Game Design #4: Out the Bathroom Window
Introduction: Out the Bathroom Window is not a game for the cautious optimist. Every play you make has the potential to backfire right then and there if you’re not very careful. Players play cards on their opponents hoping to shift the weight of their hands away, but watch out! Play the wrong card and a crafty player will sneak a huge card escape right under your nose.
Players: 2-4 or 4-8
- 2-4 players: one deck of standard playing cards.
- 4-8 players: two identical decks shuffled together.
Setting Up: Shuffle well and deal all cards into equal hands per player. Excess cards are set aside. Play begins with the oldest player and proceeds to the left.
How to Play: On their turn, each player chooses one card from their hand and plays it on another player of their choice–this is called a knock, or knocking on the player’s door. When presented with a knock, the targeted player must answer the door and either surrender or attempt an escape:
- Surrender: the targeted player accepts the knocking card into their hand and the knocking player’s turn is ended. Players must do this if they are unable to play an answer card (see below), but they may always surrender voluntarily if they so choose.
- Escape: There are two types of escapes:
- Simple Escape: The player holds a card that pairs the knocking card, called an answer card. When played, the knock and answer pair is collected and removed from play, and the turn ends.
- Out the Bathroom Window: The targeted player holds an answer card as well as two or more cards that form a straight to that card. In the event the player can form a straight to the answer card, they may sneak those cards “out the bathroom window” before playing the answer card. The escape straight is played one card at a time concluding with the answer card; the entire escape is then collected with the knocking card and removed from play, and the turn ends.
For example: A player knocks with a 3, and the targeted player holds 3-4-5-6 in their hand. They declare an escape “out the bathroom window,” lay down the cards in order from 6 to 3, then collect all the played cards and remove them from the game.
Winning the Game: The first player to run out of cards wins. Ties may exist in such situations where two players are able to go out on the same turn.
Next: Designing “Out the Bathroom Window”
This game was a long time coming. I hit a creative dry spell over Christmas and missed the 23rd, and I almost missed this Sunday as well. I was toying with an idea from an old board game I remember from family vacations in Vermont, called Huggermugger. The object of the game is to discover a secret word, hidden behind six dials within a much larger dial that has more than ninety secret words printed inside it. The game is a simple English skill game–spelling, defining, unscrambling anagrams, finishing obscure idioms, etc. But rather than use mere points to denote the winner, it uses this convoluted dial thingy and a secret word. So, I decided to try to make a new game with the same end result–”uncover a common secret, piece by piece.”
This left me in a dilemma. I had previously been designing only for dice, as they are simple and versatile and well-suited to “microgames” such as these. I thought about having each player roll and record a number in secret and then tried to build a system around uncovering the other players’ secret numbers, but I couldn’t make it work. Either the discovery was too sudden and the secret was revealed to all players more or less on the same turn, or the limited output of a standard die did not support enough randomness.
Thus, I started thinking about playing cards. The dynamics of randomness in a 52-card shuffle are very different from dice, and with 52 unique possibilities for secret cards, I could guarantee a huge number of possible games. But with hundreds of card game well-known to the vast majority of people, gamers and non-gamers alike, I found I had traded one dilemma for another. Cards were not necessarily better at a formal, abstract representation of “discreet inquiry,” and the incredible wealth of cards still shared a tiny number of common mechanics–a predisposition that proved a tremendous mental block in trying to develop innovative cardplay. After much frustration, I found I could not make my secrecy mechanic work with cards, either. Not yet, anyway.
Then, inspired by a post on Brenda’s blog about a new microgame by my fellow GDC Scholar, Scott Jon Siegel, I changed my kernel–”take a common mechanic and turn it on its head.” Instead of playing to improve their own hands, what if players played exclusively on their opponents’ hands? I toyed with a number of different systems but could not break away from the “traditional” cardplay mechanics. Finally, I resigned to live to fight another day and simply picked a concept to build a tight, simple game. Players play on each other, unloading their own cards only when the right one lands on their doorstep. A recognizable premise was added, and “Out the Bathroom Window” was born–an “e pluribus unum” game design