Tuesday, April 13, 2004

SWG: Pazaak

I finally broke down and paid the bucks for Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). It turns out to be such a good game that I'd like to suggest that SWG implement the KOTOR minigame Pazaak as quickly as possible. This minigame is just too much fun, too good a fit into the Star Wars universe, and too useful as a new SWG feature. (For example, it would help prove that "content" doesn't just mean "dungeons." Ahem.)

For those who haven't yet played KOTOR, this is a card game between two players. The general rules for Pazaak are roughly as follows:

  • cards in the standard deck are numbered 1 through 10

  • the deck can be considered infinite (there are always more cards)

  • players agree to wager some amount of cash before a match begins

  • matches consist of three sets

  • to play a set:

    • players begin taking turns turning over one deck card each

    • the value of a deck card turned over is added to that player's point total

    • (for SWG, the player who goes first in a set should be randomly selected)

    • each player may optionally play a private "hand card" (added to that player's total)

    • each player starts a match with four hand cards from a personal side deck

    • when a hand card is played, it is gone for the remainder of the match

    • after taking a deck card (and possibly a hand card), each player must choose to:

      • "end turn" (agree to take another deck card next turn)

      • "stand" (take no more deck or hand cards for the rest of the set)

    • if a player ever has 20 points showing, he automatically stands

    • players continue taking turns until one of the following happens:

      • one player stands or ends a turn with 21 or more points

        • the other player wins the set

      • both players stand

        • the player with more points showing wins the set

        • if both players are tied, another set is started and played

  • the first player to win three sets wins the match and play ends
This by itself would be interesting, but there are a couple of clever twists.

First of all, you carry your own personal Pazaak cards as inventory items. When a Pazaak match starts, you choose ten of your personal cards for a side deck, out of which four cards are randomly chosen as your hand cards (which the other player can't see). When you start playing KOTOR you have ten personal cards to choose from -- 2 each of cards valued at 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. So you start with all ten of these cards as your side deck, out of which the game might randomly choose 1, 3, 3, and 4 as hand cards for use during a match.

The second twist (which really gives Pazaak its flavor) is that you can add new personal cards to your inventory that have negative numbers. Having a hand card with negative points means that if you go over 20 you can play one of these negative cards and go back to 20 or less, allowing you to stay in the game.

For example, let's say I've got a hand card of -2. I'm currently showing 14 points, and I turn over a deck card. It's an eight, which gives me a total of 22 points. If I stand now, the other player will win because I've got 21 or more points showing. Instead, I additionally play my -2 hand card -- this brings my total back down to 20, allowing me to stay in the set (and possibly win it).

Even better than negative cards are some cards which let you choose whether their numeric value is positive or negative when you play it. In this way a card that's plus-or-minus-2 could get you to 20 whether you have 18 or 22 showing. Part of your goal in being a Pazaak player is to build a side deck consisting of nothing but plus/minus cards.

BUT... you don't start KOTOR with these negative or plus/minus cards -- you have to find these cards to add them to your inventory. Then you can gradually replace the cards in your starting side with these improved cards. They turn up as loot, or in various containers, or can be bought from various vendors.

The tactics of Pazaak thus lie in knowing:

  • which cards to choose for the ten in your side deck

  • when to stand vs. when to turn over another card

  • when to play one of the four cards in your private deck
It seems to me that this mini-game would make an excellent addition to SWG. It's already part of the Star Wars canon; it's already part of the LucasArts franchise (so no ownership issues); it would be another way for players to interact; it could move large quantities of money around (especially if no hard limit was set on wagers ;-); and Pazaak cards would make great loot as long as they remained sufficiently rare.

[2008/05/16: If a new MMORPG set in the KOTOR era of the Star Wars universe is really being made by LucasArts and BioWare, then having Pazaak as a minigame in that MMORPG makes even more sense, considering it was BioWare who created Pazaak for KOTOR!]