About a year ago, I purchased the game Nyet! from my local game store. I was interested in creating a trick-taking game that used a lot of the team communication strategies from Bridge in a more simple way, and noticed Nyet! did something similar to what I was looking into. I played several games among different game groups and found it quite fun; one friend in particular, who had a history in semi-competitive Bridge, grew quite fond of it.
However, one major problem in the endgame raised some questions with me. What’s the problem? Can it be resolved in a way that keeps the spirit of the game intact? Is it even worth solving? Read on to find out.
Nyet! is a simple, cozy game reminiscent of two retired generals arguing over the composition of the perfect lunch. Rounds are divided into two phases, where the second phase is a conventional team trick-taking game. What sets the game apart is its unique first phase, where each player uses a central grid to determine the rules and value of the round. In this section, players decide how many points each trick is worth (including the delightful setting of having tricks be worth negative points), which suits are strong, rules about discarding cards, and even who gets to be on whose team. Players can only individually decide which rules won’t appear, eventually reaching something via process of elimination; thus, the name of the game being Nyet!.
This grid segment itself is quite brilliant, and only one small part of it leads to the issues in the endgame: The fact that players change teams every round. Thus, each round, players will accumulate the same number of points as the other players on their team, but at the end of the game they will have different scores and win or lose as individuals. This, in itself, is pretty reasonable.
Here’s what makes this a problem: The game ends after a set number of rounds. If you can’t see the issue, I’ll use an example:
It is the last round of a friendly game of Nyet!. Yelena has 67 points, Astrov has 66, Sonya has 56, and Uncle Vanya has 40. During the first phase, Yelena places herself and Astrov on one team, and Sonya and Uncle Vanya on the other team.
Despite having the second-highest score up to this point, Astrov is now mathematically eliminated from winning. No matter how well his team does, Yelena will have one more point than him at the end of the game. Uncle Vanya has also been eliminated because he has fewer points than his teammate Sonya. Sonya, despite being in third at the moment, is the only player who has a chance of beating Yelena because of the team composition.
In short, the team composition of the last round in Nyet! invalidates a lot of the rest of the game.
Now that we know what the problem is, what solutions are available?
The obvious offender is the fact that the game ends after a certain number of rounds. There’s a number of ways you can change the endgame condition while still maintaining the game’s fuctional mechanics: The easiest would be to have the game end once a player or players reach a certain number of points.
This would improve the problem, but not fix it completely. If we’re still interested in determining a single winner through a game of Nyet!, say, by having the player with the highest score win after someone hits the threshold, the problem still exists that the lower-scoring players on a team are 100% shut out of winning.
Alternatively, instead of having a set end round, you could have it partially randomized. As an example, you could have one card marking the game end in a deck of blank ones; you then shuffle them and draw one each round after a predetermined number of rounds have passed. This solves the problem a little, but it’s still pretty clumsy and could drag the game to unfun lengths.
We could also weigh player position so that you gain more points by being on a team with a player with more points, but this would add an element of player politics that doesn’t mesh with the intent of the design. Players are supposed to form teams based on the percieved strength of each others’ hands more than what arbitrary benefit they gain from a previous round.
Perhaps The Best Solution
There’s one central problem with all of these proposed solutions, and one that would be surprisingly easy to fix within the context of the game. The problem: People know what everyone’s scores are, and therefore know when they’re bound to lose.
The solution, then? Hide everyone’s scores.
This technique has worked in more complicated games like Small World to prevent people from ganging up on the first place player. In Nyet!, scores are pretty complicated, and unless you really wanted to remember everyone’s totals, hidden scores would be fairly easy to achieve. This way, even if you are mathematically eliminated in the final round, you wouldn’t know, and you could continue to enjoy a pleasant final round.
You’ll notice that this doesn’t solve the strategy of the game in any way, especially if you’re playing with a group of people who love to count cards and whatnot. The thing is, this fix is not aimed at an unsuitable game; it’s aimed at an unsuitable play experience.
My experiment in trying to fix Nyet!’s endgame made me reflect on my own experiences finding imperfections in my work. Sometimes, when designing a game, you’ll find a problem that you can’t solve without uprooting something else that makes your game special. And sometimes, the best you can do is try to paste over the problem in a way that will bother your players the least.
We’d all like to be perfect designers who make seamless, elegant systems, but in the end, as long as the game is challenging and fun, it’s okay if it has some clunky elements. Some problems are beyond our ability to solve, but it’s important to do your best anyway.
Incidentally, if you can think of a better way to solve the problem, please let me know on social media or by e-mail or something.