The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Power Grid

Does one dimensional chess work?

As a gedankenexperiment, can one dimensional chess work as a game? Would it scratch the same tactical (and positional) itch? My gut feeling is that it would not, but let me try to reason out why.

Chess works (as a tactical game) because you have a variety of threats, and most of the threats deal with interactions between pieces. Some things in chess just don’t really work. A fork threatens multiple pieces. That can strictly be done in one dimension (a rook or bishop can fork by moving). Discovered attacks by moving out of the way become more difficult, unless you have pieces that effectively move every N squares (skipping over the square in between). These are one-dimensional bishops, although an argument could be made that modular arrays create a second dimension I’ll let it slide, since developing a one-dimensional chess variant that’s interesting is probably a hard problem. Given that some very clever people (including Sid Sackson and Martin Gardner) have tried, I’m going to just go ahead and say that one dimensional chess doesn’t work.

Why? There’s some interaction between the various dimensions. As we’ve forks become much more common and interesting, pins, discoveries, etc proliferate. You need restrictions in a game (as we’ve noted before, letting people move every piece doesn’t work). There’s nothing particularly magical about a single move — double move chess can work — but letting every piece move means you can’t fork, pin, and the like. The game falls apart.

Now, in most games (non-chess) the term “dimension” is more abstract. There are constraints. Not necessarily spatial. They may be temporal (X actions per turn), economic (a literal cost). You may have random constraints (roll and move or other randomizers). You may have incomplete information. You can like big sprawling games (ahem), but if it isn’t just a salad … if the design is actually good, you pare and trim. As the man said…

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Star Trek got it wrong — 3D chess isn’t an improvement over chess, but neither is 1D. Two dimensions is enough for the game to express itself. 3D chess can exist, but it exists as an inferior product. Similarly, 1D chess is inferior.

I don’t think this is particularly controversial, but perhaps I am wrong. I suspect I may be wrong trying to generalize it to other (non-abstract) games, but non-abstracts live across a huge variety of dimensions. How do you compare Food Chain Magnate (which as spatial, temporal, economic, organizational, etc) with superficially similar 18xx — both games are about building and growing a business on a spatial map, but feel nothing alike (to me). They share a few dimensions, but the dimensions they differ on (the fact that the player is 100% owner in FCM and may suffer from agency issues in 1830, for example) make the games distinct.

It’s a complex issue.

All of this propelled by the thought I had earlier tonight — If Power Grid: The Card Game works as a game, does that mean that Power Grid (the board game) is 3D chess and we just didn’t know it?


Written by taogaming

January 3, 2017 at 12:50 am

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with

Miss Celanious

  • Say, does anyone know a good online place to get a large # of the 50 count ultra-pro CCG cases? But less than 200 count (a case). Amazon’s 2 for $10 is nuts, I used to get 4 dozen for roughly a dollar each (plus shipping).
  • Playing Shadowfist with the TaoLing. It’s fun but it’s not primarily a 2player game. Perhaps in the summer I’ll take him to the Shadowfist night.
  • We also watched Real Steel; a movie made for young boys.
  • Finally got a copy of The Resistance. I can’t get anyone to play BSG anymore (because the regulars who play it stopped showing and everyone else prefers the Resistance). I like the game, but I miss BSG.
  • Apart from German Railways, I also tried Oltre Mare this week. Clever idea, but I’m indifferent.
  • Other movie of the week — L’Illusionist. Basically an animated Jacque Tati flick. If that doesn’t make you excited, you should avoid it.
  • Also played First Sparks again, its fine. I can see how some would prefer it because of the streamlining and smaller numbers, but I’d rather spend an extra 30 minutes playing the real thing. I picked up the PG robots expansion though, mainly just because.

Written by taogaming

January 28, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Our long national nightmare is over …

… I finally got in a good session (unlike last month).

The people have spoken … no need to punch the Race expansion tiles. In that sense, I understand those who think it’s overpriced. I’m paying $18-25 to use 25 cards. I don’t particularly care about the solitaire part, or the tiles. From a game point of view, it’s still a great investment if I’ll get another few hundred games out of it.

Middle Kingdom is better with five, but (like many impulse purchases) not something I’m going to play compulsively. It stays in the bag to see if it grows on me.

The Tribune ‘Alea iacta est‘ victory condition (only three requirements, but tribune is mandatory) didn’t work nearly as well as I hoped. I was the first person to get a Tribune (on Turn 5) and had an unblockable victory next turn. Tribune may be best with 4.

Power Grid China felt vaguely like “Power Grid: Age of Steam.” Less plants than players (per turn) and few resources. (It still isn’t as brutal as a typical AoS map). I’m probably not going to buy it anytime soon, because I don’t need 10 PG maps, but worth playing if you like the system. Haven’t tried Korea.

Written by taogaming

November 4, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Yesterday’s Gaming

I played a game of Power Grid! On the Central Europe Map! With the new Deck.

It broke up Race for the Galaxy into two blocks, totaling roughly six hours. As Eric said, this is the Race Blog until further notice.

Power Grid was good — I like the new deck, as the order is a bit more mixed some “High cost, many cities” options right next to “cheap and clean” … a less orderly progression, and fewer “I can’t imagine buying that” choices. There was a time when Power Grid was my “Yeah, let’s play that” game of choice. Partially because it was online, but it’s just inoffensive.

I was thinking about it yesterday, and how much more Power Grid do I need? I’ve got four expansion maps, two decks and a nice version of the Atolla Modulis (actually, two copies of that). Even if I play Power Grid once a month, that’s only twice a year for each map (assuming I ignore the Atols). That’s enough variety. Age of Steam is the same way (and I haven’t even gotten a game of that in this year … the shame). I long ago decided that I have more 18xx games than I need (although I’d still like to try some of the new ones).

Some expansions toss stuff in, but the “New Map” expansion seems limited for all but the most hard care of people. Just an idle thought while I wait for the Race expansion.

Anyway, I’ve finally gotten Research Labs to work, although I still consider slapping it down early a desperation move (unless you tagged a small Alien world and are producing/trading). Using the Labs in a Pioneer role (by constantly exploring) just gives up too much timing control. So you have to slap it down, explore 1-2 times to deduce what the cards are telling you and build up a hand, and then go ahead. Not a stunning insight, but still satisfying to win with.

There’s a thread on the Merchant Guild that left me wondering … which is the least useful big (6-cost) development? Obviously they all require you to go in a specific strategy …

New Economy, I’m looking at you. Discuss.

(Incidentally, the rulebook says 15 developments consume one or more goods. I count 16. Given all developments come in pairs, save the sixes, I make the “Big ones” as Mining League, Free Trade, New Economy and Trade League. Trade League does have a consume (as well as trade) power, right? Is that a typo in the charts?)

Written by taogaming

December 23, 2007 at 10:47 am

Posted in Race for the Galaxy, Ramblings

Tagged with

Quick Thoughts

Played Take Stock Monday. Not bad, not great. So I read Shannon Appelcline’s article on game math, which discussed Take Stock. While everything said is true, its taken out of context. [I’m going to dispense with the mechanisms, which are summarized at the link].

Playing an 11 or 12 as a certificate scores you more … but playing it on the stock locks in your gains. 3 shares at 11 is worse than 6 shares at 7 (33 vs 42), but the round keeps going. Many events knock share prices down. 3 Shares at 11 beats 6 shares at 3. And if you have six shares of a stock … well, nobody else will help it. [If the 11 or 12 is your last card, then playing it as a certificate will also end the round, making that the superior play.

I’d say that one of the standard decisions many games offer (good or bad) is “Small gain now vs larger (but riskier) gain later.”

On the other hand, I’ve only played T.S. once and we never had someone play the 11/12 to end the round. So Shannon could be right. There are three or four ways a round can end, so I’d like more data points. We only played a few rounds; I can’t tell if that’s a style issue.

I’m not anxious to try again, but it’s a reasonable filler.

In other news, I feel dizzy.

Played the Benelux map of Power Grid last night. A nice variant map, fast. (You remove two plants/turn during Phases I & II — the highest goes under the Phase III card, the lowest is just out). Combined with the cheap connection costs, it shaves a few turns off the game. We took an hour or so. I love cheap expansions.

It seems like Tumblin Dice is everywhere these days, but I remember it from the Gathering a long time ago (it feels like 5 years or so, can that be right). Did it just find a distributor or something?

Written by taogaming

December 9, 2006 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with , ,

Post Groundhog Gaming

Last night we had guests over for brownies and gaming. Lot’s of blasts from the pasts. Power Grid, Puerto Rico, Fearsome Floors and Ricochet Robots.

That means I’ve played Puerto Rico fifty times (face to face).

I’m also played Ticket to Ride with my daughter today. She wins about 1/3rd of the time using the monomaniacal powers of youth, by drawing lots of cards (mystery, especially) playing long routes, and connecting her starting tickets, no more. It works fairly well.

Online, Caylus rules with an iron fist. I’m definitely starting to respect the “VP + Money track” and just give up on blue buildings unless it’s easy. One thing I do know is that if one player builds the mason/lawyer/architect, the players who ignore the blue track and don’t build said buildings can run away with the game. Remember, any sufficiently complex system invites parasites. Damn VP track running parasites. There are several players online, the Jedi of Caylus, and I’m not sure if they’re just using the strategy guide better (fewer mistakes, etc) or if they see something I don’t. I’ve started watching quite a few games. Perhaps I’ll figure it out.

Written by taogaming

February 4, 2006 at 6:37 pm

Fundamentally Flawed vs Broken

My loose talk generated a question on the difference between ‘fundamentally flawed’ vs ‘broken’.

They are fairly similar, but not interchangeable. In my mind, “Broken” means that a game has a single, dominant strategy (usually a very obvious, very easy to implement one). It usually applies to Asymmetric games, or CCGs (where players have their own resource set), or any game that somehow differentiates the players (otherwise they could all follow the broken strategy). If it suddenly turned out that you could win a chess game (by move two or three) by 1. H3!, Chess would become broken. No fun to play (at least, no fun to play if 1. H3! was the opening).

I mainly fling “Broken” around in relation to CCGs. I don’t just play Shadowfist, I playtest it. Our job is to make sure that no published card dominates the game. Our other job is to try to make all published cards good enough to be playable, and to make them interesting.

“Flawed” means that the game has a problem. This is much more subjective (I think). Power Grid may be flawed, but I still play it. “Fundamentally flawed” just extends that. The core of the game is flawed, not just some peripheral system.

To a certain extant, flaws depend on what you are trying to do. If I try to write a tragic play, jokes are a flaw. If you view Taj Mahal as a poker variant, then it’s structure is clearly flawed. [Sklansky and Malmouth discuss how ante structures affect the game and how some are better than others, in case you are interested.] By Greg’s summary (which I prefer to my poker analogy), the same idea comes out. There is a clear way to win (not get involved in fights), which you have no control over. Since a game (by my hazy definition) must give you some control over it (otherwise it would be a simulation, or something), Taj Mahal is flawed. The fundamental system doesn’t work. But it’s not broken. There’s no dominant path to victory.

Broken, in my mind, is proveable. If I claim card X is broken in Shadowfist, I should be able to build a deck that can ‘run the table’ against any other deck that doesn’t have the same card (or possibly a card that specifically cancels mine). [In fact, I have been arguing that a card on the list for next set may be broken, and trying to build such a deck]. Similarly, if I claim that the “Road Strategy” in Settlers is broken, I should be able to win if I follow the strategy against opponents that don’t. If the “H3” opening is broken, I can defeat all comers (as white).

Flawed depends on what you set out to do. A game that sets out to be a quick, fluffy romp is flawed if the rules take two hours to explain. Paths of Glory’s rules take forever to read, but it’s not flawed (or, if it is, not for that reason). A game that sets out to model historical events that produces wildly impossible results would be flawed. Imagine a WWII game where the US could force a Japanese surrender in Feb ’42 after Pearl Harbor. [Perhaps ‘inaccurate’ would be better, but that’s just a specific flaw].

Of course, flaws have levels. Mild flaws are just that, mild. Lots of games have the flaw that a weak player can throw a game (as discussed before). The game may be interesting in general, even if a particular playing isn’t. As you expand the flaw (so that random events, or unknowable distributions decide the game), then it becomes a major flaw.

Sometimes I just don’t like a game. I don’t want to play 60 hour games that extensively covers the some minor war, or fluffy silly games. But if those games set out to do that, I can’t call them flawed. Taj Mahal sets out to be a “Reiner Knizia” game in the Alea box line. That gives me certain expectations about how much control players should have. The core system of the game (as I’ve tried to describe with my analogy) puts the players in an uncontrollable situation. Take Greg’s formulation:

You win the game by avoiding fights. You have virtually no control over whether you get into a fight or not.

If that assessment is true, then ‘fundamentally flawed’ strikes me as perfect description. [Needless to say, I agree with the assessment, and many commentors disagree].

By the way: I’m done referring to Greg’s formulation, as I may start owing him royalties.

Update: I just played a few games of Roll or Don’t versus my computer. Here randomness isn’t a flaw, as I expect that in a ‘push your luck’ style of game.

Written by taogaming

September 22, 2005 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with ,