Does the idea of mandatory Blitzball games fill you with delight? Do you say to yourself “Gee, it’s been a while since I went for a dive and really tested my mettle against those Luca Goers.” Or do you find yourself letting in fifteen goals in a short a space of time as possible to get it over with? Minigames can be a surprise bonus for the avid fan or a rage inducing megaproblem for the hardcore completionists. Join me and examine some of the better examples of mini games in the world of video gaming!
Caravan is a card game played by the denizens of the irradiated Mojave Wasteland in the Fallout series published by RPG colossus Bethesda. The deck used is scrabbled together using loose playing cards. The game itself was designed by Caravan Guards to play one-on-one on the long treks from one shanty town to the next. Caravan embodies the DIY ethos of this newly formed civilization, risen from the atomic dust of the old. Because players can use any card they find and add it to their deck, the sands are filled with tricksters looking to prey on the weak and naive. There is no limit on the number of cards of any one type that a player can hold, although they cannot have duplicate cards from the same set. Caravan is a low-stakes game but any sort of currency can be used in the betting rounds; bottle caps, the most common currency of the wasteland, NCR dollars, legion coins and even pre-war money. Caravan is often seen played on street corners amidst the rubble and rusted scrap, away from the glamorous casinos of New Vegas. To explain that in modern terms, if you have a deck of cards based off The Lord of the Rings universe, you may only have one King of Hearts from that deck, but players CAN have any amount of King of Hearts cards from separate decks. When the highlight of your day is not being killed by gigantic Radscorpions, the idea of ‘loose rules’ for a card game doesn’t seem so important.
The Witcher is evidence that genre-defining open-world games, breathtaking in their scope, can have the unlikeliest of origin stories. The Witcher has echoes of so many games I have played before, while still feeling like a riveting new experience. The Polish company that developed the game, CD PROJEKT RED, struggled to find games that catered to all their needs and wants. In a world of Diablo clones, you can get lost in the loot. Sure it seems of vital importance that the Argonian barmaid has her Father’s enchanted mallet back on the table by teatime but when you drop it back and she hands over four golden coins and a shoddy silver ring, you can’t help but think all these fetch quests are lacking in scope. I too have been tricked by the sheen of a purple rarity drop, or constant statistics floating up on screen informing you that there are only 85 magical teapots left to collect until you unlock more horse armor. There’s something inherently amusing about visiting a fantasy world so different from our own and doing the equivalent of a customer service role.
The game developers went ahead and created the game they wanted to play, and boy does it show. A beautiful mix of classic high fantasy, think ivory citadels and majestic war horses. Now keep that classical fantasy image in your head but also add the grime and poverty of Game of Thrones’ Flea Bottom. For every polished sword and quilted doublet, we have fifteen toothless farmers scrounging in the dirt to make their living. For every princess pining for a brave knight to come and steal her away from a life of, at most, mild tedium, we have a mucky hovel filled with brutes ready to gamble and drink their way to oblivion.
So with a color picture of this world kindly painted directly onto your brain, we move on to Gwent. Gwent is a fast-paced card game played by the denizens of the ever-expanding Nilfgaardian Empire. The game is designed for one on one play. It’s about two armies warring on the battlefield, locked in mortal combat. The two players each represent the leaders and the cards represent the various factions of their armies. There are five different playable factions with their own unique skillsets, which also provide a permanent unique bonus throughout the game. There are 22 cards in a Gwent deck, with each faction’s deck featuring unique cards and heroes. The game is kickstarted by a coin toss, letting fate decide which player will move first. The player is then given ten cards randomly chosen from their deck, with an opportunity to return two cards in the hope of drawing something better. Players can put one card into play per turn, unless a special ability card allows for more. Whichever player goes first will put a Unit Card down on the dedicated ‘combat row’. Each unit card has ‘strength points’ which are all added together. When both players have no more cards to play, the player with the most total ‘strength points’ is the winner. Matches are played in a best of three format. Each participant has something called ‘round points’ at the top of their card, which are added to or subtracted from based on the outcome of a given hand. In the event of a draw, both players lose a point unless you have chosen the Nilfgaardian deck.
PHEW. Got all that?
According to the game’s lore Triple Triad was created by a psychic named Orlan who modified tarot cards for use in a card game, coining the name ‘Triple Triad.’ The game originally gained popularity among soldiers, much like Caravan in the Fallout series, but by the time of the events of Final Fantasy VIII, the game is widely played and popular with all demographics. Unlike other card based minigames, players obtain cards for their deck by defeating monsters in battle or by using a special ability called ‘Card.’ Players can also win cards by defeating other players and merging the two decks. Each card has four numbers written in the top left hand corner. These numbers each represent one corner of the card. The cards belonging the opposing player will be shown in pink and your own cards will show up in purple. In the top right corner of the card an image will show what element a card represents: Earth, Water, Poison, Holy, Lightning, Wind, Ice or Fire. Ten cards are played in total. In order to win, a majority of the cards played on the board must be of the player’s card color, purple in this case. Players must capture their opponent’s cards. If your opponent places a card down on the board, it’s your job to place a card adjacent to this. The card ranks are compared (the four numbers written on the top left) and the lower ranked card is captured and switched to the opponent’s color.
I like this one a lot. Striking colors and gorgeous card artwork, the Final Fantasy special.
A long, long time ago in a galaxy far far away a group of aliens sat down, exhausted after a day’s work nerf herding and turned to gambling to whittle their long space evenings away. Pazaak is an ancient game, even in a universe which introduces itself by informing you how old it is, reportedly dating back to the age of the Old Republic. At one point in the Star Wars canon, the game was so popular that Pazaak rooms were found in almost every cantina in the galaxy. The goal of the game, much like 21, was to reach 20 without going over. The player with the closest sum to 20 is the round winner. The player who wins all three rounds wins the match and any round scored a draw is not counted as a victory or a defeat for either player. Each player has two decks; the main deck, composed of cards numbered 1-10 and a side deck, from which players draw their hands at each turn. The side decks are assembled by the player’s themselves previous to the commencement of the game and must have exactly ten cards.
To begin a game players select four cards from their side deck and one card from their main deck. Remember when I mentioned that the main deck cards are numbered from 1-10? The player who draws the highest value card goes first. After this, a player draws a card from their main deck once again and plays it on the table. After this, a player can choose to play another card from their hand or end their turn. No more cards are drawn from the side deck for the remainder of the game. If a player chooses to end their turn, they must draw a card from their main deck to be played at the beginning of their next turn. Rinse and repeat until they reach twenty, fill the table or go bust. On top of that, you can add cards to your deck that subtract or add values, allowing you to get closer to that sweet spot number 20.
Red Dead Redemption
There are other space games that are pretty much poker with minor science fiction elements I could ramble on about but there’s enough pixies and tentacled space horrors in the above entries to keep even Lovecraft satisfied.
Red Dead Redemption, for those not in the know, is considered one of the triumphs of modern gaming. If the most influential modern games were listed under a ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’ type format, Red Dead Redemption and the newest Grand Theft Auto game could share one lofty pedestal. Incredible graphics, a full world to explore, engaging sidequests – the works. Now generally when I purchase a game, or indeed, begin to consider purchasing a new game (they can cost up to 80 of our Earth euros I’ll have you know) I must ask myself, how many toothless, bearded mad men in longjohns will I encounter on the old dusty trail? If the answer is anything more than none, you’ve sold yourself a game. The whole world seems incredibly real and teeming with flora and fauna, you can almost smell the turpentine and laudanum. In this land of bandana-clad banditos, rattling viper tails and murderous Native American warbands, the cards are king. The poker rules used in the game are no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em. The High Stakes Poker game is the most expensive gambling activity available in the game, requiring $250 just to sit in on the action. Cheating is not possible in the highest stakes games, you must win these games using your own cunning.
Marston, the game’s protagonist, can cheat most of the time though thanks to a special tailored suit item which allows the wearer to sneak and snoop their way to the pot. When dealing the cards, a mini game starts where the player must control an arrow and keep it in the center using the analog stick. If the arrow strays too far in either direction, other players at the table will begin to take notice of your shady tactics. If the player can keep the arrow still, a card is taken from the bottom of the deck and hidden, presumably literally up your sleeve. When the betting rounds begin, the player can choose to trade this cheat card for any one in his hand. If a player chooses to exchange cards, the minigame starts up again. If successful, the cheat card goes into the hand and the discarded card goes to the reserve pile. The higher the buy-in amount, the higher chance other players will notice any cheating that goes on.
The poker minigame is an aside to the main storyline of the game but can also be played in multiplayer modes. Cheating is not available in multiplayer poker so if you want to fleece your friends in a Wild West style, you had best chuck sawdust down on your basement floor and search Amazon for a ‘Best of the West’ CD.
“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”
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