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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why I Hate Stack the Deck...

This is just my opinion, but I feel that of all the car games currently played on the show, Stack the Deck is the most patently evil and unfair of the lot... and I suspect it's by design.

This is no mere fanrant or wishful thinking, either; I have numbers to back me up on this.  Let's go over them:

Stack the Deck requires you to figure out the price of a car, one digit at a time, from a pool of seven possibilities.  Now, let us assume for a moment that the first digit is a giveaway, or is at most a 50:50 prospect between a 1 and a 2, or even (if the show's budget is feeling especially generous) a 2 and a 3.  This will then give us chances of 1:6, 1:5, 1:4, and 1:3 of figuring out the other digits, in order, assuming we earn no freebies.  Doing the math based on these figures, we arrive at the conclusion that the odds of winning Stack the Deck are roughly 359-1 against.  (This is assuming it's played strictly as a game of chance, with no regard as to the actual price of the car -- which is actually how it ends up being played in practice by many contestants.)   If there's doubt as to the ten thousands digit, the odds worsen to 719-1 against, but I'll be generous and stick to the lower figure; for the purposes of my argument, it will serve just as well.

Let's compare those 359-1 odds to some of the other car games generally thought of as "evil" by Pricedom Assembled, in no particular order:

  • That's Too Much!:  The quintessential "groaner" game for many, but try to think of it this way:  There are only ten potential prices on the board, one of which is correct.  That means, on paper, the odds of winning are one in ten -- but we can safely assume the ARP of the car will never be lower than the lowest figure on the board, and by the same token it is extremely unlikely we'll ever have to go all the way to the end of the board .  That makes the practical chances of winning That's Too Much! one in eight, or 7-1 against
  • Gas Money:  In theory, the game's odds work something like this:  You have a 4:5 chance of finding money on your first pick, 3:4 on your second, 2:3 on your third, and finally 1:2 on your last.  This means that we should be getting a car winner twenty-four times out of every one hundred and twenty playings, which works out to odds of 4-1 against, assuming no bailouts.
  • Temptation:  By design, Temptation offers you two choices for each digit in the car (notice there are only ever two different digits in the price of each gift).  For four digits, that makes this game a 15-1 longshot... but still worlds better than Stacky.
  • Golden Road:  Once again, in theory, you have a 1:2 chance to win the three-digit prize, a 1:3 chance to win the four-digit prize, and a 1:4 chance of winning the super prize at the end.  However, in virtually every case, the three-digit prize is a complete no-brainer, so we can safely remove that from our discussion.  That leaves us with the odds of winning a major luxury car or motor home at 11-1 against.  
  • Triple Play:  The math for Triple Play works out pretty much the same as for Golden Road, only without the dead giveaway represented by the first decision.  We therefore use the on-paper figures for Golden Road and come up with a 23-1 number for this game.
Now, keep in mind that the Stacky odds assume you've earned zero freebies.  Obviously, if you do well in the GP portion of that game; your odds improve considerably; in fact, if you win all three free digits, your chances can theoretically skyrocket all the way up to 5-1 against, or even (if you don't pick the first digit as a giveaway and if that digit's a total gimmie) 2-1 against.  However, the odds of even getting to that point depend entirely on the three coin-flip GP decisions you have to make, and the odds of getting all three correct are 7-1 against.  In other words, you have the same odds of winning That's Too Much!... just so you can have the best possible -- but by no means guaranteed -- chance of winning Stack the Deck! 

And even the best possible chance of winning Stacky works out worse for you than in the car game specifically set aside for the really difficult-to-win cars, 3 Strikes.  Now, the calculations for 3 Strikes are extremely complicated, because you not only have the odds of pulling numbers out of the bag and avoiding Strikes, but you also have to deal with placing those numbers in their correct positions in the price.  However, let's talk "best possible" now:  If you do everything correctly in 3 Strikes, no matter how many draws it takes you to get to the end, it will always come down to a fifty-fifty blind draw at the end, one digit and one Strike.  Even odds.  In Stacky, if you do everything right with the GPs and can logically suss out the first digit anyway, you will have three options for the single remaining digit.  That is not even odds, that's a one in three shot, and usually a shot in the dark at that.  I must therefore conclude that the 3 Strikes player is in a much better position than the Stack the Deck player, and yet Stack the Deck is not generally played for a luxury/expensive car, which is curious to say the least.

The numbers do not lie.  Stack the Deck isn't a bad game in theory, but the way it's set up now is just horrible from the perspective of the player.  It's way too slanted in favor of the house, to a greater degree than perhaps any other car game in the current lineup, including most of the ones that make stalwart LFaTs cringe at their merest mention.  Does this make sense to anyone?

It would be far better if the show simply gave you one freebie to start with, then continued the game exactly as it is now.  Its player-friendliness would be greatly improved simply by doing that.  Doing that didn't hurt Pocket ¢hange any, just by way of example.

Thoughts?

2 comments:

  1. I think there are a couple of ways to make Stack the Deck fairer.

    One is to give the player a free digit, no GPs required, as you said.

    Another that will help the odds a lot is to only have to choose between 6 possible numbers instead of 7. That way, going 3-for-3 on the GPs gives even odds for a win, provided the contestant did not choose to reveal the first number; it also means that going 2-for-3 on the GPs still gives odds of 5-1, which isn't too bad for a car game. (Of course, combining this with the free number would really crank up the chances of winning.)

    Of course, there's also setting up the GPs and the car price to be easier. A lot of Stacky setups involved deceptive GPs where the item that looked like it was the "1 right price" was not, and so we had a lot of people going 0-for-3 or 1-for-3 on the GPs. Add in weird car prices or cars that are much cheaper than people think they are and that just really messes up everything.

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  2. I say scrap the game and replace it with something better. That's what I did. I liked the concept, but wanted to keep it alive and something, when I was creating my replacement game for it.

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