Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

Trivia Game Design

I posted this previously, intending to keep it private until I could flesh it out at work. But I erred. So here it is again, with more explanation.

Lori had to do a class project for the silent auction fundraiser for her school (basically a highfalutin bake sale), and she chose to do a class trivia game. She had prepared the board (a single track of colored spaces spiraling to a Finish space at the center) and the trivia cards (each with a picture of one of her pupils, with five questions). She asked me to write the rules.

I don't expect this to be a bestselling game, admittedly. But I wanted to try to make rules that were fun enough that it might be played twice. I was working within these constraints:
- I couldn't change the components, because Lori had worked hard making them and there was no time for revisions.
- There needed to be a clear advantage to correctly answering the questions, but I wanted it to still be somewhat fun even if you couldn't answer the questions. (One sample question: "What was my favorite car in 2 Fast 2 Furious?" I could believe that his own parents might not know that, much less anyone else's parents.)
- I wanted the rules to be simple, for two reasons: 1) the buyers are likely not to be gamers, and 2) I was starting to write these rules after 12:30 am.

These are the rules that I came up with:

Room 210 Trivia Rules
Game 1 (for 2 or more players)

1. All players begin with their tokens at the start space. Each player rolls a die; the high roller goes first.

2. On each player’s turn, he or she rolls the die and moves that many spaces forward.

3. After moving forward, he or she must answer a trivia question correctly or be forced to move back. If the result of the die roll was 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, another player takes the top trivia card and reads aloud the trivia question corresponding to the number on the die, and the current player must answer. If the result of the die roll was a 6, no question is asked; the current player must take the penalty as if he or she had failed to answer correctly. The trivia card is then discarded; if all the trivia cards have been used, the discards are reshuffled to form a new stack.

4. If the player fails to correctly answer the trivia question after moving forward (or if he or she rolls a 6 and moves forward six spaces), he or she must roll again. If the result of the second roll is less than the result of the first roll, the player must move that many spaces backward.
For example: Natalie rolls a 3 and moves her token three spaces forward. She is then asked question 3 on the topmost trivia card, but fails to answer that question correctly. She rolls the die again, and rolls a 2. 2 is less than 3, so she must move her token two spaces back, leaving her one space ahead of her original position. If she had answered correctly, or if she had rolled a 3, 4, 5, or 6 on her second die roll, she would not have had to move back.

5. Whether the player succeeded or failed, it is now the next player’s turn.

6. When advancing forward, the player stops at the Finish space. He or she may be forced to move backward further than she moved forward.
For example: Natalie is two squares away from the Finish space. She rolls a 6, and advances to the finish space. Since she rolled a 6, though, she must take the penalty. She rolls a 5, and moves backward five spaces.

7. The winner is the first person to end their turn on the Finish space.

Game 2 (for 2 or more players)

1. This game is played like Game 1, but the method of answering questions is different. Instead of succeeding by correctly answering the question, the current player wins by predicting how many players will be able to correctly answer the question.

2. The player reading the question aloud should take care not to read the answer prematurely, even to himself or herself.

3. Once the question has been read aloud, the current player writes down his or her prediction of how many players will know the correct answer. After that, he or she attempts to answer the question, followed by each of the other players in turn. After each player has answered the question, the correct answer is revealed, and the number of players who answered correctly is counted. The current player then reveals his or her prediction; if his prediction was correct, he does not have to roll to move backward.

4. For example: Andy, Betty, Carol, and Dominic are playing, and it is Andy’s turn. After he rolls a 4 and moves forward, a question is read about Carol’s daughter’s birthday. Andy does not know, but he predicts that Carol will know, and that Dominic will answer correctly because he is answering after Carol. So Andy writes down a prediction of “2”. He then makes his best guess at the answer, followed by Betty, Carol, and Dominic. If exactly 2 of them answer correctly, he does not have to roll and risk moving back.
5. A player can hedge his or her prediction by predicting “50% or more” or “50% or less” instead of a specific number of players. However, he must move one space backward on the game track, in addition to any spaces he might have to move back for predicting incorrectly.
For example: In the previous scenario, Andy is less sure that Dominic will follow Carol’s lead, so Andy writes down a prediction of “50% or less”. Unfortunately, his wild guess about Carol’s daughter’s birthday turns out to be correct, and Betty remembers planning for the birthday party, so his prediction is wrong. He moves backward one space for making a general prediction, and rolls the die for his penalty, rolling a 3. He moves back a further three spaces, and ends up no further along than he was at the beginning of the turn.

Commentary and Discussion:

- On every turn (until you get close to the finish line), you move at least one space forward, even if you don't correctly answer a question. I think that this makes the game less frustrating with super-difficult questions.
- On the other hand, it's definitely constructed in terms of a penalty for failure to answer a question, instead of a reward for success. This probably makes the game less emotionally satisfying.
- I considered a strategy variant in which you could choose the result for the first die roll. But the strategy turns out to be simple: pick 5 if the chance you'll get the question right is greater than 10%, otherwise pick 6.
- In the endgame, there's a chance of winning without answering a question right, which is okay. I'm curious about the chances of moving backward in the endgame, and I'm having trouble calculating those chances. I can construct a Markov model for the endgame, I just don't know how to analyze it.
- Game 2 changes the difficulty of questions in an interesting way. Questions that would be super-hard in Game 1 become much easier in Game 2, because it's easy to predict that no one will know the answer. I'd thought of introducing a social bluffing component by having Dominic deliberately answer wrong, but I decided that would confuse the game too much.
- Game 2 does have a strategic choice that players can make, though, with the broad guesses. A bit of statistical analysis indicates that it's not a very good choice, though--it only has a better expected value than a precise prediction if you roll a 5 on the first roll, and the chance that you'll win the broad prediction is at least 0.6 greater than the chance that you'll win the narrow prediction.

I invite further commentary, particularly from glenbarnett and bluelang.
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