Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yomi

I've followed Sir Lin for quite some time now. He's probably the best game-design theorist I've ever read, and if you care anything about game design, I think you owe it to yourself to check him out.

One of the coolest things he's discussed has been "Yomi," which means "reading your opponent's mind." Any skilled gamer knows that understanding your opponent's thought process is a sure way to victory, and the struggle to understand him is one of the great pleasures that makes gaming fun. Is your chess opponent bloodthirsty or defensive? Is the guy across the table from you at the poker game bluffing or not? Coming out of the blocks, will your DoA opponent go straight for an attack, will he block, or will he grapple?

The classic "Yomi" game is probably Rocks-Scissors-Paper, but while many game designers grasp this intuitively, they fail to understand deeper meanings behind this idea. Rocks-Scissors-Paper is essentially random, since it doesn't really matter what you choose. There's no "strategy" behind the choice, and the choice isn't "interesting." You could achieve equally good results simply rolling off against one another. But, as Sir Lin points out, if you make a certain move more valuable than another, you suddenly create an interesting game.

Try it: Play Rock-Scissors-Paper to 8 points. "Rock" is worth 2 points, the other moves are worth 1 point. Suddenly, Rock has a "center of gravity" that draws players to it. If you can use Rock, you should. However, given that Rock is the most useful move in the game, Paper becomes an obvious choice, because your opponent is so likely to choose Rock. However, if Paper becomes an obvious choice (due to the fact that everyone is trying to beat the guy who simple-mindedly picks Rock), then scissors becomes the killer app. Of course, if you use Scissors, you leave yourself vulnerable to an opponent choosing Rock.

What kind of person is your opponent? Is he straight-forward and prone to brute-force solutions and thus likely to choose Rock? Is he thoughtful and aware of the game enough to realize that Paper is likely the better choice? Or is he a gambler and likes to "run with scissors?" You need to understand your opponent, and suddenly a simple, random game becomes a complex game of psychology with just a single rules change.

Sir Lin has turned his love of Street Fighter and this idea of "reading your opponent's mind" into a card game called Yomi. Check it out! You can play it on Lackey using the guide here (Hey, who knew that a system designed for illegally playing Magic online would have such a fun, legitimate use). Roomie and I have been playing (He likes Satsuki, and I'm partial to Geiger currently). Give it a shot, let me know what you think.

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