Creating Rainbow Poker: From Start to Kickstarter
Rainbow Poker is a card game I've been working on for over a year. It recently funded successfully on Kickstarter, was produced in China by Print Ninja, and is currently on a boat to the U.S. where it will be distributed to Kickstarter backers and soon sold online.
I actually didn't set out to make a trick-taking game. While working on a board game I was experimenting with new ideas for poker variations that I could use as an interaction between players. I ended up combining 2 decks, my mind went somewhere crazy, and pretty soon I had all of these ideas for a poker game with colors instead of suits and multiple cards in each rank. I had also been teaching poker to 2 of my sons who were 7 and 9. We weren't betting or shuffling between every hand so we started keeping our cards to count our "score." This got me thinking that maybe a trick-taking version of poker could be fun. I went through a bunch of different ideas on paper and eventually settled on a deck of cards that involved 3 cards each of 5 ranks (Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten) in 5 colors (Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Purple) . I made my first deck with blank cards and Sharpies so my wife and I could try the game out.
My wife and I played for a couple of weeks and the rules evolved quickly.
- We started off playing our cards in turn and eventually moved to a "ready, flip" scenario which made sluffing bad cards less possible.
- In Rainbow Poker you get 15 cards to make poker hands for 5 tricks - a 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5-card trick. We originally played the tricks in this order but eventually moved the 1-card trick to the finale since it often makes for an exciting finish to each round. A showdown!
- I learned about permutations and combinations and calculated the odds that certain hands would occur in the game. This is how we were able to set the ranking order for different hands. If you're interested I posted some of my calculations on math.stackexchange.com.
- Scoring changed a ton. In the beginning you just got points for tricks you won. Then we switched to a bidding system. The highest bidder would either win or lose the number of points they bid based on whether or not they won at least that number of tricks. As you can imagine, this sometimes led to some scores in the low negatives and one player sometimes feeling like they were pretty much out of the game. Eventually, we stumbled onto the setup we have now: players bid counter-clockwise needing to outbid the highest bid or pass. This leaves one "highest bidder." The highest bidder can win the number of points they bid if they win at least that number of tricks. If they fail to meet or exceed their bid everyone else at the table receives one point for each trick that they won.
- Bidding itself evolved from a blind bid (we’d say "3, 2, 1, bid" and each player would reveal with their fingers how many points they bid) to the counter-clockwise bid... partly because my 8 and 10 year old got pretty good at delaying their "bid fingers" and mostly because we needed a single highest bidder with the new method of scoring.
These changes brought us to the point where bidding was extremely important (as it is with most trick-taking games) and the game had become fun. My wife and I were genuinely enjoying playing a few rounds every night once we got our 4 kids down to sleep.
I decided that the development of the game was going well enough to spend some time on the graphic design. I made an early digital version of the cards with bright colors and a retro feel. I wanted the retro style because I believed that the combination of poker and trick-taking should feel like a "modern classic."
Once I had a design I was pretty happy with I posted it on a Reddit forum called r/tabletopgamedesign to get some feedback. Within minutes I got a number of actionable insights that would help the design right away. A couple of the most notable were:
- Try a muted color palette which should work better with the retro feel.
- The letters in the corners are hard to distinguish.
- Colorblind players will have trouble telling the colors apart. Icons for each color would help.
I joined a game designers group early in the year and when they reviewed the card design one of them advised me that a border around the cards would make them show less wear and also make it impossible for other players to see the colors of face down cards on the table that bleed slightly onto the sides of the cards. Another user on Reddit wondered if texture on the cards would add to the design. I tried both.
My wife and I liked the cards with no texture and my game design group agreed so we dropped the texture. Another member of my game design group noted that the Q on the queen looked more like a magnifying glass so I worked on a new design.
With the card fronts in a place where I felt really good about them I started working on some card backs. I made 5 designs and again posted them on r/tabletopgamedesign for feedback.
The overwhelming favorite was #4 - light blue with the retro rainbow - with #3 close behind. The best advice I got in that thread, however, was that a symmetrical design would better match standard cards and would be less frustrating for the OCD players among us :) I thought it was a good idea so I experimented. I also played a game of Rainbow online with my designers group and one of the players had an idea to add 1 wild card for each rank. I made a design for the wild card and ended up loving the symmetrical card back. I also changed all rainbows to go from purple on top to red on the bottom since in the game there is a built-in trumping order with the colors and purple is the highest (followed by blue, green, orange, and red).
I began designing the box and decided to use the rough design from the card back that was a favorite from feedback online and also added 5 cards from the game, one from each color (which in the game is actually called a "rainbow" and beats all other hands).
I launched the game on Kickstarter in mid-July. One backer noted that he plays cards regularly with a number of colorblind players and that icons are often frustrating for them and they would rather just have "red", "green", etc. written on the card. The icons I had been using were from a system called ColorADD which Uno used for their colorblind-friendly deck a few years ago. I had assumed that with Uno using them they would be popular among colorblind players but after doing more research and chatting with Michael Herron from Meeples Like Us it seemed that colorblind players were not at all familiar with ColorADD. I tried a version with words for the color indicators but then had an idea to use icons that would not only signify the color but also the color strength since colors are a built-in trumping order for hands that tie (purple > blue > green > orange > red).
When the Kickstarter funded successfully in August I got to work on "final final" designs for everything, including the packaging and rules. There was definitely a learning curve in preparing print-ready files but the final product looks like it will be gorgeous. I can't wait to get these decks to our backers all over the world!