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Dispatching the Dungeon Master » Blog Archive » Game Seed: SPOON!
Game Seed: SPOON!

There’s this Andrew Bird song, “Tables and Chairs,” about looking forward to the holocaust. My favorite lines in it:

“‘Cause listen, after the fall
There will be no more countries, no currencies at all
We’re gonna live on our wits
We’re gonna throw away survival kits,
Trade butterfly knives for Adderall”

Which in turn reminds me of the snippet in “Fragments of a Hologram Rose,” in which the protagonist–stuck in a post-secession Texas shantytown–scrounges a leather jacket off a corpse in a gulley. He ends up leaving the jacket hanging from the knife he finds in one pocket and taking the fifteen ampoules of antibiotics in the other, which are priceless, or anyway worth enough to buy him passage out through an Army cordon.

How do you play the postapocalyptic bartering game? Is it a deck of custom cards, or a markerboard on which people can asynchronously scribble new inventory and offers? Is the goal to amass wealth, and if so, how do you manipulate relative worth to prevent everything from staying zero-sum? Is the goal just to stay alive from day to day, and if so, what are the risks involved in scrounging for new items?

I’m maybe a bit of a sucker for deck-of-cards-with-abilities, but here’s a sketched idea:-

Gameplay revolves around a deck of loot cards. There are four types of loot (Weapons, Relics, Drugs and Luxuries), and each card belongs to at least one of these types. Weapon cards are notable for having attack ratings, and some cards have special effects while in play.

To win the game and escape the quarantine zone, a player must gather together sufficient loot to bribe their way out - six items of the same loot type are required.

Loot cards can either be concealed (in the player’s hand), or on display (on the table). If a card has a special ability (or an attack rating), it only takes effect when it’s on the table. Loot may be played from hand to table at any time, but not taken back.

The deck also includes a number of building cards, which make up the game board - the buildings are all played face-down onto the table at the start of the game, and players (represented by pawns or tokens) move between them. Each building contains one or more loot types, typically two. Some buildings could have special abilities.

Players take turns, with each turn having the following phases:-

Trade Phase. The player may trade items with any other players in the same building, under whatever terms they wish.
Action Phase. The player may either Search or Attack.

To Search, they draw a card and reveal it; if its type is a type available in their current building, they get to keep it. Otherwise it’s discarded.
To Attack, they pick a player in the same building; whoever has the highest total attack ratings for weapons is the winner, and can steal an item from the loser. (The attack reveals concealed weapons before the defender.)

Move Phase. The player may move to any building. If it’s a face-down building, moving into it flips it face-up.

Play continues until a player has six items of the same loot type in play.

Not really sure where the focus of this game would be, but I like the idea of haggling over cards for their mechanics, of putting a barter price onto a weird ability’s usefulness, and trying to build a powerful combo without others realising.

Maybe you could have like a 3×3 grid of merchant cards that are constantly being changed. One would give you 2 Broken Records for 1 Spoon, and so on. Either each player has a secret goal they would need to achieve (4 Luxuries + 3 Relics, 2 Drugs + 2 Weapons, etc) or merchants offering a win for outrageous prices come in occasionally.

Having just read through Jim Crace’s Pesthouse and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I’m drawn to the idea of having a landscape element built in. Like Kevan’s building cards (which can be incorporated into the landscape), we could have a series of terrain cards - also face-down - some of which can hide traders, many of which can contain threats, such as cannibals or irradiated plague-dogs or what-have-you. If the aim of the game is to make it to the military cordon, or the emigrant boats at the coast, or the nearest radiation-controlled bunker, then this, too, can be worked into the landscape, making the game a mixture of gathering enough goods to survive in the wild, enough tradables to ease your passage through towns, and ultimately making it to “safety”, the location of which is always unknown.

In fact, that last adds another interesting idea - that location-based information can be secret to all players except those who actually pass over it, and thus ultimately tradable.

Josh, that sounds kind of like a Zombies!!! hack. Zombies!!! deserves its own rehabilitation post, actually.

I’m not familiar with Zombies!!!, but I did play a game with Kevan and Holly that I had half in mind while I was writing the above. Can’t remember what it was called, but it involved making castles and roads with a series of tiles. It was fun.

I suspect that this is a deeply unhelpful post.

Ah, that makes me think of Carcassone, which admittedly I have played only once.

Writing Zombies!!! post now to elucidate.

Carcassone! That’s the lad.

Anyway, assuming that you could only move your man one tile per turn, the landscape would grow far more quickly than any individual player could traverse it.

I have a dusty copy of Zombies in our games pile somewhere, for what it’s worth. The location-based-information thing sounds like a great idea, and there’s probably a wide enough range of building tiles in there for it to be workable, even with a bad memory.

Performing secret actions might be tricky (how can you trade with the garden centre cultists, without everyone realising that you’re trading, yet also without being able to cheat?), but I’ll wait for Brendan’s rehabilitation post.

Secret trading actions could maybe be performed like this:

you have a randomly generated list of simple ratios (like in Settlers of Catan? I think?) that are used for trading cards between the players and npcs. For each new trade (when you decide to carry out a trade with the street kids holed up in the ruined firestation, say) you apply a new ratio for all trades - 2:1, for instance. So, today the kids want two brass knuckles for every spoon. The next person who visits this tile will apply a new ratio.

(I suppose this is a similar system to Zarathustra’s.)

I’m not sure how you’d prevent cheating with this system, though, if buildings contained specific loot types and your loot cards have the same backs… the only things I can think of are prohibitively (and most likely unnecessarily) complicated.

Perhaps you don’t have loot(x)-for-loot(y) trades between players and npcs, then? You’re going to anyway with pc/pc trading, since you’ll always be doing it to further your objective. You could just have “put down x cards, choose y new cards” as dictated by the ratio (this also allows for not-trades, if you just pick up your old cards).

But then what’s the point of having multiple trading areas, if everything about them is random?