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.


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