Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stock Ticker And Verisimilitude

Dungeons and Dragons is great fun, but sometimes you just want to play a game, right-out-of-the-box, without having to spend a lot of time preparing.

We've got a shelf-load of old-school board games that get a regular rotation at our house. Among those is Stock Ticker, which, like Monopoly or Payday is heavily governed by chance.

Still, there is an element of strategy to this game, and teaches those people playing a very important lesson about investing.

Diversify.

In Stock Ticker ,there are six investment categories: grain, industrials, bonds, oil, gold and silver. The movement of the investments are completely random, with one six-sided die determining which of the six investments is affected, one which determines the quantum of the change (5, 10 or 20), and one which determines whether the investment is going up, down, or paying dividends.

Because the movement of the investments is completely random, the player who puts all her money in one investment risks going completely bankrupt, if that particular investment goes bust.

In playing Stock Ticker, I have found very few games are won by players investing heavily in one, or a few investments. It is generally the player who has positions in all of the investments who wins.

This diversification strategy is generally true in the real world of investing, but is a near-absolute truth in the game of Stock Ticker. There is no way, prior to the start of a game of Stock Ticker, to predict which investment will perform better than another. Thus, it is illogical to select a Stock Ticker strategy that heavily favours one investment over another.

Part of the charm, and fun, of Stock Ticker is that the game moves fast, and there are few rules to remember. Roll the dice. Perform the action dictated by the dice. Buy. Sell. Repeat. At one point, to add some complexity to the game, we decided to create random event cards. But they were no less random that the dice-rolls themselves, and needlessly bogged down the game. Does Stock Ticker perfectly model the real world of investing? No, but it does communicate a valuable message about the value of diversification, and is fun to play at the same time.

A lot of game designers want to add verisimilitude and complexity to their games. You could do that with Stock Ticker. You could add features that allow the players to research which investments are likely to outperform others. Perhaps they can hire an investment manager, resulting in one or more re-rolls of an investment result the player dislikes. What about adding bull/bear features to the game, the knowledge of which allows the player to move gold or bonds up, every time stocks go down? You could introduce hedging rules, increase the number of available investments, perhaps even introduce market cycles.

At what point does a game cease to be an enjoyable diversion? I can think of myriad games that collapsed under the weight of their rules additions. Starfire was a great little starship combat game. Squad Leader was a fast and fun WWII combat simulator. Melee allowed you to run some simple man-to-man battles over lunch. All of those games saw their designers add more and more features and rules to the games. But as the level of verisimilitude and complexity went up, the enjoyment I derived from the games went down.

Reality is great. But if I want to play a versimilitudinous game of Stock Ticker, I might as well "make it interesting" and go and buy some real investments.

6 comments:

Bard said...

I totally agree. As I get older, and my responsibilities get heavier, I feel more and more this way. Learning and playing a game should not be as hard (or harder) than my job. I've hit a point where my criteria for game rules of any sort have basically become: a) I have to be able to give the rules a first read in one hour and b) the rules should be intuitive enough that a first or, at most, a second read is enough to play a trial game without having to constantly look up rules for every turn phase, die roll, etc.

Dave Cesarano said...

I wouldn't say it is just an issue of verisimilitude, but also of abstraction. One could argue that White Wolf's health system in World of Darkness is less abstract. The combat system of Riddle of Steel is extremely realistic, not very abstract at all, and pretty complicated to run. On the other hand, 4E D&D isn't really any more or less abstract than OD&D, but it lacks verisimilitude due to rampant dissociated mechanics--the lack of realism literally drags you out of suspension-of-disbelief and reminds you that you are playing a game.

D&D hits that ingenious "comfort zone" of abstraction and simplification. It's smoother (if properly run) than all the other health systems out there. It's extremely abstract, but that abstraction makes it a breeze to run and doesn't ruin suspension-of-disbelief.

I think this goes for board games as well as role-playing. European games tend to be so abstract as to really be little more than puzzles with a theme--kind of like a pinball machine. Caylus and Carcassonne are good examples. Castle/city construction is represented in such an abstract and unrealistic way, but the game is still loads of fun and challenging. You just never really forget you're playing a game. And Caylus, for all its abstraction, is extremely complex.

Roger the GS said...

There is a British game, quite old by now, which I've played called "Stocks and Shares." Almost exactly the same concept except the stocks move up and down on the basis of cards pulled from a deck. Each player gets to see some of these cards as "inside information" and some cards are also public knowledge. This makes for a much more interesting game as you try to figure out why player X sold off all of stock B ...

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Bard said...
I totally agree. As I get older, and my responsibilities get heavier, I feel more and more this way. Learning and playing a game should not be as hard (or harder) than my job. I've hit a point where my criteria for game rules of any sort have basically become: a) I have to be able to give the rules a first read in one hour and b) the rules should be intuitive enough that a first or, at most, a second read is enough to play a trial game without having to constantly look up rules for every turn phase, die roll, etc.

Yes. I like games with re-play value, but not if it is at the cost of complexity. That's why I like negotiation games like Settlers of Catan, the game mechanics are pretty simple, it is in the interactions and strategies of the players where the game is complex.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Dave Cesarano said...
I wouldn't say it is just an issue of verisimilitude, but also of abstraction.

Yes, I don't think a game has to be versimilitudinous to be fun. Giving a game more versimilitude doesn't make it more enjoyable.

The best games keep everyone engaged at the table. This is part of my complaint about 4E. A player's turn can last so long that the other players end up surfing, texting, or otherwise being distracted from the game. This is why I like fast (abstract)D&D combat.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Roger the GS said...
There is a British game, quite old by now, which I've played called "Stocks and Shares." Almost exactly the same concept except the stocks move up and down on the basis of cards pulled from a deck. Each player gets to see some of these cards as "inside information" and some cards are also public knowledge. This makes for a much more interesting game as you try to figure out why player X sold off all of stock B ...

Sounds interesting! I must do a little research to find out more about it.