Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Umm... what? (Liar's Dice, Zendo, Mao, Dvorak)

or... Metagaming is a harsh mistress.

For a change of pace, Kozure chose a variety of games where ther "metagame" matters as much as the game itself (he called them "nomic" games, though I'm not familiar with the term). In other words, what you know about the other players' habits and inclinations is as important as the rules themselves (poker is one such game). We were graced by the presence of normally absent Wagster Shemp (the lure of such an odd theme was too much for him to resist, it seems. Let the metagames begin!)

Liar's Dice

Everybody starts with 5 dice. They are rolled and kept hidden. Players must, in turn, make a bet or call. A bet might be "I bet there are three 4s on the table". To raise the bet, a player would have to either say that there were four (or more) 4s, or that there were three 5s (or 6s). When a player chooses to call the bet, the dice are revealed and SOMEONE will lose dice depending on who was right. If the caller was right, the last player who bet loses as many dice as they overbid. If the better was right, the caller loses one die. Play continues until everyone loses all their dice but one player. To make things interesting, 1s were wild.

This turned out to be quite a fun, light game. The player elimination isn't a big deal, since it's so short (except when you are eliminated in the first round... which did happen to me once). Countless variants exist, which would be fun to try. It seemed like our choice to limit raising the bet to raising the value AND the number of dice limited the variety of betting (once you have reached the 6s, there's not much you can do but increase the number of dice. By the end, we seemed to go to the 6s pretty quickly). I understand that this makes it a quicker game, but allowing a player to go from "three 6s" to "four 2s" would allow players to steer things back to the strengths in their rolled dice... or to bluff about it. As it was, it seemed more like straight push your luck. Fun though.


There are several identical objects in 4 different colours. One player must think of a rule (such as the group must contain two red pieces) and then display two sets of objects... one which obeys the rule and one which breaks it. The key is that the player can leave several red herrings. In the previous example, the set which obeys the rule could consist of 4 objects, two of which are red and two of which are blue. The red blocks are stacked, but the blue ones are on their side. The other players must, in turn, put together sets of objects in an attempt to try to figure out what the rule is. Is the rule that the group needs to contain four pieces? Is the rule that two objects must be on their side? etc, etc. After each attempt, the player who knows the rule must declare whether the set obeys the rule or not.

This was a very clever game. After the initial frustration of trying to figure out what is going on, things fall into place rather quickly. As usual, I tried to overcomplicate things with my solutions (Kozure's initial rule was that one of the objects needed to be red. My first guess was "There has to be two red objects, arranged in a grid, with one object on it's side). Live and learn. Bharmer stumped us with "There has to be a red and blue object but they can't touch".


Mao is a game that, by definition, you aren't supposed to know about until you play it. I therefore won't ruin the surprise here, except to say that it involves playing a game without knowing it's rules. During our session, Luch came very close to losing it when he repeatedly comitted error after error. Kozure should have been careful, Luch was playing with a knife at the time.

I couldn't help but think that the game would have been better if the player who knew the rules wasn't playing, but all the reviews I've read since then seem to imply that the player "in the know" is normally involved. It's no surprise that Kozure won.


The last new game of the evening was Dvorak. Dvorak could be renamed "invent your own game", but whatever.

In Dvorak, the players collaborate to come up with a theme and a goal. Afterwards, players each secretely define 8 cards which will make up the draw deck for the game. There are no rules or standards for the cards, and since they are not discussed, there is no garantee that the means to end the game exist in the deck. Once gameplay begins new rules or cards can be added through unanimous vote. Players draw and play cards until the game objectives are met.

I won't embarrass the group by describing what the chosen theme was. I will say that two of the cards I created were "Corn" and "Fancy Hat", and that they were otherwise without description or use (just to see). Over the course of the game, a "Hole" card was added to the game by Luch which combined with the corn card producing unintended results. The fancy hat ended up being instumental to Bharmer's victory, of course.

It's an interesting game, but experience would probably lead to more satisfying results. The card mix wound up being pretty bad if getting anywhere was a priority. At a certain point, you are tempted to invent rules just so that an end can happen! Obviously, this comes off feeling cheap. I'm sure that very clever sessions of this have occurred, and that some players have been able to introduce rules which gave them advantages and led to victory (rather than going for "funny"). Our session was big on funny, but low on clever.


  1. Clarification:

    Nomic means a game in which rules are introduced, modified and/or repealed by the players involved in the course of the game.

    "a game in which the rules of the game include mechanisms for the players to change those rules, usually beginning through a system of democratic voting."

    meta-gaming - To use reasons not strictly related to the game at hand to change one’s playing style and attitude towards other players.

    Liar's Dice is not nomic, but involves a small degree of meta-gaming based on your perception of the opponent's style and personality.

    Zendo is, to me, meta-gaming, but not in the classical sense. There is only one aspect of nomic gaming to it - the initial creation of the rule for koans.

    Mao is potentially nomic once you get past the initial game. I mostly introduced it as a fun concept.

    Dvorak is the only truly nomic game we played, and also involved meta-gaming in choice of topic, game rules, and play.

    ... and yes, I was starting to get worried about Ouch.

  2. Anonymous2:22 PM

    Correction, I stumped y'all with "a blue piece cannot touch an orange piece." And for the record, everyone *except* Tilli was stumped.

    When I was walking home after that night I passed by a man wearing a big cowboy hat. I tried not to laugh. I was not successful.