Game Design Talk: Flip-a-card

Since posting about FITD, I thought I might talk about the extreme other end of crunchiness. I already know Lasers & Feelings. I want to talk about the design behind a game I’m still working on, called ‘flip-a-card’, and see what people think of the design. Don’t actually play this - it’s not ready. But it’s intended to capture some of what I like about Fate without setting off what people don’t like about Fate. :slight_smile:

The rules

People start with a set of 3x5" or 4x6" index cards, either prewritten for a game or blank. Every card has a top side and a flip side, and both sides have text. Every card, or type of card, does something when you flip it from one side to the other.

The rules themselves are also encoded on cards, e.g. there’s a card that says “there is a GM” but you can flip it to disable that rule. Ditto with rolling dice and a couple other optional things. In the current playtest deck, there’s four rule cards (GM, dice, task resolution, the standard card types) and a couple of global magical powers anyone can invoke.

Character creation: pick three cards or write one of your own. Each world or game has different divisions, e.g. social background, profession, fantasy species or whatever. In a scoundrels-in-space type game, there might be cards for job (Muscle, Pilot, Doctor), for background (Academic, Spacer, Guildsman), and for personality or something similar (Flashy, Easygoing, Boisterous). Characters can customize themselves by writing one or two further cards.

The cards

Most cards follow these rules:

  • The top side says what you are.
    • If you’re asked to make a test, you can flip a relevant card over, and you get a hit. For example, if I’m a Spacer and my membership in the fraternity of space merchants and spacedock workers would be important to what I’m doing at the moment, I can flip that card.
  • The flip side has a list of 3-5 writing prompts or narrative triggers.
    • If one of those triggers happens in the fiction (no matter who made it happen), I get to flip the card back, and I get a recharge. So my Spacer card might say “Conflicts between spacers and planet-bound people”, and if that issue comes up, great.
    • Other cards might have flip-side text like “Pay a cost to heal someone” or “Start a fight you didn’t have to”.
    • These should be things you want to see happen, and should represent complications or interesting plot developments.

There’s also dice!

  • There’s a single “tension die” on the table, starting at d4
  • Roll it if you need to pass a test and don’t want to use a card, or can’t
  • 3 or less yields a hit on the test, 4 or higher doesn’t
  • Every time you roll and get a hit, the die goes up one size (d6, d8, d10, d12)
  • Everyone shares that die when they roll, so if it goes up for someone else, it went up for you
  • Anyone who gets a recharge can reset the die to a d4

Passing a test isn’t the same as succeeding, and not passing doesn’t automatically mean failure. Instead, the game advises that you set up something - tension, problems, whatever - on a failing test, and pay off something - wrap up a problem, satisfy a goal, whatever - on a pass.

Aside from character cards, there’s also situation cards the GM/facilitator/whoever can declare as in play. So maybe at our seedy spacer truck stop, there’s a Rowdy card in play. We can flip it over to achieve some criminal shenanigans, but on the back it says stuff like “He doesn’t like you” or “I don’t like you either” or “I have the death sentence in 12 systems!”

In play

The intended play loop is:

  • A GM or facilitator confronts you with a situation, during which one or more tests are called for (“open the door”, “shoot the lads”, “fiddle with the computer”, “charm the Baroness”)
  • You respond to tests by rolling a die or flipping a card
  • Where possible and relevant, the group works in the flip-side text of everyone’s cards through narration, so you can flip them back and use them again

The only hit-point or progress-clock system the game has is the one you bring to it, or that a particular game introduces. My playtest deck has various condition cards like “Wounded” or “Hunted” that can be given out by a GM when those conditions come into play, and those have rules for how to clear them (spend a scene attending to the condition, typically).

Any comments or questions from would-be game designers or veteran gamers are always welcome.

1 Like