The pain, hardship and horror of the worst card game ever
By Marc Calderaro
War is stupid. I like to think I understand games well enough to be objective, but the fun aspects of this card game elude me. I used to think that it simply rewarded good shuffling skills; then I learned that shuffling is illegal. What does this game actually entail? I found out.
The official rules of the game are as follows: (a) Divide the cards evenly face-down for all players involved (usually two piles of 26). (b) Players simultaneously flip over the top card of their pile; the player with the highest card wins the round (b-1) some shit about “ties” and “wars” or something (c) The most important rule: the player who wins the round takes the cards and places them on the bottom of their pile. (d) When one player has all the cards, that player wins. What is that?
Not only is absolutely no skill involved at all, but the game will invariably repeat itself throughout the course of a couple cycles of the pile. And if it doesn’t repeat itself, with enough cycles, a player can figure out what cards are coming up. This would be forgivable, perhaps, if the normal game of War was short. But it’s not. It’s really long. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s the longest card-game short of Continental Rummy, and you need two decks to play that. So War simply comes down to a set of values that are predetermined before the first card is flipped. What kind of a game is that? It’s pretty much the same as betting on a cheetah racing a dead turtle with lumbego and a broken leg.
In most games there’s an aspect of determinism. When I play Super Smash Bros., I understand that because Richard plays 12 hours a day and I don’t, he’s probably a better player and will most likely beat me. For me, the Sisyphusian battle against fate is part of the fun, mostly because I’m horrible at most games I play (excluding Magic: The Gathering). The overlooked-underdog mentality is what makes watching playoff games more fun than the regular season. All the factors have been weighed in, all the tapes watched. The whosie-whatsies should win, but will they?
It’s with this lens that we can look objectively and say that War sucks. In fact, to prove that it sucks as much as I thought it did, I found a Java Applet that took into account all the variables that go into a game of War, and with the touch of a button, you can simulate a randomly generated game of War that lasts anywhere from a half-second to five or six seconds. It then spits out which player won and in how many turns. Well, the screen is downright mesmerizing—so much so that I decided to find out if it’s more fun than actually playing War by clicking the “Play Game” button over and over again for the duration of an average game of War.
For 45 minutes I sat in front of the screen clicking the mouse button, watching little arrows move down the screen. It was so much fun. I invented my own game to see how long or short I could make a game of War last. Clearly I wasn’t actually “making” the game do anything, but what the human mind can justify is truly staggering. After my 45 minutes were up, I had finished 1,605 games (an average of 35 2/3 games per minute); my longest game was 915 turns and my shortest was 20. At this point I actually had to pull myself away from the screen I was having so much fun. I really wanted to break 1,000 turns or see if I could get a game to last 13 or fewer turns. Contrasting the end of this session with the end of most games of War, where one player lugubriously flips over the same five to ten cards hoping to finally lose so they can go out drinking, it’s pretty clear that the electronic, one-player, two to four second version of War is more fun—not to mention more efficient. To play all those games of War physically, it would have taken me approximately seven weeks, one day, three hours and 45 minutes.
That’s half of a semester spent playing War, and I did it in 45 minutes.
What a dumb game.
Marc Calderaro is a senior writing and English major who will be attending the world series of War (the card game) after graduation. He is looking for sponsors. If you’re interested, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.