The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Archive for September 2005

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

Tagged with

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

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

Fast Action Battle

Now that GMT has announced their new P500 candidates and schedule (Flying Colors won’t be out by the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar, sigh). I see that Rick Young’s Fast Action Battle #1 is on the list. It covers the Battle of the Bulge.

And I can dish dirt, because I’ve read the rules! Sadly, I have no dirt to dish. I don’t really remember them (and had only read the series rules, not the bulge rules). I do remember thinking that they were fairly clean, and I liked the special action rules (which I do remember). As I recall, you toss all of your special actions in a cup and get to draw half. [Unlike Europe Engulfed, each special action only has a pre-determined use]. If I’m remembering this correctly (and it doesn’t change), then this encourages you to use your special actions quickly (so that you can draw more), but may want to hold them for special occassions, so you can plan. And I liked the designer’s notes (which were in the rules already!). All in all, I’ll probably order, even though I’ve never gotten around to playing Europe Engulfed.

Written by taogaming

September 15, 2005 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Dungeon Twister — Initial Thoughts

Played a game of Dungeon Twister last night. This is a noisy abstract. I mean, there are a hodgepodge of rules. You win by getting 5 points (with a point being a character escaping or killing an enemy). Each turn you get 2-5 actions (based on cards you get back). You can rotate the dungeon (hence the name). Each character has a special ability, or two. Then each item has a special ability. Combat is simultaneous card play, but each used card is lost (except for the worst).

So you have an abstract “I go, you go” game that’s tough to calculate because each side gets 2-5 moves. Then combat is a psychological bidding game where loser pays (effectively, since each card is one use). And it’s not elegant. Special rules everywhere.

I won due to special rules. My opponent forgot wizards could levitate, then lost got into an untenable situation the stacking limit caught him. In effect, I won because I had read the rules then explained them, so I remembered them better. Also, my opponent is color blind, which matters since tiles are matched in color pairs with the gear in each tile able to rotate either one of that color. So I didn’t have to spend mental energy matching up the tiles.

So, not a glorious victory.

On the other hand, despite dabbling with Go and elegant abstracts, I like my abstracts themed, so the chrome didn’t bother me. In short — an OK two player game. Considering that I tagged it onto my international order to at $20 to get free shipping, I’m perfectly happy. I’ll probably play it a 5-10 times before making a keep/sell decision. I can actually see thinking a bit about some of the decisions (“What’s a good starting lineup?” In particular).

This is interesting — many people don’t like games with no luck, and those that do like it probably won’t like all of the special cases. I guess they hope to sell to the select few who like dungeon crawls.

This reminds me, I should throw LotR:The Confrontation into my bag.

Written by taogaming

September 14, 2005 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Waiting at the door …

Since I don’t get to play many games, I’m resigned to buying them. [Isn't that how everyone does it?] I’ve been informed that they should arrive tomorrow. And woe unto UPS if they are lying! I may actually get to play some new games this week (surprise!), including Dungeon Twister, which has been lauded inside the 48 contiguous states.

Well, I’d buy Pimps of Catan.

So, with no new gaming news, I’m still slowly moving content over to the geek. Alfred wrote a “Best of the Blogosphere“, go bug him. New content later.

Written by taogaming

September 11, 2005 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Misc

Tagged with

Street Soccer, Luck and Perception

Mikko’s comment about Street Soccer (that there’s quite a bit of skill) seems true enough to me. That being said:

Early on my career my rating dipped down to below 1400 (it’s an ELO rating that starts at 1500), climbed up, dropped down again and has since climbed up. Right now I’m sitting at 1660 and had my all-time high this week. That means I’ve learned the game and win more than lose, right?

It also proves that StreetSoccer isn’t a game of luck. After all, if it were a game of luck, I would’ve won and lost equal amount of games, especially after playing as many as 270 games. However, as that is not the case, it’s a game of skill – at least to some extent. QED.

That doesn’t follow at all. If you flip a coin lots of times you’ll still get streaks. And the results cited (W:101 L:113) look close to a 50/50 split, just like a coin flip. (I’m ignoring the 46 draws). Using a spreadsheet I have (for just such an occassion), Given 101 wins, and 113 losses leads to an expected win percentage of 47%, with the 95% confidence interval being 40% to 54% (dropping some decimals). So it could be a coin flip (My spreadsheet says that 214 coin flips will come up 101Heads 113Tails 3.9% of the time. If I don’t care about H/T, just the 101-113 split, then you double that.

I do think there’s skill in Street Soccer, but those arguments aren’t convincing.

Written by taogaming

September 7, 2005 at 8:46 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with

Clever little bastards

Based on MJWills comment to a recent post, I downloaded the Puerto Rico Evolver from the geek [link to main PR page].

And you know what, I have a shockingly bad win percentage against them. Well below my normal win percentage. However, after about eight plays, I can see the implicit collusion. Evolution means adapting to your environment and the other creatures matter. [Also, the critters tend to have a very different style of mistakes]. If you took one of these babies and placed it in a game with four humans, I expect it would get crushed easily (even without any collusion). However, these tend to play to each other strengths. They do make some boneheaded plays (one time the computer took builder and passed). But they’ve got a reasonable amount of game going, and it was interesting experience. Things that the computer believes:

  • Take the harbor at the first opportunity. Even without an income source.
  • Build the small indigo and sugar plants if you’ve got nothing else to do.
  • Build a large building ASAP.

You could do worse than follow those.

Update: I can’t really analyze the program, I’ve never played with Excel as a programming environment. I’d need Visual Basic or some such. The code is on BGG, and I could probably read it easily enough, but I’m lazy right now. Here’s what I deduce (from background knowledge and the spreadsheet).

The ‘genes’ are decision making trees, and each gene answers a different “What do I do now?” question. Which building do I build, which plantation do I take, where do I place my people, which role do I take? The genes have some access to the game information. Whenever they have to make a decision, the genes provide the answer. [Judging from the length of the genes, I wager they rate each option and then the highest value is selected]. The real trick is that the ‘organisms’ play lots of games and are rated for fitness. The lowest rated are deleted, and the rest make copies (presumably the higher rated ones get more copies). I’m not sure how the copies are created (asexual duplicates or sexual mixtures). I imagine there’s some random mutation tossed into the mix.

What’s most impressive (to me) is just how crude the genes are. The basically only answer the above questions, and one other — “What stage of the game is it?” The stage question leads them to different genes for other selection (so their role selection changes based on early/mid/late game). Some simple genetic expression, I think. These buggers play a credible game for something so simple.

The organism are apparently specialized to their seat choice. (Player 1 Genes are different from player 2 genes), and specialized to a five player game.

Written by taogaming

September 4, 2005 at 9:55 am

Posted in Artificial Opponents

Tagged with ,

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