Poker Chess: Strategy Design

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about a challenge from PokerStars - to “create a game that incorporates elements of chess and poker or chance.” I’m not positive I know exactly what that means, but it seems like a good fit for what I’m interested in in game design, so I decided to give it a shot! I figured I should start by focusing on what each of those games is analytically, before I try to mash them together. And let me begin by saying that this is only my opinion, as a game designer who thoroughly enjoys both games as a player and as an observer, but certainly never played either at a high, competitive level.

What is Chess?

Chess is a game of perfect information, with zero random elements. The primary skill of chess is It’s an ancient game, one that can be traced back to the Gupta Empire, before even the 6th century BCE. It’s a game of strategy for two players played with loosely representational pieces on a square grid-board of eight-by-eight squares. Although devoted players of the game may be familiar with its many variants, there is one set of rules which is most commonly thought of as “chess”. You win a game of chess by trapping your opponent’s king.

What is Poker?

Poker is a game of bluffing and gambling, where each round of play begins with a shuffled deck of fifty-two cards. It is a long game of strategy played by two to seven (or more) players, over many rounds of play. There are similar games dating back as far as the tenth century BCE, but poker as it exists now is a new game, from around the nineteenth century BCE. There is no singular “game” of poker, but rather many different variants. It’s a game of deep statistical analysis, and you win it by winning all the money through betting on ranks of hands.

What does a player of either game have in common?

To my mind, both these games are a game of strategic and tactical thinking, and pattern recognition. Players of both games are patient, as their games play out slowly, and the consequences for overreaching can be great. Players need superior skills of concentration and risk analysis.

What are the biggest issues/conflicts with combinging these games?

There's a few obvious issues with combining these two games. The first is fairly simple - chess is a game for two and only two players, where poker tends to be for larger sets of players, often changing the number of players as the game goes on. Another is that Poker incorporates elements of chance, where Chess is completely deterministic. And what I think the biggest challenge in combining these two games is the inherent conflict between the perfect information of chess, and the hidden information and bluffing of poker. Chess has a constant board-state that both players can always read and make decisions about, and poker has far more elements of bluffing. Combining and finding the pressure points between these two ideas is going to lead to some exciting design challenges.

However, I believe the things that players of both games have in common is far more important than the differences the games have between them, and there must be some common ground between these two games!

So - what ideas do you have?

My initial ideas for designing this game are fairly straightforward - see if the primary elements of both games can live in harmony with each other.

Idea 1: Chess meets Texas Hold'Em

A board game played on a square grid, where each player has a set of pieces. Each piece has class of moves available to it (forward, diagonal, etc.), but the distance they can move is determined by a set of community cards, or perhaps some set of hole cards that determine the types of moves different pieces can do. There’s still strategy, as you know how a piece can move, but a degree of uncertain information, as you don’t know how far pieces will be able to move on a turn.

The game’s matches will be short, but played in rounds - in each one your goal will be to put your enemy’s pieces in some kind of compromised position. Your hand of cards continue into the next, meaning the predictive/strategic thinking can continue round to round, and the thinking moves from tactical to more strategic, long-term thinking familiar to chess and poker players, though without the betting elements from poker.

Idea 2: Bluffing and Hand Rank Chess

A set-making card game, where your goal is to create some fixed set of cards that matches a play piece on a grid board. Making that set of cards will allow you to move that type of play piece in the way the set allows.

Pieces will be differentiated in some way (perhaps by color), and you’ll have more than one of most piece, so making a set (which is relatively random) will not lock you in to a single mode of play. This game will take place in one, single game, where the focus is protecting one single piece.

Cards will have multiple colors / moves on them, to keep bluffing as a part of the game.

Idea 3: Table Chess

A four-player card game, where your goal is to make certain sets of cards that live inside of a representational world - each card has a quality of attacking certain suits of cards, or defending against another suit of cards. You lay out these formations face down, and then reveal them in turns - betting against the opponent each round that your formation of cards is better than theirs. It would necessitate some bridge-like elements, where each player has one quarter of the deck, so it is known across the table that each person has

I know those are some loose, general ideas, but I’m excited to see what comes out of it! The deadline is the end of this month, so I will plan on having a post with some more concrete ideas and prototypes in the next week.


© 2019 by Jack Schlesinger