Emergent: A Card Game By Daniel Palmer, Now With Networking Support?

Emergent is a card game created by my advisor, Dr. Daniel Palmer. It consists of players placing colored shapes on a board while maintaining certain constraints. The game is cooperative, meaning that you must work together as a team in order to win. It has been blogged about before by Dr. David King here, where he explains the game and his thoughts and feelings. In this post, I will talk about the work I put into digitizing the game.

In the game, there is a 4×4 grid, and there are 16 card players may place on the board, made from four shapes and four colors. Each card has three copies. A typical constraint may consist of “you cannot place any cards in that row,” or “you must place all green squares to the left of the center,” or “there are no yellow diamonds allowed.” Each player gets a set of constraints that they must maintain. The catch is that players may not tell other players their constraints. Because of this cut of communication, players propose two actions to the other players and a vote occurs. I have included screenshots of a work in progress digitized version I have created:

The Game's Beginning State

The Game’s Beginning State from Eric’s perspective

The Games Beginning State from User 2's perspective

The Games Beginning State from User 2’s perspective

There are two separate areas on the screen above: the card supply on the left, and the playing field on the right. Players move cards from the supply to the field when playing. Above, we have two players playing in separate sessions perhaps across separate devices. Eric has three constraints: all squares have to be to the right of the center, the number of diamonds has to equal the number of blue shapes on the board, and there cannot be ANY green spheres at all. User 2 has two constraints: all the blue squares must touch a red circle (and vice versa), and there cannot be any cards in the top row. In order to win, both 12 cards must be placed on the board and all user’s constraints must be satisfied. When pieces are removed, they are gone forever, so it is very possible and likely that players will lose. The card game (the non-digital implementation) seems very balanced so far, and takes a good amount of thought to complete. Because of the lack of communication, players form emergent behavior on how to place pieces not unlike how behaviors emerge in swarms. This is where the name gets its name from.

Throughout the past few weeks, I have been working on/off on digitizing the game to make it playable across the Internet. This is an interesting game to digitize because there are a lot of things that may happen in a game that are hard to keep track of. A digital version of the game would allow for more gameplay, and less setting and organizing all the pieces. The first stage will involve creating a simple graphical Java application that can connect to a central server and play a game with others. This stage is already well under progress. The next step may consist of game created with Unity that will allow players to play against each other on a variety of platforms, including mobile devices.

Currently, my digital version of the game is in a pretty rough state with placeholder graphics, no sound, etc…, but it is playable nonetheless. Much work has to be done before I would consider this version ready for a public beta. A lot of things have gone well so far: A working server browser has been implemented, games can be created with an arbitrary amount of players (but it is capped at 6 for now), and constraints can be randomly generated and sent to players. Taking turns works great. Players can only propose valid moves. A working server is up: games are all hosted on a cloud server, so player’s do not have to worry about opening ports to host a game, etc…

Now onto what has not been implemented, but has a high priority:

  • Many constraints (such as all card x must be to the left of card y, all diamonds must be in row 3, the list goes on, etc…)
  • A server-side winning condition
  • A way to go back to the main menu
  • Basic documentation/explanations on what to do when
  • Better Visuals
  • Security of the central server to prevent hacking the game board
  • And much more!

Like I said, the digital version of the game I am working on still needs more work, and there will be progress updates as a part of my blog. The card game is ready for prime time, and there should be a Kickstarter by Dr. Daniel Palmer sometime this year in which I will be supporting.

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