# Mechanic for secret actions in a card game

Is there a good mechanic for taking an anonymous action in a card game, specifically one that still moves resources?

For context, in one phase of this game, each player will give the target player a card. These are shuffled face-down and given to the target player, each having a certain effect on him.

I'd ideally like a way that a card could do something like steal gold (represented with tokens) without having to reveal who played that card.

I'm also trying to avoid too much of an honor system, so having someone just add gold to their own count by tracking with a pencil and paper isn't a great solution really.

• Anonymous to whom? Say that player X is trying to steal a resource from player Y. I'm guessing based on your description that X knows about the transfer, since it doesn't sound like they are choosing actions blindly. Does Y know that an action is taking place, or will they not know about the resource being transferred until some later point? Is it acceptable that X and Y know about the transfer, but nobody else at the table knows about it? Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 1:46
• A related question: what is the goal you are trying to achieve by shuffling the cards? To prevent Y from knowing that X was the one who is trying to steal the resource? Or to make it so that other players can't figure out each others' cards based on card order and such? Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 1:53
• My intention is that everybody knows what happened to Player Y, but only Player X knows who did it. @MikeR is the only solution that accomplishes this, but some of the other answers are really interesting, and I might adjust my circles of knowledge.
– Cain
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 0:43

I'll illustrate with a five-player example. It is player A's turn. Based on my reading, I am assuming the following things. Are these assumptions correct?

• Players B, C, D and E each play a card face down and give it to player A.
• All cards are played simultaneously.
• Player A does not know which player played which card.
• Some cards may cause player A to lose resources to another player.

If the above are true, use the following arrangement and turn workflow.

Setup / components

• Each player has a screen behind which they can keep their resources available for easy access, but hidden from others.
• The game board will contain a number of spaces for playing cards face down. These places will be labeled with numbers.
• Resources are the same size and shape, even for different denominations.
• A number of opaque bags (with drawstrings for easy and quiet opening and closing) are available

Turn flow

• Player A looks away from the board.
• Players B, C, D, and E, each plays a card on one of the available spots on the board.
• Once all cards are played, the player to A's left tells A that they have finished.
• A looks back at the board. A takes 1 card, reads it, and fills a bag with the required resources from behind his screen. If the card does not cause a resource transfer, player A places a 0-resource token in the bag. A replaces the bag where the card was.
• A repeats the above step for each card.
• A looks away from the board.
• Each player takes the bag from the spot where they placed their card, and claims the resources from it.
• Once all cards are played, the player to A's left tells A that they have finished.
• Also note that this method can be modified to allow resource passing in both directions by putting the card and resources (including 0-resources token) in a bag on the first step and putting the bag directly on the board. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 15:31
• This generally works until someone makes a mistake. If you were supposed to get 3 resources, and only got 2, you can't correct the mistake without giving up your anonymity. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 21:15
• This hits everything I was thinking of, nice job!
– Cain
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 0:38
• I was even intending to have Player Y reveal which actions happened to him, which made me originally think this wouldn't quite work, but on a closer read he can easily do this whithout revealing which card goes to which bag.
– Cain
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 0:39
• Thanks. I do think @bwarner raises a valid concern regarding the difficulty of resolving errors while remaining anonymous. I guess that can be resolved by officially having the active player remain turned until everyone has confirmed their transaction was correct. Experienced groups could assume correct transactions and proceed more quickly. Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 1:33

Depending on how long you'd want to be anonymous to the target player, and assuming every other player plays their cards anonymous at the same time you could do the following:

• each player takes one bag from a set of colored bags (or alternatively card sleeves, or something similar) and puts their action card in it without making it obious to the target player which player used which color
• put all bags in a single container (or just mix them together), then hand it to the target player
• the target player now opens each bag, reads the card, acts according to the instructions given (such as "Put 4 Gold Pieces in this bag, you scallywag!") and puts the original card in the bag as well, then returns the bag and the possibly added contents to the container
• after all bags are handled, the container is returned to the other players
• each player then takes their bag and verifies it's contents using the card that was returned along with the "loot", and may protest at this point if that player didn't follow the instructions, using the returned card and the rest of the bag's contents as proof

This system has the following qualities:

• minimal memorization is required - players only need to remember the cards they put into the bag, and only until they get it back
• other players than the target player will know what bag color you've chosen, but because you can choose a different color each time, this isn't an issue (if a player always takes the same color of bag, that's their decision, and may even be used as a deception tactic)
• even though the distribution is secret, all players can prove that they got out of the action what they should have, as until they move their loot back to their own goods, it will be united with the card that describes what should have been done
• bags will be anonymous only until their contents are verified, so this is only useful at all if the cards you are able to play include choices, such as "Put 4 Gold Pieces in this bag, or discard a Crew Mate!"

You might be thinking that just like selecting the bag color secret from the target player, taking it back in secret would work just the same to make the whole process anonymous. Depending on your game, this may or may not be possible, but here are the issues I see with that:

• it's much easier to handle the verification of bag contents when you don't have to hide it from a player, because if you do, chances are you won't be able to prove that you didn't modify the bag's contents until you show it
• if you do have any objections about a bag's contents, you would have to reveal yourself either way. This could be an incentive for the targetted player to intentionally provide the wrong contents in order to find out who played a certain card (which could be a game mechanic on it's own, as that player possibly doesn't even want to reveal themselves, so the target player might get away with it)
• excluding a player from gameplay is always fickle, so you would want to minimize the time that has to happen. Choosing a bag takes a few seconds at the most in a sensible play group, but opening bags, verifying contents, adding those contents to your stock in a way that doesn't make it obvious you just gained a pile of dubloons, then making sure everyone else is done as well and finally notifying the targetted player that they may continue participating in the game again sounds like it would take too much time.

Also, sorry for giving this a bit more of a pirate theme than I probably should have...

• We posted nearly simultaneously with similar ideas. I think taking the best elements of each makes a great solution. Your use of differently-colored bags is more elegant than my use of a gameboard. My inclusions of a screen to conceal resources and a 0-resource token speeds up gameplay and preserves anonymity. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 15:41
• @MikeR: Indeed! I tried to avoid secret elements as much as possible, which is why I tried to work with openly visible resources. Screens will make a lot of it easier indeed, yet fall under the same criticism from the lower-most list in my answer. Be that as it may, have my upvote. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 15:58
• This is a really great solution, I like that it can potentially obscure what happened to player Y from everyone else. Do you think there's a way to twist this so that everyone can know Y was stolen from, but only X knows who did it?
– Cain
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 0:36
• Might be too complicated, but maybe Y doesn't reveal which card came from/goes to which bag? Incorporating a screen like @MikeR s answer?
– Cain
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 0:37
• @Cain: The target player could reveal what each card says and not where it came from simply by keeping the rest of the bags (and the one from the current card) out of sight of the other players. It's a bit hard to answer without knowing exactly what you're going for, as in terms of playability, I would opt against both this and a screen, as players can be a lot more relaxed the less things they have to keep secret, yet you apparently require such a solution. Unless MikeR's answer already fulfills all your needs, maybe update your question with a little more info on why anonymity is relevant? Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 6:09

Hmm, tough one. I don't see a way to do this as long as you have physical resource tokens. Even if the number of tokens is obscured via a bag or similar, it's really hard to conceal a transaction between two players. Two ideas come to mind:

Have one player dedicated to a standalone banker position. This player would be responsible for housing all other players resources and brokering transactions. In your case, they'd have to be handed the event cards unshuffled (so they'd know who provided what), perform the required transactions secretly, then shuffle the cards and pass them to the target. But nobody wants to do that by itself, so you'd have to integrate it into game play by creating some additional set of victory conditions for this player. E.g., maybe she can choose to play underhanded and shortchange other players, keeping some resources for herself. Of course, now you're faced with the additional task of, how does each player remember what their resource bank looks like? Maybe they have counter cards like in King of Tokyo where they can spin a dial to set what they think they have. Imagine this conversation...

• Player: (looks at card, sees their wood counter at 5) "I spend four wood to build a house." (spins wood counter to 1)
• Banker: "I'm sorry, you only have three wood."
• Player: "What?"
• Banker: "I'm afraid there's been a fire."
• Player: "You cheating scum!"

This of course opens up the wonderful tactic of intentionally trying to spend more than you know you have, so that the banker will have to tell you that you don't have that much, so you can accuse them of stealing and hurt their reputation with the other players. Heh heh, this seems pretty damn fun actually.

Alternatively, if you don't have physical resource tokens then you have to have electronic ones. This pretty much implies that you'll need some sort of electronic device included with the game, or (more likely) a companion app that each player runs on their phone. (Heh, I'm a software engineer, so this is how I tend to solve problems.)

• So you are making the assumption that if player X steals from player Y, then Y doesn't know about it until a later point? This is a pretty good solution if that's the case (especially if you are forced to build something you declare, since as you pointed out, that's the only way to know for sure how much you actually have). But as I put in the question comments, it's not entirely clear if that's what the OP intended. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 2:04
• I have read it as, "I want player Y to know that something has been stolen from them, but I don't want them to be able to figure out that player X was the thief." So in my suggestion, Y would know that he's had something stolen because he gets the card that says so, but he has no idea who did the stealing, because the broker has shuffled the cards and hidden the movement of resource counters. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 2:11
• This is a really interesting idea, the concept of not knowing your own resources. Definitely requires a third party to track, but I'm going to think about incorporating it
– Cain
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 0:41

One thought I had was that the cards played against the player are still in play (and could have stolen resources on them), but they aren't applied to the "giver" until claimed. This would reduce the resources of the target, but not give away the "giver" until they wanted to show it.

I like to think of it like illicit money (which it kinda is!) and having an audited bank account. It's really hard to tell you've stolen money until you add it to your account or have more possessions than you should have.

Now, how to make sure that someone doesn't claim your card: one thought is that the cards would be put into envelopes with a clear side. You put the action at the window, and a "it's mine" card behind it. Then when claiming show your card.

This idea does have the problem of cards laying around unclaimed, but it would depend on how often it happens during a game.

Piggy banks! You can't say "Give 3 coins to a Player A" and not make it obvious they are the theaf, right? Make it "Put 3 coins in the red piggy bank" instead. Now, the players were assigned colors secretly at the start of the game and each have corresponding set of cards of their color, but nobody knows which is which. The tricky part, though, is to let people pick up money from their piggy bank (possibly along with played cards of their color) later in the game. I see next options:

1. Most obvious and most fiddly. Add a phase when all players leave/close eyes/cycle piggy banks under the table and have an opportunity to secretly check their own piggy bank. You'll need a specific key for each piggy bank for this to work.
2. Reval everybody's colors at the end of the round (maybe after a set of rounds), take what's yours and then re-assign colors again.
3. Make it a voluntarily reveal action, so you can pick up your "income" when you need it, but everyone knows who you are from now on.
4. Never pick up money, just check who had stolen more at the end of the game.

Or just use an app.

• I like this, because it keeps conistent which bank is getting how much money, so everyone is trying to guess who the jerk with the red piggy bank is. But the effort to withdraw seems like too much for a card game.
– Cain
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 0:40
• @Cain How about this: each piggy bank is actually a container with money but without any visible indication + colored overlay that attaches to only its container with specific latches. Then it can work like this: remove colored overlays and shuffle now unidentifyable containers, then players find one that matches with their keys, take money, shuffle containers again and attach colored overlays to fitting containers once again. With manageble number of players (4-5) it shouldn't be much fiddlier than other solutions. Also, it can be more convinient and cooler with magnetic latches and keys!
– Deo
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 9:17
• @Cain. Actually, it would be easier to just cover piggy banks with sacks, pass them around and remove sacks when you are done. Not as cool as magnets though :)
– Deo
Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 9:25