In the last few weeks, I've played two card-based games that were rather similar in their structure and general direction -- yet one had me entirely engrossed, while the other felt awfully flawed.
Therefore, I thought it might be interesting to compare the two systems, explore why one is more entertaining than the other, and potentially apply the ruleset of the better to the lesser, to see if it "fixes" it.
Interestingly, one is a physical card game, while the other is a digital card game, a subgame in a larger title. The former is Greedy Wizards from Simon Byron, while the latter is Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale from Kazu Ayabe.
I'll turn my attention to Greedy Wizards first. The rules of the game are quite simple: Two players are provided with nine cards, labelled 1-9, and must place these face-down on three "duel" cards in three groups of three. Each group of three is then added up, and that total goes head-to-head with your opponent's own groups of threes.
Since visual aids often help with these sorts of circumstances, here's the setup I'm describing (with the cards face up -- they're placed face down at the start of a round, so the second player cannot see what the first is playing):
The winner of each of these three duels is determined by whoever has the highest total in each duel -- and whoever wins at least two of the three duels wins the round.
This is where it gets potentially interesting. The winning player must replace their 9 card with a "cake" card, which is worth nothing, and shows a cake on both sides of the card. The idea is that the losing player can now tell where the worthless card is, and change up their strategy accordingly. Subsequent cake replaces the 8 card, and whoever gets three cake cards wins.
I've added the official "quick start" rules from the game on the right, for added clarity.
I was excited to try Greedy Wizards, because I could tell immediately that it was going to be a game with plenty of maths behind it. Clearly there are simple number-based rules behind it that can give you the edge over your opponent.
Unfortunately once you begin playing, you realize just how simple it is, to the point where Greedy Wizards ends up feeling like a convoluted Rock-paper-scissors. Consider the first round: You need to win two of the three bouts, so the obvious idea is to top-heavy two of the duels, and throw your weakest cards into a third battle.
Since the sum of all your cards is 45, it makes sense to split your piles (6, 19, 20). You could try and split them as an even (15, 15, 15), but if you opponent uses the aforementioned top-heavy split, then you'll lose before you even place your cards down.
You could also try to bump the 6 up to a 7 or 8, in a bid to beat your opponent's potential 6 -- but the chances of your low bid landing in the same space as their's is just a third, and then you still have to make sure one of your other duels wins (and of course, at least one of your other duels is impeded by the fact that you bumped by your low bid with a higher card).
What this means is that as long as both players have a basic grasp of maths, the first round is always based on luck. What's unfortunate is that this "basic grasp of maths wins out" tactic plays a key role throughout the rest of the game too.
Once one player has a cake card, the other player can then simply watch where they place their cake, and top-heavy the two duels that don't contain cake. If the cake player throws their two weakest cards into the cake duel, they can't win it, and will lose at least one other. If they attempt to win the cake duel, they will lose the other two, as long as the other player understands the maths behind it.
There are ways for the cake player to win this second round, but the chances are extremely slim, to the point where I played out dozens of rounds, and it didn't happen a single time.
This then brings you to a round where there are actually tactics involved. Since both players have cake, and one player has ot go first in each duel, this allows the second player to watch where the first player is "caking", and make cake-based decisions based on this. The first player can potentially bluff with the cake, and make the second believe that there's a high total in one position, when actually they are going top-heavy elsewhere.
The problem is that, tactically, it's still very thin. At most, it's Rock-paper-scissors with multiple cards. I know I keep using the damned phrase, but if both players understand the maths (by simply realizing their total sum is 36 and using a top-heavy tactic combined with the cake card bluff) then it's essentially based on luck all over again.
When someone wins this round, it goes back to being like round two, where the losing player can easily win by knowing the maths. Finally, you're left with a final round that is similar to round three, in that it's once again a Rock-paper-scissors situation.
In other words, the first four rounds are regularly pointless, as you'll always get to this fifth round as long as both players know what they are doing. At this point, it's then all determined by luck. Greedy Wizards essentially boils down to four rounds with don't mean a whole lot, and a fifth round with is Rock-paper-scissors with a slight twist.
As a result, it's not really wild fun. The first several times when you don't "get it", it feels like you're perhaps making clever moves and winning by your own volition. Once you've sussed out what's going on, there's very little to keep you playing.
If you'd like to give the game a go yourself and challenge my assessment, you can simply grab a regular pack of cards, pull out two sets of Ace-9 cards, and grab five other cards as cake. I should also note that I've spent several hours with Greedy Wizards, turning the maths over and over in my head, trying this and that, before coming to this conclusion. I'd honestly love to be proved wrong though!
Now I turn my attention to the Monster Battling card game that is part of Nintendo 3DS game Attack of the Friday Monsters In this game, players choose five cards to battle with, and place them facedown on the table opposite your opponent's five cards. Each card has a number on it, and either a rock, paper or scissors symbol.
The idea is simple - when you turn the cards over, if a card's symbol beats the opposing card's symbol, that card wins that duel. If they are the same symbol, whichever number is higher wins. If both numbers are the same, it's a draw. Whoever wins the most duels, wins the battle. It's essentially five games of Rock-paper-scissors all at the same time, with a numbers game in case of a draw.
The comparison with Greedy Wizards can hopefully already be seen at this point, but Friday Monsters has its own "cake card" style twist too. Once all ten cards have been positioned, you're then told of the outcomes of two of the bouts.
One player is then forced to swap two of their cards, to potentially change the flow of the battle. However, once they've done this, a third outcome is revealed, and the second player is now also forced to swap two cards.
This is where it gets rather interesting. The first player can, of course, choose to swap cards such that they now know they will be winning the most rounds. If, for example, you know you're losing one round and you have rock then, it means the other player has paper. Therefore, swapping scissors into that position will win you the duel.
But! Once you've made your swaps, the second player can potentially guess how you've moved. They can look at it from your prespective, know you're swapping scissors in, and swap rock in afterwards. Or, if they have a scissors with a high number, they could swap that in.
Of course, you could call their bluff, and swap another rock into that place, or even paper. As long as you swap that space, your opponent has no idea what you did with it. All they know is that they can definitely win the duel for which the third outcome was revealed - but they only have one swap for three potential outcomes, so this in itself is a dilemma.
Of course, much of this card game is still based on luck - for example, you could be 5-0 down from the get-go, and it would be very difficult to pull back from this - but there are cards later into the game that mix this formula up even more, as they have symbols on them that stand for, say, both rock and paper together. But regardless of this, the base game itself is fascinatingly simple yet enticing.
What Friday Monsters does that Greedy Wizards is missing is two-fold, from my perspective:
1. It allows for the battlefield to be tinkered with after initial placement, meaning the amount of potential bluffing is heightened.
2. It has five duels compared to Greedy Wizards's three, which means there's more potential space to trip your opponent up.
With this in mind, I wondered what would happen if I attempted to inject some of Friday Monsters into Greedy Wizards, by expanding the latter to five duels rather than three, and allowing for swapping after placement.
I started each deck with one cake card, such that each had 10 cards. If you attempt the top-heavy tactic from before, this splits as (CAKE+1, 5, 13, 13, 13). However, it's now possible to watch where the cake is, attempt to win that duel, and then go top-heavy on two other hands to win those two, and win the whole thing. Observe:
This was rarely possible in the original Greedy Wizards set-up, since there were only three duels and little room for maneuver. But what happens now is that, with the cards still facedown, each of the players turns over the number card that they have attached to the card with the cake.
Now, in an attempt to match the rules of Friday Monsters, the first player is allowed to choose one of the opponent's number cards to flip over. Using this new information, then can swap two of their piles. The second player now flips over one of the first player's number cards, and uses this information, plus the perceived (potentially bluffed) information from player one's swap to make a decision about their own swap.
Now all the cards are turned over, and the winner of three or more duels takes the round. At this point, their 9 card is swapped for a cake card, giving the opposing place the edge. Yet even with two cake cards, it's still possible to win the second round too, as I found from my multiple trials of this new ruleset.
I'm not exactly saying that the Friday Monsters ruleset makes Greedy Wizards more enjoyable -- there's still plenty of luck involved, and once again if you know your basic maths, you can overcome someone who isn't so clued up. But it definitely appears to add an extra dimension to the game, and at the very least, adds a new spin on the original.
Hopefully this all comes across as a constructive, comparative analysis of these two games, rather than me trashing Greedy Wizards -- I'm actually still really glad I bought it, as it's acted as an enormous maths puzzle for me, whether it was meant as such or not! And once again, if there are any gaping holes in my arguments, do let me know - I adore digging into the nitty gritty maths behind these sorts of games.