Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Luck, risk management, and pigs

Beer, wine, pretzels, and pigs - my final losing "pig out"
My wife and I were playing Pass the Pigs (designer David Moffatt, publisher Winning Moves) this evening before dinner, and my son happened by and said, "I thought you didn't like games based on luck."

What a great question.  I don't like games based on luck - games like Life, Sorry, War, and any other game in which luck renders decision-making moot.  But I certainly do like risk management games, and PtP is squarely in that category.  I've posted before about my early observations on how the teenage brain works in assessing risk.  In our first family game of Incan Gold,
[My son] bolstered my working hypothesis on teenagers and risk assessment.  He was always still in the expedition when the second monster of a suit came up, so he ended up with no treasure after five rounds.
On the other hand, I remember getting my butt kicked in Can't Stop at Congress of Gamers last fall because of that very phenomenon.

One brilliant element of PtP is that since the pigs aren't really dice, it's very difficult to calculate probability in the conventional sense.  The pigs are oddly shaped, and because I'm too lazy to run 1000 trials of pigs to estimate the expected value of a roll (although somebody else wasn't), well, I just wing it on the risk assessment.  My "wing it" threshold for PtP is typically eleven points.  (Actually, maybe I shouldn't post that number online.)  If I'm significantly behind, I'll take bigger chances, but overall, I'm still pretty conservative.  My wife said her threshold was 15 points, but after I told her mine was eleven, she started stopping at eleven, too.  And she won.  So what does that tell you?


So now that I've been thinking about the fact that somebody else actually did run the numbers on the pigs, my inner mathematician compels me to calculate the optimal threshold for rolling again vs. not rolling again.  I think that will be a topic for a future post...


  1. Hey, I wasn't being a copycat! My threshold usually is 15, but those 11 rolls happened with some really cool pig combinations - like snouters - and I didn't want to lose them because they are more rare than other single rolls. Not exactly mathematician thinking, but I still beat ya! LOL.

  2. SPC here. MY threshold is 18, so I guess I'm more of a gambler. Might explain why my son is 28...

  3. My parents had an old copy of PtP, but I haven't played it in forever. I do, however, share your affinity for Anchor Steam Beer :)

  4. @SPC: Wow, you keep rolling at 17! You're off the hook! ;-)

    @G&G: The quality of the beer does seem to correlate to the amount of risk I will tolerate in PtP. :-)

  5. I was given PtP for Christmas ages ago, and I remember really liking it. Of course, haven't played recently to say what my gamble threshold is.

    Actually, to comment on your discussion of luck vs risk management, I had a similar conversation with my brother just recently. I really don't like luck based games, and any time that luck supersedes decisions, I'm generally unhappy. But we (My brother and I) tried Alien Frontier just the other day, and while the dice are a very large factor of the game, it doesn't feel luck dependent as much as luck being an element of the decision making process. And this coming from someone who lost by ten points!

    I definitely can take risk management, though, and 'gambling' is a definite strategy I like having available in games.

  6. I've heard all kinds of good things about Alien Frontier - except that there's a certain backstabbing element to it that undermines the two-player game. So I've stayed away from it so far.

    I completely agree with you that randomness as a part of the game mechanics is fine, as long as the player has the opportunity to make decisions to optimize the luck or manage the risk or take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Push-your-luck games (Incan Gold, Can't Stop, Farkle, $GREED) are among my favorites, even though I'm so bad at them.