix it. Now, there is a strong incentive to hold on a CaC to prevent other players from advancing, particularly if you are not in the lead. Players will have to way the pros and cons of using a CaC on their turn or holding on to it.