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Missteps and Disasters

Designing new table games can be a humbling experience

Missteps and Disasters

“And bad mistakes… I’ve made a few,” as Freddie Mercury of Queen once wrote and often sang—occasionally in front of 70,000 people—is the musical musing of the admittedly non-omniscient. It’s the meh, who-cares, whatever-dude resignation that things don’t always go according to plan. Or more aptly in the profession of games and gambling, according to Hoyle.

Consider the creation of new content. When it comes to mistakes, misfires and miscalculations, no one, nowhere is more qualified to opine on this particular subject than the person who wrote the words you are reading right now.

Most of my games fail. Often miserably so. Others languish interminably, like a car out of gas on a flat road in Purgatory. Still others languish for a while before plummeting to their demise, like that same car, still out of gas, but this time on a frozen pond with the spring thaw on its way.

Only a few, a precious few, ascend to long-term prominence.

That’s just the way it is. The game business is the failure business, no different than the music business, the movie business or the publishing business, where a few hits cover the fannies of a lot of flops. Call that other guy Ishmael, but call me—oh, about 50 percent of the time—this: The Master of Disaster. The Baron of Blunder. The Emperor of the Empty Table. The Grand Poobah of FUBAR.

Bad mistakes? Check.

Made a few? Check and mate.

And now, deep from the archives, for your amusement and perhaps bemusement, here are my most massive miscues ever in designing table games. Well, so far, anyway:

6-5-4 Poker (2003)

“A coward dies a thousand times before his death,” Shakespeare famously wrote, “but the valiant taste of death but once.” Great. Thanks, Bill. So by that standard, 6-5-4 is among the most valiant table games in history.

Because it was such a Roman—speaking of Julius Caesar—vomitorium, it only had the chance to die once.

In this game, players got five cards to make their best four-card poker hand. The dealer, however, started with six cards, but would occasionally throw one or two of them away, leaving him with six, five or four cards (hence the name).

6-5-4 debuted at Thunder Valley Casino—at its grand opening—outside Sacramento, and as well as that property was received by customers, that’s how poorly this game was. What a disaster. Close your eyes and imagine the Exxon Valdez T-boning the Titanic while the Hindenburg kamikazied them both from the sky above. Valiant, schmaliant. Something that awful doesn’t deserve a second chance, and 6-5-4 was 86’d forever.

Big Raise Hold ‘em (2004)

“Who’s Big Ray?” the dealer asked as training began, perhaps out of sarcasm or perhaps out of legitimate homophonic confusion.


“Isn’t this Big Ray’s Hold ‘em?” he continued. “Who’s Ray?”

Truth be told, a start like that makes it hard to imagine a favorable finish. Which didn’t come, by the way, but certainly not for a lack of trying. We spent two years hustling and hoping, persuading and praying that this would take a meaty slice of the Texas Hold ‘em pie that Chris Moneymaker had slid into the oven with his miraculous run at the World Series of Poker a year earlier.

But, unlike Big Chris, Big Raise truly was dead money. Twenty-five casinos in various markets around the United States gave it a chance—six chairs and plenty of chips, as it were—but despite several mathematical overhauls, the game never caught on.

“Who’s Ray?”

“Ray’s dead, baby. Ray’s dead.”

On the Draw (2009)

This was supposed to be the paytable equivalent of Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em. Players started with four cards and would eventually get three more, and the object was ending up with two pair or better. As with Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em, players could check or bet on each street; the earlier they committed to their hand, the more they could risk, and therefore the more they could win if their draw panned out. The game also featured something called a “pot bet,” where players competed against others to get the highest hand that round.

In the end, which you didn’t have to wait very long for, players thought On the Draw was as unfair as it was un-fun. And they hated—oh, how they hated—the idea of competing against other players in that pot bet. Had they wanted that, they would have been playing real poker. On the Draw went into a dozen casinos in California and Washington before going extinct.

Rabbit Hunter (2011)

In this poker game against the dealer, players had the option to buy an extra card. Meaning, at worst, it was perfectly fair and square (5-on-5). At best, however, it was a 6-on-5 power play. And the act of buying was optional, so players did so of their own free will. The game even had the coolest logo ever, a tall, lanky, white rabbit seen through the scope of a hunter’s rifle. (And if you looked closely enough, it appeared the rabbit was flipping him the bird.)

As for the rest of Rabbit Hunter, it was borrowed from other, successful games like Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em and Crazy 4 Poker. So you had what seemed like a cool concept, adding an extra card to help your hand. You had a name that comes straight out of the poker room. You had amusing graphics and a pedigreed betting structure.

What could go wrong?

Everything. Players hated the idea of buying the card and, as it turns out, cruelty (even if implied) to animals (even if animated) did not go over well with the table-game set. Rabbit Hunter went into 25 or 30 casinos and was quickly removed from all of them.

Silly wabbit.

Roger Snow is a senior vice president with Light & Wonder. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Light & Wonder or its affiliates.

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