Rules of the Game

Rules of the Game

Rules | Guy L. PaceEvery game has rules. Some are easy to understand. Some, not so much. It’s the rules that can drive us nuts, though.

Solitaire (the classic, Vegas rules version) is a losing game. There is no way to win long-term in that game. The rules protect “the house” and that is by design. The house is the casino, or the hosting organization allowing you to play. The rules are pretty simple.

Shuffle the cards, deal out the seven piles (the tableau), set the rest in a pile (the stock) nearby. Play all the possible cards showing in the tableau. Then begin taking one cards at a time from the stock and play it if possible. If not, place it on the waste pile (the talon). Once you go through the stock once, you’re done and the game is over.

If you are fortunate, you’ll get to stack suits (hearts, diamonds, spades, clubs) on the foundations (the four piles at the top where you place the aces of each suit and proceed to stack the rest of the suit numerically). If you are very fortunate, you’ll end the game by completing all four suits in the foundations and clear the stock and the tableau.

Reality

But, nine times out of ten, you will only get one or two aces in the foundations, and maybe a few more cards.

See, to start, you ante up for $52 for each game. One dollar for each card in the deck–for each game. The house will pay you back $5 for each card placed in the foundations. If you lose $20 to $40 each hand you’ll find yourself in negative dollar land in short order.

You see, the odds are not in your favor–no matter what that strange-looking person in The Hunger Games says. While you can win a game once in a while, your chances of winning enough to stay even or gain a little are abysmal. The odds against winning two games in a row is huge. It’s designed to separate you from your money.

Gaming

Knowing all this, playing a solitaire game on your laptop when your life savings isn’t on the line is still a fun pastime, and supposedly is good exercise for your brain. But, how does this play when you are writing a situation for a character? I used solitaire for an example, but the odds and rules for roulette, blackjack, and other gambling games are always stacked in favor of the house. That won’t change.

How many times have you seen or read characters getting to Las Vegas with just a few bucks to their names, and in a few hours riding out of town in a new Cadillac and pockets full of cash. Aside from special talents (Starman), the odds against this kind of thing happening is astronomical. Then there is the house itself. Someone watches all games, players, dealers, all the time. If anything looks hinkey (this is Tabitha’s word), someone from the house shows up and takes the offending person(s) off the floor and maybe out the door.

Jackpot

Once in a while someone hits a jackpot. That’s by design. The good fortune of the odd player keeps the rest of the folks playing. Without that odd jackpot, the rest of the players in the facility would not have any hope of winning.

This doesn’t mean good things don’t happen. When my wife and I were leaving Reno many years ago, there was a gaming system right there in the gate concourse. I had a few coins left of our “to play” stash, so I plugged a few into the machine and played one last game before our flight home started boarding.

I won $10.

Keep writing.

 

Poor Choices

Poor Choices

Choices | Guy L. PacePeople sometimes make poor choices. Sometimes they turn out okay. Sometimes they don’t.

Unfortunately, our history is full of people who made poor choices and/or led others to bad ends. We learn about the Donner Party in school, and how poor choices all along their way across the West brought them to the winter camp near Truckee Lake. They took the Hastings’ Cutoff, promoted by Lansford Hastings, a poorly considered option to the well-known Oregon and California trails. Of the 87 (or 90) souls who took Hastings Cutoff, only 45 survived.

Meek Cutoff, another poor choice along the Oregon Trail, cost the lives of almost 50 souls of the more than 1,000 led across Central Oregon. Steven Meek, to his credit, wasn’t working from a complete lack of information. He d visited the Harney area during a good water year and it looked promising. When he arrived in 1845 with more than 1,000 emigrants, what he saw was the results of one or more drought years.

Meek Cutoff | Guy L. PaceBy the time the wagon trains taking the Meek Cutoff reached The Dalles on the Columbia River, 25 of their number died. Adding the Elliott Cutoff and some other changes to crossing points made the cutoff workable.

The Goodale’s Cutoff came about when “John Jeffrey began promoting a trail following traditional Shoshoni paths to generate business for his ferry on the Blackfoot River.” It got more use after the Northern Shoshone and Bannock started resisting the numbers of white settlers passing through their lands. Massacre Rocks State Park now provides some information to visitors to that area.

Goodale’s Cutoff

Goodale’s Cutoff wasn’t a bad choice. As the web site suggests, seven of ten wagons coming through after 1863 took that cutoff. The first leg of the journey through what is now Arco, and Craters of the Moon, was hard on wagons and their owners. If you’ve ever been to the Craters of the Moon, put yourself in the place of immigrants seeing that for the first time. Imagine how depressing and discouraging that landscape looked to a family in a covered wagon. The National Park Service provides more information. But, put simply, most wagon trains crossed there in full summer (July). The route was one lane, slow, and the lava beds and dry heat took a toll on the wood wagons.

There are almost always consequences to a choice, be it good or bad.

We, as authors, would like to think our main characters won’t make bad choices. They are, after all, the heroes. Right? But, if you want your hero more real, more human, he/she will make a poor choice once in a while. And, there will be consequences. Maybe not as dire as the Donner Party. Even Goodale’s Cutoff was a choice between two dangerous routes. You might not survive the one, and you might die on the other.

Give your character choices. Make them real. Add danger. Make sure the results, the consequences, fit the plot.

Keep writing.