Runaway Game Development
While camping along the Delaware river, Johnny-A asked about Runway's multiplayer potential. I had never played it outside a duel before.
"Sure, it might work," I thought.
It was just past nightfall. Over rustling water and forested mountainside on the far shore, the supermoon awoke.
There were mosquitoes everywhere. Were it not for the citronella candles, we would have come home pock-marked. Underneath a canopy with an LED lantern bungie-tied around the spokes of our ceiling, mosquitoes buzzed, crazed by the ultra periwinkle light. Johnny, myself, Jose II, and Jose III claimed seats around a folding table and played Runway.
We reasoned that as you add more players it would get difficult to put six cards in sequence, and we would run out of deck too quickly. So we scaled back the win condition as more players showed up. Since the original, two-player version of the game required six as the magic number, we progressed downward from there. With four players, X is four. ( 8 - 4 = 4 ) *This formula has since been revised.
I was worried that players would be able to assemble four-card runs too easily. I was wrong. Each time, the game ended after five rounds. Of the three games that we played, The youngest among us, or "Jose Tres" as I called him, won twice. He was bragging to his dad. I won the third time. My dad was in Virginia and I had no cell phone reception, so I held off on the bragging. Game play was intricate and satisfying. Made us think a lot more about which player to Vendilion Clique, as Johnny A says.
We played a few more times with three players, where X = 5. *Again, this has changed since.
The three player game was as pleasurable and smooth as the Jamaican Rum I was sipping. It was encouraging to see the game "scale" well, to use a software term.
On July 12, when my sister Natalie visited, we were able to play four duels before she had to leave. In each game, Natalie showed her competitive side and really sunk her teeth into the rules. Thankfully I had the good sense to write the rules on a website, which we referenced, though they were a bit outdated. The last time I had updated the Runway rules, a Pilatch deck still had only two Jokers in it.
X was its classic 6, and the games were long. Certainly more than five rounds long. Double that probably. Natalie fought bravely for a newcomer, going into the tank often, munching chocolate chip cookies while she planned out her moves. She took one of our three games. In our fourth game I drew the final card of the deck and won by playing an Ace-to-1 run of Rock.
Because Natalie had so many questions about the rules, I went back there today and tightened them up, left less room for interpretation, and instead filled in more optional rules. Such as the possibility of having a game for points in old Rummy fashion. And what to do when the deck runs out of cards.
I also made the Jokers slightly more restrictive, forcing a Joker to retain the rank of the triples it's played in, should you want to tack it onto your run. Even before this new ruling the tension of holding a Joker was palpable. A Runway Joker is not completely wild, so you have build your hand around it. But don't hold onto it too long because it might get stolen. We toyed with the idea of only letting a player win on her own turn. This would allow another player to replace a Joker in an opponent's run with the Xth card required to win, but still use that Joker herself to win that very turn.
Maybe that will become another optional rule, as I'm hesitant to append more rules to the base of an already complicated game. The basic rules are abundant but apparently not daunting, as a thirteen-year-old Jose the Third was able to grasp them quite quickly, and defeat veterans of the game.
The next change resulting from this testing will be a successive Release Candidate deck, one which has suit symbols under the Jokers' multicolored stars. That would make it much easier to track which Joker(s) are in your hand, a complaint I had in both playtesting sessions. The deck is nearing its finished, version 1.0 state. I can sense it. The outstanding question I have now is, "How much would a Pilatch deck benefit from a 46th playing card? What would that card even be? Some sort of über-wild? How much would it miss that rules card?"
Suggestions are welcome.