a Tasmanian Devil on the heap

Pouches of Destiny started as Greedy Devils which started as an entry to the 2017 200WordRPG challenge. Hurriedly squeezing it into 200 words (plus never having actually played it outside of my own head) meant that many nuances needed (a) discovering, and (b) ironing out. After some play-testing, the rules have improved, and it does seem like there is a fun+interesting game in there. Meanwhile, we’ll keep tinkering.

Any feedback? Leave a comment via this form, or via a github issue.

The Rules (version 1.10, 2017-12-24)

Setting the scene

You are highly motivated marsupials, scrabbling around for food on an ever-shifting rubbish heap, fighting for survival and supremacy. Everything you carry in your pouch leaches into you, changing your capabilities. Pick wisely. (ok, so, marsupials don’t usually carry food in their pouches, but, artistic license, dammit!)

You all start next to the heap, on bedrock, at points of your own choosing, with empty pouches.

You then take turns to explore the heap, picking up and discarding cards, and possibly fighting.

The winner will be the first marsupial with a pouch full of 5 different foods, standing on the highest visible spot on the heap.

You will need

  • a heap, i.e. a standard deck of playing cards
  • at least 2 players (also works with 3, and 4, and probably 5 - in fact, the more the better)
  • a unique token to mark each player’s position on the heap
    • small enough so that 2 or 3 tokens can fit on a single playing card
    • e.g. chess or monopoly pieces
      • or actual little plastic marsupial figures for that extra touch of authenticity…
  • enough space
    • in the middle, to lay out a 6x6 grid of cards, with room round the edge since it might spread wider than that.
    • in front of each player, to display up to 6 cards.

Prepare the heap

Start with a deck of 52 cards.

Remove three Kings, then

  • for two players, remove three Aces, two 2s, and one 3.
  • for three players, remove two Aces, and one 2.
  • for four players, remove one Ace.
  • for five players, don’t remove anything else.

Shuffle the remaining deck, and deal the cards face down as 9 mini piles arranged in a 3x3 grid - doesn’t matter if the piles have different numbers of cards.

Turn over the top card of each pile to be face up.

Later, any time the top card is taken from a pile, ensure the revealed card is face up.

The value of the top card in each of the piles represents the height above bedrock of the heap at that location.


  • 13, Kings (i.e. the highest possible)
  • 12, Queens
  • 11, Jacks
  • 10, Tens
  • 2, Twos
  • 1, Aces
  • 0, Bedrock

You start next to the heap, on bedrock, at locations of your own choosing, and can move alongside or onto the heap.

Your pouch

As you scramble across the heap, you can (and should) pick up cards to put in your pouch. It can hold a maximum of 5 cards, and you must immediately DISCARD any excess cards.

Your pouch cards are laid out in front you, face up, visible to all the other players at all times, except when you are selecting a card for fighting.

Each card in your pouch can be considered as food (if smaller than 6), or a weapon to be used in a fight (bigger is better). To win, you will need one of each of the possible food values (Ace,2,3,4,5) in your pouch (and to be standing on the highest visible part of the heap). Furthermore, the cards in your pouch ‘leach’ into you, affecting your capabilities.

If you have any

  • Spades => you can PICK two cards (rather than one),
  • Diamonds => you can MOVE up a height difference of 5 (rather than 4),
  • Clubs => each card (of any suit) you play in a fight scores +1,
  • Hearts => if you play it in a fight, and there is a tie, the highest heart acts as a tie-breaker.


In each round, each player in turn chooses one of the following deliberate actions

  • MOVE
  • PICK
  • or simply do nothing

Once the MOVE/PICK/CHOICE has been made, if the payer who’s turn it is is on a shared location (whether newly arrived, or still there from an earlier MOVE), there may be a FIGHT.


Moves are one step NESW to a neighbouring spot on the grid, staying on or beside the heap.

If you are beside the heap, on bedrock, you can move diagonally, cutting across the corner of a heap card, to another spot beside the heap.

You can

  • step along to a card of the same value.
  • step uphill, from a lower card (or bedrock) to a higher-value card, if the difference is less than or equal to 4 (or 5, if you hold a diamond).
  • slide downhill over multiple spots in one glorious swoosh (as far as you choose, even down to bedrock), perhaps changing direction along the way, as long as you follow a sequence of ever lower cards.
  • stay where you are.


You can pick

  • the card you’re standing on (and so reveal the one underneath that),
  • or a card from below a higher neighbouring location (as if you’re digging into the side of a hill).

If you already have a spade in your pouch, you can pick an additional card from the same or a different location.

Having picked one or two cards, if your pouch size is exceeded you must immediately DISCARD enough cards to bring it down to an allowed size.


You can choose to just discard a card from your existing pouch, or maybe you have to make room for a newly picked card.

The card can be

  • thrown as far away as a MOVE, i.e. to a neighbouring NESW position. As with a MOVE, it could be made to slide all the way down a sequence of ever lower neighbouring postions. When it comes to rest, it is the new top card (unless there is a player already on that location and the new card would raise them by more than 4, in which case it gets buried under that location, or under a neighbouring location if on bedrock). You can discard onto bedrock (spreading the heap out sideways).
  • dropped onto your own position to become the new top card (unless the new card would raise you by more than 4).
  • buried below a higher neighbouring NESW location.

Any buried cards are placed face down in a pile below the top, face up card. In other words, the only face up cards on the heap should be on the top of their respective piles, and the top of every pile should be a face up card. All other cards in the heap should be face down. Oh, and, keep each pile neatly stacked.


Whenever two or more marsupials end up (or are already) on the same location, not merely swooshing past, any of them can initiate a fight with one of the others on the same location.

A fight might happen

Each marsupial in a turn has one chance to initiate one fight on a shared location. This might mean choosing to fight again with the marsupial who only just initiated the previous fight.

The option to initiate a fight starts with the marsupial who’s turn it currently is, and proceeds turn-wise round the group of marsupials on the same location. If no-one wants a fight, no fight happens.

For a fight between two marsupials, each gathers up their pouch and secretly selects a card to be a weapon. The weapons are revealed simultaneously. The two card values are compared, factoring in any ‘leaching’ effects, and the higher value wins.

If the result is a draw, both cards are immediately DISCARDed, defender first.

If the result is decisive, both cards are immediately DISCARDed, loser first. The pouches are revealed again, and the winner chooses a card from the loser’s pouch.

Taking turns

In each round, each player takes their turn to choose one action (with a caveat that a fight could break out at any time). And when deciding if there is to be a fight, the players are consulted in the same order as for choosing actions.

For 2 players, alternate who goes first in each round.

For 3 or more players, pick a player at random to start, then go round clockwise from them for each round. Every so often, at random or when someone complains, pick a new person and direction to start each round.

Or make up your own fair solution for mixing up the order in which everyone gets to make their choices.

– End of the rules –

Any feedback? Leave a comment.


Advanced Rules

So the game is not enough of a challenge? Well, try these variants on for size.

  1. Private Pouches
    • You keep your pouch private at all times.
    • The winner of a fight can only choose a card at random from the loser’s pouch.
    • Any cards dug up must be shown before being placed in the pouch.
    • Will really test your memory and observation skills.
    • One wrinkle is a lack of transparency about which skills are leaching into one’s pouch.
      • Either you need a good amount of trust, or no leaching.
  2. Steeper Hills
    • You can step uphill only if the difference is 3 or less (or 4 with a diamond).
      • Or, only if the difference is 2 or less (or 3 with a diamond)
    • This constraint will demand more attention be applied to building a ramp up to the very high points.

So the game is tightly poised, and you are all doing a fine job of stopping anyone from winning?

  • After 10 rounds with no winner
    • reduce the height the winner needs to get to (to 1 less than the highest visible point)
    • After another 3 rounds
      • reduce the number of food items needed to win
    • After another 3 rounds
      • reduce the winning height again
    • etc

Edge Cases

  • None known right now, but every play unearths a few.

Worries & Weaknesses

  • So far, the rules might need different tuning for different numbers of players. We anticipate there will be a need to adjust some details for more players to keep things balanced.
  • With a group of experienced players, it is possible that no-one will win (hence the suggestions in Advanced Rules).
  • several games end where no-one has noticed that a player has been quietly getting on with business and accumulating A-5 and is next to a high point.
  • fighting is quite brutal and quickly knock someone back from nearly there to nowhere near
  • some furrowed brows about where cards can be discarded. Confusions about cards-as-height and cards-as-discards


  • Is there a better metaphor than Marsupials?
    • … which do not carry food in their pouches :-(
  • The heap could be built from 2 or more decks of cards?
  • Reduce the max step uphill to 2 (or 3 with a diamond)?
  • Make better use of the hearts?
  • Have fighting/movement depend on interactions between the suit of the heap card and the suits in the pouch?
  • To counter the possibility that a group of experienced players might permanently prevent each other from winning, have a difficulty level which decrements every few rounds to make it easier for someone to win:
    • reducing the number of food items needed to win?
    • reducing the height the winner needs to achieve?
    • increasing the maximum pouch size?
    • increasing the maximum uphill step?

Alternative Names

  • Pouches of Destiny
    • Cheek Pouches of Destiny ? (with squirrels)
  • It’s a rubbish life
  • Heap of Trouble
  • Scramble
  • Scavengers
  • Top Rat
  • Piles
  • Marauding Marsupials
  • Fill the Pouch

Major rule changes

  • 1.10 (2017-12-24)
    • reduced FIGHT rule to only apply when it is the turn of one of the marsupials on a shared location
      • i.e. not on every turn
  • 1.9 (2017-12-18)
    • added Advanced Rules
  • 1.8 (2017-12-17)
    • general tidy or the wording, typos
    • added a prep rule for 5 players
    • re-jigged and added to the Maybes
  • 1.7 (2017-12-16)
    • major rules tweak/update after some good play-testing
    • discard order after a fight, and after digging two cards with a spade
    • a new thing -> burying cards
    • who can first initiate a fight
    • added feedback form (in addition to the github issue)
  • 1.6 (2017-09-30)
    • fixing inconsistencies in the grid sizes
  • 1.5
    • simplify Taking Turns
    • to create more pressure for conflict, limit resources by removing key cards at the start.
    • require that the player must be on a King card to win
    • a win can be achieved the moment the conditions are met (not waiting to the end of the round)
  • 1.4
    • Name change: Pouches of Destiny !!!
      • the over-strained metaphor, ‘greedy devils’, breathes a sigh of relief.
  • 1.3
    • refined off-heap movement to allow diagonal steps
    • winning now requires being on the highest (or equal highest) spot
    • the mechanic for taking turns can be confusing, and is definitely helped by using the Snake of Selection to mark the start and direction of rotation of each round
    • swooshing is very pleasing indeed.
  • 1.2
    • allow the pouch to hold duplicate values, but to win you need one of each of the food values: Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • 1.1
    • ‘leaching’
      • effects are clarified to be regardless of the number of each suit in the pouch
      • hearts now is a tie-breaker in fights, rather than an enlarged pouch
      • diamonds now allow climbing higher, rather than moving twice
    • fighting
      • can now happen any time 2 or more marsupials occupy the same location, rather than being an explicit action
      • sequencing is clarified
    • discarding onto your current location has been clarified, so cannot raise yourself up too high.
    • Staying on a local peak is now ok
    • sequencing has been clarified. No more coins. There is a specified turn order within each round.
  • 1.0 The initial version as submitted to the 2017 200WordRPG challenge