Reading Note #2

1. Choose a simple game (not found in the reading) and describe its Constitutive Rules, Operational Rules, and (at least 3…) Implicit Rules.


Operational Rules: The game is for 2-7 players. Each player gets 7 cards in the beginning, and the remaining cards are placed face down to form a “draw pile”. The youngest player starts by discarding one card, and place it face up to form another “discard pile”. Then, in clock-wise direction, everyone has to placed down a card in the discard pile that either matches the number, color or symbol on the previous card discarded. If the player doesn’t have a card on hand to match, he/she has to draw one card from the “draw pile”, and if that one matches he/she can put it down, but if not, the player loses the turn and play passes on to the next player. When you have only one card left, you must yell “UNO”. If other players yells Uno for you, you have to draw 2 cards from the “draw deck” and keep playing. The first player to discard all the cards wins. There are some cards that are wild cards, reverse, skip, or “draw two”, and if these cards are placed down and the next person doesn’t have a card to match, the corresponding actions applies to that player.

Constitutive Rules:

1) The total of 108 cards are divided into 4 color groups and a small wild card group, so that each card the player has will have approximately a 1/4 chance of matching.

2) Only after seven turns will a player start to be able to win.

3) There is no end to this game if no one can discard all cards from hands.

4) Game play will be uncertain and conditions change according to the function of wild cards and reverse, skip and draw-2 cards.

Implicit Rules:

  1. All players sit in a circle, with card piles in the middle so that all players can easily reach.
  2. Once a card is placed down, you cannot take it back or regret.
  3. You cannot yell UNO when you have more than one card.
  4. If all the cards in the “draw pile” are drawn, shuffle the cards in the “discard pile” and place them face down to replenish the “draw pile”.

2. In your opinion what does the element of randomness contribute to making a game more compelling? 

Randomness is helpful in making the game more uncertain and interesting to play sometimes. It will allow chances for risk and reward, creating and forcing players to make meaningful choices. In a highly technical or competitive game, the element of randomness will make game result uncertain, adds twists and turns to the game, and gives hope for weaker players to win. It makes the risk worth taking and rewarding. It also creates an illusion of luck, which sometimes would make winning even more exciting and fulfilling for some players. I think a game with randomness can make the game more relaxing, fun and more focused on social interactions between players, producing a more spiced game experience.

3. Pick one of the games we played in class that involves randomness  and describe how you feel personally about the role randomness plays in the game experience?

Backgammon is a game that’s based on chance, but players can also make meaningful choices and use strategies. I personally enjoy the element of randomness in Backgammon, because it makes the game less strategic and competitive like Chess, and thus making the game more relaxing and fun to play. Randomness of the dice rolls also creates risks, that can be well incorporated with strategy to “fight” with the opponent, but it is also because of randomness, not all strategies will do good to the players.  The risk make the game play experience more fulfilling and rewarding when each strategy is successful. Rolling 2 dice reduces the randomness and allows players more room for making meaningful choices. It also speeds up the game play experience, especially when a piece is kicked out and wants to re-enter. I like how much of a role randomness plays in Backgammon. It’s not too much that the game becomes chaotic and uncontrollable, but it’s also not too little for players to be overwhelmed by strategies and math.

4. Describe examples of these key cybernetics concepts : a positive feedback loop and a negative feedback loop. 

In the board game Citadels, there is many traces of negative feedback loops incorporated in the game rules. For example, the design of the 8 basic characters and their special powers tends to balance out the progress of the game. If one player has many gold, another player with “thief” card would try to steal from that player; if a player builds a lot of districts, warlord can destroy his/her districts. In this context, each rational player acts as a comparator, the amount of gold or district is the sensor, and the special power of each player would act as the controller to maintain a relatively even game state. These designs form a negative feedback loop that slows down and lengthen the game, stabilizes and balances the game, and makes the game more competitive and uncertain.

Positive feedback loops can also be found in this game. For example, the character Merchant’s special power is to receive one extra gold each turn, and in addition receive one gold for each green district. This allows players with more gold to build more green districts and earn even more gold, which would amplify the result and potentially gain a great advantage or win the game. The same positive feedback loop applies to the King, warlord and other characters, where they receive gold for the districts they built, and the more districts they build, the more gold they would earn, to build even more districts. Of course there are other mechanisms in the rules and design of the game that balances out any great advantage each small cybernetic system generates, but a player can still use these positive feedback loops cleverly to earn great advantage in the game.

5. In your own words explain these concepts from the field of Game Theory :

1) Saddle Point : The saddle point is the optimal solution to a zero sum game. It is the solution or choice that allows the players to maximize their profits and gains while minimizing the other players’ gains. It is something to avoid in game design, so that players won’t make the same decision and choices again and again, making the game obvious and meaningless.

2) Prisoner’s Dilemma: It’s a famous game theory problem that involves two prisoners (players) making decisions simultaneously. They can either choose the deal to defect, and receive no jail time, or refuse the deal, and receive one year of jail. However, if both prisoners chose to defect, they will both get 2 years in jail; if one defected and the other didn’t, the person who didn’t defect will get 3 years in jail. The two prisoners have no way of communication, and they are only interested in their own best outcome. It is still unsolved, but it demonstrates that even simple sets of rules can still generate very complex decision making.

3) Zero Sum Game : In a Zero Sum Game, the players play against each other, and the amount of utilities the winner wins is equal to the loss of the loser. For each gain of the winning player, the losing player suffers an equal amount of loss.