A new category: Games

      7 Comments on A new category: Games

Your Humble Blogger has occasionally written about games here at this Tohu Bohu, but not enough to warrant its own category. I’m talking about tabletop games, mostly, board games and card games, but also parlor games and video games and other games of skill and chance. Our local public library has a good collection of games, and I’ve been enjoying, over the last year or two, the opportunity to open one up and play it to see if it seems enjoyable. Many of them are enjoyable! Others, not so much. Still others seem like they might be enjoyable with a little application of house rules. And it occurred to me that quite a high percentage of Gentle Readers enjoy game-playing of various kinds, and might well enjoy it if I mused about games fairly often.

So. A new category.

I’ll open it up, though, with a discussion of the Maximum Fun Quotient. I’ve talked about the MFQ before, and at heart it’s a pretty simple concept: when you are playing a game, the goal is to maximize fun. In practice, it’s actually quite complex and can be difficult to implement. MFQ can apply to game design and playing style, to choosing your group of players and to choosing house rules, it can be as simple and vague as a mindset or as specific as an egg-timer for decision-making, it can affect the choice of games or of locations or of pieces.

The main difficulty, and the reason why MFQ is important, is that maximizing fun for the players means maximizing the total fun for all the players. If your group is four, and one is miserable, your total fun quotient will be low—and in fact, for most groups, if one person really is miserable the others won’t be having much fun, either. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s a strict maximin question. In game design, it’s bad for a player to be out of competition with an hour to play and no way to influence the game, but if a player can misplay for an hour and then come back and win, everybody else might be frustrated. In actually playing a game, perhaps taking it easy on the person in last so they won’t be too miserable will ruin the balance of competition for everyone else. Or someone will be just fine playing along with the rest of the gang who are having an excellent time, and that ain’t bad.

The other thing about the MFQ is that it will, of course, be different for different players. I don’t get frustrated with a substantial element of chance, so cribbage has a pretty high MFQ for me—unless my opponent gets grouchy about getting screwed by the cards, in which case the game is a misery. I’m a terrible opponent in chess, because I get fidgety if I have to wait for my opponent to think about their moves, so people who enjoy chess will find it less enjoyable to play against me. I mostly play games with my household, these days, and while that’s terrific, it’s not necessarily going to make experiences widely applicable. Which is OK! Groups of people are different, one to another, which presumably makes game design interesting and fun.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

7 thoughts on “A new category: Games

  1. Michael

    I’ve noticed that the MFQ for Dixit is hard to manage when one player falls far behind because there’s no real hope of them catching up (especially with just 3 players). The scoring system allows just one person to be left out of scoring in a round, but no way for just one person to score points in a round.

    Personally, I don’t want to play Dixit for the score. But David is very score-focused, and while he might enjoy a house rule where we just arbitrarily give him extra points, that’s not going to work well if he starts to expect special treatment when he’s playing poker with his college fund.

  2. Dan P

    Hmmm. I got Michael’s comment above in my RSS reader, but not the original post. I will double-check my subscriptions.

    ObDixit: in our house, we prefer to use the Dixit cards to play a semi-cooperative game, a decision that came out of the hopeless score pattern Michael describes. Call it, um, “Secret Message.” On each round, one player is the messenger and the rest are trying to receive the secret message (“listeners”). The messenger picks two cards out of their hand of N cards (usually 5) and places them face down in the middle, followed by M cards from the deck (usually 3), also face-down. The cards in the middle are shuffled and then revealed, as in regular Dixit. Then the listeners confer and pick a pair of the face-up cards which they believe to be the message. If they guess correctly, everybody wins the round, with a communal score equal to the number of non-message cards on the table. If their guess is not correct, the messenger discards one of the two cards guessed, and the listeners guess again. This is the only way the messenger is allowed to communicate — no hints, no explanations — but the listeners are allowed to explain the reason why they think the two cards they guess are the message, in order to help the messenger pick which card to eliminate (in the case neither card is in the message).

    Incidentally, would love to get ideas for a better theme and wording — messenger and listener seem a little not-quite-right.

    1. Josh

      Huh, this sounds really interesting. Does the content of the message ever enter into it? Or is the messenger just picking two cards that could convey some message, and it doesn’t really matter if the listeners figure out what the message is?

      It seems like it’d be really hard — I don’t have a Dixit set in front of me, but my recollection is that the cards were intentionally very flexible, and it seems very possible to me that in a set of five cards, it wouldn’t be at all hard for there to be a plausible message in nearly every pair of them. :^)

      1. Dan P

        In our family, we’ve found that out of any given random hand of cards, there’s often two cards that intuitively “go together,” and so it’s not out of the question to get the hidden pair with one or zero misses.

        Entertainingly enough, there’s a commercial game out now called Mysterium which takes the secret message one step further: one player is a ghost who may not communicate except by handing out evocative cards. It’s a cooperative Clue by way of Dixit, and it is fairly reliably fun.

        1. irilyth

          Hi! If you’re still reading this, I wanted to follow up with my original question about this:

          > Does the content of the message ever enter into it? Or is the messenger just picking two cards that could convey some message, and it doesn’t really matter if the listeners figure out what the message is?

          I described this to my spouse just now, and she had more or less the same question, which I might better express as: Where does the message come from? And does the messenger tell the listeners the message, and then they try to pick the cards? Or does the messenger really just pick two cards that seem like they’re connected in some way, but not explain at all how, and the listeners have to guess how the messenger’s pair of cards are more connected than any of the other pairs of cards?

          1. Dan P

            By the magic of RSS, yes, I’m still reading THIS ENTIRE TOHU BOHU *deranged cackle*

            The answer is your second, simpler one: the guessers aren’t required to be right about *why* the messenger thought the pair go together; all they have to do is find the pair. At the risk of rousing the linguists here from their slumber, it’s not unlike some models of how language is thought to work, with no guarantees that the construct within my brain that generates this sentence is the same as the construct in yours created by reading it. All that matters is whether we can arrive at mutual coherence–which, clearly, I didn’t succeed at above. 🙂 I’m attempting to remove cards^H^H^H^H^H other possible interpretations here in the hope that you’ll suddenly see the fun of it pop out at you, obvious in retrospect.

            Thanks for the reply! It’s fun to be reminded of this (and of what I was doing in early 2019 when it came up before). I think I’ll bring the Dixit cards out after dinner this week and play again.

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