Working Together

Posted on Sep 12 2012 by pomomojo in Bridge

Last Christmas I visited my grandmother and, after opening presents and eating, we decided to play her favorite game, Bridge. I had never played before so she explained the rules. The scoring was hard to follow so I let her worry about that. The basic card play was familiar from many other trick-taking games. What fascinated me, though, was the complex system of coded bids that partners used to communicate their hands to one another during the bidding phase. I found myself wishing more games included this delightful partnership element.

I have written before about the fun of interacting with other people while playing games. In Poker one must bluff and read an opponent. In Monopoly one tries to determine how much an opponent is willing to pay to obtain a certain piece of property. In Cluedo one might give false information or try to determine if an opponent is doing the same. What I like about Bridge, however, is that during the bidding phase you are trying to accomplish three things at once.

First, you want to communicate the content of your hand to your partner. Are you confident in your hand? Do you have a clear suit to play? Are you better off playing the hand or being the dummy? Through a simple combination of numbers and suits your partner should be able to get a rough idea of what you have.

Second, you don’t want to reveal too much to your opponent. Now, an opponent is supposed to be able to ask what your bid is communicating to your partner so you aren’t exactly trying to trick the opponents. However, you don’t want your opponents to know exactly how strong or weak your hand is in certain suits. After all, they could always outbid you if they feel that your hand is clearly weak in a certain area.

Third, you are actually trying to set a contract you can actually complete. This doesn’t mean that you only will make bids that you actually want to play. During the first few rounds of bidding you might throw out low bids only with the intention of communicating. By the end of the bidding, however, you want to have the best possible contract for maximizing your points or have your opponents win the auction with a contract they can’t complete.

I’d love to see this sort of mechanism incorporated into more games. Maybe a variant on Dominoes in which partners try to communicate to one another what numbers to play down would be possible? Or a partnership game of Scrabble where letter combinations could be suggested through what was played on the board? Even if communicating hidden information isn’t part of the game, just figuring out ways to work with another person to successfully complete a goal would add a lot to a board game experience. There are plenty of games, like Chess, where players battle one another to determine who is the superior player, but I think there is room for more partnership games in the current board game landscape.

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