March 22, 2024

Mental Poker Part 5: State Machine

For an overview on Mental Poker, see Mental Poker Part 0: An Overview. Other articles in this series: In the previous post in the series we covered actions and an async queue implementation.

In this post, we'll finally look at the infrastructure on top of which we'll model games. The type of games we're considering can all be modeled as state machines1. The challenge is we need a generic enough framework that works for any game, so let's consider what they all have in common.


We can't tell what the exact states of a game are, as they depend on the specific game. But, in general, game play implies transitioning from one state to another.

Local transitions

In some cases, an action originates on our client. For example: we pick between rock, paper, or scissors; we want to draw a card etc. This means we need to run some logic on our client, then send an Action over our transport to other clients.

To keep things generic and unopinionated, the minimal interface for this is a function that takes an action queue and a context.

type LocalTransition<TAction extends BaseAction, TContext> = (
    actionQueue: IQueue<TAction>,
    context: TContext
) => void | Promise<void>;

We covered the queue in the previous post. We need this in a local transition because we will run some code then, in most cases, we'll want to enqueue an action and send it to other players. We'll look at an example of this later on in this post.

The context can be anything - this enables the game to pass-through whatever data the function needs. Our state machine implementation doesn't care about what that data is, this is just the mechanism to make it available to the code in the function.

The function can return either void or a Promise<void> in case it needs to be async.

Remote transitions

In other cases, an action arrives over the transport. This is an action that was sent either by another player, or by us and we receive it back from the server after it has been sequenced2.

In this case, our interface is a function that takes the incoming Action and a context.

type Transition<TAction extends BaseAction, TContext> = (
    action: TAction,
    context: TContext
) => void | Promise<void>;

In this case, we don't necessarily need access to the queue, since we won't enqueue an action, rather we're processing one. The context is, again, up to the consumer of this API.

The function similarly returns void or a Promise<void> in case it needs to be async.

Runnable transition

Finally, we need an abstraction over both LocalTransition and Transition so when we specify our state machine we can treat them the same way. We'll use RunnableTransition for this:

type RunnableTransition<TContext> = {
    actionQueue: IQueue<BaseAction>,
    context: TContext
}: Promise<void>;

We expect users of our library to write code in terms of local transitions (LocalTransition) and remote transitions (Transition). This type is meant to be used internally. Note we are doing some type erasure here as we're going from a generic IQueue to a IQueue<BaseAction>. That's because we need to work with the queue in our library code, but the exact Action types depend on the game.

For local transitions, we simply pass through the actionQueue. For remote transitions, we dequeue an action and pass that. We'll see how to do this next.

We're also normalizing return to be Promise<void> regardless of whether the transition function originally returned void or Promise<void>.

State Machine

Our state machine is implemented as a set of functions. First, we have a few factory functions. local() creates a RunnableTransition from a LocalTransition:

function local<TAction extends BaseAction, TContext>(
    transition: LocalTransition<TAction, TContext>
): RunnableTransition<TContext> {
    return async (queue: IQueue<BaseAction>, context: TContext) =>
        await Promise.resolve(
            transition(queue as IQueue<TAction>, context)

We call Promise.resolve() to get a Promise regardless of whether the given transition is a synchronous or asynchronous function.

remote() converts a remote transition into a RunnableTransition:

function transition<TAction extends BaseAction, TContext>(
    transition: Transition<TAction, TContext>
): RunnableTransition<TContext> {
    return async (queue: IQueue<BaseAction>, context: TContext) => {
        const action = await queue.dequeue();
        await Promise.resolve(transition(action as TAction, context));

Here, we dequeue an action, then pass it to the given transition.

In many cases, we expect multiple players to take the same action, for example each player picks between rock, paper, or scissors - in this case, we will expect one remote action coming in from each player (including us), of the same type. Most times we want to treat these actions the same way, which means we want to run the same Transition function for each. The repeat() function takes a RunnableTransition and repeats it a given number of times:

function repeat<TContext>(
    transition: RunnableTransition<TContext>,
    times: number
): RunnableTransition<TContext>[] {
    return Array(times).fill(transition);

This gives as an array of RunnableTransitions we can execute in sequence.

Finally, we might want to combine the output of calling local() with the output of calling repeat() into a longer sequence of RunnableTransitions we can run - the first function gives us a RunnableTransition, the second function gives us an array of RunnableTransitions. To address this, we provide sequence:

function sequence<TContext>(
    transitions: (
        | RunnableTransition<TContext>
        | RunnableTransition<TContext>[]
): RunnableTransition<TContext>[] {
    return transitions.flat();

This function takes an array of RunnableTransitions, or an array of arrays, and calls flat() on this to flatten nested array into a single, flat list.

Once we have a sequence of transitions, we can run them using run():

async function run<TContext>(
    sequence: RunnableTransition<TContext>[],
    queue: IQueue<BaseAction>,
    context: TContext
) {
    for (const transition of sequence) {
        await transition(queue, context);

We simply execute each RunnableTransition in turn.

Understandably, this has all been abstract. Let's now see how we can use these functions to model interactions.


Let's look at a simple example: key exchange: in order to secure our transport, we want each client to share a public key, then sign each subsequent message with their corresponding private key.

Key exchange

We looked at securing the transport layer in this post. We haven't discussed the key negotiation though.

Let's create the following protocol: as each client joins the game, they post a public key. For an N player game, each client should expect N remote transitions consisting of clients publishing public keys. Once all of these were processed, we should have all public keys for all clients and can create a SignedTransport.

Let's sketch out the state machine:

function makeKeyExchangeSequence(players: number) {
    return sm.sequence([
        sm.local(async (actionQueue: IQueue<KeyExchangeAction>, context: CryptoContext) => {
            // Post public key ...
        sm.repeat(sm.transition((action: KeyExchangeAction, context: CryptoContext) => {
            // Store incoming public key ...
        }), players)

Note we create a LocalTransition in which we post our own public key, and we repeat the remote transition handling an incoming public key (remember with Fluid we expect the server to also send us back whatever we post).

Clients can join the game at different times, so we don't know in what order the keys will come in but, luckily, each Action has a clientId so we know who's key it is.

We'll look at the implementation of the transitions but first let's see what are the KeyExchangeAction and CryptoContext:

type KeyExchangeAction = {
    clientId: ClientId;
    type: "KeyExchange";
    publicKey: Key;

type CryptoContext = {
    clientId: ClientId;
    me: PublicPrivateKeyPair;
    keyStore: KeyStore;

KeyExchange is an action consisting of clientId and publicKey, with the type set to "KeyExchange".

CryptoContext is the context needed by the transitions implementing the key exchange - that is we need to know our own clientId, our public-private key pair, and we need a keyStore, which is a map of clientId to public key. We looked at the KeyStore and the other key types in a previous blog post, but here they are again for reference:

type Key = string;

type PublicPrivateKeyPair = {
    publicKey: Key;
    privateKey: Key;

type KeyStore = Map<ClientId, Key>;

With these in place, let's look at the implementation of the transitions:

function makeKeyExchangeSequence(players: number) {
    return sm.sequence([
            async (
                actionQueue: IQueue<KeyExchangeAction>,
                context: CryptoContext
            ) => {
                // Post public key
                await actionQueue.enqueue({
                    type: "KeyExchange",
                    clientId: context.clientId,
                (action: KeyExchangeAction, context: CryptoContext) => {
                    // This should be a KeyExchangeAction
                    if (action.type !== "KeyExchange") {
                        throw new Error("Invalid action type");

                    // Protocol expects clients to post an ID
                    if (action.clientId === undefined) {
                        throw new Error("Expected client ID");

                    // Protocol expects each client to only post once and to have a unique ID
                    if (context.keyStore.has(action.clientId)) {
                        throw new Error(
                            "Same client posted key multiple times"

                    context.keyStore.set(action.clientId, action.publicKey);

sm stands for state machine. The functions described above live in a StateMachine namespace aliased to sm.

Our local transition is simple: we enqueue a KeyExchangeAction, sending our clientId and publicKey from the CryptoContext.

When a remote action comes in, we perform the required validations:

Finally, we store the clientId and publicKey.

The end-to-end implementation for key exchange, relying on the state machine, is here:

async function makeCryptoContext(clientId: ClientId): Promise<CryptoContext> {
    return {
        me: await Signing.generatePublicPrivateKeyPair(),
        keyStore: new Map<ClientId, Key>(),

async function keyExchange(
    players: number,
    clientId: ClientId,
    actionQueue: IQueue<BaseAction>
) {
    const context = await makeCryptoContext(clientId);

    const keyExchangeSequence = makeKeyExchangeSequence(players);

    await, actionQueue, context);

    return [, context.keyStore] as const;

makeCryptoContext() is a helper function to initialize a CryptoContext instance - it takes a clientId, generates a public-private key pair, and initializes an empty key store.

keyExchange() calls the functions we defined previously to get a CryptoContext, the key exchange sequence, and calls the state machine's run() to execute the key exchange.

Once done, it returns the client's public-private key pair, and the key store.

From a caller's perspective, the protocol handling key exchange is now abstracted away behind the keyExchange() function. The caller doesn't have to worry about the mechanics of exchanging keys, rather can just call this and get back all the required data to create a SignedTransport.


As a second example, we'll sketch out the state machine for a game of rock-paper-scissors. We won't dive into all the implementation details. At a high level, here is how we play a game of rock-paper-scissors:

This two-step ensures players are committed to a selection and can't cheat by observing what the other player picked and picking afterwards.

The state machine for this game is:

The state machine is:

    sm.local(async (queue, context) => {
        // Post our play action
    sm.repeat(sm.transition(async (action, context) => {
        // Both player and opponent need to post their encrypted selection
    }), 2),
    sm.local(async (queue, context) => {
        // Post our reveal action
    sm.repeat(sm.transition(async (reveal: RevealAction, context: RootStore) => {
        // Both player and opponent need to reveal their selection
    }), 2)

We won't fill in the functions in this post but this gives you an idea of how we can model a more complex set of steps using our library.


In this post we looked at a state machine we can use to implement games:

The Mental Poker Toolkit is here. This post covered the state-machine package, the key exchange is implemented in the primitives package.


  2. Sequenced is a Fluid Framework term. Clients send messages to the Fluid relay service, which orders them in the order they came in and broadcasts them to all clients. This is to ensure all clients eventually see all the messages sent in the same order