Revolver: Playtest

June 29, 2014

I’ve always been fascinated by Russian Roulette. A strange fascination since I’ll never actually play it myself , but I didn’t always realize why. In 2005 I saw a film called 13 Tzameti, which is about an underground gambling ring where a large number of ‘contestants’ play Russian Roulette in a large circle, over a number of rounds, with one survivor, or ‘winner’. That individual receives a large sum of money, and the entire time a bunch of wealthy, seedy individuals are gambling on the outcomes of each round. This was a big inspiration for this game, but not the source of my fascination.

I’ve thought about this a lot and remembered that this actually goes as far back as high school, and even earlier. During high school I worked at a movie theater and some shifts wouldn’t head home until late at night. It was also in the boonies with long, straight, dark roads and no one else around. I’d play a game with myself (I DON’T do this anymore), where I’d close my eyes and wait until my brain decided that it could no longer estimate with a high degree of accuracy where I was on the road, and a switch would flip. I would close my eyes… 2… 3… 4… and wait… 9… 10… 11… and suddenly I would feel a swelling as my mind screamed, “I want to live!”, and survival instincts took over. It was exhilarating. I also did this on my bike when I was younger, until I almost smashed into a parked car and freaked myself out. More recently (and safely), I found this revolver Nerf gun that allowed you to spin the chamber. A coworker and I decided it would be used to settled arguments. One Nerf bullet in the chamber, cock it, spin it, place it to your head and pull the trigger.

NERF revolver dart-launching toy

So evidently my sick obsession is with anything than causes you to have an immediate and overwhelming fear response. Sometimes I wonder about myself.

Now that was just NERF. It did NOT hurt. Even so, the fraction of a second before I would pull the trigger I would feel a little bit of that terror, even though I knew there was no real danger. Ok, so this game design isn’t really about that fear response. That was just a messed up path of self-discovery after thinking about why I thought Russian Roulette was so interesting. This tabletop game doesn’t aim to capture that, though now that I have realized this about myself, I do very much want to create another experience where that is the sole purpose of my design study. For now, lets talk about the tabletop game!

Recently I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, and had this whole concept around Russian Roulette tabletop game. I wasn’t sure if it was real, or logical (as we often deal with 4th Dimensional Problems in our sleep, and are unable to see more than a single perspective of them upon waking), so I rushed to my library to write it all down. About 20 minutes later I had two pages of description and rules before stumbling back into bed and falling immediately asleep. You might notice the notes are actually specifically about printing this game from a Choosatron to play a disposable version of.

Notebook featuring diagrams

Later that day I read over them, didn’t think it was that nonsensical, so I printed out the pieces needed to play the game, and stuffed them in an envelope which has been sitting on my desk untouched for weeks, until last night when a group of friends came over to play games and I mentioned it. I wasn’t expecting excitement over trying a completely untested game that might not be any fun, but I guess I have awesome friends! We discussed the rules as I understood them, and some of the reasoning behind them.

Original Rules Before Playtest – v1.0

  1. Everyone has a picture of a gun, a chamber, and a bullet. There is one 1d6 die. In theory this can be played with 3 to ∞ players.
  2. High roll of the 1d6 determines who begins the first round.
  3. Going clockwise, everyone decide whether to point their gun to the player on their left, or right.
  4. Going clockwise again, everyone decides what chamber to place their bullet(s) in.
  5. The player that started the round now rolls the die, and any player that has a bullet in that numbered chamber, fires, killing the player it was pointing at. Players that shoot each other both die.
  6. If you killed another player and live, you get one bullet from them.
  7. If all players die, it’s called a “Blood Bath”. The house wins!
  8. After a round, the control of the die goes to the next living player on the left.
  9. If there are two players remaining it becomes a duel, and starting with whichever player controls the die, turns are taken firing at the opposing player until only one remains.

There was a little feedback right away, but everyone agreed it made sense for the most part and wanted to try it out before modifying anything.

Game setup for Revolver

Immediately I discovered that people weren’t really interested in the process of going around the circle twice for facing guns and setting bullets. They wanted to get to the action, and it wasn’t immediately apparent why it mattered that they be done in order. This is definitely a game of chance, but I wanted to try and find ways to slip a little strategy into it, like seeing if someone is pointing at you, and what chambers they filled, so you can decide how to react. There were a few immediate modifications that everyone wanted to try.

Friends playtesting Revolver

  1. Everyone decided on their gun direction at the same time, with the current die holder to enforce not taking too long (which wasn’t really a problem anyway).
  2. Everyone used their gun to conceal their bullet chamber choices, increasing the tension. People also usually forgot what they picked so it was exciting to double-check if you killed someone. They seemed to enjoy this more than the possibility of setting your bullet chambers based on someone else’s choice.
  3. If two people successfully fired at each other, they would each roll 1d6. If one player had a higher number, they shot first and the other player died. If they tied, they both shoot and die.

We played about a dozen rounds over the process, and the rule updates definitely made the game go faster, and felt more natural. There was little waiting around, and it became less about trying to find strategy and more about players picking on each other, or seeking revenge. It felt great as a fast paced party game, easy to pick up and learn, flexible with player numbers and time. It definitely seemed to tap into that gambling high, and I even considered a few new rules that would turn it into an actual gambling game for friends to win or lose a few dollars between each other.

A Second Layer

It was discussed during the game adding a second layer of play, making it even more like the film I used as inspiration. First a round where everyone is a gambler at the ring, deciding what players to sponsor or support. I haven’t thought about this much though. I don’t want to lose the sense of urgency when player for your life, and definitely don’t want it to become super complicated. I do like the idea that the game could be played two ways, one that is mostly chance, the other that has more skill, conniving, and betrayal. Maybe after playing this a bit more I’ll give that a shot!

Game Component Design

The updates to the rules, especially concealing the bullets, got me thinking more about how the actual pieces would be designed to work together. Initially I was going to print the chamber out as if it was unrolled, and the bullets lengthwise instead of just circles, but googling for images was faster.

Since hiding the placement of your bullets is now part of the game (unless I change it!), I’m thinking about which layout of the chamber would work better for concealment. Perhaps having the laid out chamber with a gun of the same size is easier, or maybe it makes it too easy to watch people and guess what chamber(s) they picked. Not sure.

Revolver long chamber

Current Rules – v1.1

I’m really happy that a game idea that just came to be while sleeping was so much fun, and as far as I know, pretty original. Here are the rules as they stand now.

  1. Everyone has a picture of a gun, a chamber, and a bullet. There is one 1d6 die. This can be played with 3 to ∞ players, 5+ recommended.
  2. High roll of the 1d6 determines who controls the first round.
  3. Everyone gets a few moments to decide whether to point their gun to the player on their left, or right. The player in control of the round can call time if someone is taking too long.
  4. Everyone decides what chamber to place their bullet(s) in, and conceals their decision(s) with their gun.
  5. The player that controls the round rolls the die, and any player that has a bullet in that numbered chamber fires, killing the player it was pointing at, unless that player also shot them. In this case, the two players roll 1d6 and the high roll kills the other player, and both die on a tie. If the winner was also shot by another player, they die after the roll was evaluated.
  6. If you killed another player and live, you get one bullet from them. Any extra are discarded.
  7. If all players die, it’s called a “Blood Bath”. The house wins! If you are playing for points (1 point for surviving), no one gets a point this round.
  8. After a round, the control of the die goes to the next living player on the left.
  9. If there are two players remaining it becomes a duel, and starting with whichever player controls the die, turns are taken firing at the opposing player until only one remains.
  10. Optional: The survivor gets 1 point, play the game until a single player reaches a determined number of points, 2 or 3 as starting suggestions.

That’s all! I hope to polish this game up a bit, and possible go further with it. If you want to try it out, here is a PDF with crappy images to print. If you want double-sided revolvers, print the first two pages on the same piece of paper: Revolver Pieces – Alpha

LET'S WORK TOGETHER!