The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Two reviews of ‘Seeing Like a State’

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I haven’t read the book (by James C. Scott). But I am a fan of Scott Alexander, so I naturally saw his review a few months ago. Nice, but no real reason for me to mention it. (The fact that the book nicely confirms what I already believed means that I should be somewhat cautious.)

(Seeing like a State points out how well-meaning scientific technocrats — of all economic beliefs — often do horrible damage to systems they are trying to improve, and provides examples of how governments do things to increase their visibility into systems — usually for purposes of taxation. Like I said, “nicely confirms what I already believed”. I believe Nassim Talib’s Antifragile covers the same ground.)

Anyway, I come back to the country I see that Scott has pointed to a review by Samzdat and that is quite useful for people on both sides of the political discussion, as it tries to explain the phenomenom of increased political divisiveness even in an improving society. (It does this by introducing the concept of legibility to the conversation, and goes in a surprising direction that seems correct, at least on first glance).

Anyway, this may be of interest. I’m definitely going to be reading through Samzdat. The article on Polyani’s Great Transformation extends this further (and contains some very interesting thoughts on economics that, strangely enough, I just encountered in Paradise Lost). And the next book to be discussed is Hoffer’s The True Believer, which I did read (30 years ago, vhoj’ha moi!).

 

Written by taogaming

June 20, 2017 at 8:04 pm

Software is hard, but not that hard

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I just got back from my vacation …. after a full solid 26 hours of airports and planes. It actually wasn’t horrible (apart from the four hour delay at JFK) because Delta planes have in-seat entertainment systems (and I had my books, of course).

The big game for the last two weeks (on the cruise, and in the airplane) was Boggle. (OK, the airplane’s game was the simpler “how many words can you find in this jumble for letters.”)

When I got home, I googled “Open Source dictionary,” because the last two weeks made me think those weren’t a thing.  Here are some words the cruises “Word finder” game didn’t accept:

  • cries
  • cried
  • makes

There were a ton of others. For a while I thought it was not allowing ‘s’ words (or multiple forms of the same word), abut other times it allowed all forms. That game also accepted a bunch of non-English latin words, acronyms, as well as frankly weird things like “ggg” and “Vneder” (but it rejected “Vender,” which is an archaic ‘vendor’.) [It shows a list of “words you missed” after each round, which is how I discovered these.]

It also accepted practically every name. I get that they can’t use the OSPD or SOWPODs (without ponying up licensing money), but downloading an OS dictionary takes literally a few minutes. (After playing for a while, I started mentally designing a “Boggle solver,” that won’t take forever. I may actually write it as an exercise, we’ll see).

Anyway, after spending way too much of my ship time playing Boggle (and being bewildered by dictionary) I played a few hours of “Letter Mix” on Delta on the way home. And I realized two things:

  1. After a dozen times I started seeing repeats of the puzzles (six letters).
  2. One set didn’t contain all the possible words in the solution. (They missed ‘hides’, but got ‘shied’).

And I realized that program didn’t have a solver, just a list of puzzles and acceptable words for each! Come on, this isn’t rocket science. (The Delta series of games definitely had a slapdash nature. The poker program had misleading english. “Player A raises to $2” when he actually raised a $2 bet to $4. And I suspect that the chess program had the “Easy/Medium/Hard” settings flipped, because I casually lost on easy unless I was paying attention, but on Hard the program just hung a queen for no reason.

Look — writing a good computer program may be hard, but some parts shouldn’t be. Get a good dictionary, people.

(My only other gaming news was losing in a cash no-limit game when my aces got cracked. In my last few cruises I spent a lot of time on the casino — I dislike cruises and may yet rant about that if I haven’t already — and after that I decided to just spend my sea time playing boggle instead, since in my two hours playing I couldn’t spot the fish).

I also murdered a few hours playing bridge, but on a cruise ship with random opponents that hardly counts as gaming.

Written by taogaming

June 20, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Got some Factorio recently

I launched a rocket to get the “no solar panels and no laser defense” achievements. Now I’m working on the mega-base ramp up (and turned off rockets to pause and let the base work on other products). Added nuclear power (which is a huge relief, basically tripling my power and letting me use the steam engines as reserves. In fact, for a while I wasted power, as you can’t tune nuclear. When I add two more reactors I’ll triple it again, I think). So now I’m adding a lot more iron processing (400k plates/hour), and generally clearing out the nearby aliens and otherwise growing. I think I have a dozen trains (ish) running, which is appropriate for a train world.

I also got nuclear weapons, so I’ll definitely have to nuke some aliens in the near future. Maybe also go for depleted uranium bullets…

One of the toughest parts was coming back to a base I hadn’t played in a few weeks … I had no idea where everything was. In fact I had a few really terrible things that needed fixing (including a train stopped in an intersection … I’d never set up a fuel station for it, and it was blocking other trains).

But whenever you solve one thing you simply discover the next bottleneck. I need really ramp up my iron mines (since my smelting can now process a train’s load of ore before the next train arrives) then a bit more iron smelting, then copper.

Then circuits (green/red blue) and then I’ll see if how good my rocket throughput is.

Written by taogaming

June 4, 2017 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with

Mid-year Media

The Good

Just finished Better Call Saul Season 2 (on Netflix). Still amazing.

Waiting for Rick and Morty S3.

Currently reading The Complete David Bowie (Revised edition).  Not a bio, but a series of encyclopedic entries about each song, album, movie, tours, etc. The entry on Blackstar (the song) justifies the cost, and the rest of the book is interesting, too. (Unlike the expectations I had when I wrote my obituary for Bowie, Blackstar (the album) is damn good, although I suspect it wouldn’t have won so many awards if Bowie was still alive). Also, I finally got around to watching the Prestige, which was good (Bowie has a minor role).

Also reading some short stories and novellas by Gene Wolf. Just started.

Currently Watching Grace and Frankie S3 and its somewhere between great and cringeworthy. But mostly great.

The OK

I’m watching the current season of Doctor Who and it is a step up (I disliked Clara). It’s mostly fine, with a few good episodes and one great one. (Actually, that’s kind of par for Doctor Who, but I really disliked Clara and then she stuck around past the resolution of her story, IMO). Nardole is a great addition. Bill is fine (praise the maker for a companion who is just a companion). Capaldi is reliably excellent. I used to love Moffat, but I’m ready for him to go now.

Still watching Supernatural, the definition of comfort-inertia TV. The TaoLing is still very into this. I assume it will keep going until the leads cannot physically do this.

F is for Family is not great, but a small commitment and amusing enough.

I was not impressed with the current season of Archer. It may not be a purchase anymore. It wasn’t bad, and had funny moments, but there weren’t many quotable lines or even a standout episode.

The “Uh, maybe not” files

Haven’t gotten around to watching Rectify S3, but that just dropped fairly recently and I may watch it.

Gave up on Iron Fist halfway through the season. Never bothered to continue Penny Dreadful or Doctor Norrell & Mr. Strange.

I’ve given up on the Arrowverse. And that was before hitting the terrible S4 stuff (the Arrow reddit decided to just ignore the show and talk about Daredevil. Man.) Just boring. And S2 of Flash lost of a lot of the fun of S1. Agents of Shield is also off the rotation.

I watched the first episode of Riverdale and wow, its trashy. But trashy fun, or trashy-bleh? Not sure yet. May watch more.

As always — open for suggestions.

Also — if I die in the next few days, please avenge my death by killing a few trillion cold viruses in my name. Thank you.

Written by taogaming

June 4, 2017 at 12:03 am

Posted in TV & Media

High Frontier Basic Game Strategy Thoughts

(This was originally published in incomplete form. I hit “publish” instead of “save.” Lots of updates since then).

I remember playing Fugger, Welser, Medici dand realizing the basic game was too … basic. (I later relayed this to Frank and he said “it wasn’t for gamers like us, that’s what the advanced game is for.”)

High Frontier isn’t exactly the same thing. You need at least one basic game to learn the mechanics. (I needed lots). Jumping straight into the advanced game is optimistic. Even adding only the support module ridiculously increases the number of moving parts. But even for slow people such as myself the basic game does seem too basic after a few plays.

It ends just after it gets going. Industrialize a second colony, you are done (or almost). After the first few games,  TaoLing and I played “longer” extended games to seven colonies, where you might get something like a claim on Sycorax, but our most recent 7 colony game took …. 40 minutes. We’ve started adding advanced modules.

The basic game is not without interest, so some thoughts.

  • This is a race game. Only one action a turn, but also space travel in addition. If you start your trip a turn or two earlier that can be a big advantage because its hard (but not impossible) to make up time later on.
  • One rule I was taught wrong is that you can’t bid if you have three (non-crew) cards in hand. It turns out you can bid if you have less than four (so, three is OK).
  • My big mistake in my early games: buying random cards, then trying to make something work. Most cards are good for something, but trying to figure out what is hard.
  • In general, Robonauts before Refineries. Makes sense — Robonauts prospect. Yes, you can use your ISRU 4 crew but here’s the list of ISRU 4 sites inside of Jupiter: Mars (10 gravity, ugh), Ceres (a good target, although 6 gravity probably means you’ll need your crew) and eight inconvenient size-one sites (which aren’t near anything). It’s not a great list. Even an ISRU of 3 opens up a lot of options.
  • If you only looked at the asteroid belt for your first mission, you’d probably be right. (For your first game narrowing your decision space is a good idea). If you are playing to seven (or some higher number depending on # of players, which isn’t a variant) you can start looking at Jupiter’s moons or even more distant.
  • Remember — the map represents delta-v. Sites on opposite sides of the board but in the same belt are surprisingly close (in terms of number of burns and turns). You can run from Lutetia (a 3M-3 hydration site) to Hertha (ditto) for two burns in a single turn (via Sol-Jupiter L1 burn). Think of the board as “energy bands.”
  • There is no “C” class refinery, FYI. Type D and S sites are much rare (in the basic games) so those cards are slightly less useful.
  • Weight matters, but less with good fuel efficiency. A nice rule of thumb I found on BGG states “Your wet mass/dry mass ratio will need to be roughly equal to your fuel single-burn fuel consumption (or better).” So if you have the Metastable Helium thruster (5 Mass, 5 Net Thrust * 1 fuel per burn), then your wet mass doesn’t have to much exceed your dry mass, so you can get a heavy robonaut and refinery and still go tooling around for 4 water. But if you get the Mirror Steamer (0 Mass, 3 Net Thrust * 4 Fuel per burn, Solar, Push) you are going to have real trouble if your dry mass gets above three-ish, so you’ll probably need two trips. Bid up the 1 fuel/burn cards.
  • Getting your first factory ASAP is a big deal. It provides:
    • 8 free water for refueling. Even if your robonaut and refinery can’t be built, you can take a turn to refuel and send your (now light) rocket back to LEO to pick them back up instead of having to re-boost and refuel the rocket.
    • ET production. Not only are the black side of cards better (much, much better), you get a card out there a few years in advance, save the cost of re-boosting, etc.  ET producing a robonaut to prospect for your second factory (using your on-site thruster) is a big deal. If you have a robonaut and refinery of the type you just colonized, it’s probably a winner. (With both for Vs, aim for Vesta, which at size six means you can’t fail the prospecting roll, and only has a half landing burn. Getting both Ms aim for Lutetia then Hertha, for a 75% chance of a claim. Ds and Ss

Common planning pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Can you land? Remember, your net thrust must exceed the sites size. Some ways to get around this (if your main thruster isn’t good enough).
    • Afterburning.
    • Size games. Take everything, drop a part in orbit to lower a size class (increasing net thrust). Leave the first part on the site,take off, pick up the last part. (Dropping off and picking up is a free action, but you can’t pick up in the middle of a move).
    • Use your crew to land. It costs no fuel (if there isn’t a lander burn). Vesta and Ceres with their half lander burns are reasonable. (If you have to pay a full lander burn, your main crew’s rocket may be prohibitively expensive).
  2. Will you be able to take off? (This mainly applies to aerobraking). You can easily trap yourself if you use your crew to go someplace like the moon. (If you can’t take off, you can turn your crew into a colonist and get some VP).
  3. Do you have enough fuel? Seems obvious, but don’t forget fuel for afterburns. Size tricks may cost you some fuel as well
    • Consider Demos (or some other high hydration site) for a turn or two of refueling. Particularly if you have a low ISRU, you can get a lot of fuel that way. Seeing a ‘pit stop’ at the (already busted) Demos to refuel was my first “aha” moment.
  4. Do you have the ISRU rating to prospect the site (or refuel)? (Even after ten games I’ve still just said, “Oh, I’ll go there” and then realized my robonaut couldn’t cut it because I was so focused on fuel/thrust/etc.

Sites of Interest

The training book’s guide is good and worth reading for your first few games. Some thoughts:

Planets are Hard. You can go for Mercury (North Pole) or Mars but you’ll need 11 thrust (or aerobraking rolls). But those are basically one way trips unless you can build a factory. For those, you’ll need a crew with a 10 Net thrust and afterburn. You could also just send down a robonaut and refinery, but the advantage of getting your first factory is basically negated because you can’t really ET produce or use the factory to refuel unless you have a powerful crew rocket. On the other hand, these can be a guaranteed second factory.

The moon is easier, but you’ll need a good ISRU.

Ceres is a sure thing with four hydration, requires only 7 thrust (usually within the reach of a basic game crew) and only a half burn. Depending on your thruster you may need to stop at Demos. Vesta is also a sure thing but slightly farther away and requires an ISRU of 2. (To compensate, its a V world, which is likely to score better and will have a few refineries that can be ET produced there).

Thrusters

In the basic game the most important thing is Fuel per burn, because lower means you can go farther. High thrust is nice (because that lets you land on more places, or maybe get there a turn or two earlier) but you often get around that by taking your crew and using it (assuming no lander burns, or maybe a half burn). In the advanced game the worse rockets are balanced by needing more supports, or worse rad-hardness, but in the basic game? Nope.

If you ordered thrusters by FPB in the basic game, you’d be close to right. (Ignoring the solar sails, because 0 net thrust is a problem).

Key is [#Mass, Thrust * Fuel per Burn (After Burn cost, Class), P = Push, S = Solar]. I’m not going to worry too much about the advanced (black) side because you won’t for your first games.

In rough order of worst to best:

Photon Heliogyro / Photon Kite Sail [0M, 0*0 (-,C) Solar] — Basically the same. Not really useful in the basic game (said the guy who almost never goes inside the earth orbit]. You could use these to get maybe a free burn if you are a small light ship, so perhaps I shouldn’t discount this.

Mirror Steamer [0M, 3*4(2,D) SP] — Zero mass, but 4 fpb. Ugh. The one thing that’s nice is that you could boost this with a robonaut and leave really early, take a pot shot at Demos and refuel. But the problem is that the mass savings from boosting are (in the basic game) a one time savings. You’ll be paying for fuel the rest of the game. Also, this can’t land too many places.

Ablative Plate [4M, 2*2(1,V) P] — Two fpb isn’t bad, but nothing else is great. High mass, low thrust. If you get the black side you get a mass reduction and a thrust increase, but its nothing to write home about. You’ll almost certainly need to take your crew to land anywhere. The rare case where low fpb isn’t great.

Cermet NERVA [2M, 7*4(1,S)] — OK, terrible Fuel per Burn (fpb), but the 7 thrust means you can land on Ceres or Vesta (which are sure things], but you are likely making two trips. If you can flip this you lose one thrust (but can afterburn) but your fpb drops to 2, which makes this pretty good.

Hall Effect [2M, 3*2(-,C)P] — No afterburn and a low thrust means you’ll need your crew, but otherwise good.

Mass Driver [5M, 4*3(-,M)P, Dirt] –This is heavy, 3 fpb isn’t great, but being a dirt thruster compensates. You can always grab 10 fuel anywhere (dirt rockets refuel at ten and ignores ISRU rating!) so you really only need to pay to get to Demos and then jaunt out. If you flip this over you go to 3M 2*0.5, which basically means you never run out of fuel, but you’ll need another rocket to land most places.

De Laval Nozzle [4M, 5*2(2,M)P] — Decent thrust, decent fpb. Can even land on Ceres or Vesta (often taking two trips).

Ponderomotive VASIMR [3M, 3*1(1,V)P] — Compare with the mirror steamer. You pay 3 more mass, but you save so much fpb.

Metastable Helium [5M, 5*1(1,V)] — The king of rockets. Yes, its heavy. But 1 fpb rules. If you flip it over you’ll drop some mass and your fpb goes to a ridiculous 1/3rd, but even unflipped its a workhorse in the asteroid belt. With 5 thrust (maybe 4 or 3 due to weight) you can often make a hohmann pivot every turn and gain a lot of time. And you save time by taking your robo+refinery in one trip. Letting this go cheaply is a mistake.

Robonauts

Buggys let you get a re-roll or multiple sites (on a planet), so that’s nice. Missiles have a built in thruster (Uusually with terrible fpb, but in this case you save an auction and a part, so you could buy this and start scooting around early to make a bunch of pot shot claims and then buy/send a refinery later). And Rayguns let you go for multiple sites from orbit. Unlike thrusters (in the basic game) there’s lots of differences between robonauts.

There are a few different ‘classses’ of robonauts:

  • The 4 fpb missile. These are good to grab as a first card if you can launch and run to Demos (etc) to refuel and go get a claim, planning on getting a thruster and refinery later.
  • The rayguns. These let you hit a bunch of asteroids at once.
  • The oddballs (including buggies).

A quick note of sites: C are common, M aren’t common, but there are a few good targets. There are many S targets but they tend to have lower hydration (often zero). V and

[#Mass, type-ISRU (Type) ]

In alphabetical order:

Cat Fusion Z-pinch Torch — 3M, Buggy-2 (D).  Decent mass, decent ISRU.  Turns into a higher mass ISRU 0 Missile.

Explosive Gas Dynamic Laser — 3M, Raygun-2 (S). Improves to 2M Ray-0

Flywheel Tractor — 2M, Buggy-3 (S).  Improves to 1M Buggy-1.

Free Electron Laser — 5M Raygun-1 (S). Don’t let the 5 mass worry you (I mean, unless you have a 3-4 fpb thruster). If you get the Free Electron Laser you may want to go to the Karin cluster and hope to get one of Karin-a, b or c. That’s a 50/50 shot in one turn (you can raygun produce without going onto the hazard roll). If you get the claim you can ET produce this (as the Wakefield E-beam Missile with a quite decent 4*2(2) dirt rocket, but it becomes a Missile-1.

Kuck Mosquito — 1M Missile-3, 10 * 8(2) (V). The Mosquito pairs nicely with Ablative Plate or other low net thrust thruster, in that you only use this for the landing. You save weight on crew, its mass is low. If you happen to build it on a V planet, you can ET produce the Ablative Laser, which is a 3 * 1(3, push) Missile 2 with no mass. No raygun, but it can hop around quickly.

MET Steamer — 3M Missile-2 5*4(1) Push (C). This guy is a reasonable first buy. Buy, boost, fuel, go to Demos to potshot and/or refuel. By itself it can make a run at Ceres (small size for +1 thrust, afterburn for another). You’ll need another rocket to bring the refinery, but then you can ET produce the Nanobot, a zero mass Buggy-1.

Neutral Beam — 5M Raygun-2 (S). Slightly inferior to the Free Electron Laser, but this does flip over to the a 3*1/2(1) Missile.

Nuclear Drill — 2M Missile-3 5*4(1, Push) (M). Like the MET Steamer, this can be used as an early scout, planning on bring a rocket+ refinery later. This is an odd card in that the black side has a much higher mass (5), but it does become a Raygun-0 (while still having a thruster), which means you can scout a bunch of small asteroids (like the Koronis group) in one go.

Phase-Locked Diode Laser — 3M Raygun-3 (C). A very good robonaut, because there are lots of C targets, and it flips over to 0M.

Rock Splitter — 3M Buggy-4 (V). Buggy is good, but ‘4’ is bad. You could claim 2 Mars sites, I suppose. But there has to be a worst robonaut.

Solar-pumped MHD Exciplex Laser — 5M Raygun-2 (C). Doesn’t the name just roll off the tongue and fall like lead to the floor? This is another one of the 5M rayguns, and this one flips over (Quantum Cascade Laser) to a 3 mass ray-0. Ray-0 is great, and as a ‘c’ type card, this is the easiest to get.

Tungsten Resistojet — 2M 5*4(1) Missile-3 (M). Another decent “early thruster explorer.”. This flips over to a decent 4*2(1) Push missile-1.

Refineries

In the basic game, basically you just want to get one. If it matches your target, that’s nice. Mass 3 is nicer than mass four, but unless you have a bad fpb its not a huge deal.

Written by taogaming

May 28, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with

A lot of research on the question of Kickstarters

is a nice thing, and the resulting article is worth a read.

(Intelligent curmudgeonry leads to the same result much faster, but you have to appreciate the effort of doing the math).

In other news, AlphaGo is retiring undefeated. (The main news from Game 2 is that according to AlphaGo’s analysis, Ke Jie was ‘playing perfectly’ through the first hundred moves. Ke Jie thought he was winning and said his excitement may have led to the mistakes that cost him the game). I’d like to see Deepmind work on something of more value (AI medicine, or driving) but the last two years of Go has been interesting.

Played a few games of non-basic High Frontier (just with basic rules + supports. Nothing else) and its still quite demanding. I may play a few tries at the Advanced Solitaire CEO. Apart from one game of 7 wonders duel and two sessions of bridge, I have played literally nothing else the last month.

Written by taogaming

May 27, 2017 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Linky Love, Session Reports

Tagged with ,

Watching AlphaGo

Apparently its much stronger while using only 10% of its CPU. (Echoes of the “humans only use 10% of their brain” myth). The interesting thing is that apparently Ke Jie used some of AlphaGo’s opening moves and there’s a weird grouping in the upper left.  (Even though the game was over, I’m watching a ‘real time’ video with commentary….with some web browsing while waiting for moves)

I’m certainly not good enough to comment, but even with a glancing knowledge you can see how AlphaGo has changed the conventional wisdom about the game…

Written by taogaming

May 23, 2017 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized