Fun Theory

Here I am, playing a game of $0.25/$0.50 Texas hold’em on one of the poker sites1, reading “Pot-Limit and No-Limit poker” by Reuben and Ciaffone between hands (yes, I like Poker). The book has become technical and dry, and I’m losing interest. So, I’ll blog instead.

I’m finding myself increasingly interested in the “theory” of that which makes games fun. It’s interesting how certain very simple sets of rules can give rise to a dull and boring game, while a slight variation on those rules can make a rich and entertaining game.

The first commandment of a good game, I have found, is the ability to tell whether you’re winning or losing. You see, because if you’re winning, you are inclined to push it that much further and finish the game. If you’re losing, then you feel that grandeur of coming back if you win.

Notice that a very popular game among game theorists is Nim, which doesn’t possess this property. Nim is what I call a flip-flop game, where each move switches who might win. Another game like this is J.H. Conway’s “sprouts.” I’ve never found these games very entertaining, and note that no popular games have Nim roots.

But, taking sprouts and adding a goal of interconnecting several dots completely (and the opposition’s goal to stop this from happening), and it becomes a fun and interesting game. That follows the first commandment, since if you’ve interconnected three dots, you’re half way there. Sprouts was awful — you had basically to forsee the entire game to decide what to do. Not only that, but it scales horribly (forseeing a game with twelve dots is impossible for any mere mortal).

Tune in next week to find out the next commandment (supposing I figure out what it is)!

1The name of the site has been removed because they blog-spammed me.

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