A new study conducted by game theory researchers has officially identified Magic: The Gathering as the world's most complex real-world game. Real-world games are defined as games people actually play, rather than the hypothetical ones that game theorists usually consider when they're attempting to stretch the field's understanding of game design.
Magic: The Gathering is an esport now, with the growth of Magic: Arena exploding after developer Wizards of the Coast announced that the 2019 competitive season of the world's most popular tabletop game would feature $10 million in prizes across both tabletop and digital platforms. The game has long been a favorite in the TCG community, with cards from its earliest iterations often fetching thousands of dollars in auctions. Magic: The Gathering is often referred to as the best game in the world by its admittedly biased playerbase, but now they have at least one scientifically-backed study to point to when making the claim in the future.
According to independent researcher Alex Churchill in an interview with Technology Review, Magic: The Gathering is the world's most complex game. Only a few real-world games are known to have what's termed "non-trivial complexity," which means they have finite limits to their complexity such as the size of their board game or a restricted number of moves available to a player. After running simulations intended to determine the outcome of a given game of Magic, Churchill's team found that the game is non-computable:
"This is the first result showing that there exists a real-world game for which determining the winning strategy is non-computable...Magic: The Gathering does not fit assumptions commonly made by computer scientists while modeling games."
Whereas all other real-world games tested thus far have models that show the winning strategy can be computed in a Turing test, Magic exists as a unique outlier. That makes it the de facto most complicated game in the world, a label that also naturally makes it one of the most difficult. It's yet another feather in the cap of Magic as the game's burgeoning popularity has led to increased Twitch viewership, better sales, and wild set releases like the most recent one that features a Planeswalker card in every pack.
The study's findings also prove that formal game theory might need to adapt to the real-world, and that there is room to grow in understanding game computation thanks to Magic: The Gathering. It might not be wise for Wizards of the Coast to lean too hard into the label, though — it may be difficult to sell new players on trying the game if its constantly referred to as the most complex real-world game in the world.
Source: Technology Review