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Graham Wills
United States
Naperville
Illinois
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Pass the pigs depends on a while tried formula. The essence of this type of game is the following:

a) Players take turns.
b) Each turn a player uses a randomizer to generate a result. For certain results, his TURN SCORE is increased by a certain amount as indicated by the result. For other results his turn is over and play passes to another player.
c) If the player's turn was not over, they can choose to keep trying to increment their TURN SCORE, or they can elect to add their TURN SCORE to their TOTAL SCORE and then finish their turn.
d) The first person to a certain TOTAL SCORE wins.

You could construct a simple game where each turn you roll a regular die. If it comes up a 1-2, turn over, otherwise you score 1 point. The long run analysis says you should then attempt to score 2 or 3 points, then call it quits. With 2 points in hand, you have an expect score if you roll of 2/3 * 3 + 1/3 * 0 = 2, so rolling is the same as sticking. If you have three points, if you roll you expect to have 2/3 * 4 + 1/3 * 0 = 8/3 so it's better to stick.

However the odds get more interesting if you are playing to 20, and your opponents scores are 14,15 and 16. If you have 3 points and are on 18, should you go for it? An interesting exercise in probability .....

For those of you less excited by probability theory, games based on this mechanism have a number of ways of making things more fun. Casinos only let you take one turn, and make the highest score win, tightening the game. They also allow you to change the stakes as you go, so you can try and make a good position pay off and minimise a bad one.

Can't Stop gives you several subscores that factor into an overall race to win three sub-scores. You could modify pass the pigs this way (a la triple yahtzee). More cleverly, the 'score' and 'lose' results are dependent not only on the sub-races, but to which sub-races you have committed yourself.

Pass the pigs is not so clever. Rather than anything tricky, it relies on humor and a quirky, but fun theme. You don't throw dice, you throw little plastic pigs. And depending how they land, you score points or 'pig out' and lose the turn. This first of all makes the game intrinsically amusing. The second effect is to make estimation of probabilities rather trickier. What art the chances of a pig out? Is the "double razorback" really as hard as a "double trotter". Only a fanatic would spend an evening carefully tabulating all the results .....

.... which I did, and came up with the magic quitting number of 14. But then, years later, I repeated the exercise and found that my pigs were WEARING AWAY and the numbers were different. Horror! So I bought a new set and found them to be different again. Total horror.

Anyway, on with the review. The other difference is that if pigs touch, you lose all your TOTAL SCORE, not just your TURN SCORE. After a few cases of blatant cheating by my wife (or perhaps me), maybe decided to require the pigs to land within a defined area. It was perhaps my toss where they landed 6 feet apart so as to obviate the possibility of them touching that perhaps lead to that. You can safely ignore the rule about pigs landing on top of each other. I can safely say that never happens.

So, is there skill in the toss? Can you ... even within the confines of a 6x7 inch space throw careful and ensure space between your pigs? The jury is still out on that.

One thing that is not in doubt is that the game is fun. Not fun in the deep thought of Go sense or the passionate involvment of Diplomacy sense, but fun in a lighthearted wat. It is not all random by any means; a familiar player will beat a non-familiar one most of the time. I'd prefer Can't Stop if I have room for it, but in an airoplane or on the beach, this game wins.

I was about to add that Pass the Pigs makes a good kids game, but I suddenly realized I've never actually played it with my 5 and 7 year olds, only my wife in recent years. So I can't make that assertion, sorry!
 
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