A secret to win a fortune in games where numbers are foretold.
May 8, 2015 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Renowned independent game designer (and landscaper-turned-amateur-lawyer) Jason Rohrer launches his twelfth game, an occult themed online strategy game played for real money, Cordial Minuet. (CM previously, Jason previously, Jason's games previously)

The two-player strategy game and website are riddled with occult themes, everything from cryptic demonic symbolism to the devil's number. The game plays similar to heads-up Texas Holdem Poker, in that there are multiple rounds of betting and a final reveal. Instead of choosing a winner randomly (as cards do in poker), the players are tasked with choosing columns on a 6x6 Magic Square, one for their opponent and one for themselves. The opponent chooses rows, and the numbers at which the chosen rows and columns intersect are summed. The player with the highest total wins the pot.

When this game was on the blue before, bots and Nash equilibrium were subjects of discussion. Developing bots for betting games like Heads-up limit Holdem has been done, but no-limit is still difficult for programs to master, especially in games where players can leave halfway through. Bots have played the game, but all they do so far is lose consistently, since human players were easily able to figure out the bot's column picking strategy and counter it.

To newcomers, picking columns seems to be a simple game of choosing to minimize or maximize risk. The real strategy of the game is much more about getting in the mind of your opponents, learning their column picking tendencies and countering it with your own. The staged betting adds an element of bluffing, but numbers on the game board are not up to luck. Coming from Nate, a college student who went double-or-nothing against a millionaire enough times to come out ahead over $6000, "The unskilled players seem to inherently think this game is a [game of chance], and I totally get why they're confused by that. They felt like they were making a risk for money, but I felt like I wasn't gambling. I was gaming the system. What happens when you take someone who's not gambling and put them in a game with someone who is gambling? I win every time, basically."

Players remain as anonymous as they wish to within the game, and are assigned with pseudonyms once they deposit money. Forum member Jere made a twitter bot which reports on money changing hands between players the game.

To promote the launch of the game, Jason wax-cast solid gold amulets (worth about 600 USD each) and is giving them away to top performers in the coming week, along with a cash prize pool of about 2000 USD.
posted by LiteS (17 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Although this is technically not gambling (and online-skill-games-for-real-money have apparently been around for a while) I worry that with the occult imagery, it could be an appealing target for an overzealous Republican DA to make his bones. I think the voters would probably like the guy who shut down the Satanist online gambling ring.

The game itself is surprisingly fun. I won a cent!
posted by vogon_poet at 4:16 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wait, he publishes the source? No wonder it's being "gamed". I wouldn't be surprised if ringers happen to also be developers.

posted by butterstick at 4:29 PM on May 8, 2015

It seems like that would be pretty hard to do from the client side. It's not like an FPS where you can have an aimbot or something. Everything is completely synchronized with the server.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:51 PM on May 8, 2015

Yah, Jason learned his lesson about client-side code in his last game, so this time all the hidden information is handled server-side. If you would rather ignore the game and try to gain access to his server, there's a standing 3000 USD bounty for that here.
posted by LiteS at 5:41 PM on May 8, 2015

This is pretty addictive...anyone else playing?
posted by pravit at 7:05 PM on May 8, 2015

I'm done playing for today, but I'll be trying this weekend for those amulets.
posted by LiteS at 7:35 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's open source, just like everything I do. There's no danger of cheating through the source, though, because of the server-side nature of the game.

Hopefully, the availability of the source will help to improve security, given that I'm tracking player balances and processing sensitive payment information. For example, the hacking bounty hasn't been touched, and the availability of the source would hopefully make it even easier for them.

The occult imagery is, of course, intended to stick in the craw of an overzealous Republican DA. That's my bag, baby.
posted by jasonrohrer at 7:57 PM on May 8, 2015 [17 favorites]

Jason, thanks for making Cultivation. It's one of our family's favorites. Ever thought about a rerelease?
posted by michaelh at 8:03 PM on May 8, 2015

Ha! Yeah, I'd certainly make some UI improvements...
posted by jasonrohrer at 8:33 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, I suppose if you're looking for a legal loophole to online poker, it's a lot easier to demonstrate game-of-skill status by deliberately losing than deliberately winning.
posted by pwnguin at 12:58 AM on May 9, 2015

So, that's the thing with poker.

It IS widely recognized by various courts as a game predominated by skill, making it legal in many states. The standard legal test for these things is the predominance test.

However, the 2006 UIGEA ignores the predominance test and makes interstate online play illegal for any game "subject to chance" that is also illegal in one of the endpoint states. Nation-wide online poker, not being legal in every state, and being obviously "subject to chance," is thrown under the bus as "unlawful internet gambling". The predominance issue isn't mentioned in the law, except in reference to lotteries. The definitions from the law are here.

Essentially, what this means is that online poker is only legal in three cases:

1. If the online play takes place exclusively inside a state or tribal land in which it is legal.

2. If the online play takes place between two states where it's legal in both states.

3. If the online play takes place between the lands of two tribes in accordance with Federal laws regulating such activity.

I'm not sure why the big poker sites didn't try to untangle this mess and simply continue according to the law, but you can see how complicated it could get, tracking locations of players and keeping up with changing laws in 50 states. So, they ignored it for five years and just kept going. It all ended on Black Friday in 2011.

What this means is that any game that's subject to chance and violates a state law is also violating a federal law when it's played in that state.

Cordial Minuet gets around this by not being subject to chance.

I'm pretty sure it's legal in every state, though that hasn't been tested in court anywhere yet, but the important thing is that regardless, it's not violating this federal law. If it was subject to chance, I'd have to make sure it was legal in all 50 states before offering it up for unrestricted internet play. I know it's legal in CA, where I live, and that it's outside the scope of the UIGEA.
posted by jasonrohrer at 10:27 AM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

If (in certain states), I played by rolling a die to choose my plays, would that be illegal?

Don't worry, I'm not actually going to do that.
posted by aubilenon at 1:36 PM on May 9, 2015

The amazing thing this captures--one of my favorite aspects of F2F poker, have never really played online and so do not know if there's enough continuity in online poker to share this--is that your real advantage comes from trying to nail down how risk-averse your opponent is, and gaming their expectations of how risk-averse you are. This is why a simple bot that optimizes for 1 round at a time doesn't work, because a winning strategy requires adjustment across rounds. The story of the guy who won several grand is really that strategy writ large.
posted by kagredon at 2:04 PM on May 9, 2015


That's my favorite kind of mental experiment.

If you were playing chess for money (a chess tournament), and your opponent was picking moves randomly, would that turn chess into a game of chance? Clearly, you could easily beat random play most of the time, but not all the time (one of those random permutations of moves is grandmaster play against your moves).

In Cordial Minuet, if your opponent knew you were doing that, they could beat you most of the time, but I'd say less of the time than you could beat them in chess.

In RPS, if your opponent was playing perfectly randomly, you could do no better than tie them in the long run (random play is the Nash equilibrium).

None of these three games has any explicit random element built into it.
posted by jasonrohrer at 3:34 PM on May 9, 2015

I am currently down 36 cents from when I joined. I completely dominated my last opponent, though. I don't know if this means I am getting better, but I am enjoying myself so far. I would love one of those amulets, but that is seeming like a very remote possibility.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:53 AM on May 10, 2015

I haven't had any luck on the amulets either, but I'm still trying. Another thing I forgot to mention is there is the community setup a chatroom for players who wish to talk about the game or issue not-so-anonymous challenges. Opponents are verified by sharing the stake they're playing and the first three numbers of the top column/last three of the bottom row (since the board is flipped for your opponent).
posted by LiteS at 11:03 AM on May 10, 2015

I'm not going to play this, but I'm so glad it exists.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:11 PM on May 20, 2015

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