Ever played Phase 10? The original is card-based but there is also a dice-based one that’s pretty fun. The card-based is by far the more established game, so it’s the one most people have played. If you’ve never played it, the deck consists of essentially two decks of playing cards. Each round you get 10 cards and every turn you draw a card and then discard one. You try to make certain combos of cards, like 2 sets of 3, a run of 8, 2 sets of 4, etc. There are 10 phases in all that have to be done in order and the first one to finish all 10 phases wins. It’s pretty fun but I always thought it would be interesting to mix it up a bit and recently I got a chance to experiment with the game.
The thing I wanted to try was to let players complete the 10 phases in any order they want. So instead of having to do 2 sets of 3 on the first round you could go for a run of 9, 7 of one color, or whatever other phase you thought you could make with the cards you have. A friend and I tried playing that way recently. I liked it, but my friend thought there were just too many options and that a little more direction was needed. I admit that when you pick up your hand in the early rounds it is a little overwhelming trying to figure out what you have, which phase you can readily make, and what cards to keep. I like having all those choices but it does involve a lot of computation and organizing.
My friend then suggested a different idea: write down the 10 phases on cards, shuffle them up, and then draw one at the beginning of the round. That way the order was randomized and there was some variety to the gameplay, but each player also had some direction and knew what they should be trying to collect each hand. That worked out pretty well and was really fun. We ended up playing several games like that so I got a pretty good feel for how the game played.
The change we didn’t think about beforehand but saw immediately when we started was the ability to play “defense”. In regular Phase 10 everyone knows what phase everyone else is on, so you know what they’re trying to collect. If you pay attention you can use that to your advantage. The easiest example is when someone is trying to collect 7 of one color. You just watch that player’s discards and you quickly figure out exactly what they’re doing. You can get a lot of info after just one turn that way (“Well, he didn’t take a blue and he discarded a red, so I know he’s collecting yellow or green”). The color one is the easiest to figure out and play defense against, but it’s pretty easy to do with the other phases as well.
But when you don’t know what phase the other player is on looking at his or her discards doesn’t help. If they pick up say, a red 8, it could mean that they’re collecting 8s to make a set, in which case you shouldn’t throw them any more. Or it could mean they’ve got the 8 they need for their run, in which case you can safely throw them all the 8s you want. Or it could mean they’re collecting red cards in which case it doesn’t matter whether or not you throw any more 8s! The whole concept of playing defense is pretty much out the window.
For me I really don’t like losing the ability to play defense. It’s something that involves paying attention and memory, two things that I’m good at when it comes to games. So that’s usually going to be a big advantage for me. Not to brag, but I think most people I’ve played against with would agree ;) And beyond the fact it usually gives me a nice advantage, it also makes for more interesting gameplay; if there’s no point in paying attention to what other players are doing it gives you less to do (really nothing to do at all if it’s not your turn) and makes the game a little less interesting in that respect.
But having said that, I do like the variety that randomizing the phases brings. I’m usually up for anything that makes things more random, and it’s always fun having a little secret you have to keep. One other thing it does is prevent you from getting too specific in your post-round moaning; you don’t want to reveal what it was you almost made!
Overall it’s a pretty fun change and if you’ve played a lot of Phase 10 you should definitely give it a shot to add a little variety to the mix.