Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Featured game: Pass the Pigs - a trifle to pass the time

Pass the Pigs has been around for more than 30 years already! I remember when it first came out as Pigmania. It's been quite a run for such a trifle of a game.
I attribute it's longevity to a couple of factors. First off, it's kind of fun in a silly way. I mean, you throw pigs!
Secondly, the profit margin on the game must be obscene. It's had various packaging presentations over the years, but generally it comes in at about $10 or so retail. Aside from the packaging, there really isn't much to the game. There's a couple of pencils, a small score pad and a single-page instruction sheet. Oh yeah, and a couple of soft plastic pigs. How much could that cost? A buck?
I'm sure the game's been a steady money-maker for years.
The game play is fairly simple. Pass the Pigs is a classic "push your luck" game. Players toss the pigs as dice and score points depending upon how the pigs land. If both pigs land on their sides the tossing player earns a point for a "Sider." If one or both of the pigs land on their feet, backs, snouts or jowls the tossing player scores 5-60 points depending on the exact configuration, which are given names such as Trotter, Razorback, Snouter, Leaning Jowler, doubles of those or a Mixed Combo. The player can stop and bank the points earned to thast point or toss again. But if the pigs land on their sides but opposite from each other that is termed a "Pig Out" and the player scores no points and loses all the points scored so far in that round.
Unlike Cosmic Wimpout, which is a similar game, there are no forced rolls, so the tossing player can always stop and bank his score, so the game is very much a pure "push your luck game." There's no real strategy involved. One simply stops when one loses his or her nerve. The first player to reach 100 points win.
About the only complication is a roll that results in both pigs touching each other. This is an "Oinker" and results in the player losing all his points earned so far, not just the ones earned in the current round. Careful wrist action when tossing the pigs should minimize the chance of this happening. The rulebook also depicts a "Piggyback," which occurs when one pig lands standing ontop of anotehr standing pig, but I'd say the chances of this actually happening are about zero. If it did happen, you'd be out of the game, though.
Unlike normal dice games, which use six-sided dice or other polyhedral shapes, the irregularly shaped pigs in Pass the Pigs are impossible to analyse in terms of probability short of using, perhaps, a massive supercomputer. Even then, it might not be possible, because the pigs are made with a soft, rubbery plastic which has a little "give" and bounciness. There's no telling how that characteristic affects the odds.
Still, a little experience shows that the pigs are most likely to land on their sides, so 'Pig Outs" are pretty common and it's usually a good idea to stop and bank points anytime you've managed to score 20 or more points in a round because chances are you'll roll a Pig Out before you roll another high-scoring configuration.
Unlike some other push-your-luck type games there's not a lot of scope for a big turn that can bring you to victory if you're far behind. Accumulating points steadily in batches of 20 or so will generally pay off more often than trying to gamble for the big win.
There's an optional way to play called a "Hog Call" that involves guessing how the pigs will land. Correct guesses pay off double points while incorrect guesses cost double, so this option just adds even more luck to a game that's already all luck and I can't see how it's an improvement.
The lack of any real strategy or player influence means this isn't really much of a game for gamers. It's simply a way to pass the time.
It does have the virtues of playing quickly, costing little and not taking up much room, so it's a good filler game or travel game for long trips with kids.

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