(Metagame Archive) The Price is Right – Fighting Illiteracy

By Nate Price

For my article this week, I decided to delve deeply into a very troubling topic—death. Apparently, death has been plaguing the world, with increasing fatalities as each week passes. As any good investigative journalist would, I tried to find the reason behind this morbid discovery, and I was not expecting the answer that I found. Apparently, the world’s leading killer is illiteracy.

*Sound of a record scratching*

I know what you’re all thinking: “How will the illiterate masses learn of their imminent demise if they’re unable to read your wonderfully spelled-out warning? We have to find some way to reach them! Someone must save them!” Well, my compassionate readers, I agree completely. As such, I have taken it upon myself to teach the poor, huddled masses how to read. I will show them the light that they have so sorely been missing from their lives.

I warn you, though—just because you’ve read this far doesn’t mean you’re safe. Many of you run the risk of being just as dangerously illiterate as the ones I’m out to save. This illiteracy of which I speak isn’t the inability to read print. Only a complete idiot would think that being unable to read a book could kill you. I’m talking about the inability to read your opponent. One of the only ways to prevent your opponent from killing you is by taking the initiative and ridding yourself of this dangerous illiteracy. And I am just the man to help you shed this awful burden.

“Refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confident array—this is the art of studying circumstances.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War


There are two major types of games: complete information games and partial-information games. Complete information games are games in which all information is known to all players. Chess and checkers are good examples of complete information games. In chess and checkers, you and your opponent have the exact same information. You both know where the pieces are and how they move. In a complete information game, the player who best knows what to do with the information at hand has a definite advantage. Knowing how to use the information makes a player more skillful in a complete information game.

Partial (or incomplete) information games have two types of information to be gathered. Vs. System and poker are two examples of partial-information games. The first type of information presented in these games is known as visible information. It’s the information that is readily available to you. In Vs. System, it’s made up of the cards in your hand, the cards in play, and the cards in both players’ KO’d piles. This is the information that doesn’t take any talent to find. It’s simply there. The second kind of information, however, is a bit more elusive. It’s known as hidden information. It’s the information to which only your opponent has access. In Vs. System, the hidden information consists of your opponent’s cards in hand and face-down resources. This is information to which your opponent has ready access, but you do not.

Just as viewing information in a partial-information game is more difficult than in a complete information game, determining skill is also more difficult. All of the skill in a complete information game comes from a player’s ability to use the information he or she has at hand. In a partial-information game, this is only one part of a player’s skill. The other part of a player’s skill is often what separates the first tier of players from the second tier. It is how well a player accumulates and deciphers the hidden information in a game.

Take poker, for example. In poker, if you only had to worry about your own cards, the game would be very simple. When your hand is good, you’d raise, and when your hand is poor, you’d fold. But because it is a partial-information game, things are more difficult; you have to worry about your opponent’s cards. The trick is figuring out what they are, and it’s surprisingly difficult.

Once a player is good enough to know what the correct play is based on the visible information, it becomes time to set about collecting and processing the hidden information. The first and most important step is to know the card pool with which you will be playing. I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t know what cards to expect, how can you figure out what your opponent has in store for you? This holds true in Sealed Pack as well as in Constructed. In fact, it’s a little harder in Sealed Pack than it is in Constructed, despite the slammer card pool! The reason for this lies in the construction of decks for each format. In Constructed formats, decks tend to fall into certain archetypes that have generally accepted builds. There will be some variation between the deck your opponent is playing and the mainstream deck, but in general, it’s negligible. This means that you should only have a few plot twists and characters to worry about once you’ve figured out what your opponent is playing. In Sealed Pack formats, however, your opponent could be playing any of the ninety percent of cards in the set worth playing. This greater variety of options makes it much harder to decide what cards your opponent could have in a given situation. If you don’t know the cards your opponent could have, you could get blindsided by a card you didn’t even know existed!

Once you know your card pool, the next step is to identify your current situation. First, ask yourself if your opponent has done anything strange. Perhaps your opponent made a play that seemed sub-optimal to you. Maybe the opponent lined his or her characters up in an unorthodox way. That should set off alarms in the “something fishy is going on here” part of your brain. Unless your opponent is bad enough to have made that kind of error naturally, chances are that something is up. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find out what that something is and stop it.

After you know that something is amiss, you should decide which cards could help your opponent in the situation at hand. Sometimes this is easier to do than others. Did your opponent just announce an attack into a character much larger than the attacker? You might consider flipping and using that Coast City—I think your opponent might have a combat pump in hiding for you. That is just a small example. After enough play, you’ll begin to make intuitive decisions based on past situations you’ve been in. This is just one more reason why, if you really want to get good, you should try to play as much as you can. It can only help you in the long run.

One of the things that make partial-information games unique is your ability to manipulate an opponent’s actions based on the information that he or she receives. In other words, partial-information games contain the opportunity for bluffing. Poker has the most obvious examples of bluffing. The idea is to seem stronger or weaker than you actually are in order to get your opponent to play improperly. The same principles apply in Vs. System. Sometimes, it’s possible to line up your characters in such a way that your opponent either plays around a card that you don’t have or forgets to play around a card that you do. In both cases, you’ve manipulated the quality of information your opponent received in order to force him or her into an improper play. Congratulations—you just bluffed your opponent.

Not everyone can be bluffed, though, and that’s an important lesson to learn. The capacity to be bluffed may seem like a weakness, but it’s actually the sign of a skillful player. In order to be bluffed, a player has to be perceptive enough to read what the correct play is. If a player doesn’t know what the correct play is, it’s impossible to coerce him or her into making the incorrect move. Besides, if the player doesn’t know what’s right, he or she will make the wrong move more often than not.

I feel that my work here is finished, at least for another day. Yet again, I have come to the rescue of some catastrophic world crisis and beaten it back with my all-too-eloquent prose. As always, you can send any questions, comments, or suggestions for the next ailment I can lay the beats into to the_priceis_right@yahoo.com.


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