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Child Development Extra Credit: The Game of "Sorry!"

The game I chose to write about is my favorite game as a child, "Sorry!" It is not a complicated game to learn, but playing it can be stressful and sometimes frustrating. Moreover, the game requires very little physical exertion, but strains the player’s processing abilities to the brink of collapse. Put simply, the goal of the game is to maneuver your four pieces out of the "Start" position, around the board, and into "Home." Along the way, you are allowed to land on your opponent’s pieces, temporarily "killing" them by forcing them back to "Start." Movement is based almost solely on chance—one must flip a random deck and follow the instructions on the card. However, which piece one applies the card to is at the player’s discretion, and this creates the first of the many cognitive decisions this game requires.

To any child, the most challenging aspect of "Sorry!" is managing the cognitive demands of tactics, strategy, knowing where all his pieces are at one time, and knowing who threatens these pieces. Then, as the card is flipped, the child must evaluate the tactical value of the card in relation to each individual piece (both on the board and in the Start position), examine the potential consequences of each course of action, and decide which piece to move. For example, if I draw a special card known as "1," I must decide whether to start a new piece on the board, or advance one of my current pieces one square. As the game continues, this arduous task becomes even more difficult, as happiness, frustration, and aggression enter into each player’s mindset. Growing up, it was advantageous to allow "take-backs"—where a player can withdraw a previous move in favor of a more advantageous one—because occasionally the cognitive demands would become unmanageable, and a player would make a crucial mistake.

To me, the most engaging aspect of "Sorry!" was always the social interaction that accompanied the game. As a 10-year-old, I learned a lot from playing with my 6-year-old brother. Our games, though often exciting and well-played, rarely reached a conclusion. Why? Because Ethan, being a young child, could not control his emotions. Whereas I could deal with the despair caused by losing an important piece, Ethan would fly off the handle and wreck the game. Usually, as a game entered its final stages, I would have to change my strategy so as to avoid upsetting my brother. As we grew older, these problems faded and eventually ceased, but at the time it was very distressing to see these glaring developmental differences.

When playing with my father, I found myself in the exactly opposite position. In playing him, I quickly discovered that if I deliberately hampered my own advancement in order to kill one of his pieces, the game would rapidly digress into an all-out war—a war which I would often lose. For example, if I drew a "Sorry!" card, and used it to kill my Dad’s best piece, he would react by taking every opportunity to destroy my offensive capabilities. However, if I inhibited my belligerent impulses and used the card for my own advancement, I had a far better chance at winning the game. Thus, "Sorry!" taught me not only about strategy and tactics, but about tailoring my game to fit the person I was competing against.

So, what qualities make up a solid "Sorry!" player? The first can be summed up by one word: "Balance." One must cognitively balance aggression with advancing his pieces—for example, killing an opponent’s best piece is not always the most intelligent move when other alternatives may be more advantageous. Second, it is crucial to understand the meaning of each card in relation to every piece on the board. Too often, a player looks at a "Backwards 4" as a negative card because it doesn’t fit into his strategy; rather, such a card can be used to "slide" along one of the lines, or even kill an opponent’s piece. Another attribute of a good player is anticipation—mentally constructing possible situations, and reacting to them accordingly. Finally, one must not let emotion influence his decisions. Frustration, caused by consistently drawing the wrong cards, leads to mistakes and a loss of attention to the game. At the same time, elation over putting a piece in Home can warp a player’s subsequent strategy and lead to overconfidence. This is a thinking-man’s game, and one must stay clear-headed in order to maximize the chances of a victory.

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