Game Concept — The Path of Wandering Samurai

Thinking about another game idea. Gunna put it down here. You’re going to read it, maybe. I’ll be able to reference back to it. Either way, it’s a card game about wandering samurai.

Okay, so it’s a winston drafting game. If you’re not familiar, a winston draft is where you have a single deck of randomised cards, and you create three piles off it of one card each. Then, once you have your three piles set up, the first player looks at the first pile, and decides if they want to take it. If they do, they take it, then put a card on each pile. If they don’t take it, they look at the next pile, and decide again for the second pile, and again for the third pile. This is a way devised by Richard Garfield to do two-person drafts to make interesting decks for two player games of Magic: The Gathering.

One clause in the Garfield design though is that if you don’t pick anything in any pile, you take a card from the deck and add that to your pool. Don’t know if that’s necessary for this design, it’s not going to be that long a game by comparison.

In this game, you are playing the son of a noble family, who has for reasons of political expediency, to go on a journey to the Capital to meet with the Emperor. This is modelled on a real thing that really happened – Samurai would send their sons to the Emperor to go and negotiate why they should continue to hang around doing fuck all with their time.

Anyway, the point of this game is you’re going to go across three or four seasons, representing three or four different times of the year to go on a journey. Depending on the season you go, some cards might be good or bad. You look at one stack of cards to determine if this is the story you want your trip to follow, or not. If it’s not, you add a card to it – that you don’t get to look at – and you move on. Each round you don’t go on a journey, you just sit back and give the piles a chance to get bigger and bigger and bigger.

When you take your path, set it in front of you, in sequence; first pile, second pile, third pile, fourth pile, that kinda thing, with those piles each representing which season you went on your journey in. There may be trees that bloom in a particular season, making them worth more points because they’re prettier then. There may be characters you want to see on multiple journeys, making them more desireable.

The winner, as always, is the player with the most points, just like in real life when you go on a trip.

The piles remain between seasons. It’s very likely that by the time players pick their paths in the first season, the last pile is very large, making it very desireable for the second season to pick up first – but that means that you have to wait for the other players to finish picking their ideal in the next season, and so on.

This idea is built out of an old conversation with my friend Teioh. Teioh liked to explain the many ways that samurai lore is very silly; the way that the myth of what the samurai were has no alignment with reality, where most samurai were mostly useless nobles who wrote letters to explain why they should get free food for writing letters. I think this idea is interesting, and a long time ago we concepted a game about garbage Samurai sons wandering off to Tokyo to meet with the Emperor the way they were supposed to, but with all sorts of silly mishaps and misadventures.

One idea in that game I liked was that you always had extra sons as backup, in case their dumb misadventures got themselves killed. For a more meanspirited version of this idea, it could be that the journey, in addition to featuring nice things you want to talk about, could also feature dangerous things that mess you up, deprive you of money or liberty, and that too many bad things stacking up mean that this Samurai son is dead. Dead sons can’t go on more trips, so you lose the other seasons out of them, but maybe another son might be able to go on the trip in their place? Could be a room for a more bleak, sillier version of it.

Another thing this kind of design opens up is space for combos. Cards that do things on their own are fine, cards that do things with one another is waaay better. It could be that you have all sorts of fantastic encounters, and that those things are worth more if your Samurai has enlightenment, a very rare card in the deck. It could also be that those cards are all a byproduct of your Samurai being drunk, which is probably worth less, but you’re more likely to get it. Obviously you can’t be enlightened and drunk, so one cancels the other out.

Another final element to scratch out is that I don’t want the game to include anything like a loyalty or honour mechanic. Honour mechanics are kind of systematising that idea the Samurai wanted us to believe in, where they had some sort of intangible, superior virtue, which you will notice, they did not. It’s just buying into the hype, y’know?

Incidentally, if you’re a Muslim game designer and reading this and think this could make an interesting engine for a Hajj game, please, I recommend you do so? If that’s not disrespectful to suggest? I don’t think I would be able to do it meaningful justice, or if it’s appropriate for me to even consider, but the basic idea of ‘I have to go on a long journey and that journey is broken up into stages that tell a story’ is there.