Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Zauberenhändler aka Wizard Trader

I ran a game at BGG.con which I called Zauberenhändler, which I hope means Wizard Trader in German (that's what it was supposed to mean).


There were 1000 cards, 10 identical copies of 100 different cards. The 100 cards contained a) a name, such as "David", which is the person represented by the card, b) an age relationship between two other people on two other cards, such as "Claire is 26 years older than Gwen", and c) a bonus that may be absolutely applied ("add George's age to your final total") or conditionally applied ("add +20 points for each person whose name begins with the letter "G").

The rules to the game were printed on the back of each card. Each of the 100 people had a unique age between 1 and 100.

The complete list of cards, and age key


Each player received one card. Players were told to trade and collect cards. By Saturday evening, they may hand in to me up to five cards, with no duplicates. Their score is the total of the ages of the people they hand in, plus any applicable bonus scores.

Top three scores win prizes.

The Good

I received several thank yous from happy players and non-players alike. Some began playing and then passed their cards on to others, but still enjoyed the idea. Some enjoyed watching others play.

One couple took the game very seriously and traded candy and chocolates for cards, amassing some 350 cards by Saturday night. They spent several hours trying to create perfect sets. He and she came in second and third place. A friend of theirs came in first.

The game, as usual, enhanced social interactivity, which was really its entire point.

Jon Theys helped clarify the bonus values and text, added a graphic, did all the production, and even wrote an Excel program that let me simply select the card names to find the total. Awesome.


I enjoyed creating the game. I was expecting that this game would be much simpler than the previous game, because there was only one type of puzzle, and only a hundred cards and ten copies of each card. I also figured that, by the time any one person had amassed 40 or 50 cards, the ages of all of them would be pretty much known, and that this list would propagate to any other interested players. All that would be left was physically obtaining the cards and calculating the maximum bonuses.

So I was slightly worried.

Turns out I should have run some computer generated runs. The couple who had amassed 350 cards only had 70 or so unique cards, but even from that could not figure out the exact ages of nearly anyone. This drove her entirely crazy. I realize that I made a mistake of not putting any base ages in; however, I did put in a few "X is times as old as Z", which should have acted as bases to help you find sane age values.

When I learned of her frustration, I realized that she was going to keep calculating until she had "solved" the game. I also immediately realized that this was simply not necessary. All that was required to do was take five cards and make your best educated guess. The more information you have, the better your chances of guessing well. If you can't figure out the entire table, at least you have a good idea as to whose ages are relatively higher and whose are relative lower.

And you know: this is even better. I thought it would be too easy, and it turned out that finding all the information was difficult. Difficult, but not necessary. The three people who won were the three people who had spent the most time making the best guesses that they could. And that's exactly how it should be.

The Bad

Unfortunately, fewer people that I hoped actually turned in any cards. This bothered me, of course. Then the complaints rolled in.

- Couldn't understand/find the rules

This from gamers who spent four days pouring over 40 page instruction manuals and went seeking any of the dozens of available game teachers to teach them how to play. For some reason, they couldn't understand a single sentence on the back of a card, or be bothered to ask an administrator what it meant.

I have no sympathy for you. What exactly do you expect in your game bag at a game convention from a game designer? A lottery ticket? You already got three of those. I can't stand lotteries, which is why I don't play games with dice. If I make a game, it's going to have something more than a random drawing. Don't like it, don't play it.

- Couldn't understand the strategy/Didn't know what to do

I'm nearly as unsympathetic to this one as to the previous one. Haven't you played Settlers of Catan? And you don't understand what trading is?

Maybe the rules were too short: "Trade and collect these cards." It seems I should have added more: "You may trade the cards, give the cards away, use them as ante for another game, give them or get them in exchange for candy, beg, borrow, or steal them. Just try to amass five good cards. To know if cards are good, you are going to have to trade information with other players or collect a crapload of cards. Good luck."

Honestly, I thought this was implicit in the rules. I guess others didn't think so. Next time, I will make this explicit.

- Only got one card

Continuing with the previous criticism, a number of people were in despair of playing because they only got one card; how were they supposed to get five? See my answer to the previous complaint.

I sympathize with this one a little more. Mischa explained it to me. It would have been better to give a bunch of cards and ask for a bunch of cards, like I did the first time. For several reasons. First, having multiple cards gives players a better idea of how the cards vary, and so what they can expect to find if they trade with others. Second, it is not so hard to get a few cards when everyone had several, while it is hard to get four more cards when everyone has only one. It didn't help (though it's slightly amusing) that Alex Dupres was discouraging other people from playing by scorning them if they only had one card and then happily taking it from them when they decided not to play. Heh. You did play; you just lost.

But lesson learned: next time, each player will get multiple cards.

- Couldn't solve the game

As I mentioned above, that's not a bug, it's a feature. You didn't have to solve the game to win. Getting clues and a general idea was enough to win. I sympathize with your OCD, but I'm laughing at you, too.

- Couldn't find Yehuda

Yeah, sorry about that, but all the admins knew that I would be away Friday afternoon until Saturday evening. Some of them didn't know that they could collect cards on my behalf; I'll ensure that that doesn't happen again next time.

For those of you who didn't know who I was, you just had to ask. The admins knew me, as did around 100 other people walking around. And I was the only one with a kippah on my head. Maybe I'll put my profile on the cards next time.

- Didn't know the prizes

I wish I had known them before, too. Putting them on the cards would have been a good incentive to play.

Future Plans

All the complaints are being taken into account, and my third version will hopefully build on the positive aspects of the first two. It will be back to a situation where you don't have to solve anything to make a best guess, and you will receive multiple cards. I'll add more explicit rules, a little about the prizes (if possible), and how to find me. I'll make sure the admins stand in for me when I'm not around on shabbat (or if I don't come to the con, I'll ensure that they know how to handle this). I may put up a box for submissions again, like Aldie did the first year.

And I will try to ensure that the game makes its way into the official con schedule listing, so as to give its presence, and the rules, wider exposure.

1 comment:

Alex Despres said...

I wasn't scornful, exactly, but I did use people's confusion/unwillingness-to-stop-for-2-minutes-and-read-the-back-of-the-card to my advantage when trading. I agree with Mischa that the "get one card and need 5" was a steep slope to climb. Get 3 and need 5 from the game couple of years back was far more successful because of the psychological perception. It's easier to increase your hand by less than 50% than to increase it 500%. It's also easier to let go of 1/3 of your cards than to give away 100% on a single go. More cards per player is a good solution.