Backgammon

A playing Variant by Doug Kaufman

Running a NR tournament using the backgammon doubling cube: an idle speculation

With all the recent talk of Mulligans in Netrunner, a thought occurred to me: there is a game where there is both luck and skill that has very serious tournaments. They are able to have tournaments in this game, despite dice, because of the use of an ingenious device that could be used for many other games. I'm talking about the game of backgammon, and the doubling cube.

For those who don't know, a very brief synopsis:

Backgammon is the only widely-played game I know of that combines luck and skill and has all information revealed to all players. Backgammon can be played to win on a per-game basis, of course, and the first person to move all his men off the board wins. It is possible to win a "gammon" or doubled victory by getting all your men off before the opponent has gotten even one man off, and a "backgammon" or triple victory by doing so before your opponent has even moved all his men into the "bearing off" area. However, in casual play gammons and backgammons are meaningless.

Nor is the cube used in casual play. When using the cube, however, each game is set with a stake. The stake of a single game is often "1," be it points, dollars, or ounces of coca-cola (a college favorite).

During the course of a game, it is possible to fall horribly behind, due to bad play or bad luck. At the beginning of any turn, you may offer your opponent the cube, meaning you wish to double the stake of this game. Of course, if you're ahead you want the game to be worth 2 dollars, points, or minutes worth of back-rub. Your opponent, who is losing, presumably doesn't want this. Therefore he or she is given the option of "declining" the cube and instantly losing the game at the old stake. You win a dollar, a point, whatever, and you can start another game.

If you offer the cube and your opponent accepts, he or she believes you're not as far ahead as you think, OR they're gambling that your next roll will be a poor one. At any rate, the game is now worth a stake of two, and the cube is in front of your opponent.

Let's say that later in the game the fortunes indeed have turned. Now your opponent doubles you! You can either concede at the old stake (which is now 2) or declare the game worth 4 points and continue! The cube is now in front of you, so only you can double again.

This can conceivably go back and forth infinitely, though the cube only shows "64" on its largest face. In backgammon tournaments, it's often played that the first person to get 7 points wins the game. You can do this by bulling your way through seven games, or you can win a couple of squeakers that have been doubled up to 2 or even 4. So it is possible to lose six games and win 1 and still win the tournament...if that one game was very close and the six were lopsided due to bad luck.

Now imagine a NR tournament run the same way

To minimize the luck of the draw, the opponents in a matchup are playing to 3, 5 or 7 points, with each game being worth one point and the cube being employed.

Now say I'm starting as the corp. I draw a hand full of agenda, and no ice. The runner runs me and snags 5 AP almost immediately. I'm still not getting any ice, and he starts pounding away at R&D. Now he offers me the cube.

Do I accept, losing double if I lose? Not likely. I give in for 1 point and we start again. I still lost, but we both know it was due to luck, and it saves a heck of a lot of time.

Now suppose I'm the corp and I draw an okay hand with no agenda at all. I sigh. I grumble. I draw a card...a node. I draw again...ice. I snarl and take a bit. My opponent, greedy fella that he is, immediately doubles me, thinking I have an iceless hand full of agenda.

Now I grin, accept the cube, and proceed to start lording it over him. The game, if I win, is worth 2 points. If I double him later on and he were to accept and still lose, it would be worth 4 points of the 3, 5, or 7 I need to win (depends on how long you want the tournament to be). So, there is a premium placed on knowing when to quit and when you still have a fighting chance. Also on bluffing your opponent into believing you're worse off than you really are.

Then we would switch and do the same thing with me as runner.

Changes to make

This doesn't map 100% to backgammon because in NR there is no "gammon" or "backgammon." One tactic in backgammon is to know when you are winning so hard that it is actually to your advantage Not to double...you want to win a doubled or tripled game. There is no such thing in NR. I don't see this as a problem, though, since deliberately withholding a double is an advanced tactic. The inability to get gammons and backgammons won't hurt NR in the least.

In backgammon, you double before you roll. The principle is that your next roll could hurt or help you, and you have to double before you know which it is.

NR doesn't really have a way that you can get badly screwed in your own turn (except when you run a Chihuahua with no cards in your hand). Therefore I'd suggest limiting a double to the beginning of your opponent's turn, before you know what evil thing he or she is going to do to you.

Advantages

This creates a very interesting NR environment, because you get to see the same runner or corp deck several times in a row. This allows you to adapt your play style, which introduces a whole new layer of bluff and counter-bluff.

This suppresses some of the really outrageous bad and good lucks that can happen. If someone is getting crushed their opponent will presumably double, at which point the losing player can concede and start again, saving gobs of time.

Disadvantages

Despite the speed gain mentioned above, overall a doubling-cube tournament to 3 points will probably take about twice as long as a regular NR tournament. 5 and 7 point tourneys would be longer still.

Not everyone knows backgammon, and not everyone who knows backgammon knows the cube. The learning curve would be extra steep.

I hope to hear some comments on this plan, and I hope to someday see a tournament run this way.


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