Bzzt bzzt. It's 2am. Groggy and confused, I fumble around in the dark for my phone. On it is a single cryptic message:
BIRD GRADUATION whomps JUDGE DOORMAN for $19.
WTF? Who sent this message?
I did actually. A Twitter bot that I wrote is currently scanning leaderboards and letting me know that my prey is on the move. I sneak over to my computer. The bright light is blinding, but my eyes relax when I open the game client, a solid black 666x666 window. It's a portal into, as the game's designer says, endless riches.
Though my eyes are relaxed, my heart is pounding. I've already jumped into a game. It quickly becomes clear that JUDGE DOORMAN is not screwing around this time. I watch as coins fly across the screen over and over: a challenge that I reluctantly, but repeatedly accept.
It only takes a couple rounds before I decide to go all in. My hands are shaking as my mouse hovers over the "Commit" button. I think to myself, "This click could cost me $200."
What the hell was I doing?
Most games are invented, but some feel like they are simply discovered. I'm reminded of the following quote by Emaneul Lasker:
The rules of Go are so elegant, organic, and rigorously logical that if intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, they almost certainly play Go.
The game I described earlier is called Cordial Minuet and it seems to fit in the latter category. It's a real money gambling game with absolutely no element of luck. How is this possible?
Take the "mind reading" element of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Then take the betting elements of poker (betting here is similar to Hold'em). Mix them together and apply the result to a unique mathematical object called a magic square. That's Cordial Minuet. Explaining the rules in text is painful, but a 3 minute video will do the trick just fine.
The interesting mathematical properties of magic squares have a direct impact on the gameplay:
This means a level playing field for both players. There are no bad hands. Only bad plays. And since the game is not "subject to chance," Cordial Minuet's designer Jason Rohrer is confident that the game is perfectly legal. Better yet, since it's a 2 player game, Cordial Minuet is totally immune to collusion (a problem that poker sometimes suffers from).
All of this is packaged together in a bizarre occult/demonic theme (the game's title is, as you might have guessed, an anagram of Demonic Ritual). Your experience with the game ranges from a sketchy-as-hell teaser site to public leaderboards with aliases derived from two "evocative nouns" (that's where JUDGE DOORMAN and BIRD GRADUATION come from). And before you run off in terror, just note that: the game is open source, Rohrer ran a bug bounty, and payments go through Stripe. That's worth something, right?
I hope I've piqued your interest. Maybe you'll stick around to hear how I made a 15,000% profit over the past few months.
Over Thanksgiving last year, I was vacationing in Asheville, NC. That's when I decided to type my credit card number into this weird game. I'd grab a BBQ sandwich from the nearby food truck and then walk back for some 1 cent games. Those games were UNBELIEVABLY TENSE. Beach bingo and the occasional slot machine don't prepare you for the pain of losing your hard earned money to another human being. Because you suck.
But I kept playing and I got better. So good that I won Cordial Minuet's first tournament a month later. By that time, I had already quadrupled my investment through regular games and a $200 prize didn't hurt either. I was so happy that I decided to write a strategy guide.
Now I had a problem. The other players were getting good too! It was becoming harder and harder to profit. I needed a newb. A fish. A whale. Enter Judge Doorman.
The player known as Judge Doorman arrived on the game's forums and claimed to have intentionally lost $500 in a single night. If only I could get my hands on that money! I posted on the forums that he should contact me if he wanted a game. He did.
Doorman's real name was Cayce Ullman (you can read the story of his encounters with another player here). Ullman was an interesting character: a programmer and a serial entrepreneur. He helped create the popular application Plex. This guy was no dummy. In fact, Ullman wasn't a fish at all. Yes, he was brand new to this game, but he was also a seasoned gambler. When he told me how much money he'd blow on a single poker hand in Vegas, my jaw dropped. In order to maintain his interest, I'd have to play larger stakes. First $10. Then $20. Up and up until I was playing hundreds of dollars at a time. Even then, he'd raise aggressively, increasing the pot from $2 to $20 whenever he could. And though he might have been intentionally losing at first, he wasn't anymore. It was nervewracking. Hello Loss Aversion, my old friend.
The way I won was simple. In the face of this aggressive betting, I would just fold until I got a good opening. This didn't guarantee a win, but it worked on average. It worked so well that after the first few games I felt guilty and explained exactly what I was doing. Things got harder then and Ullman got better over time (see a pattern here?). Even the rules changed to prevent such easy wins; now antes increase over time, making a conservative approach much more difficult.
Ullman and I kept playing, though I had a hard time following his hours. That's where my Twitter bot fits in. I used the data from that bot to not only track certain players, but also to create personalized profit graphs, and even to investigate the mysterious case of Cordial Minuet's first bot.
So that's my story. And if you're thinking that you missed the boat, you're wrong. Cordial Minuet was just released and thousands of dollars in cash, silver, and gold (seriously) are being handed out in the launch contest (not to mention all the money you'll win from other players, naturally).
If you found this interesting, also check out my piece on Rohrer's previous game The Castle Doctrine.
Oh, and one last thing. If you're wondering what happend with that $200 game against Ullman in the beginning, well, I lost it. :)