Call Out, a game of doubt for dice and cards

24 January, 2010

In the first session of Big Games this past week we undertook an exercise in rapid group game design. We were divided up into groups of eight or so, given two decks of cards and a box of six-sided dice and told to design a game using just those props in 15 minutes.

The main advice that Greg Trefry (the prof teaching the class) gave us was: play your game; don't theorize or go off into flights of fancy about how we'd expect our users to act, but just get something simple working and play it repeatedly while refining the rules and mechanic.

So that's what we did. After an initial flurry of ideas, we dealt out one full deck to everyone in the group and started working on a game that involved placing cards face down and bluffing. With each round, we added rules, twiddled mechanics, changed procedures to prevent ambiguity, and added constraints.

The 15 minutes ended just as we put the finishing touches on the game and the class reconvened to play our game. At first, it was difficult to explain to the group of volunteer players exactly how things were supposed to work. We'd built-up the rules one at a time while playing so they weren't logically arranged in our minds for easy consumption. But once we got the group playing it, they seemed to enjoy it, laughing along as players got caught in bluffs and dynamics developed. The whole class even stuck around five minutes after its scheduled end to wait to see who would win.

It was a fun and fascinating introduction to game design. I can definitely see how this process would be addicting.

I've written up the rules of our game below. Please let me know if you try to play it.

Call Out, a game of doubt. For dice, cards, and 4 to 8 players.

The goal of Call Out is to use luck and your ability to bluff — and to tell when others are bluffing — to get get rid of all of your cards before any other players.

Deal out all the cards in the deck evenly to each player.

At the start of each round, one player rolls two six-sided dice, generating a number from 2 to 12. This is the Target Number. In turn, each player places on the table face down some of the cards in his hand. If the numerical value of the cards[*] adds up to the Target Number this is a safe play. Otherwise, it is a bluff.

Once all the players have placed cards on the table, each player around the circle is given the option to Call Out other players: to accuse them of bluffing. If a caller correctly accuses another of bluffing, then the bluffer must take into his hand both his own face down cards and those of the caller. If the caller is incorrect, he must take both sets of cards.

Play proceeds in turn clockwise with each player still retaining cards in front of him having the option to either call a bluff or pass.

At the end of the round, the remaining bluffers place their cards in the discard pile; un-called players whose cards matched the Target Number (non-bluffers) return their cards to their hands.

The dice is rolled by the next player and the next round begins.

The game ends when one player runs out of cards. That player is the winner of the game.

[*]Aces are worth 1, face cards, 10.