The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘puerto rico

One way to win … c’td

It would be more revealing to say that Puerto Rico’s way to win (as compared to Le Havre’s) is front-loaded. What you have to do is defined in the early game, after which you are relatively free to do what you want. Whereas Le Havre’s is endgame based. You are relatively free in LH, for example, to muck around with a variety of early strategies (with some constraints) as long as you load up on the coal once that starts.

I see no reason to consider Le Havre a “multiple paths to victory” game. So (contra Larry) I see no reason why moving this critical path to the front (and the corresponding freedom to the end) magically relieves Puerto Rico of the same charge. My gut is that Through the Ages is similarly front loaded.

If you want to say that PR isn’t ‘one way to win’ because my description is too vague, that’s a different charge. (“Focus on getting early income, usually via a high value trading good” isn’t nearly as specific as “stockpile cole, convert ship”). Also, PR and TtA give you a greater percentage of “non-scripted” actions … its not a binary decision.

I feel that LH gives you relatively few unscripted actions, in comparison. Certainly the fact that after 10 games of PR I was in no way tired of it speaks that it is more free-form.

And all those games are still interesting if everyone knows the secret.

As for the other comments, I’ve no idea if Automobile really falls into this category, or is just a pure tactical optimization game.

Update: The lesson, as always, is to “smoke the crack” to get comments flowing.

Written by taogaming

September 28, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Strategy

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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

Clever little bastards

Based on MJWills comment to a recent post, I downloaded the Puerto Rico Evolver from the geek [link to main PR page].

And you know what, I have a shockingly bad win percentage against them. Well below my normal win percentage. However, after about eight plays, I can see the implicit collusion. Evolution means adapting to your environment and the other creatures matter. [Also, the critters tend to have a very different style of mistakes]. If you took one of these babies and placed it in a game with four humans, I expect it would get crushed easily (even without any collusion). However, these tend to play to each other strengths. They do make some boneheaded plays (one time the computer took builder and passed). But they’ve got a reasonable amount of game going, and it was interesting experience. Things that the computer believes:

  • Take the harbor at the first opportunity. Even without an income source.
  • Build the small indigo and sugar plants if you’ve got nothing else to do.
  • Build a large building ASAP.

You could do worse than follow those.

Update: I can’t really analyze the program, I’ve never played with Excel as a programming environment. I’d need Visual Basic or some such. The code is on BGG, and I could probably read it easily enough, but I’m lazy right now. Here’s what I deduce (from background knowledge and the spreadsheet).

The ‘genes’ are decision making trees, and each gene answers a different “What do I do now?” question. Which building do I build, which plantation do I take, where do I place my people, which role do I take? The genes have some access to the game information. Whenever they have to make a decision, the genes provide the answer. [Judging from the length of the genes, I wager they rate each option and then the highest value is selected]. The real trick is that the ‘organisms’ play lots of games and are rated for fitness. The lowest rated are deleted, and the rest make copies (presumably the higher rated ones get more copies). I’m not sure how the copies are created (asexual duplicates or sexual mixtures). I imagine there’s some random mutation tossed into the mix.

What’s most impressive (to me) is just how crude the genes are. The basically only answer the above questions, and one other — “What stage of the game is it?” The stage question leads them to different genes for other selection (so their role selection changes based on early/mid/late game). Some simple genetic expression, I think. These buggers play a credible game for something so simple.

The organism are apparently specialized to their seat choice. (Player 1 Genes are different from player 2 genes), and specialized to a five player game.

Written by taogaming

September 4, 2005 at 9:55 am

Posted in Artificial Opponents

Tagged with ,

Pet Peeves and Puerto Rico

Most of my pet peeves are about games, but let’s talk about Gamers. All new peeves courtesy of BSW, today.

  1. Lag is a legitimate excuse for slow play. “Sorry, there are people in my home” isn’t. So, you are being rude to two groups of people? Gee, that’s OK then.
  2. I’m not terribly fond of “Sorry, I’m also IMing.”
  3. Disappearing for 5 minutes with the excuse “Sorry, boss in the room” really pisses me off. If I had know that, I’d have chatted (which opens a new window with a loud noise).
  4. Slow play is even more annoying when the game is clearly won/lost. I had a 25 minute game of San Juan (typical game, 10 minutes). And a 50 minute game of PR (30).
  5. I’m really tired of people who say “What was that?” in response to a play. People make mistakes. Feel free to think it all you want, though.

I did see a novel new PR opening. Going first (4 player) I took quarry [coffee/sugar/tobacco]. The next player built (indigo, sugar, sm market, I took sm. market). Prospector. Mayor. Governor moves … mayor. Now everyone has a manned good (except me) and the next player crafts and trades. [Note that the 3rd player skips mayor after taking the sug/sug opening. Bizarre]. Each other player gets 1-3 gold. I’m not sure that the 2nd player was well served by this play though, he only got 1 Gold (which he would have gotten by taking trader). Of course, I get hosed out of the first trade … but having the small market is reasonable compensation. I built indigo, then hospice. Despite missing both factories and harbors (and not trading until the 3rd trader], I got enough diversity and late shipping (sm. warehouse + wharf) to eek out the win. [I should have lost, but the mistakes made against me later became mistakes made that helped me.] In any case, after swinging anti-hospice, I realize it’s a pretty good mid-game build, particularly if you are going corn or tobacco (or even large indigo/sugar). The people help out. The timing may gain you a few extra bucks/vps. It may very well pay for itself as much as a large market/office. In my case, it was a “What do I have to lose build”, but it worked out. Also of interest is that the wharf is usually consider an alternative to the small warehouse, but here I needed both (to hold 3 and ship 3).

Puerto Rico is still full of surprises. I wonder what the new expansion will bring?

Written by taogaming

August 28, 2005 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Rant, Strategy

Tagged with ,

Defining Strategy

We’re clearly having trouble coming up with an acceptable definition. I’m still trying to find one, and I’ve been using the “I know it when I don’t see it” arguement.

Yehuda Berlinger’s comment helped:

I am not contradicting Alex; I don’t go into a game knowing that I will play “harbor shipping”, or “guild hall building”. In the same vein, I don’t go into a chess game knowing I will play “X offense” or “Y defense”. The situation changes, and you have to adapt. Nevertheless, the patterns are there and you have to know them.

Let’s talk about chess. Yehuda is right, a player can’t completely control the opening, but they can often pick a style: open, closed, attacking, positional, gambit. And while you may not be able to pick the opening, you can usually push the game into a style. You may wind up outside of the style you liked, but your moves determine the style of the game that results. In addition, you can predict the resulting game’s style based on your moves.

Can you say the same about Puerto Rico?

I think this definition matches (at least tangentially) with prior discussions — one of the styles is ‘gambit’ where you sacrifice material now for future considerations (an attack, an open position, etc).

I can go into a Chess game and say “I’ll play a closed, positional game.” Now, I may fail or be outmanuevered, but my intent matches my position. I think it’s safe to say that if you go into a game of PR saying “I’m going to use a building strategy” then you have put yourself at a significant handicap, because you aren’t flexible.

Similarly, once you have a won position in chess, you can try to close it out by going for a brilliant mate, a quiet endgame or a smother. With Puerto Rico, once you are winning you are pretty locked in to how you got there. In either game, sometimes tactics take over, but in only one of them do you have a chance to impose your style on the game.

Once in the mid game, my plan (Building vs Corn Wharf vs whatever) comes from my position. I wasn’t aiming for a building victory (or whatever); but it’s there. No planning required.

So I don’t have a formal definition.

I play Puerto Rico successfully simply by evaluating the current position and making a move. I look ahead to judge the best move, but I don’t have enough control over the game to impose a long-term plan. You can win in chess just by making good moves, but there you can also predict the future game states based on your move.

Incidentally, I think I danced around this with prior definitions (“Can I play vastly different styles with roughly equal outcomes of victory” and “Can I sacrifice short term for long term”).

My style is defined in my strategy guide. I don’t very it, the details are all in implementation. It’s not perfect; but I find two facts enough to contend that PR isn’t strategic:

  1. that people who deviate from it often lose

  2. using my plan, I don’t know going into the game how I’ll get the bulk of my points.

In Chess, I can vary my style going into games without appreciably altering my playing strength (at least between a few styles), and knowing my opening possibilities, I can tell you “I’ll probably have an open/closed game”.

Written by taogaming

February 10, 2005 at 5:07 pm

More About Puerto Rico Strategy

Given the discussion in the comments of my post on Puerto Rico, I thought I’d clarify.

I agree with Chris that PR has no ‘sacrificial choices’ (Giving up short term for long term). I think it’s about brutal optimization and evaluation. I could sit down in the middle of a PR game (taking over someone’s spot) and feel no real handicap that I had to make a move without knowing the previous player’s plan. [I may grumble about the strange position he has … ]. The same could be said of Chess.

Defining strategy is tough — how about “Can I play in vastly different styles with roughly equal outcome of victories?” I contend that the opportunistic style (Playing the best move according to the thesis set out in my strategy guide, by Alexfrog, Jimc, etc) of PR is superior to the ‘set strategies’ put out. Obviously, this strategy is complex.

Now, whether a game counts as strategic depends on the level of play. Chess is strategic for most players, but if the game is solved, the answer may become “No.” 1.e4 wins, 1.d4 losses. [Or some such]. Computers don’t play with a strategy. They have an algorithm that tells them “How good is this position” and a method that lets them search through millions of positions a second to rank moves based on resulting positions. That’s it. But at other levels, players have strategies. World champion chess players have styles, but Chess itself may be solvable. Many positions have an objectively determinable best move, and it doesn’t matter if you play an attacking, defending, sacrificial or loony style. The entire game probably does, too. I think the same is true of PR, even if I don’t always find the right move.
For a chess player “Strategy” means — “I don’t know what the obvious best move is … now what?”

For PR, there are still times when there is no obvious best move (that part would tend to be in the mid-game, like in Chess). I have an algorithm for what to do, but it’s just “maximize net gain.” If I found myself in a hopeless game, I may forgo net gain to lay a trap, but that’s really just maximizing my chances of winning. I wouldn’t call trying to win a strategy, although it’s my objective.

Incidentally, does anyone think that San Juan has strategy?
[I say that as someone who considers it the best game of last year.]

Written by taogaming

February 9, 2005 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with ,

Popularity, Puerto Rico & Poker

I’m thinking about Chris Farrel’s session report on Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico taunts you with strategic elements, but it’s really just a brutal short-term optimization game with a minimal strategic component.

In the comments, Chris expands:

“Strategic” and “Tacitcal” are of course notoriously tractable terms. I could probably redefine “strategic” on a case-by-case basic in a way such that no game would ever be considered strategic.

But one concept I might use is “can I take a short-term loss for a long-term gain?” To me, the answer in Puerto Rico is always no.

Although I bloviate about Puerto Rico strategy, I agree. While you have to be able to look ahead (a bit), winning means evaluating, prioritizing and optimizing. Puerto Rico leaves plenty of room for skill, to be sure. But forward planning? Pshaw. Given the decision set, the skill is interesting enough, but I’ve stopped looking for games of Puerto Rico face to face. A single strong player usually wins, but if you get two (or more) strong players the game turns on the choices made by the others. Either way, my interest suffers. I’m left with online play for the most part (the game takes half the time, and players have 50+ games under their belt. At that level, I’m not sure who is making the weak plays, me or my opponents?

Then I thought about the Puerto Rico tournament at the Gathering last year. I lost in the first round by (I believe) 2VP. I have a recollection of several plays that struck me as strange. Not particular details, but I remember the basics. And, once I got to thinking about it, I could remember some friends describing their games.

I was struck by the similarity to poker. First, I can remember some poker hands I played years ago. But there’s another connection. Both games flatter the players. Ask a poker player how he did, and you get two answer: “I won $X” or “I’ve had terrible luck.” I don’t play much poker; but how often have you heard the following story? “Yeah, so I completely misplayed the hand. I had QJs and I put my opponent on a small pair, or maybe Ace small suited. Anyway, my opponent read me like a book, but I sucked out with runner-runner full house, so I turned a small profit.”

I’ve heard plenty of bad-beat stories, but nowhere near as many good beat stories (despite the fact that each story requires both sides). Why? They aren’t flattering. I’ve walked away from a poker table a winner, and a loser. When I lost, I can shoulder the blame onto luck or a few bad beats. Obviously, the variance in poker does explain the losses, but it explains many of the wins. But I never think of that while I’m at the table, winning.

I witnessed the same phenomenon in Puerto Rico. I just didn’t notice it.

I realized this about Settlers of Catan after owning it a few months. It’s easier to spot how the game “gives you an out” when chance is involved, I guess.

The “Flattery effect” must contribute to the massive popularity of these games. In each case, you can be handed a win or a loss. If you lost, you still may have played well but the (other players/cards/dice) just (played oddly/hated you/took a funny bounce). Strategy matters, of course. You need to be able to congratulate yourself on winning. A world-class PR player at a four player table should expect a much higher percentage of “winning sessions” than a world-class poker player. (I’m not sure how the champion Settler’s player would fare. Do the opponent’s recognize him?)

On the spectrum of skill versus chance[1], I think that all three games hit a sweet spot that just appeals to human nature. You can crow when winning and complain about outrageous fortune when losing. Given human nature, I suspect it’s a large spot.

[1] I don’t normally include player choices as chance, but as the number of players increases and the number of reasonable decisions grow, they both fall into a similar category of “things you can’t control and can’t predict exactly, even if you know trends”.

Update: Fixed the quote, had the last one of Chris’s comments as my own.

Written by taogaming

February 8, 2005 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with , ,