Miser: A Card Game

Description

Miser is a game of strategy, involving both cooperation and deception. Skilled play requires accurate judgments about the psychology of the other players; being able to calculate the costs and benefits of each potential move; persuasion, rhetorical skill and bluff; and a good memory.

Although luck plays some role in the game, a skilled player can bluff her way to a win even with a weak hand.

Set-Up

What you need to play:

-20 pennies for each player (or poker chips, or whatever)

-a deck of cards

-3 or more players

Basic Rules

The object of the game is to have the most pennies when play stops.

At the end of the game, one player is considered to have won and the rest to have lost. There is no second place.

Players draw cards from the deck before it is dealt to determine who will go first.

Play moves clockwise around the table.

To start, deal out all the cards to the players (the deck may need to be modified so that players all have an even number of cards).

Distribute 20 pennies to each player.

No player may show her hand to any other player. Players are, however, allowed to make any claims or promises they like about what cards they hold in their hand.

All of a player’s pennies must be visible at all times.

When it is a player’s turn, she may do one of the following:

  1. pass;

  2. take out a contract with a second player to get a third player’s pennies;

  3. attack another player for her pennies;

  4. make a bid for the pennies in the centre of the table.

Both ii) and iii) involve wagering pennies. Only three pennies may be wagered by a player in any turn.

  1. also involves wagering pennies, but in this case there is no limit to the number of pennies that can be bid by a player.

ii), iii), and iv) involve playing cards. Once the cards have been played they go into a slush pile.

If a player goes out of cards, she can still be attacked or made the victim of a contract, but she cannot attack another player, enter into contracts, or make a bid for the centre. When it is that player’s turn, she can only pass (and so must put three pennies in the centre; see below).

A player is completely knocked out of the game when she loses all her pennies.

The game is over as soon as one of the players is knocked out of the game. At that point, the player with the most pennies is the winner.

Passing

If a player choses to pass, she must put 3 pennies into the centre of the table.

(The pennies are divided up with the rest of the pennies the next time a player either enters into a contract or attacks. Pennies in the centre of the table can also be bid on by a player when it is that player’s turn.)

Rules for Taking Out a Contract

A player may take out a contract with a second player against a third (where player#1 and player#2 take out a contract on player#3):

The player first finds another player willing to enter into a contract with him.

Player#1 and player#2 agree how much each will wager (from 1 to 3 pennies). They put those pennies into the centre of the table. Player#3 contributes the same number of pennies to the centre of the table (i.e., player #3 matches the combined bits of player#1 and player#2).

Player#1 and player#2 agree on the value of the cards they will respectively play (e.g. both agree to play a 5; suit is irrelevant). There is no obligation to play the card that has been agreed upon.

They put the cards face down on the table, and then flip them at the same time. The result is determined as follows:

  1. If the cards played by player#1 and player#2 do have the same value (whether it was the number agreed upon or not), then players#1 and #2 evenly split the total number of pennies that are in the centre. If there are an odd number of pennies, the extra chip stays in the centre of the table.

  2. If players#1 and #2 put down cards with different values, all the pennies in the centre of the table go to the player who played the higher valued card.

Card values are determined as in Blackjack. (So 10 = Jack = Queen = King; Ace = 11).

Notice that player#3 can do nothing when being attacked except make threats, pleas, or arguments about the likely outcome of the attack.

Rules for attacking another player

When it is a player’s turn, she may attack another player (where player#1 is challenging player#2):

Player#1 indicates her intended victim (player#2) and the amount of her wager (one to three pennies). Player#1 puts her wager in the centre of the table, and player#2 puts the same number of pennies in the centre of the table.

Player#1 selects a card from her hand and puts it face down on the table. Player #2 is not obliged to play a card in response (if this happens, she forfeits the pennies wagered). If Player #2 chooses, however, she may respond by placing a card in front of him, face down. They may each put down as many cards as they like, and the attack is over only when both agree to flip up all their cards.

Once a card has been played (by being placed on the table) it can’t be taken back.

Cards are then flipped up, and all the pennies in the centre of the table go to the player who played the cards with the highest total value.

If the cards have the same value, the players lose their cards and the pennies stay in the centre of the table. Of course, players may attempt to avoid this result by making claims about the values of the cards they have played. But there is no reason to believe them.

Card values are determined as in Blackjack. (So 10 = Jack = Queen = King; Ace = 11).

Making a Bid for the Pennies in the Centre

If a player announces her intention to bid for the pennies in the centre, any other player (who has cards left) may enter the bidding.

Each player bids by putting:

  1. one of her cards (any one; presumably the card with the lowest value in her hand) on the table face up in front of him.

  2. the number of pennies she wishes to bid in front of him on the table. Players can continue to add to their bids in response to other player’s bids, but they cannot withdraw a bid. (When a player adds to her original bid she does not need to put down another card.)

Bidding is over only when all the players announce that they are finished bidding.

The player who bid the most pennies takes all the pennies in the centre of the table. However, she and the player who has bid the second most pennies must put the pennies they have bid into the centre of the table. Third and fourth place bidders get to keep their own bids. (So even the winner of a bid may end up putting more pennies back into the centre than she has gained from the bid itself.)

If the two highest bid amounts are equal and both players refuse to add to their bids, both players (and the second highest bidders) forfeit their bids to the centre.

If the second two highest bid amounts are equal, both players are considered to have come in second.

Strategy

If a player runs out of cards before the others, she is obviously vulnerable to an attack from a player with cards (each time she is attacked, she will have to give up 3 pennies since she will have no card to defend with). Once a player is out of cards, her only option is to pass (thereby sacrificing 3 pennies per turn).

There is a special advantage, then, in holding onto your cards for as long as possible. But:

  1. Opting not to play a card on her turn requires a player to give up 3 pennies. This puts a limit on the number of times a player can afford to pass.

  2. A player can still win after going out of cards early, provided her lead is significant enough that no other player can catch up to him.

  3. As the amount in the centre accumulates, it will be increasingly tempting for a player to sacrifice some of her cards to get it.

It may seem that it is always more advantageous to attack another player than to cooperate with a second on a contract against a third (because cooperating involves trusting another player). But:

  1. In a contract, you sacrifice at most one card and 3 pennies, whereas an attack is open-ended and you might end up playing too many cards;

  2. Towards the beginning of the game, there is less reason to betray on a contract, because both players will hope to be regarded as viable partners for contracts in the future.

  3. Contracts are a useful way for two players to get the most out of their lower value cards. If both players have 2s, and can trust each other enough, they can get far more out of these cards than by attacking with them, or using them to bid for the centre.

Bidding is riskier than it may first appear. Once players have committed to a bid, it will be hard for them to back out and lose their investment of pennies. So players may end up bidding more than the amount they stand to gain, just to prevent another player from making off with the amount in the centre.

It may seem unfair that a player under attack from two other players has no way of turning back the attack. But notice that:

  1. At most 3 pennies per turn can be taken from the player under attack.

  2. Each time a player is attacked she has one card more relative to her two attackers.

  3. If there are more than three players in the game, two players attacking a third repeatedly over the course of a game will make themselves vulnerable to the fourth player.

  4. Eventually the attacking players must deal with each other. The temptation to renege on an agreement always threatens the stability of any cooperative arrangement (at least between players who are each genuinely attempting to win).

  5. The player under attack may repeatedly draw attention to d). Skill at doing so may have a direct impact on the stability of the alliance against him.

Any comments or suggestions for improvement gratefully accepted.