In my copious spare time, I’ve been reading up on old games. Some of them, really old games. I’ve become increasingly interested in card and board games from the 13th century through the 18th century. I know that’s a pretty wide historical swath, but in that 500 year span of time, there weren’t any Catans to urge the hobby forward as rapidly as it’s been going in the last four or five decades. While there are an interesting variety of games out there, on that really caught my eye is a game called Poch, Le Poch, or Pochspiel depending on where in the hell you’re playing it. If you’re curious, here’s a great page with very readable details about the game. I’ve been tweaking the rules just a bit on this, and trying to find a suitable theme to pop on there. Here’s where I’m going to take a page from Daniel Solis and bring this entire game, the theme and anything else about it into the public eye to open it up for discussion.
Now here’s where I may lose some readers, so I’m going to ask you for a tad of patience and to hear me out when I tell you that the changes I’ve made to these elder rules involve some elder gods. Mainly those who exist in the public domain under the guise of Cthulhu.
Yes, yes I know. It’s been done before. A lot. Why then am I choosing to go with this particular mythos? Several reasons actually. First, it’s in the public domain which makes licensing a real breeze. Second, it’s not really about Cthulhu or the Lovecraftian mythos so much as it’s about those other creatures of the wide and bleak universe who just sort of hang around the elder gods, looking for a good time and maybe every once and a while a new dimension to hang out in. That’s why I’m calling it
A Little Bit of Evil (working title)
While I like 95% of the basic game Poch, the board and theme (consisting of wood, and playing cards) are about as interesting as, well a piece of wood and a deck of cards. There were also a few minor mechanical things I wanted to work out to help move the game along slightly faster. Here then, is the blog pitch (17% longer than an elevator pitch).
The Elder Gods have returned! They are gathering followers to them in vast hoards as they compete with what few resources the Earth has left to fight such occult happenings. With followers comes power, and with power comes more followers! Like a vast reactor, these hefty beings of chthonic evil are filling up on human fuel!
You sort of tagged along with them.
You are the chthonic peanut gallery. The last little bits of the everliving evil that condensed on the great beings like sweat on a glass of iced tea.
On a level of universe shattering evil, you’re roughly a 1 on a scale of 1-10. Yeah, you live forever. Sure you’re evil but in a laid-back, I’ll get around to the evil when I’m done toying with this pocket universe kind of way.
Now that the Elder Beings have returned, and you belatedly realized that the worship of those humans will be the fuel that allows you to exist in this untapped new universe, it’s time to get into gear. There are only 120 of those squishy little suckers left unclaimed, so it’s every godling for themselves!
If you’d like to skip all the crunchy bits and my ramblings about this game and just give it a spin, you can get a print and play version (3rd beta edition) here or at the bottom of this post.. You’ll just need a deck of cards and $1.20 in pennies. EDIT: Yes, suit/suite – this has been fixed in the forthcoming beta 4 release! ;)
The game comes equipped with 32 cards, a playing board consisting of 9 spaces, and 120 soul trackers (pennies, glass beads, jelly beans, etc.). There’s some bidding, a bit of set collection and also a bit of bluffing involed. Each turn involves all of the players, and takes place over three rounds. You’ll need 3-6 players, about 45 minutes and you should probably be at least 12 years old, give or take.
First, a dealer is chosen at random. They take the 32 cards and shuffle the heck out of them. While they’re doing this, the other players distribute the 120 human pawns (chits, chips, beads) amongst themselves, and possibly laugh maniacally. Each player gets an equal amount, so any extra pawns go into the Pawns space on the board.
The dealer then deals all of the cards but one. This card determines the ruling suite for this turn. Now each player has to ante up a few human pawns. You can’t get ’em to worship you unless you put them in the right mindset, am I right? Each player takes 8 of their pawns, and places them in every space on the board except the Pawns space.
Next, comes three game phases. The Gathering, The Not So Great Ritual and the Building phase.
The Gathering: Here’s where we determine who gets what pawns. Every player looks at their hand. If they have cards from the ruling suite (say spades in this beta edition) they get to claim any pawns in the corresponding board space. Going around the board from the player to the left of the dealer back to the dealer, each player takes their pawns. If I had the Queen of Spades and a King of Spades in my hand, I take the pawns from those board spaces (above they’re the Wonderfully Wicked Alter (queen) and the Pleasingly Evil Temple (king). I’m also in luck because I get any pawns in the Ritual Space (king + queen).
Any pawns not claimed remain in their appropriate board spaces until they are claimed or the game ends.
The Not So Great Ritual: Here’s where you convert your pawns into honest to god (that’s you) worshippers! Players make up to two bets based on the cards they have in their hands (which, if other players were paying attention during The Gathering, they may have some idea who has what). Betting goes around the table clockwise until everyone has had a chance to bet at least twice, or until everyone passes. Pawns bet in this way are placed into the Pawns space on the board.
Once the betting is done, players reveal their cards and whoever has the best combination, cleans up on the pawns by attracting these measly humans to their divine(ish) presence!
Building: In this last phase, each player takes their newly converted pawns and puts ’em to work building temples, occult devices and whatnot to better attract even more pawns. Again players ante up a pawn from their pool and place it in the Pawns space on the board.
The player who won The Not So Great Ritual phase now plays a card from their hand. Whoever holds the next higher card from this same suite then plays that card. In this phase of the turn, the Sufficiently Musty Tome can be worth either 11 or 1, as determined by the player who plays it.
Play continues until the point is reached where no one has the next card because it has either already been played, or is the face up Suite card. The person who has played the last and highest card, then discards the pile of played cards and begins again, playing any card from their hand. This continues until a player runs out of cards. The first player to run out of cards takes all the remaining tokens in the Pawns space, and each player must also pay them 1 token for every card they have left in their hands.
That’s the end of the first turn. Play continues until the first player can no longer supply a pawn in any of the three phases. At that point, the game is over, all players count up their pawns and the player who’s got the most, wins! Want to take a look a the third beta edition, which has much more robust rules descriptions and a printable board? Here you go!
Here’s what’s great about this game if you’re perhaps a publisher with an eye on it.
- As a currently unpublished board game designer, I’m cheap.
- The game is a lot of fun!
- A good mix of skill and bluffing based mechanics, with a slight bit of randomness supplied by the cards.
- The rules work – 500 years of play testing, and then about six months of double checking my tweaks.
- 45 minutes for a six player game! Holy filler game Batman!
- Cthulhu – no licensing, plenty of interest, lots of tentacles.
- Fairly low production cost. 32 cards, 120 chits, relatively small cardboard playing board.