Imperfect information games have been around for a long time. Games like Cluedo or Guess Who? are examples that most people will know and have probably played. In these games you all have the same goal, but everyone has a different set of information, and nobody has the full picture. These type of games create an interesting puzzle for players who try to win without revealing too much information to their opponents. It is often impossible to know which of the possible actions is the best one, and whether it will give others an advantage. A whole branch of game theory is dedicated to solving imperfect information games, but in this blog post I want to describe a couple of games that have built on the basic premise of these type of games and developed it further.
One of my favourite imperfect information games is Love Letter by Z-Man Games. It is very quick to teach and play, easy to carry around with you and play at a small restaurant table, and very beautifully illustrated. It combines a very basic deck building element with imperfect information. You have one card in your hand and draw a second one on your turn, before deciding which one to keep and which one to play. Playing a card means carrying out an action which allows you to get clues as to what card another player has. Your aim is to have the highest value card at the end of the game, without others having guessed your card or otherwise taken an action that eliminates you from the game. Each game takes around 5-10 minutes, so even if you get knocked out immediately, you don’t have to wait long until the next game. The overall winner is whoever wins the most games out of a pool of 13 games.
It really sounds more complicated than it is, but with only a small handful of cards in the deck, and every player having to make a simple choice between two cards on their turn, it creates an exciting game of bluffing, guessing and information gathering. Because players draw a new card each turn, you can never be certain if their hand has changed, or if they have held onto their card. The imperfect information remains imperfect until the very end.
Another fun game in the same vein is Sheriff of Nottingham by Arcane Wonders where all players have the same goal of sneaking as many legal, or illegal, goods past the sheriff to the market. During each round one player is the sheriff while everyone else is a market trader. It is up to the sheriff to decide whether a trader has been honest about what is in their bag or not – and it is up to the trader to decide whether to bribe the sheriff or bluff their way into the market unscathed. It creates a lot of social interaction in the game and even though the sheriff can try and glean how likely it is that a trader has been honest, they can never be certain. Both sides have to gamble and hope for the best to some extent.
Have you played any interesting imperfect information games? Do you have a favourite? Are you intrigued to try one of these games yourself? Please feel free to post your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.