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[Mexican Standoff] A Party Game for You, Your Friends, & a Pile of Money

Started by timfire, November 30, 2005, 08:41:00 PM

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A while ago there was [a thread] where different people, including myself, posted some ideas for a "Resevoir Dogs"-style Mexican Standoff RPG. I've since developed my ideas some more, and finally got around to typing them out.

I've "playtested" this game twice---both times failures because I didn't have a turn structure. I've added a turn structure along with some other rules. The current draft is unplaytested, though hopefully I'll get a chance to play it this weekend.

Anyway, here you go, tell me what you think. I'm curious what y'all think of the turn structure, which is basically that the current player decides who goes next. And if anyone wants to playtest it, go ahead and tell me how it goes! This is going to be freebie game that I'll post on my website.

BTW, I was very tempted to call this "When the Shit Hits the Fan".


A Party Game for You, Your Friends, and a Big Pile of Money


by timfire (aka Timothy Kleinert)

The group plays a group of gangsters, hitmen, or other criminal-types standing over a pile of money, locked in a "Mexican standoff" after a heist gone bad. The details of this heist, as well as the players' role in it, are made up and improvised in play.

To take the (real!) pile of money, usually by being the last man standing.

To begin with, the players must sit in a circle, be it around a table, in chairs, or whatever.

Tokens: Each player, with the exception of the "starting player", receives two tokens. The "starting player"---which is simply the player who takes the first turn---only receives one token. Though it is assumed that someone will volunteer to be the starting player, the players may use whatever method they like to decide who goes first.

Though it is assumed that the players will use poker chips for these tokens, any sort of item may be used, be it coins, stones, or whatever.

Money: Each player must contribute an equal sum of money to a common pool, which presumably sits in the middle of the group. Each group may decide for themselves how much money should be at stake; though it should be enough to make the game "interesting".

"Guns": Each player is to point their finger as if they were holding a "gun". Please note that each player is only allowed one "gun", meaning they cannot hold a "gun" in each hand.

Playing the Game
Starting the Game: To begin the game, each player points their gun up in the air. Then, when everyone is ready, the starting player yells "Go!" or whatever. Everyone then brings their "gun" down, pointing it at whoever they want.

Taking Aim: Throughout the game, players may point their "gun" at whomever they desire, and at anytime may change whom they are aiming at. Please note that for the duration of the game, players are expected to maintain their "gun"-hand.

Speaking: Throughout the game, players are expected to only speak "in-character". That is, they are to only speak as if they were the gangster they are playing.

Taking Turns
Beginning with the "starting player", players take turns speaking. On a player's turn, they may say more or less whatever they want. This includes, but is not limited to, declaring facts about themselves, the heist, what went wrong, and even facts about other characters. [That last bit is especially significant. --timfire]

The one major constraint is that players may not declare any fact that contradicts what another player previously said, unless that player uses a token to "interrupt" (see below).

Passing the Turn: Players may speak for as long as they desire, unless the player is "interrupted" (see below). When a player is finished, they then pass the turn to whomever they want. This is done by posing a question or some other indication to a player of their choosing. The chosen player is then granted a turn to speak, again for as long as they desire. When they are finished, they then choose another player (even the player that went before them) and pass the turn on to them.

Side Comments: At any time, any player may make a side comment on the ongoing situation, given that these comments are not "disruptive" to the present player's turn.

At any time, a player may yell "Bang!" When a "Bang!" is called, all players automatically shoot their "guns", killing whomever the "gun" is pointed at. If a player is killed, they are removed from play, and may not collect the money pool---unless a "Some Die/ Some Live" condition is later met (see below). A "Bang!" may be stopped by using a token to "interrupt" (see below).

If after a "Bang!" multiple players are left alive, play continues as normal, albeit without the dead players.

"Stand Down!": Instead of yelling "Bang!", players have the option of calling "Stand Down!". If a "Stand Down!" is called, players are required to place their "gun" on the table and then cover it with their free hand. Players then have a choice---they may continue to point to their "gun", or they may make a fist.  After everyone has chosen and is ready, the player that called the "Stand Down!" yells "Show It!" or something to that effect. The players then move their free hand, revealing their choice.

If someone chooses to continue pointing, whomever they are pointing at is immediately killed, the same as with a "Bang!". If someone choose to make a fist, they do not shoot. If everyone chooses to make a fist, the game ends and everyone who participated in the "Stand Down!" lives. If some choose to shoot and some chose not to, the game continues as normal, the same as after a "Bang!".

During the "Stand Down!", players may continue talking until "Show It!" is called. A "Stand Down!" may be interrupted the same as a "Bang!".

[Note that when only two players are left alive, a "Stand Down!" is practically required. --timfire]

Players may use tokens to "interrupt" play---both a player's normal turn and a "Bang!". Players may only "interrupt" if they have a token in their possession.

Interrupting a Player's Turn: When a player wishes to interrupt another player's turn, they may simply cut in and pass the player in question a token, whom then keeps it. The interrupting player may then continues and take a turn speaking, effectively "stealing" the turn from the previous player. Interrupting a player's turn is usually done to contradict or alter what another player has said, though technically a player may interrupt simply to take a turn speaking.

If a player does not want to be interrupted, they must pass the interrupting player a token, rather than taking a token themselves. If under such conditions, the interrupting player still wishes to interrupt, they may attempt to pass the original player two tokens instead of one. Likewise, the original player may dispute the interruption by passing the interrupting player back two tokens. This may continue for as long the players have tokens to increase the bid.

Interrupting a "Bang!": When a "Bang!" is called, a player may interrupt the "Bang!" by IMMEDIATELY yelling "Wait! Wait!" or something to that effect. However, if a player interrupts a "Bang!", instead of passing the token, they must discard the token and remove it from play. No one may counter-bid an interrupted "Bang!". Also note, it is un-sportsmanly to simply yell "Bang! Bang! Bang!" until the player(s) runs out of tokens to interrupt the "Bang!".

Win Conditions
Everyone Dies: If on the FIRST instance of a "Bang!" all the players die, then the game ends and the everyone reclaims the money they put in the pool.

Last Man Standing: If after a "Bang!" or "Stand Down!" only one player is left alive, they take the entire pool.

Stand Down: If all the players involved in a "Stand Down!" choose not to shoot, then the pool is divided among all the participating players.

"Some Live/ Some Die": If in the first instance of a "Bang!", some players die and some live, the rules change slightly. If the remaining players manage to kill themselves in a later "Bang!" or "Stand Down!", the pool is NOT reclaimed. The "surviving" players lose out and the pool is divided among the player(s) that were killed in the earlier "Bang!". If multiple "Bangs!" or "Stand Down!" go by, the pool is divided among the all players that died previous to the final round.

Optional: The Timer
As an optional rule, groups may employ the use of a timer to simulate the threat of police. At the start of the game, one of the players sets a timer for something in the range 5-15 minutes---however long the group wants to play. After the timer is set, the player then hides the timer, just so that no one can see how much time is left. Play then starts.

If the timer goes off before the end of the game, it is declared that the police bust in and arrest the living players, effectively "killing"them in game terms. The pool is then divided up according to standard win conditions.

If someone is around who is not playing the game, the players should have them set the timer and not tell the group how much time is on the clock.
--Timothy Walters Kleinert


I remember this. Cool. Very strong game theory influences here :)

One remark re interrupting a player's turn: If I let someone else interrupt me, I could just interrupt him back a few seconds later to avoid having to give him a token (i.e., I receive a token for being interrupted and hand it back to interrupt moments later, instead of me paying one to not be interrupted). Maybe you could have a rule that, if you don't block the interruption, you cannot interrupt the player who took your turn away (or not for a while).

Josh Roby

Neat!  I especially like the money on the table aspect.

I'm confused why you included the Stand Down rules, though.  Is it just to resolve the "two guys left" problem, and give them a Prisoner's Gambit thing, since if they kill each other nobody gets the cash?
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog


I ... don't think I get this.  Perhaps I'm overthinking it.

If I have a gun pointed at me then my first priority is to make sure nobody at the table is motivated to say "Bang!", right?

Likewise, if I don't have a gun pointed at me (because somebody has two guns pointed at them) I am instantly motivated to say "Bang!", right?

So, by extension, say I'm pointing my gun at Bob, and Bob's pointing his gun at me.  Jennifer is pointing her gun at Danny, and Danny's pointing his gun at her.  I reveal some betrayal that Bob has indulged in, and Jennifer moves her gun so that it's pointing at Bob.  Isn't my only sensible move to point my gun at Danny, as quickly as possible?
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

Josh Roby

I'd say Yes, Tony, but the thing of it is -- and the thing of a Mexican Standoff -- is that the stuff being said is supposed to distract you from where the guns are pointed.  It's sort of like the card game Spoons (which has a thousand other names) where you try and collect a hand of one number, and when you do you put a finger to your nose; everybody who sees that you've done so does, too, and the round's loser is the guy who does it last.  This would be really simple if it wasn't for the cards that are sluicing through your hand, making it impossible to keep an eye on everybody else as well as your cards.

Tangential: this game would be much better if you played it with squirt guns, and "Bang!" resulted in large wet splotches on shirts.
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog


Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum


I'm a little confused by the "Some Live/Some Die" rules.  Why would the players who die get the money?  I'm certain that I'm missing something, but this is the only part of the game that made me cock my head sideways and say, "Huh?"

All the rest made sense, and, personally, I'd love to give this one a whirl.
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Josh Roby

Oh, also: if you realize that you don't have a gun pointed at you, that is not necessarily the time to say Bang! -- if you and one other person have no guns on you and you say Bang!, you'll end up with the two of you, and greatly increase the chances that the people who die in this first round will get the pot when the two of you axe eachother later.

GreatWolf, this is why there's the Some Live / Some Die rule -- it's an incentive not to wipe out half the players if you're not sure that you can seize the win with the remaining players.

I need to see this game played.
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog


"Stand Down" + "Some Live/ Some Die": Both of these were included to create a "Prisoner's Gamble" effect. The point to "Some Live/ Some Die" is like Joshua said, if you kill some people off, you need to make sure you can take the prize in the end. I don't think it would be too hard to take people out one by one, until you only have two or three people left.

At that point, you essentially have the "Prisoners Gamble". If you work together and "Stand Down", you each can take a small prize. If one of you betrays, that person takes a big prize. But if everyone betrays and shoots, you lose. In that situation, if you all shoot and all the money is returned, then you lose nothing. By giving the money to the players who died previously, the living players risk real loss... I hope that makes sense, I probably need to word it better.

The "Stand Down" rules were largely added to cope with one-on-one play, but I can see it being used with more players. I think this has more potential with the "timer" option, as if you think the police are on their way, you might be more inclined to "Stand Down" and take a small prize rather than risk being arrested.

I really need to see this in action, too, as I have yet to successfully make it through an entire game. (Without a turn structure, the games devolved into a screaming match.) The thing I really need to test out is tokens. I'm not sure what the optimal number of tokens players should have is.

Also, I think significant part of the game, at least at first, is monitoring who is holding tokens and who doesn't, and trying to manuever the situation so that certain people spend their tokens.

Oh!!! I forgot to say something in the rules---if someone dies, any tokens they might be holding disapears.
--Timothy Walters Kleinert


As a quick thought, given that you pointed out that the end game is a prisoners' dilemma ("PD"):

It seems to me people will always end up shooting each other if there are 2 of them left. After all, in a singular game of PD, the rational action is always to defect, in this case, to shoot.  See, I don't know what you picked.  But in either case, shooting is better.  If you decide not to shoot, I get either half the money (don't shoot) or all of it (shoot).  If you decide to shoot, I don't get any money either way.  As a rational self-interest maximizer, I am always going to shoot.

It might turn out that people in your playtest don't do that, that they get somehow swayed by the narrative of the game instead of the Gamist goal of getting as much money as possible.  But since you play for real money, that's a small chance.

Josh Roby

Ah, now Stand Down makes sense -- it's how you make peace with one or two other players, and split the pot, coming away with more than you put in.  Nice.
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog


Quote from: xenopulse on November 30, 2005, 11:54:57 PMBut in either case, shooting is better.  If you decide not to shoot, I get either half the money (don't shoot) or all of it (shoot).  If you decide to shoot, I don't get any money either way.  As a rational self-interest maximizer, I am always going to shoot.

So how much are the intangibles (i.e. "I was trustworthy") worth to you, in dollar terms?  I'd peg it at about $10, personally, though it depends on the group I'm keeping company with.  That means I'm likely not to shoot if the pot is $20 or less, and to shoot if the pot is greater than that.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum



It depends on whether the other players appreciate Stepping On Up as separate from out-of-game life, and how many times I think we'll be playing the game overall.  If the players are all cool with all-out competition, and there's only one game planned, I'll always shoot.  If they confuse my in-game behavior for actual character traits, as in being personally considered more or less "trustworthy" outside of the game because of my in-game actions, I might not shoot, but I wouldn't play competitive games with these people again in the future.  If we're planning on several games, at a certain point, I'd look at the long-term signal I am giving the other players and adjust my shoot/don't shoot behavior accordingly.


Y'know what, I'm really fine with "It depends."  That sounds like that fruitful void thing that all the kids are talking about these days.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum


Heya Tim,

I too remembered that thread from long ago.  I wrote my own version and submitted it for the November Ronnies (whatever happened to them anyway?).  I really like the idea of having real money on the table to increase tension.  A variant of my game that I thought of was setting it in a Wild West theme where the players all used nickels or quarters instead of Soviet Tokens.  I'd love to see how the tension would rise with a dozen or so coins up for grabs! :)