Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tour des Coeurs

I used to play a lot of Hearts with friends and co-workers. One night I was flipping through the notepad with which we kept score, comparing point totals from different games, and I noticed that one person who won one night might've had the highest point total another, or scored just a few more points than the winner in a third. When I looked more closely at not just the scores, but the differences in point totals, it reminded me of pro cycling, with a rider's performance reflected in how many seconds he is behind the leader.

And thus was born the Tour des Coeurs.

Each game of Hearts became a 'stage' in a race, with five or seven stages making up a 'tour' - later I added a 'grand tour' of twenty stages. Instead of tracking overall points, we tracked margins between racers - the leader's score for the stage was zero, and everyone else subtracted the leader's score from their own to determine how many seconds back they were on the stage. These margins would be added together after each stage to determine the overall leader of the tour.

What was interesting about it is that the strategy changed. Sure, everyone wanted to rack up stages wins - winning individual games of Hearts - but it was possible to take the overall tour lead without ever winning a stage by finishing with the smallest margin after each game. How points were dealt in a hand could be affected by the overall score; instead of simply dumping the queen of spades or a handful of hearts, giving them to a particular player - 'putting time into a rider' - became a goal to take or keep the overall lead. For the grand tour I introduced time bonuses for the first three places in each stage, so, frex, a first place finish also subtracted an additional twelve seconds - points - from the total.

The overall winner won the yellow jersey, while the winner of the most stages in the tour got the green jersey - usually the prizes were dinner and a beer, respectively.

The Tour des Coeurs proved to be a remarkable simulation, and soon a few narrative conventions took hold. Taking the queen of spades meant a rider 'went off the road' or 'slipped a chain'; taking a lot of points in a turn meant the rider 'cracked on a climb.' Shooting the moon was an 'attack,' and a player whose score was significantly lower than everyone else's in a game was 'off the front.'

Of course, all of these narratives arose post hoc - the ability to plan an attack at a particular point in the 'race' was limited, with no way to work with a team mate or make an alliance on the road to work together 'til the finish sprint to keep away from the peloton, as pro racers may do. There was none of the strategy and tactics which are the most exciting part of bike racing, except in hindsight.

Put another way, while the results told an interesting story of a bike race, the experience of playing it didn't feel like participating in a bike race.

Now let me tell you how I feel about story games.

Actually, I think I just did.


  1. Very effective presentation, Mike. Thank you.

    1. This isn't really the sort of territory I usually wade into, but it reflects my recent experience with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

  2. That was quite the shaggy dog post... I was wondering where you were going with this right up until the punch line.

    while the results told an interesting story of a bike race, the experience of playing it didn't feel like participating in a bike race

    An apt analogy for story games.

    1. Sometimes you take the Interstate.

      Sometimes you take the scenic route.



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