Asset Brainstorm #8 — Tricked Out

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.

A different approach this month. See, it’s Tricks month, and I realised last year that hey, it’s weird that I don’t really do much with trick taking considering the month. Plus, 2021 was the year I was reminded of a youthful fantasy about the idea of being a hot cool skateboarder boy, for some reason, even if I never had any means or plan on acting on it, and when I saw a skateboarding game being previewed on AwShux, I was seized with the realisation that it should be a trick-taking game.

And it wasn’t.

And that’s dumb.

Art by Betty Cheong

I’ve had the note on my list to try and make a skateboarding-themed trick-taker game at some point, and here in tricks month that’s what I’m going to try and do.

Trick Taker Basics

Any time I give a description of a game there’s always room for the phrase ‘except when it’s not’ which can be funny to read but also reduces clarity. In that case I’m going to present a simple explainer without the caveats. Don’t @ me about how ‘well, not always’ etcetera.

First of all, what’s a trick taker? A trick taker is a game where the rounds are themed as ‘tricks.’ Each player plays a card into the trick, which determine a winner, and then that player is the one who ‘wins’ that trick, which they keep as a form of scoring. This is the simplest version of the system, and it’s one with a lot of obvious game mechanical questions.

Like, if a player just gets all the highest cards, doesn’t that mean they win? Can it be played in teams? Is there a way to keep it from bogging down and resisting analysis paralysis? Is there a theme to it? And these are all questions that have been answered by one of the most successful and widespread games of the newspaper era, Bridge.

In Bridge, you have four suits of cards, and players’ cards need to ‘follow suit’ – which is the first player plays a ♥, and then only ♥s are valid plays into that trick… and if you can’t make a play like that, anything you do play isn’t going to win the trick.

Bridge also includes a bidding system where you have to declare at the start of the game, ‘I think my hand can win this many tricks,’ which means that strong hands have an advantage, but players with weaker hands can push them into bad bids, and then mean the game is about ‘can we take enough hands off the strong hand?’ In this bidding system you also set trumps, which is, the suit that always wins hands. The ideal situation is therefore having low cards in the trump suit, strong cards in the other suits, and you set the trumps with how you bid. This creates tension where high bids are more likely to get to set the trump suit, but you could have to bid more hands than you can win, and your opponents are now interested in ensuring you don’t win those hands.

Another system Bridge has is misere, where you can declare up front that your hand is so bad, you can lose every hand, which is a reasonable strategic choice.

Anyway, those systems are all the way I ‘know’ bridge. Bridge is a game with a lot of forced action, where you can ‘make’ players do things with how you set the suit, and you can often have your turns predetermined by other players. Hypothetically, bridge is fast, but it really isn’t functionally – it’s a fantastically tense game made complicated because it’s normally played in teams with a lot of special rules.

Okay but Not Bridge

This is the biggest problem I have designing a trick taker game. Bridge is well known, easy, and a really good game (if you can ignore the culture around it). Bridge’s fundamental systems are tight and clear, and the fact the pieces of the game are standardised and well-known make it a great ‘pure’ example. A lot of the time designs that build on this are going to be ‘well this is now bridge, plus,’ and you have to ask what the plus does.

I dislike the way Bridge encourages a very insular, existing form of table communication and assumed rules. I dislike the way that it can paralyse the game. I dislike the way you can be dependent on your teammate and the learning curve of the early game.

What if I make it cooperative? What if I make it so that all the players are trying to win the tricks in some way? That’s cool, that’s skateboarders sitting around and cooperating together, encouraging one another to make a better trick? Everyone trying their best? That could be rad! Like you’re trying to encourage one another to score a trick of each type each game?

Oh wait.

Did I just make The Crew?

I mean, The Crew is really good. You can do worse than making The Crew.

God damnit.

Okay, that’s an idea space to start with.

Art Assets?

I did go looking for art assets for skateboards and what I’ve learned is that skateboarding is an aesthetic fantasyland. There are so many cool ways for skateboards to look, so almost any card assets can work. Art can be detailed or abstract, it can be colourful, it can be simplified, it can be damaged with decals – there’s a lot of freedom.

This whole thing is inspired by Sk8 the Infinity, so I’m wondering if it’s that each player has a custom deck showing tricks they can try but which has as an added dimension people they have a crush on, showing compatabilities and interest – you can win the game if you successfully commit to a kiss with another player when they have it.

If I do that though I’m going to want each deck to have art of the characters. So hypothetically, let’s say that the game is say, a deck of 20 cards, I don’t want unique art on each card; I want the card backs to represent a different character, so there are different compatibilities for things like the Now Kiss card.

If I did that, with custom decks for each character, i’d make the card back show the character; which means I’d need to find someone who can do art that lands in that venn overlap of ‘anime kissboys and kissgirls’ and ‘pro wrestlers’ and ‘skateboard aesthetics.’

There’s the brainstorm, and I’ll be returning to this weekly, with a summary at the end of the month.