The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Among Us and my Theory on semi-cooperative games

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After playing another few hours of Among Us, I remembered that I’d written a theory of semi-cooperative games (12 years ago!) and I wondered how well my theory matched up with Among Us.

Here are the original ‘rules’:

The “Cooperate/Compete” decision should be a spectrum, not just binary.

Parts of the “good” group can win without the full group.

Players must have strong incentives to act differently. These incentives should not be obvious to other players.

Clearly, among us get the last two rules right. Point two is trivial in werewolf games, which start with a good guy death, and point three is handled by the task list. The first point is (I now realize) maddeningly vague, but I think covered because Among Us is a video game and your decisions/strategies are pretty wide ranging.

And here are my ‘suggestions’ for further semi-coops:

Players should not be able to make instant decisions about each other’s play.

However, with the expenditure of resources players should be able to discover past plays. (“Tracking down evidence.”)

Once teams have been ‘proven’, the game resolves quickly.

Simultaneous play and fast turns….

Limited communication during the early part of the game….

Looking good. Obviously the differentiator in Among Us (versus the boardgames I was discussing) is the computer moderator. Play is all simultaneous, the limited resource is time/attention. In theory everyone could all stay together, do their tasks and wins. But (apart form being boring) the game makes that difficult (although not impossible):

  1. Imposters have better eyesight and can see more of the screen at a time. (Vents gives the imposters an improved speed of motion, at the cost of exposing his status if viewed).
  2. Lights sabotage drastically reduces the crewmates eyesight further (sabotaging lights)
  3. Doors sabotage splits the team directly
  4. Other sabotage forces teams to split up — O2, Reactors, etc require at least two groups to resolve.

Even with all of these, Among Us is still fragile. We didn’t have a full group of 10 (with two imposters). Two imposters makes information much fuzzier. If a body was discovered and you were with X and Y the whole time, they are clear if there’s only one imposter (and can vouch for you!). With two, they may have just been waiting for a partner to make a kill.

With 6-8 players and merely a single imposter you have to carefully tinker with settings, particularly the kill cool-down time (unlike in base werewolf a kill does not automatically trigger a meeting …. only the discovery of a body does). Too low then an imposter may able to pick off people relatively quickly. Too long and the crew-mates will often get to a position where 3 people have enough information to clear themselves, at which point the game is a lock.

And of course the settings need to be more ‘imposter friendly’ as the players count goes up. I also think that we’ll need to turn of the ‘visible tasks’ setting, which ‘proves’ that a player is a normal crew-mate with the expenditure of resources (Other people have to watch). For a single imposter, that verification is too much. In a good group, that may be too much information even with two imposters.

Overall I think that my suggestions/rules are nicely followed by Among Us — this isn’t saying that my thoughts were particularly deep, anyone who designs a good semi-coop will converge on this — but its nice to be right.

I wonder if there’s a non-obvious suggestion that would take the game to the next level, but off hand I don’t see it….

Written by taogaming

October 13, 2020 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Game Theory

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Geeklinks for October 2020

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Sousou no Frieren (“Frieren’s aftermath”) tells the story after the party saves the world …. and after the humans die of old age, leaving the elf her memories and regrets.

Quick, given a random google street view image, pick where it is in the world in 10s and score points based on how close you are. A rather amazing video (he gets not one but two answers wrong — out of the entire world — by 18 miles .. and even the ones he misses by thousands of miles are often impressive in how much he got right). There’s a few minutes you can skip before he starts. Related — The GeoGuessr website.

The 100 most influential scenes in animation.

Facebook AI can translate between various computer languages.

This is one of the rare groups where I lag behind most of the people in mathematical knowledge, but this numberphile video finally explained Conway’s Soldiers in a way I could remember.

Instragram Account “Accidentally Wes Anderson” — Scenes that look like they might be in his movies.

I’ve been watching more Among Us than playing it, and the Michael Jordan of this is Disguised Toast … which is also a great online vidoegamer handle, but should have been band name. (Here’s a video where they kill both imposters ….. before anyone dies! (Skip first two minutes), is a pretty nice trailer for blindsight, but makes no sense unless you’ve read the book. (I don’t think there’s an actual movie, somebody just decided to make a trailer).

I love the Kurzgesagt videos …. here is a visual comparison of star sizes.

Milgron & Wilson’s Nobel prize in Econ (yes, yes, I know) sent me on a rabbit hole of organizational theory (an interest of mine, mainly because the ones I’ve worked for make no sense), and then I stumbled on this rather curious, Lovecraftian article on management structure of programmers. (Things are Lovecraftian not because they are wrong, but because the truth is too horrible to bear). And now the world makes sense, and I think I’ll gibber for a while.

Written by taogaming

October 13, 2020 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Linky Love

Fields of Green

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I recently spotted a geek-auction from a friend, which led to the another debate with my constant companion, the Imp of the Perverse.

“Shiny! Bid on some games.”

“You still haven’t played all the games you bought from the last time he had an auction, which was earlier this year.”

“So, I’ve been wanting a copy of Fields of Green since my experience trying Caverna. Earlier than that, even.”

“You mean Fields of Arle. And you haven’t even read the rules for a game from the last auction…”

“Yeah, but it looks great. I’m bidding.” And with that, the Imp of the Perverse apparated away, but not before I caught the look of disgust on his face.

I think he’s giving up on me.

(I did actually know that I wasn’t getting Fields of Arle before bidding, but it got decent reviews and — why not? — it’s not like I have a wide variety of other activities going on these days. My collection has grown a fair amount over this March-that-Never-Ended).

So far I’ve played this twice as a solitaire game, which is …. OK. FoG is a drafting/engine-builder, and in the solo game you basically have three cards, draft one, discard one, and repeat, so it retains some of the feel of the main game (I imagine). It was pleasant enough, the Imp grumbling in the back of my head that it would be better if it were great or terrible, but its OK.

I do like:

  • The spatial element in the cards (square) cards. Most fields must be pretty close to a water tower, and you’ll need a few of them (you can discard a drafted card to get a water tower instead). Some cards give bonuses/penalties for being near other cards.
  • Three types of currency (money, water and food) are enough to present options without the overwhelming “too many notes” aspects of some games. Food and Water also have maximums in storage (via water towers and silos).

But the downside:

  • Since you get only the barest selection of cards (you can choose a distribution of fields/livestock/buildings/prestige buildings, but not the specific ones, and then you draft them) all the spatial element is mostly reactionary — oh, pigs want to be near X? Well, that’s great. You may or may not see pigs this game. Only the water tower stuff is plannable.

So — right now Fields of Green feels like some pretty good ideas, thrown together haphazardly.

Rating Indifferent.

Written by taogaming

October 6, 2020 at 10:01 am

Posted in Reviews

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Article on the World Dip Champion

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Written by taogaming

October 1, 2020 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Among Us, interest?

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I’m not a huge social deduction game, but if there are any groups of boardgamers who play Among Us (the video game) I’d be interested in joining….I’ve been watching videos and it seems fun. Let me know….

Written by taogaming

September 27, 2020 at 11:36 am

Super Mario 3 World Record Speed Run explained

I watch Factorio Speedruns (which are fascinating) but not other video-games. However, I made an exception to watch this video on the SMB3 world record, which was fascinating because after 2 minutes of precise purposeful maneuvering that I could never do, the player seemingly just starts going in circles and doing random things, then suddenly wins.

It takes four times as long to explain what happened than to do it. Spoiler — By carefully controlling the game state (specifically, the locations enemies were killed at) the player then calls a glitch in the program to treat that game state as code and has programmed a “jump to the ending” result. (There are a lot more steps, but thats basically it). Fascinating to someone who had to program assembly back in the day….

Written by taogaming

September 21, 2020 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents

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Lux et Tenebrae

I (finally) got the Res Arcana expansion. It’s good. A few reasons:

  1. It’s mostly a varietal expansion (it adds in new mages, monuments, places of power and artifacts … but you still only have the same number in play). The exception is the (2) new magic items which are added.
  2. One of the new magic items lets you ‘fake’ a dragon/creature/demon so even if you didn’t get any those Places of Power may still generate points, which closes a mild issue with Res.
  3. The other magic item lets you grab (and hold) a scroll to use an ability whenever. So its a rules addition, but a simple and elegant one.
  4. It was designed by Tom. Did you seriously think he was going to overburden the game? Perhaps after expansion 3, but not tonight, Josephine.

So far my plays have been interesting. Lots to explore. I have over 100 plays of Res … I don’t know if I’ll get to 200, but its entirely possible with a new expansion.

Rating Enthusiastic. If you like Res, you’ll like Lux.

Written by taogaming

September 20, 2020 at 11:13 pm

Posted in Reviews

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A typical slam

Playing on BBO with my normal partner against two local experts, I pick up a perk-me-up.

S: Ax H:AKQxx D:AT C:J8xx

I open 1 Heart and hear a surprising bid from partner …. 2 NT, which is our strong and game forcing raise in hearts. (Jacoby 2NT)

There are a number of responses, but this is easy enough, I bid 4 Spades, which is our “ace” asking bid. (Kickback Roman Keycard Blackwood). Partner bids 5 Clubs, showing one ace.  Now comes the important part of the auction — I bid 5 Spades, the king ask. Importantly this promises possession of all the key cards partner doesn’t have. He’s shown the ace (of clubs). I’ve shown the other four aces (the heart king counts) and the heart queen.

A fairly descriptive bid for one supposedly asking.

Partner shows a king (we play specific kings rather than number of kings) but I’m done and bid 6 Hearts. If partner can’t count thirteen tricks knowing about my five cards, I have nothing else to say.

I get the Spade Ten lead and the following dummy.

          S: KJ H: JT9xxx D:Q5 C:AK3

ST Led

          S: Ax H:AKQxx D:AT C:J8xx


I cover the ST with the SJ (why not) and RHO follows low. Trumps break 1-1, so now its just a question of which line is best. In both cases I cash a spade first to eliminate the suit.

Line 1 — I lead the queen of diamonds hoping that RHO has the diamond king and doesn’t cover.

Line 2 — I cash the ace of clubs then lead ace of diamonds and lose a diamond. Whoever wins the diamond king will have to lead a club, and I can play my jack (if RHO won) or let it ride to my jack (if LHO won).

Line 3 — I can cash AK of clubs and then lead towards the jack.

Which line is best?

Line one is a swindle. It starts at 50% (RHO has the DK) but it requires a mistake. RHO is an expert and will never make the mistake looking at the DJ, and will rarely make it not. Call it 5%

Line two works if the DK and CQ are in the same hand, which is slightly less than 50/50 (~48% due to the law of vacant spaces, not bothering to modify it for cards played). It also works if the DK is stiff or if the DK only has a single club and has to give me a ruff and sluff (Clubs are 5-1). Those are pretty small chances, so a touch better than 50% feels right.

Line three works on any 3-3 club break (I lose to the CQ but can pitch dummy’s losing diamond on the fourth round of clubs). If RHO has the long clubs it also works (either the club queen falls or I can set up the jack for the diamond pitch). If LHO has 5 or 6 clubs I have to switch gears and play the diamond ace, diamond queen and hope that RHO wins and has to give me a ruff and sluff. Only if LHO has four clubs am I down. Clubs break 4-2 (either way) 30% of the time, but that is just for either 4-2 split. LHO having four clubs is 15%. And 1/3rd of the time, RHO will have the doubleton queen. In fact, there are 15 possible cases of LHO having four clubs. I win in six of those — RHO having T9 (the 8 sets up) and all the Qx cases.

Line three must be north of 75% (even ignoring that I still have the stiff diamond king shot if all else fails). I didn’t work the math out at the table but I played Line 3.

Of course this was LHO’s hand

S: QT952 H:5 D:K74 C:Q9xx

Down one when line two works. My first thought (and second) was “Typical slam. Inferior line works.” But now, in the cold light of day…

Maybe I should have known this. The Spade Jack won at T1. RHO would have to be playing a deep game not to cover (since the lead of the ST shows the 9), so that card is confirmed. That’s a mildly attacking lead against a strongly bid slam …. why not a passive lead? A stiff trump lead is normally frowned on as it may finesse partner. Perhaps the reason for the mildly aggressive spade lead is that the other two suits looked even more aggressive? Perhaps because LHO was looking at a choice of bad leads?

How much should that change the odds? I don’t know. A stiff trump lead is normally frowned on as it may finesse partner, but in theory partner should have Jxx or worse on this particular auction. (But one of us may have stretched and Jxxx is possible). I don’t know if the lead changes the odds around enough to make Line two more attractive than line one. That’s a table feel issue. But against expert opponents whatever the base numbers say Line two has a “plus factor” because of the lead….ah well.

Written by taogaming

September 16, 2020 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Bridge

Versailles 1919

I got to play Versailles 1919 today, as a 2 player game. The topic of negotiating a peace treaty implies a game that doesn’t work well with only two, and any comments based on a single play are suspect. Obviously I wouldn’t have picked this off the shelf today, but when I pre-ordered it there was no lockdown. Caveats out of the way, some thoughts:

  • While the playbook isn’t as bad as some threads would have you think, it could have been much better. The small font issue is also tough on the cards. I literally couldn’t make out some of the strategy cards and need the TaoLing to read what the small word inside a box inside a symbol said. And while setting it up and playing along would be tough (with no card numbers) just reading it to get the rules was fine.
  • There are a few errata. Most glaring (in my mind) is that the player aid card shows that you gain happiness sending military to an uprising (with the “smiling happy face” next to the military symbol). Since you lose happiness for sending military and they have the “frowning unhappy face” symbol, why not use that? There are also typos on cards and rules (like the happiness track upper limit)
  • The real issue with the errata/poor checking is that some of the rules are not stated where they are, and somewhat weirdly worded, which made me wonder if the rule was what was printed, or they dropped a sentence. The good news is that the designers are answering questions quickly (at least mine).
  • The board looks great and fits the theme, although the arrows/numbers to show ordering break the mood, but they are useful. I like the tarot sized cards.

If you haven’t read the rules, a quick summary. You start with fifteen influence and three military.

On your turn you take a political (mandatory) and military (optional) action in any order. The political actions are:

  1. Place influence on exactly two issues — afterwards you must then have a plurality on both issues. Two of the issues are “on the table” at any time (and could be settled), the other three are looming (and could be moved onto the table).
  2. Reclaim up to six spent influence (and one spent military, as well as possibly undeploying other military)
  3. Settle an issue — The winner exhausts all their influence, but then gets to decide the resolution of the issue (which affects the game state) and gets the points for the issue. The losers get back half of their influence (rounded down), except for the person settling. If they didn’t win, they get all their influence back (for ‘conceding’ the issue). After settling the issue the player who settled also gets to decide which issue goes on the table next, as well as select which issue goes into the waiting area. (Draw two from the deck and take one, or take one of the top three discards at increasing cost).

Whenever an issue is settled there is also a personality who arrives and resolves some game state change. There are two of these in the waiting room and the settling player picks one to let into the room next. (I enjoyed seeing a King Faisal card …. I saw the last surviving 35mm print of Lawrence of Arabia about 30 years ago….)

Settled issues are (usually) in a region on the game state of the board includes unrest. An uprising may cause a previously settled issue to become unsettled and have an auction (of military, then influence) to reclaim it and possibly change the decision. Military units can be sent to affect unrest and being Johnny-on-the-spot during an uprising gives you a bidding bonus. It’s a touch fiddly for the first few times, but not difficult. Each time a settlement happens the final thing that resolves is a random event that may cause an uprising or some minor game state change. I’m not going to go into detail on that (or most of the military options).

As befitting a negotiating games, there are binding deals. Players can exhaust their influence to let others recover influence, and any deal that can be completed in the same turn is binding. So “I’ll settle this issue if you pick the resolution that hurts me least” and then bickering over a few spare points of influence is legit. Future deals are not binding although that may make a fascinating variant.

And so — right away — as a two player game much is lost. The other issue with two players is that the US is a 3rd country controlled by both. But more on that in a moment.

Countries also have happiness …. you’ll get VP at the end for being happier and if your happiness plummets you’ll be forced to decommission your military. (You may voluntarily return the boys home for increased happiness, if you do it due to public pressure, you only get a touch back). If your happiness ever hits zero, you’ll suffer a five VP penalty.

The cube play is — frankly — a touch JASEy. You are buying VPs (each issue is 3-7 VP, plus you control some game state and maybe swing a few more VP). I think this is saved by the “must put cubes on two issues and must be winning afterward.” Coupled with the fact that you must take a political option and that settling an issue gives you some control (and all your cubes back instead of half) means that you might be able to play chicken … pushing up an issue you only care vaguely about, hoping to drive the price up and then settle to move game state.

Zugzwang matters. In a 2p game it matters immensely — the US has some restrictions on its moves and forcing the opponent to make an unfavorable US move (by locking up its cubes) is a big deal. As such, I think I can safely say the 2p game is its own beast and any rating it gets is probably only vaguely related to the 3-4p game. The compulsion to make a move also matters in 3-4 player, but I think that the negotiations (and the fact that you only have 1/3rd or less of the moves) will likely make for a more fluid game. Also, since a 2p game is strictly zero sum, any negotiation must be a mistake by one player, which shades it.

Our single game dragged a bit much, but it was a first play. I think it was maybe 2-2.5H with rules. That’s a touch long for what it is, unless you naturally feel that negotiations games should be long. Versailles 1919 might make a much better play by forum game than a face to face game ….

Rating — Too early to tell.

Other minor points (as I think of them):

  • When you move an issue to the table, you also choose which person to bring in. Which means there are definitely some combinatorics at play in the game. A good sign.

Written by taogaming

September 5, 2020 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Reviews

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There’s no good movie with a “3” at the end of the title.

Maybe not be strictly true, but I mean “Saw 3”, “Tremors 3”, “Iron Man 3”, “Rocky 3” (fun? Sure. Good? No), “Alien 3”  (I happen to think Alien 3 was a noble failure, but a failure nonetheless). Listing it on and on is just inviting tragedy. By the time you get to the third movie in a series, if it didn’t have a title and you are just making it up as you go along, then the temptation is “Well, let’s just do what worked, but more.

That’s how you get a bad movie. Or in the case of games, a JASE.

I went to my FLGS. (I wasn’t actually sure it had re-opened). I called first. So I felt like I should be a game. And, given the nature I felt like a hefty game that could work as a solitaire or 2 player game. So I got Caverna. At the time, I thought it was similar to Agricola, but I didn’t realize how much DNA they share. So, is Caverna“Agricola 3: The Dwarfening”

There’s much to like, but like any 3rd movie so much of this title is just a lot more of what worked.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.

But the box is so stuffed and heavy that $100 price tag didn’t seem outrageous. Caverna is chock full of animeeples, vegimeeples, so much cardboard to punch. It doesn’t fit well into the box. There are no random cards, the family growth always appears on turn 4 (which is kind of a big randomness in Agricola, do you set up for it on T4 and then it doesn’t show up until T6 …). The weapon mechanic is interesting and clearly is intended to be a (mild) punishment for have more dwarfs, so there’s that. There are enough buildings to feel overwhelming on the first play, but I suspect it becomes manageable. (We followed the Alan Moon rule of “True Gamers do not play introductory games”)

Now, losing the development and occupation cards means Caverna may wind up feeling samey from game to game, but I’ve definitely played games of Agricola that were over after the initial deal. (I respect that it may be better as draft, but I just haven’t played it that way). So, when I lose Caverna (and losing is what I’ve been doing) I can’t blame the cards. Agricola — by contrast — seemed much more straightforward: grow your family, do all the things. For some reason, Caverna’s slightly more things seems much more daunting. In particular, the slight variability of the harvests, when/how to spend rubies (basically wild cards), the slightly more complex layout rules, they trip me up.

That’s good.

My first problem with Caverna is that I bought it for 1-2 players, and it doesn’t shine with two. The spaces scale with # players, but I felt like there are too many buildings. I think the upper limit of seven is super ambitious (and its a fixed fun game, so …. no), but thee or four seems reasonable.

And solitaire (which I haven’t tried) …. well in that case Agricola’s occupations seems much more interesting.

Now, to be fair. I bought and sold Le Havre (“Agricola 2: Shipping Boogaloo”) because it felt like there was a dominant strategy, which I suspected after two games. If a dominant strategy exists in Caverna, I have no earthly idea what it would be. So, its likely a better game.

So, its a “Good for a  3rd title.” It suffers from the “but I’ve played Agricola.” I knew I was getting some of the game, but I didn’t do my research and didn’t realize just how much of it there was. It was my first time in a game store in six months, I was going to buy something, and its not like Caverna is bad, but it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.

RatingIndifferent plus.

Written by taogaming

August 23, 2020 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Agricola, Reviews, Uncategorized

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