Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tower of Karma

My friends and I play board games.  Most of them involve a map, cardboard or plastic units, and dice.  The dice rolling is always the exciting part.  It captures all the elements of chance, whether you're herding sheep in Settlers of Catan, or sending a fleet of X-wings to blow up the Death Star in Star Wars: Risk.

Lately we've been playing Seth's new purchase, Shogun (the 2006 version), a game where each player represents a powerful samurai clan and tries to conquer medieval Japan through a combination of economics and combat.  It's not only a fun game that makes you think, it also uses an interesting cardboard tower with a clear plastic well at the bottom.  When two armies battle, you dump the appropriate number of troops from each army into the Cube Tower.  (Painted wooden cubes represent the troops.)  The cubes filter through the tower and whatever comes out in the well at the bottom determines the winner.

The interesting thing is how this changes players' perception of luck.

When you sling a handful of dice, you know the outcome is random, yet you feel responsible.  I can't count the number of times I've watched friends lean back from the table and say, "I'm rolling horrible tonight."

My pal Chris pointed out he doesn't have that problem with the Cube Tower.  It's like a cardboard computer.  You drop your troops in the top, and whatever falls out is the result.  No arguing.  No sense of failure.   It feels like fate.

Now I could argue that with dice you get a truly random result, whereas with the Cube Tower you can count the number of cubes you have in the tower (which I think Susan did), and even keep track of enemy cubes to figure the exact odds.  But my point is that the Tower FEELS like luck.  Luck without the burden of responsibility.

And psychologically, that's interesting to me.

(By the way, while Chris harvested rice, and Susan counted cubes, and Seth and I depopulated eastern Japan with constant warfare, Torger quietly built temples and castles and won the game.)

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