Fight or flee

So the first day of TIGJAM, one theme was "Fight or Flight". I decided to make a game with playing cards. The game turned out okay, so here are the rules:

"Fight or Flee"

Each player takes a wodge of cards (3 or more, I guess) from the top of a shuffled deck of cards.

They both give the other player 1 or more cards. These exchanges happen simulataneously. If you want to get a good atmosphere going, try saying "Fuck you" as you give them cards.

This exchange happens three times.

At the end, you both consider your position, count yourselves in together and then either thrust your cards at your opponent, while saying "Fight", or withdraw them, saying "Flee". If:

The number cards are valued according to their number. The face cards are valued:

Jack : 20
Queen : 30
King : 40
Ace: 100
Joker : -100

Try playing it!


Thoughts on the game

The game has some nice bits to it: the symmetry between wanting to have less than or more than your opponent is nice. This game is really about discovering the value of your opponents hand - the point of the exchaning stages is to share information as much as cards. You end up pushing cards at people, trying to convince them of your weakness, trying to hold onto the edge. If the negotiations fail, then you reach stalemate - you both agree on the relative value of your cards. This is one of the biggest problems with the game - too often you end up in an unsatisfying stalemate for too long - "Yes, you have more than me. You gotta give me more if you expect me to fight you".

But you can establish a really quite close idea of the value of the cards circulating. With final scores on each side in the hundred, a couple of games ended within 10 points of each other. The long-tail of cards can add up to a surprising quantity - a half dozen 6s, 7s and 8s is a face card, though might not always be estimated as one. One important skill is accurately estimating the value of cards in your hand. 

Which is a weakness - the amount of fucking mental arithmetic you have to do. Maybe that's not a weakness, maybe that makes it a useful teaching aid. I know my Dad would always beat me at this game - he was always better at math stuff than me. He'd eat it up, actually. It's pretty amenable to card counting, in fact - knowing all the cards that have passed through your hand would give you a really clear picture of the game. 

One neat strategy in the game is to keep a high value card always in your hand - if it's not in circulation, it's effectively invisible. (Almost - it will show in your choice of whether to fight or flee). 'Course, this is a long term ploy - you have to keep it always there, even as you attempt to twist them down into fighting or fleeing as you do. And I have no idea why a Joker would ever see the light of day. Maybe the Joker mechanic is broken - we didn't play enough games to determine it. It certainly throws in a nice element of chaos, and -ah-but- into calculations.

One bit of symbolism I do like is the way it matches animals mating fights - usually the reason for the fight is to establish dominance - who is stronger. In that case, you show acceptance of your position, and no real fight happens. But when two animals are evenly matched, neither one wants to give way. The fight escalates, and they can do real damage to themselves.

Another bit of symbolism is that of gift giving as a burden. After you - no, after you, no, after you etc. Or gift economies led by bond of mutual obligation - you each try to outdo each other in giving gifts. But when the system works well, the gifts match in value - everyone keeps a mental tally of how much the other has given away. For instance, in buying rounds - everyone casually buys each other drinks, yet everyone involved ends up with a complicated account of the drinks bought and owed. (until a certain point in the evening, where it becomes a bit of a blur). It's a rare situation where you just take a bought drink as a gift, without social consequence. An aggressive move in this game is giving some high value cards on the last exchange - there's no way for them to reciprocate.

But in the mating fight situation, the happy outcome is stalemate in this game. The unhappy outcome is what leads to victory. And in the gift giving, the happy outcome - both think the other is equal - leads to a fight (a contest of wealth or poverty - it makes no difference). I guess competition is needed to make this an exciting game (if it is an exciting game, and not an drawn-out finessing of percieved worth).

One modification that was suggested, and that I liked, and that we didn't try was to do the card exchange phase rhythmically. One two three - fuck you - one two three - fuck you - one two three - fuck you - you ready? you know what way you're going? okay - one two three - FIGHT. This would speed the game up, give speed and panic to the swapping discovery phase. And you'd still get the tension before the fight-or-flee ending. Hopefully the fun added would counteract the stalemate. And the speed wouldn't crush most of the strategy, but rather help you to focus on the other player rather than the raw numbers.

From an even more analytical point of view, the relationship between card numbers, card values, the flow of cards, and whther this would bias games to be resolved as fights or flees would be fascinating. There does tend to be a bias towards fighting. 

Thinking on it now, a dominant strategy (theoretically) might well be to not show any of your cards but one. Just keep sending the same cards back. But you'd only win by chance in that case - no-one would co-operate. It'd stalemate forever. I will ponder this game-theoretically. I mean, the game is all about shared knowledge. I wonder what it'd look like if every card that'd hit the open was laid face-up. It'd be a totally different game, though obviously equivalent theoretically.

17 July 2011