Candy Land. At first, you assume it’s simply a deterministic outcome based on the position of the cards in the deck and therefore there is no game. But peer deeper, and the true depths of the systems reveals itself.
As I first detailed in my ebook Next Level Candy Land (2011), the variety of fundamental ways the game teaches kids how to lie and cheat puts even the most sophisticated modern aimbots and wallhacks to shame.
I mean, sure, you can stack the deck to make sure you get the special card that puts you closest to the finish, thus ensuring your victory. But do that two or three times in a row, and your opponent will cry foul at your constant two-turn wins. Then you must move on to subtler but more difficult deck-stacking that gives you a beneficial color sequence rather than an outright win. Or you may even “take the L,” as the kids say, and post the occasional loss to throw your opponent off the scent while ensuring an overwhelmingly lopsided record. The more complex the stacking, the more advanced sleight-of-hand is required.
This is all fine and good, but what happens when your opponent has stepped up their game as well? What next, when you are faced with an opponent who also knows how to stack the Candy Land deck? You move on to the next level, of course! This is where the true depth of Candy Land is revealed, as you are no longer playing the game but are instead playing your opponent.
It begins with the simple “Thanks for shuffling, I’ll cut the deck” move, ensuring that you are the last one to touch the deck. This allows you to stack the deck, though it is easy to get caught in a “Deference Loop,” wherein both players endlessly offer to be the last one to touch the deck. Once it is clear that neither player trusts the other to handle the deck, then you graduate to the more advanced techniques, such as the “Oops I dropped my card, let me pick it up, (and replace it with the one in my sleeve)” or the “Sorry I bumped the table, which space were you on?”.
The Candy Land Pro Tour is a sight to behold. Players fly in from all over the world to show off their new tech. In the last tournament before Covid, the champion snuck in thin color e-ink displays instead of cards so that he had total control of the board at all times. In the finals, he narrowly defeated his opponent, who seemed to have devised some sort of quantum piece that automatically advanced when no one was observing it.
Wild stuff, and from the early 20th century! To suggest that good board game design was invented in 2008 suggests a perverse mind and a deeply diseased psyche.