Other Wise

Stock market reduction

We’ve been playing 1889 lately (3 games in three days). It sparked the following game notion (and thus the creation of this category):

  • Something akin to an 1830-esque 2D stock market
  • A fairly large deck of cards, each card bearing the name of a company and an arrow (right, left, up, down)
    • Some cards may have double arrows
  • The deck of cards is shuffled and some number are laid out in an ordered draught pool
    • The draught pool should be long, providing a long view into the future.
  • One their turn a player may:
    1. Buy one share
    • If all shares of a company are in player’s hands at the end of a round, the stock value moves up a row
      1. Sell any number of shares
      • On share sales, stock value moves down one row per sold share 1830-style
        1. Play one or two cards from their hand
      • Each played card affects the stock value of the names company by moving its stock value in the arrowed direction
      • Assume a smallish hand-size limit, perhaps 5
        1. Draught any two cards from the pool
      • As soon as a card is draughted a new card is drawn and added to the new end of the draught pool
      • The oldest card is free
      • If one of the new cards is draughted the draughting player must place $N on each older card in the draught pool, sweetening those cards for later players
      • If a card bearing money is draughted the draughting player takes the money
  • The Game is played until the card deck is exhausted
  • The deck is then inverted (no shuffling) and the game continues through the ordered deck
  • Once the draught deck is exhausted the game is over
    • Players cash in their shares
    • Player with the largest net worth wins

Possible extension:

  • Instead of the cards bearing a company and an arrow, have two decks, one of companies and another of arrows and players must draught one card from each deck’s pool and play two cards (one of each) on their turn

In for a pound

Structures to toy with:

  • Tichu-style, the hand starts with a round of passing:
    • Two cards to each player
    • Review the passed cards
    • Two more cards to your partner
    • It is possible that’s too much passing
  • Played cards are arranged in a 2D grid. Each row and column of contiguous cards must either form a meld or a legal subset of a meld
    • Cards may only be played in positions in which they extend (potential) melds both directions
    • Cards may not be played in positions in which they conflict with potential melds in any direction
    • Are full houses legal melds?
    • Stairs?
  • One their turn a player may play a single card or pass
  • If they play a single card they may then do one of:
    • Play a second card adjacent to the first (any direction)
    • Play a PASS card
      • Each player has N PASS cards
      • PASS cards immediately pass control to the partner and are lost when played
    • Place or recover their BLOCK
      • Each player has one BLOCK
      • BLOCKs mark positions that may not be played in
      • Should a trick end while blocks are still in play they are lost
    • Pass
  • Suits should probably wrap, 10-11-12-1-2 style

Divination of intent and thence coordination seems the core problem of a partnership game. More standard partnership card games communicate richly by what is/is_not played when and how that pattern relates to the goals of the partnership. Not One More also supports extensive signalling in the card grid, but it is both extraordinarily rich and extraordinarily diffuse, making divination and coordination hard. The primary idea of the above structures is to add more discrete signalling methods between partners.

Charmed I’m sure

Small clean-ups of the map and rules:

map-9.png

Nothing really big done: just edits for clarity, consistency, a bit of extra colour on the map, a few changed nouns, fixed capitalisations etc.

Deconstructed Uno

A chat with Ben Keightley on #bgdf_chat (I’m using the wonderful irssi instead of BitchX these days, so the formatting is a little different than previous log posts):

11:34 | clearclaw > You rarely play card games, right Ben?

11:35 | Coca_Lite > That’s right, I don’t play a lot of card games.

11:35 > clearclaw nods

11:35 | Coca_Lite > Not ‘traditional’ card games, anyway. I play a lot of Race for the Galaxy but I don’t think that’s what you mean.

11:35 > clearclaw nods. I’ve been noodling a sort of reverse climbing game

11:37 | clearclaw > The core element of the noodle is that played cards form melds against the other player’s played cards

11:37 | clearclaw > And the player of the last card that is part of the highest value meld is the current trick-winner

11:37 | clearclaw > The idea is to extend hand-management out of just to player’s hand to extend across all the hands of all the players.

11:37 | Coca_Lite > Love it.

11:39 | clearclaw > Thus one player leads an ace, another follows with a second ace and is therefore winning with a pair of aces, a third plays a 2, someone plays a pair of twos and is winning with trip 2s, then someone plays 3/4/5 to win with the A/2/3/4/5 etc.

11:40 | Coca_Lite > Yes, I love it. Lately you can take any game and add ‘…without the auction!’ to it, and I’m sold. Your game sounds like Modern Art…without the auction.

11:41 > clearclaw grins. I kinda like it too. Had the idea and posted it last night.

12:28 | clearclaw > Naming the inverse climbing game NotOneMore for the nonce, Tichu-style stairs are simply too hard to calculate comparative probabilities on.

12:29 | clearclaw > That leaves either the standard meld types of pairs, trips, 4-of-a-kind and rummy-esque runs, or going for the Poker set.

12:29 | clearclaw > Current thoughts are:

12:30 | clearclaw > Must either follow suit lead or must extend what has already been played toward a potentially winning meld or must fold.

12:30 | clearclaw > If fold can’t play in that trick any more

12:32 | clearclaw > Once all players pass trick is resolved

12:32 | clearclaw > Possible: If all players pass except the last player to play a card, they may NOT play again.

12:33 | clearclaw > Player may play one or two cards on their turn.

12:34 | clearclaw > Thinking of making melds have the value of the lowest card in them. That would weaken the already enormously powerful straights.

12:35 | clearclaw > Physicality would be all players toss cards into the central pot. As each player takes the lead they take the cards they want from the pot and build their winning meld before them.

12:35 | clearclaw > As they are superceded they toss that back in and another player builds the new winning meld.

12:37 | Coca_Lite > Once a card is ‘committed’ to a meld, it should stay there. No rearranging melds willy-nilly.

12:37 | clearclaw > Why?

12:38 | clearclaw > (asides from the explosive complexity)

12:38 | Coca_Lite > Explosive complexity, and to force early commitments by players.

12:38 | clearclaw > Fair point

12:39 | clearclaw > I’ve been more worried by having the game consist of only one trick as all players play all their cards in the first trick

12:40 | clearclaw > I had been thinking of various 2D arrangements of cards which expressed multi-member participations.

12:40 | clearclaw > And each player has a marker. If the marker is on the graph they are winning. As they are superceded another player becomes King of the Hill.

12:41 | clearclaw > Having committed cards would reduce the single-trick problem greatly.

12:41 | clearclaw > And would put in some interesting hand-management aspects.

12:42 | Coca_Lite > OK, or something like: each player has his own deck of cards with a colored back. Cards contributed to melds score for owners.

12:50 | clearclaw > How about each player plays 1 or 2 cards. The first card must be placed adjacent to a previously played card and the next card (if played) adjacent to that. If the player’s played card(s) form a winning meld they put their marker on one. Any previous player’s marker is removed from the board.

12:51 | clearclaw > Rows and columns of cards must either form legal melds or fractions there-of

12:51 | clearclaw > The value of a meld is the lowest value card in the meld

12:52 | Coca_Lite > Yeesh, it’s starting to sound like deconstructed Uno

12:52 | clearclaw > Scrabble-icious.

12:52 | clearclaw > I thought Uno was only a matching game?

12:52 > clearclaw has never played Uno

12:53 | doho123 > Uno is crazy eights

12:53 | doho123 > Match either the rank or suit of the previously played card

12:53 | clearclaw > I’ve not played that either. Just read the ‘geek page.

12:54 | clearclaw > Discard matching.

12:54 | doho123 > Right

12:54 | clearclaw > The “array” is sort of an agglomerative discard pile I guess.

12:55 | clearclaw > Yes, deconstructed Uno. Ha!

Tricky climb

An odd idea, not yet fully enfranchised into a game. Consider a (relatively standard) climbing game, perhaps along the lines of Mu, however rather than players playing cards in sets they would iteratively play them one at a time until everyone passes1. The key element would be that rather than a player’s played cards forming the sets within themselves, they would instead form sets within the space of all cards played for that “trick”. For instance:

  1. PlayerA: Leads an Ace.
  2. PlayerB: Follows with another Ace and is therefore winning with two Aces.
  3. PlayerC: Follows with an 8.
  4. PlayerD: Follows with a pair of 8s and is therefore winning with three 8s. …etc.

Problem:

  • Determining who is winning the current “trick”.
  • Requirements for following.
  • How points are assigned
  • Method required to denote who is currently winning the trick

Initial thoughts:

  • 5 suits (perhaps a Sticheln deck)
  • Do not need to follow suit
  • May play any number of cards so long as the total number of cards played by that player in the trick is no more than one larger than the total number of cards played by the previously card-count leader 2
  • Suits are circularly ordered with the lead suit high and the others following in a constant rotational order
  • Standard meld definitions including Tichu’s stairs.
  • Each meld in the taken trick scores the value of the highest card in the meld, with arrangement of melds organised so as to minimise left over cards
  • Left over cards and singletons don’t score
Footnotes
  1. Somewhat similar to Mu’s bidding round.
  2. Echoes of Mu’s bidding again.

Incontinental gap

Friend: Which is more important: that a game be interesting or fun?

Me, in instant response: Interesting of course!

Friend: Well there’s the problem.

Me: Oh.

Decay of fortunate capacity

Power Grid’s market system with the two layers of plants is interesting and provides a deceptively large degree of control and prediction. It really is quite clever while presenting a surprisingly predictable pattern. Space Race has the problem that while it models something akin to the 18XX train rusting progression, the intended sequence is so short (3 layers) that incentivising player progression is worse than tetchy. I’m not sure I can learn from Power Grid here, but it is tempting.

A possible address is to model the total productive capacity of the system, to cumulatively sum the total production to date. As that total production volume crosses pre-set thresholds the next layer becomes available and of course as the third layer is entered all level 1 factories rust. This could essentially arithmetic sum could be modelled in several ways, actually tracking total production volume as a calculated sum or simply having bits from a limited supply which are discarded as they are used.1

With such an approach it becomes tempting to add a fourth level of factory, a pure consumer. We could call it the Centre Of Government or some such silliness (themed after Asimov’s Foundation universe?). It would either be notably expensive or force auctioned at another production volume threshold. There would be only one CoG, and while it wouldn’t necessarily rust the level 2 factories2 it would consume both level 2 and level 3 goods until the end of the game, with all fees and payments recorded as usual for route-based deliveries. Variously interesting curves could be applied to the system. Perphaps the market value of the CoG pseudo-product would likely decline continuously, forcing a race between additional factory construction/operation, run-away CoG ROI and endgame acceleration? Similarly a race could be constructed between the level 2 and level 3 factories based on the game-length required for equivalent profit volume3?

Such a system has advantages. The level 1 factories would be (mostly) unprofitable but failing to buy into them would allow those that do to be extremely profitable and to have undue leverage into the level 2 factories and economy. The real value of the level 1 factories would be to establish market relationships for exploitative level 2 factory upgrades which would actually be profitable. This would of course also require ensuring a limited supply of Level 2 factories (possibly by spacing rules rather than count?). The level 3 factories would then be similarly constrained4. And likewise for the level 4 CoG factory: placement constricted by neighbourhood. Such placement rules could be quite interesting and offer an attractive short-long planning aspect.

Methinks I should spend more time in the shower.

Footnotes
  1. If the progression needs to be a little more complex than a straight sum, then extra units could be discarded to act as a controlled accelerator. For instance each turn’s production is discarded along with a matching set of the most voluminously produced colour.
  2. This needs to be examined in some detail. It is tempting to not ruse the level 2 factories and thus provide a profit race between the level 2 and level 3 factories. Conversely it is tempting to rust the level 2 factories and thus provide a severe investment management headache
  3. Echoes of the Wabash in Wabash Cannonball.
  4. Likely a formal proof would be needed to ensure that deadlock spacing arrangements wouldn’t be possible

Shading dark

I generated a 7-depth Penrose tiling last night. It took most of the night.

Axiom: 
  [N]++[N]++[N]++[N]++[N]
Rules:
  M=OA++pA—-NA[-OA----MA]++;
  N=+OA–PA[---MA--NA]+;
  O=-MA++NA[+++OA++PA]-;
  P=–OA++++MA[+PA++++NA]–NA;
  A=
Angle:36

The tiled SVG’s generated by the L-System are prone to very high rates of duplicate elements. They’re also extremely slow and system intensive to process under Inkscape as the entire graph is rendered as a single bazillion-point object. Handling the performance problem is simple enough: Inkscape/Edit/Select_All and then break up the object with Inkscape/Path/Break_Apart. Ahh, much better.

Handling the duplicates is tougher. There are simple duplicate elements, PATH elements with identical attributes and vertices and there are path elements which are identical except that they list the vertices in a different order. The former are easy to remove. Just fold the raw XML document so that all PATH entries occupy but a single line, sort the PATH elements and then remove all duplicates. In my case I just extracted the PATH elements to an external text file, wrote a quick XEmacs macro to make each PATH element single-line and then did:

$ sort < infile.xml | uniq > outfile.xml

Voila! All identical PATH elements removed. This simplistic dupe-removal reduced the file size by approximately 30%.

I looked at removing the duplicate-vertex elements but found it too hard for a quick hack fix. In short I’d have to extract all the path elements and then the vertices for each element, sort them and then do duplicate removal. That was more than I was willing to be bothered with. However while wandering the data I noticed that there were many 7 vertex elements whose vertices precisely overlaid the vertexes of other elements (exception: a small few elements at the edge of the graph). With the exception of the ones at the edge of the graph, they were all redundant. Remove them:

$ grep -v "path.*M.*L.*L.*L.*L.*L.*L" < infile.svg > outfile.svg

While a plain white mesh is pleasantly clear, I had the idea of colouring the tiles to give a bit of a stereoscopic effect.

#! env python
import sys

in_f = open (sys.argv[1], "r")
out_f = open (sys.argv[2], "w")
ndx = 0
for line in in_f:
  if ndx % 3 == 1:
    line = line.replace ('fill:none', 'fill:#999999')
  if ndx % 3 == 2:
    line = line.replace ('fill:none', 'fill:#cccccc')
  out_f.write (line)
  ndx += 1
in_f.close ()
out_f.close ()

The effect of which is to assign a fill colour to two thirds of the elements, a different colour for each third

Inkscape-LSystem-PenroseRender-Big-Coloured.png

I like it.

Inkscape, L-Systems, SVG, Penrose and other tilings

I’ve been playing with the L-System support in Inkscape, generating Penrose Tilings. Damn this is clever neat nifty fun!

Axiom: 
  [N]++[N]++[N]++[N]++[N]
Rules:
  M=OA++pA----NA[-OA----MA]++;
  N=+OA--PA[---MA--NA]+;
  O=-MA++NA[+++OA++PA]-;
  P=--OA++++MA[+PA++++NA]--NA;
  A=
Angle:36

Just drop that into Inkscape/Effect/Render/L-System (put all the rules on one line) and you should get this:

Inkscape-LSystem-PenroseRender.png

Increase the Order value and it will iterate more, drawing a larger graph. Be careful though as execution time grows exponentially as the number of iterations grows.

Inkscape-LSystem-PenroseRender-Big.png

Some other L-system-derived graphs produced with Inkscape:

Axiom:
  f
Rules:
  f=-f+f+g[+f+f]-;
  g=gg;
Angle: 60
LSystem-Hex.png

Or perhaps more entertainingly:

Axiom:
  W
Rules:
  W=+++X--F--ZFX+;
  X=---W++F++YFW-;
  Y=+ZFX--F--Z+++;
  Z=-YFW++F++Y---;
Angle: 30
LSystem-Lace.png

Yes, that’s a single continuous line in what is known as a space filling curve. Wander about Wikipedia or with a search engine and you’ll find many other little L-system programs for other tilings or space filling curves. Plug them in and play! They’re not only a heck of a lot of fun but such curious tilings can easily form the backdrop for interesting games and there are many many such interesting patterns.

Peeling player onions

Attempting a taxonomy of player interaction along a scale of increasingly personal relations:

Absent interaction

The simplest form: there is simply nothing the players can do to affect each other and thus no form of profitable reaction to another player’s choice or inversely, prompt a player to change course in reaction to your choice. Games absent interaction are the poster children for Multi-Player Solitaire.

Recognition interaction

There’s no requirement for understanding or predicting the other players, merely recognition that they exist and have potentials that may affect the results of your game. Dominion (usually) falls in this camp (there are small exceptions). Knowledge of the specifics of the other players is rarely if ever useful, but an overview of the gestalt of all the other players en masse is useful. Do any of them have any of XYZ cards? What is the rate of consumption of the QRS card stack across all players? The answers to such questions can profitably inform play choices.

Predictive interaction

Ahh, the first tremblings of mutual-perception! The question isn’t what effects a player may enforce on another, but rather how correct choice-prediction (and thus correct counter-counter-counter-counter–ad-infinitum-choice-prediction) may be translated into an advantage. The classic recent case is Race for the Galaxy; a game in which there are significant efficiency gains for drafting on other player’s choices. Predictive interaction is a slippery beast as it has a strong harmonic in Personal Interaction and a weaker harmonic in Personal Direct Interaction.(see below).

Direct interaction

Players intimately affect each other, contructively, obstructively and destructively. They may help each other’s success, obstruct success, or directly destroy or foul each other’s success. I sank your battleship! The effects can range from the relatively subtle taking of a limited resource another had planned on taking themselves (eg roles in Puerto Rico, actions in Age of Steam, station markers or track tiles in the 18XX) to the very direct destruction or removal of player value (eg stock trashing and loot’n’dump in the 18XX, conquest and possible elimination in Risk, dumping a high point pain card on an opponent in Sticheln, or almost any player-interaction in Diplomacy).

Direct interaction can be sub-divided into Impersonal and Personal types

Personal Direct Interaction is the targeted subset of Direct Interaction and a weak harmonic of Predictive Interaction (due to the requirement of accurate player incentive/value prediction in foiling player’s personal success). The qualifier is that the subject is explicitly and deliberately targeted. Something isn’t done to all players or to any random player, but specifically to specific player with deliberate (ill) intent for that specific player’s success. Settlers of Catan‘s monopoly card card (all other players give the player all their resources of a given type) and calling time in Galaxy Trucker are usually Impersonal Direct Interaction as they are indiscriminate effects. In contrast encouraging a large bribe in Intrigue and then reneging on the implied or promised deal, building walls in another player’s presumed territory, using “their” resources” to cut them off from “their” buildings, or simply conquering a player’s temples and territory and annihilating their military and conquering their territory in Antike is Personal Direct Interaction.

Personal interaction

The return of subtlety. Here the ticket isn’t to recognise or even so much to predict, but to comprehend the player(s) intimately. The challenge is to not only predict their immediate choices, but their patterns, their strengths and weaknesses as players, their intersection of character and individuality with the game and by the advantage of exploiting that intimate and intensely subjective comprehension, to beat them. Personal Interaction is a strong harmonic of both Predictive Interaction and Personal Direct Interaction (see above).

Observations

It is worth noting that the above divisions aren’t quite linear or evenly spaced along the not-quite-a-scale. That’s a problem with the soft-sciences: straight lines aren’t. Most noticeably Personal Interaction is variously orthogonal to both forms of Direct Interaction and the line between Subjective Interaction and Direct Interaction isn’t quite straight through Predictive Interaction.

Apocryphally, women as a gender are commonly said to dislike the destructive sides of Direct Interaction. I’ve not noticed that gender bias but several of the players I commonly play with (mostly male FWVLIW) share that trait: they are only interested in constructive positive-sum games. Additionally different players have various detection and preference ranges for the interaction levels they prefer. While I can detect the inter-player interaction among players of Race for the Galaxy it is too diffuse and impersonal to appeal to me. Similarly Impersonal Direct Interaction has little appeal for me. In contrast one of the chaps I play with1 simply isn’t comfortable with any form of Personal Direct Interaction where-as another chap pooh-poohs and avoids anything which doesn’t operate at the deepest level of Personal Interaction.

Footnotes
  1. Names withheld to protect the guilty (of course)

Understanding Duck Dealer

I’ve played Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga’s Duck Dealer twice. It is a tough game to [[grok|grok]].

Update: In fact the game is sufficiently difficult to grok that almost all the below is flat out wrong. It is hogwash. Beware. I’ll be writing up a correct summary of the game after it reaches broad release.

  • Duck Dealer is a perfect and certain information logistics game very much in the spirit of Roads & Boats and Neuland but with its own unique take
    • Don’t be deceived by the light and funny theme
    • Duck Dealer is a deceptively direct re-interpretation of Merchant of Venus
      • The theme, core nouns and board-patterns are similar
      • The play decisions and game character are violently different
        • Duck Dealer is a mentally demanding forward-looking planning-festival. Merchant of Venus is a much lighter and simpler affair of delivery optimisation with occasional opportunities
  • Three players is probably the sweet spot, maybe four with experienced players
  • The first phase of the game is ship improvements
    • The opportunity cost of ship improvement is usually prohibitive later in the game
  • Each pattern of ship investments establishes a natural rhythm for that ship; the rhythm at which it takes energy and then acts
    • The balance of colours on the ship likewise establishes a natural activity-type rhythm
  • None of the choices of combinations for game-start ship configuration are obviously bad but each one strongly suggests a different ship development tack and thus resulting rhythm
    • I suspect that the game’s initial turn order plus the ship configurations of the player’s ahead of you in turn order is a key factor to smart initial ship configuration decisions
    • I also suspect this reflects strongly into suggested ship configurations
      • It is clear that the random distribution of initial mines and the consumer tile ordering affects this and in fact defines these choices
      • It is not at all clear to what extent this is true in practice given human’s struggle with the decision space of the game
  • Coarsely (there are exceptions) the larger/more equipped a ship is the longer its rhythm
  • The heart of the game is managing your ship’s natural logistical rhythms against the emergent opportunity costs as the game/board develops and new buildings (tiles) are placed
  • It is viable to stay with an undeveloped 8-speed ship with two discs and a cargo hold
    • The undeveloped ship strategy is the most programmatic (fewest significant decisions), most risky and most subject to interference from other players
    • Undeveloped ships are dependent on rapid short-term opportunity exploitation which in turn requires frequent actions and results in a short/fast game
      • If the undeveloped ship dawdles the better equipped ships will out-pace them
      • If multiple players do run undeveloped ships they will drive a short/fast game that will likely seem to be decided arbitrarily
      • I find longer games with more developed ships more interesting
  • The more ship improvements the players do, the longer the game will be and the more of the board will be developed
    • Just one undeveloped ship moving fast and staying focussed can drive a fast/short game
  • The value of Build/yellow decreases during the game, sometimes precipitously.
    • Build/yellow can be worth a lot early in the game
    • Exception: Heavily built ships with two movement can reliably profit from Build/yellow energy to place Galactic Infrastructure (cubes on routes) to help manage their naturally short (2) movement distance
  • The bigger your ship is the more often Galactic Infrastructure (cubes on routes) is more useful than privilege markers on tiles
  • Teleports are remarkably hard to place usefully
    • Clever teleport placement may invert some of these observations
    • I have yet to see a clever teleport placement
  • With rare exception there are more VPs for building factories and flipping consumer tiles than doing milk runs stuffing goods into an already flipped consumer
    • Establishing and then running a production loop is almost invariably less profitable than focussing on building factories and flipping consumer tiles
    • Exception: Ships with huge hold-spaces (7+ capacity?) can profit enormously from a well-optimised production loop (ie privileges claimed on all steps) on a 25/10 consumer.
  • The usual reason players act is that they become unable to sustain comprehension of their intended move. Their mental stack overflows, they lose track and so they act instead of continuing to search for the optimal risk/value return for energy accumulation. This is often (almost always) a mistake.
    • Usually getting more energy and doing more later is markedly more efficiently profitable
    • Unless someone gets there first
  • The game is all about acceleration curves against game length
    • Each player’s ship investment has a pay-off curve
    • A undeveloped ship is faster to build, runs more quickly but makes fewer points per natural action
    • A big ship takes longer to build and runs more slowly but makes more points per natural action
    • The players emergently determine the game length
    • Which player’s ship’s reward-curve/opportunity-exploitation-rate/game-length sums best when the game ends is the core question of the game

Reposed mumbling recovery from a shower

The recent play of Muck & Brass has been occupying my sleeping nights and bedraggled shower time. I’ve no great conclusions other than that 5-days-for-everyone is a Bad Idea (see below). The rest is just terrain mapping.

The standard action pattern in the recent game was a spate of Expands followed by a mix of Develops and Capitalises. Typically the final actions were chosen to either force the round closed, or to put the next player in a position to force the round closed. The only times Capitalise was selected early was when either all of a player’s companies were broke or in the late game in order to float more secondary companies in order to extend game length (it was set to end in the sixth General Dividend with only two companies left operating but we called the game early mid the 5th round due to other constraints).

Unlike Wabash Cannonball early capitalisations were not seen as critical early moves, in part due to the high opportunity cost of the Capitalise action (time), but also because there are simply so many shares available (10 unsold shares) and relatively little to differentiate among them. The result is that Muck & Brass is mostly not about temporary emergent alliances but about the old standards of [[arbitrage|arbitrage]], opportunity and tactical position.

In a four player game the dance is straightforward:

  1. Stay low/early in the turn order to get more Expands for your companies
  2. Buy lots of shares (difficult when you’re low in the turn order)
  3. Buy shares that players lower than you in the turn order also have so that you profit from their activities
  4. Try to keep your own shares undiluted

The lack of a Chicago-style golden target to create a discontinuous value set is the main characteristic that precludes temporary emergent alliances. What alliances there are, are happenstance collisions of mutual interest rather than deliberately managed affairs. As such the player relationships are much closer to Preußische Ostbahn’s management of temptation and exploitation than Wabash Cannonball’s forthrightly collusive work-together-and-we-both-make-more.

In our game, because of the high opportunity cost for capitalisation, Capitalise was usually used as a round ender to re-invigorate a cash-less company or to setup turn order for the next round. Thus the first round looked something like:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-E2/4 P4-C3/5 (E0/D5/C2)
  • P1-C3/7 P2-C3/7 (E0/D5/C0)

The second round was a little more interesting as London started to be developed, thus freeing up a host of other possible Develops for other companies:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/1 P4-E2/3 (E3/D4/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-E2/4 P4-C3/6 (E0/D4/C2)
  • P1-D1/5 P2-D1/5 P3-C3/7 (E0/D2/C1)
  • P1-P1-D1/6 P2-D1/6 (E0/D0/C1)

The third round was similar, but with even less Capitalisation:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/1 P4-E2/3 (E3/D4/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-D1/3 (E0/D3/C3)
  • P3-E2/5 P4-C3/6 (E0/D3/C2)
  • P1-D1/5 P2-D1/5 (E0/D1/C2)
  • P1-D1/6 (E0/D0/C2)

Such a lower rate of capitalisation encourages companies to run with broke treasuries, for positions to be more heavily invested, and for strong player differentiation, both positional and financial (low cash high income versus lower income and high cash). It also encourages players to forgo Capitalise and instead Develop heavily as it has similar effects on income (and slows the game down). From a design perspective these are all desirable patterns, not least the slowing of the game.

The players clearly valued Expand higher than the other actions. I’m not convinced they were wrong. Getting to London is critical for most companies and building out of London not only offers a larger income delta than any other activity (once London been developed once), but also positions for ready mergers with the three companies surrounding London. In our game the B&GR built 5 connections out of London. When London was developed up to $9, that was $45 income for the B&GR: $14/share just for London alone!

Consider a hypothetical 4th round of a game:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 (port/merger) P1-C3/5 P2-E2/2 (port/merger) P2-C3/5 P3-E2/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P3-E2/4 P4-D1/3 (E2/D4/C3)
  • P4-D1/41 (E2/D3/C3)
  • P3-E2/6 (float or merger) P3-C3/9 P4-E2/6 (float/merger) P4-C3/9 (E0/D3/C3)
  • General Dividend (two players past 6 days)

Four secondary shares were sold. There is potentially only one company left in the mix. The game could have just ended. Or, more likely there are less ports and mergers as there’s just not enough money in the other companies/players for the Expands required for ports and mergers. The players early in turn order are likely to have shares in companies with cash for ports and mergers:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 (port/merger) P1-C3/5 P2-E2/2 (port/merger) P2-C3/5 P3-E2/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P3-D1/3 P4-E2/4 (E2/D4/C3)
  • P3-D1/4 (E2/D3/C3)
  • P3-D1/5 P4-D1/5 (E2/D1/C3)
  • P3-D1/6 P4-C3/8 (E1/D0/C2)

Two secondary shares just sold and one arbitrary share was capitalised. Assuming that mergers were done instead of port builds there could be as few as 3 companies left in the game. Assuming instead that P4 had a share of a company that could merge with a single expand the last actions set could have been:

  • P3-D1/6 P4-E2/7 (merge) P4-C3/10 (E0/D0/C3)

In which case there could potentially be only two companies and the game would be over depending on what share P4 force capitalised. P4 has three choices:

  1. Capitalise the first share of any secondary company. This clearly makes sense if P4 will win as the game ends
  2. Capitalise the second share of a secondary company which is already connected to a company in which P4 is invested. This assumes that one of the earlier players capitalised the first share of that company. In practice this usually means either the NER, LNWR or GWR and only makes sense (again) if P4 is will win as the game ends
  3. Capitalise the second share of an unconnected company. This will put three companies back in the game causing the game to not (yet) end.

The choice-set is interesting because P1 and P2 control whether #2 is even present as a choice, and which company fits #3 (likely one near their investments). Neat!

More immediately useful is that without the forced 3 days for the merger there’s a reasonable potential for a merger storm in the fourth round that instantly ends the game. The real problem is that it is absurdly difficult to control or predict the values generated by such a merger storm from the preceding rounds making the game results essentially a crap-shoot. Scratch that idea!

The other perspective is that ports effectively offer several values to minor investors:

  • Cause a special dividend
  • Impoverish a company such that it can’t afford to drive future mergers
  • Ability to capitalise a share that encourages a merger-via-Capitalisation along with its related Special Dividend (ie a connected secondary company)

Mergers deliver all the above plus the following:

  • Accelerates game-end condition
  • Builds a combined treasuring which is likely large enough to afford another merger or port

Mergers are generally better for major investors as they provide two forums for special dividends for their heavily invested shares. Ports conversely offer only one future venue for additional secondary dividends but protect other investment’s special dividend capacity from predation by a steamrollering behemoth.

The other advantage for forced 3 day capitalisations is that players are now encouraged to capitalise more heavily in the early rounds in order to get enough cash into their companies to afford special dividends be they from ports or mergers. However this early capitalisation rush exposes another phantom that pushes back on such heavily capitalisation. Imagine the following perhaps not-quite-so-fantastic evolution:

  • P1 is invested in the L&MR (possibly even a minor investor), Expands to a port in Liverpool and force-capitalises the NER
  • P2 is invested in the L&SR (possibly also minor), can’t afford a nearby port and so merges with the EUR or LB&SCR for a special dividend. P2 then force-capitalises the NER to make a L&MR/L&SR/EUR/NER merger for yet another special dividend.
  • P3 is desperately behind and merges the LB&SCR or EUR into the new huge agglomerate, thereby removing the merger possibility from the agglomerate and securing their share’s dividends. P3 Capitalises something. Anything.
  • P4 has a potentially remarkably ugly decision as there are only two companies left in the game, the huge agglomerate and the B&GR.

That’s two actions spent for 3 special dividends. Oof. What’s different is that huge gobs of money have just been thrown into the mix by the three mergers. P4 is really wishing he owned a good spread of the northern companies at this point. Double oof.

Footnotes
  1. By exploiting time-position P4 gets in two Develops

Ploughing submarines

The new map fits on 18″x12″ paper easily enough with broad empty swathes down the edges. It is a bit tetchy at that scale. A few of the short links such as York/Selby, Preston/Blackoool and Dover/Canterbury get to be awfully short — going smaller would present significant clarity problems. For the Europeans printing on A3 is the best bet despite being a smidge shorter than the not-quite Super-B I’m working with here. (I’d test that conjecture here if I could find a reasonable supply of A3 or Super-B paper about San Jose).

map-8.png

I’ve updated (increased) the port costs back to within reason. If ports are too cheap then they are used exclusively rather than mergers. As the goal of ports is to a provide way for minor shareholders to drain gobs of cash from companies and to thereby ensure that they are not able to cause mergers, the cost of ports has to be high enough to provide the needed drain and yet low enough to prevent casual use. (ie more than $30 but not too much more) Meanwhile other players push for mergers as they solidify share positions and aggregate treasuries for further dividending activities.

Unfortunately the empty spaces along the edges of the new map aren’t large enough to fit the income track or the bank pool spaces. Instead I’ve made a separate tracks page that will fit comfortably on letter or A4 for those details:

ScoreTrack.png

And of course some rules polishing. The changelog:

  • Ports and mergers cause a (forced) capitalisation
  • Forced capitalisations cost 3 days! (This is big)
  • Added rules section for forced capitlisation
  • Sized bank described as ~$4K
  • Pumped port values most of the way back up
  • Removed several ports
  • Clarified glossary
  • Clarified double build language
  • Development rule WRT London clarified to account for Liverpool and York.
  • Added scoretrack page.

The forced capitalisations for ports and mergers is a huge question. There are good reasons to think it is a great idea, as a control on late game velocity, but also good reasons to fear it slows down the effective rate of capitalisations in the late game which in turn delays the rate at which secondary companies enter the game and that is a problem. I’m finding modelling this problem fiendishly difficult; it is so sensitive to exact player positions and incentives that I’m not yet able to predict broad pattern behaviours.

In partial response I’m considering changing the round-end determinant yet again. Currently it is two exhausted actions or two players at or past 6 days. While that’s a nice pattern it is also a wee bit slow. The new thought toy is to end the round on two exhausted actions or when all players have used at least 5 days. In a 6 player game that ensures that all rounds will end on two exhausted actions. With lower player counts it will often be all players at 5 days. Hmmmm.

New rules.

Peen hammer toccata

Changelog:

  • Reduced port fees (perhaps too much)
  • Auctions clockwise from capitalising player (faster and simpler)
  • Clarified multiple home stations for merged companies
  • Fixed action supply length and colours on map
  • Correction: Capitalise may be chosen for any available company or one of their own shares
  • Clarified that non-floated company treasuries are discarded when scoring
  • Clarified that merger-forced capitalisations take 3 days (Okay, added)
  • Clarified that merger-auctioneers are not required to bid
  • Fixed language about summing incomes for auto-merges

New rules.

Smithying finesse

Updated map:

map-7.png

Updated rules.

I have not adjusted the port prices. But the new days language is used for the action track and the action track length has been reduced from 7 to 6.

Smelting for copper

Four of us had a go at Muck & Brass with the new action system this afternoon. In short, it was wonderful, really wonderful and far less unstable than the earlier version. Early conclusions:

  • It was more intuitive to describe the action system in terms of days than points. Actions take days (time) and the players take turns in the order in which they are available
  • Ending on 7 days or two exhausted actions is too rich. It wasn’t terrible but we always ended on actions rather than points. 5 days may be too short but it is clearly either 5 or 6 days
  • The secondary companies are odd. Simply, odd. It is tempting to have them float on one share, but that feels too large a change for their modest oddity. I’m not sure they need to be addressed but it is tempting
  • The Foreign ports are probably over-priced by ~30%
  • 3 Capitalisations, 5 Develops and 7 Expansions seems right
  • The requirement for London to be the most valuable city forces the early game into an expansion frenzy. This is good, but I’d forgotten it in my earlier thought cases.
  • One player strongly disliked the action/time track being way from the geographic map. That’s easy enough to fix.

In all, an excellent outing.

Variant: Draughting Emperor’s Reward Cards in Confucius version 2

Building on the previously discussed variant Ben Keightley proposed a twist on #bgdf_chat:

[2008-11-07/14:02] <cocadieta> JC, you around? I had a flash of inspiration this afternoon re: Confucius.

[2008-11-07/14:03] <cocadieta> The bonus card drafting variant (unplayed!) sounds good but really pushes the main problem further up the pipe–say two people are in line to run ships out to sea, the second person could either luck out or get hosed by the card draw.

[2008-11-07/14:04] <clearclaw> That’s why the variant shows the pipeline of cards as well as the current draft set.

[2008-11-07/14:05] <cocadieta> Idea: At the beginning of the game, shuffle the bonus cards and deal five to each side of the board. The left side are the bonus cards available to military conquests, the right side to boats.

[2008-11-07/14:05] <clearclaw> Oh cute!

[2008-11-07/14:07] <clearclaw> So there’s the possibility of the 6th fleet getting stuck.

[2008-11-07/14:07] <clearclaw> There are only 3 possible army cards

[2008-11-07/14:07] <cocadieta> Nahh, if the stock of 5 runs out, players can pull from the other side.

[2008-11-07/14:09] <clearclaw> So players pull any of the face up 5?

[2008-11-07/14:09] <cocadieta> Exactly.

[2008-11-07/14:09] * clearclaw ponders.

[2008-11-07/14:09] <clearclaw> That makes ER cards FAR more valuable

[2008-11-07/14:10] <cocadieta> They’re already that valuable, just at random times.

[2008-11-07/14:11] <clearclaw> But now it is perfectly controlled and can be timed to a nicety.

[2008-11-07/14:11] <clearclaw> In particular it makes the bribe cards even stronger

[2008-11-07/14:11] <cocadieta> A game where all of the bribe cards got dealt to the left of the board would be much different than a game where they were all dealt to the right. Definitely.

[2008-11-07/14:12] <clearclaw> Not just that, but the certainty that you could get the bribe card you wanted exactly when you wanted it

[2008-11-07/14:17] <cocadieta> The bribe cards are already the most valuable cards in the game. It seems inappropriate to hide them behind random draws of any kind.

[2008-11-07/14:18] <clearclaw> There’s some truth there.

I like this change.

Share lessons

I made paper shares for Muck & Brass tonight using the share PDFs I genned yesterday. I don’t need them, the glass bits I have been using work well enough, but I suspect that a slightly crisper presentation (and demonstration of personal investment?) will make acceptance of a very early stage prototype easier.

A quick trip to an office supply store produced a pad of craft paper in 8 colours (sadly one of the colours was a very dark purple). A couple aisles over revealed two packs of copier paper in 5 colours, one set rather pastel and the other day-glo. I grabbed the craft paper and pastel sets, printed four sheets of each share sheet, cut them quickly with a Fiskar’s rotary cutter and slipped them into penny sleeves. 390 penny sleeves no less. However, they’re really quite nice. The paper colours are bold and clear, the black printing shows well, the company abbreviations on the ends of the shares allows them to be fanned easily (as often done in the 18XX) etc. Fair dinkum.

Meanwhile yesterday’s trip to the paper supply store revealed a business card cutter: feed printed stock in one end, turn the handle and out fall cut business cards. Cost ~$150. I suspect card production is not as trivial as it suggests and that a vice-based paper cutter remains the better choice there. Lastly, while business cards could make good shares/cards but there are narrow limitations on available stock colours and relatively high media costs. Bah.

The paper supply store also had a manual corner rounder for $300 (essentially a jig with a vice and a curved blade). It was a rather heavy-duty piece of equipment; likely to survive WWIII unscathed. it was tempting to be tempted. I have a hard time resisting such well-formed mechanical engineering. Thank the gods nobody is waving a Curta calculator in my face.

Lessons from tonight’s production run:

  • Colour copier paper in a wide range of colours (I need 10 colours for the 10 companies in Muck & Brass) is readily available outside my local office supply stores (Stapes, Office Max, Office Depot etc). eg this store
  • Sleeves are constant size. This can hide a multitude of sins surrounding cut shares not being of constant size.
  • Craft paper is nice stuff to work with
  • Craft paper easily jams in the printer. Treat it carefully and ensure the guides and feed are aligned well!
  • Coloured copier paper is not so nice to work with, tending to crease, crumple and stick
  • With a little care the rotary cutter will handle and cut stacks of 8 sheets well enough. That makes for 8 cuts for 64 shares. Not bad.

The goal is to play tomorrow at the Endgame Anniversary party. It isn’t likely, but worth a shot.

Sampling choice

A broken out action track for testing the proposed new action selection rules:

actions.png

For some reason the scaled-down PNG is showing with a black background. View it directly to get the proper image. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to playtest it this weekend. I’m having a terrible time attempting to simulate games.

Falling practice hammers

Being in possession of a new printer, an HP K8600 whose main claim to fame is that it is can up to print A31 (roughly 13″x19″ — useful for prototype maps/boards), I spent a little time this evening messing with another new tool: Scribus. Scribus is a page layout tool akin to Adobe’s Framemaker. There’s little Scribus can do that I could not do and likely do better with my long standing favourites of LaTeX and LyX, but for quick, experimental and mostly throw-away tasks Scribus has a lower barrier to entry. The fact that it also emits SVG and PDF is icing on the cake.

My first test project was to draw shares for the 10 companies in Muck & Brass (EUR, B&GR, L&SR, L&MR, LB&SCR, CR, GWR, LNWR, NER, SWR). The assumption is that each sheet would be printed 4 times, each company on a different colour of paper, and then one of the non-merger shares for each company would be discarded. The final shares would be slipped into penny sleeves, perhaps with a card backing. This would give 3 non-merger shares and 28 merger shares per company, which is just barely enough.

Winsome Games uses rather nice coloured paper in a wide range of colours for many of their shares. I’ve not seen anything quite so pleasant at my local office supply stores. I wonder what I’m missing?2

EUR-shares-page1.png

As Ben Keightley graciously reminded me on #bgdf_chat, it would be better to put small images showing the position of that company’s home city on each share. I plead gross laziness and a knowledge of English geography! I can’t quite be bothered to [[gen|gen]] 10 maps of England with highlighted cities, not when the above sheets merely required producing one master and doing search-and-replace with XEmacs to produce the others.

Footnotes
  1. Would that I could find a local paper supplier that carried A3!
  2. I did find very polystyrene clamshell cases at a local store, similar to the ones that Winsome Games uses but rather larger (~4″ deep). Thought provoking.

On top of old crikey

On BoardGameNews Kris Hall posted an article entitled What would Knizia do? which asides from discussing Nefertiti, also suggested Reiner Knizia as a paragon of game-design sensibility to aspire towards. I took mild exception, describing my goals for game decisions a little differently to those perceived for Knizia’s designs (see below). This resulted in the following comment sequence in the ensuring thread. I’ve concatenated the three comments below as they parse reasonably as a single argument:

My most common internal question during design is: How can I make this decision point more nuanced, more subtle and less obvious? Obvious decisions are non-decisions. Early decisions should only make later decisions more difficult and less obvious. Ideally every decision in the game should be a challenge, a challenge both to determine that the decision is present in the first place as well as to decide on a good answer for that decision.

I’m not interested in making it less obvious that a decision is to be made. The game says to build something, you build something. That’s fine. I am interested in players not being sure what their decisions really mean for long-term implications. I’m interested in making the decisions have many facets, have implications in multiple areas over multiple time scales and for those implications to be soft-edged, un-obvious and un-intuitive, for many of the things decided by implication to be unclear in prediction but obvious in retrospect.

Yeah, I know the classic pattern is “have to do N things but can only pick one”. That’s not my favourite pattern. I’m not so fond of the “I have to do XXX but I don’t really want to!” pattern (eg Ra). I much more like decisions which all seem variously reasonable, where it seems reasonable to do any one of them and to not do the others, but they are in fact all importantly different in many different ways.

Yes, there is a danger is that decisions are so indistinguishable that they are insignificant. So far I’ve dealt with this in terms of commitment, decisions committing players to directions they can’t fully comprehend at the time.

Of course as the game comes to a close the effects of decisions become more obvious, intuitive or calculable as their lifespan and range becomes obvious. However earlier in the game the idea is for the decisions to largely be attempts to assess and influence the similarly cloudy decisions of the other players. each player committing to a suggestive posture in attempt to influence the other players to commit to resonant postures, thereby communally setting a larger direction for the game as a whole.

That last paragraph is poor. I don’t yet know how to clearly articulate the concept I’m attempting but it has to do with the goal of games not being mechanical exercises, not discretely calculable sequence models, but densely flavoured organic [[melanges|melange]], [[gestalts|gestalt]] that more emerge from among the player’s intersections than being a discrete logic system that the players externally engage as manipulating clients.

Transactional liposuction

I’ve been concerned about transactional density in Space Race. I’d like to have players (near) constantly having to pay each other for little actions and the sum of the current game state. Pay for this, pay for that, etc with all debts/payments recurring for every turn of the game after their inception.

This is a problem. There could easily be 20+ transactions per player in various directions. Of course many of those would more or less cancel. PlayerA plays PlayerB $17 and PlayerB pays PlayerA $14, for a net effect of PlayerA paying PlayerB $3. Of course the loop could be larger than that with all the other players involved in various degrees as the money sloshes about.

The obvious choice is simply polish all that detail out; figure out a way to remove all the accounting detail and yet let the game continue smoothly and with rich decisions. However, I’d like to not do that. I’d like to keep the net effect of all those hordes of micro-transactions without having to have the game support the overhead of hordes of micro-transactions. I intend the game to be severely cash strapped, so a few dollars or more draining out in one direction, turn after turn, is a big deal.

My first thought was that each player would have an income track containing markers for each other player. A player’s marker on a track would represent an obligation to play the track-owner that sum of money at the end of each round. As debt events occurred in the game players would synchronously move their markers up and down on each other’s tracks to represent the new balance of payments. However even this is too fiddly. A five player game would have 20 tracks (4 per player), each containing 4 debt markers (one for each other player), with two markers being adjusted for each debt-causing event. Further all this complexity doesn’t clearly represent or collapse debt cycles (eg PlayerA owes $5 to PlayerB who owes $5 to Player C who owes $5 to PlayerA for a net sum of $0). It also doesn’t clearly represent what the net sum of a player’s debt posture is. Each player would need to add the sum of their debts against the sum of their incomes. Fie!

The current thought is to simply have an income track for each player, centred on zero, say, running from -20 to +20. As debt events occur in the game players would move their income markers up and down as appropriate. Thus if PlayerA incurred a $5 debt to PlayerB, then PlayerA would move their income marker down by $5 and PlayerB would move their income marker up by $5. In a 5 player game this would result in 5 tracks, each with a single marker. All end-of-round payments would be to and from the bank. The net effect would be the same, money in sum moving identically to the more detailed system, but with the bank’s implied capital pool acting as a sump to simplify net transaction resolution.

As thoughts from the shower go, this one seems a keeper.

Variant: Draughting Emperor’s Reward Cards in Confucius

Alan Paull’s otherwise excellent game, Confucius. can seem overly chaotic as the Emperor’s Reward cards start being played late in the game. Ben Keightly and I have discussed this on #bgdf_chat:

[2008-10-01/11:30] <clearclaw> I am building a bureaucratic force of extraordinary magnitude — http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2692463

[2008-10-01/11:31] <cocadieta> Neat, that was the game I played last night.

[2008-10-01/11:32] <cocadieta> For my last action I got to choose whether J R or Dave won.

[2008-10-01/11:33] <clearclaw> Hehn.

[2008-10-01/11:33] <clearclaw> I’d love to talk more but have to run. Back in ~45 probably.

[2008-10-01/11:39] <sedjtroll> So does Confucius often come down to such a kingmaker decision?

[2008-10-01/11:39] <cocadieta> It’s easy for it to.

[2008-10-01/11:40] <cocadieta> This is the first time I’ve seen it quite so clearly, but there was nothing terribly special about this game (other than three new players).

[2008-10-01/11:40] <sedjtroll> Oh. lame

[2008-10-01/11:46] <clearclaw> No, in this case that’s a positive quality

[2008-10-01/11:46] <clearclaw> The entire game is about creating tied situations.

[2008-10-01/11:46] <clearclaw> A kingmaker position is merely an instance of a tied situation.

[2008-10-01/11:47] <cocadieta> That’s how I looked at it. Two players won. That I had to ‘pick’ between them isn’t really important.

[2008-10-01/11:47] <clearclaw> Quite.

[2008-10-01/11:48] <cocadieta> The money isn’t too lucky but the bonus cards are.

[2008-10-01/11:48] <clearclaw> If there had been an incentive created by one of the players for you to go one way or ther other it would have been more interesting. This was just the degenerate case.

[2008-10-01/11:48] <clearclaw> Aye, the Emperor’s reward cards are swingy

[2008-10-01/11:48] <clearclaw> What complaints I have centre there.

[2008-10-01/11:49] <cocadieta> In last night’s game, I had a 30% chance of pulling a card worth 8 points to me (!!!)

[2008-10-01/11:49] <clearclaw> They’re hard to remove cleanly

[2008-10-01/11:49] <clearclaw> Wowzers.

[2008-10-01/11:49] <clearclaw> I’ve not looked hard at the distribution.

[2008-10-01/11:50] <cocadieta> The situation was: Hoju was about to resolve and I saw my position there go from a very safe second to an impossible-to-fix third.

[2008-10-01/11:51] <cocadieta> I ran my boats out to Africa and picked up a bonus card. If it was the Hoju bribery card or one of the two wilds, I could have knocked someone out and gone back to second. The VPs in the region were 8/8; I had two markers and a gift invested in the region.

[2008-10-01/11:51] <cocadieta> Brutal, but then again, them’s the breaks.

[2008-10-01/11:52] <clearclaw> Yow. Those forced minister cards are (overly?) brutal.

[2008-10-01/11:52] <clearclaw> They haven’t determined one of our games yet but they’ve come close.

[2008-10-01/11:52] <clearclaw> They make the navies far more viable than they appear at first glance,.

[2008-10-01/11:53] <cocadieta> I’m happy to accept them as swingy, and also I realize I have to revise my line that the bonus cards are worth about a point or two each.

[2008-10-01/11:53] <clearclaw> I think I’d prefer the game without the Emperor’s Reward cards, I see them as something to be polished out, but they are tightly married to the rest of the system.

[2008-10-01/11:58] <cocadieta> I like them though I know why you aren’t crazy about them. I wonder what it would do to the game to keep them face up and let players pick them.

[2008-10-01/11:58] <clearclaw> Or perhaps a narrow draught pool. THAT would be interesting!

[2008-10-01/11:58] <clearclaw> (and face up when drawn)

[2008-10-01/11:59] <clearclaw> (unless drawn blind?)

[2008-10-01/11:59] <cocadieta> There are always two cards available, that kind of thing?

[2008-10-01/11:59] <clearclaw> Yes.

[2008-10-01/12:00] <clearclaw> Aside: In our last game we had a player do 15 fleets at once.

[2008-10-01/12:00] <cocadieta> I like the sound of that. I don’t mind the chaos and the huge swinginess of the cards–I think that’s perfectly in line with the insane swings that e.g. the students can have on the game–but the blind draws and secret holdings are maybe a little much.

[2008-10-01/12:00] <cocadieta> That’s great!

[2008-10-01/12:01] <clearclaw> Aye. I do like the draught pool idea.

[2008-10-01/12:01] <clearclaw> I’ll try and write that up later as a proposal.

[2008-10-01/12:01] * clearclaw will probably dig lightly at Faidutti.

[2008-10-01/12:01] <cocadieta> Ha, ha

[2008-10-01/12:02] <clearclaw> Undoubtedly he likes the chaos. His style.

[2008-10-01/12:02] <cocadieta> Yeah, absolutely.

[2008-10-01/12:02] <clearclaw> This variant will lead directly away from that quality.

[2008-10-01/12:02] <clearclaw> I expect it will be accused of attempting to turn the game into something that it isn’t.

[2008-10-01/12:25] <cocadieta> J C, will your ego be bruised if I type up that variant as part of a reply to J R’s report?

[2008-10-01/12:26] <sedjtroll> I think JC’s ego is impervious

[2008-10-01/12:51] <clearclaw> I am currently in the process of putting that variant into an OtherWise post which will be cross-posted to BGG as a variant proposal

[2008-10-01/12:53] <clearclaw> Outside of that yes, my ego will not be bruised.

[2008-10-01/12:53] <cocadieta> I mentioned the variant in J R’s report. If you’d like I’d be happy to credit it to you as well, it just didn’t seem worth it.

[2008-10-01/12:53] <clearclaw> I’m not overly worried.

[2008-10-01/12:53] <clearclaw> (or underly)

Ben’s post to BoardGameGeek:

I really love this game, and I think navigating its insane chaos is a very unusual challenge. I agree that the luck of the money draw really just means players need to be prepared to spend only a little or a lot on any given turn, and there are plenty of cheap as well as expensive things to buy. Poor planning will make anyone susceptible to bad card draws, but a versatile board position and gift pool should ensure that you always have something to do.

After last night’s game, my new feeling is that the bonus cards are a little too lucky. Chaos is the order of the day here, but it’s basically ‘fair’ chaos: I have, at every moment, a very good overview of everyone’s position and incentives (to borrow a word–hi, J C). That is, except for bonus cards, which are hugely variable in worth to every player, randomly drawn, and secretly held. I love the swinginess of the cards, I love the chaos they create, but I don’t appreciate their random draw.

Proposed variant: At the beginning of the game, shuffle the cards and keep them face down. Flip over the top two (three?) cards; when a player wins a bonus card, he selects one, keeps it face up in front of him, and flips a new card to replace it. I feel like this would preserve the crazy chaos of the game but continue to allow each player to have a ‘complete’ picture, letting him make more informed decisions. I also don’t think it adds much, if any, complexity to the game.

I followed that with the following post:

The more I think about this proposal the more I like it. There are a few questions:

  • Does the draught pool refill immediately when a card is taken (this is significant for the cases in which players take more than one card with a single action via the navies)

  • May a player draw blind?

  • Size of the draught pool

I hadn’t thought these through when I proposed the variant on #bgdf_chat. My general view is that the Emperor’s reward cards as currently implemented are unnecessary complication to be polished out by development. I’ve spent a few hours looking at doing that but the cards are tied deeply into the rest of the system and can’t be removed easily without grossly affecting other key game relationships.

The more cards are in the draught pool the higher the probability that one or more of the cards will be specifically useful to any given player. Additionally the exposure of the cards in the draught pool increases their value for the players as they know what they are getting/competing for. There’s also an argument that the card values are decreased because they are also revealed to the other players, however this value change seems small.

Fleets are the only way to acquire multiple cards with a single action. We’ve had players send 15 fleets out in a single action in more than one of our games, thereby taking three cards at once. I strenuously doubt that any player will ever send out 20 fleets with a single action and thus take 4 cards at once. I’m willing to discount that contingency or cover it with a special rule that the last card is blind. 15 fleets is rare enough as to provide a reasonable outer bound.

Allowing the draught pool to immediately fill as cards are drawn allows such a fleet player to benefit from luck of the draw without any foresight by other players. If not a step backward, this is not an improvement.

Blind draws effectively recreate the (overly) chaotic system which we’re trying to address. Blind draws would be better if the drawn card were then revealed by the player, but that’s a band aide atop the problem, not an actual improvement. Of course the player drawing immediately after another player’s draw may also profit from the blind flip as the draught pool is restocked. This could be prevented by also revealing the next N cards which will be put into the draught pool as other cards are taken. I like this idea but am unsure if the complexity is justified.

Initial conclusions:

  • Draught pool is three cards wide

  • Draught pool is not refilled until after the player’s turn

  • Emperor’s Reward cards may only be taken from the face up draught pool

  • Players must keep their Emperor’s Reward cards revealed to all players

Possible extension:

  • After player turns the draught pool is refilled in order from an additional set of face-up cards

Having thought about it a bit more since that posting, I like the conclusions and extension above. I have yet to play with this variant. I’ll try to get it on the table today.

We all live in the yellow money mint

I taught Wabash Cannonball to three new players this evening. It was an interesting game that ended on the 8th dividend, with me being high cash and high income for the last 4 dividends! In short the other players manipulated turn order to ensure that I never got a chance at a capitalisation action in order to sell a share to end the game. Additionally as I only owned shares of two companies (2 PRR and 2 C&O, both already in Chicago), I had no way to drive the game closed via track or Development cubes. It was most annoying. End-game scores were $187 (me), $166, $162 and $159. However that was not the interesting part.

At the end of the game the $159 player said that he thought one rule should be added to the game:

If all the players end the game with more than some amount, say $150, then they should all be declared winners. We’re all filthy rich and thus gloriously happy; we should all be winners!

Without commenting on the equation of wealth and happiness, this really isn’t such a bad idea. Really. What it actually provides is a strong incentive for the players to drive the game to a close rapidly so that there is the opportunity for a single unambiguous winner. Conversely it also gives the behind players a strong incentive to drive the game long to push the cash holdings to break the $150 ceiling and thus also win. It puts the collusive base of the temporary emergent alliances on a new footing as the end-game approaches, making what are otherwise fairly straight-forward e(V) calculations not so necessarily calculable any more. Now the game is potentially one-against-all as the winning player attempts to drive the game closed before the other players push their cash holdings over the threshold.

I find this clever: a simple, trivial, change which allows players to collude to their own self-interest to invert the scoring system of the end-game to their advantage.

The variant is unnecessary for Wabash Cannonball as this odd corner case is so unusual as to not require a special rule. If I’d owned shares of more than two companies (I’d have ended the game on track cubes much earlier). However as a base mechanism for other games it has me thinking. Provide an inversion cap on scoring that suddenly declares that all the players win and thus create a massive selfish competition in the end-game of one against everyone for the solo-win. Oh, what spice! Neat!

Hippodice round 2

Subject: B: 'Ohana Proa
From: J C Lawrence 
Date: Fri, 31 Oct 2008 17:39:25 -0700
To: autorenwettbewerb@hippodice.de

J C Lawrence would like to submit 'Ohana Proa to the Hippodice
competition.  He is the sole designer and his email address is
XXXX@kanga.nu. 'Ohana Proa is designed for 3-5 players, age 10+ years
and lasts about 150 minutes.

Please find attached a description, the rules and a player aid.

--
J C Lawrence                        They said, "You have a blue guitar,
-------------------------(*)                        You do not play things as they are."
XXXX@kanga.nu                       The man replied, "Things as they are
http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/          Are changed upon the blue guitar."