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Feesh, nanners, and yum yums
Pushing your luck with Trash Pandas
Welcome to Skeleton Code Machine, a weekly publication that explores tabletop game mechanisms. The goal is to spark your creativity as a game designer or enthusiast, and think differently about how games work. Check out Public Domain Art, Dungeon Dice, and 8 Kinds of Fun if you want some sample posts!
We spent the last three weeks looking at player types and player motivations. I learned a lot from that exercise, and I recommend you check them out. There are some additional thoughts on this at Exeunt Omnes.
This week we are back to game mechanisms! Trash Pandas is a silly little game with a simple push your luck mechanism. But it’s one that I think is interesting and worth looking at.
Let’s check it out!
Trash Pandas (Bandita et al., 2017) is one of my favorite filler games:
In Trash Pandas, players are raucous raccoons, tipping over trash cans for food (and shiny objects). Players push their luck to acquire more cards, but must stash them in order for them to count as points at the end of the game. When the deck runs out, the game ends and players compare their stashes to see who has the majority for each card type and score points accordingly. The player with the most points wins!
There are six tokens with symbols, each representing a specific benefit. The trash cans allow you to draw additional cards, while the trees let you stash those cards for points. There is a hand-with-bag token that allows you to steal a card from another player.
End game scoring is based on stashed cards. Everyone adds up their total cards by type, and score points based on who has the most of each type of card.
Players must choose to discard their cards to use their abilities, or stash them (unused) for points at the end of the game. So there’s some hand management and set collection happening.
Pushing your luck
Trash Pandas, at its core, is a very simple push your luck game:
Roll the custom six-sided die.
Take the matching token, or
If you already have the matching token, you “bust” and get nothing.
Otherwise, keep rolling and collect more tokens.
For example: If you roll and get the trees (which allow you to “stash” your cards for end game scoring) you would take that token. If you decide to keep going but roll trees again, you “bust”. You get none of the tokens and just take a single card as a consolation prize.
If you manage to collect all six tokens without busting, you get another bonus turn.
The chance of busting during a given roll vs. the number of collected tokens is fairly straightforward:
Your chance of busting on a given roll goes from 0:6 (0%) when you start up to 5:6 (83%) when you have five tokens in hand. There’s a 50% chance when you have three tokens.
Let’s write a little Python to simulate a series of rolls with token types converted to numbers (1…6):
6 1 3 5 1 BUST! 1 in already in [1, 3, 5, 6]
We can then run that simulation a million times, and see how many of those make it to the perfect six tokens. Turns out, there is about a 1.5% chance of success if you push your luck all the way to the end.
If that were the whole game, it wouldn’t be too interesting. So this is where Blammos (🥤), Yum Yums (🍫), and Nanners (🍌) come into play!
Blammo! Yum Yum! Nanners!
The game adds three cards that increase player interaction and choice:
BLAMMO!: Re-roll your last die. 1 point per BLAMMO! stashed.
YUM YUM: Force a player to continue rolling.
NANNERS: Ignore your last roll and choose to stop.
Now if you are rolling, you have additional decisions to make!
You can choose to push your luck, then discard a Blammo (to roll again) or a Nanners (to ignore the last roll). Both come at a cost, however, because you lose the end game points from those cards.
Other players can also wait until you’ve spent your Blammos and Nanners, just to hit you with a Yum Yum to force you to keep rolling.
Let’s add Blammos to the simulation:
6 5 6 Potential bust... BLAMMO!!!! 4 4 Potential bust... BUST!!! 4 in already in [4, 5, 6]
In that run, the player rolled a second 6, but used a Blammo to attempt another roll and got a 4. Unfortunately, the very next roll was another 4 and busted.
Having even one Blammo card increases your chances of making a perfect six-token streak from 1.5% to 5.4%. Two Blammo cards gets you to about 11%.
Similarly, the chance of getting to at least three (3) tokens is about 56% with no Blammos, and 83% with one Blammo. So the Blammo cards probably aren’t worth saving for points at the end of the game.
This, of course, assumes no one is forcing you to roll again with a Yum Yum card!
Some things to think about:
Push your luck needs player agency: Rolling dice with no choice of when to stop wouldn’t be fun at all. Adding only the decision of when to stop usually isn’t much better. Consider ways to add player agency and choice around pushing your luck.
Knowing your odds might reduce the fun: I’ve mentioned it before, but showing the exact odds to players takes some of the fun out of the game. Imagine having a printed table showing chance of busting for each combination.
Push your luck in TTRPGs: I’d love to hear about your favorite TTRPGs that use push your luck in the comments! It’s an interesting mechanism to build into roleplaying games, if done in a way that doesn’t break the theme and immersion.
This week’s poll asks how far you are willing to push your luck! What kind of Trash Pandas player are you? 🦝
— E.P. 💀
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