The whole idea of this game came to me when I saw a statue of the three wise monkeys (sanzaru in japanese). These statues represent the japanese saying of "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil". I played with this idea for a while and came up with a trick taking game circa 2007 with character personalities that were changing every turn. It involved the 3 monkey characters limiting what players could play on their turn. If they had to play their color they were penalized. There was also 2 neutral monkeys (Could play what they wanted but penalized depending if they lost the trick (Evil) or won the trick (Angel)). Whatever the color lead was, the winner of the trick was the player with the highest value (1-72, no repeats). That iteration of the game played well except that in the end players had no choice whatsoever and could receive lots of minus points without being able to do anything about it. After those tests, I shelved the game for roughly 4 years, coming back to it once in a while but not knowing what to do about it.
In December of 2010, I had the idea of playing with one of the constant of trick taking game. i.e. equal number of cards for each player (which means that everybody empty his hand at the same time). I know Tichu and the like could be considered a type of trick taking game where the goal is to finish the first. What I intended here is somewhat the opposite. Not wanting to finish first. I’ve implemented that through the characters. Each basic character personality, now have the option to pass should their color be lead even if they have a card of another color (that means this player will have more cards than the other). The neutral characters also change the number of cards in hand compared to others. Evil lets a player play 2 cards and sum them to determine the winner of the trick (Less cards in hand than the others). The Angel lets a player draw a card from the draw pile but only if he loses the trick (More cards in hand than the others). Again, the winner of a trick is the player with the highest value regardless of the color played. Whenever a player finishes his hand, the round ends. Points are awarded for cards won in a trick and cards left in hand. This iteration lets player have much more interesting decision to make on how to manage their hand. I decided to limit the material to one full deck of cards (54), so cards are numbered from 1-48 and there is 6 characters allowing for 3-5 players.
A PNP contest was organized with the limitation that all the materials must fit on one full sheet of label paper. I couldn’t fit the 54 cards as is on the full sheet, so I’ve decided to submit the game by changing the basic format. We were not dealing with cards anymore, but tiles. Tiles are a bit small, but totally playable using Scrabble/Rummy holders.
The game was initially called "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" but because it is a mouthful and I didn't like the sound of it in French I've decided to change it to Sanzaru.
Another PNP contest was organized and this time the game needed to be made of cards (6 sheets of it). That is the perfect number, because I usually fit 9 cards per sheet leading to my 54 cards needed. So back to cards we were and I managed to make a graphics overhaul and I'm pretty happy about the results. I ordered a copy from ArtsCow and look forward to see the end result.
Again this game was inspired by an object. In this case, it was a Chinese take-out box. I wanted a game that would benefit from being packaged in one of those boxes. What better theme would fit in a Chinese take-out box than players eating in a restaurant serving Chinese meals. I wanted to use Chinese characters in the game. I though of changing the meaning of a character based on what the majority though it meant (simulating misunderstanding a Chinese menu and ordering without really knowing what you are ordering). So the basics for the game were set. Again I had a first iteration that didn’t quite work circa 2006. I shelved it and got back to it in 2008 and quickly got an idea to make it work. Include a memory aspect similar to Mamma Mia! (one of my favourite game). A week later I had a prototype that hasn’t change much since then.
In the game, there are 5 different meal types (Chicken, Beef, Fish, Lamb and Veggies) each associated to 2 different Chinese characters (let’s call them A, B, C, D, E for clarity to the non-Chinese speaking people like me). So Chicken could be represented by A or B. Beef by B or C. Fish by C or D. Lamb by D or E and Veggies by E or A. What the character will mean depends on the relative majority of that meal type compared to the other meal type sharing that character in a common pool of cards. For example, if there are more Chicken cards than Beef cards, B will mean Chicken.
So in a first phase, cards are set in the middle and each type of meal is counted (to memorize it). Then each player must add 1-3 cards to the pile keeping a maximum of 1 card hidden. When everybody has done that, they must place 1-3 Order cards that they think will be right (More Chicken than Beef). If they are right, they get points. The more Order cards you try, the more points you can get.
Each player has a Tofu card that they can play instead of a Meal card. Once everybody has revealed their cards, they can decide which type of meals it will be.
This game has been submitted in 2008 with 110 cards (50 Meal cards, 50 Order cards, 5 Tofu and 5 Summary of rules). I was pretty happy out it turned out and had put that in my very thin pile of completed design.
In 2010, I talked to Bruno Cathala about this game at a gaming convention, he suggested that reducing the number of cards to 54 would greatly increase my chance of being edited because editors could keep the production cost and would be more likely to take a chance on the game. At first I didn’t see how I could do that and kind of gave up on this game ever being published (Games with a memory aspect are not popular). What Bruno said to me stayed in my head for a few months, and recently I finally came up with an idea on just how to do this.
In the original game, each player had a set of the 10 possible Order cards and a Tofu cards. There was a common draw pile of Meal cards. The idea is to remove ownership of the Order and Tofu cards and to put 50 Order cards on one side of the cards and 50 Meal (I had to remove 5 Meal cards to be able to use the 5 Tofu cards) on the other side. There is now only 4 Summary of rule cards, but I think 2 players can easily share one. A common draw pile is formed with half the card with their Order side up and the other half with their Meal side up. The cards are shuffled. When player draw a card, they are not allowed to switch its side. Apart from that, the game plays like the 2008 version. I’m at the point of testing this one out. Some details need to be worked out to ensure a player is not stuck with only cards of one type.
The idea for this one comes from invigilating an exam in circa 2004. I was walking between the desk to watch and answer questions if any. That gave me an idea for a game mechanic that I think is pretty novel even to this day and is the basis for the game. Players try to cheat to get the better mark possible, but they have to watch out for the teacher roaming. The mechanic allows for player to predict the movement of an automated Teacher based on what happened previously. The first iteration had some problem but was fairly successful at a designer competition in France (Boulogne Billancourt). It was one of the 19 finalists out of ~160 games. Based on inputs from that contest and the many playtests I had, I changed the game to make it a bit more of a gamer's game. I even made up two other "skin" for the game: A pirate game and a Spy game. All 3 have been submitted here. However, by doing so, I kind of lost something that made the game the way I wanted it. I was stuck and didn't see how to fix it. Again, another was shelved waiting for more inspiration.
Student Theme (Exam 101):
Spy Theme (The Lair of Dr. Uptonogood):
Pirates Theme (Shiver Me Timbers):
Recently, I've decided to give it another shot and came up with something that might work. I simplified the game greatly and I was happy about the only playtest I had so far. Will explore that more in the near future.