# Cordial Minuet: Hands On With Rohrer’s Gambling Game

“The next step is where you take out your credit card,” says Jason Rohrer.

We’re on the phone for a Cordial Minuet preview session. Cordial Minuet is Rohrer’s current game project – a gambling game based around magic squares into which I must deposit real money if I wish to play, even at this pre-alpha stage.

I deposit \$5. I’ll get back to the payment and security side later but for now, let’s concentrate on how the game works.

When you log into your account you’ll have the option to create a game with a particular buy-in or you can choose an existing game from the list. The lowest possible amount is one single penny but games can theoretically range all the way up to \$999 million in terms of your buy-in. We settle for a penny game, because I’m a high roller.

Once you’re in a game with an opponent you’re given 100 units to bet with, each worth one hundredth of whatever amount you put in. When it’s a penny game like this one that means you’re playing for fractions of a cent and it’s incredibly low risk without completely removing the real-money element which is an essential element for Rohrer.

In the centre of the screen is a six by six magic square featuring the numbers 1-36. In case you’re not sure what a magic square is, it’s just a grid of numbers where all of the columns and rows add up to the same number. A lot of people seem to have a panic reaction when it comes to maths so I’m going to say at this point that Rohrer shields players from pretty much all the calculation side of things so what you’re left with is more about logic and reading your opponent’s behaviour.

On your first turn you must pick a column of numbers for yourself and a column of numbers to assign to the other person. They’re doing that too with the exact same magic square except what they’re selecting is rows rather than columns.

When you’re ready you hit the “commit” button to cement your choices. After both people have committed to the action your magic square updates. You can now see which row they picked for you and where it intersects with the column you chose for yourself. The number in that intersecting square is your score so far. What you don’t get to see is what your opponent picked for themselves.

Then there’s a betting cycle. You look at your score so far and the lines of numbers left on the board to see your remaining options. You also try to work out what your opponent might have done and how they could have scored. If that sounds complicated, there’s actually a tool on the right hand side of the magic square to help you do this. What it does is it keeps track of all the possible final scores of your opponent based on the information you have to hand. Those are in red. Next to them, in green, you can see the information you’ve given them as well as your real possible final scores. It’s really useful for giving you an idea of the spread of their options compared with yours.

By keeping an eye on this you don’t have to do any calculating, but you can see how likely they are to end with a high or a low score and adjust your bet accordingly. You could also use this stage to play mind games, betting confidently to convince them of a strong starting score, or cautiously to pretend you’re at the lower end.

You’ll repeat those stages twice more to use up the remaining lines on the board and what you’ll end up with is three intersections on the grid which give you your final score. The more you play, the more information is revealed to your opponent and the fewer red options remain on the possibility tracker.

At the end there’s a final step. You must pick one of your three grid numbers to show your opponent. This has the effect of narrowing their possible final score to two options. In my first game with Rohrer he knew I either had a final score of 78 or 38. I knew he had 41 or 25. In that situation I could be sure I’d won if I had a 78 and Rohrer could be sure he had lost if he’d had a 25. With 41 or 38 the outcome would be uncertain and so you’d think back – how were they betting this match? If we’d played a few boards already we could have taken that into account too – were they cautious as players or were they confident? Did they prefer risky lines with very high but also very low numbers or did they gravitate towards the ones bristling with mid-value squares?

With the final bet placed there’s the big reveal and winner is given the gambled chips. At that point you can stay in the match, trying to use your knowledge to gain more of those chips, or you can tap out and try your luck elsewhere.

Cordial Minuet is a lot simpler and more intuitive when you’re playing than when you’re reading a description of how it works so I ask Rohrer how he’s going to go about teaching it to people. After all, existing gambling games like poker have the benefit of an existing cultural permeation. I might not know a straight from a flush without a rulesheet in front of me but the basic structure of poker is something I encountered at secondary school while playing card games at lunch and which repeatedly pops up in movies scenes, books, TV shows…

“This is a brand new game and doesn’t have any cultural currency,” admits Rohrer. “But within the game itself I’m going to assume people know how to play. There’s not going to be a tutorial built in. There are going to be videos on YouTube that walk you through – me talking for five minutes and telling you how to play and what the graph on the side means.”

Something I’m trying to figure out is whether Rohrer wants to build that cultural permeation and where the game fits into the online gambling game landscape. He hasn’t been in touch with casinos or gambling sites to see whether they’re interested in his game and he’s not dressing it up in a traditionally casino-friendly aesthetic. The graphics here are placeholders but the finished game will have a magic square designed to look like an occult parchment (you can see this in the images further down). The whole thing has an independent, experimental framing I recognise from his other games.

“How do you feel you fit in?” I ask, referring to the online gambling space.

“I definitely feel funny about it and that funny-ness makes it interesting to me. I know gambling is handled differently legally around the world. In the case of the United States I’ve structured my game in a way that – because who wins is based on a player’s skill and not a random element – it avoids running afoul of US anti-gambling legislation. Attitudes on gambling – probably because of legality – vary around the world. Although I don’t know – maybe everyone has come to the conclusion that it’s a bad thing which tends to destroy people’s lives.”

His last remark is hyperbole and delivered with humour but Rohrer is very much a libertarian – at least on this front. “I definitely believe in individual freedom and responsibility as well, though,” he continues. “I’ve been able to gamble without letting it destroy my life so the idea that I should be prevented from doing that even though I can handle it… I’ve also been able to have the occasional drink in my life without becoming an alcoholic, or occasionally use certain drugs without becoming addicted to them and destroying my life, I’ve used fireworks without blowing my fingers off.

“I feel like we do need to let people be responsible for their own actions and there are people who play a game like poker and study it deeply and in a meaningful way. The idea we make that illegal seems strange to me. In terms of the moral aspect that individual responsibility comes to the fore again. I’m making this game because it’s a really interesting space to explore, not because I’m hoping that the gambling itch will manipulate people into losing lots of money and giving me lots of profit.”

But that is still a possibility.

“Right,” says Rohrer. But he counters by mentioning his recent game The Castle Doctrine, an asynchronous multiplayer project which focused on themes of housebreaking and protecting your family. “It was gratifying as a developer to see so many [players] going that deep and discovering this cool stuff I didn’t know existed but on the other hand I’m looking at how many hours people have devoted. I’m not their babysitter and if they weren’t playing my game I couldn’t control what they were doing otherwise so I don’t know, I don’t know how to handle that. I want to make a game like this but am I really responsible for the few people who are going to abuse it?”

The seed for the game is something Rohrer has been nursing since about 2007. “I had this idea that there’s this hole in the law where you can make a game and play for money as long as it’s skill based.” That idea began to take on a more concrete form after he began playing poker more seriously and was intrigued by the emotional experience it offered. “A lot of people take an existing gambling game and put it on a computer or take a game like Bejeweled and build a tournament for money around it. I wanted to make a game where it’s designed from the ground up for that space. A game where money was a mechanic like it is in poker.

“At the same time I didn’t want it to be a game where the skill was somehow perceived as being hard to acquire – I feel chess and Go have a skill that’s so out of reach for almost everybody that most people give up right away. The gap between an [expert] and a beginner is so huge they can’t play together.”

The specific form for Cordial Minuet came as Rohrer was fiddling with ways players could pick options on a grid simultaneously in order to affect one another. The question then became “How do you make that grid fair?” A magic square fit the bill because its defining characteristic is that the rows and columns add up to the same thing.

“I stumbled onto the six by six [square] just testing it and realised that the numbers 1 through 36 sum to 666.” He adds, “Once I looked into the history of magic squares I realised this has something to do with the origin of 666 and is used for numerology purposes and occult practices. It seemed perfect and it worked perfectly in the game. Actually, the occult framing relates to why the game is called Cordial Minuet in the first place – it’s an anagram of “demonic ritual”.

Given it’s a game of skill and given the game already contains a bot capable of calculating all the possible outcomes of the game (that red and green tracker on the right hand side) I ask Rohrer whether he’s concerned it’s a solvable problem, or at least that you could build an AI capable of playing, if not optimally, then at least with a degree more probability of success.

“I’ve applied standard game theory to it and run all sorts of sims in terms of building different artificial intelligence agents to test different ways of playing to check there’s no degenerate way of playing that would make the game less interesting,” he says. “It doesn’t have a clear-cut, pure solution.”

I also said I’d get back to the money side of things, so here goes. When you start an account you’ll be asked to add funds so you can play. In terms of security, Rohrer tells me “The credit card number is sent from the client to my server with state-of the art encryption. It’s way better encryption than what most websites are using to handle your credit card. After that – using all the security that’s required – I send it off to the processing company and then I discard the credit card number. I don’t hold onto that at all. There’s no credit card numbers on my server.”

The processing service charges a fee which is taken out of the amount you deposit. I put in \$5 and the charge was 45 cents. Rohrer was initially going to try and swallow that himself but if a lot of money gets deposited and then withdrawn that could potentially leave him footing a large bill and with nothing to show for it so he decided against it. If you end up winning big or would like to take the money back out you’ll need to pay a further charge to a cheque provision company who will mail you your winnings minus that fee. For the US and UK it’s \$3. Rohrer likes the idea of a digital game sending you a physical object.

But given my initial lowly investment of \$5, the idea of only being left with \$1.55 if I break even and leave immediately smarts. I ask whether he thinks starting the game at a loss will affect players. “If you look at the way poker rooms handle this they do take a fee and cover themselves,” he says. The difference is that “on top of that they usually give you some bonus for signing up – ‘We know you’re going to lose your money anyway so here’s some free money to play with!’ I want to avoid that creepy incentivising sort of thing. The game is already creepy enough.”

That doesn’t actually make me feel much better about the fees and I can’t imagine actually withdrawing funds unless I manage a relatively big win – like \$3.45 big, for example. Like I say – I’m a high roller. For actual high rollers there are other admin processes which crop up. If you try to withdraw \$600 or more US tax laws mean you’ll need to send some tax documentation, and if you want to deposit thousands of dollars you’ll need to be able to provide proof of identity.

There’s also the fact that every ten percent of each prize pot goes to Rohrer. You could leap straight to imagining large sums of money with that – “Rohrer’s going to be rich!” you might think. But bear in mind that he seems to see the money more as a catalyst for getting people to care about the outcome of the games in a particular way. That’s why the lowest buy-in for a game is a penny rather than a dollar. In those matches he’ll be making hundredths of a cent as his rake.

I actually ask him a few games in how much money he’s made so far. He tells me that around 30 people have deposited a total of \$120 but that’s not his money, that’s what’s in their accounts. He doesn’t give me an exact figure overall but from our games he’s made a fifth of a cent. His biggest profit, he tells me, was from playing a Forbes journalist. He made 8 whole cents.

Cordial Minuet will be heading to private alpha shortly.

1. nebnebben says:

The concept looks extremely interesting. Though I do confess to be put off by the real money gambling element, I’m also not too much of a fan of Rohrer himself. Although I must credit him with good concepts

• cpt_freakout says:

Same here – the whole occult aspect is compelling and can offer a slew of interpretations on what you’re ‘actually’ doing beyond the basics of gambling, but I’m also reticent when it comes to that. I guess I might give it a shot, since it looks very interesting anyway, and it’s good that it’s not trying to grab your money like casinos do.

2. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

Sounds intriguing. I’ll probably buy this after I get The Castle Doctrine when it’s heavily discounted.

• Mitthrawn says:

Um…sorry to tell you- it will never go on sale (at least that’s what Rohrer says).

The relevant info is at the bottom of the post.

• J. Cosmo Cohen says:

That was the joke. :-)

• Greggh says:

*whoosh*

In case you also don’t understand the above onomatopoeia, that was the sound of the joke flying by.

• Mitthrawn says:

Are you contributing to this thread, Greggh, or are you just being shitty to be shitty? Yeah, I thought so.

Also, to be fair, wasn’t a great joke.

• Koozer says:

People, relax, we’re all friends here on the internet. Group hug!

3. brat-sampson says:

I’m no expert but surely the fact that, even if it’s based on skill, surely you pay in before you see the board makes it a gamble on some level? You’re making a bet that you’re especially good at a game based on skill but with randomised starting elements.

• Jason Rohrer says:

Well, that’s the cool thing about magic squares: Each row and column has the same point value in it (in this case, 111 total points), so even with a randomized initial board, as long as it’s a magic square, both players have the same opportunity to win. In fact, all possible scores on the board are possible for either player. For example, it’s possible for me to get 105 or do as poorly as 6, and the same is true for you.

Yes, both players have put in one chip before the next board is shown, but that board never favors one player over the other. Like a random Settlers of Catan map before anyone places a village. In Settlers, p1 might have an advantage, but in this game, players make their first move simultaneously, so there is no p1.

This is very different from poker, where the randomness 100% determines whether you win a hand or not. In 2-player poker, if both players go all in (no bet negotiation, which is the skill in poker), the winner is determined by what is essentially an elaborate coin flip. In this game, if both players go all in, the winner is determined by who plays better—who reads the opponent better, etc. So the “reading the opponent” skill goes all the way down. In poker, reading the opponent is a layer that’s built on top of a random number generator.

Which is why online poker across state lines is illegal in the US.

• MacTheGeek says:

If one player in Cordial Minuet acts randomly, then the outcome of each game will be random. The only skill lies in outguessing an opponent’s choice, so randomizing the choice must randomize the result.

Interstate poker is illegal for the same reason that interstate baccarat, blackjack, roulette, and games of pure chance are illegal — Congress decided that people can’t be trusted with how they spend their free time under their own roofs. Unfortunately for CM, the growth of meta-sports wagering (DraftKings and the like) is likely to bring the baleful eye of government back around to real-money betting on the internet. The party that slipped UIGEA into a bill on port security just retook the Senate. Much as I would like to see the regulatory environment improve, I’m not holding my breath. CM may find itself ground under the Congressional heel sooner rather than later.

Have to say, I don’t care who’s making it or how it’s been dressed up, a gambling game is a gambling game. And I am really not a big fan of those, I think gambling can be incredibly destructive, and do not agree with it at all. The game being attached to the name of a famous dev and being marketed as about skill makes it worse if anything as it could draw in non-gamblers.

For what it’s worth I’d also prefer RPS to not cover gambling games, just to put my opinion out there (and yes I know I’m one person blathering on the internet). I also know this is a pretty extreme reaction I’m having over here, but there aren’t that many things that I disagree with out of sheer principle and gambling, and the increasing push of gambling in today’s society, is one of them.

• TechnicalBen says:

This. I seriously question the legality of the game also.

Mainstream PC games have enough seriously dangerous elements creeping into them. We don’t need gambling also.

• ajewers says:

If you don’t like it you don’t have to play it, or even condone it. Personally I found the article and the idea of the game interesting, even though i expect i will never actually play it, and it seems ridiculous for RPS to arbitrarily decree never to write about gambling games. I agree with Rohrer when he says that people should be able to decide for themselves if they want to gamble or not.

There are also plenty of other non-gambling games into which you can poor real money, is this fundamentally more dangerous than those?

• Jason Rohrer says:

I’d say those games are strictly worse, because there’s no way to get your money back out of them.

The addiction problem is still there, with so-called whales spending thousands of dollars (an EA insider told me that a particular whale in their f2p game had spent \$40,000 in-game. One person.) Not to mention that those games are designed in the same skinner-box fashion as slot machines, with A-B testing, etc.

This is a competitive 2-player game that takes place between consenting adults, not a psychological trick designed to take all of your money from you.

• TechnicalBen says:

There is no way to get your money back out of this game either (mathematically true). Those other games also provide “value”, both types do depending on the buyers perspective.

However “psychological tricks” are used. Weather we wish to admit it or not, they are tricks that our mind do not realise unless we lay out the cards and check the odds and realities objectively.

• Chaz says:

I agree with you. If RPS are covering games like this, then why aren’t they covering all the other online gambling sites? They don’t of course for good reason, which is why I don’t think games like this should be given the space and time either.

Say it’s about skill all you like. However you are still betting money on the outcome of a game, which makes it a gambling game just like any other.

5. Josh W says:

I love the magic squares, and how close it is to pure game theoretical strategy selection.

But I’d rather this was a boardgame, where you have the various magic squares on large sized cards and two sets of tokens for the x and y coordinates.

Or an app for synced smartphones, so you can sit on either side of a table looking at each other over your phones.

This is because the real money gambling element doesn’t interest me at all, the thing that interests me is that this seems to be advanced rock paper scissors,

Actually there is something else interesting there; if I’ve understood the rules right, your victories have a magnitude instead of just being about who beat who; playing against rubbish players is an opportunity to boost your own winnings by reducing the risk of betting, and draw out excessive bids from them. This is similar to Poker in a sense, which makes me think that Poker is sort of a massively multiplayer game with serious problems of ganking. in the case of poker there are high security sections of the game world that caps the maximum return in exchange for protection from loosing too much money. (And sometimes some matchmaking).

But another interesting part of this is that it encourages players to win big, to excessively defeat their opponent. The competitive structures around most games teach restraint; even a tight victory is better than the chance of an overwhelming one if it will reliably give you the game win. Whereas in this game there is more of an incentive to crush your opponents and go for dramatic stakes more frquently, despite the tone of the game being something that would tend to encouraged a restrained playing style.

6. kwyjibo says:

Rohrer’s stuff always has me interested in a beard stroking way, but never enough to actually buy the game. He open sources everything too, so you could just build your own version, which is cool.

He should implement Bitcoin transactions. Anonymous online betting which gives them a skill-based feeling of superiority? They’d love this and it might create a hardcore audience that will stick with it, as opposed to the fickle beard stroking indie crowd. No cheques get mailed though.

• Jason Rohrer says:

Well, this is one game that you don’t have to “buy” in that it’s free, except that you deposit money in and withdraw it out later. The minimum deposit is currently \$2, which is enough to open 165 penny games (after credit card fees), assuming that you lose every game. If you win some of those penny games, you can play hundreds of games for \$2.

Bitcoin is out because this game will attract enough attention from tax folks as it is.

But yes, the server and client are both in the public domain. And it’s totally possible to mod the server to make the minimum game limit \$0, thus allowing people to play without real money. Or give out play money. After all, money is a mechanic in the game, so it doesn’t make sense to play for nothing (what would a bet mean if all bets were effectively 0?). But play money could work, as long as it was limited in some way.

• Jason Rohrer says:

Oh, one more thing about modding:

The server code ships with a Stripe test api key in place (instead of my live security key, for obvious security reasons).

With that shipping test key, Stripe will accept fake credit card numbers for testing purposes, and allow any amount to be charged. One example is 4242…. repeated for 16 digits.

So, right out of the box, the server would be set to accept fake payments with no modifications. Let people deposit \$1M on the fake credit card if you want to. I think that will make the game less interesting, but it’s totally possible.

7. “I must deposit real money”.
where I *NOPE*’d out of the article, I hope you didn’t follow with genius word thinks, if you did I apologise.

• Jason Rohrer says:

How much are most people spending on electronic booster packs in Hearthstone? And what do you have to show for those, money-wise?

Here’s a game that lets you deposit money and get it back out later, not just burn money. And “gamble” for 1/100 of a penny, which isn’t going to destroy your life if you treat it with respect.

You know that Magic originally was a gambling game, right? The long lost card ante rule. I think the game would be better if they kept that rule (makes you think twice about running rare, valuable cards, when there’s a 1/60 chance that your opponent could win that card from you).

Anyway, my job as a designer, as I see it, is to make interesting games that are different from what’s been done before, and hopefully the resulting games will give you experiences that are different from what you’ve experienced before. Obviously, what I make isn’t for everyone, or even for most people. But that doesn’t mean I should change course and start making derivative stuff that appeals to more people. Thus, each game that I make goes in a weirder direction than the last, as I run out of new directions.

• TechnicalBen says:

“Costs” and “gambling” are two specifically different things. The OP was not complaining about costs. For all we know they’d welcome paying you \$100 for the game, but they’d still see the legal implications of paying \$0.01c for gambling in your game.

There is a reason “pretend” football pools games exist that don’t pay out real money (only points/score boards), so as to get the same gameplay, but no real cash. See “Poker Night” on Steam.

As a piece of art and interesting comment, the game succeeds. It’s on shaky legal grounds though, and it’s an aspect I’ve not seen Gaming websites/mags/reporters cover before. Lest this website become all about tracks and slots…

• I have no interest in discrediting the game, or playing it. Same goes for magic or hearthstone (when I figured out the balanced arena mode thing was not something you can play sustainably). They are just not things I can sustainably hold out of contempt with so many games not trying to get money off me steadily.

• Viroso says:

I don’t know man I think you’re being dogmatic. Don’t you pay for games? From what Rohrer explained you can play the game hundreds of times for 2 dollars. You know, there are many games I’ve paid more than 2 dollars for and didn’t play hundreds of time.

People have a knee jerk reaction to stuff they’re not used to.

• When I was young my Mother answered the door to a few men who told her she owed them money because my Father (who we had not seen in a year) owed them money from a lost bet.

So yes, dogmatic, I’d rather RPS were responsible and stopped covering gambling games.

• jrodman says:

I think it’s pretty telling that the entire playerbase rejected gambling in Magic the Gathering, and the mass-rejection caused WotC to admit defeat on the idea, removing it form the rulebook not long into the many-decade long game.

8. Is it weird that I love this conceptually as a game idea but have absolutely no interest in ever playing it?

• Mitthrawn says:

Nope I feel the same way. Not a big fan of real money or the occult theme.

• pepperfez says:

My favorite thing about Jason Rohrer’s games — and I mean this totally positively — is that they are always keyed to be exactly off-putting enough for me to never want to play them, but fascinating enough that I’m kinda disappointed in myself for it. That games can be both interesting and not fun at all (to me) makes me pretty happy about the state of gaming.

9. I played The Castle Doctrine a lot around release time, and felt all of the intended anxiety. I’d tinker around in my house and put together a decent deathtrap, then come back the next morning and watch satisfying surveillance videos of people getting trapped by my elaborate switchboards. But it was always just a matter of time until someone else came along with 16 saws and a couple of blowtorches to undo my hard work. And when I logged in to find dead family members and an empty vault, watching the final surveillance video was just the slightest bit stomach-churning. We did such malicious things to each other in that game.

Anyway, with Cordial Minuet and now money serving as a mechanic, I think I see a connection between the two: real consequences, real stakes. In the former, permadeath is always one misguided step away. In the latter, the same can be said about monetary loss. I haven’t read it in any interviews or anything, but I’m guessing Rohrer is … uninterested in the inconsequential fluff of most games. “Press X to respawn and soldier on to the cutscene finale,” etc.

That being said, just now I imagined a combination of The Castle Doctrine and Cordial Minuet. I think it’d be a nightmare to play the first one for real money, having the same credit card deposit rule — but when I say “nightmare,” I also mean “I would feel more emotion than ever before from a videogame.” A few exhilarating victories before an inevitable, balloony deflation.

(Thanks for hanging out in the comments and posting some thoughts, Jason. I wasn’t expecting that.)

• Jason Rohrer says:

Yeah, this continues to push into Castle Doctrine territory for sure. Games that reach out into the real world, and real life, in significant ways. The Castle Doctrine asked, “are you REALLY going to do this to another person?” This game might have you asking, “can I afford to make the move that I’m about to make?” There’s also a weird feeling that comes from winning this game. You just won a lot of money, maybe, but someone else in the world just stared at their screen in morbid disbelief as they lost that same lot of money.

I did think a lot about Castle Doctrine played for real money. There was that Steal Real Money contest that I ran right before launch. People loved that, it seemed. But I did think about a permadeath server (one life only), or a server where you had to pay a dollar per life, or a server where you could steal that dollar of real money from other players when you robbed them.

10. Dharoum says:

Quite an interesting idea, looking forward to playing it, but will you also allow PayPal or only credit cards?

I also think a 10% rake is pretty hefty for such a game.

• Jason Rohrer says:

Contest entry fees or prizes of any kind are against PayPal’s terms of service, legal or not (so, even song writing contests, chess tournaments, etc.). I figured it was best to steer clear of PayPal and avoid having my account frozen by surprise (frozen along with everyone ELSE’s money in it—yikes).

I’ve considered supporting Dwolla, which is used in the US for Fantasy Football and other things that PayPal blocks—and has way lower fees…. but Dwolla only works inside the US, sadly.

The rake is subject to change. 10% is only collected if that 10% is at least one chip, so on pots with less than 10 chips, my rake is 0, and I don’t rake chip fractions. I have no idea how people will play, or how big average pots will be, or how much the rake will hurt, until people start playing the game in large numbers. Then I’ll tweak the rake.

11. lylebot says:

As a child of a (thankfully recovering) alcoholic and the spouse of a child of a (unrecovered and unadmitted) gambling addict, I cannot stand this “it’s their choice” rhetoric. It’s as if one’s destructive choices don’t affect anyone else.

Rohrer: go learn something about addiction. Try imagining a future where your father-in-law has blown his retirement, is constantly begging for gambling money, and is looking to move in with you because he can’t afford a place of his own. Imagine that he can’t admit he has a problem, lies to his therapists, lies to his family about his gambling AND what his therapists tell him. And then say “it’s his choice” to be an immense burden on his wife, his children, and his grandchildren.

• TechnicalBen says:

One of the sad things is, people with good intentions often do not realise they may be reinforcing bad habits/addictions.

There is nothing wrong with making a game or having something for fun. But it if by design reinforces dangerous behaviours, even just a little, is it wise to continue with it?

• Jason Rohrer says:

Is the argument here that these things (alcohol and gambling) should be illegal? Video games themselves have been known to destroy some lives (my roommate at university, who was valedictorian of his high school class, got so sucked into Quake 1 that he ended up flunking out of university his first semester—a fine Christmas present for his proud parents, I’m sure).

On the other hand, I enjoyed Quake 1 immensely, and I’m glad it was legal. I’ve enjoyed gambling, and I’m glad poker is legal in the state of California. I occasionally, maybe once every few years, enjoy a glass of red wine. I’m glad that’s legal. My friends own a vineyard and grow some damn fine wine grapes. Should they stop? They personally love wine—it’s their passion—and they seem to be able to handle it.

Yes, I know these things (gambling, alcohol, drugs, video games) have destroyed many lives, and I’m not dismissing that fact at all, and I have deep sympathy for those of you who have been affected by addiction.

On the other hand, the solution to these problems can’t possibly be to eliminate these things entirely, or to avoid making them when we want to make them, because there are so many people who enjoy these things without having their lives destroyed. Close every winery? But wine is an important part of human culture, etc. Even cinema addiction used to be a thing, back when it was the most immersive escape in town.

Finally, I’ll observe that if my roommate didn’t have Quake 1, he quite possibly would have found another way to destroy himself that semester.

• TechnicalBen says:

The site is not a site about gambling due to the legal implications.

That’s not asking to change the law, it’s asking to follow the existing law. That’s not a high bar for me to expect from RPS if I wish to continue reading it. :)

Otherwise, I hope you do well, but from experience gambling of any form (or level) is not the place where people do well. That is irrespective of the laws we wish to place, it’s an observed reality. People who avoid gambling do better and feel better.

Which would you prefer to sell and promote? Games with gambling (real money) or games without gambling?

As others have said too, we can look for and see the reasons why one pursuit or hobby may be dangerous and why one may be helpful. Take care.

12. aliasi says:

I’m not going to get on the gambling/anti-gambling train here; I think there’s people who have been terribly addicted to it, but I also enjoy buying the occasional lottery ticket. I think that, for practical reasons, limiting this to actual money is probably not the greatest idea as the game itself is interesting, but given Mr. Rohrer’s habit of open-sourcing his stuff it wouldn’t be too difficult to adapt the rules elsewhere down the road.

13. Phasma Felis says:

Gambling is “a bad thing which tends to destroy people’s lives.” Gambling is for suckers, by and large. I did not say “OMG gambling must by banned 4 teh childrenz,” and I’m kind of annoyed by the way Rohrer (and, unrelatedly, a huge swath of internet jerkwads in general) conflates disapproval with seeking-to-ban.

• Jason Rohrer says:

Going to a casino is for suckers—this is mathematically true.

But Poker isn’t a casino game. Poker is a skill-based gambling game where you play against other people. And it’s only “for suckers” if you’re a sucker. Not everyone who plays it is a sucker. Mark Newhouse made it to the final table in the WSOP championship two years in a row. He’s no sucker.

And no, I have no interest in designing casino games.

There seems to be a great deal of confusion between “playing a game for money” and “gambling.”

Are you gambling when you pay \$95 to enter into the IGF? A contest of skill is not the same thing as gambling, both in terms of legality and in terms of common parlance. No one would call the IGF gambling. Nor would they call a chess tournament gambling.

14. solkan says:

On the technical side of things, I’m skeptical whether this gets to the “game of skill” requirement.

The core game mechanic reduces to playing rock-paper-scissors against an anonymous opponent using electronic box. Functionally, you could replace the human being on the other side with a random number generator and be unable to tell the difference.

In order to detect and defeat a non-random strategy, I think you’d need to be able to determine whether you were still playing against the same opponent for more than just a three round game.

Otherwise, you’re basically playing against a hallucination in a box, where you’re attempting to outsmart what you imagine your opponent’s strategy to be. And you’re doing it in a situation where you can’t effectively rule out that your opponent could be a random number generator.

• Jason Rohrer says:

This is not just rock-paper-scissors because of the multi-turn structure, where fewer columns remain on subsequent turns. Turn one, in isolation, is indeed RPS (6 choices of equal value, where the optimal strategy is to play each choice at random with 1/6 probability). But you don’t play turn one in isolation. The choices you make in turn one remove two columns from the possibility space in turn two, and the first two turns remove four columns, leaving you with only two to chose from in turn three. It is like RPS mashed with a game tree that has 500,000 leaves. Thus, the optimal strategy, even on turn one, is not “pick randomly with 1/6 chance.”

If your opponent IS doing that (playing randomly), you can soundly beat them with a simple greedy strategy in later rounds. You can more thoroughly beat them by thinking through future moves in the game tree. Game tree search beats greedy. Greedy beats random. I’ve tested this with AI agents that I coded up, and it’s true in practice.

Finally, you DO play multiple games against the same opponent, as long as you both have chips left at the table and don’t leave. So, you can learn to read them over time.

In my experience, it is quite easy to read a beginning player in this game. I can usually assign them whatever score I want, even on turn one, and give myself whatever score I want too.

Finally, even if it was just RPS, RPS is a game of skill, of course, especially across multiple rounds against the same opponent.

15. Alberto says:

I’m a fan of mr. Rohrer work, and I’ve bought some his lovely Star Filled Sky.

I really suck at anything multi, so I’ll skip this one.

My main objection to the game is my prejudice against bad games needing the gambling factor to get the player’s interest. The best example would be slot machines, where there isn’t even a game, just the hope the slots will roll right and give some of the money back. The worst, of course, poker and other games really good and usually used in gambling.

But you can play poker by the pure fun of it and it’s still a good game, whilst slots are boring when no money is involved.

So, I kind of tend to think that if a game is designed needing money to be interesting, it’s flawed somehow by design.

Again: my prejudices. Maybe from my teenage days, watching my friends lose their money in boring slot machines instead of losing it in joyful pinball machines, as I did.

16. unknownuser says:

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