Counting Kangaroos is a bluffing/deduction card game for 3-6 players. This is a discussion of the design process. The game is unfinished and shelved. Read the first draft rules here.
Original Design Goals: My intention was to create a simple card game that would incentivise players to try and outdo each other by stretching the truth, one-upmanship and outright lying. I also wanted to constrain myself by limiting the components to a single card deck of 54 cards or less.
The Negatives: A quick prototype and play test of Counting Kangaroos has shown that there are several problems:
- There is zero incentive for Children to tell the truth. If a Child is truthful, even if they are picked by the Parent, they only get second choice of the cards. In certain cases (such as there being a Zero-Kangaroo card in the hand) the Child would be actively harming themselves by being truthful.
- The Parent has very little information on which to base their choice. Their optimal Parent action is to pick a Child who is truthful, but there is no guarantee that any child has told the truth. In a low-stakes, casual game like this, there is unlikely to be any facial or behavioural cues to suggest when a Child is lying. The Parent’s choice is based on arbitrary judgement, or another non-game related factor, such as the reliability of the individual players at the table.
- The game rewards lying. That’s fine if it suits the theme, but is rewarding lying an ethical thing to do? Especially when this game could easily be played by children.
- Where is the source of emotional buy-in from players? There is not much to motivate players beyond simply winning.
The Positives: My goal to create a game using a single deck of 54 cards, and to focus on a single simple mechanic has been achieved. After multiple iterations of the steps in gameplay, I feel like I made significant refinements which improved the gameplay turn. Also, with an extroverted group of players, there is opportunity for fun interaction between children involving accusations and trash-talking, but the game itself doesn’t encourage or reward this in its current state.
Final Thoughts: My design goals were achieved, but Counting Kangaroos needs significant changes. The mechanics are functional, but they aren’t much fun, and the two options on the Child’s turn are not equally rewarded. Perhaps I also need more practice writing better design goals.