Driving around a lot with a bored eight-year-old in the back had be wondering about games that could be played in the car, or in other situations where you aren't able to sit around a table and all look at things at the same time. There have been a few games out there, especially recently, which fit this bill, which seem to be forming a bit of a genre that you might call "stand in line games", i.e. games which can be played by people standing up in a line, just holding and manipulating a few components in hand. One of the best examples of this has to be Oddball Aeronauts, which is based on the venerable schoolyard favourite Top Trumps. Other games I am aware of that fit the bill include Mine All Mine and Dragon Punch.
|She's dead, of course.|
Anyway, for some reason I got the nursery song "I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly" into my head and the two ideas started mashing together a bit.
Thinking through the version of the song that I know, if you include the fly and all the things that were sent to catch it (spider, bird, cat, dog, goat, cow and horse) plus the old woman herself, that makes nine different things represented, and this was delightful news. Nine is a bit of a magical number as, for print and play purposes, nine cards of standard size fit perfectly onto one A4 sheet of card, with appropriate borders around them. That's a great start.
So one afternoon I grabbed some of the pile of blank cards I had brought with me and a pen and made a set of nine cards, each with the name of one of the animals (plus the old woman), plus a number for convenience's sake: the old woman was 0 and the horse was 8.
I then sat down with Miss B for a while and we tried a set of rules out. Basically, we were each dealt four cards, so one was left out and the object of the game was to deduce the missing card. One player would lead by saying something like, "I know an old woman who swallowed a bird", after which the other player had to reveal the lowest card that they had that was higher than the card led (so, "Well, I know an old woman who swallowed a dog", reveals that I didn't have a cat). The set wraps around so that the old woman is considered higher than the horse, which is a bit odd thematically, but Miss B got the hang of this immediately and we had a fun game.
It was all a bit mechanical though, and wouldn't have stood up to multiple plays, so back to the drawing board.
The next move was to make a second set of nine cards and we tried a couple of other deduction games, one of which was suggested by Miss B, but nothing really worked out right. B was enthusiastic about the concept, though, so I went away to think some more.
Eventually the inspiration came. I was working on a deduction game, but perhaps a better bet would be a form of trick taking. I ended up with one person leading with an animal: "I know an old woman who swallowed a cat", which could be beaten only by the next animal in sequence: "She swallowed a dog to catch the cat." Of course there wouldn't be a game if you could play anything you like, so I ruled that you can only play one of the first three cards in your hand (this is equivalent to having a hand of three cards and the rest of the cards as a mini-deck, but remember that I want to be able to play without a table). If you can't beat the card lead, then you discard a card and lose the trick. Whoever wins the trick takes the two cards played and holds them facing backwards to indicate points scored.
This worked well and B is very enthusiastic about the way it went. I think that what we need to do now is play it a lot (and probably do some maths as well) and figure out what the "correct" hand size is so that there isn't a noticeable first player (dis)advantage, and then see where to go from there. That and make up some print and play files so other people can try it if they like (and we get a nicer set).