The Tragedy of the Commons: A Card Game Prototype

The Tragedy of the Commons

A Card Game Prototype by Mark Chen

version 0.1: April 23, 2013

4 players, 15 minutes


Use a standard playing deck. Each pip is one cow.

Each player gets one suit.

Take the face cards and jokers out.


Discard 3 random ones.

Start player is the last to visit a farm.

In turn, draw top card and decide whether to place it in the common pasture or to place it in private pasture. Place cards face down.

Up to 20 cows can be placed in private pasture.

Common pasture can only hold 60 cows before it is full.

[Designer note: Either this or maybe instead the common pasture can only hold 20 cows but is reset each round. Either way, the numbers probably need tweaking.]

Once all cows have been allocated, reveal them and see if the common pasture went over 60 cows [Note: or 20 if using the round limit instead of game limit]. If so, it has become full and all the cows on it from the current round have run away.

The next round starts, but the start player rotates.

[Because players go in order, earlier players can bluff about the number of cows they placed in either their private or the common pasture. It’s predicted that earlier players will use the common pasture while last player may lean towards using his or her private pasture.]

Optional rules:

  • Bonus 10 points for any player who places 4 or more cards into private pasture. [This hopefully encourages risk taking with the common pasture. Does one play it safe by throwing his or her high cards into a private pasture, lowering the risk that the common will go bust? Or does the player go for quantity of cards for bonus points?]

  • Bonus 10 points for any player who places 6 or more cards in the common pasture. [Again, this rule is meant to encourage players to take risks with the common pasture.]

  • Include the face cards. They are worth 0 cows. Players play 10 rounds instead of 7.. [This would potentially increase bluffing.]


  • What if each suit had 2 1s, 2 2s, etc. up til 5s. Then lower the private and common limits to 10 and 30 maybe…

  • If this works, start tweaking the deck, perhaps adding suits, etc. and retheme with art.

  • Could scale with fewer or more players: Common pasture holds (15 x number of players) worth of cows.

  • A solo game probably be made where a dummy player is set up and the soloist just draws a random card from the dummy player to place in the common pasture each turn.

4 thoughts on “The Tragedy of the Commons: A Card Game Prototype”

Leave a Reply