Searching for Cosmic Poker

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering, doesn’t like to review games, because he doesn’t want to hurt designers’ feelings. So he frames his reviews as a search for Cosmic Poker — the lovechild of two of his favorite, but very different games, poker and Cosmic Encounter. His mythical Cosmic Poker would have these five qualities in the proper proportions — some high, some low:

Luck and Uncertainty: These are important to me, I typically want to see games closer to poker than to chess — that is — where there is a lot of skill, but anyone can win. There are fine games with low uncertainty — like chess for example, but in my view luck is underrepresented in games and underappreciated by game reviewers.

Politics: Typically want to see little politics in a game, and mechanics where I choose who to hose rankle me. I am a big fan of team games and two player games for this reason. There are many good games with a lot of politics, like Diplomacy — but I am typically not looking for those experiences these days.

Variety: Poker has immense replayability in a couple of ways. There are many varieties of poker, and within the game players face a constantly changing challenge. Cosmic Encounter brought this variety to a whole new level however, as in each game you played with different cards and players had different roles.

Hidden Information: I love hidden information — game information that one player knows that others don’t. When in a game the doors open wide for the opportunity of bluffing and other mind games. I do not generally include information that is not known because it is meant to be forgotten, like resources or victory points behind a screen.

Downtime: A player should not spend too much time doing nothing. If a player is eliminated the game should be close to finished.

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