Other Wise

Straight shootin’ complexity cowboy

The rules for Corner Lot have been updated to reflect wildcards and the current concept of rainbow straights. Sadly that also also means that the rules now occupy 3 pages instead of the prior 2. Ahh, rampant runaway complexity threatens!

Regimental thuggery

We’ve played a slew more games of Corner Lot in the last days, all remarkably well received. The big concern is that the game is clearly a 3 or 4 player game and does not scale well to larger players. As such I’ve been pursuing avenues to increase player count flexibility. Most recently we’ve been trying the following changes:

  • Starting capital is increased to $600 divided among players
  • 5 Wildcards are placed beside the tableau
    • Each wildcard has a cost of $20
  • A player may purchase an available wildcard for cost on their turn as a normal action
    • When a player buys a wildcard they must assign it a revenue value ($3, $4, $5, $6, $7, $8, $9, or $12)
  • Unbought wildcards reduce the revenue of all cards of that suit by $2 at revenue time
  • Players must pay $5 for each wildcard they own to the bank at revenue time (deducted from revenues)
  • Purchased wildcards accumulate their revenues on the wildcard at revenue time
    • The owning player receives this money during end-game scoring
  • Melds with wildcards score bonuses in the normal way
    • Wildcard duplicates of cards already held score both bonuses as if they were an additional suit of that value and an additional card of that suit

This has worked well and has improved the game for all the players. I’ve found it a surprisingly strong improvement.

However, all is not rosy. Players tend to specialise in suits as the game rewards them heavily for that, leading to low contention rates for property cards once into the mid-game. In general each player will pursue bonuses in two suits, making competition for cards generally tepid outside of bid ordering details. The tendency is for there to be a round to a round and half of bidding for each lot before the trigger is pulled. If there were more contention for cards the trigger-pulling decision would be more difficult and interesting.

Two proposals have been made by the players:

  1. Add support for scoring bonuses for straights (not just straight flushes). This would need to be explicitly limited in some way else a player with the 5/6/7 of three suits could construct an ungodly large number of possible three-card bonus straights!
  2. All players, once per game to insert one of their purchased cards into the currently auctioned lot in return for the card’s revenue
    • A possibly slightly more interesting form of this instead adds a 6th round to the game in which players may (must?) put one card up for auction (in return for its revenue).

I’m tempted by the straights and in particular for allowing players to score bonuses for rainbow straights (3 or more cards in revenue sequence with each suit occuring not more than once). The notion of putting cards back up for auction is interesting but a little less compelling at the moment as almost every case would involve another player scoring more for the card than the contributor Hurm. Unless the winning bids on the property cards in that last round were paid back to the contributing player? I have numbers to crunch.

I’ll get updated rules including the wildcards posted Real Soon Now.

Old Age of Steam playtest photologs (Sun, London, SE Australia, Wales, Nitrogen)

I recently acquired Okay to post the photologs from some of the outside playtests of my Age of Steam maps:

Age of Steam: Sun

Age of Steam: London

Age of Steam: South East Australia

Game #1

Game #2

Game #3

Age of Steam: Wales

Game #1

Game #2

Game #3

Age of Steam: Korea (using Nitrogen rules)

Site upgrade

I’m about to start a site-upgrade for WordPress and a few other key packages, moving from WordPress 2.5 (plus a long list of security patches) to WordPress 2.7 (plus a shorter list of security patches). As I hand-wrote the WordPress theme this site uses, and several of the plugins were extensively edited away from their defaults, things may look odd or broken for a while. Please bear with me…

Muck & Brass — Revision #67 released

Thanks for all the great responses on the playtests so far!

There are no big changes in this new release, just clarifications, grammar and typo fixes to the rules. There have been no substantive rules changes. Playtesters can download the full distribution by changing the 65 in the super-sekrit filename to 67, or you can just download and print off the new rules as they’re the only thing that has changed in this release.

Again, please append commentary, questions, reactions, thoughts etc1 as comments below so we may all easily track exactly what is being talked about.

  1. Please upload images and other media to the FTP server and then mention the upload in your comment.

18xx night: 2009-03-27

Got together with Daniel, Jacob and Todd las night to play 18xx. We played 1846, 18Mex and 1832 — and with small exception I played terribly, embarrassingly badly; rank amateurs could easily have done better. I don’t know where my head was last night, but it wasn’t in that room. The one gleaming light was that I was able to consistently manage the private auctions to my own best advantage. Actually making good use of what I got from there…not so much. Bah. Thankfully I also forgot to take any pictures. A small blessing.

My head finally hit the pillow at around 08:00 this morning, so I’m a bit groggy as I type this. However my brief sleep and the time afterward has been filled with the most delightful many flavoured forms of Oh I should have done XXX! realisations. The 18xx are so wonderfully expressive in their almost symbiotic layers of counter-reactions in that regard.


I’d been wanting to play 1846 for a long time and it has been near the top of my ever-almost Deep Thought Games order as a shorter and clever 18xx by Tom Lehmann. I’m less interested now, verging on active revulsion. I’m generally not a fan of partial capitalisation games as they push players to continuously invest in their own companies in order to validate their prior investment and make it viable. As such cross-investment is more of a spare-cash activity than a selective investment, presidency transfers are far less common, and the emphasis is moved heavily to run good companies rather than free money, combinations, or timing_1. In short the question is _How do I ride this vehicle to success? rather than, How do I exploit the other players in order to win? However, more simply, the game seemed intensely tactical, almost entirely non-confrontational and an effective rendering of a standard euro-style economic-snowball into 18xx form. Shudder. I have not had a more unpleasant 18xx experience. I’m willing to play again, I’d like to play again2 just to make sure I saw the game reasonably clearly, but I’m tempted to rate this one at 3.5/10 or under.


We played up through Phase 3.5 and into the start of Phase 4. I had a clear lead with the NdM presidency, the 20 trigger private, 40% of the Chihuawa and 20% of the, err, gray/black thing down in the south (the two clearly best companies in our game, with the Chihuawua set to merge into the NdM), Jacob wasn’t far behind but was a noticeable step behind me, Todd managed admirably for not knowing the board and I don’t think Daniel had much idea of how terrible a position he was really in once the train rush really broke. Sadly Jacob had to go home (wife, kid) so we called it just as we entered Phase 4. Finally, at least once, I had some of my act together and wasn’t entirely stupid. Even better we got to see some neat track-build patterns with the minors that raked in the money (A and B were both running for ~$100 before they folded) while also driving the game development in entertaining fashions. Tres chic.

18Mex is growing on me. I like the phase 3.5 evolution3 plus the almost as large mutation in phase 5 one or two ORs later when the NdM forms. By reflection (same designer, similar system) 18TN (which I also have) is climbing rapidly on my want-to-play list. Just delightful.


Perhaps I’m just not a stylisitic fan of Bill Dixon games. Perhaps the less said here is also the better as this was where my brain clearly exeunt stage left, leaving me to ungracefully and unconsciously suicide4. I admire the huge number of levers the game provides the players, the game has good arc, good development curves and an interesting track-system. That said, the game felt bloated. I suspect that’s an unfair characterisation as the interesting facets of the many many levers provided couldn’t fully express in a shorter game5, but having 2-trains run 6-8 times and 8 ranks of trains ( same as 1870: 2/3/4/5/6/8/10/12) is perhaps a bit too much for my taste.

  1. Blog post due RSN on the four basic types of 18xx designs.
  2. Glutton for punishment?
  3. Easily comparable to 1856’s CGR formation
  4. Deliberate bankruptcy in the 8 trains.
  5. I’d guess it averages 12-14 OR sets

Twitter Week: 2009-03-28

  • @raphkoster I’ve yet to be disappointed by Charles deLint. Unusually liquid prose. in reply to raphkoster #
  • @raphkoster It has been long, educational & adventurous in graceless ways. Life, bah humbug! Hehn. How long are you in SF? #
  • @raphkoster Oof, so leaving early then. in reply to raphkoster #
  • RT @davemcclure: 3 AAA’s of Metrics: Actionable, Accessible, Auditable (@EricRies) #
  • RT @EricRies: 3 AAA’s of Metrics: Actionable, Accessible, Auditable #
  • RT @NASA: A close view of today’s Soyuz launch. Bill Ingalls captures terrific images! http://tr.im/hQF6 #
  • R A Lafferty’s droll “Slow Tuesday Night” (SF short). Welcome to modernity. (via @nielhimself ) http://lin.cr/hbe #
  • Eddie Izzard just finished filming on John Wyndam’s Day of the Triffiids. BBC TV so often has it so right. I miss it. (@via eddieizzard) #
  • RT @hnshah: @CAUSECAST Tesla Unveils Groundbreaking Electric Car, The Telsa Model S http://ping.fm/QtEGh #tesla #teslamodels #electriccar #
  • Who called me for a web usability study? <drum rioll> Yep, PayPal — and almost certainly the group I worked with for the last 3+ years. #
  • Watchmen does Wall-E, and well (via #trishm): http://lin.cr/hbm #
  • Saw Watchman. Talked w/ kids abt fear of nukewar in 70s&80s. Greenpeacer then. Forgot how oppressive it was but it came back. Always fear. #
  • @brettspiel And yet I count every cube in each played game — after it is in the bag , not before — here. I figure sheep herding is next. in reply to brettspiel #
  • @brettspiel Yeah, I’m still waiting on mine. Lots of Setters of Catan roads for Muck&Brass and the like. in reply to brettspiel #
  • @brookscl What is the name of this (prototype)? http://is.gd/pcxB #gamestorm in reply to brookscl #
  • Things I don’t understand: roofs over wells. Why, to keep the rain out? #

Elbowing cove detours

We’ve been playing Corner Lot quite a bit lately. It is popular and playing more quickly than I’d expected. Our games have been averaging under 45 minutes when I’d predicted a game length of around 75-90 based on decision complexity. I am…surprised.

So far we’ve played with 3 and 4 players with both working well. I think 4 players is marginally more interesting than 3, but it is a tough call. The common consensus is that 5 players is right out due to multi-player chaos effects. I’d like to soften that 5 player edge somewhat and have been working through a number of ideas around extending the suits, adding suits and adding some form of wildcard property card to the mix. The suit extension concepts ran afoul of the game’s basic arithmetic and sank there; however the wildcard concepts are being more interesting. The current idea:

  • 5 wildcards (one in each suit) that are set out beside the markets during setup
  • $20(?) cost and no stated revenue ($?) on the wildcards
  • Players may buy a wildcard from the display as their turn
    • The card must be assigned a value when it is taken — this is marked by putting that much cash (from the bank) on the card.
  • At the end of each round:
    • Each player has to pay $2 to the bank for each suit in which they have properties cards whose wildcard has not yet been taken
    • Each player that has taken a wildcard has to pay $5 to the bank for the card
    • The bank pays the card’s revenue to the card
      • The revenues accumulate on the card and are not available to the owning player
  • During the bonus phase:
    • The player retrieves the accumulated revenues on their wildcards
    • Melds score as normally, counting the wildcard as if it were the claimed card
    • If the wildcard duplicates a card that the player also has, then it counts as being of a different suit for the N-of-a-type bonus.

Thematically wildcards are empty lots that detract from the business and thus revenues of the other properties in the area. On purchase they empty lot is (slowly) developed and thus begins to accumulate revenues.

Knocking off the corners

We played several games of Corner Lot last night, all in comfortably less than hour. It was quite the hit. However a few small changes also resulted:

  • The starting capital has been set at $480/players. This was where I’d started actually but I wasn’t quite sure it was right. It is right, or at least close enough to right for more than government work.
  • No more emergency fund raising. The rule simply isn’t needed and has been excised.
  • The partially hidden variant has been normalised as the basic form of the game and the other variants discarded.
  • The $10 cards are being put back to being $12 cards. Again, this is where I’d started with the initial design, but then I vacillated and dropped it back down to $10. I’m not entirely convinced the $10s should be $12s, but it sure looks like it.

The rules have been updated.

On the stoop selling cigars

I’ve renamed Corner Property to Corner Lot as being a little more colloquial.

I’ve made a first draught of the rules. I’ve made the cards required for play (thanks go to Ariel Seoane for helping with the art) and hope to play at tomorrow’s gamenight at SB-Boardgamers.

Twitter Week: 2009-03-21

Condensed English rules for So Long Sucker

Another older file, the condensed game-oriented rules for So Long Sucker, the economic theory game developed by John Forbes Nash, Mel Hausner, Lloyd S. Shapley and Martin Shubik in 1950. It is a stunning exercise and analysis tool for applied game theory. The rules for So Long Sucker on a single page: rules.

As always, corrections and comments are welcomed.

Unified English rules for Intrige

I made this a while ago. A slightly older copy has been posted to Boardgamegeek. The collated and edited rules for the 2003 Amigo and 1995 FX Schmidt versions of Intrige1: rules.

As always, comments and corrections are welcomed.

  1. I’ve not looked at the rules for the recent English edition from Mayfair Games, but believe it to be consistent with these rules.

Better English rules for Dirk Henn’s Spekulation

I’ve made an edited and formatted version of Frank Branham’s rules translation for Dirk Henn’s game Spekulation. You can find the new rules file here. Comments and corrections will be gratefully received.


Twitter Week: 2009-03-14

Attempting poker chipset design

The perrenial discussion of poker chips has resurfaced yet again and for odd reasons I’ve taken to fiddling with ChipTalk’s Chip Factory. It is a cute little system.

The chipset I finally came up with:


Among the design’s advantages, asides from using a moderately standard colour sequence, are that the edgespots bind to both the previous and next chip in the sequence, including wrapping around the ends of course1. Thus the chips themselves form explicit documentation on their relative placement within the value ranking system2.

My normal poker chip requirement list:

  • At least 7 visually distinct colours including white, red, green, black or blue
  • At least 10 grams per chip (11.5 preferred — I’ve used dice/suited chips so much they feel right to me)
  • Inter-chip friction important (stacking/non-slippy)
  • Edge spots preferred must not interfere with chip colour recognition
  • No writing on the chip (that includes no denominations)

The above set mostly match that.

Gahh! I posted the wrong image and didn’t notice. Corrected:

  1. What sort of programmer do you think I am?
  2. I’m sure this notion isn’t original to me. Shrug.

SB-Boardgamers 2009-03-09

I played a wonderful, just wonderful, game of 18Mex. Final scores were delightfully tight: ~5,700, ~5,600, ~5,500, ~4,800. The 18xx are firmly cementing themselves as my favourite games; solid and somehow enheartening comfort-games.

Los Altos Gamesday 2009-03-07

I arrived late and didn’t get much onto the table:

Tomorrow is the second 18xx night at SB-Boardgamers. A fairly typical gamesday in all.

Twitter Week: 2009-03-07

Cornering capital

  • The average cost of a card is (5+10+15+20+25+30+35+40) /8 = $22.5.
  • The average cost of a set of 7 auctioned cards is $157.50
  • The average turn-to-turn-ROI of a card is 29% (52/180)
  • In each set of 7 auctioned cards an average of (22.5*7) = $157.50 will be spent in card cost across the players (assuming no rounds in which everyone passes and assuming no duplicate card values in the set)
  • If only one card is purchased per round at face value (likely to be one or two), then a minimum of $12 was spent in bid reservations, giving an average total expenditure per round of $169.50
  • Assuming that bidding pressure forces an average over-cost payment of 30% per card, that means the total per-round expenditure is $220.35
  • An average player will spend 1/N of that (N is number of players) in acquiring cards.
  • Mapping out the turns:
    • if a player spends $X on cards in a given round
      • At the end of the round they will earn 29% of $X
    • if the player spends $X on the second round
      • Their starting capital will need to have been at least 171% of $X
      • They will earn 58% of $X in revenue
    • If they spend $X on the third round
      • Their starting capital will need to have been at least 213% of $X
      • They will earn 87% of $X
    • If they again spend $X on the fourth round
      • Their starting capital will need to have been at least 226% of $X
      • They will earn 116% of $X
      • They are now profitable; their per-round expenditures of $X are exceeded by their revenue income
  • Thus the total capital required among the players at the start of the game is (4*220.35 * 2.26) = $1,991.96

The above doesn’t account for the probabilities of multiple cards of the same value in a lot, thus increasing over-payment, or the potential of players passing and thus driving prices down. It also ignores the fact that cards pay out 6 times per game, thus making the big cards even more valuable than they already are. And there are some other nice fat holes in the logic. Still, $500 per player in a 4 player game seems a reasonable sum.


An idle thought to enliven the mix:

  • When passing a player may instead tap some or all their cards for cash and receive Q% (50%?) of their revenue in cash. Such tapped cards do not pay again at the end of the round.

Consolidating corners

Quick changes that seem useful:

  • Project name (yep, it is no longer just a notion): Corner Property
  • Theme around property./market collection
  • Reduce the suit sizes to 8 cards and the game to 5 rounds
  • Lose the chips
  • Variants:
    • Deal our 5 cards and display them as what will not be in play
    • Deal out a 7×7 grid of cards and:
      • Resolve them in columnar order
      • Low cash player picks which column to resolve at the start of the round

Vague possibilities: – Turn-order players in order of cash or income

Still have to determine starting capital.

A game of auctions for auctions

1830 uses a remarkable auction format for distributing the private companies at the start of the game. In somewhat abstract terms:

  1. A number of properties are arranged in order of approximate ascending value
  2. On their turn a player may do one of the following:
    • Bid on a properly for whichever is the larger of the face value of the property plus $5 or the largest bid on the property plus $5
    • Buy the cheapest property for face value if it doesn’t have a bid on it
    • Pass
  3. If all players pass the face value of the lowest property is reduced by $5
  4. If the cheapest available contains only a single bid, then the property is instantly awarded to that bidder for that price
  5. If the cheapest available property contains multiple bids there is an auction among those players to resolve who gets the property
    • The player who has already placed the largest bid is considered to be winning the property for that price
    • Players in rotation may either raise their bid to more than the current highest bid or drop out of the auction
    • When only one bidder is left they win the property for their bid price
    • Losing bidders retain their losing bids
  6. The process of resolving the cheapest value property continues until either the cheapest available property hasn’t been bid on, or there are no more available properties.
  7. The turn then passes to the next player to the left who proceeds by bidding, buying or passing.
  8. This continues until all properties have been acquired

In essence bids on properties reserve the ability for that player to compete for the property later. They pay a premium for that privilege. As several properties are worth considerably more than their face values, there is competition both to acquire those properties and to force the eventual purchaser to pay reasonably for it.

1830’s private auction is often cited for being excessively complex and opaque. It is the primary point of differentiation in the early game and new players have a very hard time with it as each of the private companies has special powers, but also various pairs of private companies can synergistically work together. It should be no surprise that I’ve long admired the private auction and wanted to base a game around it just that portion of the game, much like Günter Cornett and Michael Uhlemann’s Greentown is a rendition of the 18xx route-tracing game, and Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling’s Cavum is a rendition of the 18xx track building game.


  • 55 cards, 5 each with values of 5/$3, 10/$4, 15/$5, 20/$6, 25/$7, 30/$8, 35/$9, 40/$10 and 50/$15.
    • The first value is the default cost of the card. The second value is the revenue of the card.
  • 55 chips, 11 in each of 5 colours
  • Poker chips
  • A bag


  1. Give each player money(a function of player count).
  2. Randomly select a dealer for the first round

Pattern of play

  1. Shuffle the card deck
  2. Deal out 7 cards
  3. Arrange the cards in order by increasing value (the value before the slash)
  4. Put 2 chips of each colour into the bag
  5. Randomly draw 7 chips and randomly put one on each card
  6. Stating with the dealer the players conduct an 1830-type auction for the cards
    • If there are multiple cards of the same value:
      • the base cost of each card of the same value is $2 more than the card below it in order of the same value
      • Bids must be which ever is the larger of $2 higher than the cost of the card or $1 higher than the largest bid on the card
  7. Keep the chips on the cards as they are taken, that indicates the suit of the card (cards are unsuited)
  8. The round ends when all cards have been purchased
  9. At the end of the round each player receives money equal to the dollar values on each of the cards they own.
  10. Repeat from dealing out 7 cards, adding chips to those left in the bag from the last round
  11. End after seven rounds (5 cards won’t be used)
  12. Pay the players double money at the end of the last round


  • Cash is points
  • Cash in each set of three or more cards of the same value held by a player for the number of cards held of that value multiplied by the revenue of the card
  • Cash in each sequence of three or more cards of the same suit (same colour chip) with sequential revenue values for the number of cards cards in the sequence multiplied by the revenue of the largest card in the sequence (50/$15 cards can’t be scored in this way)
  • A card may participate in scoring sets in both directions
  • Player with the most money win.
  • Three is no tie-breaker (of course)

Option: Lose the chips and suit the cards with 5 suits.

My sense is that the game is too long, the deck needs to be smaller, there need to be fewer rounds etc. It needs a diet. I haven’t investigated that yet.

SB-Boardgamers 2009-03-02

A night dominated by Dominion at the other tables for SB-Boardgamers. So far it is showing no signs of fading. It was good to see Hammer of Scots come back into play; it has been a while for that classic. I managed to get in:

Sorry, no pictures of the Bridges of Shangri-La, Thor and Army of Frogs games. I must recall to take pictures of my own games, not just other’s games. I’m also not sure why the pictures are all so badly cropped on the right end. Oops. They weren’t so badly cropped when I took them!

  1. I should raise my rating. I’m never sure whether this or Through the Desert is my favourite of Reiner Knizia’s games as it depends on which I’ve played most recently
  2. Such a delightful game. I’d nearly forgotten the importance of tile-type management.
  3. I’m about to call Army of Frogs critically flawed if not actively broken.