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Subject: If you could see all of the math at a glance would this game be better? Worse? rss

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Jon Morris
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Is Indonesia an imperfect but complete information game?

All of the information seems to be available. If you were that good at mental math you could know; how much money every player had based on how much they've earned/spent, how much a merger is worth in future earning potential, how what the difference in earning potential is depending on where you fall in turn order, what is exactly the most efficient shipping route for your goods, or even what shipping route would screw your opponents over more, etc.

If you could see all of this math would Indonesia be better? Would everyone be making better decisions, which would make the game more about the non-math based decisions? Or would it make it more boring because everyone would always know what their best options were? You would always know what you should try to prevent other players from accomplishing, and exactly how much you should potentially spend to prevent it.

Would the ability to see all the math allow a new player to immediately be competitive, assuming they have a solid understanding of the game mechanics?

I don't think the game boils down to math alone, there are plenty of non-math based decisions and factors. However, I think understanding the math is a huge advantage and being able to quickly do the math is a huge advantage. What do you think?

Would you want to sit down for a game of Indonesia be able to track the board state and have effectively a dashboard displaying the potential income after a merger, or the most efficient shipping route, an estimate of player cash reserves, what you should bid to get first in turn order, or rather what you shouldn't pay to get first because the benefit outweighs your earning potential.

OR

Is the fun in not knowing everything. In taking your best guess, or running some quick math and going with your gut.

Thoughts?

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Lucien Copus
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Although it's an almost completely perfect information game (only unknowns and variables being the cards), like in weather forecasting, the veil of complexity obscures most long term decisions.

I've been on the last turn of games on Slothninja, where cash is open, there is no more information left to reveal, and still not been able to know who will win. It depends if player X fills city Y or Z, that will change my income by 10? Whose ships will they choose? Which company will they operate first? Will that annoying player who has control of the end trigger do it now or wait another turn?

In theory, if everyone had perfect information and could see past this, the result of the game would be known as soon as the cards are dealt, so I'd rather it stay this way
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Andi Hub
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You could play with open money. Determining the most efficient shipping routes is not that hard and also how to screw up opponents by deliveringt to cities farer away is not rocket science (basically you deliver to cities nearer to your opponents plantation). These is "math" that are in principle available to you, if you want to.

Determining the expectation value of the a companies profit is very different and (apart from the last round) not really feasible in my opinion. This is too complex as the realization vastly differs on your and your opponents' future decisions.

For me taking the best guess and go with it is hence much more fun. It is also a sign of much greater skill to intuitively make the right decisions instead of calculating what is best for several minutes.
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Brent Celmins
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What exactly do you mean by "all the math"?

From Page 4 of the rulebook under the section "Preparation":

Agree if money will be open or closed. We prefer to play with players not revealing the amount of money they have but tastes differ.


Really, other than player money and a merger multiplication table, the other math is pretty opaque.

You can't really accurately value a company by looking at the current game state since so much can change: shipping lines could merge, new cities will come out and you don't necessarily know where, monopolies can be created or destroyed... there's more to the game than just knowing how much money an opponent has or having a multiplication table on hand (which I provide to all players when I play, anyway). So much of it depends on what the players do in that particular game, that the best you can do is try to value a company in the current game state... which in and of itself isn't easy when you take into consideration expansion level, how much you'll have to bid in turn order in order to assure you go operate before your competition, trying to predict how many operating rounds will occur before the game ends, etc.

I don't think any of this is particularly helpful to a new player, anyway. The math is part of the game, but there's so much more going on under the hood, that I think it's impossible to grasp the implications of something until you've actually played the game a couple of times.

You can explain that the companies come out in a certain order every time, but it's not all that meaningful until you've seen the impact of two rubber companies emerging right on top of each other in the west, or how the oil company in Papua can be useless depending on where cities and shipping lines were placed in Eras A & B.

Then there's the butterfly effect of the tech that each player takes, how it impacts company stability, expansion, company valuation, turn order. etc.

These systems work together quite beautifully, but I don't see how a brand new player can be competitive against experienced players, and math is only a small part of that competitive disadvantage.
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Devin Smith
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I disagree with some of the above posters: the math isn't that opaque, and the game is still excellent.

1. I would never consider playing Indonesia with closed money. Having people throw the game/kingmake because they lose track of it is insufferably terrible. Also you have to fuss around concealing it. Yuk.

2. The interaction of mergers technology and turn order is interesting, and makes 'perfect' bidding for turn order impossible: e.g. if I go before you, you merge A and B, otherwise you don't.

3. I will absolutely chunk through the value calculation for a merger once it's reached size 8 or so. This doesn't get you perfect forward predictability, but you should know this turn's profit and probably next turn's, as well, modulo mergers and turn order, which then heuristically gives you some Net Present Value, assuming people can afford to pay it.

4. On the other hand, new players often have no idea what a company is worth in a merger. This is less about them being unable to do the maths, and more that they're unaware that there is maths to be done. (Ditto turn order, but that's often less about maths than positioning.)

I think a player can be competitive at Indonesia with no time spent arithmetic at all, but they'll need some pretty damn good heuristics for value. The game is plenty interesting once all players can successfully evaluate the boardstate: people losing because they can't do that makes for a less-good, not more-good game.

I'm not sure this is coherent, so let me sum up: there is a bunch of arithmetic in the game, and it's not particularly opaque, but doing it is not going to win you the game. There is plenty of game once people can evaluate the boardstate, as the value of various things are strongly interconnected.
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Wilbert Kiemeneij
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Excalabur wrote:
I would never consider playing Indonesia with closed money. Having people throw the game/kingmake because they lose track of it is insufferably terrible. Also you have to fuss around concealing it. Yuk.

I agree kingmaking is terrible, but I don't see how closed money increases the chances of someone kingmaking. I would think that if anything, kingmaking would be more likely with open money because people can easily see how far they're behind. What about open information makes kingmaking less likely?
 
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Jon Morris
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So my question stems from the desire to get people into the game faster or maybe the right word is efficiently. And that's not to say I want to make the game "easy" or expect new players can "compete" with experienced players.

Also an attempt to avoid AP, a player could sit there and run the numbers (as well as you can) to try and pick a better path.

As far as the intuition factor goes, high level chess players can play based on intuition because they've played so many games, and practiced at such a high level. I'm looking for some baseline "intuition" without having to invest hours into the game.

My question also wasn't about whether the game "solvable". The human factors and decisions play a huge part.

Refining the question I want to answer: Giving the current board state what are some good options?

Taking the multiplication table an example. It's a tool that facilitates more efficient play. Easing the mental math required to simply continue a turn, let alone helping to make a reasonably quick informed decision.

I'm wondering if it's possible to create a better tool, one that doesn't shave off the rough edges of play. But that gets this game on my table more often with people that aren't on BGG, spending time learning the game.

I find it incredibly frustrating to play a game, especially a long game, for the first time and finding that I lost because I didn't have some specific piece of meta game knowledge. Or specifically in Indonesia's case, I lose by $20 because I didn't want to sit and run numbers for an hour to figure out if I should do A or B on my last turn. Because at that point running all the numbers might be possible, but being that guy isn't cool.

Maybe this is all missing the point. Maybe the point is to play, try a strategy, see how it plays out, learn from it, and next game try something else. But I don't get this game on the table very often, and want to get it out more.

By the way, this is only a philosophical/metagame question. Not a review of the game, not a statement that the game isn't great and needs help, and not coming from any actual frustration with the game. Just something I was thinking about. Wanted feedback on whether it might be worth it to explore a helpful tool. Whether anyone thought it would be helpful.

So, thanks for the replies! Love this game.


 
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Jon Morris
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Excalabur wrote:
I disagree with some of the above posters: the math isn't that opaque, and the game is still excellent.

1. I would never consider playing Indonesia with closed money. Having people throw the game/kingmake because they lose track of it is insufferably terrible. Also you have to fuss around concealing it. Yuk.

2. The interaction of mergers technology and turn order is interesting, and makes 'perfect' bidding for turn order impossible: e.g. if I go before you, you merge A and B, otherwise you don't.

3. I will absolutely chunk through the value calculation for a merger once it's reached size 8 or so. This doesn't get you perfect forward predictability, but you should know this turn's profit and probably next turn's, as well, modulo mergers and turn order, which then heuristically gives you some Net Present Value, assuming people can afford to pay it.

4. On the other hand, new players often have no idea what a company is worth in a merger. This is less about them being unable to do the maths, and more that they're unaware that there is maths to be done. (Ditto turn order, but that's often less about maths than positioning.)

I think a player can be competitive at Indonesia with no time spent arithmetic at all, but they'll need some pretty damn good heuristics for value. The game is plenty interesting once all players can successfully evaluate the boardstate: people losing because they can't do that makes for a less-good, not more-good game.

I'm not sure this is coherent, so let me sum up: there is a bunch of arithmetic in the game, and it's not particularly opaque, but doing it is not going to win you the game. There is plenty of game once people can evaluate the boardstate, as the value of various things are strongly interconnected.


I agree with a lot of what you're saying here, same stuff in my head. I think you described it better than I did with those examples.
 
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Jon Morris
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Excalabur wrote:


3. I will absolutely chunk through the value calculation for a merger once it's reached size 8 or so. This doesn't get you perfect forward predictability, but you should know this turn's profit and probably next turn's, as well, modulo mergers and turn order, which then heuristically gives you some Net Present Value, assuming people can afford to pay it.



I think this point specifically is what I'm talking about. I'm not looking for perfect information, I want a quick calculator to show me max potential profit this turn/next turn for a merged company. If you know the max, and you assume you won't hit it, looking at the board state you can estimate how many goods you'll successfully ship. Then what you have is a better guess at it's potential value for you or someone else. It's the "do I let someone steal my company in a merger in the next to last round or do I pay to win the merger, will the cash in hand be more or less than the potential profit".

Thanks
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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TriticusLev wrote:
how much money every player had based on how much they've earned/spent

Yes.

Quote:
how much a merger is worth in future earning potential

Hell no.

Quote:
how what the difference in earning potential is depending on where you fall in turn order

Hell no.

Quote:
what is exactly the most efficient shipping route for your goods

Yes.

Quote:
or even what shipping route would screw your opponents over more

Quite probably.

Quote:
If you could see all of this math would Indonesia be better?

In the exceedingly unlikely case that you could do that, I don't think Indonesia would be better. In fact, it would be a pretty much solved game.

Quote:
I don't think the game boils down to math alone, there are plenty of non-math based decisions and factors. However, I think understanding the math is a huge advantage and being able to quickly do the math is a huge advantage. What do you think?

Regular mortals do not have the capacity to do the maths in their heads to the point of doing all of the above. And it's not so much a matter of difficult maths; it's simply a lot of maths. The really tricky thing here is the sprawling state tree: you really don't know what your opponents are going to do. This has to do with their playing style, their level of expertise, as well as their mood for that particular game. And it will all affect the estimation of the future worth of a company (amongst other things). That obscurity is needed to make the game 'work', for it would be a deathly dull and predictable affair otherwise.

The question about Indonesia is really whether the multiplication tables and the large financial range (spanning over 3 orders of magnitude) are an asset or a hindrance to the whole affair. I think they hinder more than they are useful; at the same time I'm not sure how they could be avoided while keeping the opacity at its current level. Perhaps the current game is simply what you end up with... but I would want to talk to the designers to see what they experimented with during the design process.
 
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WilbertK wrote:
Excalabur wrote:
I would never consider playing Indonesia with closed money. Having people throw the game/kingmake because they lose track of it is insufferably terrible. Also you have to fuss around concealing it. Yuk.

I agree kingmaking is terrible, but I don't see how closed money increases the chances of someone kingmaking. I would think that if anything, kingmaking would be more likely with open money because people can easily see how far they're behind. What about open information makes kingmaking less likely?


I think the point is that someone might underbid on something (e.g.) and give the game away to the leader just because they were unaware of how liquid they were.
 
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Jon Morris
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Jesse Custer wrote:
WilbertK wrote:
Excalabur wrote:
I would never consider playing Indonesia with closed money. Having people throw the game/kingmake because they lose track of it is insufferably terrible. Also you have to fuss around concealing it. Yuk.

I agree kingmaking is terrible, but I don't see how closed money increases the chances of someone kingmaking. I would think that if anything, kingmaking would be more likely with open money because people can easily see how far they're behind. What about open information makes kingmaking less likely?


I think the point is that someone might underbid on something (e.g.) and give the game away to the leader just because they were unaware of how liquid they were.


Right, I could see it being players not making someone in the lead with more cash really have to pay for going first when that will substantially benefit a player already in first place.
 
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WilbertK wrote:
Excalabur wrote:
I would never consider playing Indonesia with closed money. Having people throw the game/kingmake because they lose track of it is insufferably terrible. Also you have to fuss around concealing it. Yuk.

I agree kingmaking is terrible, but I don't see how closed money increases the chances of someone kingmaking. I would think that if anything, kingmaking would be more likely with open money because people can easily see how far they're behind. What about open information makes kingmaking less likely?


The players with boats' relative positions is inevitably shaped by the other players' choices. You can often choose one boat over another at no cost to self, so you should choose the boat owned by the player doing worse.

With closed money, people will lose track of which shipper is losing, often to the tune of ~20% of their final score.

Errors in the valuation of companies or whatever late in the game are somewhat independent of the players' current cash-on-hand, so whatever.

(Early game is a different story--situations can arise where someone's cash-crunch is critical. I'd much rather that was done deliberately than by accident.)

In general, I don't see the value in hidden money--it just makes people play worse. The time you lose to people calculating their moves precisely you get back in people being uncertain: you actually need to plan more carefully if you don't know the cash situation precisely.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Broadly: There are no cases in which I think a (non-trivial) game is improved by making rote calculations more difficult or less obvious, or hiding the information that a player already has.

To reduce to a simpler and more obvious form, consider a game of Carcassonne in which the game:

a) Listed out every possible location for your current tile.
b) Listed the probabilities for you and your opponent getting the necessary tile(s) to close each scoring feature for each placement choice for your current tile.
c) Ditto but to make the feature impossible to ever close.
d) Ditto, but to join the feature (and thus score it too) instead.
e) etc.

All of that information is already present; it just takes some purely mechanical counting to get the numbers: there are no decisions at that level.

In short: a cleaner, more direct, better game.
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Peter Hendee
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I understand that good Indonesia players create mergers where their future actions can affect the value of the merged company. Cut off its growth with another company or not. Build ships to its advantage or disadvantage (higher cost or worse). Then someone has to either overpay or let them buy a bargain. I don't play at this level. Understanding the math is necessary but not sufficient for creating these opportunities.

Figuring out the possibilities is part of the enjoyment of gaming. The Carcassonne example above suggests complete information would reduce enjoyment.
 
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J C Lawrence
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PeterHendee wrote:
Figuring out the possibilities is part of the enjoyment of gaming.


Identification of the possibilities is a purely mechanical process; there are no decisions there, just counting. Selection of which possibilities to employ and which to decline -- that's where the decisions and choices and gameplay actually are.

Quote:
The Carcassonne example above suggests complete information would reduce enjoyment.


If removing rote counting weakens the game, I suggest it wasn't a good game to start with.
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clearclaw wrote:
Identification of the possibilities is a purely mechanical process


Just to be clear, are other player's actions included in your "possibilities ?"
 
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Yes.

In the Carcasssonne case there are a finite and readily counted number of placed in which your tile may be placed and the game is not in the identification of those places or the hope that your opponent may or may not notice one, but it in the selection of which to use.
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I assume the designers considered such possibilities, and determined what they thought best before publishing. I'd rather play what is than speculate about what isn't.
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Wilbert Kiemeneij
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I guess I'll offer a different opinion. My gaming group is mostly composed of people who aren't hardcore gamers. Are actually, people who aren't really gamers at all. It's mostly friends of mine that I know through other hobbies. The group will always be different, but I regularly get some heavier games played. So maybe my experiences are useful if your group is anything like mine.

With hidden information and players who are not capable of perfectly tracking the information, the decisions in this game change. I think this changes the game. The auctions seems to create more tension, because it's more difficult to predict their outcome.

With money open, some strategic opportunities become apparent, because it's easy to see who can and who can't protect their companies from hostile takeovers. This is also interesting.

I honestly think that Indonesia with open money and with closed money are two different games, and I'd both rank them a 10.
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Probably playing two player game on open money at slothninja is as close to the perfect information Indonesia game. And I still love it. It gives you life g enough time to manipulate board positions. Requires you to plan 3 turns ahead and still got time to react to what opponents do. You'll be more familiar with all the little details of the game that'll set you up for multiplayer game. And since it's online you can do all the calculations you want. I still love playing this game with gut feeling and intuition than using pure math in real life but I think open money has a merit with making bidding process quicker. Great game both ways!!
 
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TriticusLev wrote:

I'm looking for some baseline "intuition" without having to invest hours into the game.

Refining the question I want to answer: Giving the current board state what are some good options?

But that gets this game on my table more often with people that aren't on BGG, spending time learning the game.


I don't think it's the math that creates frustration with the game for new players, frankly.

In my experience, new players tend to do two things that impact their enjoyment of the game


1) They take shipping companies no matter the board state.

Regardless of whether it's bad or good strategy, if you're long shipping companies then your level focus in the operations phase can afford to be pretty limited. Yes, you can help optimize shipping routes in late game states, but new players who have lots of shipping tend to zone out while other people are shipping goods. They simply watch the nickels being placed onto the boats and don't really get involved. It can be very boring, and it's a huge turn-off as an introduction to the game.

Shipping value is relative to city placement and player count, and it's not immediately obvious if the first time you play is in a 5p game where all the cities are clustered in the south.

The nuances of making shipping work requires experience, knowledge of how many ships each company can have, which ones are good the merge together based on the game state, etc.

I guess you could tell new players to try avoid shipping companies. That way, at least, they can get involved with the other facets of the game without losing interest.

2) They merge everything.

A lot of new players merge companies just to see what happens. Because mergers are fun! But it can also really bork their own game since they don't necessarily merge with purpose. Sometimes they pay too much for a useless company, or let a valuable company go to cheaply. Sometimes they merge themselves into a hole while opening up slots for other players just as Era C is about to start.

Merger errors tend to lead to more lightbulb moments, though, which I think are more likely to being new players back.

The shipping thing is a real barrier to new player enjoyment, though.


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