Trickset: a Set Game Mod
Set is one of my favorite card games. It’s a card game that’s basically a match three on steroids. The purpose of the game is to create sets of three cards where each of the individual variables - Shape, Color, Shading and Number - are either all the same or all different across all three cards.
Each of the columns of cards above is a set. The leftmost one is all the same shape, all the same color, all the same shading, but all different number. The next has all the same shapes, but different shading, colors, and numbers. As you can see from the rightmost set, sets can even be made up of cards that have nothing in common!
The original game is simple to explain, but mind-bending to play. Players simply sit and look at a layout of 12 cards. The first one to see a set calls ‘set,’ collects it and adds to their score. If they call ‘set’ and fail to collect a set, they have one set deducted from their score. The missing cards are then replaced from the deck and play continues until the deck is out of cards. The deck only contains one of each card.
Now, this style of game has a lot of advantages. It’s perfectly balanced, it’s a pure test of skill, and there’s no luck or chance involved. This type of game works well until you try to play someone who is much, much better than you because the most skilled player will always, always win.
See, Set is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s not an exaggeration to say I have never lost a single game. When I was four or five years old I got obsessed with it, and ever since then my own family won’t play against me anymore without implementing severe handicaps (speaking of which, please beat me at this game, my ego needs to be knocked down a peg.)
A lot of ‘fun’ games are actually slightly imbalanced. Some games do this for their longevity — MMOBAs like League of Legends or DOTA would get stale and lose a lot of their players if the meta got stale, so they frequently re-balance the game and give certain characters and edge over others. Other games, like Mario Kart, introduce skewed randomness to influence game play and occasionally give less skilled players a chance to win. That’s what I wanted to do with set.
Here’s what I wanted to strive for:
-The game should maintain the tension: The longer people are looking for sets, the more tension builds as everyone knows someone is about to find one. Ideally, the mod should maintain that exciting aspect of the game.
-It should be more friendly to newcomers: If I play normally, newcomers never get the chance to even look for set, let alone collect one. Skilled players remove them too quickly from the board for new players to practice enough to find them.
-It should be skill based, but skill should matter less: Much like in MarioKart, the skilled players should be able to win most of the time. However, tension should still be maintained to keep the game interesting, and the less skilled player should be able to pull off a victory once in a while!
After a lot of trial and error (and a lot of frustration from my friends having to endure me being insufferable at this game) I came up with a solution that worked.
Shuffle the cards.
Deal each player five cards. Each player holds these cards in their hand and does not reveal them to their opponent, but may view them themselves.
Place the remaining cards in a deck in the middle of the play field.
Begin play by flipping over a card from the deck into the playspace.
Choose a player to go first. Alternate who goes first between rounds.
The player going first will place a card from their hand onto the playfield next to any existing cards.
The player ends their turn by drawing a new card from the deck and adding it to their hand.
Play passes to the next player, who lays a card down from their hand on to the field.
At any point after laying down a card and before drawing a new card, a player may call ‘set’ and collect a set from the field. This includes sets that were not created by laying down the current card. The collected set goes into that player’s stash, and they play one additional card to the field from their hand before ending their turn by drawing their hand back up to five.
A player may create and collect multiple sets in one turn.
A round ends when the deck is empty and one player as played all cards from their hand. Once the round is concluded, the players count their collected sets and add them to their score.
First player to some previously-agreed-upon amount wins. 100 points should be about five rounds, for reference. Round length will vary based on player skill and speed.
Good news Everyone: It works!
This mod solves the main problems that prevent Set from being a fun game when playing with someone of a different skill level.
New players can spend more time looking for sets, players can play more strategically, and experienced players have to deal with a certain degree of randomness.
To test this mod, I played 10 games of each version with my partner Omar. He’s played the game with me before, so he’s familiar with the rules, but has never come anywhere close to winning against me.
When playing the original game rules, Omar averaged just under three sets per round with a total of 29 sets over all ten rounds. I found a total of 220, for an average of 22. For both of us, our standard deviation was under 2, meaning that there wasn’t much variability in how well we did per round. Omar did not have fun playing this version of the game.
However, playing the modded version was much different. I still beat him out with a total of 149 sets (almost 15 per round average), but he managed to get 91 total, just over nine per game on average. The standard deviation between rounds for each of us was 3.0 this time, meaning that rounds were much more varied from each other. While I still won overall, Omar was able to hold his own, and even beat me in a couple of rounds. This shows that my goal of the most skilled player usually winning is still in tact, but less skilled players are still given a fighting chance and an opportunity to improve their skills.
Additionally, this version of the game feels more intense than the original version. The more cards build up on the board, the more possible sets are generated by placing each new card. If players let the board get too big, it’s possible that one player will get two or three sets in a single turn!
Overall, I’m really happy with how this mod turned out. I’ve never tried modding an already existing (physical) game before, so this was new territory for me. I’m excited to introduce new people to the game using this version. I hope it helps more people learn to love this game…. against me at least.
If you’d like to try out this mod (or the original game,) please support the original creators by buying their cards: https://www.setgame.com/
If you’re amazing at Set and want to 1v1 me irl, please send me an email through the ‘contact me’ button in the menu.