Thursday, July 22, 2010

Game Review Week: 4/7 - Mastermind

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

This is a game that was introduced to me as a kid. My mother, God rest her soles (she’s not dead, but she deserves to put her feet up and relax after raising me) tended to buy us games to play, because she liked buying things. What would tend to happen is that we would do a family game night when we first got a game, and then it would usually be my brother and I playing the games after that. As a quick side note, I’m probably one of the few people in existence that can say that my dad ran us through the adventure in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set the first time we played it on family game night. My parents were cool enough to buy the game, and then to play the game with us once. They, however, were not cool enough to play it after that. My brother and I played it a lot though. A lot.

My family never played my surprise game review, which I will post on Sunday, yeah I’m still talking about it, though I think it would be more effective if: I could bring it up more than twice during the week, if we had a broad readership, and if I got my posts in on time. Oh well, it’s mild fun to do this anyway.

As I remember it, Mastermind was a game my dad picked out. It was also a game that we played frequently enough together. Nothing like you see in the movies where the lead man with the hard shell, who is pushing the lead female away with his abrasiveness, turns out to have a close bond with his father (who is sort of wacky for comic relief) and they get together every week to play Mastermind, as they’ve done since the lead man was a child. Nothing like that. But we played it enough that I associate the game more with my dad than my brother, which is a rarity.

The basic idea behind the game is that one player creates a 4-character code from coloured code pegs. The other player then uses the same code pegs to guess the code. The code maker then places smaller key pegs next to the guess. One key peg indicates a code peg of the correct colour in the correct postion. The other key peg indicates a code peg of the correct colour in the wrong position. The code breaker has ten guesses, and points are assigned to the code maker based on how many guesses the code breaker had to use. Like in Net Runner, the players switch roles, and play again. What I have told you is a simple version of the game. You can click here to see Pressman’s official instructions. A quick note: When playing Net Runner you are an active participant no matter what side you’re playing. This may be the one down side of this game (or any game like it or Hangman) which is that as the code maker, you are not active in the game after creating your code.

The reason I chose this game is a combination of enjoying logical games, and the fact that it is an easy game to play without buying. I know. How has the gaming industry survived putting out games that can be played without a purchase? They should start coming after people who play Hangman without an official set.

According to Wikipedia (sigh) there is a little bit of history behind the game. Who knows? Even Wikipedia makes it sound a bit speculative. Mastermind. Bulls and Cows.

This is one of those games that if you are a parent, you should teach your child soon after they’ve become good at Hangman. It’s a great game because all you need is paper and a writing utensil. Even if your child joins a gang, they can use a wall on private property and a spray can.

The version I learned on paper is like this. The code maker writes down a 4-character code using digits from 0 to 9, and the code breaker makes guesses using the same range of digits. You can use X’s and O’s, or zeroes and ones, or whatever to indicate correct digit/wrong position or correct digit/correct position. Just be clear before starting the game which is which.

Not to knock Pressman. I love their game, and I would recommend that everyone who likes logic games to own a copy. I do like the pencil and paper version better though, because it has flexibility.

- You can make the range smaller like using the digits 1 to 6 instead.
- You can also increase the range like using the digits 0 to 9 as well as the 26 letters of the alphabet.
- The length of the code doesn’t have to be 4-characters. It can be as short or as long as you’d like.
- You can increase or decrease the number of guesses the code breaker gets.
- You can play a Hangman/Mastermind variant in which the code uses only letters of the alphabet, and must be a valid word in an agreed upon language.

So all you code makers and breakers out there, either make or break what either your mama or your dad gave ya! Let’s get logical, and play.

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