Using Math and Computers to Destroy Your Game Design

After the previous article about my son Bryan's game design, a friendly Red Team designer on Facebook asked whether the dominant strategy wouldn't just be to draw 1 card if your score was less than the leader's.

Short Answer: Yes, that is the dominant strategy. The game is entirely broken.

Long Answer: How did I come to that conclusion?

Python Simulation:

- Establish baseline by each side picking randomly and each side picking 1. Confirm that in both cases, the wins/losses are equally divided.

- Have 1 side draw 1 and the other side draw randomly. Confirm that the 1 draw is dominant (goes from 50/50 to 60/40).

- Switch simulation to be interactive. Play several hands to confirm that even attempting to play with a strategy yields no better than 60/40.

- Decide that a successful strategy might be to play an additional card for each Ace. That performs even worse!

Conclusion: If there is a better strategy than just drawing 1, I didn't find it. Despite the fact that the initial play was fun, the game fell apart under analysis. No harm done. Bryan hasn't asked to play the game since then (instead, he's been asking to play Retro Rocket Rally again (even trying to get a game off with his play date)). I think it was a valuable lesson for him. He liked the fact that I put the story on the web site. Finally, the idea of the push-your-luck with cards has spurred an idea for a different game that is basically Cribbage with magical powers.

Takeaway: It can be worth investigating a broken game. Even if you don't manage to salvage the design, it is good practice to analyze why it doesn't work.