Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Mechanics of the Game “Go-Stop” (Project: Localizing “Go-Stop” #3)

In the previous posts, I talked about why I think the game of “Go-stop” popular in Korea needs localizing to be widely distributed in the U.S. Now let’s talk about the game itself.

Previous Post

At its core, Go-stop is an abstract “Go fish” variant card game with the objective of getting more points than the other players. When I say abstract, I mean that the symbols or illustrations of the Japanese “Flower cards” provide no contextual meaning to the game what so ever.

At the beginning of the game, each player is given a hand of cards to use during his or her turn. There are some cards facing up on the table with a deck of remaining cards face down next to them. When it is one’s turn, a player takes a card from his hand and puts in face up with the rest of the face up cards. Then, the player takes the top card from the face down deck and does the same. At this moment, there are two new cards faced up.

At this moment, if there is a pair of faced up cards that fall in the same match grouping, the player takes these pair of faced up cards and removes them from play. These cards are now points. To be more accurate, they contribute to the player’s points rather than automatically becoming points. I will discuss this later. In any case, there are two less cards in play and it is the next player’s turn. The next player does the same thing.

At this time, a description of the cards warranted. If you look at the Japanese “Flower cards”, you could see some elaborately illustrated Japanese pictures. However, the actual information they contain are limited to 3 types. The first is the groupings which are used for matching in order to take the cards out of play for one’s point collection. With the Japanese “Flower cards”, these groupings are the 12 month of the year. In other words, there are 12 matching groups.

For example, if you play a card with an illustration of the Japanese scenery during April, you can remove another April card from play if it is face up on the table.

For future reference, let’s say the months on the card are the number groupings.

The next information type is the value category. There are five different types of value categories among the Japanese “Flower cards”.    For future reference, let’s call these as the “Grades” of the cards. These grades are related to the point scoring of Go-Stop. Each grade of cards provides the player with different number of point for removing them from play.

The last type of information is the special attributes. These special attributes come into play during the scoring process. They provide bonus points to the player depending on whether specific requirements are met.

Let’s go back to the game.

The game ends whenever one of the three following conditions is met. First, the deck of unrevealed cards runs out. Second, all the players run out of cards that can be played. Third, the first player who has exceed the point threshold which is usually 3 or 4 points call “stop” and not “go”.  This is where the name of the game originates from. The leader of the game, thus, could stop the game when he or she reached the point threshold or go for more points.

So, why would a player not just say “Stop” first when the player can?

This is where the objective of the game “Go-stop” comes into play. The objective of the game is to increase the point gap between the player and the other players. This is because the player with a lower point score has to pay up to the players with a higher point count then him or her. This is done with the cash equivalent of the point gaps between the players.

For example, let’s say that 1 point difference is equated to $1. If I had a point score of 2 points and the two other players had a point score of 3 points and 5 points separately, I would have to payout, $1 and $2 to the other players.
The player with the point count of 3 would need to payout $2 to the player with the point count of 5 points. Thus, I lose $3 while the player with the point count of 3 points only loses $1. For the winner, it is a $5 payday.

So, it is in the best interest for the player in the lead to keep playing if there is a possibility to widen the point cap thus increasing the cash payout at the end of the game.

When the game ends, the points are tallied up and the payout are made. For adults, this means money is changing hands. For people without money, it was a common practice to either exchange forehead flicks or wrist hits during my youth in Korea.

This game duration control mechanism is very interesting psychologically. It gives the leader significant control over the other players. For the player who is losing, the longer the game is played, it is more likely that more money will be lost. He or she has no real control of her fate or her cash. This is in stark contrast to games like poker in which a player can always fold and cap one’s losses. This aspect of Go-stop seems to reflect the hierarchical nature of Korean society and Asia at large.

At the same time, the leader does not have all the control. If the point gap is not that wide, there is always a possibility that the tides might turn.  There are a lot of extra rules that try to introduce randomness to the game in order to shake up the lead of a player.

Back to the game.

I had previously mentioned that there is something special to the way Go-stops scores points. Points are given by collecting cards with the same “Grades”. However, an individual card removed from play by a player does not automatically give the player a point. There is a “point threshold” for each grade of the cards removed from play and collected by the player.

A player has to have had collected a specific number of cards of the same grade before points are generated. After that threshold is exceeded, the next individual card removed and collected generates points on its own. In other words, the cards are useless if you failed to collect more than the threshold.

This is rather different to the more incremental point scoring structures of modern western games. Only cumulative noticeable results are rewarded. Anything that falls short does not matter. In a way, it seems reflect Asian societies’ tendencies to ignore small incremental contributions.

That is basically it.

Go-Stop is a game of using cards to collect cards from the same grades or prevent others from doing the same. If one can do both at the same time, it is the best in order the fleece the other players out of their hard own money.  

Is it not so Korean?!

In a way, Go-Stop shares similar characteristics with the game of billiards. That maybe why  billiards have a decent following in Korea and there is a significant overlap between the players of each game.

There are some other extra rules to the game that come into play during the scoring or card matching process. These extra rules either provide extra points, extra cash, or move the collected cards between players. However, what I have explained is the gist of the game of “Go-Stop”.

I will talk about the cards and why they are antiquated by modern gamer standards in the next post.



  1. Thank you for that explanation of the game mechanics. I'm not into playing much card games, and I'd be a pretty boring player since I don't gamble. lol. But this was interesting, and it gives me more insight into why certain characters in dramas always act so insane and puffed up when they are playing. They must be the leader!

  2. No problem. I'm trying to actually localize it by giving it a different theme that is more appealing to U.S. Korean drama fans and put in a meta game aspect to remove the taste of gambling.
    So you could play the game casually