1 Oct 2014
September 2014 - Amontillado
tabletopcardsbrickwalltwo-playermurderpoeanalog

This one's kind of weird, even compared to other things I've been doing. During a discussion with some folks about this list of interesting things about hex grids, specifically the observation that a rectangular brick pattern is identical to a hex grid in terms of adjacency, the idea of a puzzle game involving bricklaying as the theme came up. My mind fairly soon after wandered to Poe's The Cask of Amontillado (info | full text). What if the game was the story of Montresor's slow and methodical murder of Fortunato?

The intimacy of a game where one player is attempting to slowly murder the other, while the victim has only words to defend himself, seemed appropriate for a tabletop setting, cards-as-bricks are a natural metaphor, and the story begins at the Carnival, which is close enough to this month's "Fair" theme for me. So here we are, with Amontillado.

The Characters of Amontillado

Amontillado is a card game in which two players face each other and take on the roles of the two primary characters in The Cask of Amontillado, albeit in a slightly modified telling of the story.

One plays as Montresor, who has resolved to murder Fortunato by meeting him at the Carnival where Fortunato had been drinking heavily, leading him into the catacombs of his palazzo, chaining him in an alcove, and walling him in with a freshly-laid brick wall across the entrance. In this version of the tale, Montresor chooses not to remain silent on his grievances, and instead explains Fortunato's wrongdoings as he builds his wall.

The other plays as as the doomed Fortunato, though in this telling he is not a helpless victim. Fortunato questions Montresor's accusations, casting doubt on the offenses, their details and their consequences, hoping to create enough doubt in Montresor's mind to convince him to back out of his plan. If he can delay long enough, perhaps Montresor's resolve will waver, and he will be spared.

The Cards of Amontillado

Playing as Montresor requires the player to build a wall of cards, 5 rows in total, as shown at right. From the player's perspective, the leftmost "brick" in each row must be a Grievance, the rightmost must be a Consequence, and the cards between can be Occasions, Audiences and Methods, though no row can contain two cards of the same type. Bricks above the first row can only be placed where there is at least one adjacent brick below it, and if a brick's support is removed, as demonstrated by the brick with an X in the image, it is removed at the end of Montresor's turn. If the Montresor player completes the wall formation with valid brick placements, they win.

As Fortunato, the player has limited resources - six cards, and a collection of "Doubt" tokens. On each turn, the player can place one Doubt token on up to three different bricks in the wall, then play one of their cards and resolve its effect. At the end of Fortunato's turn, every brick with three or more Doubt tokens on it is discarded. As Fortunato introduces doubt in Montresor, the task takes longer, and the opposing player is forced to reshuffle their discards to draw more cards. If the Montresor player is forced to reshuffle their discards three times, Fortunato wins.

The full rules are only slightly more involved than this description, and are available as a PDF below.

Hardware

Of my dabblings in tabletop gaming, this one is by far the simplest to actually play. A total of 53 cards cards are required, available as a printable PDF below, along with an arbitrary collection of small tokens, which could be any small item as long as you have at least 25 or so of them and you can easily fit three of them on a card.

Theme in Gameplay

The theme is the hook for the game, so I tried to weave it pretty thoroughly into the game. The wall is literally built between the players, with one building and one tearing down, and each card's text is designed such that from either player's perspective, each row describes a complete, though vague, accusation of Fortunato's wrongdoing. Montresor has a greater supply of resources to work with, but time is against him, so the mechanic of Montresor's defeat is reshuffling, i.e. taking too long. Fortunato has little to work with, only being able to cast doubt on parts of Montresor's story and having a few rhetorical gambits available to him in his efforts to further shake Montresor's resolve, so the player has only a collection of relatively weak doubt tokens and a handful of cards with various effects. Each of Fortunato's cards is couched in terms of introducing uncertainty in Montresor, with the exception of one outright emotional plea to shake Montresor's concentration, and is accompanied by flavor text hinting at how each one would play out in conversation.

The Verdict

I think as an experiment in theme this one worked out quite well. I got genuinely engaged in the emergent strategies while playtesting, and after a few phases of rules adjustments it seemed the two players were fairly evenly balanced and not overly reliant on luck. I had a lot of fun with this one and I may have to take it to my next tabletop group gathering and see how it goes over.