I’ve often written about how it is hard to predict if a game will be a success, but it is easy to tell when one will fail. Even as a game gets to market, it is hard to tell.
While many inventors have a tough time handling that their game will have less than hundreds of tables within months, no game has ever come close to achieving this. While the hope is to get to hundreds over time, the real trick would seem to be getting to about 20 and not falling backwards. Anything less than 20 and nothing has been proven yet.
For a small time inventor, holding at 10 or 20 for a couple of years could mean a windfall, but it still won’t push the game into the blockbuster arena. If, however, the game can push past 20, there is a strong track record to indicate it might be going to a place very few games have gone. Although, I have to admit, there are some who have made it well past 20, but still faded away over the next few years.
There is a new game approaching this 20 threshold. So far, things look good, but it’s definitely in that precarious zone where it needs to keep the momentum going. I’ve written about the game before. It is called Zappit Blackjack.
Roger Snow and I have taught a class on table game design to Scientific Games (formerly Shuffle Master) employees. When talking about base games, we tell the students to focus their energy on poker-based games and blackjack variants.
During one session a few years ago, we asked the class to think about blackjack specifically and what they would like to do to make the game better. One person came up with the idea of throwing away bad hands. With that as a concept, I went to work on the math.
The funny part about coming up with blackjack ideas is it is relatively easy to come up with things the player would like to do to “improve” the game. The problem is coming up with ways to pay for it. Blackjack offers a 99.5% payback, so there is very little room to add anything that is advantageous to the player.
Also, blackjack is structured in such a way that it is not necessarily easy to give the house an offsetting advantage. You can’t just lower a paytable!
There are two mechanisms that already existed up to this point. The first is to use a pontoon deck (no 10’s). The other is Geoff Hall’s Push 22 rule whereby the player will push if he has a non-bust (and non blackjack) hand and the dealer busts with a 22. As Scientific Games had a relationship with Geoff already, we decided to use that as our starting point.
To begin, I tried using all of the “stiff” hands (12-16). It would be great if players could dump every two-card starting hand of 12 through 16 and get a new one. In fact, so great it would make the game have a significant player advantage. That wouldn’t fly.
So, we began to eliminate hands. Getting 12’s and 13’s aren’t that bad, so we got rid of them. That got us closer. Then we got rid of 14’s, leaving us with only 15’s and 16’s, which didn’t seem so good. On a positive note, we still had some room to spare so we looked at 17’s and 18’s.
Now, that might seem strange to some of you. Why would a player want to get rid of a 17? Well, 17’s are only so-so hands, especially if you are looking at a dealer’s 8, 9, 10/Face or Ace. With a 17, you can only win if the dealer busts (and in this case, not with a 22). The 18’s are a bit better, but they still leave something to be desired when the dealer has a 9, 10/Face or Ace.
You don’t mind an 18 when the dealer has a 5, but if he has a 10, you know you’re sitting there feeling completely helpless. So, by the time we were done, we had the idea the player could “zap” a 15 through 18 starting hand. Mathematically, it worked rather well.
We were able to leave all the basic blackjack rules in place. You can still double down plus get paid 3 to 2 on blackjack (if it is the original two cards). You can split and then double down. We had a relatively simple rule set. The player could ask the dealer for two new cards if his originals were a 15, 16, 17 or 18. And, there is just enough strategy involved to make it interesting.
The player should zap all 15’s and 17’s. That’s right – even a 17 vs. a 6. Yes, you might wind up with a 15, but that is marginally worse than a 17. You also might wind up with a double down opportunity or a split or a simple 20! You should also zap all 16’s except a pair of 8’s vs. a dealer 7. You split these. As for an 18 – you zap against a dealer 9, 10/Face or Ace.
If you zap correctly and otherwise play proper hit/stick strategy for a push 22 game, the payback should be about 99%. This is a little lower than regular blackjack, but you may find it to be a bit more enjoyable as there will be a bit more action than in regular blackjack.