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52 Pick Up: Reshuffled. A New Game each, err... month or so

Dark Hero, Light Hero, Super Hero

by Sandy Antunes selected and edited by Chris Czerniak
February 15, 2002
Four of Clubs

Welcome to 52 Pick up Reshuffled. This column is an outlet for readers of rpg.net to publish their games as columns. I encourage everyone to write a game. Visit my submissions guidelines for more details!  

This is a short superheroes board game inspired by Dark Knight, Dark Knight 2, Marvels/Ruins, Kingdom Come, The Authority, and similar comic books.  The goal is to map out the conflict between heroes who seek to make society good for all, yet who differ on what 'good' is.

It is less about moral ambiguity and more about the struggle between the heroic and ordinary, between peace and free will.

From a meta-gaming standpoint, it's also designed to provide shifting alliances without having a backstabbing nature.  Necessity, rather than diplomacy, rules the day.  After all, superheroes don't usually think much.  They act!


A deck of playing cards, a d4, 2-20 players, plus a piece of paper and some tokens to represent your characters. .


This is a game of superheroes in a world that has left them behind. Oh yes, you and your kind saved the world back when you were young. Now, you're just an ex-hero, retired, no longer in the spotlight. Times have changed, heroes are less wanted, heck, everything's changed.  Even your friends.

And now society teeters at the breaking point.  It's time to dust off your cape and fix things, once again, if you can still muster up.


Each hero is defined as:

I) Goal: Wants Free or Wants Safe on society meter (victory = at that level or adjascent, i.e. either Free/Ideal/Dangerous or Safe/Stifling/Ideal)

II) Abilities. You each start with 0 in all abilities.  Spend 3 points as you wish on:

  + Fighting/Tactics at 1 (1 pt), 2 (2 pts), or 3 (3 pts)

  + Infiltrating/Hiding at 1 (1 pt) or 2 (2 pts)

  + Ace in hole: costs 1 pt, gives you one Ace

  + 2 Resource cards for 1 point.


Society Meter:

The "Society Meter" is a simple 'ruler' that runs from 1 to 7. You can simply write those numbers on a piece of paper-- society doesn't care. This is used to track the general 'will of the masses' and measure the tendency of the society towards fascism or anarchy, or occassionally a balanced middle. Put it somewhere where all players can see it.

 Runs from 1-7
Society Chaos Dangerous Free Ideal Safe Stifling Facist
Bent 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Next (after characters are made), roll the d4 to see where society starts.  That is its "Bent" and you need to remember this number. Heroes with a goal of "Free" get 2 extra Resource cards if the "Bent" is 3 or 4; Heroes with a goal of "Safe" get 2 extra Resource cards if the "Bent" is 1 or 2.  This reflects their underdog status (heroes who are underdogs work harder!)


Now shuffle the deck then lay down a map of playing cards, face down.  Suggested pattern is "a short arm of 4 cards leading to a center square that connects adjascent arms with short, 3-card segments".  So for four players, you'd make a square (side of each side = 3) with four 4-card spokes radiating out, one from each side of the square.  But hey, add extra paths and spurs and connections, especially if you have more players.  Make it asymmetric.  It's a free map, have fun.


Only the color of the suits matter.  Remember, lay down the cards face down and sight unseen.  It is not required that you ensure there is an even distribution of suits, random is recommended.


Each hero starts at a far edge card (i.e. end of a spoke, as far from the other players as is reasonable).


Each turn, your hero must move to the next card. "Next card" is any card that shares an edge with your card. So you can move horizontally, vertically, or at an angle (since cards can be laid out so they overlap a bit and at weird angles.) First you move, and then you flip it over (if it isn't already visible).  If a hero has a choice between moving to a Neutral card or not yet flipped card, they must move to the not-yet-flipped card.  Heroes seek out adventure, after all.  Any hero reduced to 0 Resources cannot enter a Club space at all.

Cards, once flipped, remain revealed (you can play a concentration-like variant where they get flipped over again if you want.)

Before you move (i.e. before you flip the card) on any given turn, you can choose to spend any or all Resources.  If you spend it on Tactics, your Fighting improves by 1 for the next turn only.  If you spend it on Hiding, your Infiltrating improves by 1 for the next turn only.

An "Ace" is a Resource card that you can use (once) after the move is revealed but before any resolution, i.e. once you know what you are facing or who is attacking you.  (Note this means not only using it on your turn, but you can in theory use it during someone else's turn if you are given the option of attacking them, as given below.)

"Neutral" = a card (previously that had a suit) that no longer does anything, it just marks a space on the board.  Remember you can only move onto a Neutral card if there are no more unflipped cards adjascent to you.

Heart = you can attempt a raid, at infiltrating vs 2, success = move Society 1 step in any direction you wish (or move it 0, if you wish) and Heart becomes Neutral.

Spade = enemy, you can fight vs 2, success = move Society 1 step in any direction you wish (or 0 steps) and Spade becomes Neutral, failure = move back to the card you came from, tie = no change so you can either move off the card next turn or fight again.

Diamond = gain ally: add 1 to Resources.  Diamond becomes Neutral.

Club = any 1 opponent (going around the table to the left, asking only once) can attack you (i.e. speed over, attack, then return to their square) at their base fighting.  The loser of this attack loses 1 Resource, on a tie there is no loss.  Clubs never become Neutral.


Resolution of an attack:  Add a d4 roll + your base in that ability, versus the opposing base + d4.  Highest wins, tie goes to the defender as given for each suit.


You can convert 3 Resources into 1 Ace at the end of any of your turns.

After all players have moved, the Society meter automatically moves 1 square towards its Bent unless a player (any player) opts to spend 1 Resource card to prevent this.  This includes after the last turn.


The game lasts for 12 turns.  Yes, this is an entirely arbitrary call, and you can feel free to adjust it based on the number of players you have.  And also on how much tension you want for the 'underdog' side. Longer games tend to be more 'fair'.

After the last turn, a random card is drawn.  This reflects one last shift of the Society Meter due to the vast forces wrought.

Heart = moves towards Chaos,

Spade = moves towards Facist,

Diamond = moves towards Free,

Club = moves towards Safe.


Now that the game is over, we see who really won.

Remember our Society Meter?
Society Chaos Dangerous Free Ideal Safe Stifling Facist
Bent 1 2 3 4
If the Society meter hits "Dangerous" (Bent 2), the new "Bent" is now 1.

If the Society meter hits "Stifling" (Bent 3), that new "Bent" is now 4.

This reflects the perturbed society becoming very skewed by extermism.

Personal victory conditions are therefore:

  i) If the game ends with the Society Meter at your Goal, you win.

  ii) If it ends with the Meter within 1 of your Goal, you win- but not as fully as someone who exactly met their Goal.

  iii) Otherwise, you lose.  If the Meter is at either extreme, everyone loses.


Basic tactics: clearly, one can move around, see what things are, then act (making the most of resources).  That is time consuming, but works.  Alternately, one can play aggressively, either gambling resources or creating Aces to increase success.

"Talking across the table"-- giving advice, making offers, building team alliances is not only allowed, but encouraged.  All those who fight for Freedom should work together, all those who fight for Safety should work together.  And at times, all heroes will work to ensure that society doesn't become too unstabilized.


Fluctuating Society:

Instead of the automatic move of 1 space towards the "Bent" on the Society Meter at the end of each turn, randomize it.  Set aside a number of cards equal to the number of turns you'll play.  Draw a card from the unused deck at random.
Heart = moves towards Chaos
Spade = moves towards Facist
Diamond = moves towards Free
Club = moves towards Safe.

When you run out of cards, the game is over.


Instead of premaking a map, start with each player on a single Card at some distance from each other.  Each turn a player draws a card (unseen) from the deck and places it adjascent to any card on the floor, and then decides how to move.  Remember that, since heroes must move to an unflipped card instead of a Neutral card, you can place cards by opposing heroes who are camping/sitting it out to force a move.

We welcome reader-constructed maps that emphasize the different tactical possibilities, instead of the random method given here.


For those who liked Frank Miller's "Dark Knight" series, I rate:
Superman as Fight 3, Infiltrate 0, Resources 0 
Batman as Fight 1, Infiltrate 1, Resources 2 (at the start).

We hope you enjoy this not-quite-zero-sum game, and discuss the tactical nuances and 'best strategies'.
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What do you think?

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Reshuffled: 52 Pick Up, edited by Chris Czerniak

52 Pick Up original run, by Gareth-Michael Skarka

Other columns at RPGnet

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