Sunday, November 14, 2004

Doubles: a new game of cards and dice

While at MIT, I was introduced to a wonderful game called liar's dice. There are many versions, so I decided I'd reproduce the version I learned here. Since coming to Madison, I've taught the game to folks in my apartment, and had quite a good time playing it with them.

Recently I've been looking for another dice game. What I require is a good mix of chance and strategic interaction between players. Liar's dice meets this requirement, but my (relatively perfunctory) googling was unable to find any other such games besides variations on liar's dice. It occurred to me that a game using cards and dice might be able to give me the mix of chance and strategy I wanted, with cards providing the strategy and dice the chance. Again, googling didin't find what I was looking for. For a lesser nerd, this would have been a problem.

I resolved to create my own game of cards and dice. After a few days of false starts, I stumbled upon a general way to incorporate dice into any trick-taking card game in a manner that adds to the game not only more chance, but also an entirely new and interactive strategic dimension. To keep the rules simple, instead of "dicing" an actual trick-taking game, I concocted and then diced a simple special-purpose trick-taking game where suit is irrelevant and the highest ranking card always wins a trick. The result was Doubles, so named because rolling doubles is very bad for you in this game. (Exercise for the reader who is so inclined: using Doubles as a template, dice your favorite trick-taking game.)

I've now tested Doubles for two, four, and five players. In all cases the game got rave reviews. Between the randomness of what people roll and which cards they are dealt, there is plenty of chance. Yet, the strategic aspects are anything but trivial. As each game progressed, players spent more and more time deciding what to do on their turns. Testing thus far has revealed some moves as bad that weren't obviously bad a priori, but no one has even come close to producing a general strategy to handle all situations. I suspect that after some thoughtful gaming and theorizing, one could write down a very-near-optimal strategy for two-player Doubles, though it would be a lengthy piece of writing. However, for three or more players, the complexity is daunting (at least to this theorist), to the point that the best I'd expect are some general heuristics for human players and (successful?) essentially brute-force attacks by computer players.

Still untested are three-player games, games with six or more players, and team games. However, I'm certain the strategic aspects are qualitatively the same for any number of players from three to seven. Trivial modifications of the rules could accomodate eight or more players, but I suspect such games would be rather long and cumbersome; even seven might be pushing it. As for team games, I can't say more than the obvious: I expect the strategic aspects are some sort of hybrid between those of two-player and more-than-two-player Doubles. I plan to test team Doubles next weekend and blog about the results. Also, if you try out Doubles, then I encourage you to email me any ideas you have about Doubles strategy and/or beneficial modifications to the rules of Doubles.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Humph. You game is better than my game:


11/14/2004 3:21 PM  

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