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Subject: Blind choices & learning the system rss

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David Fisher
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Becoming a better player at a game involves learning the system -- discovering possibilities, knowing how to respond to or prepare for your opponent's moves, etc.

How would you feel about a game where there was a huge advantage in knowing the system, giving new players no chance against experienced ones? For example, a new player has three options, one of which will give points to their opponent; but for the new player, it is a fairly blind choice.

Once the players are more experienced, there would be much more careful planning, feinting, etc. -- I'm just wondering if it would be too discouraging for new players if they didn't know too much about the consequences of their actions until they got to know the system better.

(This is for a game about fencing).
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Brook Gentlestream
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Many people don't mind, but I've never liked these sorts of games. The most common I've seen is where it seems like the game gives an advantage to a player that knows every card available in a face down deck when playing.

If a game asks a new player to draw a card from one of three decks, for example, but an experienced player knows the only good card in the deck of green cards has already been drawn, I feel like the game isn't well designed. It would be an easy thing to correct, however, if the rules were written to try to warn players of these pitfalls that are a basic education to the game.
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Jon David Faeth
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I've played a lot of games like that, and I almost always want to have a second go at it, for no other reason than I obsess over figuring out what crazy strategy I can finally come up with.
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Sean Westberg
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davidf wrote:

How would you feel about a game where there was a huge advantage in knowing the system, giving new players no chance against experienced ones?


It works for Race for the Galaxy.
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Timothy Marlorme
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Hmm... I would say that there are two things that we need to separate before we can answer.

Situation A: A new player makes sub-optimal choices which create an ever widening gap between the newbie and the experienced player.

Situation 2: A new player makes a sub-optimal choice which is directly exploited by the experienced player, to the disadvantage of the newbie.

Situation A is hard to avoid in games with a major skill component. It is not frustrating to play poorly and be beaten through simply not doing as well at the other players. Race for the Galaxy is an example of this.

Situation 2 is more problematic for new players. A new player makes a blind choice and a more experienced player leaps on them and takes something from them while gaining something themselves. This is much more likely to create frustration and an urge to never play again. Miniature combat games are common places where this happens, and for that (and other) reason(s) they tend to be intimidating to new players.

There are good games which use both models, so if you have a really good game which royally screws a new player for not knowing the impact of their actions, so be it. Just remember to write the rules in such a way as to foster a learning environment, rather than taking a first person shooter style "kill the weak and dance on their corpses" approach.
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James Hutchings
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In my experience almost all games are like this, but more experienced players fill you in.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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apeloverage wrote:
In my experience almost all games are like this, but more experienced players fill you in.


I agree with James.

Just take Go as an example. I'm a newbie to it, and I just don't know any "patterns" to follow. On the other hand, I'm just somewhat past the newbie skill for Chess, so I do know what to avoid in opening moves.

But the person who taught me chess made an effort to show me what I did wrong; probably because he wants me to improve and keep playing. I think most gamers I know follow that ... they might be cut-throat, but they also offer advice and encouragement.
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Jonathan Tullsen
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I personally don't like these games much. I never have and probably never will. I suck at them. Go figure.
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Brook Gentlestream
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Stormtower wrote:
On the other hand, I'm just somewhat past the newbie skill for Chess, so I do know what to avoid in opening moves.


Just because you don't know what the best choice to make is doesn't mean its a blind choice. A blind choice is one where your ability to make the correct choice doesn't have anything to do with your skill because you don't have all the information to make an intelligent choice. It's theoretically possible for you to deduce the best moves for a Chess game even if you have never played before, if you were very metiulous and analytical.

One of the reasons people like and admire chess is because each player has all the information at their finger tips right from the beginning. The skill involved is not to learn the information, but what to do with the information you already have.

Compare this to poker. If a player doesn't know how much of each card is in the deck, or how many suites there are altogether, then he is at a severe disadvantage when playing. For that reason, any basic instruction to poker always has some information about the composition of the poker deck. This information is a necessary prerequisite as part of learning how to play the game.

Imagine a seperate situation. Imagine we had a poker deck with 1/3 of the cards randomly taken out. Now, we're both at a disadvantage. If we play 100 games of this, however, we can both learn what is in the deck and play much better over time. Eventually, this disadvantage will be gone. I wouldn't quite consider this "a game of skill" so much "a game of deduction and memory". If we have time to look through the deck between games, we even remove the deduction part of it. On the hand, if a brand new player came to the table and played with us using this same deck, he would get creamed. Our knowledge of the deck would be greatly superior and he would be at an extreme disadvantage. Does that mean we are better at the game? Yes, but I don't know if that's really saying much as a testament to our poker skills. This is because the modified game we are playing is simply designed to favor players who have played more often and are familiar with information that a new player is not privy to. I would say this is a badly designed game that gives the illusion of skill, but doesn't actually favor the more skilled/talented player.
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Daniel King
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So here's something. Perhaps this "lack of information" could be something that develops during the game. You mentioned that it was a fencing game, so I'll frame it as such

Players begin a game with just the basic attacks, defenses, and parries. Somehow, and I seriously have no idea how, players acquire "techniques," which are extensions of these basic attacks. These are not shared with the opponent until you want them to be. Here's an example.

Player 1 uses the Thrust Attack on the opponent. The opponent is holding a special technique card that cancels that particular type of attack and counters with a slash. They can choose to either take the attack or activate their "parry" technique, counter-attacking, but revealing the technique to their opponent.

Obviously the way I've written it is overly simplistic, but it could work. As you become a better fencer, you learn techniques and combos to counter all kinds of situations. Also, when you fight an experienced opponent, you must slowly learn his moves so that you know how to deal with them. Pushing this idea forward, you could imagine a scenario where two experienced players have a long back-and-forth using countering techniques.

I realize that this system is designed to be contained within a single game, but perhaps you could adapt it to the sort of continuous style of game that it seems like you're planning.
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Sean Westberg
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reluctantpirate wrote:
So here's something. Perhaps this "lack of information" could be something that develops during the game. You mentioned that it was a fencing game, so I'll frame it as such

Players begin a game with just the basic attacks, defenses, and parries. Somehow, and I seriously have no idea how, players acquire "techniques," which are extensions of these basic attacks. These are not shared with the opponent until you want them to be. Here's an example.

Player 1 uses the Thrust Attack on the opponent. The opponent is holding a special technique card that cancels that particular type of attack and counters with a slash. They can choose to either take the attack or activate their "parry" technique, counter-attacking, but revealing the technique to their opponent.

Obviously the way I've written it is overly simplistic, but it could work. As you become a better fencer, you learn techniques and combos to counter all kinds of situations. Also, when you fight an experienced opponent, you must slowly learn his moves so that you know how to deal with them. Pushing this idea forward, you could imagine a scenario where two experienced players have a long back-and-forth using countering techniques.

I realize that this system is designed to be contained within a single game, but perhaps you could adapt it to the sort of continuous style of game that it seems like you're planning.


I'm seeing Guybrush Threepwood right this very moment.

"How appropriate! You fight like a cow!"

My problem with "you stand no chance of winning against an experienced opponent until you memorize the system" is that it's not particularly fun, and is a disincentive to actually learning the system. It also suggests to me that the game is not about skill, but about learning the pre-programmed strategies faster than your opponent.

Most games will certainly benefit from intense familiarity, but if I got my ass kicked in Twilight Struggle say, I wouldn't necessarily feel like it was strictly because I hadn't memorized the event deck. My play/strategy was sub-optimal.

Any game that requires memorization of all it's components in entirety before you can become proficient is... well... sort of a lazy design to me. It's why RftG never got much past "it's a decent game" for me.

It's why I like Dominion. Yes, the game is very "mathy" and can be broken down into statistics, but I can deal out 10 kingdom cards, and everyone knows the state of the game. At that point, it's figuring out what to do with the state of the game to win that is the fun part.
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Agent J
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
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Anybody who doesn't memorize all the components in their entirety before playing a game is... well... sort of a lazy gamer to me.
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Ethan Larson
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lordrahvin wrote:
If a game asks a new player to draw a card from one of three decks, for example, but an experienced player knows the only good card in the deck of green cards has already been drawn, I feel like the game isn't well designed.


Yup. You have a play balancing problem if there's only one really good green card.
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David Fisher
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reluctantpirate wrote:
Players begin a game with just the basic attacks, defenses, and parries. Somehow, and I seriously have no idea how, players acquire "techniques," which are extensions of these basic attacks. These are not shared with the opponent until you want them to be.

I really like this idea; I can't think of a way to make it easily fit into the current system, but I'll have a think about it.
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David Fisher
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TheFlatline wrote:
I'm seeing Guybrush Threepwood right this very moment.

"How appropriate! You fight like a cow!"

Actually, "taunt" is a valid action in this game when your blades are locked with your opponent (inspired by Monkey Island) ...

TheFlatline wrote:
My problem with "you stand no chance of winning against an experienced opponent until you memorize the system" is that it's not particularly fun, and is a disincentive to actually learning the system. It also suggests to me that the game is not about skill, but about learning the pre-programmed strategies faster than your opponent.

Hmmm ... that's kind of my worry. OK, full disclosure time.

At the moment this is a two player duel. Each "bout" can end in victory (i.e. plus one point) for one player, or neither player.

There are 47 different states, and each state can lead to about 2-6 other states.

An example bout, in the form: (player) state (action):

(1) en garde (thrust)
(2) opponent thrust (parry strongly)
(1) opponent parried strongly (unable to respond)
(2) opening (strong thrust)
(1) opponent thrust strongly (fall backwards)
(2) opponent stumbles (leap upon opponent)
(1) attacked while down (strike from below & hit; +1 point for player 1 and end of bout)

The way to perform an action (i.e. go from one state to another) is by playing the required combination of cards. There are four types of card: Energy, Reflexes, Strength and Wit (keep your wits about you!). There is always a default transition that requires no cards to be played (the "unable to respond" in the example above).

For example, to respond to "opponent thrust" with the "parry" action only takes a single Reflexes card; but to "strike from below" in the example above takes two Reflexes and one Wit card, which may be hard to arrange.

Players plan their initial hands (of seven cards), and choose 12 other "reserve" cards (out of 20 or so other cards), which are used to replenish the player's hand each turn. The reserve cards are shuffled.

This means that the player can form an initial strategy, and a general strategy for the rest of the bout (eg. a balanced reserve deck, or mostly one or two types of cards).

This is where "knowing the system" comes in. It would take quite a bit of familiarity to know that if you go down a certain path, it is likely to end in a showdown where you want to have certain cards, and you want your opponent not to have certain other types of card.

I'm open to alternative ways of changing states (not necessarily using cards at all), if anyone has any ideas. Just requiring a certain amount of energy/poise/something points to be able to reach a state would be too simplistic, though.

Presentation is my other issue; I was thinking about putting all of the states on one big board (as a kind of flowchart), which looks messy; but at least it shows players the future possibilities. The other way is to show each state on a large, numbered card (or even a spiral bound book), but then you can't "look ahead" and need to rely even more on knowing the system.

Here is the flowchart for the curious (just the numbers, with no "victory" states. Also omits the many ways to get back to the 1 state, "en garde"):



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Clay
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BoardGameGeek » Forums » Board Game Design » Board Game Design
Re: Blind choices & learning the system
TeaIsForTim wrote:

Situation A:

Situation 2:


What has science done?!
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David Fisher
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I think for now I'll try just using cards instead of trying to fit all of the states on a board:


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James Hutchings
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I think this would make more sense with pictures of what the fencer is supposed to be doing. Like these but with only one figure.

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Joe Mucchiello
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reluctantpirate wrote:
Players begin a game with just the basic attacks, defenses, and parries. Somehow, and I seriously have no idea how, players acquire "techniques," which are extensions of these basic attacks. These are not shared with the opponent until you want them to be.

At the risk of being Video Gamey, you could have a "balance meter" or "zone meter". (Video game: and when the meter flashes green, you can unleash your power move by hitting A B A B down....)

Back to the cards, during an exchange, you can spend points on this meter because the standard maneuvers can be improved by paying points off your "meter". The trick with cards is some cards have good effects now and no effect on the meter while other cards have only fair effects now with a positive effect on the meter. And only some of the cards can be improved by the meter. So you have 3 types of effects on a card but only put two of them on each card, perhaps. (At this point, the structure of your game can go off in many directions so I'll stop here. Hope this helped.)
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