Like everyone else, I’ve been playing a buttload of Regicide, designers Paul Abrahams, Luke Badger, and Andy Richdale’s game of royal assassination that can be played with any old deck of 52 playing cards.
Also like everybody else, I’m slightly smitten.
Okay, look, let’s praise this thing to the heavens.
It’s a fine thing to see somebody take a deck of cards and transform it into something else. I’d even call it a form of magic. And it’s all the more magical that the feat was accomplished with the very deck of cards that we instinctively picture when we say “a deck of cards.” At this point, that deck is a cultural artifact. It’s something we own, a language we all speak. We know its shape in our hands. We know the feel of its cardstock, right down to the grain. Most of us can probably count its suits and numbers in some rudimentary fashion; I’d wager around half of us could perform a passable magic trick. It’s a thing that’s both earthy and elegant and vaguely divine in the dangerous sense, the pick of grungy ranch hands and upscale casino rakes and folk diviners alike.
Regicide bears that load and fashions something new. Something new that also feels exactly like the hundred other games we’ve played before. It’s unmistakably a playing card game, the sort you might break out with friends for a few hands or watch a spiritless high school teacher noodle with on his desktop. There’s skill. There’s chance. There’s probably a debate over which it favors. That’s cards, baby.
Regicide works because of that familiarity. Because you’ll count the cards. Because you’ll recognize the suits. Because you already harbor some resentment toward the royalty cards and wouldn’t mind impaling them with two feet of sharpened steel.
It even continues that grand tradition of being miffed by the untimely appearance of the wrong card. The short version is that you’re trying to kill a deck of twelve jacks, queens, and kings, each in sequence. You do this by playing cards from your hand to deal damage, then discarding cards to absorb the damage dealt in retaliation by your would-be target. Each suit has a power. Spades, in their shield-shaped glory, block damage. Clubs double damage, even though they technically look like they’d triple it. Hearts “heal” cards from your discard pile back into your deck, while diamonds heal them back into your hand to keep you going. And because the royalty are brats, they each blocks the effect of their printed suit. Count on the queen of diamonds to show up at the exact moment you needed to top off your hand.
There are other wrinkles. Aces as animal companions who lend their suit to your attack. Jokers who drain a target of their power. Forcing royalty cards into your deck by hitting them with exact damage. Even so, it’s not much heftier than your average solitaire of choice. In terms of rules, I mean. When it comes to difficulty, Regicide intends to kick your ass.
Because also like your average solitaire of choice, those first few clicks — I mean moves — are so simple that they hardly require any thought. “Well, duh, I’m going to pile these cards in this column” becomes “Well, duh, I’m going to block retaliation damage.” Then the pressure performs an about face. Usually by killing you outright. Was that the fault of the draw or because you didn’t plan out your hand? Should you have tried harder to convert a few jacks to your cause rather than killing them? Who knows. But the process of play is so familiar, so smooth, so snappy, what’s another round? Four plays later, what seemed like a filler game has absorbed the better part of an hour.
True, I wouldn’t mind if it were a little easier. I have yet to kill a king, so it’s less a game of Regicide and more like Royalty’s Friends & Familycide. And I’d love for there to be some official rubric for scoring, so that perhaps we could use that as a yardstick to gauge our performance instead of just losing like chumps all the time. We didn’t kill the big guys, but we left them without spouses and heirs. That’ll get them rethinking our petition for a constitution, surely?
Still, Regicide is here to stay, partly because there’s no getting rid of it now that it’s joined the thousand-plus pantheon of card games that can be had for three dollars from nearly any grocery store checkout line. As I said earlier, this is a form of magic. Minor magic, perhaps, a cantrip or scrap of illusion. That makes it no less worth the seeing.