Talk:The Potato Game

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Thanks for running this at the Weekender yesterday, we had a lot of fun with it. It's great for having only a few very simple core mechanics, but allowing for huge amounts of strategy and second-guessing to be built on top of that, and some good logistic challenges. We had quite an efficient four-person team throwing potatoes across a stairwell, to clean out and relocate an enemy stash in under thirty seconds...

The only trouble we hit was the timing; even with one stopwatch per team, we were too fragmented for everyone to be kept in the loop. This is a fairly common pervasive game problem, and I don't think we've found a foolproof solution yet. The best I can think of is telling everyone that a particular public clock is the game clock, and let them check that (or synch their watches with it) if they need to make sure how long they've got.

Even with that, though, the endgame was a little uneven - even ten seconds can make all the difference to which team grabs a stash they had their eye on. One way to level that out might be to hand out a load of official "potato sacks" from the start point, exactly five minutes before the end of play, and force players to use those to return their final hauls. --Kevan (talk) 2009-08-03 13:01:04

This was a really fun game, although the initial rules explanation wasn't very clear and didn't make clear what the goal of the game was.

The Weekend version seemed to have a final two minute period where you could carry as many potatoes as you liked as you returned them to base. Was that right, or did we misunderstand? Could you announce the final phase of the game with a foghorn?

Also, I think it might be a good idea to restrict the playing area. With no boundaries, we realised that there was little point using the bases, because the chances of one of the moderators finding unbased potatoes are pretty remote as long as you take them far enough away. If I played again, my strategy would be to give the initial potato stash to the fastest runner in the group, have them sprint for 2 minutes and hide all the potatoes, then leave the area and retrieve them at the end, while the rest of the group planted the bases as decoys. A restricted playing area would make the bases more worth using as intended. --benhenley (talk) 2009-08-03 16:45:27

Well, as you say, the potential stash area is within two minutes sprint (or throw, or drop) of the meeting point, so that automatically cuts down the play area to some extent. But I really liked the fact that the playing area was unbounded, that pushing a little further out gave you a better chance, at the cost of that final sprint.

It's true that the threat of a potato-stealing moderator felt a little weak. I think if I'd actually seen a moderator skulking around looking for potatoes, it would have made me a little more hesitant about hiding loose spuds. Maybe give someone a scary mask and a sack next time? --Kevan (talk) 2009-08-03 17:11:35

Or maybe whether potatoes are loose or at a base could alter what the other teams can do... somehow. --benhenley (talk) 2009-08-03 17:15:55

The initial explanation - lack of clarity thereof - was all my fault and not (I don't think) a function of the game. I think in future I'd have rulesets printed out. I got so fixated on (n-1) - which was the main sticking point last time - that I fluffed the sensible presentational structure involving telling people the point of the game at the start.

You understood right about the 2 minutes - I don't know how else to get the timing across other than on the print out mentioned above, as I did go round every team individually to reiterate the timings and check people understood as best I could. I think explaining the rules to each team individually to check they have understood (two or more people doing that at the same time) and using a megaphone would help, so when people understand better from the outset and then when they start to plan tactics other people can still hear what you're saying.

Re the stopwatches - I suppose just asking everyone with a phone (probably 90% of people) to set a timer might mean there was enough understanding of timing going on... I initally envisioned playin this in a woodland so I wasn't thinking in terms of having a clock anywhere nearby, but at the South Bank it'd work, methinks. The downside of a woodland, or course, is that the balloons'd be popped in no time!

I'd really like to leave this as uncomplicated as possible but without more moderators (and one of us having to stop the un-used stuff being nicked) I think you just have to rely on people not to cheat. It's only a game, after all!

Thanks for all this though... I might tweak the rules slightly...

PS - throwing potatoes, whilst comendably ingenious does actually mean you fell foul of the rule that only way to move a potato is to carry it visibly in one hand... the carry part is literal! --Apolobamba (talk) 2009-08-03 21:38:43

I was watching the start of the Potato Game from the Hayward plaza - it was a lovely moment when everyone scattered, all these different colours belting outwards around corners and into fountains. (Didn't have my camera and there was a truck that would have spoiled the shot anyway, mind.) --Holly (talk) 2009-08-03 21:48:30

Ah, I missed the carrying nuance, I thought the main point of that was "a carried potato can't be concealed", that the other players had to be able to see it to decide whether to follow you. We also did some nonchalant potato dropping down onto the Thames beach, which I hope was okay. At least this rules out the cross-Thames potato cannons we were considering for next time...

Talk of stopwatch timers wrong-footed me a bit, to be honest - I've no idea how to find a stopwatch on my phone, so tuned out, but if you'd have just said "look at the time on your phone; with a two minute gap at either end, the game ends twenty minutes from... now!", I'd have kept up.

And yes, printed rulesets would be useful; a lot of superstitious mistakes can emerge, if a few confused players split off together and have nobody to correct them. You could probably get it all on a sticker, really. (For what it's worth, when I was re-explaining the N-1 rule to other players, I put it as "in any group, one person needs to have their hands empty".) --Kevan (talk) 2009-08-03 21:54:18

That explanation works a lot better!! I'll bear that in mind...

There's a definite skill in starting games - I know I've been stunned how Holly can turn a game into about a minute of description and everyone just gets it!

Maybe we could develop "The Potato Game - The Director's Cut" which would allow for potato cannons :) --Apolobamba (talk) 2009-08-04 08:49:48

Is it actually against the rules to leave potatoes on the ground if they're not at a base, Pippa? From the explanation on Sunday I was under the impression that it was allowed, it's just that you ran the risk of having them collected by a moderator. --benhenley (talk) 2009-08-04 09:36:29

Just looked at the rule set and it should definitely mention somewhere that the aim of the game is for your team to get as many potatoes as possible --simonkatan (talk) 2009-08-04 10:50:31

How about where is says "The aim of the game is to collect as many potatoes as possible." ? ;o)

And yep, Potatoes should be at a base - the saction is only there to deter cheating, of which there was an encouraging amount...

Anything you got from my presentation of the rules should be taken with a pinch of salt! --Apolobamba (talk) 2009-08-04 11:27:06

Ah, okay, it sounds like the whole green team misunderstood the bit about leaving potatoes in the wild - the threat that a moderator would find and take them definitely came across as a challenge, with "lose a potato" as the stakes. If you want a game action to be out-and-out illegal, I think it's better to pitch it as an omniscient "anyone who stashes a potato outside of a base will be disqualified".

I don't know if the game's better with or without it. I really enjoyed the squirrel-like behaviour of stashing things in secret places, and the decisions we had to make about that. That yes, we could distribute twenty potatoes into twenty different nooks and crannies around the area, but we'd have to remember where they all were when we came back for them. And it would take twenty times as long to check that they hadn't been stolen, mid-game. And if there had been a sinister moderator collecting lone spuds, who happened to follow us at the start, we'd have been down 20 points straight away... --Kevan (talk) 2009-08-04 11:33:54

ha ha ... whoops ... I have severe reading difficulties.

I'm with Kevan on the nasty potato collectors - perhaps dressed as worsel gummage ? --simonkatan (talk) 2009-08-04 11:51:06

It'd certainly fit with my desire to run the game with as few rules as possible... maybe I should strike out bases all together... it also sounds like it's more fun that way!

That would mean there was less need for mederators and so you could run it with a smaller team.It'd leave moderators just free to float about collecting any potatoes they saw...less rules does sound better. What do you think? I suppose the only risk then is that potatoes get left lying around - bases were an attempt to control that. Given they get eaten/biodegrade I suppose it's not such a biggie.

I may have to have words with my other half... He was on the Green Team (I thought) and knows the rules rather better than I do - he even had to remind me of them when I started the game - so he had no excuse! --Apolobamba (talk) 2009-08-04 12:43:10

Worsel Gummage? I was already dressed as Worsel Gummage! Very polite of you not to comment if you didn't realise... :D --Apolobamba (talk) 2009-08-04 12:44:23

Ah, step one of the Green Team's plan was "split up", so he couldn't have done much to stop the rest of us from going rogue.

Bases did a few good things, I think it's worth keeping them around. It was useful to be able to get a bit of a feel for how other teams were doing (in a way that you wouldn't if you were just finding loose potatoes), and if you've got roving scarecrow moderators, the decision to stash your crop in a safe area or a secret corner is an interesting one.

It's hard to predict how the game would unfold in practice, though. Maybe it's worth playtesting it with and without bases to see what happens. --Kevan (talk) 2009-08-04 12:53:50

I think the rules write-up could perhaps explain the aim still more explicitly - not sure "collect as many potatoes as possible" would be clear if I hadn't played the game. To avoid ambiguity, might be better to state that the aim is to bring back the most potatoes to the start point at the end of the game.

If you got rid of bases, maybe each team could be given potatoes dyed in the appropriate colour. That way if you found a stash of green potatoes early on, you'd know it was a Green Team stash; a stash of mixed colours still gives you some information about what happened.

I think the threat of roving moderators would be good, but you would need a few of them to be a credible threat within an unbounded playing area. --benhenley (talk) 2009-08-04 13:54:26

We ran this on the Heath last weekend, with a few changes.

We ditched the (n-1) rule. We had three teams of 10, with three "bases" (plastic bags) per team. There was a 3-minute pregame (to set up - no carry limit, but no raiding), then 30 minutes of play. We didn't use a postgame - when the final horn went, players went back to their bases and brought them to the start. "Potatoes" could only be held or in bases at all times.

It worked really well, and we had lots of creative places for bases. --gwyn (talk) 2010-04-08 15:29:37

How do you move the bases? From the description I take it they count as a potato, so someone can carry it (but only if empty).

When you start the game, do the players fill all their bases equally and then hide them? If they decide how many potatos per base, then one very good strategy seems to be to put all in one basket and move that as far away as possible and hide it. Then use your other base(s) to collect enemy potatos. --herr.wetzel (talk) 2012-07-24 11:10:41

We played the game today. During the set-up phase all teams send out spies to follow the other players, so when the game started every team knew were all baskets were. Disallowing this and just sending out one team member per base would be a better choice I think. Then start the game when all "base players" are back. --herr.wetzel (talk) 2012-07-25 15:50:35