Reading Response #2

  1. Connect Four:
  • Operational Rules
    • Players must decide who goes first.
    • The player who goes first uses the red tiles, while the player who goes second uses black tiles.
    • Players must alternate turns.
    • Players may drop their checkers into any of the columns from the top of the 6×7 grid.
    • Play until one player gets four in a row, four in a column, or four in a diagonal is the winner.  
  • Constitutive Rules
    • Players should attempt to connect four dots in a row, column, or diagonal anywhere on the grid.
    • Players should prevent their opponent from doing so by stacking and blocking checkers to prevent a connection of four.
    • Players will inevitably have to play offensively and defensively at the same time or else the player who goes first will win.
    • Stalemates may occur.
    • The player who successfully connects four in a row, column, or diagonal scores one point.
  • Implicit Rules
    • Players must play rock-paper-scissors to decide who goes first.
    • Players must not take any checker(s) out once it has been dropped.
    • Players must alternate on every turn without going twice in a row.


Even though I am a gamer that strongly prefers skill-based games to luck-based games, I must admit that games that have an element of luck – which usually consist of at least one component dependent on randomness – are very entertaining to play and create a dynamic that favors the underdog, “the play of everyman” (Brian Sutton-Smith, The Ambiguity of Play). This (to me), makes the game much more interesting as it creates a situation where any player has a chance of victory, irrespective of experience.

Take Mahjong for example…the tile-based game that originated in 18th century China. Though the game is highly dependent on a player’s knowledge of the various patterns and combinations of the tiles, one must ultimately depend on the luck of the draw in order to be victorious at the game. As a bicultural student who has grown up playing Mahjong against skilled family members, there have been many instances of me winning simply because of successful draws, an element of the game that is dependent on luck and thus, completely random. That being said, a Mahjong player who simply depends on the randomness of the draw and has little to no understanding of the aforementioned tile patterns and combinations will win far fewer times than an experienced player who understands how to manipulate tiles in order to statistically increase their odds of victory. As I grew older and began to understand the different possibilities and outcomes of the game, the frequency of my wins increased, making me a much more competitive player than when I simply relied on luck.

Though this is true, it is important to note that no matter how experienced you are in Mahjong, if you are not lucky, – or, in other words, the odds of randomness do not favor you – you simply cannot win. A player could have their tiles set up to be on the brink of victory, but if the final tile needed to complete their set is never drawn nor played, victory simply cannot be achieved. The necessity of skill and chance in Mahjong is what makes the game so successful and engaging. As stated by Salen and Zimmerman, “Even in a game of pure chance, a well-designed game continually offers players moments of choice. Meaningful play requires that at some level a player has an active and engaged relationship to the game and is making choices with meaningful outcomes.” Just like in Mahjong, where your fate is ultimately dependant on the luck-of-the-draw, an engaging relationship with the game is necessary to fully and consistently increase the odds of winning.


Despite the fact that I only played one full round of Citadels, I feel like the element of randomness of the game kept me constantly engaged and on my toes. The main reason for this is because it was nearly impossible for me to really plan out a long-term strategy and/or winning plan as the majority of my turns were decided merely by the randomness of everyone’s draws. If I built too many properties far ahead, a Warlord would destroy my biggest property or if I accumulated too much currency, I would become the target of the Thief (if not in one round, definitely by the second or third time around). In a sense, the randomness of this game created a balance that kept you from pulling away from the average, but also gave you the opportunity to even the scores a bit (say you were the Warlord or Thief in the aforementioned example). Several times, I found myself in awe when the player with the least amount of districts would be able to jump ahead almost stealthily simply because everyone else was too occupied with preventing someone else from gaining a significant lead. Then, a few turns later, the aforementioned player would be the new target of the “offensive” players.

The feeling of randomness in Citadels is very similar to that presented by Chinese Checkers and SiSSYFiGHT 2000. Quoting Salen and Zimmerman, “the feeling of randomness creates a sense of open-ended possibility and players are rewarded for taking advantage of chance configurations on the board…the unpredictable combination of events that occurs each round is part of the game’s fun.” Though I make it sound like my every move leaves me at the mercy of the cards that I draw, the game still maintains a fair amount of meaningful play. In no way during my playing of Citadels did I feel like I could do nothing but, “await, in hope and trembling, the cast of the die” cannot be engaged in meaningful play.” In many ways, I was still able to manipulate my fate; deciding how much currency to hold before building numerous districts with the architect card or how many green districts to collect before utilizing the special ability of the bishop are just some of  the ways that I was still able to maintain an engaged relationship with the game. The randomness that is presented simply allows players to enforce a sense of balance within the game, preventing any one player from gaining too much (or too little) of a lead.


Going off of what I mentioned in question three, I believe that the balance that I find in Citadels comes from the negative feedback loop that is presented from many of the cards. Characters such as the Thief (my personal favorite), the Warlord, and the Assassin become what I call “offensive” characters because of their abilities to stabilize the game. These cards become particularly useful when they are drawn by someone who is losing, or doesn’t have as many districts built: the Thief can steal the money of someone who is ahead, or keep someone who is losing from becoming a threat; the Warlord can destroy a high value district of a player who may be on the cusp of winning, and the Assassin can force any player (aside from the Thief which another great game balance rule) to lose a turn. Of course, many of these actions depend on whether the player can correctly deduce which player has which character, but these players are what I see as stabilizing elements of the game providing the negative feedback loop in Citadels.

On the contrary, Citadels also has various elements of positive feedback which I find most noticeable in the Architect character. The King, Bishop, Architect, Merchant, and (kind of) the Warlord all possess special actions that bring the game closer to an end and what I call “productive” characters. The King, Bishop, Merchant, and Warlord all allow players to gain one gold for each district that is built in their respective color allowing the player to gain more currency to build with. The Architect, which allows you to draw two more district cards and build a total of three districts is a prime example of a “productive” character and the positive feedback loop because of how using this character is without a doubt the best way to end the game assuming the player has enough currency to build.



  1. Saddle Point

A Saddle Point is the single best solution in a two-player, zero sum game. Saddle Points can lead to degenerate strategies as many may not be inclined to try other, more difficult strategies to win when the Saddle Point exists.

  1. Prisoner’s Dilemma

A Prisoner’s Dilemma is when Player A and Player B must make a decision to either maximize one of the Player’s losses (while one Player suffers none), to minimize the loss of both players, or to increase the losses for both. The decisions of one player is hidden from the other.

  1. Zero Sum Game

A Zero Sum Game is a game where the positive gain made by Player A equal the positive loss (or negative gain) made by Player B. Thus, when the two values are added together, they equal zero.