Cosmic, Magic and Dominion

i studied Game Theory in college.  This highly applied field solves real world problems by modeling them as mathematical games and finding optimal “objective function” values – thus winning the fame.  This fairly new field was used to schedule allied troops landing in Normandy in World War II and to break into divisions General Motors when it had appeared to reach the limits to successful growth.

And Game Theory has a more theoretical side, which is often applied to recreational games.  It is a game theory principal that in pure strategy games (like chess, go and tick tac toe) the player moving first can at least create a tie, if not win – if they play optimally (which is quite hard to do for anything more complicated than tic tac toe).

What Game Theory does not spend a lot of time on, is the relatively new set of games where the players have different rules.  I happen to love these games.  The grand dad of these is Cosmic Encounter.

In “Cosmic” as it is called by most fans, you have your alien powers which allow you to uniquely change the rules in your favor.  Then there are cards which allow the rules to be further bent.  So cards give you permission to cheat and then once you get caught, it is made easier for you to cheat again, and when you get caught by the other players you have to pay a penalty.

Cosmic has had a big influence on my life.  Some of my dearest friends have traveled huge distances to play the “Cosmic Encounter Invitational World Tournament” and now it is often one of Willows favorite games to play.  Perhaps because when he was young, we told him it was too complicated for him, thus making him determined to both learn it and thrive in it.  Hawina won the first game she played and has been hooked ever since.

Spot taught the Stars Magic, the Gathering.  Magic is a cards only game, which thrives on its balanced interaction between players using decks that they have designed.  Part of Willows eclectic homeschooling curriculum is spot teaching him how to build Magic decks.  My biological son Fabian, who is a chess master, now wants to play Magic with Willow and i via Skype.  Fabian lives in the Netherlands.  The developers of Magic credit Cosmic as one of their inspirations.

One of the many thousands of magic cards

In the last few months Sky and Willow have started getting into Dominion, which is the latest of the dynamic rule based games.  Dominion appears inspired by Magic deck building behaviors, but the deck building happens as an integral part of the game itself.  Willow at 9 can play and beat clever adults at this game with some regularity, a handy skill for a world where the rules are likely to change mid-game.