I recognized the importance of games as a child growing up in the rust belt city of Scranton, PA during the 1970s. Like any child, I loved toys, but games were special for one important reason, they brought the whole family together. Some of my favorite memories include playing classic board games and card games like Spades or Pinochle with my parents and grandparents.
When our family moved to New England in the 1980s, I was introduced to Dungeon & Dragons. It had an immediate impact on me, and I believe it had a profound influence on my imagination, and creative tendencies. It was truly an epiphany. D&D and its compatriots, Gamma World, Boot Hill, and Star Frontiers, followed me through college, until I settled down to have a family of my own. My first experience with “game design” was building campaigns and tweaking rules as a game master in these early TSR worlds.
I did not get to play games much as I began building a career and a family, but they still played a role. Gaining acceptance into any group, especially a new extended family, is something we all desire. I think the closeness I developed with my in-laws was built in large part, around the Canasta table.
I love all types of games and feel strongly that no style is better than any other, they all have their place in the right situation, but social card games bridge the gap between the “gamer” and “non-gamer” more than any other style of tabletop game. For my non-gaming friends and family, a heavier weight board game is not appropriate. And most of my gamer friends would not be interested in a game of Hearts or Spades when there are so many new, deeper games to try. Bridging this gap was at the heart of what I set out to accomplish with Moons, to create a game that could bring gamers and non-gamers together around a table with something they can both enjoy. Together.
So, here are the design points I incorporated into Moons to help accomplish my goal of bringing more “serious” gamers, and casual gamers together.
Theme: The moons of our solar system give the game a Sci-fi look that we gamers are familiar with, but it’s not a Sci-fi game, it is a science fact game. We have included the names of real moons in our solar system, and little factoids about each. Moons was built as a true trick-taking game, not an educational game, but the NASA imagery, real moon names and facts, give it the added benefit of being a true educational tool, which I hope will encourage parents and teachers to play the game with their kids.
Simple to Teach: At its heart, Moons is not much harder to teach than well-known trick-takers like Spades. In a nutshell it’s > Lead with a card > Other players must follow suit if able > High card wins the trick and a token > Low off-suit gets a token > Most tricks in a round gets a token > No tricks in a round gets a token > Play until all tokens are gone > Score based on sets of tokens collected
One Step Deeper: To appeal to gamers, there are some interesting mechanics incorporated in Moons that reward good tactical and strategic decisions without making it too difficult for non-gamers.
Some key ones include:
Tableau Building: Before the game begins, players remove 3 cards from their hand and build a tableau. Players are immediately tasked with determining the strength of their hand without complex bidding mechanics, and they have the option to “short suit” their hands to improve scoring possibilities in the round. Players earn tokens that score points at the end of the game by winning tricks, playing the lowest off-suit card in a trick, or winning the most tricks or winning no tricks in a round. The idea here is to give players the option, right from the start, to cull their hand to fit the best play style based on what they have been dealt. The counterweight to this short-suiting decision is the tokens players collect for winning a trick must match one of the suits they have placed in their tableau. For example, if you choose to get rid of your three Jovian moons to win more off-suit tokens, you will only win Jupiter tokens when you win a trick. It’s a simple, but meaty start to the game that ripples through the round.
Perfect Information, or not: Moons can be played with perfect information, meaning all players know what’s in the deck and can keep track of what has been played to improve their chances later in a round. However, variants that remove this are included for more unpredictable play if this is desired.
Set Collecting: The addition of a set collecting mechanic helps give this trick-taker a different feeling, and another level for players to consider without being difficult to comprehend. A set of 4 different tokens is worth the most, 3 or more of the same token is worth a bit less, and less than 3 of the same token are worth the least. Combine this with the fact that tokens are a limited resource, and players must really consider which tokens they need to acquire. This reverberates into your tableau building, and into your card play timing.
Social Interaction: The Asteroid cards in Moons serve a few purposes, but I feel driving social interaction is the best role they play. Each player begins with two Asteroid cards, but they will gain another every time they play an Asteroid card into a trick. Since acquiring these cards is random, great care was taken to make them fun, but not over powered. For true trick-taking fans, one benefit of these cards is to delay being forced to throw out a card you wish to retain. You can throw in an Asteroid card at any time, even if you can follow suit. Asteroid cards may also give you slightly better scoring for collecting a certain combination of tokens, allow you to trade a token you have earned with a token another player has earned, allow you to trade a card from your hand with a card in any player’s tableau, or provide protection by disallowing any player from trading a card or token with you. They add a bit of depth and some great tactical decisions to improve your position or to weaken an opponent. They also drive interaction and negotiation, which is something I personally love.
The core goal of Moons, from a design perspective, was to create a light to medium weight trick-taking game that can be pulled out in situations when gamers and casual card players find themselves at the table together. I believe with the help of Quick Simple Fun Games, Moons delivers on this goal, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed designing it!