• Thomas Cardwell

The Cabin by the Sea: A Solo Card Game

Last week I participated in a fun game jam! For those unfamiliar, a game jam is usually a timed event where folks produce a game to match specific themes or constraints. This game jam, put on by Micro Fiction Games, challenged designers to create a game with rules condensed into the length of a tweet (280 characters at the time of writing—who knows what the future may hold). My submission was a solo card game, The Cabin by the Sea, to fit the proposed theme of "Sea, Soil, and Structure." In the game, players build a cabin (stacks of ascending cards of the same suit) from the materials on land and sea.

The Cabin by the Sea uses a standard deck of cards and is very light; the game takes about 15 minutes.

Confused? Give it a shot and give me feedback on the condensed rules in the comments below! Alternatively, have some pictures.

Picture Walkthrough


The setup from left to right. The cabin—four aces and twelve random, non-face cards (shuffled, face-down), the beach—all 12 face cards (shuffled, face-up), the sea—all remaining random cards (shuffled)

Above is the game setup. Use a standard 52-card deck and remove jokers.

The piles from left to right:

  • The cabin (🏠)—four aces and twelve random non-face cards (shuffled, face-down).

  • The beach (🏖)—all 12 face cards (shuffled, face-up).

  • The sea (🌊 )—all remaining random cards (shuffled, face-down).


Draw the top card from the 🌊. Then decide to:

  1. Use it to build onto a new or existing cabin stack (one of eight stacks placed adjacent to the 🏠 pile), or

  2. Pull from one of the other two piles (🏠 or 🏖) to build your cabin

If you choose option 2 and pull from the 🏠 or 🏖 piles, the sea card is pulled to deep sea (⚓️) and you must use that 🏠/🏖 card to build onto a new or existing cabin stack.

Exhibits movement of revealed card to a cabin stack on the left, followed by the reveal of a new sea card.

The above picture shows that the original 🌊 card was moved to the ⚓️, the 🏠 card was revealed to form a cabin stack, and another 🌊 card was revealed to start the next turn.

To play on top of an existing cabin stack, the played card must be of the same suit as the stack and of higher (not necessarily consecutive) value than the top-most card. You may create new cabin stacks until you have created all eight, at which point you must play on existing cabin stacks.

Mid-game, showing ace of hearts played at the top of a stack with a 2 of hearts able to be played on it.

Aces can be played as both the highest and the lowest number for stacking purposes—e.g. the newly revealed 2 of hearts in the above image may be played on the ace of hearts.

Once you run out of 🌊 cards, each turn thereafter you must choose to play a card from the top of the ⚓️, 🏖, or 🏠 piles. If you don't have any available options to place the revealed card, it is lost to the sea! Move it to the 🦑 pile (shown in the image, above the ⚓️ pile).

At the end of a game, all cards will either be in your cabin piles or 🦑 pile.

Tally up your 🦑 points:

  • Two points for each ace and face card

  • One point for each non-face-card

A higher point total is worse, making this example my worst showing yet! (12 points)


The "Sea, Soil, and Structure" requirement made me want to utilize each bit of the theme. I thought of the Pacific Northwest shores and of all the large trees and driftwood that wash ashore, and was enthralled with the idea of building a cabin by the beautiful islands and coasts that make up the area where I live. The length of rules constraint made me want to use a very familiar set of components—in this case, just a deck of cards. I knew I wanted something known (the face cards in the 🏖 pile) with a bit of randomness (the cards are shuffled), something with hidden valuable possibilities (the 🏠 pile, with its dual-purpose aces), and the entirely random 🌊 pile to wash new cards ashore—and pull them back (⚓️)—to drive the game.


The small rules challenge was a big part of the appeal. My wonderful wife, never one to shy away from a competition, sat on the couch for a few minutes after I told her about the game, and proclaimed, "I bet I can make better, smaller rules than you!"—which kicked us into gear. True to form, we ended up combining forces after a while and came up with a much clearer (we think) final tweet. I love my wife's enthusiasm and competitive fire ♥️. The most significant change we came up with was the emoji usage, which saves many characters by making words like "beach" two characters* instead of five.


  • You can make the game harder by only using seven piles instead of eight.

  • Alternate rule: you may move cards from the 🌊 pile onto the 🏖 pile.

  • The pictured cards are national park themed, and made by Keymaster Games (I don't receive money for this link—I just think the cards are awesome).


Happy cabin-building! Let me know what you think of the game or the rules.


Fun games of the week: I played a soon-to-be-kickstarted deckbuilding game called Primordial Secrets while I was at Emerald City Comic Con playtesting my game, Element of Surprise. It was unique, well-polished, and a ton of fun to play. See their website for updates, and stay tuned for a forthcoming post about my ECCC experience!

*If you're wondering why tweeted emojis count as two characters, Twitter would do the same with other characters (like Japanese or Chinese) which require more information than is coded in the traditionally "Western" notion of a character. These characters were originally stored in Western computers as 8 bits, providing 2^8 = 256 character possibilities. Symbols that require more character possibilities make use of a "unicode" encoding. Romantic-language characters (and some other symbols) are sometimes still used as 8 bits (one character on Twitter), and other symbols require more bits (two characters on Twitter). See this and UTF-8 in particular if you'd like to learn more about unicode.

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