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Game Design Essentials: 20 Real-World Games

August 12, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 21 Next

3. Parcheesi

American adaptation of an Indian game

Type: Two to four player "Cross And Circle" race

Depth: Low

Designed by: Unknown (lost to time)

Luck factor: High

Description: From two to four players roll to have pieces enter a circular track. They attempt to get them around one complete circle and inter them home before other players capture them, while trying to capture opposing pieces themselves.

Play Summary

A variant of the Indian game Pachisi, which is played on a similar board. There are other games that take inspiration from Pachisi, such as the British game Ludo. They are both what is referred to as race games, where the players attempt to move their pieces along a track in order to get "home."

These games are usually played with dice, and because the number of spaces moves is determined through this random process, if poor rolls are made there is not much players can do to win. To some people this is actually a strength of the game, because it allows even children to win sometimes against experienced players. For more advanced players wishing to test their strategic mettle and master a game, it is annoying.

Parcheesi is called a Cross and Circle game, named such due to the shape of the board and off-sides areas. They give each of (typically) four players staggered start and home locations along a cyclic track. The way player pieces proceed, and how their paths intersect with those of opponent pieces, adds a little strategic interest to what is mostly a simple category of games.

In play, the players take turns rolling two dice and moving clockwise around the board, trying to get their pieces from a start location to a home location slightly counter-clockwise from it, so they end up traversing almost the whole board. Each side is trying to do this with multiple pieces, and the piece that is moved can be selected from those out on the journey, which adds a little more strategy.

The dice can be "split" between two different pieces as well; if a three and a five are rolled, one piece may be moved three spaces and another five, or one can be moved eight. In the event that doubles (both dice the same number) are rolled, then additionally the player may move the numbers of the reverse of the dice (which are always seven minus that number). Two threes, thus, would be supplemented by two fours.

If a piece can be made to land on an opponent's piece's space with an exact count of the dice, the other piece is captured and returned to that opponent's start, where it must be returned to the board before it can resume its journey. A roll of five, or a total of five, must be made in order to introduce pieces, so this makes the players even more vulnerable to bad die rolls.

A piece that is gotten home is safe and is an important step towards winning, but can no longer land on other pieces and hinder opponents. This puts an emphasis on having one's pieces slightly behind others on the track, giving the player the opportunity to capture pieces, and not have others' pieces behind his own, making his pieces vulnerable to capture.

Having multiple pieces on the board gives a player more capture options and allows him to better position pieces (since a roll can be given to any piece on the track), but also makes him more vulnerable to capture.

What can we draw from this game?

Parcheesi is ultimately too dependent on luck. Before you can even enter a piece you have to roll the right number, and if a piece gets captured you must roll it again. Nothing guarantees you'll be able to enter any pieces at all in your game, although the chances of that happening are slim.

I would not suggest that all randomness weakens a game. Also, while randomness can give a weak player an edge in some cases, this helps encourage those people to play and thus, maybe, get better. Over successive games it is rare for lucky streaks to hold. And in the games that use luck the best, even excellent die rolls are not enough to overcome a strong strategic player. Unfortunately, Parcheesi is not that good of a game by these standards.

Ancestors & descendants: The ancient Indian game of Ashta-kashte is a forerunner to Pachisi. Pachisi is an ancestor of both important cultural games like Backgammon and commercial games like Hasbro's Sorry!

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 21 Next

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