Jason Rohrer is weird with money. Previously, he gave away $3,000 to players of his last game, The Castle Doctrine. You’d think him affluent with a gesture like that, but two years before that he told Paste how his family lived off $14,000 a year while somehow earning less than that. Now, I’m sure with Rohrer being a family man that he is careful with money. But the way he’s treated it in the past gives the impression that he sees cash as a game piece—something to experiment and play with.
His latest game only further cements this perspective. A virtual boardgame called Cordial Minuet, it asks players to play with real money, gambling it away in a two-player turn-based strategy format. Some people would do this purely for the thrill of it. But Rohrer is giving away cash prizes and amulets made of pure copper, silver, and gold. These prizes have been going out to the top player, once a day, starting May 6th and ongoing until May 17th. That’s 12 amulets and $2,125 in all.
At this point, it’s probably obvious that I am not one to gamble. I will not be playing Cordial Minuet. But the idea has me fascinated. Not the central act of placing your money in the hands of what at first appears to be chance, but everything that Rohrer has built around the game, as if to purport a greater message is trembling under its surface.
(If you’re wondering how Cordial Minuet plays, watch the video below in which Rohrer explains it all in under three minutes—fair warning: it’s complex.)
Take a look at the website he has created for the game. Read the paragraphs of white text he has punched into the black background. There are ritualistic instructions on how to make a husband faithful, a cooking book-like guide to travelling at twenty miles per hour, and the “secret to win[ning] a fortune in games where numbers are foretold.” It’s all nonsense, which seems to be the point, for the most part. While you’re there, watch Cordial Minuet‘s trailer too, and you may see what Rohrer is trying to get at here.
Most noteworthy in that trailer are the words that are formed with the lettered tiles: human nature, competition, passion, greed, ritual, and power. These are spliced in with clips of gambling inventory being sorted through (cards, cash, and chips), as well as archive footage of fishermen and occult ceremonies being performed. Rohrer seems to be having a jab at how we, as a species, can so easily be drawn to superstition and false promises, no matter the cost—the fishermen sit and hope for hours at a time, the ritualists operate on and are informed by a mystic belief.
Other sentences on the Cordial Minuet website fit in with this idea. Many of them mimic the trumped up lingo of a salesperson, borrowing directly the wording of adverts for services that promise you gold in exchange for something of little value to you. Notice how some words are typed entirely in capital letters as if barking for your attention. “Have you often dreamed of exercising MENTAL SKILL on your HOME COMPUTER to win REAL MONEY?” asks one of the sentences. “The ancient dreams of THE INTERNET have mostly been SQUANDERED by fools and charlatans, but there is one dream left alive. GOLD,” reads another.
There’s even a section at the bottom of the main page where he uses a technique common among practitioners of cold reading. The technique is to pitch a vague statement to the subject that they feel accurately describes something personal about them, but is in fact something experienced by most people. These two from Rohrer’s collection of sentences are brilliant examples of this: “I sometimes feel like people are out to get me” and “I feel sad when I hear about animals getting hurt.” It’s fair to say that all of us get paranoid at some point and most of us are upset about animals feeling pain; these are common human experiences.
The relevance this has to Cordial Minuet is that this technique is used by business-savvy mediums who hold seances, conning people into paying money to supposedly contact their dead relatives. The people paying the money believe that this is happening, and it’s this belief or hope that is also found in those who gamble, relying on luck to get more money out of the game than what they put in.
What Rohrer explained to Gamasutra regarding Cordial Minuet‘s design is that he wanted to make a game like Poker, in which you learn to read another person, but to remove all the randomness and luck. His solution was to have the game play on a magic square which, as Rohrer mentioned, has “all this connection to the history of astrology and numerology.” He ran with this theme to the point where it becomes a parody of all the hocus pocus that has been manufactured throughout human history to capture people’s imagination, and in many cases, the coins in their purse.
So Cordial Minuet is strictly a psychological online strategy game between two people who cross-examine each other’s decisions a million times a second while playing. It’s supposed to be all skill, no luck involved, or so says Rohrer (who probably doesn’t believe in the concept of luck). However, it’s presented as a game that will grant fortune to anyone who believes hard enough. You may be drawn to play it for one of these reasons. Either way, you’re still putting your money down in hopes of getting a return on it and as such have submitted to Rohrer’s view of money as a game piece.
You can download Cordial Minuet for free on its website. However, you do need to put real money down in order to play, the minimum being $2.