The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

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Factorio 0.16, (the final pre-release, improved graphics and optimizations and a few new features) dropped this week. Expect nothing and ye shall receive.

But I got my copy of Wild Blue Yonder in the mail, so I may actually play that at some point as well, so expect something and ye may receive.



Written by taogaming

December 14, 2017 at 9:34 pm

I’d never considered ordering from Cool Mini Or Not ….

with 3 comments

Since I don’t really buy minis. Imagine my surprise that I’ve placed an order with them. Especially since (AFAIK) I’ve never told them my (admittedly not hard to find email address) or even visited their website.

OK, I didn’t place an order. Someone else did. The invoice gives me a name, shipping address, a partially redacted CC number etc.

So, I tried to do the right thing and email their support address (given in the invoice) to say “Hey, maybe you don’t want to send your customers information to random people”

And … no, apparently the email that was generated a few hours ago has out of date information.

No, I will not call you up or order a ticket to fix your problem.

So — I would strongly advise against doing any business with them. They’ve earned it.  At worst? Some spam marketing thing or phishing. Best case? Mishandling customer data

Personal memo to K__ V______. Enjoy your Shael Hon stuff. Whatever that is.

Written by taogaming

December 8, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Re: Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play (etc etc)

with 2 comments

More stunning news from the DeepMind crew:

In this paper, we generalise this approach into a single AlphaZero algorithm …. Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess) as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case. –Abstract

And how did they do?

In chess, AlphaZero outperformed Stockfish after just 4 hours; in shogi, AlphaZero outperformed Elmo after less than 2 hours; and in Go, AlphaZero outperformed AlphaGo Lee after 8 hours.

(Stockfish and Elmo are the best computer programs in the world. AlphaGo Lee beat Lee Sedol, but was later improved on by AlphaGo Zero).

And after 3 days, AlphaZero played a 100 game match against Stockfish and won 28, drew 72 and lost zero.

It did this in spite of a slower search speed:

AlphaZero searches just 80 thousand positions per second in chess and 40 thousand in shogi, compared to 70 million for Stockfish and 35 million for Elmo. AlphaZero compensates for the lower number of evaluations by using its deep neural network to focus much more selectively on the most promising variations – arguably a more “human-like” approach to search

The full paper is worth a read. I don’t understand all the details, although its non-linear evaluation function apparently may have biases (like a hand crafted evaluation function) but the authors argue that their Monte-Carlo search (with its inherent randomness) will “average over [AlphaZero’s] approximation errors” but the traditional Alpha-Beta search propagates them.

Looking at some of the commentary by more experienced chess players, this jumped out at me:

The paper also came accompanied by ten games to share the results. It needs to be said that these are very different from the usual fare of engine games. If Karpov had been a chess engine, he might have been called AlphaZero. There is a relentless positional boa constrictor approach that is simply unheard of. Modern chess engines are focused on activity, and have special safeguards to avoid blocked positions as they have no understanding of them and often find themselves in a dead end before they realize it. AlphaZero has no such prejudices or issues, and seems to thrive on snuffing out the opponent’s play. It is singularly impressive, and what is astonishing is how it is able to also find tactics that the engines seem blind to….

In this position from Game 5 of the ten published, this position arose after move 20…Kh8. The completely disjointed array of Black’s pieces is striking, and AlphaZero came up with the fantastic 21.Bg5!! After analyzing it and the consequences, there is no question this is the killer move here, and while my laptop cannot produce 70 million positions per second, I gave it to Houdini 6.02 with 9 million positions per second. It analyzed it for one full hour and was unable to find 21.Bg5!!

(Emphasis mine, also to note that AlphaZero and stockfish had 1 minute per move).

The DeepMind team just keeps delivering stunning advances. Someone is probably jumping with a reasonable approximation of joy.

Written by taogaming

December 7, 2017 at 11:08 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents

Tagged with , ,

The Latest

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I’d been waiting for Magic Maze to show up at the game store. It never did. However — Barnes and Noble got it, and the TaoLing’s class was having a fundraiser there (anything you but they get 10%), so I got it. B&N has a shockingly good games section. Way too many tie-ins … (seriously, Game of Thrones Settlers of Catan? The pure-non-conflict Euro meets the Red Wedding? Sheesh)  but there are jewels there.

Anyway, after a few games 2 player, I came up with an obvious variant:

Use the four player tiles and rotate them normally, so you only change 1/2 of what you do each rotation (instead of having the same things always grouped). For more weirdness, assign a tile to each hand, and then you have to do the actions with the correct hand.

Magic Maze isn’t great two player, but its not necessarily easier. We managed to lose several times, but now we’re at the “full game” (Scenario 7).

Haven’t tried solo Magic Maze. Doesn’t seem like it would be goodl

After a few weeks off, picked up my Factorio Mega-base again. Coming along nicely. Last time I posted I was at 20 rockets at 55 hours. I improved smelting, got more oil refining. This required breaking the 1 Gigawatt barrier and an hour or two of tactical nuclear devices to pacify the natives and clear out more area for mining.  Anyway, I’m at around 85 hours and 210 rockets. Always something to improve.

Written by taogaming

December 3, 2017 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

Media Gluttony

Stuff I liked:

While playing Mage Knight with the TaoLing my wife was watching some BBC documentary and I kept hearing …. weird things. Like “Many people consider Yellowstone park the world’s greatest park. Mainly American people, though, sniff” and “Some wildebeests will be killed by crocodiles while crossing this river, but none of the ones you have gotten emotionally attached to, so don’t worry.” After about 30 minutes we finished the game and then went and watched Round Planet, the BBC mockumentary featuring brilliant footage and smarmy commentary from Matt Lucas.

I had low expectations for The Punisher, but I liked it. For Marvel on Netflix, only Daredevil S1 and this have been actually good, but I’m their huckleberry and will watch anything. Still, this gets a B+, although it still could have been shorter.

Finally caught up on The Hateful Eight, which was like a David Mamet mugging a Tarantino cast plus Walton Goggins, who I have literally never seen in a bad show. (If he’s been in one, don’t tell me about it).

I’m sadly finished with Father Brown (and re-reading the original stories).

I have already noted my love of The Good Place, the first half of S2 was wonderful. Waiting for the second half (after New Year’s).

I theoretically like Strange Things II, but I’m watching it a snail’s pace.

OK Go has a new video out.

Stuff that’s OK (but not OK Go):

I’m watching Enterprise, and its …. ok.When it was on TV I remember using the phrase “Oiling the Vulcan” after the pilot and there is that, but I don’t think it’s much worse than Next Generation (which had a lot of klunkers early on, too). I don’t think I’m going to be a completist for Star Trek (I’m looking at you, Voyager), but at some point the queues get low….

I watched Chappie, which was amusingly bad like most movies that feature musicians “acting”. (Die Antwoord in this case).

Slowly watching Longmire (the Netflix seasons).

Stuff I turned off:

I liked the first two seasons of Rectify, but I can’t get back into it. The delay may have been too long.

Tried to watch Little Evil.


Written by taogaming

December 1, 2017 at 10:26 pm

Posted in TV & Media

Gobble Gobble

I played two games of Go against a 5-Dan (who was simultaneously playing a few other people). It wasn’t close, of course.  That got me to thinking and I created a geeklist to ask people who the best opponent they’ve played in any boardgame is.

In Factorio I’m starting to play with mods, and I recently downloaded the “Platforms” mod, which effectively makes much of the map off limits to building production stuff (although logistical stuff like belts and trains can go anywhere). It prevents you from using pre-planned blueprints — you may not have a square area for this. Amusing, but also slows the game down.

The TaoLing and I now routinely win Full Co-op with 11/11/22 cities (the last a Megapolis). May be time to switch back to Volkare scenarios, which are much harder. We’ll probably do a 4p co-op (each controlling 2p) as well.

I must admit I’m tempted by Dominion:Nocturne even though I know I’ll only play it a few times. Great ideas. Also, I’ve been billed for Wild Blue Yonder, so that will be shipping by End of Year.

Update — Played a few games of Bowling Solitaire as, well, solitaire. Ironically I’ve had the Gamut of Games book for years but never tried that until perusing the many, many, many Top 20 solitaire games geeklists. A simple but not simplistic game.

Written by taogaming

November 22, 2017 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Misc

I’m pretty sure that the TaoLing is a better Mage Knight player than I am….

(at least, in co-op).

How quickly they grow up.

Update — Also, just passed 350 plays of MK. But to show that I am not totally washed up, one was a solitaire victory vs cities of 10 and 18.

Written by taogaming

November 6, 2017 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Mage Knight