A unique card game for two by Thorin N. Tatge

PATHFINDER is a suspenseful game of exploration wherein one player creates a maze out of cards that the other must penetrate and surmount. The Maze Maker’s objective is to drain the Maze Runner of life; the Maze Runner’s objective is to find a path from the Ace of Diamonds to the Joker.

EQUIPMENT: An ordinary deck of cards with one joker.

SETUP: Decide who will be the Maze Runner and who will be the Maze Maker. Give all the hearts to the Maze Runner. They represent the Maze Runner’s lifeblood. The Maze Maker takes the remaining forty cards and creates a maze with them while the Maze Runner is out of the room. He must align the cards edge to edge, but aside from that the maze may take any shape desired. It can be a five-by-eight or four-by-ten rectangle, for example, but it need not be—it may take the shape of a giant U or a spiral, for example. The maze must contain at least one path from the Ace of Diamonds to the Joker, connected edge to edge, consisting only of diamonds. This path may or may not pass through all thirteen diamonds, and if it does not, the remaining diamonds need not be contiguous. There may be more than one path. After creating the maze, the Maze Maker commits to memory the location of the Joker, and then turns all the cards except the Ace of Diamonds face-down.

MEANINGS OF THE SUITS: Each suit represents something different in Pathfinder. The hearts are the life and sustenance of the Maze Runner. Of these, the Ace of Hearts is the most precious, since it represents the Maze Runner’s soul. Other hearts of note are the Ten, or Advisor; the Jack, or Pathfinder; the Queen, or Seer; and the King, or Portal. Each of these special cards has a power that can help the Maze Runner complete her task.

The clubs are the walls of the maze. To encounter them does no harm, but yields no progress, either. The spades represent traps, monsters, and menaces. The Maze Runner is damaged whenever she encounters these. The diamonds are the open path through the maze. In order to win, the Maze Runner must find a path from the Ace of Diamonds to the Joker before losing the Ace of Hearts.

PLAY: The Maze Runner now returns and examines the shape of the maze. Before starting to explore, she chooses a Heart (other than the Ace) and places it with its face up on the table. It is the Compass card, and it may help the Maze Runner locate the Joker.

The Maze Runner explores the maze by turning face up one card at a time. She may only turn up cards that are adjacent to active diamonds. Adjacent means that the cards share an edge: diagonally connected cards are not adjacent. Diamonds are considered active only if they are connected to the Ace of Diamonds through a path of adjacent diamonds.

Whenever a card is turned face up for any reason, it remains face up for the rest of the game. The Maze Maker may look secretly at face-down cards whenever he likes. If the Maze Runner turns up a diamond or club, nothing happens—unless it is a special card (see below). If a Spade is turned up, the Maze Runner is damaged.

Damage: When the Maze Runner is damaged, she presents her hand of Hearts to the Maze Maker, who picks one at random to be discarded. If he happens to pick the Ace of Hearts, the Maze Runner keeps the Ace, but is forced to discard either the Advisor, the Pathfinder, the Seer, the Mover, or any two other hearts aside from the Ace whose values match those of currently active diamonds. The Compass Card may not be discarded in this way. If the Maze Runner cannot do this, her soul is stolen and she loses the game.

If the Joker is turned up adjacent to an active diamond, or if the Joker is already face-up for any reason and a new active diamond is turned up next to it, then the Maze Runner wins the game.

TRIALS: If the Maze Runner turns up a ten, Jack, Queen, or King, no matter what its suit, then she must face a trial before continuing. If this card is also a spade, the Maze Runner is damaged before the trial takes place.

Ten of clubs: If the ten of spades is turned up, the Maze Runner selects and turns up one face-down card either adjacent or diagonally connected to the ten of spades. (If there is no such card, nothing happens.) The card itself has no effect. If the Maze Runner has the Heart matching this card in her hand, or a group of hearts whose values add up to the value of this card, then she is safe. If she does not, she is damaged. Note: Jacks, Queens, Kings and Aces have the values of 11, 12, 13 and 14 respectively. The Joker’s value is 0.

Ten of diamonds: If the ten of clubs is turned up, the Maze Runner must pick a suit and guess exactly how many cards of that suit are either adjacent or diagonally connected to the ten of clubs. (The number will be somewhere from zero to eight.) The Maze Master does not turn the cards face-up, but tells the Maze Runner what the actual number is. He may look secretly at the face-down cards to refresh his memory. If the guess is correct, nothing happens, but if it is incorrect, the Maze Runner is damaged.

Ten of spades: This has the same effect as the ten of diamonds, except that it is the Maze Maker, not the Maze Runner, who picks the suit.

Jacks: If a Jack is turned up, the Maze Runner selects any face-down card and predicts its suit. The card is then turned face-up. If the Maze Runner was incorrect, she is damaged. The card that is turned up now has its ordinary effect occur if it is adjacent to an active diamond, and has no effect if it is not.

Queens: If a Queen is turned up, then the same trial occurs as for a Jack, except that it is the Maze Maker, not the Maze Runner, who selects the face down card for the Maze Runner to guess. This card has no effect even if it is adjacent to an active diamond.

Kings: If a King is turned up, there is a trial of memory. The Maze Runner has thirty seconds to study the maze as it stands. She then looks away while the Maze Maker flips over a card (which can be either face-up or face-down). The Maze Runner, upon viewing the maze again, must then identify card and its location. For each of these points on which she is incorrect, the Maze Runner is damaged. If the Maze Maker turned a card face-down, then he turns it face-up again. If he turned a card face-up, then it remains face-up and has no effect.

If one of these special diamonds has already been turned face up for any reason but is not active, and it is subsequently joined to the chain of active diamonds, no trial takes place.

ACES: If the Maze Runner turns up an Ace, the Maze Maker is given a chance to alter the maze. The Maze Runner looks away. The Maze Maker may now exchange the positions of any two cards, or move one card to a vacant space. These cards may be face-up or face-down. If one or more diamonds are thus separated from the Ace, they are no longer active until they are reconnected. The Maze Maker’s only restriction is that there must remain at least one path from the Ace of Diamonds to the Joker, although it may be a different path.

THE COMPASS: The diamond with the same denomination as the Compass Card is called the Compass. Whenever the Compass is active, the Maze Runner has the option of discarding the Compass Card to reveal the location of the Joker, which remains face-up. If an Ace is encountered and the Maze Maker separates the Compass from the chain of active diamonds (or the Maze Runner separates them herself with the Mover), then the Maze Runner may not use the Compass until the chain is restored.

At almost any time, including when she is about to be damaged or face a trial, the Maze Runner may take the Compass card back into her hand, thus increasing her safety but relinquishing the opportunity to use the Compass. (Exceptions: She may not do this if the Maze Maker has just damaged her and chosen the Ace of Hearts, or if she is facing the trial of the ten of Spades and has just flipped over a card.) If this is done, it cannot be undone, and the Compass can never be used.

SPECIAL HEARTS: The Advisor, Pathfinder, Seer and Portal have special powers that can be invoked by discarding them. The Maze Runner may discard one of these cards to use its special power whenever she likes, provided that she is not in the middle of resolving some effect.

The Advisor (Ten of Hearts): This card may be discarded for the privilege of asking the Maze Maker two yes-or-no questions, one at a time, which must be answered truthfully. The questions must be about the maze, and must be unambiguous—"Am I on the right track" would not be a valid question, for example, unless you first define exactly what being on the right track means. Examples of valid questions: "Is the joker on this side of this line?" "Is there another diamond adjacent to this space?" "Is this face-down card a diamond?" "Would going north put me on the shortest path to the joker?"

The Pathfinder (Jack of Hearts): This card may be discarded in exchange for direction. The Maze Runner chooses one active diamond; this represents where she is standing when she uses the Pathfinder. The Maze Maker then tells her in which direction she must proceed from that card in order to reach the Joker via a path of diamonds. (If necessary, he may look at face down cards in order to remember while the Maze Runner looks away.) Only the direction of the first card along that path is important, even if the Joker itself lies in another direction entirely. If there is more than one path which the Maze Runner could take to get to the Joker, the Maze Maker tells her every direction by which she could get to the Joker without retracing any part of her path.

The Seer (Queen of Hearts): This card may be discarded in exchange for vision. The Maze Runner turns up any two face-down cards. She may look at the first one before deciding on the second one. These cards have no effect.

The Mover (King of Hearts): The Maze Runner may discard this card to exchange the positions of two cards, or to move one card to an empty space. It may not be used to move the Ace of Diamonds, or the Joker if it is face-up, and it does not create a new active group of diamonds. If one or more diamonds are no longer connected to the Ace as a result of this move, they are no longer active. If the Maze Runner’s intended move would make it impossible to reach the Joker, the Maze Maker must let her know, in which case the move is canceled.

At any time (except when in the middle of something), the Maze Runner may discard any three hearts in order to enjoy the effect of one of these special hearts which she has already used—utilizing its wisdom from beyond the grave, so to speak.

WINNING THE GAME: The Maze Maker wins if the Maze Runner is damaged and cannot save the Ace by making an appropriate discard. The Maze Runner wins if she finds the Joker and makes it active.

SCORING: If two players wish to play multiple times, they can keep score by awarding each Maze Runner five points for winning, plus one point for each heart she has left at the end. If she loses, her score is zero. Players can alternate roles and add up their scores over the course of several games to determine the winner of the match.

ADVANCED GAME: This variant gives the Maze Maker more options in constructing a maze, and increases the trickiness for the Maze Runner of traversing it. In the Advanced Game, the Jack, Queen, and King of Diamonds represent various magical artifacts that allow the Maze Runner more freedom in exploring the maze. However, the restrictions for the Maze Maker when building the maze are correspondingly loosened. There need no longer be a direct path of diamonds from the Ace to the Joker; all that is required is that it must always be possible for the Maze Runner to reach the Joker eventually, possibly by finding magical artifacts in the right order. If an Ace is encountered, the Maze Maker may even separate magical artifacts from the active group of diamonds, thus deactivating them, so long as it is still possible for the Maze Runner to eventually reach the Joker.

When the Pathfinder is used, if there is no current path to the Joker, the Make Maker must tell the Maze Runner the initial direction(s) needed to get to the next necessary magical artifact, or to all possible artifacts if there is a choice. The rule that potential paths must not retrace themselves does not apply if it is necessary for a path to retrace itself after a magical artifact is found.

When a magical artifact is encountered, the appropriate trial takes place, and then the Maze Runner gains permanent use of the artifact. The magical artifacts are as follows:

Magic Rope (Jack of Diamonds): When this card is active, the Maze Runner is allowed to skip over gaps in the maze. She may turn up cards which are separated from active diamonds only by empty spaces (which must be in a line parallel to the edges of the cards), and if cards reached in this way are diamonds or the Joker, they are considered active.

Magic Veil (Queen of Diamonds): When this card is active, the Maze Runner is allowed to turn up cards that are connected only diagonally with active cards, and if they are diamonds or the Joker, they are considered active. This ability may not be used in conjunction with the abilities granted by the Magic Rope and Magic Mirror.

Magic Mirror (King of Diamonds): When this card is active, the Maze Runner is allowed to wrap around the edge of the maze while exploring. If there is an active diamond with no further cards in a given direction (which, again, must be parallel to the edges of the cards), the Maze Runner may turn up the farthest card in the opposite direction. If that card is a diamond or Joker, it is considered active.

HEXAGONAL VARIANT: For a change, Pathfinder can be played with a maze arranged in a hexagonal honeycomb pattern instead of a rectangular grid. In this variant, only cards actually adjacent to the three tens count for the purposes of their trials, and the Magic Veil in the Advanced Game allows you to turn up cards which can be reached by moving one space in one direction and then turning sixty degrees and moving one space that way—the equivalent of diagonal movement in a hexagonal grid.