Other Wise

Recycled whirlpools

A thought model; just a skein of partial ideas to consider hanging a game from:

External markets phase

  • A graph, nodes connected by edges. Some nodes are identified as (potential) start nodes.
  • Nodes bear a die indicating the current market demand at that node. cf The future market die (central collumn) in Lokomotive Werks
    • The die or node may be coloured to indicate a specific transport type (passenger, freight etc)
  • Players may claim edges between start nodes and other nodes, or between nodes already connected and other nodes (connected or unconnected). In this manner the network grows and becomes incestuous
    • Possibly an auction of the nominated edge?
    • cf Dutch Intercity’s blind-bid edge within a very small graph
    • The Riding Series method of rotation auctions until at least one player has spent all their cash and all players have auctioned at least once may be interesting
    • Ordering by cash holdings, or inverse, may also be interesting. cf The Riding Series and Lokomotive Werks for value considerations
    • Possibly there are limitations on contiguous networks, costs for non-contiguous networks etc.
    • Should claimed edges be coloured by player and if so, what is the value?
  • By claiming a connection a player has acquired commits them to supply transport in that volume in N-turns (N = 3?)
    • The auction for the edge sets the price for that product-type ($/volume) and this is tracked/recorded
    • Future auctions produce new values, also tracked
    • Minimum bids may be set as a function of projected values from this history
  • As additional edges are claimed new markets enter the game with their own demands for volume
    • Represented by a new “line” of dice for that node, possibly in a different colour or a higher value of a current colour
    • Thus a thriving market for one sort of transport (eg freight) prompts a market for passengers etc etc and so forth (yay theme)
  • In a later phase players may sell the futures among each other
    • Again an auction, modifies the tracked price?

Production phase

  • Effectively Lokomotive Werks redressed
    • D4s? — lower variance
    • Number of dice in future orders column equal to total of all dice-values on nodes connected by claimed edges
  • Building new factories unchanged.
  • Building capacity unchanged
  • Players don’t claim dice, they auction them (and receive the money personally)
    • What is auctioned is a commitment to supply Q product of that type in N turned (N=3?)

Future fulfilment

  • The current turn’s contracts are resolved
  • Each buy must be matched with sells of the same type etc.
    • Open negotiation?
  • Unmatched buys are satisfied by the hidden market which operates at a cost of X% of a function of the tracked market prices and those funds are covered by the players
  • Unmatched sells force the market price down and penalise the holding player by n% of the then market value?
    • Simply losing the future may be enough penalty
  • What is resolution order of what buys and sells are matched and in what order?
  • Monies are paid from the bank to players holding satisfied buy futures (they ship the goods?)

Market maintenance phase

  • Each dice line on a node grows or shrinks by one die Lokomotive Werks-style
    • Possibly this is a global function across all nodes, a local function/property of the node, or a mix of both
    • Possibly a function of the properties/types of lines in neighbouring nodes (reflective/communicative/memetic markets)?
    • The dice are rolled, establishing total orders within the period (may be less or more than total futures)
  • Each player in rotation claims either auctions a die at a currently connected node (assumes uncoloured edges?), or auctions a new/additional edge
    • A new edge may connect a new node, in which case they automatically get that die/contract, or if between already-connected nodes, may affect market maturation patterns in those nodes (see above)
    • Not clear what auction value an edge between connected nodes has?
  • Limit to total growth of dice lines on nodes?

A fractured thought model to be sure, plangent and struck through with gaping flaws.

Returning to the future

After some odd thoughts about how the network growth potentials of ‘Ohana Proa could be mapped as a pseudo-futures market, i’ve been thinking about representing futures in games quite a bit lately and I’m having a really hard time of it.

The simplest way to present a future seems to be as a pair of contracts:

  1. The agreement to sell at time X for price Y
  2. The agreement to buy at time Q for price R

The two are of course reciprocals. There are more complex forms of futures, but they are just that, more complex. The basic form would have PlayerA selling a contract to PlayerB, PlayerB giving PlayerA money in return for the guaranteed market (to buy or sell). The complexity is that PlayerB has to have the money now to buy the contract, and depending on the type of the contract, will also either have to have the trade goods or the money to satisfy the contract when it comes due. The primary justification for futures is to guarantee both the pricing and the existence of the marketplace into the future against the vagaries of market dynamics. Thus a wheat producer can not only set his effective price for next year’s tonnage now, but can also guarantee that there is in fact a market to sell his wheat next year. A wheat buyer can do likewise, protecting themselves against price spikes due to bad weather and a reduced crop (for instance). But you know all this — I repeat myself, re-tracing the pattern in hope that repetition reveals something new and useful.

The challenge is to (literally?) transcribe this into a game. There must be risks sufficiently large that the inefficiencies of futures are worth it. The range of extent of the risks must also be knowable (supply may be high or low, prices may be high or low, demand may be high or low). Additionally, if a futures market is to be represented, the actual trade of futures and the tracking of futures prices as a discrete market entities, then fulfilment must be sufficiently postponed that the value of the future has the opportunity for multiple significant changes and can be reasonably traded multiple times.

This suggests a future length of between 3 and 5 rounds1. The future would be sold and there would then be 3-5 rounds of market evolutions and potential trading of a given future before it matures and is fulfilled. A good rule-of-thumb is that a game has 7-10 rounds, with each player making at least one strategically significant evolution per round. 7-10 rounds gives sufficient time for player investments to mature, carrying player commitment and value, and for game arc to develop. Given that futures must have a maturation time of 3-5 rounds and assuming that all the maturation periods will stack as densely as possible, that means a game duration of 10-15 rounds.

This of course assumes that the players start the game with positions which require the sort of risk abeyance that futures provide: another problem to resolve. But, so far so good. The remaining problems are to establish the risks and the market variance controls which can express reasonably in 10-15 rounds.

The future definition could also be simplified to :

  1. Buy goods now to be delivered at time X
  2. Sell goods now to be delivered at time Q

In essence the transaction occurs now except the fulfilment, the actual movement of goods, happens later. The pattern is similar to the mail order market model (given guaranteed delivery times) except that fulfilment is delayed by more than the postal system2. This is almost the same kettle of fish except that all the capital is required up front for the purchaser to abey the risks.

If the simplified model is combined with a loans/temporary-liquidity system 3 it becomes remarkably similar to the more classical and complex split contract/fulfilment/payment futures model.

Now for the risk system, and this is where I’m running dry.

The system needs a market with the following properties:

  1. High potential price variance
  2. Increasingly difficult to predict the longer the prediction (early-, mid- or late-game), not exponentially, but probably worse than linearly
  3. Reasonably predictable market volume demands

That last is a doozie. If I simulate supply and demand then either the supply and demand is highly unpredictable, or there is another large random factor in addition to supply and demand which affects market prices. One appealing possibility is using Lokomotive Werks’ novel dice-based market system, as it does provide a highly dynamic market with high variance supply and demand relationships4.

Positing Modern Mogul as an extrapolation of Lokomotive Werks is appealing as Lokomotive Werks is a fine game (review). Lokomotive Werks internally simulates the demand side through a combination of the number of dice rolled (which is a function of competition), the values that are rolled on those dice and the individual player’s turn order but leaves the supply side for players to construct. Somehow this needs to be split so that players can occupy both the supply and demand sides of the equation.

Demands are supplies for the next stemp in the consumption pipeline. What if there were the equivalent of two Lokomotive Werk’s tracks, one of factories for production (much like the current game) and the other with second stage demand? Thus, keeping with the train/transport themeing, one system would generate erratically growing sequences of transport demands (passenger, livestock, freight, etc), perhaps using a very similar system to Lokomotive Werks, which the players would then attempt to fulfil by representing back to the train production market as demands in some value distribution. Thus on the one hand players would attempt to gauge their position against the variations in transport demand, and by reflection from that, against the variance in production vehicle demand.

Much as I like perfect and certain information games, the use of dice (as a stand-in for any random system) seems suitable. here. The requirement is to create a high-risk difficult to predict system. A random system obviously does that and has the advantage that the range and distribution can be relatively precisely tailored. Building the system from player-interactions is likely possible but seems a difficult butterfly effect challenge and runs the risk of being fragile/crackable.

Hurm. Back-to-back Lokomotive Werk’s-like systems with a full futures market (time-based contracts to buy-and sell, plus dynamic price tracking). This needs musing on.

Harrumph. I started writing this post indending to explain how impossible it was to reasonably represent a futures market in a game and I had a stack of good solid (swiss-cheese) reasons in-hand. However, as hoped, as I assembled and articulated the reasons they built something else.

Footnotes
  1. A round being defined as a well bounded set of player actions and decisions sufficient to cause a significant strategic position change for each player
  2. I’m purposefully going to ignore delivery location.
  3. cf Container or Wealth of Nations
  4. This is rather cute, as Lokomotive Werks effectively implies a futures market for the trains the players build while never actually implementing any portion of that market!

1 winner and the rest of you losers

Matthew Marquand has been following the boardgame T-shirt racket for a while, most recently with Uberbadger. I went so far as to propose a shirt:

I would like a shirt with a graphic something akin to a large digit ‘1’ above the word “winner”, and the words “and the rest of you losers” written in a circle about that.

A rapid exchange with Matthew lead to the following sequence of designs:

pic345555.jpg pic345704.jpg pic345724.jpg pic346152.jpg

Plus an external suggestion from Chad Krizan of:

pic345814_md.jpg

A quick conversation with Ariel Seoane (Seo) on BGDF’s chat then lead to these suggestions:

JC_t-shirt.jpg JC_t-shirt_2.jpg JC_t-shirt_2a.jpg

Variously capitalising on suggesting a poker chip or classical smilie face model. BTW: The typo is known — the image is a quick sketch, not a final product.

The question is now which image is more interesting to buyers?

Bitticus

Seth Jaffee has made images for the tokens in Ohana Proa and graciously allowed me to make them generally available.

Reflections on an atoll

In a recent comment Ben Keightly argued that Ohana Proa both is and should be a resource management game, and to an extent he’s right. And wrong — well, if not-what-I-want can be accounted as incorrect then he’s wrong. Ultimately all games are resource management games: players have a variety of fungible resources, abilities and opportunities to exercise them during the game and the player that manages the use of their resources, abilities (really just another resource) and opportunities (yet another resource) most effectively will (should) win. Ergo all games are resource management games and it is thus a uselessly global and tautological definition.

At a lower and more useful altitude I define resource management games as games in which the resources in question are (generally) enumerable, limited, and usually highly granular. At heart resource management games are exercises in scarcity. At a crude character level players must mete and dole and shave their pennies while still accomplishing the victory conditions. However, that’s not my interest or goal for Ohana Proa. I’m not interested in Ohana Proa being a game of managing scarcity, rather it is intended to be (and is) a game of [[jocund|jocund]] excess. The resources I’m interested in players managing are not discrete enumerable elements of fish and shells and VPs and kula, but of opportunities and mutual player (dis)incentives and posture. Any reasonable player in Ohana Proa will have more fish and shells and kula etc than they necessarily know what to do with, they are going to be fundamentally rich and they are going to stay rich if they pay even marginal attention.1

Being rich is not the problem. Spending the wealth is not the problem (there’s always the turn order auction for that). The problem is simple: prestige. To get prestige the players must individually create and sustain situations in which the other players consistently give them disproportionately more than they give each other. It really is that simple. You have, more or less, all the wealth of the world, you are rich, but there’s a strict protocol for prestige-generating gifts and you need to manipulate the system so that you get to give more, more efficiently, than the other players. There’s a big machinery behind that prestige-giving protocol. There’s routes and auctions and fish and shells and kula and rot and a whole mess of details, all of which, Ben is quite right here, are almost busywork details.

There’s a common (and false) stereotype of rich people’s visiting gifts being things like a small pot of hand-made jam or the like (recently reiterated in Six Degrees of Separation, a wonderful movie BTW). Ohana Proa perpetuates this sorry model except that now the players have to grow their own berries, pick their own fruit (for themselves or each other), boil their own mixtures and in general go through a whole big and somewhat extraneous ritual just to get the little jar of hand-made jam to give their friends when they visit. But they have lots of friends and managing (there’s that word again) both the production pipeline of jam (kula) and the rate of opportunities to deliver (density of deliveries to islands connected by multiple players) as a set is difficult and the heart of the game.

Ahh, so there are resources to manage: the kula production pipeline and deliveries to multiply connected islands! Too true! Those are the primary resource challenges of the game, which makes it kinda sorta a resource management game except that the primary resources are:

  1. Opportunities to make deliveries to islands which are connected by multiple other players
  2. Network meshes that generate sufficient resource flow to afford those opportunities

And those things are not generally enumerable, particularly limited (scarce) or granular. They are more akin to diffusive field effects. Yeah, at a grand-level it is all busywork. All the little fish and shell etc stuff is noise, but it is important noise. It is busywork that builds the stuff that starts the multi-step inferential pipeline that establishes the incentives for the players to emergently create those opportunities and network-properties for your personal victory.

Quoting Ben again:

The way markets and kahunas interacted with the network is so interesting. It reminded me very strongly of the illustrations you sometimes see depicting gravity, with large planets sagging the 2D space-time grid. The way these interactions worked was clear as day. Unfortunately we were watching them happen from behind a pane of glass, and not consciously participating in the process.

Again, he’s right. My challenge is to diffusively but yet tangibly connect the players with that rubber sheet. I think, hope, that the recent rules changes, especially finishing splitting kula and damping the effect of kahuna will help make that diffuse connection more tangible.

Footnotes
  1. The concept of continual affluence is, in part, a deliberate swimming-upstream against the flood of managing-scarcity games. There are a great many games which manage scarcity in variously interesting ways. I don’t know of any other games which require the players to manage largesse without also drowning them in micro-management.

Decomposing: Wealth of Nations

The original content of this article was posted on here on BoardGameGeek and in the resulting thread.

After 5 plays and observing about a half-dozen more games we’re now mostly convinced that the game in Wealth of Nations is mostly absent. More simply it is grossly under-developed. The thought process runs something as follows.

Players will either take loans or not in the first round. If they don’t and another player does, the loan taking players benefit significantly from the lower market prices and extra operational time for their buildings. Ergo, players should automatically take loans to maximise their building. There’s simply no choice here.

If all players take loans, then the question becomes how many loans? In yesterday’s game but for a small artifact of placement the game could have ended in the fourth round. In that case I would have come second by a few points due to my unpaid loans. As the game ran longer my banks were able to pay for themselves and more. Thus taking quite as many loans as I did had some risk. I took 11 loans. 8 or so loans however would have been completely risk-free (and has been risk-free in prior games). I’m not about to define what that number should be, but clearly a reasonable number could be picked.

Why not then just start all players with 8 loans or their equivalent? Why bother having each player go through the rigamarole of taking loans and calculating prices and sequencing etc? There’s really no actual point to the loan taking process in the first Round in Wealth of Nations. It is automatic — they can’t afford to NOT take loans. Just start every player off with 10 or so loans and their equivalent in cash.

Similarly the cube-buying process in the first round is also almost perfectly scripted. There are only a few cube-based directions to head in and several of them are near identical. Why not simply gut the first trading round, start the players with say 8 loans, no cash and increase the money/cube draught pools correspondingly? That would easily cut almost an hour from the game and lose almost nothing in the way of interesting game decisions.

The markets almost work. Yeah there are efficiencies of scale and there is a modestly interesting under-/over-served-market pattern but it is shallow. Trading is again near automatic. Each player will have cubes they want, cubes they don’t want and a cube set they want to enter the Development phase with. Turning unwanted cubes plus cash plus loans into wanted cubes is purely mechanical and near decision-free. Almost any trade which moves them toward their desired cube-set should be rotely accepted. The only significant decision point is time ordering the trades based on opportunity cost against other desired trades. Very rarely there’s a decision about giving a specific player N-colour cubes at a cheaper trade cost or forcing them to buy at market cost, but those decisions are marginal as the penalty for them buying from the market is also marginal and they’re just going to get those cubes anyway.

In short the economic game seems like it is there, but the more I look at it the less and less there is actually there. Yeah, it seems muscular and aggressive and difficult and so forth and I have no doubt that non-analytical players can have a great time there. However once you catch on to the efficiencies that the game is built on, all the economy questions/decisions fall out to the simple: I want to build XYZ tiles, buy/trade for those cubes efficiently. Worse, the penalties for inefficiency (loans) are minor at worst — the odd dollar here and there really doesn’t matter that much. The value-differential of electively trading with players versus the bank/market is simply too small. Yeah, trading with player is more efficient, but the penalty of not-trading is marginal as versus say Settler of Catan’s or Bohnanza’s much steeper cliff providing both an interesting incentive and safety catch.

What’s left that is actually interesting is the board play: the tesselation patterns of the tiles, the control of area, the fight for space, the control of placement cost, etc. There’s actually a modestly interesting game there. I have a particular fondness for such games and am possibly rather good at them and that skill combined with my aggressive play-style has aided my success. However that interesting geometrical game is surrounded by a huge umbra of economy management which pretty much boils down to busy work.

Another problem, and I’ll discuss this more elsewhere/elsewhen, is the lack of butterfly effect in the game. The only significant source of variance is the draught and the initial tile placement locations. Outside of the geometry I really don’t see much interesting here. Oh, it is certainly possible during the initial tile placement phase to elect a player to lose the game, and I’ve done that and it can be modestly interesting for you if not for them, but that’s about it.

My other suspicion is that the game is mostly decided by the end of the first Development phase, outside of teleporting tile effects. In my last three games I’ve managed to secure the area and resources on the first turn to effectively guarantee my eventual success. 4 player games and teleporting tiles. Both those caveats are large. I see no reason to think that the game is nearly so deterministic with 5 players and see considerable reason to think that the spatial aspects in 5 player games will be much more interesting. The question is then whether that geometry game is sufficiently interesting to support the needless economic burden.

Update: After further thought this game-determination is bound fairly tightly to turn order. There is a severe advantage to placing later in the turn order in a 4 player game with 3rd probably being the sweetspot, as they (largely) get to control where the 4th player places. This, combined with the already present double-tile-set for the 3rd and 4th players in a 4 player game, is an impressive turn-order advantage.

I’m going to give up on 4 player games of Wealth of Nations except as teaching exercises. I’m not sure the game can be rescued with that player count without gross surgery. If I were to house rule the 4 player game I’d probably consider removing the black tile set from the draught and replacing it with another money/cube permutation set. I might also remove the second yellow tile set and sweeten the remaining yellow tileset with cubes/money. The first of or both of those changes should resolve a bit of the gross predictability of the 4 player game.

I will be pursuing 5 player games over the next weeks (we’ve played 4 four player games of WoN in a couple weeks, getting a few more 5 player games in shouldn’t be too hard). I’ll report back on my conclusions with that player count after that.

ObNote: The above comments are mostly specific to the 4 player game. I have yet to play with 5. Many of the points visibly remain with 5 players (loans, money, markets, cubes etc) but the decisions around board/area control and the choice and placement of each player’s second industry are clearly more subtle than they are in 4 player games.

Curmudgeon rescinds generosity

New rules.

New player aid.

The really short version is that my response to recent playtester feedback was overly generous and enthusiastic. The correct response is more conservative and curmudgeonly. I’m keeping the response to Slow Start, albeit slightly muted. That’s fine and even admirable. Automatic proa upgrades is not such a good idea. I considered that model extensively in the early development of the game and threw it out then, which I then forgot more recently. The game needs an additional drain on fish/shells for the first few rounds while the players build their networks. The drain doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be non-negligible. This prevents a too-early and crippling kula rush before the route-network can support it. I tossed out the ability to cash in kula for VPs immediately upon receipt as it destabilised the kula and VP markets in oddly feed-back-prone ways. The split kula remains as a fine way of maintaining off-turn player involvement while also adding pleasantly collusive elements, but the prestige and VP allocation is heavily adjusted with an eye to reducing the total number of manual transactions per turn and per gift.

Note: The kula/prestige/VP values are not final — I’ve not quite finished running models.

I also threw out the redundant About Fish & Shells section of the rules, which saved half a page. The only original material there was the statement that VPs could be discarded for fish and shells, which has been moved further up the document.

In summary two changes remain in the offing:

  1. Adjusting kula/prestige/VP values
  2. Pull in the end-game prestige line a bit (~27?) while also shortening the prestige multiplier brackets.