MDA analysis: 斗地主

Doudizhu (DDZ) is a Chinese card game that is named after the class struggle and cultural revolution of the 1950s. The name literally translates to “fight the landlord”, and this theme is one that is supported by the mechanics of the game itself.


Starting my analysis from the perspective of a player, the aesthetics/ types of fun I observe in DDZ are 1) competition, 2) challenge, 3) fellowship, 4) submission, and 5) fantasy. The competition and challenge aesthetics are primarily derived from the heavy influence of skill and strategy on gameplay. While the rules are simple to learn, it can take years to master the strategies and learn how to process all the information that occurs on the table. The unique mechanic of team fluidity (who you play with changes every round) somehow enhances both competition and fellowship. Competition is enhanced as your final score (at the end of multiple rounds) represents not your team’s skill, but your skills as an individual. At the same time, however, fellowship is increased as you will be on a team with everyone at the table at some point, which does not enforce any in-group/out-group mentalities as is common in team games. The submission aesthetic is derived from the low barrier to entry for the game – simple rules, 54-deck of cards, only 3 people. The fantasy aspect from the thematic play. In DDZ, every round is always a 2 versus 1 situation. At the start of the game, once the cards have been dealt, a bidding process helps determine the person with the ‘best’ hand (this is not always the case). That person’s hand is then made better with another 3 cards (the rich get richer). While the theme of socioeconomic class struggle is almost never experienced by today’s players of the game, every round exhibits the idea of underdogs working together to beat a stronger opponent.


Moving back to mechanics, I wanted to focus on the skill/ strategy dynamic. In my experience, I have found that 54-deck card games to be by far the most enduring form of offline game – they never seem to get old. I think that this is because the built in randomness of the 54-card deck allows for the combination of simple rules and a near-infinite permutations of hands. As such, the variety of situations you must encounter dictates that you have a mental framework to categorize and respond to similar situations in order to succeed – this is strategy. In addition to this, DDZ is a hidden-information game. If you were to simply play DDZ without bothering to think about what other people have left in their hidden hands, you might as well not play. The challenge comes entirely from the deductive process of figuring out what others have. From the first card played, there is a huge amount of information released into the world when viewed in tandem with the information you have available to you in the form of your hand. It is the ability to keep track of this information flow from the start to the end of the game that differentiates good players from bad ones.

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