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Subject: A few variants to make the game fresh rss

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Craig Duncan
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Rat-a-Tat-Cat will always hold a special place in my heart, since it is the first real game that my young children and wife and I played together and all enjoyed (my youngest at the time was just four).

We had played Candyland and the like all together before finding Rat-a-Tat-Cat, and while my wife and I enjoyed making our kids happy by playing Candyland, etc., I can't say that we enjoyed the games themselves! Rat-a-Tat-Cat changed all that. It made me wonder what other games were out there, which led me to go online, which led me to BGG, which revolutionized our family game night!

We played Rat-a-Tat-Cat so much, though, in those early days that we burnt out on it. Perhaps your family's experience is similar. So I have devised a few variants to make the game seem a bit fresher! I hope you enjoy them.


Variant #1 -- The "Corners" Variant

Borrowing an idea from the public domain card game Golf (the game upon which Rat-a-Tat-Cat is based), you could do the following. Arrange the four cards in a 2 x 2 square rather than a row of 4. Any cards of the same number in the diagonal positions cancel each other out, and make zero. So for instance, if you have a 9 in the upper left and a 9 in the lower right, they cancel each other out and each counts as zero. Ditto with any other number, including power cards (power cards need not be the same power to cancel each other).

This would put a bit more emphasis on the memory element of the game.

Of course, you would need to develop a house rule about which two cards players get to peek at before the start of play. I would suggest the top row (i.e. the top two cards) or the bottom row. Letting people peek at the diagonals at the start might put someone too far ahead at the start, if he/she lucked out and was dealt a matching pair in those positions.


Variant #2 -- The "Superknock" Variant

Change the scoring system, so that in addition to scoring points for the cards in one's hand, the knocker gets a bonus of -10 points if, but only if, his/her hand is lower than all other players' hands. If the knocker's hand is NOT lower than all other players' hands (including if it is tied for lowest hand with another player), then the knocker gets a +10 point penalty. This introduces some added tension into the decision whether to knock. (Of course, you can adjust the bonus/penalty as you see fit, e.g. +/- 5 points instead of 10, or whatever.)


Variant #3 -- The "Target" Variant

A normal game of Rat-a-Tat is set up by placing the undealt cards in the middle of the table to form a draw pile, and then turning over the top card of the draw pile to begin a discard pile. According to the rules, if a power card is turned over as the first of the discard pile, it is buried back in the deck and a new card is turned over to start the discard pile.

In this variant, the exact same setup is performed, BUT the card turned over to begin the discard pile ALSO sets the target for the round. So for instance, if a 5 is turned over as the first card of the discard pile, then the target is 5. At the end of a hand, compute your score by subtracting the target number from the sum of your cards in your hand. Convert any negative number to a positive number. (So for instance, if the target is 5, a card total of 5 scores as 0, a card total of 4 or 6 scores as 1, a card total of 3 or 7 scores as 2, and so on.)

This has the virtue of heightening the arithmetic practice, since a simple rule of "the lower the card, the better" no longer holds true. This increased complexity could help breathe new life into the game if your kids have grown out of it a bit.

Also, here are some variants-of-a-variant:


Variant #3a

When the draw pile exhausted, the game rules tell you to shuffle the discard pile and then turn it over to begin a new draw pile. In variant #3a, shuffling the discard pile "resets" the target, so that the first card of the discard pile after the shuffle becomes the new target. Obviously, this could topple some well-laid plans!


Variant #3b


As in Variant #2 above, the knocker gets either a penalty or bonus as the case may be, depending on whether he/she is closest to the target. Also as in variant #2, in the case of a tie, a penalty is assigned. Note that in variant #3b, there are TWO ways to tie. E.g. if the target is 5 and you knock with a hand total of 4, you will tie with another player whose hand totals 4 AND with another player whose hand totals 6 (since both a 4 and 6 score as 1 when the target is 5).


Variant #3c

In the original variant #3 as explained above, the first card turned over from the draw pile to start the discard pile sets the target for the round. This is true regardless of whether or not the player to the dealer's left (i.e. the player who starts the play for the round) decides to pick up that first discard pile card and take it into his or her own hand. In variant #3c, by contrast, the card at the bottom of the discard pile at the end of the round, WHATEVER IT IS, sets the target. This means that if, say, the person to the dealer's left picks up the first discard pile card and then discards one of his/her own cards, then the newly discarded card sets the target (provided, of course, that THAT card is not likewise taken up by the NEXT player to play, and so on....)

Three comments on variant #3c:

** This variant gives some advantage to those closest to the deal; the further from the dealer's left you are, the more likely it is that the target will be locked in (as it will be once there are two cards in the discard pile) by the time that the turn-of-play comes around to you, and thus you will be unable to influence its value. So a group may wish to play that the game ends when each player has dealt twice (or some other number) rather than play that the game ends when one player breaks a 100. By requiring the same number of deals per player, no one has been asymmetrically disadvantaged.

** Variant #3c entails variant #3a above, namely, that a shuffling of the discard pile (once the draw pile is exhausted) resets the target.

** One advantage of variant #3c is that the target can be verified at the round's end. Without this variant, it may be that the first discard pile card, which set the target, was picked up and put in someone's hand. If players misremember this number, and hence disagree over the target value at the end of round, there is no concrete, objective proof of the actual target value. In variant #3c, by contrast, the target number can be verified at the round's end simply by checking the first card in the discard pile.

OK, that is enough variants for now. Reply to this post to let me know how they went for you!!



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Andrea Marino
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I'm impressed, Craig. Very good job!

About the target variant: the winning player of the round is the one with the lowest total (after subtracting the target number as you have explained) or the one with the total closest to the target number?

I really like people exchanging cards one from the other: "robbing" good cards is very fun! Have you ever tried to increase the frequency of this exchanges in some way?
 
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Craig Duncan
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Hi Andrea,

Regarding your question, I didn't envision the Target Variant needing an official winner each round. That is in keeping with the regular (i.e. non-variant) way of playing Rat-a-Tat-Cat. What matters in both the regular game and the variant is the overall game score (that is, the sum of the various rounds' scores). First player to 100 ends the game; whoever has the lowest total at that point wins. It's fine if there is a tie during a round or two.

That said, it would be easy to produce a round winner each round if that is desired. One way would be to use variant 3b, which combines the Target Variant and Superknock Variant. That way if the knocker ends in a tie with another player, the knocker gets a penalty, and the other player emerges with the lower of the two scores--and so is the winner of the round. (I suppose, though, that it could happen that the knocker has a higher score than two other players, and those two other players are tied for lowest score. In this case, there would not be a single winner for the round. You could think of the two players tied for first as joint winners. I can't imagine this would happen too often, though.)

A second way (this time without the Superknock Variant) to produce a round winner most of the time would be simply to say that if two people are equally distant from the target, but one person is high and the other low, then the lower score wins. So if the target is 5 and one person has 4 and the other 6, the person with 4 wins the round. Of course, if both players have 4 or both players have 6, then they are tied and there is no single winner. So this method does not always produce a round winner. But as I said above, this does not matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters is the total score at the end.

Regarding your wish to increase the card swapping... Hmmm... I'm not sure how to do that. I suppose one way would be to treat all the power cards as wild cards, which could be used for any of the power functions, at the player's choice. So a player could swap even if he/she uses a Peek card. A second way, I suppose, would be to allow a player to swap anytime (instead of drawing a card) with another player by doing the following: say whom he/she wishes to swap with, then announce his four card total, then turn over all four cards; if he/she announced the correct total, then the swap takes place, but if the total is wrong, then the other player gets to swap a card (or maybe two cards!) from the original announcer. I'm not sure how well that would work -- it might be worth a try, though. If it works well, it could become Variant 4, The "Flop and Swap" Variant (flop your cards on the table, then swap)!

Good luck!
 
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Geert Vinaskov
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cdunc123 wrote:
Variant #1 -- The "Corners" Variant

Borrowing an idea from the public domain card game Golf (the game upon which Rat-a-Tat-Cat is based), you could do the following. Arrange the four cards in a 2 x 2 square rather than a row of 4. Any cards of the same number in the diagonal positions cancel each other out, and make zero. So for instance, if you have a 9 in the upper left and a 9 in the lower right, they cancel each other out and each counts as zero. Ditto with any other number, including power cards (power cards need not be the same power to cancel each other).

This would put a bit more emphasis on the memory element of the game.

Of course, you would need to develop a house rule about which two cards players get to peek at before the start of play. I would suggest the top row (i.e. the top two cards) or the bottom row. Letting people peek at the diagonals at the start might put someone too far ahead at the start, if he/she lucked out and was dealt a matching pair in those positions.


This is great fun. thumbsup

I play with the normal setup instead of a 2x2 grid though. Thus setup cards as normal: ABCD, and if cards AB match, or CD match, they cancel eachother out. At the start of the game you still peak at cards A and D as normal. I also don't let red cards cancel eachother, but if the numbers form a pair after you swapped them for number cards, they still cancel eachother.
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