A Game Invention
First published November 24th, 2005
The playing cards
The cards are two-sided - four symbols on one side and two on the other. The example below shows both sides of a card used by the blue player.
Each player begins a game of Plots with twelve cards of the same colour. In the example below there are four cards placed together, representing the play of four players: yellow, blue, red, and green, although there can also be purple and orange.
The game represents the idea that life involves interaction with others. Whether in marriage, business, politics, or war, people come to agreements to achieve shared objectives. But life is a gamble, because not everyone is open and honest about what they are trying to achieve. Everywhere, there are hidden agendas, and people who seek to gain advantage by saying one thing and doing another.
A powerful underlying principle
One of life's survival skills is the ability to make accurate judgements about the motives and integrity of the people with whom one becomes involved. This applies both in a direct relationship, and where one invests in the fortunes of someone else.
In the arrangement of cards above, blue and red are in a direct relationship - they've agreed to cooperate with each other to achieve a shared objective. Yellow is investing in the fortunes of blue, and green is investing in the fortunes of red. The game is a purely a metaphor; the shared objectives are of course imaginary, but the power of the underlying principle is that it characterises the tangled web of life.
This is especially so as agreements tend to become influenced by other agreements. Alliances develop, with the potential for conspiracies and, as the name implies, Plots.
Cheats never win (in the long run)
Below, in the first diagram, purple and orange have placed their cards together to signify an agreement to cooperate with each other to achieve a shared objective. The reality, shown on the underneath of the cards in the second diagram, is that orange is a cheat and has no intention of honouring the agreement.
Explanation: the top side of each card is marked with half-handshakes on two edges. The underneath of each card is marked with half-handshakes on one edge only, and is only revealed when they are turned over. Here, purple's cooperation is signified by the half-handshake placed against orange, but orange's is facing the other way, signifying dissent.
To convert this scenario into a real world example, suppose that purple and orange are two superpowers in an arms race. Their professed shared objective is to reduce armament expenditure whilst maintaining a balance of power. Placing their cards together signifies an agreement - a deal - that they will each reduce armament expenditure by 25% over the next five years, at the end of which each will allow the other to verify the reduction by a weapons inspection.
In the event, purple complies with the 25% reduction agreement, but orange continues to increase armament expenditure, thereby winning the arms race. But how does orange know it has won the arms race? How does it know what is on the underneath of purple's card?
The rules of Plots state that the underneath of a player's cards can only be revealed if he/she agrees. In the example scenario there is little point in winning the arms race unless you know it (it could even be argued that the real winner is the one who reduces armament expenditure whilst giving the opposite impression).
Now if purple begins to suspect that orange is cheating, the obvious strategy is not to cooperate in the final weapons inspection. For orange, therefore, it is vital to maintain the trust of purple.
Gambling on the fortunes of others
Suppose the professed shared objective isn't arms reduction but a business deal agreed between green and yellow. In Plots, third parties can invest in other people's agreements - in this case a business deal - by backing green or yellow (or both).
In the above example orange is gambling on the fortunes of green and blue is likewise backing yellow. Whatever payoff (or loss) green receives from the outcome of the business deal, orange will also receive - ditto with yellow and blue. If green turns out to have been successfully cheated by yellow, then both green and orange will lose out, and the reverse will be the case for their opposite numbers.
The rules allow anyone to back - or 'ride' - anyone else. So theoretically green could back green or even yellow. There are several reasons why a player would choose this course of action, as will become clear.