[Solo-first design] Tarot Game Rules 0.1 (Full, dull, play test log included!)

edited October 2018 in Game Design Help
It's "Solo-first" as in "mobile-first" design. :)

X-posted from here.

I generally dislike interpretation, which is one of the techniques used in solo play. It generally takes me out of immersion so I try to avoid or minimize it as much as possible. That means I’m potentially missing out on one of the usual techniques for playing solo, though, so I’m taking on the challenge of trying to solve that problem for myself.

These are rules I playtested recently. There isn’t much to them, IMO, but their aim is to try and make interpretation fun for me.

Included after the rules is the aborted play test of those rules. I decided to stop once I became bored, but there were times when I was definitely hooked— mostly when danger was hanging over the “protagonist’s” head.

I did not trigger the game end rule before quitting. There isn't really that much of a story either (something I'm thinking about in my post-mortem).

I'm sharing mostly just to share, but would also be appreciative of any experiences you've had in making the act of interpretation fun for yourself.


-----Play Test------

Turn 0:

What is our domain? I got 7 of swords. Dark Force got the Queen of Pentacles.

Turn 1:

Drew the Devil, put in the middle. 7 of swords, The Devil, Queen of Pentacles. Add one black stone to Queen of Pentacles due to the arcana influence.

Interpretation: Dealing with someone who might have be thinking of deluding someone (7 of swords). There appears to be something related to financial security (Queen of Pentacles); they might be in a tight spot. The target might be someone dangerous (The Devil); or perhaps it's their own excess and materialism (the Devil) that is feeding the financial troubles (The Devil is in the domain of the Dark Force and it grows the cards in its domain by adding stones. I"m playing with infinite stones to get a feel of how many it would take to deal with everything.)

Difficulty to remove the Queen of Pentacles is 13 + 1 stone; can't remove The Devil (Major Arcana).

If I burn the 7 of Swords and I spend 7 stones to remove the Queen of Pentacles, I'm still left with the fact that they're trying to scheme against someone dangerous.

I can change the meaning of 7 of Swords so that they're not scheming anymore. It's less interesting story wise, but it makes sense if I want to "win". This change is free because the card suit is in my domain.

Turn 2:

Drew 5 of swords.

Layout: 5 of Swords, The Devil, Queen of Pentacles

It seems like this person's ambition might drive them to steamroll someone and burn some bridges. There is still also the dangerous Devil still there as a potential threat that maybe they don't know about. There is also the financial aspect.

I'm going to burn the 5 of swords and spend the 10 stones to get rid of the financial problem. This means that they steamroll someone and burn those bridges (I did not change the meaning of the card). This might have been what got them out of the financial issues.

Both cards go to the discard pile. I now have 68 stones.

It's starting to come together now that this person is into some dangerous line of business or maybe owes money to that dangerous person.

I shift reality and now this person is financially OK but they burned some bridges.

Turn 3:

Drew Four of Wands and Ace of Wands (had two empty slots). Layout: 4 of Wands, The Devil, Ace of Wands.

Because The Devil arcana is in the spread, it adds one stone to the ace of wands and 4 of wands, in addition to making the meaning go against me. n.

Otherwise, it would be a neutral card and any interpretation would have been as literal as possible in intent.

Ace of Wands looks like the beginning of something, but given the black stone it's not good. It's not clear enough right now what it might be, so I'll leave that part at that.

The 4 of Wands should have been something about harmonious relationships in the family. Instead, it might mean that this person's family turned their backs on them or against them. No harmony at home.

Turn 4:

Drew 3 of Pentacles. Layout: Three of Pentacles, The Devil, Ace of Wands.

4 of Wands must make space for the 3 of Pentacles (being the oldest non-major Arcana card). NOte down that 4 of wands has one stone. Reshuffle into deck. Added another stone to the ace of wands. One stone to the three of pentacles.

It seems obvious now that someone was inspired (ace of wands) to do harm against our protagonist. Probably the person that they burned. They have gotten a team together to burn protagonist back. Heck, it's probably teamed up with the Devil.

I can get rid of the inspiration, but that just removes the enemy inspiration, but not the collaboration (it would just mean that someone else is the culprit).

Remove the 3 of pentacles to change that reality. There's no collaboration. The inspiration/desire and the Devil remains, and whoever's inspiration it is, it's not in our favor.

Now I have 64 points.

Turn 5:

Drew Queen of Swords. Layout, Queen of Swords, The Devil, Ace of Wands

Some clear mindedness or perceptiveness. Perhaps our person is begining to realize the things that are threatening them.

Spend the 4 points to get rid of the ace of wands. The inspiration is squashed by my shift. Nothing the protagonist did.

Now I have 60 white stones.

Turn 6:

8 of swords. Layout: Queen of Swords, The Devil, 8 of Swords. The Devil Can't influence your domain so no black stones added to those.

Queen of Swords suggest that our protagonist is becoming perceptive anc clear minded. Perhaps of his problems? Eight of Swords suggests that the nature of his trouble has him trapped (I guess I just unconsciously decided it's a 'he'). But, because Swords is my domain, I'm going to change that meaning to the opposite: He sees a way out of his trouble.

Optional rule? Opposing Major Arcana can weaken your cards each turn (add opposite stone).

Reshuffle 8 of Swords into the deck. (Not the oldest one as for the Adversary; maybe it should be the weakest one for the Adversary)

Turn 7:

The Emperor. That is one of my Major Arcana, so it cancels out with The Devil, effectively removing that problem (at least for now). Both go to the discard pile.

How that happens is determined by the interpretation. I'm going to go with the simple keyword of "authority" from the Emperor and say that law enforcement is causing trouble for this enemy, and he has to forget about our protagonist for now. Maybe this problem will come back later when the discard pile is shuffled into the deck again.

Turn 8:

The Hierophant and the 8 of Cups (two slots available). Layout: Queen of Swords, 8 of Cups, THe Hierophant

Add one white stone to the Queen of Swords and 8 of Cups. This is the new temporary strength of the cards: 14 for Queen of Swords, +1 white for the 8 of Cups (bonus for you, penalty for Dark Force).

Our hero perhaps is becoming wiser due to the looking at his situation with a clear mind (Queen of Swords). He has decided to leave behind his ways (8 of Cups). He seems to have the determination not to stray from this new path (The Hierophant)

Turn 9:

Ace of Cups. Layout, Ace of Cups, 8 of cups, The Hierophant

Choose which card you will reshuffle. Queen of swords (she will keep the +1 stone).

Add one stone to 8 of cups.

Our guy is still walking in his new path, and has found some emotional fulfillment to boot. Maybe he's met a romantic interest or maybe he's found a more fulfilling way of making a living. I can't see who or what.

(continued in next comment)


  • Turn 10:

    9 of Pentacles. I will reshuffle the Ace of Cups. Layout: 9 of Pentacles, 8 of Cups, The Hierophant

    Add one stone to the 8 of cups.

    This 9 of Pentacles is under the Dark Force, and it seems like a new attack. From the keywords, it seems like it's encroaching on our man's independence and what he's earned.

    With the previous problems regarding family, and this, maybe his "family" is more like a mob family. They won't let him do his own thing; can't quit just like that. They're laying claim in what he earns even if it's not mob related. (well, that's a lot of new information revealed through inspiration/interpretation).

    At the same time, he remains committed to his new way.

    Turn 11:

    The Magician (Major Arcana). The Hierophant must be reshuffled. Layout The Magician, 9 of Pentacles, 8 of Cups

    add one stone to 8 of Cups

    The situation hasn't changed much except that our man is succeeding at his new enterprise through willpower, despite the harassment of his "family." I'm going to spend the 9 stones to shift this reality. Remove the 9 of pentacles to the discard pile.

    I now have 51 stones.

    I'm not sure why they have backed off, and maybe that will be revealed with subsequent cards. I just know they're not a problem now (It can't be manifested through that card anyway).

    Turn 12:

    2 of Wands. Layout 2 of Wands, 8 of cups, The Magician

    Add one stone to 8 of cups and 2 of wands.

    Our man is making plans and they look likely to succeed. What plans?

    Turn 13:

    Ace of Pentacles. Remove 2 of Wands. Layout: Ace of Pentacles, 8 of Cups, The Magician.

    Add one stone to 8 of Cups.

    Perhaps he was preparing for a new venture, but as this card is negative for him, it means that maybe there was a door closed for him. Or maybe a new upstart in the mob has it in for him. This could be harassment via extortion or protection money.

    I'm spending the one stone to remove the card. Someone comes with a new business proposal. Given the 8 of cups, maybe this guy runs a bar.

    I now have 50 stones.

    Turn 14:

    King of Cups Layout: King of cups, 8 of cups, The Magician

    Add a stone to both Cups cards.

    As he continues on his path, he is gathering a reputation as a man of compassion; someone who listens to your problems (he's a bartender after all).

    Turn 15:

    Drew 4 of Pentacles (65 cards left in deck). Must make way for it, so King of Cups goes back to the deck.

    Layout: 8 of cups, The Magician, 4 of Pentacles

    Add one stone to the 8 of pentacles.

    I won't take the meaning of the 4 of pentacles very literally. It's not that our guy is becoming stingy, but that the perception of his "family" is that he isn't sharing his wealth as he should.

    The 8 of Pentacles is still there and strong so he is steadfast on not going back to that life. I still have plenty of stones, so I will just shift the meaning so that this perception disappears and instead it is him who is aware he must not become miserly.

    Maybe the plans that he was hatching were related to charity (since he's known as compassionate).

    Now I have 46 stones. Discard the 4 of pentacles.

    Turn 16:

    Drew The Moon. This cancels out the Magician, and both are discarded. Since the 8 of Cups was never reshuffled, the influence (white stones) remain.

    Looks like the plans he thought were solid were just an illusion (I'll ignore the stuff about instincts and the unconscious). They have fallen through. Nothing I can do to help as these are Major Arcana.

    Turn 17:

    Drew the Six of Cups and the 8 of swords reversed.

    I see sudden internal conflict. He remains strong in his commitment to his path, but maybe is feeling trapped by his past. I have domain over the Swords suit, so I'm easily going to flip that part.

    He feels liberated from his past.

    (I'm wondering if these sort of interpretations could be made about the external. The bad thing does materialize itself, but you neutralize them, rather than phase them out of existence. Makes for better flavor, so while maybe it shouldn't be a rule, it should be a guideline.)

    Turn 18:

    Drew Two of Cups (reversed). Layout Two of Cups, 8 of Cups, and 8 of Swords

    Tension; Broken communication. Things escalated between the "Family" and him. They maybe did something that was the last straw for him.

    (How do I negotiate in my head which elements can be removed out of existence and which can be manipulated? Some things I have removed yet this "family" persists. Why have I not felt like that could be removed? How do I decide the scale of change? Is it limited to the card in question? )

    Turn 19:

    Drew Ace of Cups again. Layout: Ace of cups, 2 of Cups (reversed) and 8 of Cups.

    Apparently the total break with his family feels like a new beginning for him.

    Turn 20:

    Drew Ten of Pentacles. Layout 10 of Pentacles, Ace of Cups, 8 of Cups

    It's some type of failure to reap the rewards of his effort. His enterprise may be failing. Had he been following the criminal way, he'd be winning, he feels. Still he remains resolute.

    Turn 21: Drew the Empress. Layout: The empress, ace of cups, and 8 of cups. +1 for ace of cups and 8 of cups (now at 10 stones).

    With the theme of new beginnings and this now, it tells me he has met a good woman.

    Turn 22: Drew The Chariot. Return Ace of Cups. Draw again: The Star. Layout: The Star, The Chariot, 8 of Cups

    +1 8 of cups

    By pure willpower, he is staying on the path, but the old ways are calling again waiting for a rebirth.

    Turn 23: Drew Strength. 5 of Cups.

    Layout: Strength; 5 of Cups; 8 of Cups.

    +1 to 8 of cups

    Feeling pain from enterprise failure; still, remains strong in the face of adversity. Perhaps he can salvage it.

    ​--Playtest Ended---

  • It seems the interpretation is uncomplete without "colour". you could pick it ether at t=0 or t=1.
  • Yeah, that's what I've done in my second playtest (thanks for the idea!):
    Coming up with some background using Instant Game:

    I’m going to use this as my inkwelll of ideas to accompany the Tarot fortunes.

    Setting: Tokyo/Near Future
    Tone: Suspense
    Things: Nanotech and Giant (mecha?)

    Opposition: Misguided Hero
    Action+Thing: Poison + High Magic (could stand for nano tech)
    Action+OtherThing: Teach + Revenge

    Starting place: Wealthy+Stronghold (Definition: a well-fortified place; fortress) (a place that serves as the center of a group)

    Starting Person: Artsy+Servant
    UNE: Logical Craftsman / Advance Academia / Prejudiced View
    The first few turns started much stronger than in my first playtest. Turn 1 kept me interested right away:

    -7 of Wands, (achieving success/continued battle against competitors)
    -10 of Wands, (worked very hard for something but overburdened by responsibility),
    -Page of Swords (embarking on a new idea/enthusiastic/eager to share)

    Layout: 7 of Wands, 10 of Wands, Page of Swords

    Artsy+Servant was the possible protagonist generated in Turn 0. I realize that I need more background (so note to self that maybe a more fleshed out protagonist is needed in Turn 0). The person we will be focusing on is indeed a servant with arty inclinations. (Randomly determined gender and it’s a “she.”)

    She (Jin Hanada) works in a wealthy stronghold for a happily unmarried bachelor (happily lonely). The neighborhood itself is boringly conformist(offensively familiar). It’s not a military neighborhood.

    I’m getting antsy that I’m not using the Tarot to find out more. I also desperately want to tie her somehow to the military as the mecha and nanotech demand it. So, fudge it, having the “Page of Swords” on the spread is a good enough excuse to declare that her employer (Dr. Daigo Seisun) is in turn employed by the military.

    Now the real Tarot interpretation (the game proper?):

    Dr. Seisun works in the highly competitive field of nanotech. He has achieved a breakthrough in his work with nanotechnology, but there are many internal and external rivals. He has also worked very hard to achieve this breakthrough.

    Jin is aware of all of this. Having an artistic sensitivity she does not miss many details. Therefore, she is also aware of how Dr. Seisun’s soul seems overburdened ever since his breakthrough, when he should probably be happy.

    Regardless, Jin has an idea that excites her: nano art.

    She is eager to ask the doctor about it.

    However, I'm in Turn 9 now, and I've run into the same problem as before. I felt I didn't have enough locations pre-generated, and it didn't feel immersive to go roll them in the middle of the game. This is a very peculiar hangup I have. :)

    Besides making the 'prep' much beefier for the next time (and seeing how that goes), I need to be able to generate information on the fly without losing that sense of character immersion. I didn't have time to try it last night, but I think doing a 'side reading' with the cards that remain on the deck will feel 'appropriate'.

    It would just be a brainstorming exercise, so none of the mechanics would apply. Once done, I'd reshuffle those cards into the deck and continue with the actual game. :)

    Thanks for the feedback!
  • edited October 2018
    You're asking too much of yourself. This is very good training. You hit the creative wall (after how many meaningful decisions in a row ?) The colour makes your preferences (default, meta-rational) kick in. You need more players to share the burden of coming up : more downtime to refresh. But then you open Pandora 's box : downtime is also boredom. But boredom IS key to creativity.

    That's where I would say : refine the mini-game later ; find the other games/techniques that can be wheels, direction, brakes and seats to this motor. YMMV
    Tapping into more colour is just winding up a bigger spring. What about map drawing the story step by step, and drive it like a mystery ? You're agent Cooper. Add some oracular Y/N throwing game maybe ? ;)
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