(aka You Have to Divide the Pie)
While there’s lots of great discussion of digital games here, I thought it would be nice to have some discussion of games of another kind: analog games, aka board games, card games, tabletop games, etc. In particular, I’m a big fan of German-style board games and usually have some opinions about them I’d like to share. If you’re not familiar with the genre, check out the Wikipedia article or BoardGameGeek.com.
A game that’s been getting a lot of play in my group recently is …aber bitte mit Sahne (English: With cream, please). This is a clever filler game (under 30 minutes playing time) designed by Jeffrey Allers. You can find an English version of the rules linked on the game’s BGG page, so I’ll just give a quick description here:
The game consists of 57 slices of pie. There are 8 different kinds, each with a different point value and a number of whipped cream dollops. There are 3 slices of value 3, 4 of value 4, etc., up to 11. Also, the higher the point value of a slice, the more dollops it has (up to 3).
The proceeds like this: on their turn each player takes 11 slices without looking at them. They arrange them in circle and divide it into a number of portions equal to the number of players (rearranging the order of pieces is not allowed). Then, starting from the player to the divider’s left, each player takes a portion, with the divider getting last pick.
At the end of the game, the player who has the most slices of a particular type of pie gets the point value of that type (ties are friendly). For example, if I have 3 of the 9 valued slices, another player has 2, and the remaining players have none, I get 9 points.
As an added twist, when a player takes a portion, they can choose to flip over any number of the slices they take. Flipped over slices don’t count towards the majority, but they do score points for the number of dollops on them.
For more information, read Jeffrey’s design blog.
So what’s so interesting about this game? Its mechanics, the degree of player interaction, its accessibility to non-gamers, its quick playing time, and its plain and simple fun. Read on for more!
“I cut-you choose” is something we’ve all done at some point in our lives, but it is very underused as a game mechanic. The only other game I know of that uses it is Alan Moon‘s San Marco. A fine game, but considerable longer (90 minutes) and nowhere near as accessible.
Anyone who has a sibling probably had to do the same thing at some point growing up: some treat needed to be divided up, so one person did the dividing and the other did the choosing. It’s a simple system that forces one to make a decision about what constitutes a fair division. When the thing being divided is homogeneous, it’s pretty easy: try and make the pieces as equal in size as possible. But what happens when it’s not homogeneous? And pieces have different values to different people? And since 11 is a prime number, there’s no way to divide it so everyone gets an equal number of slices!
So the player is faced with the problem of deciding how to make a division such that they don’t give any of their opponents a really good portion, while guaranteeing that they’ll be left with something they want. There’s generally never an obviously good division, but many of them may be obviously bad. AP-prone players may stall out, but the game is quick and light enough that there’s little incentive to agonize over the decision. There’s enough strategy and tactics to keep it interesting, but not so much that it’s burdensome.
To many hardcore gamers, digital or analog, describing a game as quick and light would be considered an insult rather than praise. But there’s different games for different people in different situations. This is a game that I could see being a big hit at a family gathering; both grandma and my young nephew could understand it, play it competitively, and have a good time. Even with my group of hardcore board gamers, we enjoy playing it at the beginning or ending of the evening or as a break between longer games. Quick and light games have their place in the world, and this is one of the best.
About the author: Kenneth Hullett is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at UC Santa Cruz. He is researching level design and its effects on player behavior. Read more from this author