Last night we played several rounds of 9 Lives, a game currently in development by Daniel Solis (@danielsolis). We played a few three-person games and mock-played higher-number games as well. My hopes for a five-person game were quashed when the fourth and fifth persons went to bed at 8pm and 9pm, they being 9-years-old and 14-years-old respectively. Note that all players are consummate board gamers and especially life-long card gamers.
We had several comments on the game as it exists in Prototype B form. We liked the game overall, but found some areas lacking.
Remarks on Prototype B:
a) The cats on the cards are adorable, but the layout of the cards themselves, even in this prototype form, is difficult to play with. The cats were given nicknames within minutes (the fat, grumpy cat got named "that damn hamster" right away), which means that the cats are engaging (good sign). However, the tiny cats in the corners are so tiny, it makes it very difficult to differentiate between them when held in one's hand. Though the corner numbers are easy to see, the stars are nearly impossible to see when the cards are held in one's hand. Adjustments to make the cards easier to differentiate when in hand should be done. Keep the cats at all costs.
b) The game play following Prototype B rules is not very engaging, or rather it does not provide many opportunities for engagement between the players. As is, players basically only have to interact at the bidding stage and there is very little incentive to compete between players, this is even more true the more players there are since it becomes nearly impossible to follow each other's play beyond four players.
c) There are way too many cards in the middle, waaaaayyyyyy toooooo many. Everyone was annoyed by this. Adding one card per player at the end of every round just places too many cards in play. Everyone was annoyed by this and thought for ways to make this better from the beginning of the second round.
d) Everyone thought that the scoring phase after the bidding phase was, frankly, more than a little confusing. Everyone understood that this was meant to create opportunities for strategizing which cards to play, but were disappointed that it was basically the only time they could. They disliked this mechanic because it interrupted the flow of the game as well. Bidding -- stop for scoring-- adoption -- stop for scoring. No one liked that.
e) Everyone was looking for ways to block opponents from getting to their objectives and could not find satisfying moments to do so.
f) After a few rounds, we all started throwing possible alternative rules around. We came up with a set of rules that would keep the unique (and very innovative) mechanics of the Prototype B rules, such as the bidding and the adoption, and keep the spirit of 9 Lives, while finding ways to increase competition and especially ways of strategizing the gameplay. This is what we came up with.
Proposed adapted rules for 9 Lives:
The objective is to accumulate points scored by the number of identical cats in one's collection and the number of stars accumulated in each series of cats.
Do not remove any cards from the deck; use all 81 cards, regardless of the number of players.
Distribute five random cards to each player.
Each player should have room for a personal collection of cards.
Shuffle the remainder into a deck in the center of the play area.
Deal the three top cards from the deck to the center of the play area face-up. This is the first group of cards that are up for auction.
You also need a method of keeping score during the game. (A paper and pencil or chips are fine.)
A GAME of 9 Lives is comprised of 5 or 6 BOUTS, each bout being comprised of 5 ROUNDS. A game of 9 lives ends when one player reaches 50 or more points, which should take 5 or 6 bouts. [We noticed that with three to five players, the winner of a bout usually has gained 8 to 10 points, those 5 or 6 bouts to reach 50]
A ROUND is comprised of three PHASES, the bidding phase, then the adoption phase, then the betrayal phase [you can name it whatever you like; that's what we came up with]
Bidding phase: Exactly as in Prototype B
[There is no reward phase; this was found annoying and confusing]
Adoption phase: Slightly different from Prototype B. Each player takes turns starting with the player with the lowest bid and proceeding in ascending order. The taking of cards is the same as in Prototype B, but the cards are then placed FACE UP in one's collection. The goal of adoption is to collect cats to create series of two or more. A player cannot adopt a cat into her hand, only into her collection. All other non-adopted cards are moved to the centre of the table. Then, instead of ending the round at this point and turning cards over from the deck, we move on to an additional phase of play.
Betrayal phase: We also called it "last action". It could also be called the "Feral phase", the "Escape phase" or something. The player with the lowest bid has the choice to alter one of her opponents' play from the adoption phase. She can either:
- Switch a card from one opponent's collection with a card with the same number of stars from her own collection,
- OR switch a card from one opponent's collection with a card from the centre with the same number of stars,
- OR switch it with a the top card from the deck; in this case, the card taken from the opponent's collection is discarded;
- OR does nothing.
This latter phase allows for the winner of the bidding phase to thwart one opponent's strategy or to better her own collection with an opponent's card. For instance, if Bill won the bidding phase and Jimmy has collected three same cats with 0, 1 and 4 stars each, Bill can replace the 4-star cat with a different 4-star cat, thus breaking Jimmy's series. This becomes important in the scoring of the bout.
A round ends when the betrayal phase is done and the lowest bidder then turns ONE card for the deck and places it face up with the other cards at the centre of the table.
The bout continues with four other rounds until all five cards in all players' hands have been played.
Each player counts the number of series of two or more cats she has gotten and gets one point per series.
Then each player counts the number of stars in each series. If two players have a suit of the same cat, the one with the most stars score that number of points and the other player scores nothing; if the number of stars is the same, neither player score points for the stars.
At the end of a bout, all played and discarded cards are shuffled back at the bottom of the deck and a new bout is set up.
As stated above, the game ends when a player has reached 50 points. With three to five players, this should take 5 to 6 bouts, for a total of about 30 minutes of play.
a) With more players, it would most likely be necessary to bring the number of game points down if the game is to be played in about 30 minutes; for example, for 7 players, it would most likely be 40 points to win a game.
b) Everyone agreed that the proposed altered rules would not work for 2 players, but would be ideal for 3 to 6 players. It very well may be that with the proposed adapted rules the game cannot be played with 8 or 9 players. Everyone agreed, though, that Prototype B was unplayable at more than 6 players.
c) Everyone insisted on the fact that a group of players should be given the option to decide that a game is going to be worth more or fewer points in order to adapt the gameplay to the length of time they have to play. For example, if all players agree, they should have the possibility to play for 100 points, for longer game play.
e) Lastly, we do not know if Daniel Solis will like the altered rules proposed here, but everyone involved said that they will continue to play with the altered rules regardless of what is chosen. All intend on teaching those to the younger members of our group as soon as we can. Everyone liked the new gameplay and everyone liked the bidding and adopting mechanic, a lot. I will be printing another copy of the prototype cards for the "youngings" to play with.
We all hope to see this game released one day. We all saw the potential and all want to see it succeed.
* Also, go buy Koy Pond, which is quite good!