Hey! I’m Stephen “Stevo” DeBaun, the designer of the new social card game Commies!. This is a big milestone for me, so I’m writing a few blog posts to commemorate the launch. Hopefully in this first entry you’ll get some insight into who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish with Commies!.
I was weaned on tabletop games from a young age – my old man was a writer for magazines like Strategy & Tactics, and some of my fondest childhood memories involve weekends spent at The Last Grenadier, watching him beat the hell out of people at miniatures with his OP roman army. And while I love me some meaty strategy games, I am also a big fan of lightweight social games.
After my first title, Ars Victor, I decided I wanted to do something a little different. I’m a huge fan of Werewolf, and wanted to be able to play something that had the same kind of social engagement with a little more decision-making meat on the bones. This started me down the long road of making Commies!.
What is Commies!?
Commies! is a quick party game for four or more players. It’s sort of like team-based poker – half the players at the table are going to win, and half are going to lose. But the teams are fluid: every hand changes who the winners and losers are.
Simultaneous play and hidden information means that most of the game is about deal-making, negotiating, and betrayal. The cards you play are not nearly as important as what the rest of the table plays. If you can’t build a coalition, often you’re better off trying to guess what the rest of the table will play in order to play around them.
Why make Commies!?
I made Commies! to scratch an itch: I wanted the intense social interaction of Werewolf, with the predictive tactics of poker, and the uncertain alliances of Diplomacy. I wanted something I could play with my “non-gamer” friends who loved playing Werewolf. I also wanted it to be deep enough that I could play it for a night with my hardcore gamer friends.
With these high-level goals in mind, I set out to define the gameplay. My early priorities looked like this:
Short Play Time - A quick game has a lower barrier to entry than an epic all-nighter, especially when it comes to casual gamers.
Minimize Downtime- If I want to be able to handle lots of players, you can’t have everyone waiting while one player takes their turn. Nothing kills a big game like downtime. Everything had to be simultaneous.
Social First - Winning should be driven by how well you play the social “metagame” – all the card play should just express that social aspect.
Simple but Interactive - Mechanical bits had to be as simple as possible, while still providing interesting ways for players to work together or against each other.
And I’m pretty happy to say, it feels like I’ve hit pretty close to what I was aiming for.
How do you play Commies!?
Because one of the core mechanics is fairly unusual, I’ve kept the game as simple as I could.
Everyone starts with ten SUPPORTER tokens. When one player runs out, the game ends. The half the players with the most SUPPORTER tokens win. They split the pot of tokens that the STATE accumulates throughout the game.
The game is played in a series of PLOTS. You bet a SUPPORTER on every plot and pay a tax to the STATE. After five rounds the plot is over and the half of the players on the winning side collect the SUPPORTER tokens bet by the players on the losing side.
The card play during a PLOT determines who wins. LEADER CARDS change your position on the PARTY TABLEAU, which determines which team you’re on: BOLSHEVIK or MENSHEVIK. POWER CARDS add BOOTS and FISTS and determine which of those two teams win.
You’re basically trying to make sure that you’re on the winning side at the end of each PLOT. But there are two dramatically different things you have to juggle:
Make sure your team wins! This is straightforward: just make sure that more BOOTS or FISTS get played.
Make sure you’re on the winning team! This is trickier: you need to play LEADERS to move players between teams at the right moment.
What’s Different About Commies!?
First: don’t let the card play fool you; Commies! is ultimately a game about people.
Like Werewolf or Diplomacy, the “right moves” are entirely dependent on the other players in the game, and the social game is the real thing you have to win at.
This comes from the fact that every PLOT, half of the players will win. And at the end of the game, half of the players will split the pot. You have to share your win with other players. So you better start talking!
If you like quick, tense social games where winning is ultimately based on your ability to make deals, you should enjoy the hell out of Commies!.