The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings

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Bootstraps, or the Helical Learning Curve

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The metaphor of "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" has been applied in many different situations. At first it meant "to do the impossible," but came to mean "to proceed step by step without help from the outside." As in, "first I use my straps to lift my left boot, then I use my left boot to lift my right boot, then I use the right boot to lift my hips," and so on. One step builds on the next, until eventually, you're all the way up in the sky.

In many real-world examples, this metaphor has been criticized because some systems generally need more interdependence. Just because person A achieved financial success by starting with a little money and investing it prudently to make more money, and then building on those gains, and so on, does not mean that people B and C will be positioned to do the same--so maybe we need to have some kind of social safety net so that no one is left completely destitute. So some of the pushback against this image or phrasing is due to these.

But I'm not here to talk about the real world, I'm here to talk about gaming. Perhaps this fits well as a description of engine-building games; at first I have only a limited number of weak actions I can take, but then I leverage them into more powerful ways of gaining resources, and those grow exponentially. But to me, the bootstraps metaphor fits even better as a description of learning and mastering games--on a group level, rather than an individual one.

Why do I love The Resistance so much? The snap answer is "because it's a well-designed game that abstracts the puzzle-solving features of social deduction into a format where there's no player elimination," etc. But I also realize that I was fortunate enough to learn it with an amazing group of friends, who were also learning it, from roughly the same starting point as me. One of my math buddies, BW, must have played the game at some point before, because he owned it and taught us. But the rest of us were all learning together. When we talk about "meta" and "levels" shifting, it's in the ability to recognize recurring situations and go "last time they did X, but that didn't work, so maybe I should do Y. But knowing they will expect me to do Y for that reason, perhaps Z?" Instead of a one-dimensional line, I think of it as a rising helix, like a spiral staircase; we circle around, find ourselves in a similar situation, but one "level" higher than before. Or: I pull on BW's bootstraps, and DL pulls on mine, and JK pulls on DL's...and by the time BW needs to pull himself up again, he can reach higher because now he'll be standing on all of our shoulders. I recognize that I am torturing these mixed metaphors, but hopefully something in there made sense.

So when I say Resistance is the best thing since sliced bread, I should admit that I'm biased because this experience was superlative. And if it winds up slipping in my rankings whenever I get around to doing a new ranking list, that's not because the design has lost elegance or I've lost my ability to appreciate it, but rather that that group environment is hard to replicate.

This raises the question of: how can we teach games in general so that they'll be good experiences? Abstract games like Chess can often be lopsided when you have an experienced player versus a newbie, and it's not really fun to throw a bunch of opening theory at the newbie and be like "okay, read all this before you start, then you'll have a chance." Chess clubs try to address this by giving lots of newbies the chance to play each other. What if you don't have that many people?

There's the Keyforge approach, where imbalance among decks can be used as a balancer: "since you're new, try this deck, we think it's strong." But that requires the teacher/owner to acquire multiple decks, and not everyone will want to make that investment.

Full-discussion cooperative games are their own kettle of fish.

However, pretty much every board game is such that "before you play your first game, we're going to have a long rules explanation and talk about every possible move anyone can make." Often this is long and/or boring! But in chess, there are only six types of pieces plus the "weird" moves (castling, promotion, en passant). In Keyforge, there's "actions, creatures, items, upgrades--and then just literally read the card." (I guess there might be more basic types in new sets.) So by the time you understand every possible move you can make, you also have a sense of everything your teammates and/or opponents can do. They might be vastly more skillful than you, but nothing should come as a complete surprise.

Maybe you're thinking "well, duh." But compare this to competitive multi-player video games. Specifically, something like "Among Us," the video game responsible for making snobs like me be like "nah nah, I was into social deduction before social deduction was cool." I find the interface overwhelming. The touchpad is very bad, the mouse and keyboard aren't great, the geography of navigating around is like "I don't know where anything is so I'll just wander until I find something useful." From the informed minority perspective, it's way too easy to "report" your own murders by mistake, or not realize that you're in some good guy's line of sight. And then there are "cameras" and "visual tasks" that can monitor you depending on the settings. These are not remotely well-documented or taught, because there is no multiplayer "learning mode"--you can practice solo by walking the ship and doing tasks on your own, but that doesn't really simulate having human opponents. What happens if you try to jump into an existing group? Unlike card games where there's a more "discrete" range of "you can do X or Y, those are your two options, and everyone can see that," there isn't a good way to be like "I don't know what you guys are capable of doing, I don't know what's going to screw me over, and there isn't a good way to learn." And so I sulk in hipster-dom.
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Thu Dec 17, 2020 1:55 pm
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Mistakes Will Be Made (and other stuff)

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Again, lots of different conversations bouncing around and playing into each other.

This came up in a social/political context, but it's relevant here too:

madelineb wrote:
This applies to many situations in general, but: having emotions is an inevitable part of being human, and I think we are all humans and experience emotions. (Probably.) However, the extent to which I let my emotions influence my responses is not completely automatic, there is some level of choice and self-reflection there.

"But Madeline, if I tell a stupid joke and you start laughing, or if I say something provocative and you look upset, your emotions dictate your reactions and you didn't have free will."

Yeah, that's an effect of talking face-to-face in real life and real time, and I'm probably below-average at hiding my instinctive expressions even when I would like to. But a lot of my socializing (especially now but even before) is on the internet where I don't have to make snap judgments about body language, and I also have the ability to think before I post. So my default philosophy is "I have the ability to disclose my emotions, but I can also choose not to, I can ask myself 'what if everyone did that' and 'when someone else did X I felt Y, is it a good idea for me to do X right now given that context'?"

I have also very much learned from experience that my brain might not be typical this way.

*

Hypothetical conversation.

A: Here's the game I have in signup, look at these cool themes and mechanics!
B: Oh wow, that looks great!
A: By the way, dusk is at 1 AM BGG, and dawn is at 2!

Hypothetical response 1:
B: Oh...well...I'm never going to be around any time close to then, and I feel like I wouldn't be much help to my team, so I'm going to pass. Too bad, because it looks fun. Good luck modding!

Hypothetical response 2:
B: But I live in Bolivia, and those deadlines are at 2 and 3 AM when I'm sound asleep. This means I can't play, that's not fair
A: Well, maybe I'll catch you in another game.
B: Bolivia is a developing country and our economy is relatively mediocre. Clearly a New Zealand conspiracy picking on helpless Western Hemisphere nations D:

The reason response 1 is "nicer" than response 2 is not only because it's somehow more "polite," but also because in the second case, user B is clearly not taking into account the existing distribution of players and games. For a user in New Zealand, those dawn/dusk times translate into 6/7 PM local. Those are times that are probably convenient for a lot of people (say, people who are catching up after work)--but because they're difficult for a lot of North American users, there are very few games scheduled with those deadlines. User B is right to say that this isn't an ideal situation for them. But most of the games that already exist are not an ideal situation for the New Zealand players! Again, you can tie everything back to selection bias; maybe the reason the New Zealanders don't scream and complain about conspiracy theories is because they've given up on finding convenient games.

*

Vanderscamp wrote:
I think it's a pretty crazy notion that it is morally wrong to lie about your perspective as an alignment in a game that requires lying about your perspective.
MD1616 wrote:
AAYOWMtBM (always assume your opponent will make the best move)
The conversations that prompted this (in a couple different places) were on the subject of: Sometimes in known rolesets, "good" (uninformed majority) players say things that almost certainly mean they're not evil, or don't have a specific evil role. Like "oh, the cub doesn't know the wolves? I thought they were informed of the wolves" is very likely not something that the cub would say, because the cub would have that information. This unbalances games and makes it easier for good, who already have it pretty good.

One possibility to prevent this is to normalize faking this kind of play ("angleshooting") as evil. For instance, if you draw the cub, maybe you deliberately make a post like the above one so everyone says "oh, X is definitely not the cub."

Question: is this an ethical strategy?

On the one hand, I'm sympathetic to Vanderscamp's viewpoint above. Evils can, and do, lie about all kinds of things ("I'm not the seer, I was just a villager trying something weird!" "I wouldn't have nightkilled X, it was her first game back after a long hiatus." "Pleeeeeeease don't kill me it will hurt me in my feeeeeeeelings.") in ways that might seem distasteful. It would be very difficult to draw a line that excludes angleshooting but allows everything else.

However, I also think that MD's point on gaming philosophy in general is profound. In order for games to be played "well," we should incentivize playing "well," not playing "poorly." If we reward fake angleshooting, we incentivize a "race to the bottom" where everyone competes to outdo each other in helplessness, and the actual challenge/fun/puzzle of the game is lost.

In the same way, if you regard the best measure of your skill as the better of your good and evil win percentages, often the good one will be higher. You can try to up your evil percentage (and hence "base skill") by posting less as every alignment so people find you inscrutable and let you sneak by as evil, but this doesn't improve the game as a whole.

So I think The Right Thing (TM) is not to draw specific rules but to find a way to punish angleshooting/accidental clears whether genuine or not. One game in progress has the idea of "modkill players who make these kinds of slips, at mods' discretion." I think that's an idea worth experimenting with, it might not be a cure-all, but it's worth a try.

The caveat is, that's only an incentive if you consider the results of the game to be an incentive! Some people are going to say "of course I don't want to be modkilled, because that will hurt my team's chances of winning." But others are going to say "nah nah, journey not destination, it shouldn't matter one whit whether my team wins or not, so if I get modkilled then, oh well." How do you incentivize those people to follow the rules? Winning isn't everything, but trying to win is--as long as the game is "robust" enough that people trying to reach their win condition will cause fun to emerge naturally. If you have to tell people "the spirit of the game is X, play to that," even though it's not defined in the rules, that's a sign that your game is fragile. And if people decide for themselves that the incentives are boring, well...

*

Thanks to brianmccue for encouraging me to monologue about this
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Sat Sep 19, 2020 1:57 am
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Turns as a Resource

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Why am I obsessed with the Steam version of Star Realms? Not only because it's a great game (though it is) or because I have a lot of downtime in this particular era (though I do). Not just because I have enjoyed playing the leagues on BGG and the "legends" tour at virtual Origins and GenCon events; I think if you're reading this blog, you can probably understand the appeal of playing a fast-paced game against other opponents around the world without the hand-eye coordination required to shuffle in your deckbuilder. No, I like it so much I even play game after game against the hard AI, who--although it sometimes beats me--is much less good overall than a skillful human opponent.

Maybe it's because I'm deliberately looking for something low-engagement, that I can do to pass the time while plotting my next fanfiction or resting up from a migraine that doesn't require the mental energy of being creative or deeply strategic. I can often beat up on the AI, gaining powerful cards and combos that ally well together. And then...I win! That's it! It's a quick game, and definitely an engine-builder in the sense where turns accelerate and become more powerful as you (again, contrast Dominion where accumulating powerful points cards, while the way to win, dilutes your deck). But Star Realms seems to have the "leave you wanting more" feel down--"that game was so short, I didn't even get to exploit all my awesome Blob synchronicity! Better rematch..."

*

The rest of this post isn't super related, it's just other thoughts I've had swirling around and been too lazy to write up for a while. A few months ago Humble Bundle had a sale of many digital board games, among them Small World. A lot of people like Small World because it provides a similar "invade each other's space and kill their dudes" feel as the old-school Risk, but unlike Risk, there's no chance of a stalemate; you know the game is going to always have ten rounds, and that's it! From a design perspective, I agree that this is generally an improvement.

However, I'm not the biggest fan of the way Small World goes about implementing its turns. You get ten. On your turn, you can move your troops from a previous turn, or introduce a new species onto the board (in the first move, you have to do that). You can also "go into decline." This means your species is fading from history, but you can come in with a new position next time. Because you can usually have two species on the board (one in decline but still scoring points, another active and conquering regions), it's usually a good idea to go into decline at least once early on, and often two or three times.

Except, from a player engagement standpoint--that's it? I only get ten fleeting turns, and I have to spend two or three of them doing nothing? I recognize that the scoring incentives of the game make this lucrative, but from a design perspective it feels underwhelming. In the same way that "lose a turn" mechanics are seen as old-fashioned or clunky by many, I can't help thinking that "spend one of your carefully-rationed turns doing nothing and get ready for next round" isn't the best.

*

Patchwork is another game included in that bundle, and it features a "time track," which in some ways is trying to parcel out time in a similar manner. To obtain pieces, you need two resources, buttons and time (just like in real quilting). If you take a piece that "costs" less time, you advance less far on the time track, and can potentially take another move before your opponent gets to go.

But as adorable as the theme is, I don't really feel like I'm "spending" time in either the good or the scary sense. Sometimes I get to take two turns in a row, and every once in a while I can orchestrate that deliberately so that I get two pieces that I both want. Okay, so what? Lots of games have inconsistent turn order. Sometimes, because of not having enough buttons, I have to (or choose to) skip ahead on the time track to accumulate more. What does that thematically represent, other than "trading in one type of abstract resource for another"?

Splendor in contrast, is a more "traditional" game in the sense of "everyone takes a turn in the same order until someone meets the win condition, then make sure everyone gets equal numbers of turns." But you're not counting turns, and I don't feel the anvil of zeitnot hanging over me.* Pretty dry game; get gems, buy cards, use cards for discounts on other cards. Some people favor an engine-builder strategy where you rush to go for nobles; others (like me when I was starting out) concentrate on accumulating mid-range points cards without a long-term aim.

But playing open-handedly online gives me more time to see the board from the other players' point of view. "She went first, and she took a blue and a black. If she gets another black next turn, she'll be able to afford that one-blue, two-black card, before I get a chance at it. So even though it's the 'cheapest' card available, I shouldn't expect to be able to purchase it for three gems. Maybe I should aim for the two-red, two-green instead..." Looking ahead, even a card that costs more gems might be equally expensive in terms of "number of turns needed to acquire those gems." And every turn I spend buying a card--preferably using cards I've already bought before--is a turn I'm not being held back by acquiring gems! Time is a resource here, too, and by manipulating it to my advantage, I feel like I've acquired a deeper understanding of the game.

*The Anvil of Zeitnot is the name of my new band.
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Tue Aug 11, 2020 2:08 am
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History Students

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You may have heard that "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

But it's also true that those who attempt to learn from history, by reading up on different historical treatises, consulting with historians from different schools of thought, and carefully analyzing their battle plans to ensure no errors of the past reappear, are also doomed. Doomed to being pre-empted or caught on the back foot. Because those who don't take time to learn from history will strike first.
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Fri Jul 17, 2020 1:59 pm
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Honesty is the Best Policy Vote

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(This is another one of those where I can't figure out how to make one specific point without jumping around a lot and going into abstraction, sorry!)

-

There's a proverb, "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down." On first, and maybe second and third glance, this seems to be saying, "conform or else angry" However, I think there can be a happier spin on it, which is something like "once you have a feel for the customs and traditions of a group, you'll feel more empowered and able to contribute." I recognize that picking up on various "unwritten rules" can be very hard, though!

If you go back and read through my first PBF werewolf game, you'll see that I hit the ground running in some ways, but was confused in others. Why do (some, not all) people cast unofficial "meta votes" at the start of the day? Why do people move their votes off a seer claim, even though in PBF Resistance people might be like "haha, I'm Merlin, totally" throughout the game? After I had a few games under my belt, I got used to some of these practices, and I felt like I was able to participate and help my team.

-

How do you play towards your win condition, in werewolf? Good (the uninformed majority) wants to eliminate the wolves. Evil (the informed minority) does not, but they want to look like they do. So most of the time, people are voting for people where they can form a plausible case, whether they mean it or not, of "I think X is evil."

Now, sometimes advancing towards your win condition happens in indirect ways. For instance, if it's public knowledge that there's one wolf alive and good has a mislynch to spare, and someone claims to be a seer with a wolf hit, the thing to do is actually execute that claimant. If they're real, daykilling a seer is not usually a pro-good outcome, but in this case, it confirms the identity of the last wolf.

And usually you (as a good) won't know who's evil, so you just have to make your best guess even if it's wrong! If you think that someone's actions and posts are benefitting evil more than good, that in itself is a case to vote for them. This won't always be correct, but sometimes it's the best you can do.

-

In PBF Werewolf, a nightfall is an action that locks your vote in place for the remainder of the day phase. The most common usages are speeding up the day phase when there is an obvious vote target, or indicating "I'll be AFK until dusk, this vote is final." There are some other niche endgame scenarios, but having thought about it some more, those fall under the category of "speeding up the day phase" (ie, in the villager/parity hunter/werewolf case, a villager doesn't need to nightfall themselves if they're willing to wait 23 hours).

In practice, it can also be used for consolidation at must-lynch--if you can prove that at least one and probably exactly one of A and B is evil, it's good for the town to force the vote between A and B. (Of course, sometimes they are both good, but usually in that situation the villagers weren't going to come together anyway.) The other thing it's often used for is early-game super-metas; if you walk into the thread with [vote X][vote nightfall], your vote is out of commission for D1. My analysis of this trend still stands:

Quote:
I'm inclined to take a Kantian approach and ask "what if everybody thought that way?" The player who nightfalls is basically saying (if early) "everyone else's ability to get meaningful information out of vote movements is less important than my desire to screw around"...Obviously this can't work in the long term if everyone wants to be the most important and/or screw around. So tolerating it is basically let emotional players hold the rest of us, who are willing to put up with it, hostage.
But what frequently happens is something like this:
A: [vote X][vote nightfall] for the lulz
B: [vote A] for nightfalling X.
A: Hey now, just because I can't vote for the rest of the day doesn't mean I can't give opinions and reads on people, I will continue to do that.
B: Okay, but nightfalling in this position is still not good for the town.
A: Why not?
B: Because it takes away your ability to react to tally changes. If everyone did that, then our D1 lynch would be essentially random instead of determined by a full day's worth of discussion and vote movements.
A: Well, okay, but not everyone does this.
B: So you're saying there's one set of rules for you and another for the rest of us mortals?
A: Uh...I mean...actually...nightfalling in this position is actually good for the village! Galaxy brain!
B: Please explain how.
A: Because I do it to get attention, and if people respond by suspecting me for lousy reasons, like you, then I know I've caught an evil because they're voting me for bad reasons.
B: So I'm evil because I voted for someone whose actions I think benefit evil more than good?
A: Yup. So evil. The most wolf. [vote B]
B: Haha, you can't vote me.

There's some negative sentiment associated to the notion of a "policy vote." But usually, a policy vote is a vote cast because you think someone's actions are more pro-evil than pro-good. If you're not allowed to do that, why are any of us even here?

This doesn't apply only to D1 nightfalls, of course (though that's a current topic of conversation), but other kinds of (usually emotional) extremes as well. The broader consequences are:

X: acts out and/or yells and screams and/or decides not to post at all because they don't feel like it
Y: [vote X] because I think they're not being a helpful member of the village
Z: [vote Y], because how dare you vote X, they're just being X.

This is where the notion of perverse incentives comes in (thanks TFang for using this turn of phrase). If X can act out and get immunity for it, what was the point for B of even making newbie-era playstyle adjustments in the first place?

And again, it circles back to selection bias. If you're A in the nightfall case above, and your instinctive defense is "everyone should know I'm good, because nobody else is policy-voting me"--your subset of "everyone" is really "everyone who's still willing to give you a chance."
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Fri May 22, 2020 4:26 pm
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Cigars, Scars, and Mars

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More in the veins of "this isn't super topical, it's just thoughts that have been on my mind about interpersonal actions and I finally decided to let out."

There's a famous quote, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." At the risk of overexplaining the joke, the allusion is to psychoanalytic theories that everything has some hidden, usually sexual, meaning. For instance, maybe the secret reason you don't like cigars is that it subconsciously reminds you of a penis, because of its phallic shape, and that brings up your father issues. To which the quote responds, no, sometimes you simply don't like cigars because you don't like their smell. Or you don't like being exposed to secondhand smoke. Or you just don't like them, Sam I am.

The broader rule of thumb is, if someone isn't into something, it's not your job to press them for reasons why. It might be as simple as "they just don't like the thing," and there isn't any deeper reason to it.

On the other hand, what if there is a reason why? Like, if A doesn't like cigars because of their phallic shape, and they're averse to penis because their last boyfriend B was a jerk--they still aren't obliged to tell anybody that. Particularly not if a lot of the people in their circle are still on good terms with B, or if they're worried they'll be perceived as oversensitive, but also, just in general. The obligation should not be on the person who is avoidant to justify a reason for their scars; sometimes scars don't form in a "reasonable" manner.

[To be clear, I recognize that this is an overly-wordy metaphor, but I'm not trying to make a point about actual romantic relationships.]

*

Say you want to have a birthday party with some friends (this is in a hypothetical world where people can go out to eat and be physically near one another). Would you rather have a small dinner at a fancy restaurant with three close friends who all know and like one another, or a pizza party at a loud joint with a dozen friends who aren't all on good terms with each other?

Well, obviously, the correct answer is "it depends" on cost and food preferences and scheduling availability and everything else. But all other things being equal--which is probably a useless assumption--we can roughly estimate that the more people are at the party, the more likely it is that some of the guests won't get along and/or will only have superficial conversation. But, then again, the more people there are, the more of your friends you, the host, get to have fun with! If we vastly oversimplify from a utilitarian point of view, we can argue that at the smaller party, a few people enjoy themselves a lot, and at the bigger party, a lot of people enjoy themselves a little bit, so either way the total amount of happiness is "a few" x "a lot" = "a good deal." There isn't a sharp cutoff between "with ten people this party will be great, with eight nobody will have fun."

Many social events work like this. But social games do not. If you were planning a werewolf game for nine players and instead you get only four, that's not "a smaller but more close-knit game," that's not a viable player count. (Some people will tell you that five players works, although it's a pretty different experience from normal multi-day werewolf.) Therefore, mods or organizers don't have the luxury of the sliding-scale example above; they pretty much always have to err on the side of maximum inclusivity, even if it means tolerating behaviors that some people might find annoying. The corollaries are left as an exercise to the reader.

*

A little board game content for anyone who's read this far; the other day I played a fun game of Terraforming Mars where I was the corporation that can produce greeneries with seven plants instead of eight, and the other player was the one who benefited from placing cities (especially on Mars proper). So he went along placing city after city, and I wasn't doing that because I had my plants (and Jovian tags) to worry about, and I didn't want to give him money. But your greeneries have to be next to a tile you've already claimed. So he basically got to box me in by placing a city right on the edge of where I had to play, so I was forced to give him points for cities near greenries as well as my own score! At last I got a mining card that let me set up a metal outpost in the south and teleport there.
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Tue May 12, 2020 12:35 am
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O Dominion, Where Is Thy Death Cart?

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Obligatory "how are you handling quarantine" update: pretty well, actually. I'm "nonessential" and it's impractical for me to telecommute so I'm being paid to stay home, which is great, and having a network of online gaming friends already in place has been wonderful. Playing a lot of Terraforming Mars, Codenames Duet, etc. I got in the habit a while ago of not logging online games played, which means that my end-of-the-year rankings will probably be like "well actually I am going to claim I know these well enough from playing online, but I don't remember how many."

Tried to play Resistance: Avalon with some newer social deduction people on another site, and the learning experience suggested strongly to me that when teaching, you should begin with base Resistance rather than throwing in Merlin/Percival/Morgana all at once. If people are going to make game-breaking mistakes, better that those come out as soon as possible rather than after everyone has invested time into missions.

And now to dive into some wordy overanalysis. What are the three words that make Star Realms great? "Play by Forum"? "Scout, Viper, Explorer"? "Destroy Target Base"? I'm going to go with these: "...or discard pile." Why? To do that, let's step back and compare Star Realms to the proto-deckbuilder, Dominion.

The basic deckbuilder mechanic, as featured in both games, is that each player starts with a small deck of "basic" cards. For instance, Scouts in Star Realms and Coppers in Dominion are each worth one "money." On your turn, you play from a hand of cards (usually five, but other people's discard powers might have altered that), and use your money-granting cards to purchase new cards from a common supply. Then, your hand and played cards, together with your new acquisitions, go into a discard pile, and you draw five new cards. Once your deck runs dry, you shuffle your discard pile and continue. So although you start with fairly weak cards, the ones you will acquire are stronger. Some powers will even let you "trash" or "scrap" cards you have--you can use these to, for instance, winnow away Scouts or Coppers once you have better cards in your deck, so that you're cycling through the stronger powers more quickly. Both games have a lot of expansions that alter this, but the general idea is the same.

Those are the similarities; what are some important differences?
-Available cards. In Dominion, there are stacks of identical cards in the market, so if I buy a Silver, my opponents could get another Silver next turn from underneath mine (unless I took the last one). The basic cards like money and victory points are available every game, but there are also many different types of "Action" cards, only ten types of which are used in any given game. This, especially with the expansions, increases variability and replayability.

In Star Realms, there are only five cards available at any time. As soon as one is taken, it gets replaced from the deck. (The exception is Explorers, which are cheap and fairly weak cards that are always available--this can be useful if all five deck cards are too expensive.) So it's harder to know what will be available on your turn.

-Endgame/victory conditions. In Dominion, the game ends when one (or sometimes several) stacks are depleted. Some cards are worth various numbers of victory points, and whoever has the most VP wins. Victory point cards, however, don't do anything when you play them in your hand; they just sort of take up space, so you need to strike a balance between getting good ones later in the game and not having them slow down your engine early.

In Star Realms, each player starts with 50 "hit points." (Or whatever the terminology is.) Some cards attack opponents' HP, and a few increase your own. Players are eliminated when they reach 0; in a 2-player game, the other player wins. (There are variants for 3+ players, the one I'm most familiar with being a free-for-all where you can attack anybody and want to be the last player standing. This can lead to some attacks based on fear, which feels a little weird--I think the game is purer at 2p, which is how most organized online play works.)

So how does this play out in practice? (Again, I'm eliding some of the expansion nuances.)

Star Realms has many unique cards; some of the lower-cost ones are duplicated. The non-basic cards come in one of four colors or in-character "factions"; red, blue, yellow, and green. Many, although not all cards, give you a bonus for having another card of the same color that turn. So for instance, the Trade Pod (green) gives you three money when you play it. But if you also have another green card in play, the Trade Pod gives you two attack (against your opponent's HP), in addition to whatever else the second green card did.

This makes the game approachable for me; let's say on my first turn I picked up the Trade Pod because it was the only thing I could afford. Next turn, I know that green cards are more valuable to me, so I might be more inclined to buy a green one rather than a red one of similar cost. But my opponent also knows this, and she might snipe the green one just so I don't have it...

In contrast, Dominion has basically the same cards available every turn, except of course you will have more or less money to spend each turn. If I got a Chapel last time, should I get another Chapel so that they synergize better together? Or should I get something else to see what all the different cards do? My opponent got a Throne Room, does that mean Throne Rooms are just the best and I should hoard them all? If some cards are definitely "better" than others, then it feels like it would devolve to everyone buying the same things, and it's just a question of who gets lucky combos when. Of course, I recognize that in practice this isn't the case, but I feel like I often wind up trying to explore everything and committing to no particular strategy.

In Star Realms, you can play all of your cards in hand per turn. However, some of them might be useless; if your only attacking card is a one-attack Viper, and your opponent has an Outpost in play with defensive strength 4, you're not allowed to target your opponent directly, and you can't destroy the outpost until you have four attack at once. So that card is essentially wasted that turn.

You can also buy as much as you want per turn, up to your budget. So if you have six money to spend, you can buy a cost-six base if it's available. Or, if the only cards available are cost three or less, you can buy a cost-three ship, then wait for the next card to be turned over, and then buy another cost-three ship. Usually, it's better to buy fewer, more expensive cards, because those are harder to come by. But sometimes you might not want to.

In Dominion, you can always play Treasures (cards like Copper and Silver that purely provide money), but you are by default limited to one Action card and one Buy. Now, many of the Action cards will themselves grant you further Actions, so if I start my turn by playing a Village, I can draw another card, and play up to two more Actions from my hand. A lot of the game is finding available cards that chain together this way to produce powerful turns, so that instead of playing only three coppers, you're going through a lot of your deck and playing a lot of treasures in the end.

Why can this be annoying? Sometimes you'll get "clumps" of good action cards and only be able to play one, which can make you go "well what was the point of even buying that expensive card then if I can't play it"? The counterargument is, "Invest in cards that will let you play multiple actions!" And that's fine, but when there are ten types of cards in play out of 25 or 250, it can feel futile.

Moreover, you can only buy one card per turn, unless you have an Action card that says otherwise. But for the same reasons that fewer and more expensive purchases are usually better in Star Realms, they're often usually better in Dominion. So being like "yeah I have three buys, but I only have six money, so I guess I'll just get a Gold and be done" is fairly common; at that point, why use the Buy mechanic?

And then there's the "scrap" issue. In both games, some cards are self-scrapping; when you play them, you can remove them from the game (not just discard them) to gain a bonus effect. Example: Survey Ship (Star Realms) always grants one money and one card draw; additionally, if you scrap it, you force your opponent to discard one. (You still get its original effects that turn.) In Dominion, you can scrap ("trash") the Feast and immediately gain a card of up to cost 5 into your discard pile.

However, some cards also give you the ability to trash other cards. In Star Realms, some cards (usually from the red faction) have the ability "Scrap a card from your hand or discard pile." And this, to me, is a big deal. If I played a Viper or Scout on a recent turn, it's already in my discard, and I'm not going to use it this turn. By scrapping it, I increase the probability that I'll see more powerful cards later. I can intuitively "feel" how that's a good strategy. That said, I may draw that red card immediately after I've shuffled, so my discard is empty, and I need to choose--do I get rid of a Scout in hand, or play it? Well, that depends on how expensive the cards available right now are, and what I want to buy...

In Dominion, most of the basic scrap cards only target cards in your hand. Example: Chapel, "trash up to four cards from your hand."

Now, you might want to get rid of cheap Coppers in Dominion, for essentially the same reason you would get rid of Scouts in Star Realms. The other basic cards that you start the game with are Estates, which are worth one victory point. They're still fairly inefficient to have in hand, so you often want to scrap them, but to me, this feels like more of a wrench. I'm not just getting rid of weak-attack vipers, I'm throwing victory points into the trash! Why would I ever do such a thing?!

And again, it's limited by what you have in hand. So if you draw a bunch of action cards at once, not only do you not get to play them all, but you probably don't want to take advantage of the scrap power either. To me, it feels swingy in a less-fun way.

The endgame triggers can also feel frustrating. In Star Realms, sometimes it's like "well, I won, but if I hadn't finished my opponent off this turn, he probably would have had another strong turn and defeated me--phew!" Because both players are putting together more powerful turns, the twists and turns in the end can be dramatic.

In Dominion, the most common way to end is by running out of Provinces (expensive cards that grant 6 victory points). In person, I guess, this is less of an issue, because it's like "well he bought a province last turn and she got one a couple rounds ago, but what the hey, I have eight money to spend right now, I better get a province now because I might not get to do so again." But most of the games I've played have been online, and it automatically computes "total value of your opponent's deck is 20 VP, total value of yours is -3." (Don't ask about the witches.) So at a certain point, if you're losing, it isn't even worth it to buy good cards because you'll just be kingmaking among opponents or forfeiting, and that can feel like you'll never catch up. This isn't a big flaw because usually the game is about to end on someone else's turn, but in combination with everything else, it's disheartening.

Anyway, I still enjoy having friends invite me to Dominion. It's just that overall, Star Realms seems to do a lot of things better for me.
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Fri Apr 24, 2020 3:56 pm
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Nice Guys Finish Last (Quiet Guys DNF)

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Caveats:
-this doesn't have anything to do with board games per se, although I will try to tie back some of the examples from my last post
-some of the examples are RSP in the abstract, although I don't want to make this about any specific RSP positions. (The fictional ethnicity "Bigtopians" and the fictional religion "Violetism" are both from the satirical webgame NationStates.)
-this isn't about one specific incident exclusively, there are several different things (both on BGG and elsewhere) that have stirred this up and I finally decided to post it.

*

I am someone who finds "don'ts" a lot more useful than "dos."

Just because some expression of free speech may be constitutionally protected in the US, doesn't mean there are no social consequences for saying it. If I create a hostile work environment in my office, I might get fired. If I say "all Bigtopians are morons and losers" at a gaming meetup, I might not get invited back in the future. And if I consistently derail a discussion of Terraforming Mars strategy with "ACTUALLY TITANIUM DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY AND THIS IS WHY," I might have my posts removed from an online thread. (I mean, hypothetically.) This is good! Even though "social contracts" aren't written down and can sometimes be unclear, having a general policy of clamping down on bad behavior can prevent hostility in the future.

Sometimes these conversations take the form:
A: beep boop beep boop
B: Hey, please don't say "beep boop," it's offensive, especially to someone like C who might be too anxious and insecure to bring it up.
A: Oh, thanks for letting me know! I'll refrain from doing so going forward.
Internal monologue of D: Huh, I was lurking, but that could just have easily been me saying that inadvertently offensive thing. Note to self, no more beep booping!

Could this system be abused by bad actors who pretend to take offense, on their own or someone else's account, to something actually innocuous? Yeah. But mostly, it helps both person A and person D going forward to have a concrete example of what not to do, to say nothing of person C who hopefully will face less belligerence.

Now, consider this follow-up:
D: blah blah blah.
C: Oh, how wonderful it is to live in a society where no one does unacceptable things like saying "beep boop!"
D: ...
C: Because we're the right sort of people, we say nicey-nice and appropriate things, like "foo bar."
D: ...
C: Everyone say it with me, "foo bar foo bar foo bar!"
D: (hurriedly logging off)

Simply because D is politely refraining from saying offensive thing "beep boop," does not mean they have magically adopted all of C's worldviews and now agree with "foo bar."

Sometimes it continues:
B: Well, look, all worldviews are subjective, your worldview is just as valid to you as my worldview is to me.
A: Yeah, that's why I don't insult your worldview and would never say something like "all Violetists are crazy and murderous," because, hey, you are a real person, and so are Violetists. And in the same way I wouldn't like to have my feelings hurt by a lazy overgeneralization, I don't want to hurt your feelings, either.
B: So therefore, you should let me put words in your mouth, because it's all arbitrary anyway.
A: No? My worldview might not be objectively verifiable from an outside standpoint, but it's also my worldview. Not yours. So I'm not going to parrot it back just because you say so.
C: Help, help, I'm being oppressed, come and see the violence inherent in the system!

Does this have relevance to games? A little, in terms of the "semantics" stuff from before. If you're explaining a game like werewolf to somebody, you might need to remind them, "remember, if you're a villager, don't discuss your card art. You can say 'I'm a villager!' but not 'I'm the villager with red hair.'" This is an example of a "don't" rule that keeps the game balanced.

But if you play with the "masons exist but can't claim" rule, you're going to be stuck explaining things like "if you're a mason, do say your partner is good, without going into any details as to why!" Which is a do rule that doesn't make a lot of sense.

And more broadly, whether gaming or not, nobody is so important that their conversation is a necessity. If you try to put words in somebody's mouth, and they react by avoiding you, don't force the issue. At that point, you're probably both better off without that socialization.
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Sat Mar 7, 2020 5:20 pm
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Syntax and Semantics

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(Preemptive disclaimer: the werewolf moderator who wrote the below rules turned out to be a pretty terrible person, don't be that guy, but the example is still illustrative.)

A few years ago I played in a game on this site that had some hidden-role elements, and (among others) the following rule disclaimer:
a jerk wrote:
There will not be any semantic-based posting restrictions. (In other words, nothing that restricts anyone's intent behind posting.) Syntactic restrictions are possible (e.g. "you cannot post the word 'martyr'" is syntactic, "you cannot claim to be the martyr" is semantic).
As a logician and part-time linguist, I've found this distinction useful in academia, and it turns out to also be interesting in a game context!

In this game, it turned out that there was a syntactic restriction; players "bitten" by the "Space Dracula" hadtopostlikethis. Itwasveryfunny. Italsoturnedouttobeafunwaytomesswiththeauxwhobecameoutedevil. Particularlybecausethedraculawasherboyfriend.

There was also a semi-hidden mechanic in which one of the good players ("Sarax") received information about the evils' roles, and the entire thread knew this. However, only Sarax (and the evils) knew that if he was identified as the knowledgeable good ("Merlin," if you're into Resistance), evil would win. So the uninformed goods were in a state of confusion, "someone knows something that will help us, why aren't they sharing??" In this case, the knowledge that there were not semantic restrictions in the game was a useful limitation on how weird the gamestate could be; it wasn't the case where "Sarax knows something but isn't allowed to tell us." Although there were some questions after the fact about the balance of the Merlin mechanic, I found that this roleset benefited both from the amusing syntactic restrictions, and the shared knowledge that there were no semantic ones.

Anyway, at the recent Rathcon I played several other games where this was an issue. My overarching thesis is "syntactic restrictions are (usually) good when they're used for humor; semantic restrictions are (usually) bad because they usually rely on subjectivity to enforce." Some examples!

Games like Werewolf and Resistance don't need many or any semantic restrictions, because the incentives to tell the truth or lie are built into the win conditions. If everyone goes around telling the truth about their role, the evils will be outed immediately. Similarly, if everyone tells the truth about whether they played a "pass" or a "fail" in Resistance, the spies will be outed. So instead the spies will falsely say "I played a pass" and the rebels will truthfully say "I played a pass."

There is a minor semantic restriction depending on the implementation, which is that you can't talk about your card art! Because if a good guy says "I'm the villager with the ponytail," evil has no way to counter that. The online equivalent is "no directly quoting modchat or fake-quoting." This doesn't seem to be a difficult restriction, however, because most people sort of understand that it's "outside the game."

Unfortunately, some versions of (mostly IRL) werewolf have a poor implementation of the mason role. Masons are good players who know each other's identity. There doesn't need to be any more nuance to it than that.

In some rolesets, however, the fact that two good players can confirm each others' identity and make it very difficult for evil to counter them (unless two wolves want to go head-to-head, but that's risky) is too powerful for good. The solution, of course, is to fix the roleset. But some moderators/designers get around this by saying "you can't claim to be a mason."

What kind of a restriction is that? If the fact is "anyone who utters the words 'mason' gets immediately modkilled," that's a syntactic restriction. But it's not a very effective one, because players will just start saying "please don't lynch A, he's my comrade in a fraternal brotherhood." So in order for the rule to be a threat, it has to be "don't claim to be a mason in any way shape or form," which is semantic.

But it's also bad, because it relies on a moderator's interpretation to draw the line. "Pleeeeeeeease don't lynch A?" "I'm voting to save A because I think she's good." "Rarwwrarwar all of you are stupid because I'm the only one who knows how to read A and I say she's good!" Rules should be strong enough to avoid these kinds of judgment calls.

The Menace Among Us is also a social deduction game, but compared to werewolf and Resistance, much more crunchy. (I believe along the lines of Battlestar Galactica, although I've never played that one.) In "Menace," various players put cards from their hands into a middle pool each round, possibly supplemented by random ones from a random deck if there aren't enough. The cards determine what happens to the spaceship, whether good and/or evil advance their win conditions. However, unlike Resistance, there are many more options than just "pass" or "fail," there's maybe a dozen different outcomes.

This means that, if there were no semantic restrictions, goods could truthfully claim the card they played, and evils who deliberately played bad cards would have to go head-to-head with one of the goods. And that would narrow down the pool of evils (informed minority) very quickly. So the rule is "you can't claim the specific card you put in, but only the 'category'--was it 'good,' 'neutral,' or 'bad' according to this sheet." One of the issues with that is that players might disagree with the categorizations--we found the "each player draws one card" card to not be very strong, and would not consider it a "good" play. Maybe a deeper issue is that it seems a lot easier to "derp-clear" yourself in this than Resistance--if someone's like "I put a good card in, oh wait" *looks at cheat sheet* "apparently it's a neutral" it feels hard to go after that as an evil? Whereas no rebel in Resistance would be like "I put in a fail. I mean...a pass."

3 Laws of Robotics starts out as a social-y deduction game; you can see everyone else's identity, but not your own, and everyone gets a chance to ask a yes-or-no question. Players score points by correctly giving their "keys" to players they believe to be on their team and having high-ranking numbers. So it's also iterative in the sense of the social deduction schema; maybe last round, all the Androids got one point, but this round we'll have newly randomized roles, and so there will only be one individual winner. Assuming, of course, that the distribution of points allows that.

There are four rounds. After each of the first three, a new "law" is placed on the table, and players must follow it. One example of a law is "players must say 'logging off' while away from the table or looking at their phones." Now, this doesn't at all affect the gameplay in the sense of "you only ask one yes-or-no question." So in that sense, it's syntactic, not semantic.

But! The rules as written say that you can score points by catching other people breaking the rules! So this isn't just pasted on, it's a way to distinguish scores in a game that's otherwise fairly brief and samey.

But! I've only played this twice; the first time, an otherwise usually calm and easygoing person got frustrated with the rule enforcement, and the second time, nobody even bothered with that. So the rules were no longer part of the game, just an unofficial thing to make it sillier. It's a short enough game that I didn't mind, but with a heavier game I would have asked "if it doesn't really count, then why bother."

But! The rulebook mentions the potential for laws such as "you cannot tell the truth to an AI." Now that's crossed over into the strategy domain--if you catch someone breaking that law, and try to score a point for it, now you've informed the questioner that they're an AI! So that seems to open the door to more interesting incentives and complexity.

But! The laws like that ("you cannot tell the truth to __") aren't in the base deck; they're in a separate envelope labeled "warning, may create dangerous paradoxes" or something. I can see why, but at the same time, if those are the cards that introduce the deep complexity rather than optional silliness, it seems a shame to hide them away.

Disclaimer: I have not actually played Mountains of Madness. I suspect given the horror theme and the real-time aspects, it might not be to my tastes. But some of my BGG friends hit on the idea of playing Resistance with some of the speaking restrictions. For instance, "anyone someone else says a number, you have to jump in and say the next higher number." So it turned into "I want to go on mission 3." "Mission 4?" (Everyone laughs at Madeline who's worried about mission 4 already.) This is purely syntactic--it's a house rule, so it doesn't affect the underlying game--but with the right cards, it can be hilarious.

And of course, Citadels. This game is 99% building districts and drafting roles. But if the Ball Room is one of the purple cards in the game, and if you build it, and if you become king...then everyone has to say "thanks, your excellency!" or lose a turn. Some people think this is silly because the game is not otherwise about this, and just never play with it--the newer edition doesn't even contain it. But I think it's hilarious.
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Sat Feb 1, 2020 1:01 am
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Rathcon 2020

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Microbadge: Crosswords fanMicrobadge: Taboo fanMicrobadge: I record detailed playsMicrobadge: I helped celebrate BGG Werewolf's 10th Anniversary!Microbadge: Ice Cream lover
A convention for BGG 2R1B/Resistance/Werewolf/social deduction people scheduled for a long weekend in the middle of the academic term always sounded "cool, but not worth the hike" when I lived on the opposite side of the country. Now I, too, live in the Maryland suburbs, so the calculus has changed drastically! Sadly not all the local commuter rail lines operate on weekends, but I made it over anyway.

The negative stuff out of the way first: the physical environment was more conducive to sensory overload than other cons I've attended. When you're at a loud cafe with loud music and loud gamers, not just physically noisy but also "TELL ME HOW TO PLAY THIS" "I DON'T GET IT" "I DO GET IT I AM VERY SMART" "LET ME TELL YOU WHY THIS GAME IS BROKEN" and the cafe policy feels like "you can't leave, you are trapped here, if you want to go for a walk to destress we will charge you money" (there may have been some loopholes to this, but I wasn't aware as a newbie), t̵̼̟̘̮͚̪͎̯̯͖̭͖͎͓̙̭̊͗̊͌̐͛̓̈́͒̀̀̄ḩ̸̢̪͈̼̹̯̲̮̘̭̠̙͖͎̪̊͊̾͌̀́͋͊̄͗̐͂̈́͜͝i̵̧̡̬͍̰͕̩̹̙̙̳͛̐̉́̏̂̚n̴̢̧̞͔̭̳̤̭̻̰̭̹̪̬̝̹͕̱̮̐ͅg̵̢̨̢̺͙̫̩̹̖̜͇̼͚̠͎̣̐̃́̒͗͜͠s̶̛̟̳͖̣̱͍̯̤͉̤̊̿͊̋̎̀̒̓͝ ̵̠̯̣͔̝̳̟̬̭̬͎̘̥͈̳̬̺͔͊͂͗̈̎̋̇͂̃̅̾̎̓̓̒͌̃̚͘ͅç̷̨̢͖̖̪͎̹̮͈͑̌͑͑̓̀͊͒̈́͜͝͠ḁ̴̦̪̪̞̩̰̉̑́̒̒̈́̃̇̌͒̿̆̿̄̋̈́́͘͜͜͠͝ņ̴͍̦̲̫̝̟͛͂͗̈́̊̿́̋̍̆̈́͊̋̐̈̈̔͘͝͝ ̷̨͙̮̹̠̥̠͓̿̌̍̆̏̔̆̔̌͆̈̓͘̕͠͝b̵͕̖̻̻́͋̆̿͂͂̒̒̄͜͠ȩ̷̘͖̳̖͉͈̩͈̏͒̍̈͋̈́̿͋̈̐̽̔̾͐̕̚͝͠c̵̛͈̻̦̣̝͕͉̐͋̑̄̓̀͑̓̅̃̎̽̈͆ǫ̶̜̜͕͎̗͎͕̬͓͔̫̘͕̯̺͆̔̃̍͘ͅḿ̸̡̢̢̠̮̤̗͎̼̜̬͕͌̾ͅȩ̸͎͚͔͕̱̮͚̜̟̦̱̝̻̺̩͂̾͗͆̇͛́̎̉̾͑̊̈̑̿̄͘̕͝ ̵̢͇̬͕̗̣̯̘̄b̸̪̰̺͈̠̠̳̳̞̩̻̥͕̱̬͍͛̿͒̌̇̇͛͒͒ŏ̴͓̾̓̌̾́͋́̈̌̃̃̓͐̔͂̒͠ţ̸͍͍̖̩͓̻̯̖͇̩̲͎̪̭̪̳̪̳̥̗̐̽͂̍̿̓̇̾̇̓͑̒̔͐͆̾̆͘̚͜͝h̸̢̢̨̢͈͖̖̥̫͙̤̼̟̯̗̩͍̯̹̔͊̓̓ ̴̛͇̹̻͈͍̮͆̓̉͊̑̓̀́̚̕͜͝p̴̧̧̨̟̣͕͇͕̳͈̏̽̅h̵̹̉͗͂͆̊̿͋͊̍̇͊̈́̂͒̂̾̀̉̎̇̃͒ẏ̷̧̡̮̩̜̗̯̟̯͉̩̮͓̤̣s̵̨̡̨̼̱͙̣̦̲̥͎͇̗͙̤͖̯̳̥̀̔̌̅̋͂̎̑́͜ͅi̴̠̭̰͍͎̞̞͍̰̾̽͜ç̴̢̢̢̤̜̭̬͚̬̗͚̗̿̌́̈́̿̓̔̏̚ả̷͙̱̂̊̈́̂͋̔̋̈̔̈́͊͑̌̒͘͝͠͠͝͝ḽ̷͉̗̤̰͋̃̃͜͠l̶̡̨̨̤̻̫̬̱̣̗͓̙̭̻̩̣̳͆̽̈́̈́͒̀͑̋́̍̍͝ÿ̴̧̡͎̹̘̰̘̪̜̣͕͖̫̫̜͈̻͖̙́́͗̕͜ ̸͔̥̄̄̄̄à̶̧̭̣̟̻͖̰͓̞̓̿̿́̍̚͝ǹ̴̢̧̧̰͔̝̲̦̠̜̰̯̘͎͓̬̿̉̈̂͆̒̄̇͜͜ͅd̵̡̨̛̖̘̟͓̫̻̤̙͓̲͔͖͈̤̱̰̗̪͙̍̂̍͗͛͑͊̂͋͌̊̀̾̽̄͑͋́̓̍͝ͅ ̴̨̟̥̪̲̘͙̻̬̹͓͍̦͇̃̒̆̅̉̏̒̌̏̇͑̐̔͐̔̓̒̈͛͘̕͘͜ḿ̶̧̡̛̳̞̙̳͉̻̦̜͇̟̼̝̳̤̝̋͗̔͆͋̾̅̑̋̓̐̐̍̓̚͝͠e̵̢̥͉͚̘͉͚̭̗̼̹̲̤̎̾͗̑͜͜n̵̩̤̙̰̘̳̲̻͛̅̎̇͐̃̈͊͋̃̀͋̑̎̈́͂̎̓͘̚ͅt̴̮͇̐̔̔̇̑̀͗a̶̞̜̒͆̎̊̉̌̔̅͋̃͋̿̋̋̽̐̆̊͒̚͠͝ľ̶͍̱͠l̵̼̤͚̮̮̔̔̋̓̀̎́͝ȳ̷̡̩͍̬̟̙̜̮̎̂̆̾͗͛̅̎̃͑̒̃̌͋̈́͘ ̷̢̰̞̭̠̘̤̑̅̆h̸̢̡̬̘̖͖̝͕̲̱̠̘͍̰͙͓͇̯̱̃̐̐̉͘e̵̛̤̣̣̬̝̯͈̙͔͎̘͉͓̬̝̘͕̣͑̄̑̈́͊͋̓̌̄̑͊͘͘ͅa̷̢͖̦̺͔̬͈̯̭̠͇̤͍̗͂̀̌̈́͒̈́̽̔͛̎̍̽̕͘͜͝ď̷̢̢̝̯̬͈̣̬͍̯̖͓͔͇͇̭̇̏͋̊̒͑͊͐̀͊̆̇̈́̃̀̕͜͝ȧ̵̛̛͚̩͔̎͑̉̐̃͆̀̒͊͒̈́͂̋̕̚ͅc̸̢͙͔̪̫̩̳̉͐͌̏̎̆̅̎̋͛͌̕ͅh̷̨̝̹̹̭̗̥̼̫̲̘͚̪̦̞̬̣͉̪̗̽̍͋̒͆̈́ę̶̹͓̱̲̤̱̝̻͈͍̲͓̣͉̦̊̉͐͌͛̋̈́̂̽͌̀͗͜͜͝-̶̠̟͇̰͕͐̆̆͋̿͛̋̅̃̈́̉͒͒̎̕į̵̘̙̜̻̮͆͛͂̇̈́̈́͆̐̀̂̎̅͘͜͠ņ̷̙͔̮͇̜͇͓̳̖̩̜̺̪͖̤͂̃̒̀̂̽̾͠͠d̵̮̓͊̽̂̋̍̃̍̀́͂ũ̴̖̰͎̺̺̳̗̭͙̖̦͚̬͈͌̂̀͐̽̿̈́̑̎͊͝ͅͅͅc̸̢̬͉̦̫̩̪̩͉̯̪̙̠͖̭̥̹̫̠̱̦̈́͆̔̊̀̊͜͝i̷̡̧̪͍̹̦̟̳̭̮̻̣͎̲̺̘̤̽͋ͅn̸̨̫̳͉̘͓͊́̈́͌̈̓̓̀̍̓͐̊̍̉̆̑̆͒̅̕ģ̷̛̻̰͓͕̘̘̮͔͇̺̘͓̣̪̀̅͐̃̈̀͐͂̊̄̒̽́̂̑͊̾̕͝.̵̨̧͈̪̘͎̤͕͎̜͆̔̉̎̿̓͊̐̈́̉̍̈́̓̍̑͝͠ͅ ̵̢͓̿̽̊̆̾̀̔͐͒͛͆͑͝ͅ So thank you to all of you who put up with me even when my nerves were frayed. heart

(Also, this settles the question of "do people like me just get hurt in their...elbows?" I was tilting my chair back to keep myself amused/get away from the stress, leaned too far, bonked into the bookshelf, and my elbow hurt for a little while when I tilted it. So the answer is "yes"!)

Some/much of this might be kind of "damning with faint praise" among new games. I'm not as immersed in the new hotness as many of my friends, so these are sometimes my first impressions of games that are new or new-to-me. If I sound overly critical, it's probably just because I'm reaching a stage where I know what I like and can form snappish judgments based on vague mechanical category.

Friday

I played my second game of Spirit Island; mmazala was also relearning it after a first play she hadn't enjoyed, with help from various interlopers such as VikingJ and Seen. Last time around I was defensive rock guy; this time wanted to go for higher complexity, so I was the one who synergizes well with being in tiles where the Dahan are, but I didn't feel like I used that power very well. We managed a win, though.

Then Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. In the all-important "having the coolest name" competition, I went with "Circle Game" for the castle I built with Seen, which featured the "points for each oval symbol" bonus in the throne room. It's a Joni Mitchell allusion. I'm not sure if she's big in the Netherlands...?

I only managed a couple rounds of Mental Blocks, which I have down as "building things poorly," before bailing. This is a prime candidate for the list of games you can "play" without actually playing.

Got to relax with Parade, which seemed basically devoid of long-term strategy. In a classic case of "the person who is least interested in the game is the one who will win," I emerged triumphant.

Saturday

I'm a big Ticket to Ride fan, but could not muster a sixsome for Team Asia. In lieu of that, Rathstar taught Airlines Europe for some alternative Alan Moon network building. Rath won, but as one of the other players pointed out, the real winner is brown airline for making it to Sydney and Tokyo and cool places like that.

The Menace Among Us purports to be a faster/sillier Battlestar Galactica-esque game. Having never played BSG, I can't compare; what I will say is that "you're not allowed to talk about the card you put in, because that breaks the game" can be a harbinger of trouble. Between games I played at this con alone I could probably do another post about "syntax versus semantics." So I probably will. Later. Got to space them out.

Quaseymoto, ljtrigirl, and myself are all Kingdom Builder aficionados, and they graciously invited me to play when I needed to destress. As it happened, I got a great opening spot and rode that to a dominant victory, so, uh, thanks guys.

contig and I have played a lot of Keyforge online, but this was our first time playing each other in person. I borrowed one of his decks (because of course that would be the day I forgot mine) to take on his intimidating EDIE deck, and although I dealt with the EDIEs and some of their Logos friends, the Brobnar/Star Alliance cards presented more trouble, so he won that.

Finally got to play Emergence with this crowd after hyping it up among fellow DC-ish people. People tended to agree that it's fun, although the color distinction is terrible. BerenCamlost and Viking were the (informed minority) humans, and Beren split his chips among AI and human scoring in such a way that I turned out to be an easy scapegoat, and Viking had an easy excuse to "terminate" me and steal all my new chips. Womp womp, human victory.

Lorenzo il Magnifico is in the "worker placement but also all the places depend on confusing and overwhelming iconography" genre that I sort of already knew wasn't my favorite. I had a leader card that incentivized wood so I built a lot of it early on and then found factory cards that turned it into resources/points. Majai, who taught us, was like "okay so I haven't actually played it but I've read the rules and done research online. What the internet says is be very very careful, don't make the Church angry, or they will punish you, and it will hurt! Unless you're deliberately building your whole strategy around it." And then while we followed his advice, he promptly proceeded to get excommunicated two out of three rounds. (As people pointed out, anybody can get excommunicated from the Renaissance-era Catholic church, but it takes some real skill to get excommunicated twice!)

One Key, for its part, is in the genre of "what if we made some goofy and crazy pictures and then all of the value of the game was in the production, there? And also we could make an app for no reason." It also qualifies for the aforementioned list. ("But do you like Mysterium??" "Not really." "Well at least this is over quickly then?" "Well at least in Mysterium you actually are compelled to place your own pieces, co-op discussion or no co-op discussion!")

I choose to believe the origin story for Carnival of Monsters is something like:
Richard Garfield, 1993: hey guys, I'm making this game, I need art for different types of, uh, "lands," and different creatures that inhabit them
Some guys: here you go!
Garfield: awesome thank you, I will look into it!
*25 years pass*
Guys: Hey, Richard, did you ever make that game you were talking about? I want to see my art get published.
Garfield: oh
um
wait a minute

Despite this, it's actually more my style mechanics-wise than some of the other new stuff. contig successfully deployed the "if you are in second place..." card, but was not able to overtake rath for the win.

Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Card Game has some gorgeous art, and I say that as someone who's never seen the movie. But lots of big cards in hand is difficult to manage, and I didn't think that there were a lot of meaningful decisions per time spent; like, you have to follow suit, labyrinth is a suit, and if you play a labyrinth you have to raise if possible. Cuts down on the decision-making. The ability to "bounce" the lead back and forth to your partner with judicious suit choice is slightly interesting, but on the whole: if you want to make a tarot deck, just make a tarot deck. Don't bother trying to come up with the umpteenth version of "some of the cards you take count differently than others," Tichu is fine.

It was late and I was tired and punchy so Beren's very methodical count of the cards he'd taken during the scoring phase was funnier than it should have been, you had to be there.

Sunday

Arrived just in time for Space Base with Quasey and Urza. I went for points early, but Quasey invested in money from 12s and eventually blazed past us. (Urza kept rolling 8s that benefited Quasey a lot, me somewhat, and Urza himself barely at all.)

Got to try 3 Laws of Robotics again, which was amusing. This is also one for the syntax vs. semantics writeup. We just houseruled "if you catch someone breaking the rules, point and laugh, but it won't count for points." It's a silly enough game (you're holding cards on your head and calling each other names like Brian-bot and Shawna-bot) that that was fine.

I'm not sure when this was but as I look over my notes I realize that I played it and don't remember when. So! At some point, we played Five Tribes, known for its problematic theme. Alas, I lucked into the djinn that gave me bonuses in the set-collection subgame for collecting several of the problematically-themed cards, so I went down that path, while Majai, who got the djinn that gives you bonuses for assassinations, went down a more violent path. This game can be quite AP-inducing because there's no way to plan what the board will look like on your turn; you have to wait till it gets to you, then try to see where the little dudes can go. I also wasn't a big fan of the "bidding for turn order" mechanic--it's easier in a game like Manila where you know what your options will be, and can acquire extra goods as harbormaster, versus "bwuh, I could go...here I guess, or I could wait, and go...well I don't know where I could go." Despite the different strategies pursued, Quasey, DeMo, and me finished within 10 points of each other in a 150-point game (Majai discovered that sometimes assassination does not pay).

Protracted battle in Decrypto with the expansion that rewards thematic clues--neither team was close enough on their guesses for opposing words to make that really worthwhile, though. A case of "if you want to use house rules to reverse the order of tiebreakers, definitely make sure everyone is fully aware of that beforehand."

People had been talking about Abracada...What? as a Hanabi-style "you see everyone's cards but your own" game during Three Laws of Robotics. I really like Koryo, so I was excited to see another triangular deck game from Gary Kim! Unfortunately, the physical implementation of the tiles is not great--you really have to rotate them in turns to be able to see everyone else's, which drags the pace of what should be a fun light game. I wonder if it would be better online? You wouldn't have to specify who you're asking for information, you could just ask the computer and it would play one of your relevant cards at random if need be...

Hadara, like Carnival of Monsters, is a game I could tell from the outset would be much more "my kind of genre" than Lorenzo il Magnifico or One Key. And it was. But, and again I'm sorry to damn with faint praise, but it just didn't feel more than the sum of its parts? Like, "increase resource. Get card. Increase resource. Get card. Count points." The discounts for cards of the same color make the choice of specialization versus diversifying (ie for gold medals) interesting, I went with the former, which didn't really pan out.

Telephone Pictionary/Telestrations/EPYB with this crowd is always a riot. Urza's "Cybersecurity" became "the three laws of robotics" midway through (which isn't that far off, when you think about it). Shawna prompted "LJ playing Die Crew until she dies," and Quasey did a great rendition of LJ's shirt. LJ interpreted angry concertgoers as hobbits, so I had to draw the Lord of the Rings Band Name: Taking the Hobbits to Isengard. Contig drew these adorable robots for a prompt that started as "semi-coop" and shifted into Battlestar Galactica pretty quickly:
From gallery of madelineb


First Contact was...intriguing. The "one human, one alien" winner isn't a mechanic I've seen often. Some of it is more fiddly than it needs to be: some of us were like "this isn't a drawing game," Seen was of the belief that "oh yes it is." Sometimes it's basically Codenames--other times grouping together things that you think go together but your opponents might not (mmazala got frustrated with Seen's human "queries") can lead to confusing answers and people being right for the wrong reasons. I know there are some RPGs about conlanging but those also seem to be more "how do languages go extinct and die in the real world" which is a bummer. Maybe I just need to conlang on my own to scratch this particular itch.

My headaches were acting up and would continue to irk me the following day, but I had to try The Message, which was billed as "Shadow Hunters but in terribly-translated Chinese." It lived up to the hype, such as it was. Everyone's character card (not alignment) had bizarre flavor text, and (in some cases public, some private) alternate win conditions that only replace your default win-cons if you draw a neutral alignment. Some abilities involve complete, boiled-down and unrepentant kingmaking. The rules clarify "your gender is considered unknown if your card is facedown," which, not the weirdest postmodern scheme I've come across.

Viking, in deliberating whether to accept a card from Benes, weighed the roles in his head and was like "statistically, you are the least likely character in the game to send around a black [deadly] card." Smugly flips it over. Reveals a black card. Hilarity ensues.

Next game, Viking's role incentivizes passing black cards around. mmazala makes a show of wondering whether or not to accept. "I might have a victory condition that requires getting lots of cards. But! It might be bad! I just don't know." Stalls. Flips it over. Reveals a black card. Hilarity ensues. We cannot deal with the ensuing hilarity. I turn away from the table, and lj shoots me a concerned glance, so I clarify, "My eyes hurt...but also Michelle is being a dunce." (mmazala did in fact have the victory condition that required getting a lot of cards, and did in fact win, so that'll teach me.)

Monday

A few rounds of Die Crew while I waited for my headache to recede a little. At five players we didn't do so well even on the "just take any three tricks" round. So of course we had to keep trying again, so exciting.

Then Pandemic: Rising Tide, which was new to me. Felt easier than Fall of Rome, but the theme is a little "too real" so I don't know if I need to revisit it, heh.

I could see some foundations for what became Legacy Season 2. Non-spoilery: in original Pandemic and Legacy Season 1, the basic bad action when you draw a city off the infection deck is "add a disease cube." That's it. In Season 2, the mechanic is, "remove a supply, but, if there are no supply cubes left, then add a plague." Here, it's "remove a dyke, but, if there are no dykes left, add a water cube." (Water cubes are not as bad as plague cubes; in fact, on some level they're useful because they let you connect up a pump network.) There were extra variants (that we didn't play with) that change the objectives by having you add/remove population, which is also a Season 2 mechanic.

But some of the mechanics feel fiddlier than base Pandemic or even legacy. Like, when you have to remove a supply cube, there isn't a lot of deliberation about it; either the cube exists, and you take it, or it doesn't, and you get a plague. But dykes don't stack up within a region; they form borders between regions, so you actually have some choices to make when you decide which one to remove. This could easily become AP-inducing, especially in a group with several potential alpha gamers. Likewise, when you operate the pump on your turn, there's a lot of "remove these" "no these! those will come back anyway" "no not down that one, that will disconnect the pump" "why do we even have pumps if they're not removing water, rrr."

Viking edged out xandryyte in Sagrada, after none-too-subtly gunning for yellow cubes.

Clyde brought Nyet!, which might be an example of "if something has lasted twenty-plus years it probably has staying power." A lot of the "interesting decisions" here come in the pre-round "bidding" phase, which is much more engaging than Die Crew's "select tricks you want" phase. We only played a couple rounds, but I found plotting against people to make tricks count negative to be particularly fun. devil Maybe I'm confirmation biasing, but the potential for 1's to be "super" but also a danger if your opponents capture them as "loot" feels like a more interesting version of the "different cards you take are worth different amounts" mechanic that fell flat with Labyrinth.

And to close out the con with a bang: The Resistance: Avalon (Merlin, Morgana, Percival, two Lancelots), but with the "madness" cards from Mountains of Madness (which I have never played) that give everyone communication restrictions. mmazala, Viking, and I bounced off each other fantastically. Viking could not say numbers at all (just "less" or "more"); mmazala could only say numbers if they were expressed as a sum (or difference); and any time I heard someone else say a number, I had to interrupt and increase by one. So it would be like:
Viking: We need...more people on this mission.
mmazala: I want to go on mission 1+1.
Madeline: 2+2?

M1 was LJ and itsbrianyay and failed. M2 was Brian, Viking, and Clyde, which passed with mmazala as the extra upvote. The good/evil Lancelots did not swap allegiances; mmazala was added to M3, it passed, Lancelots remained loyal, the original M2 passed M4. Sure enough, LJ was Morgana but hadn't intended to fail M1, oops. I was evil Lancelot. It seemed like mmazala had voted too Merlin-y to be Merlin, and both of us had a gut sense that it was Clyde (I'd never met him before this weekend but he seemed more subdued than the crazy persona he posts as). So we didn't overthink it, went with our gut, and were successful!

Thanks again to all who made this work, and *hugs* especially to those I met for the first time! See you around. Especially if "around" is by train.
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Sat Jan 25, 2020 2:03 am
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