Thinking Out Loud about Game Design

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Exploring Suits in Card Games

Niko Lepka
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Board Game Designer
SirenRPG Designer
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Note: This is a bit of a meta-exploration of the concept of suits. As such it bends the terminology a bit.

Today it just sorta dawned on me: a standard French-suited 52 card deck technically has two suits:
- Shapes
- Numbers

The suit of Shapes has your familiar Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds; while the suit of numbers has the ranks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A.

The interesting thing about this view of "suitness" is that it's only a "true suit" if it's a cross-suit, i.e. a suit that crosses over another one.

This view also means 's use of numbers as trumps makes sense, as numbers are just another suit.

In our example with the French-suited deck, the 5 card (as an example) exists in four different variants: one for each suit.
Similarly one can say that "the Heart card" exists in 13 different variants: one for each number.

This view of suits also re-classifies a number specialised decks:
- Le Truc/TRUT is single-suited (numbers only)
- Pairs is also single-suited (numbers only)
- The Decktet is triple-suited (rather than double-suited)
- SCOUT is double-suited (each half has a different number).

Let's talk about the Decktet for a moment.
The Decktet while only having two different kinds of suits is still triple-suited, since one of the criteria was for the suits to cross over each-other in some capacity.
Going by this logic, one could easily construct a deck, similar to the Decktet, but devoid of numbers, consisting of all 36 combinations of the six available shapes: Moons, Suns, Waves, Leaves, Wyrms, and Knots.
In fact. I imagine this would lead to a pretty decently serviceable deck in and of itself, usable for a number of games.

As alluded to, the SCOUT deck does something similar. It has no "suits" in the traditional sense, but instead has one number on one half of the card, and another number on the other half. In that sense, it is similar to Dominoes. It is not unreasonable to then use the top "suit" as the rank, and the bottom "suit" as the suit, and thus create games which make use of this as a central mechanic.
Conveyor Rummy is meant to be an exploration of this idea.

This also got me thinking: how could you have a third "suit" type on a standard French deck?
Most of these have -- in addition to numbers and shapes -- the colours red and black.
I would however argue that these aren't quite suits, since they don't cross over as much. Sure, two of the shapes are red, and two of them are black; but what's to stop a card maker to have a deck with black diamonds and hearts, and red clubs and spades?
Adding these cards in would not only double the number of available cards, but also add a third grouping: colour.
- 13 numbers
- 4 shapes
- 2 colours
- 52 red cards
- 52 black cards
- 26 clubs (repeat for each shape)
- 8 kings (repeat for each rank)

The only decks I've seen do something similar is Nestor's Mystique Deck, and the SET deck; though it does this with six ranks, four shapes, and three colours.

Score Values
This brings an important question: How many suits do Scrabble tiles have? Going by our earlier classification the two "suits" it possesses (numbers and letters) do "cross over" in that different 1 tiles can have different letters, but they don't do so evenly (though to be fair, neither does the Decktet), but more importantly it's asymmetric.
All Ws have the same numeric value, all Es have the same numeric value, etc.

Ultimately these are just score values. The Mü deck does this as well, where each card has between 0 and 2 triangles printed.
Wibbell++ too has numbers printed on each card, which (from my understanding) is also meant to be point values, rather than suits or ranks, though I haven't played around with those cards enough to have any proper opinion on the matter (or how the borders and letters relate to the discussion at hand).

There wasn't really any point to this ramble, other than to perhaps explore the world of what is or isn't considered suits.

It would be interesting to hear from the community at large, what your thoughts are on this matter.
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