Abhay Rana aka Nemo

The game breaking Deal Breaker card

I have a presentation I sometimes give about Monopoly being a terrible game1. I usually end it by pointing the audience to Monopoly Deal, which I introduce it as “the only Monopoly edition you can enjoy”.

The advantages are obvious:

  1. Much shorter game length.
  2. No dice rolls.

Even if you lose badly on luck, you’ve only lost 15 minutes. While it is better than Monopoly, that isn’t to say it is a well designed game (6.3 on BoardGameGeek).

The one major dent in the otherwise decent game is the “Deal Breaker” card, which breaks the game. I’ve house-ruled the game since forever to keep the card out of the game, since it breaks the most important rule of game design:

Games should be fun2

Deal Breaker stops people from doing that. How? Read on.

A lot of metagaming discussion with friends resulted in the following observations:

  • The Deal Breaker is a very powerful card (It takes you 1/3rd of the way to a victory).
  • You can assume the single Deal Breaker card to be worth a complete set.
  • The best use of such a card is to win the game. Using it earlier means giving other players a chance to drag you down from 2->1 set. But if you use it to win the game, the game ends immediately.
  • Hence, Deal Breaker will always end up being the last card of the game.

If you are playing a game with the Deal Breaker card, you’d want to save it till the very end, and win the game with it. The only possible case for not winning is the other player having a “Just Say No” card, and playing it on the Deal Breaker to negate your move.

Ergo, the metagame converges to the following:

  1. Any game with Deal Breaker will end up having the Deal Breaker as the last turn.
  2. The only way to prevent someone else from winning with the Deal Breaker is to play a Just Say No on the Deal Breaker.
  3. If you have a Just Say No card, you must save it till the end of the game for the Deal Breaker.

There are 2 Deal Breakers, and 3 Just Say Nos in the game. However, considering a single Deal Breaker is enough to win the game, and the chances of you getting a second of either card are fairly small - both the Deal Breaker and Just Say No cards will end up getting hoarded for the endgame.

What this results in is something that breaks the fundamental rule of game design:

Players are disincentivized from playing the Just Say No card.

As any Exploding Kittens player can confirm, playing a Just Say No card is one of the coolest moves in the game. It lets you stick it to the player who dares ask you for 8M3 rent. It lets you pretend you’re counting your money, and then pull out a trump card and feel awesome! By disincentivizing players from playing the coolest card in the game, the Deal Breaker card makes things less fun. And that breaks our “rule of fun”.

In fact, the mere existence of a Deal Breaker card changes the equation. Note that there may be cases where you lose with a Just Say No card because you were hoarding it for the eventual Deal Breaker (which might never come). Someone asks you for 4M rent, and you have to pay up despite having a Just Say No card, because you must save the damn card for when someone steals your set. There are a few rare exceptions, but the Deal Breaker creates too many plays where not playing the Just Say No is indeed the correct move.

So here is the more interesting corollary observation:

The mere existence of the Deal Breaker card breaks the game by making the Just Say No card unplayable and worthless.4

Hence, if you’re playing Monopoly Deal, please house-rule the Deal Breaker card and make it easier for everyone. Two easy ways are:

  1. Remove the card from the game entirely.
  2. Reduce the power of the game to be same as a Forced Deal, except let it break a set.
  1. I have the slides here, but they don’t stand well on their own. 

  2. Any game that eliminates players from the game breaks this rule. Popular examples are Monopoly and Mafia/Werewolf. Also see this amazing post on the biggest mistake that Guillotine makes (The “Callous Guard” card). 

  3. Turns out, that there is no symbol in the unicode for Monopoly Money 

  4. We decided Deal Breaker might make sense in 6+ player games with many more cards, where it might help even the playing grounds a bit for a losing player (much more likely) instead of helping the almost-winning-player score a victory. 

A survey of OneCardToRuleThemAll companies

A lot of companies have come up with the idea for reducing all your cards into a single piece of plastic. Here’s a summary of all the ones I could find, and their fate. Beware: this field is very much a startup graveyard. The only remaining survivor seems to be Curve1 but it’s also the first one that’s attempting this outside of US.

There seem to be a lot of challenges (regulatory, financial, and technical) before such a thing becomes reality. And there’s Apple/Samsung Pay as well. Here’s a summary of all the companies I could find in this space. If I’ve missed any, please let me know, and I’ll add them here.

A photo of a hand holding a blank card

Curve (2015-)

Curve allows you to spend from any of your accounts using just one card, clearing the clutter from your wallet and simplifying your finances.

  • Curve has raised a total of $74M at a valuation north of $250M, out of which £6M were from a crowdfunding campaign in 2019.
  • Their waitlist is at 800,000+ users.
  • Curve faced flak for failing to disclose its usage numbers (<100,000 monthly active users out of total 500,000) to crowdfund investors.
  • Only works with Visa/MasterCard. Used to work with Amex, but Curve has a history of working and being blocked by Amex repeatedly.
  • See this page for some details on how it works.

Coin (YC W13) (2012-2017)

Plastc (2014-2017)

  • Single dynamic card with e-Ink touchscreen. See obligatory launch video with fancy AR.
  • Crowdfunded $9M on pre-orders in October 2014.
  • Delayed launch to April 2016, and then again to September 2016.
  • Shut down and declared bankruptcy in April 2017.
  • Complete story via digg.com.

Stratos (2015-2015)

Swyp (2014-2017)

  • Had a pre-order campaign in 2014.
  • Raised $5M from Khosla Ventures in 2017.
  • Tried to pivot in 2017, failed.
  • Offered customers a debit card with an app called Hoot in 2017 as an alternative to refunds. I don’t think the Hoot card ever materialized.
  • Tilt (Swyp’s payment processor) also ceased operations in 2017, due to unrelated reasons.
  • Swyp finally shut down in December 2017.

Final (YC W15) (2014-2017)

  • Final was with a credit card with a different number for every website. As a independent card, Final doesn’t exactly fit in this list, but it’s a very relevant and loved product.
  • Announced itself with a snazzy video in mid 2014
  • Raised $4M and launched in August 2016, but remained invite-only till the very end.
  • Final’s blog has some interesting content: A Request for Credit Cards program to build card-issuance backed businesses and the Payment card landscape for 2017.
  • Shut down in december 2017 and acquired by Goldman Sachs in an acqui-hire.

Indian Landscape

India hasn’t seen a true single-card app yet, but there have been lots of related attempts:

With the emergence of UPI, and low penetration rate of credit cards, I don’t see a market in India - but I’d love to be proven wrong.

Did I miss anything? Reach out and let me know.

Thanks to Harman for reviewing drafts of this, and PRL for getting me interested enough to document this.

  1. Curve used to live on imaginecurve.com, then switched to curve.app and now to curve.com, which must have cost them millions. 

  2. Unlike others on the list, vCard is entirely a virtual card, and supports UPI transfers from your credit limit. 

His Dark Materials Season 1 Readthrough

A long time ago, I tried to do a readthrough for Game of Thrones (Book 1) alongside the first season. I managed to reach Episode 5, before I sped through the rest of the book, but I tried.

Trying something similar for His Dark Materials, which is a great series if you’re looking to watch something new. Instead of noting down Chapter/Book equivalence (like I tried last time), going to write down my thoughts here as I’m reading along. Spoiler Warning for the entire first season obviously.


The show is very tightly knit with the book with a few over-arching changes from the story-telling perspective:

  • You get to see other points-of-view, other than just Lyra. Helps establish what else is happening, especially in the other worlds.
  • A lot of infodumps are prevented, or better, broken down into multiple sessions.
  • The major change from the first book is ofcourse showing Will’s PoV and our earth.

Chapter 1

  • The opening scene with the great flood sets some context, but isn’t in the books.
  • The Master/Butler chat on the wine poisoining happens much later in the books.
  • There is a lot of foreshadowing around Lyra’s parentage that happens in the first 2 chapters that is entirely missed in the show.

Chapter 2

  • The entire Grumman’s skull and hunt sub-plot hasn’t shown up in the book so far (presumably because we only see Lyra’s PoV).
  • The party scene is very-well handled (with all the subtle changes for the better. Superb acting as well :)
  • The hiding-lyra-in-the-boat scene is merely given a passing mention in the book, but so well done in the show.

Chapter 3

  • Splitting Lyra’s parentage reveal (Coulter reveals her father) is a smart move in the show.
  • The show changes Lyra’s kidnappers from Turkish slavers to Gobblers.
  • The Alethiometer reveal happens with both Father Coram and John Fa in the book. The section also has a huge infodump, especially since it involves the parentage reveal. The show breaks it into 3: alethiometer reveal with Father Coram, a previous interrogation of Lyra with John Fa, and Lyra’s parentage reveal (mother) with Ma Costa.

Chapter 4

  • The one notable “not-in-the-book” scene is the Coulter’s meeting with Iofur.

Chapter 5

  • Interesting to note that the characters of Billy and Roger are fused in both the film and the TV adaptations.

Chapter 6

  • Lyra starts a fire in the books, but the show makes it more dramatic by destroying the machine.
  • The balloon ride covers a lot more in the books.


Overall, the show has been nicely adapted so far, and I think there’s a few reasons:

  1. The show barely messes with Lyra’s timeline. Important to ensure this to avoid creating cascading issues down the path.
  2. Majority of the changes are either made on kill-able subplots, or side-plots that show us what’s going on elsewhere.
  3. And finally, the show spends time on where the medium works best. The scaring scene in Chapter 2, for eg.

I’m still sad that the ghosts in the crypt don’t get to be seen, though.