January 06, 2004

Maybe no one will notice these things are inedible if we distract them

So I was at one of our neighborhood's various corner stores the other day when I noticed some new snack products from Jell-O. They're little bags of colored gummy sugar wads, of course -- but they're meant to be played with. One of the bags has a tic-tac-toe board on it, another depicts a 2-D Mr. Potato Head stand-in (the gummy pieces in that one are little ears, noses, etc.), and the third is...Jell-O Checkers.


Yes, I bought a Jell-O checkers packet for science. So let's examine the various weird things about the design.

You will notice that one corner of the board is covered up by the Nabisco logo. I guess the logo has to go somewhere, but shouldn't it go on a square that's not used in the game? Then there is the "open here" arrow. Following the directions and opening the pack by tearing at the arrow gives you a big rip across the middle of your checkerboard, which is just more aesthetic woe for the grape side of the board.

Most problematic is the unusual size of the board. It's 6x5, instead of 8x8. With this board width, I suspect that there is a inequity built into the game, and that the grape player has an advantage over the strawberry player. Look at the row of squares in front of each player's front rank of pieces. Grape can immediately move both of his front pieces to the edge of the board, where they cannot be captured, whereas Strawberry has no safe place to which he can move any of his front three pieces on their first move.

The checkers rules given on the back of the package also leave out one of the more important checkers rules: that if it's possible for you to make a capture on your turn, you must make one. (If you have a choice of captures, you can decide which to take, but you must take one of them.) I'm not sure how that would effect the gameplay. I suspect it would make draws more likely, since a player's pieces would move up behind his uncaptured pieces, clogging up the board. Jell-O gets around this problem by saying "The color that has the most pieces left on the package wins!"

The rules on the package also fail to fully explain proper checker movement, simply saying, "Take turns moving one piece at a time diagonally on the black squares." They don't say that the pieces can only move forward until they reach the opposite end of the board, at which time they become kings and can move in all diagonal directions. They assume that everyone knows about these things. I mean, probably everyone does know these things, but that's no excuse for such laxness.

They do have a nice bit of product design on the vile-tasting checkers, though, for people who do know about checkers becoming kings -- a tiny little crown:


Finally, Jell-O exhorts children to "Be creative! Make up your very own way of playing Jell-O Checkers!", perhaps not realizing that they have already made up their own set of non-standard rules. I'd be curious to see an actual analysis of the game with all the ambiguities taken as real rules (players don't have to make a capture if they don't want to; pieces can move backwards without reaching the back row; and so on) to see just how unequal the game really is. Any takers?

Posted by Francis at 03:06 AM

I'm up for a game. But I get to be Grape.

Posted by: Daniel Radosh at January 8, 2004 03:39 PM

I notice that you also fail to fully explain proper checker movement. You don't mention that reaching the back row and getting kinged always terminates that move. In other words, multiple jump sequences like jump-king-jump are never allowed. You assume that everyone knows about this. I mean, probably everyone does know this, and the case would almost never arise in this game, but that's no excuse for such laxness. :-)

Posted by: Brian Trial at January 14, 2004 12:14 PM

(I know you're joking, but I'm going to pretend you're not because it makes for more dynamic dialogue.)

Yes, I did forget to point that out, although since I was only enumerating the failings of the Jell-O checkers rules, it would be a bit much to expect them to indicate the details of how kinging a piece always ends a turn when they don't even mention kinging a piece at all.

I also forgot to kick your ass! I will not forget in the future!

Posted by: Francis at January 14, 2004 12:38 PM