Game Design #37: Scrub
Introduction: Designed in honor of the brilliance and success of the newly-released independent game Braid, a game about snap time reversal and the value — and danger — of being able to “undo” everything you just did. In this game, players compete to rid their hand of cards before the time runs out. However, unlucky plays will make time go in reverse and erase everything they fought to achieve.
Materials: Two identical decks of standard playing cards shuffled together.
Setting Up: Shuffle the deck and deal seven cards to each player, setting the remainder into the center as a draw deck. Draw four cards from the top of the deck and lay them alongside it in a cardinal point arrangement (North-South-East-West, or a “plus” shape) — these are called corner cards, and the cards that will be played on them are referred to as stacks. Each player selects two cards from their hand and lays them on the table in front of them, face-down — these are their play cards. The youngest player present goes first; play proceeds to the left.
How to Play: Each turn, players set cards into play in sequence, attempting to deposit them onto the corner card stacks. The active player first draws a card from the deck and adds it to their hand (with one exception, see below). They then reveal the forward play card (the card closest to the center of the table) and attempt to play it as follows:
- Cards are played on the top cards in the corner card stacks (or the corner card itself, if no stack yet exists).
- Cards may be played if they either match the suit of the top card or are one step higher or lower in numerical sequence. For example, a Ten of Hearts may be played on any Heart, or on any Nine or Jack.
If the player is unable to play the card, they pick it up and return it to their hand. After they have dealt with the forward play card, they slide the remaining play card into forward position and replace it with a new card from their hand. Thus, each player always has two play cards on the table.
Scrub Backwards: When a player draws a card, it is possible the card will initiate a time reversal — these are called scrubbing cards. When the game begins, the first scrubbing cards are Aces. If a player draws an Ace, they reveal it to all and set it aside instead of adding it to their hand. Until a new scrubbing card is drawn, play now functions in reverse. Instead of revealing and playing their forward play card, players pick up their rearward play card, move the forward play card into rear position, and select a card from one of the corner card stacks to place into their forward play card position. In this way, each turn players effectively undo one of their turns, depleting the cards in the corner card stacks one at a time. Players still draw cards at the beginning of their turn as normal.
Once a scrubbing card has been drawn, the next numerical rank of cards becomes the new set of scrubbing cards. For example, once a player draws an Ace and sets time in reverse, play continues backwards until another player draws a Two — the next card in sequence. When this occurs, they place the new scrubbing card over the current one and reverse time again — in this instance back to normal play. Now the new scrubbing cards are Threes, and play will continue in normal order until one is drawn. In this way, each new scrubbing card drawn toggles the flow of play between normal and reverse.
If, while play is reversed, players deplete the corner card stacks all the way down to the original corner cards, time is immediately returned to normal flow and play continues. The current scrubbing card does not change — when a new scrubbing card is drawn, time will reverse. Similarly, if players deplete the entire draw deck in the course of play, they continue without drawing until the flow of play changes — as soon as a new scrubbing card is drawn, play is paused while players discard their hands down to seven cards and shuffle the discards into a new draw deck.
Winning the Game: Play continues either until one player runs out of cards or until a King is drawn as a scrubbing card (i.e. the scrubbing card progression is exhausted). As soon as this occurs, the game is over and the player with the fewest cards in their hand is the winner. Ties are allowed.