The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Archive for September 2005

Hall of Fame

The recent discussion (see comments) about the Counter Hall of Fame brought up some good points.

“What should the criteria be for a Hall of Fame game?” The main page describes games as “Modern Classics” that have “Stood the test of time.”

Well, first of all … “standing the test of time” should be at least a decade. Five years isn’t enough. (I’m judging that based on the fact that nominees for next year’s ballot had to be published by sometime in 2001). First of all, the extra time will allow everyone to painlessly winnow out games. For a game published in 2001 (if I missed it early), I may not have seen it until 02 or 03. [There are probably a dozen games from last Essen/Nuremburg that I still haven't tried that I want to]. If I only got to play it once or twice, I may still be very attached to the novelty. “Novelty” and “Modern Classics” don’t mix. An extra five years cooling off period would help.

But more than that, instant runoff voting is … inappropriate. If Titan is a modern classic, that doesn’t make Ursuppe (or whatever) any more or less a classic. Naming a game (or two) per year is wrong. Imagine if the Literary Hall of Fame added one work per decade. We’d have a century backlog after Shakespeare. And a lot of mediocre works from the 1400s. Instant Runoff voting makes more since when you have to have a winner (like an elected office) [Although see my sidenote below].

So I think you have to vote each game up or down on it’s merits. You can have a slightly loose nomination system, which will allow you to spread the word on a few more games (“It’s an honor to be nominated”) and allow for controversy. Then you have a strict criteria. (Say, 75% “yes” votes). If a game gets voted down one year, it can always be renominated (perhaps skipping a year or decade after a few failed attempts).

There’s no perfect system (Damn you, Arrow!) but I’d like something like that better.

Non-gaming sidenote — Eugene Volokh once had a “Propose a constitutional amendment” contest. My entry was mandating that “None of the above” be a valid choice on every federal ballot. If “NotA” won (a plurality), then that seat would remain empty, and would automatically vote against any changes to existing law. If the presidency were empty, it would veto every bill passed. [Sadly, there are lots of tricky cases that would have to be worked out].

Written by taogaming

September 22, 2005 at 9:40 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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Actual Gaming & More Power Grid thoughts

I played Power Grid and Around the World in 80 Days with a new group. (And it’s nice to find another new group in San Antonio).

Power Grid has an evaluation problem: How much to bid on a plant? For example, in the early game there’s only one reasonable plant available. The next plant (on the future market) is great. But the replacement plant (top card of the deck) may be terrible and show up instead of the great plant. Or it could be a plant that is good, but not great.

This probabilistic evaluation showed up several times last night. But I’ve noticed … even if you can set a value that completely encompasses the risk of the future, the actual future will often be quite far away from the evaluation. [This issue shows up quite a bit in my work, too, and I want to explain it with technical terms like "Strongly Bimodal"]

To make this easier to explain, let’s take the reverse. One good plant available, two players, and the next plant to fall into the market will be bad. However, there’s a plant (or two) in the deck that are great and will go into the the market. [The rest of the plants wont, or are terrible].

The good plant will be bid up, of course. But each player will have to weigh the fact that they could get a great plant (cheaply) if they drop out. That lowers the premium that should be paid. So if you are willing to pay 45 (say), that’s because you’d normally be willing to pay 50 (if the next plant was guaranteed to be terrible), but factor in a chance of something good happening. That’s valued at five. (All numbers made up).

Here’s the thing. I place the value of ‘a good plant may show up’ at five (or whatever). But once the card flips, I’ll usually get zero (bad plant) or some high value (good plant bought at face value, instead of bid up). Call it forty. So the risk premium is five, but the actual value is never five.

This is like having an auction game where one item you can bid on is worth a zero, unless you roll 11+ on 2d6, then it’s worth sixty. I don’t think I’d look too kindly on such a game.

Power Grid has lots going on, but as we move up the learning curve, I expect more games to be won or lost on the turn of a card. [My last BSW game was a runaway when I got a good plant for face value on turn 3 or 4]. And this will be true even if everyone values the risk correctly. If the “turn of the card” premium is correctly evaluated and followed, some number of games are going to have one player jackpot or crap out. [The 'crap out' option leaves the other n-1 players all fighting evenly].

I’ve been thinking of Power Grid as a “Top Ten” game. (I’ve played 50 times on BSW, and probably 30+ face to face). But this fact has been gnawing at the back of my mind for a while.

Written by taogaming

September 22, 2005 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Session Reports

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Running up Blog Traffic

After seeing the comments fly when I dis Taj Mahal, I’ve decided to insult Boardgamegeek. Hit reload often, so you can be the first to comment!

Update: Decks of cards are Ba-roken! Full post later.

Written by taogaming

September 22, 2005 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Misc

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The worst poker variant ever

Imagine playing poker with a fixed pot. The winner gets $20. You anti $20/n (say $4 a player in a five player game). There’s no betting. Very boring.

Let’s change it. You can now bet. However money you get isn’t put into a pot, it just … disappears. You can now bluff and sometimes win a pot, but you have to pay a price (whatever a bet is). [In regular poker, of course, if you successfully bluff you get the full pot and your bet is returned].

Let’s make things interesting. You keep your cards between hands, but lose cards for each bet you make. On your turn you must raise or fold, no calling allowed. And, after each hand, you must discard one card per bet. So if you have a great hand, you win pot after pot. You only get a few cards (not a full hand) when you ante.

Suppose you get a great poker hand. Full house. Your opponent keeps betting — presumably a bluff or a great hand. In real poker, you bet a lot of money. If he’s bluffing, you win a lot. If he has a greater hand, you lose a lot. In my proposed variant … if he has a bad hand, you lose value by having to call his bets and by having to toss away your cards after the hand. If he has a good hand, he doesn’t get full value for it because you also had a great hand at the same time.

Sound like fun?

These poker rules describe Taj Mahal [Taj has several 'hands' going at once]. If someone fights with you, you both lose, no matter who had the better hand. The spoils (pot) are fixed, no matter if you spend two cards or twenty eight. Every bet costs you cards. You spend everything, win or lose, which encourages you to play one more card (since winning while spending 8 is better than losing while spending 6) leading to a Mutually Assured Destruction scenario.

Tactics, strategy, picking your fights — so unimportant as to be meaningless. Unlike poker, bets do not convey information (or mis-information, if bluffing). Laying out another card indicates — that you can and you are committed. [To be fair, dropping out indicates that you need/want more cards or this region doesn't score enough to be worth the risk]. Fun. Winning or losing depends on if other people make a stand against you or not, and who has the N+1st card.

Let’s consider the clueless player. He makes a stand in a position he doesn’t deserve to play in … against you. In poker, he is to be lauded, because his loss is your gain. In Taj Mahal, his loss is your loss. You still win, of course, but have fewer cards than you should.

I see in a comment “How can one person be so right about Titan yet so wrong about Taj Mahal?!” Well, here’s why Titan is so popular. In Titan, fighting a battle can help either player, or the players who are uninvolved. Anyone who fights hopeless battles against you helps you via points, recruiting, etc. In Taj they cost you the game, and the way to win is be sitting on the sidelines when everyone else goes at it Hammer and Tongs. “Let’s you and him fight”.

The board can’t redeem the fundamentally flawed card system. And the board play is no great shakes compared to Web of Power, a game that takes half the time.

Update: Greg (in the comments) has the chutzpah to say it better than I did. “You win the game by avoiding fights. You have virtually no control over whether you get into a fight or not.” I’ll answer the rest of the comments in comments.

Written by taogaming

September 21, 2005 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Counter/Sumo Hall of Fame voting

Mik Svellov has set up a webpage so that you can vote for the Counter Hall of Fame. Here (copied from his page) are the nominees:

  • Adel Verpflichtet
  • Carabande
  • Carcassonne
  • Demarage
  • Die Fürsten von Florenz
  • Expedition
  • Formule Dé
  • Junta
  • Kardinal & König
  • La Cittá
  • Löwenherz
  • 6 Nimmt
  • Tadsch Mahal
  • Tichu
  • Tikal
  • Titan
  • Torres
  • Ursuppe
  • Vinci

Nice games all. Except Taj Mahal, which is fundamentally flawed (I will brook no arguements on that). [I also don't personally like Tikal or Torres, and have burned out on several other titles]. But are any of these games Hall of Fame worthy? Personally I’d like to see “None of the above”. I’ve always admired the Baseball HOF for high standards (in theory, if not the actual balloting).

I personally think Titan belongs. I mean, I’ve played around 1,000 hours. [And it's not just me, Titan is one of the few board games to have a succesful convention dedicated to it.] It looks so out of place with all of the nominees (but not the prior inductees, I note).

So Titan gets my vote. And I’ll order the rest of the games (it’s an Instant Runoff system). But I wish “None of the Above” was a choice.

Written by taogaming

September 19, 2005 at 11:22 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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Power Grid Thoughts

Now that I’m pushing fifty for Power Grid on BSW, some thoughts are in order.

  • Bid up on the permanent (5+ city) plants. A 10-15 premium is usually worth it. Paying double (once you are close to stage 3) may be reasonable.

  • I think that in my first games the board position didn’t matter nearly so much as the power plant auction, but once players get better then you have to start taking board position into account. In the early position, the trick is to figure out cheap points and choke points. In the early game, it’s important to recognize if the board is linear (all regions in a row) or if there is clumping. If the regions are all linear, then the build order matters much more.

  • If there are linear regions (A-B-C-D) I’d much rather be in one of the middle two. That way, during the phase shift even if I go last, I can always spread outside. If you are in one of the outer regions, you must build before your non-adjacent inner opponent (For example, if you are D, you need to go before B). Then again, this may not matter if region C is long (between B and D), but you’ll need phase three to hit pretty quickly, or get boxed in. This changes based on # of players.

  • If you are behind on powerplants (and normally I only consider permanents) then you should be on the lookout for grabbing a medium plant that may save you money over a turn or two, just to unclog the market. Especially if you go last, or the power plant you let onto the market isn’t permanent.

  • The 4 plants may be permanents, especially in a 5 or 6 (where you only need to power 15 or 14 cities). Even in a game with only 3-4 players (17), you can reach it with a four, as long as you get a seven and six. Possible. And the ’4′ plants often provide a good return. I’d still prefer a ’5′ plant, but sometimes you have to make do. ’4′s also work well with racing.

  • Don’t get fixated on free (wind/fusion) plants. The ’13′ plant early on is sometimes poisonous, particularly if you can’t build your 3rd city the turn you get it. [If you only got a '1' plant on the first turn, you need one of the plants that powers at least 2 cities on the 2nd turn]. In the late game, the fusion (50 plant, powers ’6′ cities for free) is often a worse value than one of the methane plant (30 cost, three trash for 6) as trash is cheap, even if you are going to use it two turns.

There are several possible endgame, one trick is to recognize which one you are in:

  • The race — Here one player will build up before anyone can power teh full compliment (sometimes in phase two!) This often happens if everyone passes on a non-permanent plant (to avoid opening up the market) for several turns. Once you’ve built up a warchest, the last place player can buy a medium plant and then build out, winning. If a player has a plant lead, sat for several turns

  • The push — Someone builds to reasonably threaten an extra city or two, sending everyone into a scramble for one more city. It’s sometimes reasonable to do this when you could end it if you’ll be a city or two short (say, 16) because everyone else can build less cities and win the tiebreaker. You really need to have the 6s and 7s for this.

  • The close game Sometimes it’s just all about who can get the cheapest stuff. Not much to do here.

  • The screw — Running out of resources can easily decide the game (at least knocking one player out). Being ‘best’ (going first) in the last turn can be dangerous, but most games will see methane/nuclear power relatively safe (and oil is often pretty reasonable). When considering what to do on the next to last turn, look at not only how much will be restocked, but what plants are up (or in the deck) that may take it. If a few coal plants are in the deck, you’ll want to stock up on coal. [This also applies to the middle game for getting fuel cheaply]. Other tips for dealing with resources:

    1. Don’t use critical resources on the penultimate turn. The difference between powering 11 and 15 cities isn’t usually worth the resource cost anyway (last game I reminded myself, bu accidentally powered all of my plants anyway. Knocked myself out). Another nice aspect of holding onto a set of resources is that it allows you to safely upgrade (say from the 20-3coal-5city plant to the 42-3coal-7city plant) if the game turns into a push.

    2. Stockpile if you are in first place but can’t finish. The only anti-stockpile reason is that you suspect one (or more) players will race the game this turn.

    3. Don’t build up an extra city if it’s safe (this often happens in 2-3 players). However, sometimes you have to build to prevent a lock out. Another time to build is if it allows you to be 1st or 2nd (instead of 2nd or 3rd). If you are already in first position, don’t automatically say “I may as well build it now”. The game may last an extra turn.

    4. In general, don’t stockpile early. Wait until the shortage is imminent, or next turn the price will go up because of the plants that will be auctioned).

    5. Because resources are often so limited, the methane plants are worth a good premium early, and will often go for ridiculous amounts late (just because they can’t be locked out). The player in first will often only have one ‘safe’ plant (unless he held resources).

Oh, one other trick I’ve seen a (very) successful BSW player pull. Hold off on a 2nd (or 3rd) plant, and just accept that you won’t grow beyond 4 cities until stage two. You can build a reasonable stockpile, and the money you lose buy not growing is made up in resource costs (buying first) and not wasting money on a plant that will have to be thrown away later. But there’s a lot to consider about doing that, and you may get trapped.

Update: Since I’m losing yet another game, perhaps you should ignore this post.

Written by taogaming

September 18, 2005 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with

Son of Random Notes

Mikko’s post on Indie role-playing games struck a nerve. I remember reading Greg Costikyan’s post on My Life with Master. And in each case, I’ve had the same exact reaction — What a pretentious load of crap. I play games to have fun, explore strategies and, yes, win. An RPG that allows for none of those to happen because it’s structured like a Bertolt Brecht ‘play’ is a non-starter. Say what you will about White Wolf (and I’ll yield to few in my personal distaste for Rein (Splat) Hagen) but you could turn the system towards whatever angle you prefer with little problem. In my case, I preferred intrigue].

Now the game Iain found did look interesting. But I’ve manfully held off on Arcana Evolved, which still sounds better than the rest of them. So no need to do anything.

I glanced at all of my new games (and played Dungeon Twister). Warangel looks interesting, but I’m moderately peeved. The basic set has ten armies (45 combinations of battles). And throws in another ten (rasing it to 190 combinations!). Thanks. Each army has it’s own map (for home field advantage). But … only two maps are included. Hey, I realize they’re expensive — But I’d really rather have 5 complete armies that 2 complete ones and 18 that aren’t. Still, two armies is enough to figure out if I like it. I had just expected more completeness. And I don’t think that’s asking too much.

I thought my copy of FFFF was missing cards, but they turned out to be perfectly stuck together (so much that I thought I had a card with a misprinted back, and despite handling and sorting the cards didn’t even consider the possiblity until someone else mentioned it). So it’s complete. And let me just say, some of the cards are ruder than I remember! And I didn’t forget any cards … wow.

Alfred’s joke reminds me of something. The game store I play (Shadowfist) at is … odd. Oh, sure, it has creepy (and smelly) gamers. But it has beautiful women. Usually several a night. And I don’t mean “Pretty by gaming standards” I mean downright good looking. I usually see 2-3 a week, and not the same ones. Part of this is undoubtedly my advanced years (these women are a good decade younger than me), but the other reason? Probably because it’s also a comic/anime store. I haven’t seen any of them game, they rent videos. [And buy the fan-based action figures/dolls.] Word to the wise if any of you are considering opening a game store.

[Which reminds me of a friend that opened a game store. He always said "Those of us who fail our sanity rolls open game stores. Those who botch found companies." And yes, he started a company.]

I haven’t really done more than glance at the Battlestations expansion. But I’m still glad I bought it.

Ah well, off to BSW.

Written by taogaming

September 15, 2005 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with

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