Friday, 1 July 2011

Piece o' Cake

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

A cake is made up of 11 slices. The active player cuts up the cake into as many groups as there are players. Every player picks a group, and the active player picks last. Do this 5 rounds, and then the game ends and you do scoring. This is a very succinct and clever game. The crux is in how to divide the cake and how to pick a group for yourself. These determine the scoring at game end.

Cake pieces are drawn from a face-down stack and placed side-by-side in the order that they are drawn to form a full cake, which then is cut up into a number of groups by the active player.

When you collect a group of cake slices, you need to decide what to do with each slice. If you eat it, you gain points equal to the number of whipped cream spots on it. If you keep it, you score points at game end but only if you have the most slices of that type (including if you are tied). You have to think carefully whether to gain points immediately or to take a risk and go for the game-end scoring. You can forfeit taking a group to eat all slices of one type.

Dividing the cake requires much thinking and evaluating. You want to make sure none of the groups are too lucrative, and you also want to make sure the last group left for you has some value to you. It is important to look at what others have, and to remember what they have eaten ("eaten" slices are turned face-down). You need to be able to see the perspectives of all other players, and try to plan for what they will likely collect.

One clever part of the game is the game-end majority score printed on the slices is also the number of slices of that type in the game. No need for any reference chart. This is elegant design.

The Play

Four player game with Chong Sean, Aaron and Chee Wee. At first I thought the points from competing in majorities would be much higher than the risk-free way of eating the cake slices straight-away. It turned out that it was not necessarily so. It feels like there is more incentive to just eat the slices straight-away. However if everyone decides to eat most of the time, it becomes easier to collect slices to compete for majority at game end. This is very clever of the game design.

Most of the time we were openly discussing the best way of dividing the cake, trying to work out who would likely choose which group, and also persuading one another which group to pick. This being an open information game allowed this kind of open discussion. It was a little like working together to solve a puzzle, and also like pirates trying to split loot.

I randomly decided to spend most of my effort on collecting slices. After a few rounds, things looked rather bleak. It seemed that the way others were eating slices immediately was much more lucrative. I was surprised when I didn't come last. I was tied for 2nd place. Chong Sean came last (by 2pts), mostly because in one of the rounds I had made a move that he hadn't expected. I had chosen a group which he didn't expect me to choose. It was not a bad move for me. He had expected me to take another group which he thought was a better move, but I picked this group because this would also mess up his plans. Heh heh... I'm evil.

My collection at game end. I scored for the value 9 and value 11 cake pieces, but not the other two (values 8 and 10).

The Thoughts

The game is heavy on analysis, despite the very simple rules, simple game concept and clean design. It is quite tricky to try to evaluate the worth of different combinations of slices to every opponent as well as to yourself. It is challenging to create incentives for opponents to pick groups that you don't want, leaving alone a group that you do want.

The game didn't quite click with me. I appreciate how clever it is, but the gameplay isn't very interesting to me, probably because it is very minimalistic. The most important action in the game is splitting the cake, and it is something that one player does by himself while the rest watches.

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