July 20, 2005

Some basic FAQs

I'm going to take this time to answer some questions I regularly get regarding Ambition. Anyone with more questions should feel free to send them to me.

1. What happens when someone takes all the points/tricks?

This is very rare; I've seen it once. There are several ways I can see playing it. One is to give it an even higher bonus value (50, 60, or whatever). Another is to allow a player accomplishing this to negate a strike. I generally leave this to the discretion of the players, but when I saw it happen we counted it as -1 strike. I've also heard the suggestion that, since it results mainly from a lucky hand, it shouldn't be rewarded especially at all.

2. What about when someone gets a negative score, by scoring 5 or fewer points, then taking the -6 LT option? Does that count as a Nil?

Ah, you got me. This is the one thing I didn't address in the rules. It rarely happens. Yes, I would count it as a Nil.

3. Why is Nil worth 24 points?

Nil is intended to give a fairly average round to a player without other options. While 24 might seem to be an excellent round, consider that when 3 players split the 85 (or 91) points, it's quite likely that at least one non-striking player will exceed it. That said, I'm strongly considering reducing Nil to 21 in my next revision of the rules, which will be issued "officially" around 23 November. Of course, unofficially, you can play however you want.

Before Nil was introduced, there was too much of a luck element in the game: players could get stuck with weak hands that didn't allow them much control over anything. Thus, the Nil bonus was introduced. Originally, Nil was worth 11 points. This didn't make it much of a bonus, so I upped it to 28. This was too high, so I reduced it to 24 (and only 16 if two people get it). Now, I'm considering taking it down to 21 or even 18, undecided on whether or not to continue penalizing double-Nil.

In assessing how good a round outcome is, it's important to note that the nominal score isn't what's important; it's the relative score that counts. The relative score is a player's score, minus the average of all four player's scores. For example, if a round splits 33-26-21-5 (the corresponding scores being 0-28-21-6), the average of the four scores is 52/4 = 13, and the relative scores are -13, +15, +8, -7.

In a "normal" (no Nils, no Slams) round, the "model split" is something around 29-24-19-13. The player with 13 has a slightly negative round (-1), the other non-striking players get +5 and +10. We infer that an average "good round" is somewhere around +4 to +8. The model split for a single-Nil round is 37-28-20-0. Originally, Nil was set at 24 to give the player a middle position between the two non-striking players. That gives him a relative score of +6. In truth, I've come to feel that this overrates the accomplishment. Reducing Nil to 21 would scale the relative score back to +3.75, which seems more in line.

Nil is, I believe, still somewhat overrated as a strategy, only because of its obvious defects. (On the other hand, that is partly my fault as designer for over-rewarding it.) The biggest danger of Nil is that the strategy is essentially passive, leaving a player unable to clear suits, stop a Slam, or control the round in any meaningful way. It's also quite possible that the Nil will fail late in the round (a 6D against a 5D when two are out of the suit, for example) and leave the player with an understrike. Finally, Nil allows many more Slams to happen than otherwise would.

The other liability of Nil is that it becomes more difficult with another Nil player. This has not proven, however, enough of a drawback to act as a deterrent, as collisions between two Nil players happen quite often.

4.Why is 57, and not some other number, the threshold for Slam, and why is the bonus set at 36?

I think the biggest question I get in this regard is why Slam is a constant bonus, instead of increasing with higher Slams. The reason, simply put, is that often the 57- to 60- point Slams are more skillful and interesting than the 70-point Slams, which often just result from unusual hands.

As for the threshold, 57 is what I call a "research constant"; it seemed to work best according to playtesting, I like it, and I probably won't change it. 54 is definitely too low. I've considered raising it to 60 or 63, but am leaning strongly toward keeping it as is.

5. What's the highest-scoring game you've seen?

I've been in games that have approached 700, but the highest-scoring game I'm familiar with comes from Al Hahn. It was a 940-point game, in July 2005, where the winning player scored 257 (!) points.

How high- or low- scoring a game will be depends completely on the players; how often they aim for Nil and Slam. Some tables routinely break 600; other groups rarely get above 400.

The lowest-scoring game I've seen was a 120-point three-rounder. I won it with 70 points. However, this was in November 2003 before Nil was introduced. I doubt you'd see a game under 160 with the new rules.

6. What's the lowest overstrike you've seen?

24, mine. I believe the split was 24-23-21-17.

In 3-player games, I've seen splits of 29-29-27.

7. Has it ever happened that the strike-out player also had the greatest point total?

It's rare. I've seen it happen twice; both times, to me.

Once I was in a game where, after four rounds, I had a clear lead: 0/84. Second place was 2/22. I struck in each of the next three rounds. No one overtook me in points, but the third-place player managed to move up from 2/14 to 2/72 and win.

In a tournament last spring, which was played as an 8-person rotation game (with people rotating in and out of tables with each round) I struck out, in the final round, ending with 3/239. The winning player had 2/238.

8. How many people play Ambition, worldwide?

As the number grows, I have less and less track of it. I would estimate that between 500 and 3,000 people play it regularly, 2,000 to 10,000 have played it, and that around over 150,000 people have heard of it (but probably most of them know nothing other than that a card game with the name "Ambition" exists.)

The doubling time for Ambition's popularity seems to be about 9 months.


Post a Comment

<< Home