The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

Open Thread — What are you buying in the GMT Sale (if anything)

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I could roll the dice on a few things, or perhaps try a COIN, … what are you getting (or would get, if you didn’t have already)? (See the 18 Oct update for more info).

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Written by taogaming

October 21, 2018 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Open Thread

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Some of my odd ideas go to BGG

But I’m sure you knew that.

Written by taogaming

August 11, 2018 at 9:07 pm

Dammit, Trader Joe’s….

Driving into work I hear an ad “This program supported by Trader Joe’s. Buy our wonderful dough and make a nice ‘za for dinner.”

As someone who railed against the inclusion of ZA in the OSPD, this felt like a personal attack from T.J. I’m assuming that T.J. put the apostrophe (or maybe airquotes) and the announcer didn’t pronounce them…

Written by taogaming

March 21, 2018 at 7:06 pm

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Essen Shmessen

Nothing (gaming wise) interests me more than the previews for Dominion: Nocturne. This looks to be an excellent expansion. Dominion is one of those games that rarely gets played, but is steadily good and continues to have new ideas and argument #1 for varietal expansions.

Also, Halloween is almost ‘pon us and I haven’t been to the game club/store since summer, so I have no idea if anything else good has arrived/is around the corner.

Written by taogaming

October 28, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Open Thread

Well played

The live band at the beach bar last night mainly did the stuff you’d expect a live-band to do, but their Instrumental mashup of The Entertainer (as made famous by the Sting) and the Mario Brothers Theme was actually amazing.

Also, my sister-in-law is friends with some of Fragile Rock, which is may be a truly great band name and a truly horrifying idea. But the best band name that I heard of last week (in the Bowie book I’m reading)?

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.

Gaming at the beach? I did learn Mexican Train (possibly correctly, possibly not). Also played a game of Scrabble (your bingo challenge rack is — ehikost) and some Boggle. But overall not much gaming. I did read the latest bridge bulletin, although judging from the cover you would think that bridge is a chore and burden. Perhaps the ACBL is actually composed of people who have managed to construct a derivative that allows them to short-sell bridge.

(This is not the first time I’ve had that thought).

Anyway, I’m now back from “second vacation”, which probably means I should not game and go back to work. We’ll see.

Written by taogaming

July 8, 2017 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Two reviews of ‘Seeing Like a State’

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

What is Winning? Factorio, High Frontier and the Goals of Games

(Update — Fixed some typos, fleshed out thoughts, added links. Also, I don’t wish to imply that Mombasa or Jump Drive are bad. I like both. I use them because I played them during the same week).

During my time at the Gathering, I played 31 games. Eclipse, Colonists and 3 plays of High Frontier took roughly 21 hours. The remaining 26 games took about 20 hours.

I spent my first two games of High Frontier doing terribly. I earned 1VP apart from Heroism (aka “The Challenger Explosion card” aka “Pity Points”).

Suppose winning just involved earning VPs at a fixed rate (ignoring opponents). It takes about 40 VP to win High Frontier, so I would ‘win’ after four hundred hours of gameplay.

Let’s flip that around. Wins/hour. For those first two games I earned 0.0025 WPH.

Among the other games I played were Mombasa and Jump Drive. For Mombasa I earned about .7 WPH, since I generated enough VP to win in my game, which was about 1.5 hours. A nice rate. My Jump Drive rate was 4 WPH for the Gathering, slightly higher than my typical 3 wins per hour. But I taught the game twice.

So, for 10 hours of High Frontier (roughly 1/4 of my gaming time) I was arguably the least effective game-player in all of the gathering. I’d have to go to ten gatherings to eke out a single win. (I have some true anti-skill in that game. But I did eventually get a bit better). Apparently I did OK in my only game with second edition (although it left me cold), but we did the fast start, so I may have randomly gotten a good setup.

Of course Wins Per Hour is a somewhat ludicrous idea. Isn’t it? It seems obvious, but winning isn’t the problem. And we routinely praise games for being “tight” or “fast” or having a high decision density.

I was already pondering the similarities between High Frontier (the current hotness) and Factorio (the current hotness is not necessarily a singular). I mean, they both have Rockets, but there were other similarities. I’d been thinking about it (vaguely) even before Jeroen asked me to pitch Factorio to him over breakfast. One of the random thoughts I blurted out was its old school scoring. (It was a long pitch. In my defense, I had previously warned him that if he asked about Factorio he should set aside a day for my answer).

Anyway, old school scoring. Launching one rocket (aka “Winning”) gives you a score of …. one. Its like how the original pinball machines had scores like 1-2-3 for each bumper, but now you get a million points for simply launching the ball. But after you get on the scoreboard in Factorio, you can keep going.

Factorio is optimization, but you are free to decide what to optimize:

1) Speed (the speedrun: how fast can you win?)

2) Throughput (how many rockets per unit time can you get? This can be subdivided to a final sprint, ignoring the setup time, or over the lifetime of your game).

3) Size (How small a factory can you get a rocket out of. This is currently a challenge on Reddit. Yes, these rockets would take roughly one year of real time to be built, but they are ludicrously small factories).

There are others. People play without using robots (or just logistic robots, or just personal robots), or without lasers, or trains. Some play peaceful, some play Deathworld. Factorio has a victory condition, but people often ignore it. You can keep playing after you win. It’s a sandbox. You make what you want. I’m watching “The Belt Diva” on youtube, and its like watching Bob Ross. Happy little conveyer belts. She wants to build a mega base. I have no idea if she’ll launch a rocket. Does it matter?

Mombasa is not a sandbox. Neither is Jump Drive. You could argue that High Frontier isn’t a sandbox either, it has VP and end game conditions, but the standard criticism again Eklund’s games is: “Great simulations with arbitrary endgame/VPs attached.” (The latest edition of High Frontier’s scoring seems reasonable and at about the right time).

Ignore the victory conditions for High Frontier and just play with the system and it would still work. (Also true of American Mega Fauna, or other games like Seven Ages. You could just tell people to play in the best interest of their species/nation and not the actual victory conditions).

You could add self imposed conditions on your game. Only use solar sails, or “try to get out to Neptune with only basic cards,” or “Make the Kessel Run in 7 parsecs.” For any Eklund game, you could take a reasonable goal (“Expand your species,” “Become President of Mexico,” “Kessel Run”) and if you achieved it, who cared what the VPs said?

High Frontier feels like a sandbox (much like all Sierra Madre games).

Can you do that with a Euro? I suppose you could just say “I’m trying to maximize my red cubes and not VP” But that seems silly. The goal is to maximize VP.

Objectively, there’s no difference. You lose, the other players win. You may throw the game by being silly. But in a sandbox game it feels acceptable.

You might not even mess up the other players. (If you didn’t mention you had mentally altered your victory conditions, they might not even notice, assuming you chose something ‘reasonable’) We’ve already quietly accepted the premise that in a sandbox game the VPs are somewhat not the point when we criticize the poor victory conditions in otherwise good games.

We wouldn’t play a Euro similarly broken. Wouldn’t make sense.

I once knew someone who built a Magic deck with 58 islands, 1 mountain and 1 fireball. (Several of my readers should remember him). The point was to build a deck that could theoretically win (if you drew the mountain, the fireball, and then managed to play 20 lands). He’d pull this deck and lose and lose to people who often did not notice that their opponent never did anything except play islands. He was truly Andy Kaufman, CCG player.

Or perhaps Stanley Milgram.

When I’m losing a game like High Frontier (or Combat Commander, or Seven Ages, or Here I Stand), I may flounder and grasp for a way out of my situation, but I feel perfectly happy just exploring the system even though the time invested is well out of proportion to what I’d normally give to a game.

I’ve dismissed countless games after one play (or less), games I’ve won included. Games I won especially. Those tend to fail the test of time (unless everyone was new).  A game where I can beat experienced players probably isn’t that deep, or has too much luck.

Whereas games I lost repeatedly include Titan, 18xx, Magic Realm (counting dying as a loss), Chess, Go, Bridge.

Clearly, I’m not optimizing my wins per hour. Knizia has that quote….

When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning

Pretty Zen, but I get (and approve) the idea. Those guys who crushed that sub-sub-Mendoza line Magic deck and chortled and kept playing it again and again to rack up wins? Not great gamers.

But is the goal really to win? Usually, yes. When I played American Megafauna with non-existent or terribly wrong Victory Conditions, I don’t recall having less fun. In High Frontier I started out trying to win. Mainly I was trying to do something constructive. A Winning-adjacent goal.

Some play games to explore systems, but that requires a system worth exploring. Which is not to say that Mombasa or Jump Drive’s design is not deep. Just (relatively) transparent. You can argue about the best path to winning, but that path is well defined. With Combat Commander or Magic Realm or High Frontier, you aren’t sure what’s going to happen, and sometimes the joy is just in unlocking the secret or even seeing that rocket take flight. In fact, defining the direction of the path is surprisingly hard … the player that did best may be the one that lost, according to the rules. It’s like that old Supreme Court definition of pornography. You know who won when you played it. Who cares what the rules said?

Its like watching your factory grow, then deciding what you want to optimize next.

Written by taogaming

April 15, 2017 at 11:04 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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