After Hours

Geek Trivia: Game within a (video) game

What hacker-favorite fictional card game was created--at least in part--as an anti-piracy measure for a classic video game?

If one day you find yourself sitting down to pen that long-imagined bestselling science-fiction or fantasy novel and you're looking for one particular trick that will give your speculative story a sense of reality (and lead to shameless marketing opportunities), just throw in a made-up card game or chess variant that everyone in your fake universe knows, enjoys, and plays with inhuman regularity. You don't have to make up any actual rules for the game, as your devoted fan base (geeks) will retroactively conjure them based on the clues you drop in the prose -- even if those clues don't make any sense.

Don't believe me? Then explain how it is that I can find "official" rules for fizzbin, a fictional card game that was fictional even in the Star Trek episode in which it originally appeared? The Trekkers among us will recall that fizzbin was a game made up on the spot by Captain Kirk to distract some gangster-inspired Iotians in the episode "A Piece of the Action," with a set of rules that contradicted themselves even as the good Captain was explaining them. Nonetheless, Star Trek fanatics have gone so far as to conjure forth rules for fizzbin, and one can sometimes find them playing it at sci-fi conventions.

The same is true of the infamous Tri-D multilevel variant of chess, which Trek producers cobbled together from various 3D checkers and tic-tac-toe boards simply as a prop with no legitimate rules. Nonetheless, I can download rules and instructions for building my own fully functioning Tri-D chess game board. (Key point: The board has to be able to change configurations to be fully legal.)

I can also get rules (and cards) for the Star Wars gambling game sabacc -- a game that allowed Han Solo to win the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. Heck, the TV show Firefly aired barely a dozen episodes during its 2002 run, and the draw poker-inspired game Tall Card appeared in exactly one of them, but I can download cards and rules to play Tall Card too.

Not all fictional games are just for show, however. One hacker-favorite made-up card game actually served a real-life purpose -- it was an anti-piracy measure for a classic video game.

WHAT HACKER-FAVORITE FICTIONAL CARD GAME WAS INVENTED AS AN ANTI-PIRACY MEASURE FOR A VIDEO GAME?

Get the answer.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

18 comments
Nodisalsi
Nodisalsi

Ian M. Banks novel "Player of Games" features a immense board game which is employed as a means of selecting the premier leader of fascist regime.. spanning a whole globular cluster! Can anyone remember what this game was called?

Azathoth
Azathoth

*sigh* How could you forget Jetan (Martian Chess) from ERB's "The Chessmen of Mars"?

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Gee thanks Jay I had some time so I decided to dig it out. Not being a scifi fan, I figured it would be a challenge. A whole 2 minutes later I had found Double Fanucci and Zork. Then I realised that the answer was posted anyway, DOH! I always thought you posted answers later on, though I don't get into GT too much, I was bummed to find out I hadn't discovered anything new. :(

JamesRL
JamesRL

Quibble with the quibble.... I am Canadian, and I would suggest Jay you weren't "wrong" just a little out of date. In the day's of my youth (60s), Victoria day (May 24 or the closest Monday)WAS the big fireworks day of the year, at least in English Canada. But over the course of the decades since, the Federal government has been pushing the significance of July 1st, the aniversary of the creation of the "dominion" of Canada in 1867. I also think some municipalities decided they could only afford one set of fireworks a year, and started picking Canada day instead. But fireworks on a royal birthday is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. As far as explosions go, check out the Halifax Explosion of 1917. A munitions ship collided in the Harbour with another ship and created an explosion roughly equivalent to 3 kilotons of TNT (Little Boy was 13 KT). The fireball was a mile high. 1900 people were killed, 9000 injured - which sounds low till you realize the explosion took place in the harbour. James

mtgarden
mtgarden

Was just a variation of Poker with one unique twist: Cards could change value in your hand.

BHunsinger
BHunsinger

Alias Smith and Jones card game. It is a pot game variant on poker. each player gets 4 cards and bet that they can cover the next card delt by the dealer in that suit, ie the heat in their hand will beat the ehart delt, etc. Goes around the table until soeone bets the pot and wins. We played it for years in college.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

"The Chessmen of Mars", one of my favorites! Ralph

JamesRL
JamesRL

I don't remember name of the card game, but it was poker like with triangular cards. Then there was the Triad game which was basketball like. James

wilson_ty
wilson_ty

More like Blackjack; the cards were assigned point values, and the goal was to reach a certain point value (+/-23, I think, although I haven't read "Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu" in about 20 years). However, it was similar to Poker in that you had multiple rounds of betting and you played against other players instead of 'the house'.

Azathoth
Azathoth

Yeah, I remember Starbuck won a hand with "Full Colors".

JamesRL
JamesRL

Have you seen the History minute commercial about Vince Coleman? He was the train dispatcher who signalled the incoming trains to stop, knowing he was going to die;"Stop trains. Munitions ship on fire. Approaching Pier 6. Goodbye boys." James

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

..though how anyone could fail to retain an encyclopedic knowledge of every column I've written over the last six years is a little hard to fathom. ;)

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