One of my long-term projects that I never seem to actually get around to touching is to resurrect Elizabeth Magie’s The Landlord’s Game, the forerunner of Monopoly that was designed to contrast unregulated markets with Georgism, a proposed economic system where everybody is taxed for sitting on resources (primarily land, because this is an old idea), rather than taxing income or spending, to discourage centralized ownership of resources by making it too expensive to resell or rent unused resources.
While I wouldn’t be surprised if The Landlord’s Game or Henry George’s ideas showed up, someday, this isn’t a post about any of that.
One of the projects related to the game is imagining what a modern Landlord-like game might look like with additional subsystems, especially the stranger systems people use as house rules. For example, favorite addition to Monopoly in some circles is to replace the jail (where a player is sidelined for some length of time, which isn’t any fun) with a roleplaying-like dungeon crawl, often using TSR’s Dungeon! board game.
While I appreciate the broad concept, I don’t like the implementation of the idea for a few reasons.
- It’s relatively hard to find a copy of Dungeon! and probably not worth the trouble in general, so very few people would even recognize the game, let alone having the ability to play it.
- Dungeon! has a very large board, making it inconvenient and unwieldy to use for an uncommon occurrence like Jail.
- The Dungeon! rules are fairly complicated and meant to serve as a sort of simplified “Dungeon Master,” instead of blending quietly into a host game.
- While I can justify thinking about Monopoly as preparation for an eventual return of The Landlord’s Game (long fallen into the public domain), there is no Free Culture equivalent of Dungeon!.
Of course, I can solve problems like that, if I want. So, exit Dungeon! and enter…Open Oubliette! Errr…The latter exclamation point is part of the exclamation, not the game’s name.
Open Oubliette Overview
An oubliette (from the French, “to forget”), is a kind of dungeon that is only accessible through a single trapdoor in the ceiling. The name isn’t terrible and it justifies the idea that the Jail square has an entire dungeon “underneath” it.
What I think I want out of the game is something where we get the combat/treasure/event flow of a fantasy roleplaying game, but without the time spent making strategy decisions or resolving rules. It should also be set up in such a way that, if Open Oubliette (or just Oubliette, informally) is used as part of another game, there should be an easy “checkpoint” that can be used as a winning condition.
I suspect that I can solve the first problem by simplifying fights to one “round” and using cards to define the outcomes. And of course, the game will be licensed CC-BY-SA 4.0. That only seems right.
Since a Jail sentence is (a maximum of) three turns, we presumably want to solve the second problem with some goal that can be reached, but might not be, so that the time spent in the Oubliette might not be useful. If we assume that each roll (just like the main game) involves adding the values on two six-sided dice, that means we want something that takes somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-one (three, times the most likely roll of seven) spaces. For the prototype, that’ll be twenty spaces (spaces along the perimeter of a six-by-six square), where one square—the Entrance or Exit space—might be considered “inside” or “beneath” the jail of another game.
And we’ll need space for cards, so this gives a board that (in the abstract) might look a little bit like the following.
And broadly, we want a fight over treasure with occasional complications that should be at least somewhat interesting. That should give us a basic process. On each player’s turn, the player will:
- Roll the dice.
- Move the number of spaces equal to the sum of both dice.
- Draw a Monster card.
- Fight the monster on their card; see below for those rules.
- If the fight is successful, draw a Treasure card.
- If the player has landed on one of the corner spaces, draw and apply an Event card.
- If the player rolled doubles in the first step, take another turn.
Fighting the monsters, of course, would have its own rules. As mentioned, this should be reduced to just one attempt, rather than a back-and-forth until someone loses.
The basic flow of a fight follows.
- The player attacks, rolling the dice.
- If the player rolls a number equal to monster’s power level or higher, the player wins and the process is over.
- If the player rolls less than the monster’s power level, the monster rolls the dice to retaliate.
- If the monster’s roll is equal to eight (8) or higher, the monster succeeds and the player draws a Wound card.
- If the monster’s roll is less than eight (8), the monster’s attack fails and the monster leaves with its treasure.
Combat ends here, regardless of the conditions. That was about as simple as I could get it.
However, some Treasure cards—armor or weapons—give the player who holds them the ability to change the player’s attack or defense. Use of the card means that it no longer qualifies as Treasure for the remainder of the game.
If a Treasure card improves the attack, it’s a weapon, so add its value to the to the sum of the dice when attacking. If the Treasure card improves the defense, it’s armor, so add its value to the standard defense (8) whenever a monster attacks the player.
Similarly, Wound cards make fighting more difficult. The sum of a player’s two highest Wound cards is added to the power level of every monster the player attacks and added to the roll of any monster attacking the player. Being hurt makes it harder to attack and easier to get hit.
If a player lands on a space where another player is already waiting, the arriving player can opt to attack the other before interacting with a monster with the same rules. The player winning the fight takes three (3) random Treasure cards from the loser, but the attacker will always draw a Wound card to represent damage taken in the ambush. Because of the risks, the arriving player can also choose to not attack.
Whenever a player lands on or passes the Exit space, the player can opt to take a couple of actions that end the turn.
- Recovery: The player places up to three of their current Wound cards back in the pile, essentially resting to recover.
- Treasure: All the player’s Treasure cards that haven’t been used for their functionality as weapons or armor are cashed in for their face value. Treasure that has been cashed in cannot be stolen by other players.
If the player lands on the Exit space, the player also gains the ability to move in either direction, deciding the direction after their roll.
The game is over when one of the two following conditions is met.
First, the first player to cash in a total of $6,000 in Treasure cards at the Exit automatically wins the game.
Second, in cases where Oubliette runs out of unclaimed Treasure cards or where there is a tie in the previous case, the player who has the highest value from cashed-in Treasure cards wins the game.
In the event of a tie in the second case, Treasure cards that have not been cashed in, excluding those being used for weapons or armor, can count towards the total for the purpose of breaking the tie.
If the score is still even, Treasure cards used as weapons and armor can count.
Landlord’s Game Rules
If using Oubliette in place of the Jail in The Landlord’s Game (or Monopoly), make the following changes to game play:
- The player only has three Turns, taken instead of their Landlord’s Game turns waiting in Jail; no business may be transacted from the oubliette.
- Any Treasure cards that haven’t been cashed in at the Exit by the end of three turns are lost.
- Any Treasure cards that have been cashed in are converted to money in the host game at the rate of g10 to $1…€1, 元1, or whatever.
- There is no Win Condition. After three Turns, the player leaves the oubliette and returns all Oubliette cards to their appropriate decks.
In all other cases, the rules are the same.
Of course, we need those cards, presumably thirty-two of each type. My thinking is that the monsters might be something like this, pushing for some cultural pluralism.
|1||Squasc||small, hairy, tawny, similar to a squirrel without tail, but with an anthropomorphic face|
|2||Pukwudgie||kidnap people, push them off cliffs, attack with short knives/spears, use sand to blind|
|3||Manaia||head of a bird and the tail of a fish and the body of a man|
|4||Ogre||large, hideous, man-like being that eats ordinary human beings|
|5||Yeti||ape-like creature taller than an average human|
|6||Rompo||head of a hare, human ears, a skeleton body, the arms of a badger, and legs of a bear|
|7||Mo’o||forms of monstrous reptiles, tiny geckos, and humans|
|8||Manticore||the head of a human, body of a lion and a tail of venomous spines similar to porcupine quills|
|9||Anchimallén||undead children, can transform into flying fireballs|
|10||Dragon||winged, horned, four-legged, and capable of breathing fire|
And the treasures.
|2||300||Knife||+1 to Attacks|
|5||400||Leather Armor||+1 to Defense|
|8||500||Dagger||+2 to Attacks|
|11||600||Ring Mail Armor||+2 to Defense|
|14||700||Club||+3 to Attacks|
|17||700||Chain Mail Armor||+3 to Defense|
|20||800||Mace||+4 to Attacks|
|23||900||Splint Mail Armor||+4 to Defense|
|26||900||Flail||+5 to Attacks|
|28||1000||Banded Mail Armor||+5 to Defense|
|30||1100||Glowing Sword||+6 to Attacks|
|32||1200||Plate Mail Armor||+6 to Defense|
And the events.
|1||Secret||Roll one die. If the result is 5 or higher, collect three (3) Treasure cards.|
|2||Secret||Roll one die. If the result is 4 or higher, collect two (2) Treasure cards.|
|3||Shortcut||This card may be kept until needed. Return to the Exit square immediately.|
|4||Shortcut||This card may be kept until needed. Return to the Exit square immediately.|
|5||Tunnel||Move four (4) squares ahead.|
|6||Tunnel||Move four (4) squares back.|
|11||Cave-In||Lose a turn.|
|12||Cave-In||Lose a turn.|
|13||Trap||Roll one die. If the result is 2 or less, lose a turn and this square’s Treasure card.|
|14||Healing Waters||This card may be kept until needed. Return the most severe Wound card without returning to the Exit square.|
|15||Healing Waters||This card may be kept until needed. Return the most severe Wound card without returning to the Exit square.|
|16||Healing Waters||This card may be kept until needed. Return the two most severe Wound cards without returning to the Exit square.|
|17||Dragon Hoard||Fight a dragon. If successful, roll one die and take three (3) more than the number rolled Treasure cards.|
|18||Skeleton||Take three Treasure cards from this unfortunate explorer.|
|19||Pin Cushion||Take three Treasure cards from this unfortunate explorer.|
|20||Ambush||Roll both dice. If the result is greater than your defense score, an unknown explorer has taken three (3) Treasure cards from you.|
|21||Quest||If you defeat a Manticore before returning to the Exit square or have defeated one since leaving the Exit square, receive three (3) Treasure cards on arriving at the Exit square.|
|22||Quest||If you defeat a Rompo before returning to the Exit square or have defeated one since leaving the Exit square, receive two (2) Treasure cards on arriving at the Exit square.|
|23||Quest||If you defeat an Ogre before returning to the Exit square or have defeated one since leaving the Exit square, receive one (1) Treasure card on arriving at the Exit square.|
|24||Rage||This card may be kept until needed. In a fight, add four (4) to an attack against a monster.|
|25||Level Up||Until leaving the Oubliette, all monsters have +1 power. On leaving, all Treasure cards are worth +100 gold|
|26||Level Up||Until leaving the Oubliette, all monsters have +1 power. On leaving, all Treasure cards are worth +100 gold|
|27||Level Up||Until leaving the Oubliette, all monsters have +1 power. On leaving, all Treasure cards are worth +100 gold|
|28||Recovery!||This card may be kept until needed. Reroll a failed attack or force a monster to reroll.|
|29||Recovery!||This card may be kept until needed. Reroll a failed attack or force a monster to reroll.|
|30||Dodge||This card may be kept until needed. Add three (3) to your defense value.|
|31||Revenge||This card may be kept until needed. If a monster wounds you, you may attack it again.|
|32||Revenge||This card may be kept until needed. If a monster wounds you, you may attack it again.|
And the wounds.
|1||Merely a Scratch||0|
|7||Only a Flesh Wound||1|
|9||Soft Tissue Injury||1|
|17||Merely a Scratch||0|
|23||Only a Flesh Wound||1|
|25||Soft Tissue Injury||1|
If you’d like to give Open Oubliette a try, you’ll need to supply your own dice (or random-number generator) and playing tokens, but I’d love to hear how it went! My own tests seemed reasonable, but I also don’t play a lot of games, so it might be terrible.
It’s certainly not perfect, by any means—I’d especially like additional monsters to replace the duplicates without digging into the same sources of folklore, so feel free to make recommendations with links—but like I said, it seems to play reasonably well and improvement is why it’s Free Culture! Share your experiences and/or issue pull requests at the game repository, which will be at https://github.com/jcolag/BoardGames by…let’s say Wednesday morning.
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