It was a top-down design that started with the name: Sin Rummy. Around the time I came up with the name, a friend emailed me the list of Gandhi’s ‘social sins.’
A perfect match and also disturbingly relevant in the world we live in. I liked them because they weren’t about judgement - they were about introspection. And more importantly, they offered a lot of territory for interesting rules.
First - my design constraints: -It needed to be simple. -It needed to be self-contained in a pack of 56 cards, to be printed by Bicycle. -It had to work with ALL variants of Rummy.
After months of testing and balancing, I came up with a deck that fit all of the constraints by using a rule similar to how Planeswalker emblems work in Magic: the Gathering.
If you’re not familiar, the ‘emblem’ is a rules effect controlled by a single player. It exists outside the game and can’t be interacted with or destroyed. In general emblems are very powerful and completely change the axis of current game.
To accomplish this, I based Sin Rummy on a simple premise: before hands are dealt, each player randomly receives a ‘social sin’ card. This card changes the rules for that player for the entire round. Otherwise, the normal rules of Rummy are used. This was a really important element to me because it meant that there were no new rules to learn. Anyone who has played Rummy in the past can learn Sin Rummy in about 10 seconds.
Here are some examples of the cards in the game:
As you can see, the rules are printed on the actual cards in the deck. When a card isn't being used as an 'emblem,' it is played as it's normal value. So if you draw the King of Spades, it is played as the King of Spades.
For more advanced players, this is one more thing to consider and the strategies do adapt to deprioritize potential melds that are affected, and to open up lines of play where you might consider a riskier meld that your opponent doesn't expect.
For more casual players, having the cards out of the game is one more thing to keep track of, and a convenient reminder each turn to check the other players' social sins. In testing I found that casual players tend to need that reminder, because they kept track of their card but sometimes forgot what the opponent had.
This aspect also changes the scoring in interesting ways - on the whole it leads to scoring that is slightly more balanced - which is a good thing because the social sin cards can be quite powerful. Very rarely they can lead to blowouts, but those in general are slightly mitigated by having less face cards in the deck.
I explored several options including having the social sin cards be out of the deck entirely, or letting them be considered 'in play.' Went pretty deep on both of those but ultimately decided to stick with the cards included in the deck because it gave the game a certain elegance. Versions where the social sin card was 'in play' ended up needed several additional rules so I decided to scrap it.
Here's an example of cards that operate different depending on which version of Rummy you know:
In Rummy 500, you are trying to amass as many points as possible by laying melds down on the table. In Gin Rummy, you are trying to sculpt a hand with the lowest amount of points possible. This means that the social sins require a different strategy depending on the version you play - but still remain interesting and balanced either way.
It was really difficult finding mechanics that worked with all versions, because there are a limited number of zones to work with, and the way the points are scored means you have to find mechanics that aren't strictly point-based, but instead lead to shifts in the way that the game is played. To do that and still keep things balanced required a ton of reps to get dialed in.
There is a lot more over on the Kickstarter page - on the whole I'm really happy with how it came out. I've played thousands of hands and it still feels really fun. That's testament to the skill of the playtesters who put in a lot of hours to make sure the game was balanced.