Linnaeus

Bohnanza: the RPG

In boardgames, game design, mechanics, role-playing games on May 28th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Okay, not literally. But I ran an idea up the flagpole on Twitter and got a reaction from a few people, including a request to expand a bit and, well, here we are🙂

My original tweet said:

The hand management in Bohnanaza is crying out to be used as a conflict resolution system in an RPG.

I’ll explain the relevant parts of Bohnanza here, but it is a genuinely brilliant game, and I strongly suggest that anyone reading this go out and buy a copy. Better yet, buy the German edition and download a rules translation, like I did.

The first important bit about Bohnanza is that you have a hand of cards and you must keep them in your hand in the same order they came into your hand. You cannot sort them by suit or any other method that tickles the organizational portions of your brain.

This is important because, when it comes time to play a card from your hand into one of your bean fields (yep, the game is about bean-farming), you can only play the card at the front of your hand. Each field can holds a single type of bean at a time, and you have two fields you can plant (with a chance to buy a third later). If you are forced to plant a third (or fourth) type of bean, you must harvest one of your fields first (scoring is basic set collection, with larger sets scoring more efficiently than smaller ones). If all of your cards work nicely for you except one, but the troublesome card is next in line, your plans will have a mighty wrench thrown into them.

The last piece of the puzzle is you avoid these kinds of problems: Bohnanza is a trading game. After playing a card or two from the front of your hand, you have a chance to trade cards with other players. If you can make deals for cards that fit your plans while getting rid of cards that don’t you can avoid awkward and painful plays. One hitch here is that any cards that get traded must immediately be planted by their new owners; you cannot save those cards for later.

How do we bring this to an RPG? Well, there are plenty of possibilities and variants, but for the sake of illustration, lets discuss a simple one.

In a party-based RPG (akin to Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun), each character has half a dozen free-form traits, and each trait is tied to a suit of cards (obviously, we are using some sort of custom deck here😉 ). There is a different number of each suit in the deck, and each suit has it’s own “level of success” progression based on how many cards are in a “field” when it is harvested. Larger suits require more cards to reach a given level of success, but may be able to reach higher levels of success than smaller suits can. Each player (not including the game master) has a hand of cards and two “fields” he plays cards into. Like Bohnanza, he may not rearrange the cards in his hand, so he must play them in the order he received them.

When a conflict arises in play, the GM assigns a target level of success (using other rules that we won’t develop here). Each player then takes a turn where he plays the front card in his hand to one of his fields and then may, optionally, make a single trade with one other player. After a trade is made, both players must immediately place the traded card(s) into their fields. This continues until a player harvests one of his fields because he has to play a card he cannot fit into an existing field, he is comfortable with the result or he is uncomfortable with the consequences of continuing.

If the field harvested equals or exceeds the level of success set at the beginning of the conflict that player succeeds in overcoming the conflict. If the harvested field does not reach the required level, the conflict is lost. Furthermore, the conflict must be resolved with the character acting according to the trait that character has linked to the harvested suit. Also, players carry over their remaining hands and fields, so they do not start with a blank slate in any conflict except the first one.

Actually, this system is only mildly interesting, but what if, instead of freeform traits, each player tied one of the following methods of resolving conflict to each suit:

  • Blood Sorcery
  • Competition
  • Faith
  • History
  • Legalism (the manipulation of systems of rules, beliefs or laws)
  • Talking
  • Treachery
  • Violence

(Yes, I intentionally have provided more methods than there are suits)

Suddenly, hand management and conflict resolution become much more interesting.

And, of course, this is but one possibility. Suits could correlate to skills, assets, Keys, relationships or any number of other things, and I’m sure other elements of the system could easily be twisted to other purposes, as well. I haven’t even touched on systems describing how players get new cards into their hands (but note that newly drawn cards should generally be placed in the back of the queue, like they are in Bohnanza). The possibilities, ways of tying them to fictional elements and implications of those ties are virtually endless.

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