Learning how to cheat at Candy Land


My young niece received the game Candy Land and wants to play it several times a day. Naturally, I am frequently drafted as an opponent.

I discovered that my niece cheats rampantly. Sometimes, she will advance three green squares instead of two. Or if a yellow card will take her to a licorice square (lose a turn), she will ignore it and go to the yellow square after that. But the best cheating takes place when she draws a pink location card which sends her backward.

My niece is always careful to draw the card and turn it so only she can see what it is. If the card is an unfavorable one, she will hide it under her knee and tell me, "Hey, go play with the baby for a little bit." I naturally oblige, and when I return after a few seconds, her location card has magically changed into a two-green card or something else comparatively harmless.

I found this change in personality surprising. In earlier encounters, she was happy to share in the winning. In fact, sometimes, while resetting a game after winning, she would say, "Okay, you win this next one." And she would let me win!

Anyway, after one of the games of Candy Land which she won (actually, she wins every game), I declined to play another because she was cheating. She pled with me, "Okay, this time, no cheating." I agreed to play another game.

In the game that followed, she cheated five times, even more than in the previous game.

She wanted to play again. "I'm serious, I'm not cheating now."

In the "I'm serious, no cheating" game, there was, I will concede, technically no cheating during game play.

Instead, she stacked the deck.

Perhaps I need to study up on how to cheat at Candy Land. I could mark the cards or go for one of the more advanced methods.

Bonus chatter

Comments (36)
  1. Marquess says:

    Oh dear, if she keeps that up, she’s gonna be really charming come puberty …

  2. Fuzzy says:

    I missed out on the whole Candy Land phenomenon :( Instead, our family had the game of Life.

    You should get a second deck of cards and swap it in the next time you suspect your niece of stacking the deck. Then you can ask her what’s wrong when she gets that puzzled look on her face :)

  3. Sunil Joshi says:

    One is torn between praising the child for her inventiveness and determination to succeed, and condemning her for violating the established social norms of playing Candyland.

    Choices like this explain why parenting is difficult – no one wants to raise a pushover or a cheater.

  4. Jim Kiley says:

    After the first forty-plus turn Candy Land game I played with my son, I /always/ stacked the deck in his favor.  I couldn’t bear to play it for that long again.

  5. Paul Gunn says:

    Candyland is very serious business. My daughter takes it as a personal affront if someone else draws the Princess Lolly card.

  6. Jon says:

    How old was your niece when she learnt to cheat?

  7. Candyland is not a game, more like an activity. A game must involve at least some decision or chance or something other than purely deterministic processes. Then again, I guess if you add cheating then it might count as a game because at least that adds an element of skill and social dynamics.

    [Okay, then instead of drawing from the top of the deck, you draw a card at random from the unused cards in the deck. Now there’s that explicit element of chance to keep you happy, even though mathematically the game hasn’t changed a bit. (In the original formulation, the element of chance is in the shuffled deck.) -Raymond]
  8. Olivier says:

    Your niece should become a politician.

  9. Someone You Know says:

    @Todd Berkebile

    Good point. Taking that view, cheating at Candy Land is a game in and of itself; the manufacturer should publish a new product, a boxed Cheating at Candy Land set. It would include devices for stacking the deck and marking the cards, as well as an assortment of brightly colored objects one could use to distract the children.

  10. Boris says:

    @Todd,

    I’m lost. How does Candyland not involve chance? And all games that depend entirely on luck are deterministic. I can think of several card games that depend entirely on luck. Are those not games?

  11. Gabe says:

    This reminds me a bit of Faro, a card game which is only interesting when at least one side cheats. Incidentally, that’s why it was popular in the Old West but no casino has the game anymore (the house isn’t allowed to cheat).

  12. Leo Davidson says:

    Strange, I’d never heard of Candy Land until today and now I’ve seen it mentioned twice.

    The first time was in this cool set of game-themed cupcakes (be sure to check out the bonus one linked at the bottom):

    http://www.steelheadstudio.com/100cupcakes/

    Mmm, cupcakes…

  13. steveg says:

    Is she old enough for [Junior] Scrabble? Scrabble allows cheating, although I still remember my mum throwing the board when she realised my younger brother had turned tiles upside down to generate extra blanks (wooden tiles, not the horrible plastic ones).

  14. Cheong says:

    It’s advised that when playing any games that involves card-shuffling, after the player shuffled the deck, the other players should always have the chance to "cut" the deck before the game starts.

  15. Eric TF Bat says:

    Raymond, I’d be much prouder of my kids for being able to successfully stack a deck than for just playing honestly.  Anyone can obey arbitrary rules, but deck-stacking is a kind of programming.

    @Marquess: I plan to introduce my daughters to Bartok — see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartok_%28game%29 for a rundown — but Mornington Crescent might be good too.  I’ll have to come up with a Canberra version, although all our suburbs are very dull, being mainly named after dead politicians.

  16. StaceyD says:

    Long ago when I used to babysit, I’d stack the deck in the kid’s favor when he went to the bathroom.  Anything to get those boring never-ending games of Candyland to end!

  17. Marquess says:

    Maybe you should introduce her to Fizzbin. Or Mornington Crescent. Or Jewish Poker. She can *legally* cheat there!

  18. Chris J says:

    @Marquess — cheating in Mornington Cresent was outlawed in the 1856 Uxbridge annotation (abridged), section 5 sub-section 4a, clause iii. In compensation it did however legalise cross-lateral movements between quarters.

  19. Nick Lamb says:

    Chris, nobody plays Uxbridge rules any more, and in any case you’re relying on a misinterpretation published in the short-lived 1980s Mornington Crescent Official Magazine for your understanding of the rule.

    More seriously, in Iain M Banks’ fictional "Culture" novels nobody plays any of the unconcealed non-chance games like Chess or Go because they’re regarded as inherently no better than Tic-Tac-Toe. All the popular games involve chance, and often some bluffing or other psychological element.

    There has been a similar trend in real games (for adults). Popular new games like Dominion and Pandemic have a significant element of chance – in this case shuffled decks of cards which are key mechanics on the game, and the skill is in being able to adapt to changing circumstances.

    Pandemic is a good choice for (slightly older) kids because it is co-operative. All the players work together to save the world from a disease pandemic. Either everybody wins (a cure is found) or everybody loses (millions die instead of thousands).

  20. -dan says:

    She cheats because you allow it, she has your number and she knows it.

    As soon as you see her cheating that should be the end of that game no matter how far into the game you are.

    Kids need to learn that cheating is wrong. The other lesson kids should learn is losing.  You shouldn’t let them win every game, and they should learn that losing is no big deal, it’s just a game.

    Nobody can win every time, nor should they. For a kid to realize they can play a game and lose and still have fun is the most important lesson they can learn while playing.

    It’s not wrong to win over a child, very valuable life lessons can be learned.

    I’ll never understand why people think that winning is the goal to these types of games, it’s not, the goal is pass time and have fun doing it … it’s called entertainment.

  21. kog999 says:

    I’ll never understand why people think that winning is the goal to these types of games, it’s not, the goal is pass time and have fun doing it … it’s called entertainment.

    While i agree with you that cheating at games not a good thing to be encouraging a kid to do, I have to disagree that winning should not be the goal. Winning should always be the goal wheather its at a game of Candyland or in life (not the game of life). at its core winning is about being better at something then someone else. Granted in a game of pure chance where you dont cheat your not better just luckier but as a kid thats probably all she has. imaging she grows up to be a programmer, should she write good enough code or should she strive to write the best code possible and win in the game of being better then all the other programmers out there.

  22. Someone You Know says:

    @Boris

    Although the cards are arranged randomly at the beginning, there is no further element of chance in the rest of the game, because the cards are always drawn in order.

    The outcome of the game is determined when the cards are initially shuffled, unless they are reshuffled at some point during the game or, as Raymond suggests, you select a card randomly on your turn instead of always taking the top one.

    [The difference, however, is of no consequence from a game analysis point of view. It’s just a matter of perception. -Raymond]
  23. Jonathan says:

    In Israel, there’s a card game call "Milhama" (war) where you don’t get to decide anything either. As a child, I didn’t realize that, and programmed this game on Commodore-64 basic – only to watch it progress without any intervention from me!

  24. Morten says:

    Cheating at games was actually my motivation for learning Z80-assembler at the tender age of 13. I had an ZX-81 computer with a strategy game that was intriguing but somehow got absurdly boring in the middle game – no unit was quicker than any other so there was no Blitzkrieg-style wars, just slow and persistent advancement, Empire-style. I hacked the game to get armoured units to have a movement of 2 instead of the usual 1. Since the AI didn’t value armour as it should’ve (a curious AI it was – but it had some good points too) I had an advantage, but the game really was a lot more fun after that.

  25. Someone You Know says:

    @Jonathan

    We have the same game in the States, with essentially the same name: War. Although adults obviously don’t find it very entertaining, it can be handy as an example of a "game" that doesn’t involve making decisions.

  26. Brian says:

    Raymond, I think the point is that because there’s no real interaction from the players, the game boils down to a simple coin flip — either the deck is shuffled in your favor or it’s not.

    [Right, it’s a skill-free game. I’m just amused that people consider “draw a card from the top of a fairly shuffled deck” and “draw a card at random from the deck” as somehow fundamentally different. It’s like arguing that the game of Craps is fundamentally different if you throw the dice under a blanket and remove the blanket only after the bets are placed, as opposed to throwing the dice after the bets are placed. -Raymond]
  27. My uncle (who lives in Las Vegas) would put it this way.

    Candyland (like a slot machine) is a "drunken monkey" game – because no matter what your personal abilities are, you have the same chance of winning as a drunken monkey.

    In a kids’ game, this is probably a good thing.

  28. -dan says:

    @kog999

    I don’t want to get into a debate and hijack this thread and sent it off into another direction but with that said . . .

    More then 1 person, in fact 100,000 people or more could all write the best code for a given application.  This world is under the delusion that there can only be one at the top, and that person is the winner, and every one else is not.  It’s insane.  By that definition there is only 1 programmer in the world capable of writing the best code – nonsense !

  29. Boris says:

    I was thinking "war" when I made the comment also. Incidentally, it’s called "drunkard" in Russian. I have no idea why.

  30. Boris says:

    Wow, I got my answer before my comment even appeared (or maybe it has nothing to do with "drunken money")

  31. Crying Uncle says:

    I’m grateful that my nieces have never asked me to play Candy Land. I would be tempted, though, to set up simulations to identify shuffles such that the niece wins either

    a. quickly, so I could get away

    b. in reasonable time, so that she wouldn’t ask me to play again

    c. in some hundreds of moves, to be used if I though I could get one of her parents to take over about move 50.

  32. Eff Five says:

    There actually is a way to make Candy Land more interesting. This is the version that I played with my Son the past few years.

    After drawing a card the player has to decide whether or not to either

    a)accept the card

    or

    b) Discard the card and take the next one.

    If the player takes option b they must use that card.

    This requires that you keep track of which pink cards have been used and whether you need to be aggressive or conservative.

    Of couse I’ve developed a technique for looking at the second card when drawing the first, allowing me to crush my six year old son on a regular basis.

    [The punch line was well worth the wait. -Raymond]
  33. Devlin Bentley says:

    Wow I never thought of cheating when I was a kid playing Candyland.  I also didn’t realize it was purely chance!  I remember thinking that "if I just try harder I can win next time".

    By the time I was 7 my parents and Grandmother had me playing Uno instead.  :)

    I actually never cheated at a game until I got a girlfriend, then I cheated at Monopoly so that she would win!  (Mostly by making sure she had more starting cash)

  34. Ryan says:

    When I was a little one I remember cheating at Clue. For those who don’t know the game, each player is represented by a character (Mr. Green, Ms. White, etc), one of which is “the murderer.” The murderer is determined by a card placed in an envelope at the beginning of the game.

    I distinctly remember stacking the deck to make sure that my avatar was not the murderer, but doing so in a way that I would still not know who the murderer was before the game started. Because that would *really* be cheating.

    Not sure why I was willing to cheat not to be the murderer (which still conveys an advantage in the game – you get one piece of information “for free”), but not willing to cheat to guarantee a victory. Some strange sense of morality, I suppose.

    [Thanks for sharing. When I tell this story in person, people often volunteer their own stories of childhood cheating, and that’s the sort of response I was hoping for here. (They’re far more entertaining than discussing the morality of cheating.) -Raymond]
  35. Gabe says:

    Devlin: My wife’s family cheats at Monopoly by distracting players and then either passing on their turn or rolling again, depending on which is more advantageous. Of course Monopoly is one of those games, like Candy Land, where eventually you want your opponent to cheat so the game can finally end!

  36. me says:

    I would try this.

    ‘if i catch you cheating I instantly win.’  Then when you catch her (and you will).  GLOAT, sing dance, etc….  She will either come up with more interesting ways to cheat (which can be amusing to watch).  Or she will stop the behavior.  To deal with a child sometimes you need to become one :)

    I wouldnt let it slide…

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