It’s a remarkable thing to program a unique card game, complete with its own set of rules and parameters, inside of a video game that you’re also designing. While most might skip the time it takes to learn a game within a game, the fact that it exists proves that the developers have faith in their work. The attention to detail also lends some believability to a universe and lets you interact with NPCs without having the objective of murdering them.
As an experiment, I recreated three of my favorite video game card games to see how well they work in the real world. Instead of pixilated images, I’ve got real cards. Instead of irrationally good or outrageously bad AI opponents, I’ve got friends that put up with me being this painfully nerdy. Here’s a breakdown of which games work in the real world, and which ones aren’t worth the ante.
Game: Fable II
Most console RPG fans will remember the anticipation for a sequel to the Fable series, especially with all the items Moleuynaux promised. Of course, we didn’t get everything we expected, but the wait for the game’s arrival was taken up with the precursor pack of Pub Games. The collection included a preview series of card and roulette games that would be available in the full release. The most popular was the inventive Fortune’s Tower.
Players put down bets to test their luck against laying out a series of numbered playing cards in ever expanding rows. If any card touches a duplicate from the previous row, you lose the row and your bet. If they managed to add up to over 15, you could back out a win a meager stack of chips. But, if you pushed your luck to the eighth row, you won the jackpot.
While it sounds like all blind luck, the game is immensely addicting and that draw is not lost in the real world. Thanks to enthusiastic fan Shawn Baxter, you can print out full resolution copies of the cards for your own house. We took turns putting in bets and playing, but the advantage of real cards is the ability to change the rules. We eventually created a new game by building two separate towers from the same gate card and invented Double Fortune’s Tower!
Real World Fun Value: Well worth the effort
Game: Knights of the Old Republic
You know the Millenium Falcon? Han Solo’s ship that ran the… Well, you know the rest. That ship wasn’t always Han’s, you know. He won it from Lando Calrissian in a little game called Pazaak. It took us until 2003 and a game called Knights of the Old Republic for the rest of us to finally get to play it.
Ultimately, Pazaak is two-player competitive Blackjack. Both players alternate drawing numbered cards, trying to get close to 20 without going over. The trick to the game is that galactic adventurers are able to bring their own modifier cards from a custom-made deck. The ultimate goal of the game, of course, is to win enough credits to buy that new blaster rifle.
In person, Pazaak has the look and feel that you hope. You’ll feel as if you can hear the Max Rebo Band playing in the distance as you deal out the cards. Like Fortune’s Tower, you can even get a deck of sharp looking cards to fit the ascetic. Unfortunately, without the aid of a computerized system to sort cards and do the math, the game tends to become a chore as you play more than once.
Since games of Pazaak are often deadlocked, with players reshuffling and dealing out new cards for a new round, a tedium eventually sets in when you’re the one doing all the work. Not to mention the number of cards necessary is a little staggering. As much as I wanted it to work, Pazaak is a passing amusement that may not be worth the effort to recreate.
Real World Fun Value: Save it for the Cantina
Game: Fallout: New Vegas
There are two kinds of Fallout: New Vegas players: those that know how to play Caravan, and those that hate free money. Even in the barren apocalypse, being a card shark can have its advantages.
The rules to Caravan would require far more than a paragraph to explain, but the mechanics involve nothing more than basic playing cards. This means that you can recreate it with the most minimal of effort. In fact, being a game for scavengers, your own deck can be any semblance of cards you can get your hands on. The more motley the assortment, the better.
Carvan is a game most rooted in reality already. Once you can get a handle on the rules and share them with a friend, games are extremely easy to settle into and create. In fact, the fun of constructing your own deck beforehand really makes it a variable experience. Provided you enjoyed stand the digital version, or you’re a fan of the Fallout series in general, give this one a shot.
Real World Fun Value: Grab a Cola and settle in
There’s a common strand between all these games that makes them so unique, and it’s a benefit for all those hoping to recreate these experiences without all the work. All three games base their system on numbers ranging 1-10 or less. Pazaak and Fortune’s Tower require some special non-numbered cards. Perhaps you’re already ahead of me on this.
Each and every one of these games can be played with basic playing cards. You’ll need more than a single deck, of course, and in the case of Caravan, a few more. But, as long as you separate out the right balance of numbers and make a decision about what each face card means, two or three basic poker decks can recreate the best card games video games have to offer.
While this whole experiment may like an unnecessary pursuit into undue fandom, it showcases how good video game universes can be realistically written, even if they’re based entirely in fantasy. While we can’t exactly recreate something like Blitzball, the fact that players can engage in the same casino and Cantina activities as fictional characters makes even imaginary scenarios seem tangible.
If you’re a fan, there’s no shame it enjoying those extra bits of work developers made. Especially since each and every game can be made into a drinking game. So, if you have the motivation and a decent printer, you can gather your friends around for a drinking game version of Fortune’s Tower or reminisce about Star Wars Galaxies with a relaxing game of Pazaak.