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Designer Diary: Detective Rummy

by Mike Fitzgerald

By Mike Fitzgerald and Ralph H. Anderson

Part 1: Mystery Rummy Primer

For those of you not familiar with Mystery Rummy, this is a primer to get you ready for our new game Detective Rummy from WizKids. The new game places Mystery Rummy into a campaign setting with many new innovations.

So far, I have designed five Mystery Rummy games (called “Cases”) that all use many common mechanisms from standard rummy: drawing a card from the discard pile or top of the deck to start your turn, discarding a card from your hand to end your turn, playing sets of the same card (melds) during your turn (no

runs in Mystery Rummy), and laying off cards once a player has made a meld of three or more of the same card. These mechanisms all derive from the classic game 500 Rummy, and this is where the similarity to rummy-style games ends.

In each of the Mystery Rummy Cases, a different kind of card is added to the game. This type of card can be played once per turn for actions that will help you with the goal of the game and represent characters, settings, or items that flesh out the theme of the specific Case you’re playing. The scoring for each Case differs depending on its goal. Here are the five current Mystery Rummy Cases:

Mystery Rummy Case No. 1: Jack the Ripper (best as a two-player game and may be played with 2-4 players)

Mystery Rummy Case No. 2: Murders in the Rue Morgue (best as a partnership game and may be played with 2-4 players)

Mystery Rummy Case No. 3: Jekyll & Hyde (2-player only)

Mystery Rummy Case No. 4: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld (Played with 2-4. This game also borrows some ideas from canasta)

Mystery Rummy Case No. 5: Escape from Alcatraz (best played with 3-4 players and may be played with 2-4 players)

The new game, Detective Rummy, has seven Cases that can be played as a campaign game, or you can play one of the Cases for three hands for a game session. Detective Rummy takes Mystery Rummy to the next level with multi-use cards that can be melded in different ways: assignments that allow players to add to their score; suspects who can develop bad blood with your detective that carries through Cases; and items like guns, fingerprint kits, magnifying glasses, and bullet proof vests that help your detectives out.

Part 2: Design Diary

Starring “The Case of the Runaway Legacy”, with guest appearances by Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock, and

special guest Lauren Fitzgerald Weaver

Episode 1: A Dangerous Obsession

I first began working on this game after a chat with Rob Daviau at BGG.CON when Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 had just come out. I asked Rob whether he had ever thought of doing a legacy-style card game. He said he hadn’t, but thought I would be the person to do it, so with this encouragement, I got to work. I knew it would be challenging, but I wasn’t prepared for how extraordinarily difficult it would be to integrate a legacy-style story as part of a game.

I chose my Mystery Rummy series as the basis for the game and developed a story in which players would start out as detectives, with the possibility of some of them becoming criminals as the game progressed. Over the next year or two, I went through several iterations of the game. During these long and protracted efforts, I reached out to many of my game development friends for advice. This included Matt Leacock, Rob, and my good friend Ralph Anderson.

More time passed, and I reached a point where I had something I could show to publishers, but I wasn’t totally committed to it. Some playtesters didn’t enjoy having the game mechanism that turned their detective into a criminal, and there were issues with legacy aspects that I hadn’t quite resolved to my satisfaction. After three years of working on many different versions of this game, I called Ralph and told him I was going to shelve the project unless he wanted to come on as a co-designer and help me save the game.

The usual suspects

Episode 2: Better Call Ralph

Early on in this project, I worked with Mike on some of the story elements for the legacy-style game. During this time, Mike and I developed a lot of material for the Case storylines based on his daughter Lauren’s original story ideas, which was a lot of fun. I knew it wouldn’t all be used, but we really explored a lot of fun story ideas.

Thematically, we decided to harken back to the best of the detective series in the 1940s (radio) and 1950s (TV). At the top of my list was the Perry Mason television series. We also also included detective noir and, for my part, even a taste of “Nick Danger Third Eye” from Firesign Theatre. From this, we developed the idea that the legacy game would consist of ten Cases, and each Case would consist of one or more episodes. Mike created the basic idea for each Case, as well as the various tweaks and additions to the rummy game style. I did the heavy lifting on the storyline and, of course, we both did a lot of playtesting. Once we had the ten Cases ready, Mike continued from there with further development — and I waited for the next stage.

Fingerprint evidence cards

Once I finally got the call from Mike, and he told me that he was giving up on the game, my instant gut reaction was to suggest throwing out the legacy elements and getting back to the basic rummy game, which was quite good. I told him we could easily use elements of the legacy story as it was clear that creating a real legacy-style game was just too big a burden to place on this rummy engine. I’ve always thought of this

moment as “talking Mike off of the legacy ledge”.

Once we let go of the legacy concept in favor of a simple campaign concept, things took off in a hurry. The campaign game would allow the detectives to accrue fame gained in each Case, with the winner being determined after finishing the last of seven Cases. We also allowed some things to carry over from game to game, especially bad blood with certain suspects, and no characters would be forced down a criminal path. The last vestiges of the legacy idea were used to create the storylines for each Case, mostly realized by using the Game Changer cards. We strung the seven Cases together into a series for the campaign game. In addition, players could choose to play each Case as a standalone game. From there, we created prototypes and started testing anew.

Circumstantial evidence cards

Episode 3: Mike Cracks the Case

My original idea was to use the mechanisms of traditional Mystery Rummy and open them up to provide more design space and ideas. I did this by making each evidence card work with two of the six skill requirements needed to make sets in the game. This makes it much easier to make sets and keeps the game moving. These sets are linked to specific suspects by the skills needed.

Instead of keeping sets in front of them, players discard them directly to the discard pile and place investigation markers on suspects instead. This reduces clutter and facilitates ease of play as the investigation tokens show the growing guilt of the suspect as well as the value of each detective’s participation in that suspect’s investigation. In addition, some of the suspects appear in several Cases, which allowed for the carry-over of bad blood (another game mechanism) between detectives and suspects.

I also added assignments to the game that players can complete for additional fame points. Most importantly,

we developed the “Game Changer” cards that players discover during the hand. Game Changers are the

major storytelling element in the game, and they affect how the story unfolds each game as they can be discovered in a different order or possibly not at all. This makes the Cases different each time they are played. The game includes almost 100 Game Changers, and each Case has a unique set.

Assignments and lawyers

Episode 4: Mark VII — Case Closed

When I first started this design, my daughter Lauren wrote a story for each Case, and I am thrilled that the final version of the game still retains the essence of what Lauren wrote.

And after all the years and countless versions of this game, I can finally say we have something that I am proud of. It is a quick game, with each Case lasting six game turns when you play the Campaign version and three hands when you play as a single game.

Ralph and I both appreciate the realization of this game by Zev Shlasinger at WizKids. We are very pleased with its presentation and attention to detail. We hope you enjoy the game as much as we do!

Mike and Ralph

Designers disguised as baseball coaches — last known images


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