By Kieron Gillen on June 10th, 2009 at 7:23 pm.
Ludo is a simplified version of the Indian game of Pachisi. For Americans, you’re probably thinking that means Ludo is a bit like Parcheesi, another game that’s a simplified version of Pachisi. And you’ll be right, except Ludo is even simpler and features less skill. Whenever Ludo is brought up to Walker, he mentions how outrageous it is that the game whose name is literally “I Play” actually isn’t a game at all. The human really just exists to roll the dice and move the pieces.
It works like this:
You have four pieces. Your aim is to get them all around the board, at which point you can go up your coloured pathway and get to the centre. You roll the dice, and move them that number of spaces. Complications are as follows: You have to hit the exact roll to hit the centre. You have to roll a six to move any piece out of your starting area. If you move a piece on top of an enemy piece, they’re moved back to their start area and have to move roll a six to get moving again. If you roll a six, you roll again. If you can move, you have to. Oh – and one rule in the instructions which I didn’t know before – if you move one of your pieces onto another piece of yours, you can “block”, creating something that no opponent can pass.
That’s it. In other words, on average, you’ll have 3 turns before you can even move a piece. Once that piece is in play, it’ll be – on average – another 3 turns before another piece enters play, giving you the first even vaguely tactical decision in the game – whether to move a piece further or get another one in play. If the latter, you have a choice every turn of whether you want to move one the other. In practice, the decision is transparently simple – if there’s an enemy close behind you, you move that one to try and out run them. Of all the games here, this is one I suspect that – as far as it was possible – the Lady and I both played perfect games. Because you’d have to have a brain made entirely of dried semen to do otherwise.
Of all the games we played in the week, we laughed most whilst playing Ludo. It was hilarious. We had a hell of a time.
Yeah, a lot of this was it’s so bad it’s good territory, but it’s still laughing. The game was so empty of any meaningful interaction, as the dice moved back and forth, we were reduced to something approaching hysteria. We realised pretty much immediately, we’d fucked up the game set up. The Lady was in the position directly behind me. Which meant that, my pieces were – by default – ahead of hers, giving her pieces the chance to lurk behind my start section waiting for newcomers. I took well over six turns to get my first piece out, only for it to be took immediately. It ended up like some kind of Ludo Paschendale, with a generation of tiny pieces stepping out just get mown down. Lions lead by Donkeys, I tell you.
The Lady ended up getting three of her pieces to the centre before I’d even got one. The game was cascading to a cheerful thrashing, which I embraced. It was, after all, fucking Ludo. Her last piece was at the bottom of the her home straight – which I can’t enter. In other words, if she even had a next turn, she’d move into an area where there was no chance of me capturing her, and making it almost certain that she’d roll the number she needed to get home before I moved all my pieces home.
I count the gap, then look up, smiling.
“Twelve spaces. I have a one in thirty-six chance”
The dice bounce across the stone table. A six.
I pick it up and shake it again, giving her my best Clint Eastwood glare as she giggled.
“I have a one in six chance.”
I shake and throw. It settles. A six.
I AM INVINCIBLE! THE LUDOMEISTER! THE LUDOCRAT! LOOK UPON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR! OH YEAH! GAME ON MOTHERFUCKER! GAME FUCKING ON! I’M THE COUNTING SPACES OF MONTEFISTO! NEVER ENTER A GAME OF CHANCE WITH A STAFFORDIAN!
Of course, I end up losing. It was closer than it had any right to be. In the time it takes the Lady to get her piece around the board, I manage to get all my pieces almost home. In fact, I get onto the home run before her, sitting there, rolling the dice to try and get the final space. She ends up one space away. We sit there, rolling the dice, back and forth, until one of got a one. It takes about four turns. She gets it first.
I think, in terms of Ludo, it’s close to the immortal game of chess. It was an iconic, platonic-form of Ludo. The highest point involved only the scantest part of human intelligence. It started with us both sitting still, just rolling trying to get one number. It ended with us both, sitting still, trying to get one number. It’s the sort of game which makes you wonder why you even bothered with all that stuff in between. We should have just started rolling dice until one of us got a six and called it quits. Hell, why bother with that? Let’s just flip a coin and get back to making out like excitable teenagers.
Because then we wouldn’t have had the fun of laughing at a shared human experience. Which is about the only lesson to take back from Ludo, and it’s a cursory one worth considering. One of the most common phrases when discussing videogames is “But it’s fun in multiplayer!”. At a core level, especially when played with friends, everything’s fun in multiplayer. Stating the obvious: the most important part of multiplayer is the multiple players. This is where a worrying amount of a multiplayer’s game’s merit comes from. Is this actually a good game, or are these just good players? By which I mean, not actually anything to do with the commonly accepted idea of whether someone is good at the game – but whether they’re actually good to play with. That’s the only sort of “good player” which ever really matters.
As such, as much as I enjoyed the game, it wasn’t because of the game. It was because of the Lady.
So, generally speaking, I’d recommend fucking over fucking ludo.