Errata: Making it a Memory Game
I love reader e-mail. You guys are the best. That is all.
Memorizer asked, “What do you do when a game has hidden information that is easy to track? One guy keeps track of everything with pen and paper and that seems to go against the spirit of the game.”
This is one of those questions that seems to be settled differently by different groups. On the one hand, there are those who think that hidden information means the designer intentionally injected a memory component into the game. Thus, if you are writing anything down, you are essentially cheating – at least cheating that portion of the game. On the other hand, others argue that if the information is trackable, then it really isn’t “hidden” and the memory component is tangential to the larger strategy game.
Before we ever got into designer games, my game group played a lot of Hearts and a good amount of Spades. Both of those games have “hidden trackable” information in relation to what cards were played. In poker or blackjack, they call it “counting cards,” but really it just means remembering what has already gone by. Same with Hearts and Spades. So we’ve always just assumed that a memory component is either an intended or necessary byproduct of the game. No pen and paper at the table for us.
But I also think it matters based on what game you are playing. The more central the memory component is to the rest of the game, the more inappropriate it would be to write down “hidden” information. At the lowest level of importance, we have Small World. Everyone knows how many points you get each turn, so there isn’t really anything being hidden. In fact, I think the whole point of having the points remain hidden is to avoid potential “Kingmaker” effects so that players don’t gang up on the leader. It adds next to nothing to the strategy of the game and I know plenty of people who play with points exposed.
At about the midway point you have a game like Settlers of Catan. The resource cards the players have accumulated are hidden but entirely trackable. When a number is rolled, everyone gets the resources. But then those resources are spent, traded, or even discarded at a rate that would make tracking by pen and paper difficult. Plus, it’s often important that players not know what you have. Otherwise they could play a Monopoly card and take all of your resources. In a game like this, I think it would be against the spirit to get out a pen and paper to track resources. Instead, you should rely on your own memory faculties.
Finally, you have a game like Memory. The whole point of the game is to memorize where items are and then find matching pairs. If you wrote everything down, that would almost assuredly be considered cheating. Memory may not be the most fun game, but the memory component is central and it would be wrong to avoid it by artificial means.
In the end it depends on the game and what your group is comfortable with. But if you ever play at my table, you’ll have to put your pen and paper away.
Got questions about strategy, specific games, or the hobby in general? Post them in the comments here, email me at geekinsight at gfbrobot dot com, or send them to @GeekInsight on Twitter and check back next week for answers!