The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘factorio

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

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(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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The rule of factorio is more factorio

While I’m waiting for 0.15 to drop, I’ve been building up a mega (for me) factory.

Not a mega-base, but pretty big

That’s about 35 hours of game time. After I launched a satellite, I stopped researching (and paused my second satellite because the strain of it nearly cost me my entire petrochemical resources). I’m building up my train network and moving slowly out.

I’ve already depleted three of my iron deposits and multiple copper deposits (those kinks in my train network were adhoc stations, now removed).

My train network is (sadly) spaghetti near the base and I originally built track with 1-2-1  trains (one locomotive, two cargos, a reversed locomotive). This lets you run automatically on a single track, but it doesn’t scale well and switching to run-on-right tracks (like highways, one lane going one direction and the other reversed) matters when you start wanting to have a lot of traffic. (I guess 6 trains counts as a lot for me). I’m in the process of switching to 1-2 double tracks, but you can still see where I haven’t finished (right near CopperLoading-2). I also have to hook up my iron and copper/oil networks together, so that I can move Iron from the NW to the SE loading station.

I now know to not put a station for ore loading on a main train line, just branch. And to keep straight lines (horizontal or vertical) for the most part, because you can blueprint a few patterns and be done. Ad-hoc is bad. Power isn’t a big concern. I’m mostly solar, which costs lots of real estate and resources, but since the point was to experiment with mega-bases, that’s ok. I do look forward to Nuclear power in 0.15.

Some of my solar arrays …. Don’t hand-build more than one….

I think I’ve got trains down …. I still miss a signal from time to time, but I’ve blueprinted them and rarely spend more than a minute before spotting a problem. A significant fraction of my power goes towards laser turrets, for good reason.

The natives are restless

Anyway, scaling up a mega base means more-more-more. More ore. More factories. More throughput. I’m building way too many modules, which is also way too few.

Magic (main) bus,carrying parts to all the assembly machines

Still too much spaghetti in the station (despite having a main bus) and I’m using logistics bots, but mainly as my valets (and a few odd things like my satellite construction and disposing of lumber by feeding trains). And I (again) found a lot of things I would do differently next time.

Still enjoying this.

Update — And then I ended up staying up another few hours to fix my train network, add two mining operations, re-jigger my oil network, expand my power supply by three mega-arrays (thankfully I noticed a few minutes before a catastrophic shortage). Next is ore processing throughput/switching to advanced ovens. And there’s four hours gone.

Written by taogaming

April 1, 2017 at 8:26 pm

More Factorio, all the time

  1. I watched Anti-Elitz’s new WR speedrun live. Another “Well, I can’t get any geekier” moment come and gone. (I actually went and had lunch during some of the early restarts, but I saw the last 1.5 hours of the WR run). As I said to Mrs. Tao — The difference between this and the rest of the nation’s sports viewing today is that they’ll never actually play college basketball. (Some of A.E.s new designs are clever, although he’s optimizing for fewest keystrokes/mouseclicks instead of other aspects. But optimization is optimization).
  2. I wrote an actual strategy post for Factorio and posted it to reddit. It concerns the use of negative feedback to promote factory resilience. And I say (with all due modesty) that a) that’s a better title and b) more use of control theory than my Master’s Thesis. That would have really depressed me 25 years ago.

Written by taogaming

March 26, 2017 at 7:49 pm

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Factorio Train Debugging

(This post is so that people can help debug my train layout. Nothing to see here unless you are into that).

Update — There is a single rail missing right above the station in the first picture. But you can’t see it because the toolbar blocks it, and the locomotive obscures the view. Thanks to everyone who helped.)

Here’s the layout. The train can go to OilLoading-1 or OilLoading-2 but not back to OilUnloading.

Map Layout


Here’s a look at the OilUnloading Station. I think it says NoPath because … honestly I’m not sure. If I hit “Go to OilLoading-1” it does. Is it trying to go to Unloading even though its there?

Unloading station

Walking to the NW, we can see a junction. The most likely culprit.

Main intersection


Continuing, its a long stretch with a few links just to break things up (for future traffic).

Next links

More links


Finally we get towards the outpost.

Join into loading station

loading station


Ideas appreciated.

Written by taogaming

March 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

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All Factorio All The Time

And not much boardgaming. I actually took the TaoLing to game night this week and played …. one game of Jump Drive. Just wasn’t in the mood to play much. It happens. On the Factorio front I’m building a mega-ish-base (ish because once 0.15 drops I’ll probably upgrade and restart). An interesting learning experience (quite different from speed runs). Also learning how to deal with big alien bases. (I do hope they do something interesting with Laser Turrets in the new expansion, because there are lots of inferior weapon types, and Laser Turrets.

A large up front cost to build, but no ammo cost (assuming your power is fine).

I’ve actually just been watching a lot of Factorio as well. Watching the TaoLing play, and some youtube channels.

On the actual game front, been playing Sentinels and finally convinced the TaoLing to play Advanced villains, so its a challenge. Also played a few games of Fairy Tale.

Written by taogaming

March 22, 2017 at 8:44 pm

Do you even optimize, bro?

I’ve been whittling my best Factorio time down, and got a launch just over the nine hour mark (on peaceful). I think with more play I can make the eight hour achievement. I’ve also kept a factory going longer just to tinker … sometimes you want to play the big game. I’ll probably start a game on hard setting just to get more into the military side, and I haven’t even touched trains (except in the scenario and my first game). Then there are mega-factories. Launching one rocket per minute (RPM) is an impressive feat (I’m going for a second rocket in one game and thinking about just building a rocket factory).

Then there’s the guy who built a factory that averaged one RPM over its lifetime (granted, that was a few hundred hours so he could spend time launching multiple RPM to balance out the first).

And then there’s this guy. His factorio is called Grey Goo Mark I, which is an insanely descriptive name in computing.

And I haven’t yet even taught trains to dance.

So, factorio has that elusive “Just one more,” bit. “Oh, I’ll just balance my belt lines.” “Oh, I’ll just expand my belt factory.” “Oh, here I go murdering again.” And suddenly its 1.30 am.

Update — It also has styles of play. Speedrun (I’m speedrunned out, right now). I just finished every research achievement, and built up a base that has launched 7 rockets. Now I’m trying to figure out advanced trains and started a new game with actual enemies and a goal of a decent (non-spaghetti) design. I may be going too slow. And playing Multi-player with the TaoLing ….

Written by taogaming

February 18, 2017 at 11:17 am

Posted in Reviews

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A long session

Played a poker session where I won a small and big blind on the first hand, then went down to 40% of my buy in for most of the night, and then went back to 110% right before the game ended. Then I came home and wasn’t quite sleepy enough to go to sleep despite the hour, so I played “just a bit more” of my factorio (air quote) speed run (air quote). I had a fair amount of of rocket units and low density structures built before I finished my silo so I quickly got up to 40% ready to launch within a few minutes of the silo’s completion, but the remainder took two hours, so I didn’t get to bed until … just before dawn. Still, under twelve hours.

Played a game of Magic Realm with the TaoLing. Actually, I mainly let him play, I was sketching out some player aids (literally sketching/drafting. I’m taking a drawing course and since I couldn’t find the graphics I wanted I figured I’d just hand make them for practice). Had a relatively safe, boring game of -6 (elf) and -9 (dwarf) game. Jr’s, Witch found the Altar right away, Absorb Essence’d the Demon, and then used that to a) defeat a bunch of creatures with little/no risk and b) read runes and search the Enchanted Toadstool with no chance of a curse. Actually, the latter part may be wrong. I should check.

Then finished the day spending a few hours exploring the post-launch part of the game. Aidan enjoys managing this (although he mainly just sits and offers advice), and had been asking to continue past the launch. I’m personally more fond of the mid game (the first 10% of the game is pretty much hand-crafting). I’d already built a logistics network (in my first, 35 hour launch game), but now I’m going to try the blueprint system and modular armor and possibly start a mega-base. For a while. I actually took a screen shot of my launch at the five hour mark (T-7H) and then another screen shot at the T+2H mark. They are remarkably similar.

Base at the Five Hour Mark

Base at the Five Hour Mark

Base at the 14 hour mark

Base at the 14 hour mark

They are remarkably similar.The main addition was the intermediate + advanced circuit production (and speed modules) that were added in the gap above the copper smelting. A lot of expansion happened outside the main base — improved steel production to the north east, a new oil field to the south west (plastic production was my bottleneck and I probably lost an hour before I realized that) and a giant (post launch) solar field to the north west that you can somewhat see. I’m going to test my blueprints out on that and deforestation (to get to more oil).

I mainly put these pictures in to see if anyone else thinks they look like circuits.

I also managed to knock a few games off my “Games you should play soon” list, including my first game of Phoenecia in over a thousand days. It turns out that the GYSPSTYO list is a Top 20 list, so I guess there will always be twenty games on it. But I’ll just try to get the number of games with 1000+ days to zero.

And after a week’s respite, I’ll probably get in a few games of Jump Drive soon.

Written by taogaming

February 5, 2017 at 12:14 am

Posted in Magic Realm, Session Reports

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