While this was introduced to me as "The Sugar Packet Game," I have found it works well with any set of roughly flat things that are pretty similar. A deck of cards, for instance, is also perfect for this game. It could likely be played with anything, but really, the simpler the objects the better.

Before entering into a discussion of its finer points, allow me to illustrate two simple games, from start to finish, using a very simple ascii rendition of the game board. For this example, ^ will be a sugar packet (as you might find at any restaurant of middling quality) and v will be a sugar packet that has been turned upside down.

Game 1: The Setup

Player 1 arranges sugar packets as follows--

^ ^ ^
^   ^
^ ^ ^

Play Begins with Player 2

His move: A simple jump

^ ^ ^     ^   v ^
^   ^ --> ^   ^
^ ^ ^     ^ ^ ^

Play Continues with Player 1

Her move: A double jump

^   v ^     ^   v ^     ^ ^ v ^
^   ^   --> ^   ^   --> ^   v  
^ ^ ^       ^   v ^     ^   v

And a clear

^ ^   ^

Play continues with Player 2

Shocked at being led into such a simple trap, Player 2 answers with a double jump of his own.

^ ^   ^       v ^ ^       v   v ^
^       --> ^       --> ^
^           ^           ^

And finishes his turn with a slide

  v v ^

Play continues with Player 1

You can probably see now that Player 1 has two possible choices. Player 2 hopes that Player 1 will jump the lower sugar packet up one, but that would give the game to Player 2, and so Player 1 isn't about to do this. Instead, we have a different jump...

  v v ^       v   v v
^       --> ^
^           ^

A slide...

  v v v

And another clear.


Game over: Win to Player 1 with two clears and no possible clears for Player 2

Before you think you understand the rules of how to play the game, let's see the rematch. For the rematch, we will introduce the "Sweet'n Low" packet, which will be represented by an ampersand: &

Game 2: The Setup

Player 2, loser of the previous game, sets up the board as follows--

^ ^ ^
^ & v
v v v

Play begins with Player 1

Her move: A jump flip

^ ^ ^       v ^ ^
^ & v --> & v   ^
v v v       ^ v v

Play continues with Player 2

His move: A slide up

  v ^ ^     & ^ ^ ^
& v   ^ -->   ^   v
  ^ v v       ^ v v
Play continues with Player 1

Her move: After thinking a while and considering the situation, she decides to try a double jump.

& ^ ^ ^     & ^ ^ v     & ^ v v
  ^   v -->   ^     -->   ^ v
  ^ v v       ^ v v       ^ v v

Play continues with Player 2

His move: A slide down

& ^ v v       v v v
  ^ v   --> & v v
  ^ v v       v v v

Game over: Win to Player 2 with all packets upside down

Understand now?

What's that? You think this is a stupid game? You think it has no rules? Wrong. The sugar packet game is all about the rules. You think there is no point other than to confuse onlookers? Wrong. Confusing onlookers is merely an enjoyable side effect of playing the game, especially if played amongst a large group of people, all of whom are waiting for the waiter to bring their orders and only two of which are playing this game.

This is a game of nonverbal communication and making up the rules as you go along. The actual point of this game is to determine whether or not you can convey a set of rules through actions alone. No move may contradict an earlier move. The rules must be simple enough that the other player can understand them. The activities must be such that, much like a calculus limit, they converge towards an ultimate and obvious goal.

Let's analyze the first game I described. With the first move, it is communicated that:

     * 1. An example of a legal move is to take a sugar packet and jump it horizontally over another sugar packet. The packet that was jumped must be flipped over.
     * 1b. This is somewhat reminiscent of checkers. Perhaps future moves should also contain this similarity?
     * 2. It is suggested implicitly that winning must involve flipping packets over in some manner.

That's a lot of communication in just a simple action! And it continues further with the second move.

     * 3. Just like checkers, you may jump twice in a single turn. By reinforcing this relationship with checkers, it also implicitly made a rule that you may only "jump" with one sugar packet at a time. If I were to use one sugar packet to jump another, then pick up an entirely different sugar packet, it would be perfectly obvious to both myself and my opponent/partner that I was breaking the rules of this game.
     * 4. When three flipped packets form a straight line, take them away. It is implicitly implied that winning must involve taking away packets.
     * 4b. In fact, right from this moment, it should be obvious that that goal is to personally clear as many packets as possible. The only other possibility is that the goal is to be the LAST person to clear packets. Either way would likely work.

The next turn begins by using only existing rules... double-jumping, flipping packets, moving towards the goal of removing packets. Before ending the turn, however, an additional rule is added.

     * 5. Sometimes, it is legal to slide a row of packets together.

This was not really a good move, since it leaves a lot of ambiguity. "Sometimes"? What makes it legal to slide? Do you slide whenever there is a gap between packets? No... that can't be, because earlier, when there was a clear, no sliding occurred. Maybe sliding is optional when there is a gap? Or perhaps you can only slide when there's a gap and you're sliding along a single line? The player who just made this rule left the ability to clarify to his opponent. Any of the above interpretations would likely be valid.

From the next move, it's likely that the other player chose the "sliding along a single line" option, which enabled the win to occur. As we can see, rule 5 really was a bad move on that player's part.


Let's move on to game 2. The board setup can communicate things just as much as a move can. So starting with the board setup itself...

     * 1. There is a difference between packets flipped right-side up and upside down.
     * 2. Since there is only one Sweet'n Low packet, it is obviously of some importance.

That's about it. Moving on to the first actual move...

     * 3. The Sweet'n Low may be jumped over other packets. Every packet that is next to the Sweet'n Low, horizontally, vertically or diagonally, is flipped over. No others are touched.
     * 4. It is implied that winning involves flipping packets somehow.

Actually, rule three was slightly ambiguous. Is it as written above? Or is it, instead, the case that you flip the peice you jumped over, as well as any pieces adjacent to the piece you jumped over? However, the next move clarified the situation. It is indeed as written above in rule 3... but also--

     * 4. The Sweet'n Low may be slid one space (in any direction). Every sugar packet adjacent to the Sweet'n Low is flipped.

You may also notice that we are moving in the direction of having all the packets flipped to the same side. This suggests what the goal is.

     * 5. Winning involves having all the packets flipped to the same side.
     * 5b. It is ambiguous as to whether the side the packets are flipped to is significant. At the beginning of the game, after all, one player had all the right-side up packets, and the other had all the upside-down packets on their respective sides. However, it's very very difficult to clarify this point until the very end.

Note that so far, the only piece moved has been the Sweet'n Low. However, Player 1 sees that moving the Sweet'n Low packet would get her nowhere. From this position, jumping like in checkers isn't really an option, moving down would just pointlessly undo the previous move, and moving up would flip over just the corner packet, which would make having all the packets flipped to the same side much more difficult. So after some thought, it is obvious a new type of move is necessary.

So she borrows from the previous game. That's simple enough. Double jump... straight up first, flip the packet, then down and to the right. This makes things slightly different, because she hasn't gone directly over the 2nd packet she flipped. However, in the name of getting all the packets to be on the same side, she's willing to risk the ambiguity. Let the other player interpret how the rule actually goes.

     * 6. A normal sugar packet may be jumped over another packet, flipping the packet jumped. This may be done twice, and the packet affected by the second jump is to be determined by the person doing the jumping, although there should probably be some sort of connection.

At this moment, Player 1 is obviously thinking that the facing of the sugar packets matter. Player 2 had previously been making an effort to have them all right side up, so Player 1 is now trying to have them all upside down.

Player 2, however, is the one who is in a position to interpret the "winning" rule once and for all. By using rule 4, he slides the Sweet'n Low down one, making all the packets upside down. Since it's obvious that giving victory to the opponent is not a valid move, both players realize and recognize that Player 2 has won this game by interpreting the 5th rule in his favor.


It should be obvious now that sugar packets aren't needed to play the game. As I mentioned at the beginning, a deck of cards works well. In fact, any objects can be used to play the game, but the simpler the better, really. As you can see, the best strategy to winning is to nail down the rules as concretely as possible, and the more complicated the pieces, the more ambiguity that can be involved.

Try giving this game a shot sometime. For extra bonus points, don't tell the other person about the meta rules, just set up a board and tell him or her to play. I've found that most people with any kind of imagination at all will pick up the game quite quickly, although they might believe that the game is merely an exercise in confusing onlookers. As you can see now, it is much, much more.

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