The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Some thoughts

  1. I picked up Civ VI as my holiday computer game (counting Portal Bridge Constructor as my pre-holiday computer game). $30 until end of the year. I like, but I prefer the old, easy to read graphics. Also, the tutorial can be multi-hour and has no save. Sheesh. But the split of research into science (technology), civics (governments and improvements) and faith (religion) plus great leaders all having their own points seems correct. It may be overgilding the lily.
  2. Speaking of, I’m about 40% of the way through P.B.C., fine for a game that cost $10. It’s difficult already.
  3. The Wild Blue Yonder Solitaire campaign does not capture any of the joy of the game. I’ll probably play both sides in an actual campaign to learn the rules (I hope). Not great solitaire, since its an action-response basis and I’ll know both hands (somewhat); acceptable as a rules exercise.
  4. I may write a Year In Review, but this wasn’t a big year for gaming (for me).

Happy Holidays!


Written by taogaming

December 23, 2017 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Misc

Follow up, links

Re: Alpha Zero — Thoughts from Ken Regan, including how this affects his thoughts that a perfect chess player would be rated ~3600 ELO, and how to generalize the algorithm to hard (non-game) problems by making the problem an opponent.

Re: Universal Paperclips — Ted Chiang (author of the story that became Arrival) on how the “Paperclip AI” that destroys the world by trying to maximize a single parameter already exists …. and is called ‘the corporation.’

As a Factorio player I’m not in much of a position to laugh at Minecraft …. (and the SouthPark episode “Informative Murder Porn” had some great Minecraft gags), but at least I can say that my game didn’t inspire a truly massive botnet that disrupted much of the US Internet last year.

And I’m taking a small bite-of-cake-sized break from Factorio to spend some time on a new game with an old friend. For Science. You Monster.

Written by taogaming

December 20, 2017 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Linky Love

Wild Blue Yonder Initial Thoughts

I finally got to play a pair of 2 v 2 dogfights for Wild Blue Yonder, so a few thoughts. I poked around for a review for Rise of the Luftwaffe I wrote years back and found it on BGG, and not much has changed, for the dogfight. Simply, during your turn you pick an enemy (if you aren’t already in a furball) and play an attack card (which may give you position, or actually fire your weapon, or do a few other things). Your target may respond. You may respond to his response, etc. If the ‘attacker’ played the last response, the attack card takes effect. If the defender did it’s cancelled, but you can play as many attack cards as you qualify for (actually attacks cost “bursts” which are limited by your plane and position, but maneuvers are typically always playable, unless you already tailing your target).

Since most response cards cancel 2-3 cards, there’s probably a decent amount of skill of knowing the best way to cancel. You can also count cards. On the bigger picture you have to decide when to target a leader or the wingman, and play with altitude. I suppose its not surprising there are no strategy articles on BGG. It seems so simple, but I suspect even the dogfight has real depth. Yes, its a card game, so even a bad player can win sometimes, but skill will usually show in an equal match. (I do think the supposedly equal match (based on card VPs) that I offered was in fact slightly unbalanced, the British planes extra HP being less valuable than the better hand size for the Germans. The Germans won handily against the novice British, but the second game was much closer, although still a German victory, but with significant losses).

Unlike prior entries in the series, each side has their own deck of cards, which means if you draw the very good Ace Pilot cards (cancel any other card), I may still have mine in my deck. Ditto any other good or bad card. They may still cycle out in a bad time (when a wing-man draws their mini-hand) but at least its not “He got aces and I got deuces.” Your aces may show up later — possibly too late, but statistically it is more likely to even out. A nice touch.

I’ve read the campaign rules and would like to play a campaign. There was a solo campaign promised but it doesn’t seem to be anything like the regular ones. I guess I should have expected that, given the complexity of the card game, but I’m disappointed. There are many, many campaigns. The rules don’t seem complex, but they are numerous.

I was ready to really praise the insert. As some of you may know, I typically just chuck inserts. This seemed great. It could hold the cards while storing most counters underneath (although bagging the campaign pilots to keep them out of the way). But when I put the actual airplane cards in I discovered the space was so tight I couldn’t easily get them out, even with a thin blade I could only pry up 1/2 at a time. (When they were shrink wrapped pulling one out pulled them all out). Insert tossed. The box is the nice and sturdy type GMT has. I haven’t sleeved my cards, but I may if I play it frequently. (The cards seem generally nicer than the ones I remember, but its been a few years since I traded my copy away).

I think even interested ten year olds could play the dogfight. I’m hoping to interest the TaoLing in the campaign at some point. We’ll see.

Written by taogaming

December 18, 2017 at 11:32 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Pay no attention…

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 ….

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)

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

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 ,