A Game with only 18 Cards

Designing a card game with only 18 cards was daunting and I went through a lot of ideas. I knew from the outset I wanted to create something fun and social, that could be pulled out at social gatherings and parties.

Drinking games like ‘Ring of Fire” were a heavy influence while I was conceptualising my idea. In ring of fire, player take turns to pick a card, each card has a specific rule or action attached that acts as a sort of minigame or has a consequence such as taking a sip of your drink.

Originally I was thinking along the lines of alchemy, an area that has relation to mixing ingredients that would fit in well with mixing drinks. However the more I tried to come up with a suitable idea, the more I realised it was a poor fit for what I was trying to do.

I have instead looked at games of chance like poker and black jack. This avenue of thought eventually led me to roullette and, more specifically, Russian roullette.

Russion roullette is the quintessential game of chance, with players risking their lives to play. Players load a bullet into a gun and spin the chamber, then hold the gun to their head and pull the trigger. It’s a high stakes concept that is universally known, so I started wondering how I would turn this into a card game.


When coming up with a way of turning russian roullette into a social card game, I started by looking at how the concept of a revolver would work with cards. This would be the core mechanic in my game. I decided on having six cards as ‘gun’ cards. Five would represent the empty chambers, while the sixth one would represent the bullet.

Players shuffle the gun cards at the start of each round, and then place them in a line on the table. They player who’s round it is can then turn over the cards to simulate pulling the trigger on a gun. They start out with a 1/6 chance of not pulling the bullet, but each successive card turn increases their odds of getting the bullet card.

With the core mechanic in place, I started thinking about how to use the remaining twelve cards to implement a victory condition and some kind of consequence for drawing the bullet card.

I decided to denote the remaining cards as ‘tokens’. These would be the thing that players are competing for. I came up with a couple of different systems to utilise these tokens.

My original plan was to split the token cards between each player and then have them ‘buy’ their gun cards in each round, putting their cards into some kind of pot in the middle. Drawing the bullet card meant you collect the pot in the middle. The ultimate goal would be to lose all the token cards in your hand.

Alternatively the tokens could be in a pile in the middle, and players could be competing to collect the most. On drawing a bullet card from the gun cards, the player ‘dies’ and then has to place all their token cards back.

In both cases players could either play it safe, or be encouraged to go for a high risk, high reward strategy. In both variation, in order to keep it fair, I decided to create the rule that players can skip their turn without having to draw a gun card. They would not be able to collect any tokens, but they would also not feel cheated by having to draw gun cards and getting the bullet as the first card, reducing their control and asking them to rely on straight chance.


In testing players prefered the mechanic where each successful card draw allowed them to take a card from the pot in the middle. This seemed to change the psychology of how players were player and encouraged players to draw more often.

When players started out with cards they stood to lose, their actions were far more cautious and the game was a lot slower. When trying to pick up token cards from the pot, there is the fear that if you don’t take risk, another player might and take all the cards themselves. In the late game when players take a lot of cards, you start seeing them play far more cautiously, and even the most cautious player still has a 1/6 chance to loose on the first card they pull, raising the stakes significantly the close they get to winning.

I decided to add in the player ability to shuffle their cards again once at the start of their turn, so that they are then completely responsible for the chance outcome. This helped eleviate any feelings of being cheated by the game, as they were in full control if they had a feeling that they did not like the initial shuffle.


I think that core gameplay loop of this game can be incredibly fun in a multiplayer scenario. It tests a players nerves against those of their friends, and could be used in a drinking similar to my original goal.

Though I designed the game to use specially made cards, the game can actually be played with any standard deck of cards. Using a standard deck you could have a joker as the bullet card, and any five sequentially numbered cards as the remaining gun cards. Tokens could be from the remaining card deck.

Though I created the game to use a pot of 12 cards, you could theoretically increase or decrease the number of cards in the pot to scale the game dependant on numbers of players.

In terms of where I could take this game, I think it would lend itself well to a casual online multiplayer game. The gameplay loop and scoring adds a level of competitive play to a game that isn’t initially designed to have scoring applied to it, and added art, graphics and sound would definitely elevate the experience!

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