Saturday, November 12, 2011


I figured that the first game related blog I should do would be on the first game that I published on The Game Crafter:  Zodica.

Lately, I have been playing a lot of a card game called Tichu.  Tichu is a trick taking game, kind of like spades except that you can play cards by themselves or in different "structures".  Most of these structures resemble poker hands.  Of course, this is a blog about Zodica... suffice to say, Tichu was a major insperation for Zodica.

I also loved playing Hearts in college, so I thought "I wonder if I can combine the two into a new game."  That was the initial thought that ultimately lead to Zodica.  I find that I often have a small idea for a new game mechanic or even something higher level than that and I just think about it for a long time before it becomes a game.  I had another interesting idea that I wanted to use in a trick taking game.  I wanted to use a rock-paper-scissors mechanic when determining the winner of the trick.  In Tichu, once someone starts with, say a three of a kind, everyone else has to follow structure with a three of a kind or else pass.  I wanted the have three structures such that structure A beat B, B beat C and C beat A.  But with only three structures I needed to be a little more lenient with the definition of a structure than Tichu was.  I also knew that one of the structures had to be a single card...  otherwise, what do you do if you can't make a structure?  Then next thing that I decided was that there needed to be a way to stop the trick from going around and around forever.  In Tichu you hit an upper limit, but with this rock-paper-scissors mechanic, there is no upper limit.

So, the first design of Zodica had three structures: a single card, a straight and a set (2 of a kind, three of a kind etc.).  A single card was beat by any set where the sum of the cards was higher than the single card.  A set was beat by a straight of more cards than the set and a Straight was beat by a single card if it was higher than lowest card in the straight (or the highest card if it was a straight-flush).  In order to stop the trick before everyone ran out of cards I decided that if there were at least 4 of certain special cards in the trick, then the person who played the 4th special card won the trick.  I also had a rule that if there were 3 special cards, then you had to play the 4th special card if you could.

This design failed miserably.  The biggest problem was that as soon as everyone was out of sets, whoever had the lead could just play single card after single card and go out.  So I canned the rock-paper-scissors mechanic (but made a mental note if) and tried again.  Now, you had to follow structure similar to Tichu, except that I was still more lenient on my structure definitions such that you could play a 5 card straight on a 4 card straight for example.  I also decided that a single card was just a special case of a set, but the left only two structures, so I threw in flushes as well.

This was better, but there was still a flaw.  Since in Zodica (like Hearts), points were bad and people were allowed to pass (like in Tichu),  it turns out, most people just passed as soon as a point card was in the trick.  So I made another change.  Players now had to play if they could.  This change seemed to do the trick.  It became a very playable and fun trick taking game.

I want to talk about some other design aspect of Zodica.  Very early in the design process I decided I wanted to have 60 cards.  The reason is that 60 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.  This means that you can evenly distribute all the cards without any left overs for 2-6 players.

I also liked the idea of an astrology theme to a card game.  Years ago I attempted to made an astrology themes board game and it failed horribly...  more horribly than the first design of Zodica.  So I kind felt a need for redemption on the astrology front.

Full disclosure:  I don't believe in astrology at all.  I just think it makes a good theme.  It has a mysterious feel to it without being completely foreign.  The more I thought about the theme the more I developed this strange idea about having a cult following for the game.  What if there were other mysterious things about the game.  So, I decided to encode things into the game.  Maybe it's a bad idea to disclose this... maybe I should keep it all a secret, but what the hell, no one is reading this anyway!  And if someone is reading it, they could leak the rumors about the game then I could pull this blog off and mysteriously deny all knowledge.  :)

I wanted to latch on to an existing mystery with a cult following.  And being a Pink Floyd fan I immediately thought of rumors that Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon could be played as the audio track for the Wizard of Oz and all sorts of unexplained sync ups happen.  If you've never heard of this check this out:  I'm sure you could Google many other sites that talk about this too.  This is on top of the rumors that the Wizard of Oz is actually a metaphor for the populous political movement.  If you've never heard of this check this out:
Two layers of rumors!  Let's add a third!

Ok, I'll start with the name of the game:  Zodica, sure it sounds a lot like Zodiac, but there's more.  In the logo, notice that the c is backwards... that's a happy accident.  The font I used had a backwards c, but it works out nicely.  If you spell Zodica backwards, you get Acid Oz.  Cool huh?  You may also notice the rainbow effect near the Zo (or should I say Oz) part of the logo.  That's homage to the Wizard of Oz.  On the other side, if you look closely, you'll see a line going into the A and two more lines coming out.  These lines, along the prism shaped A are the homage to the album cover of the Dark Side of the Moon.  On the cards themselves, you'll notice some letters and symbols.  If arranged properly these spell two phrases:
 "Just try and stay out of my way, I'll get you my pretty and your little dog too" and "And everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon."  And all of that talk of suns and moons points right back at the main theme of astrology.,  Is that everything?  Maybe!  Maybe not!

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