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Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain» Forums » Sessions

Subject: Petty Tyrants - 2P vs NP Bots (for a bit...then the Super Bots!) rss

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Chris Lampard
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Petty Tyrants scenario with Gus.

Gus was Dux, I was Saxons. Scotti and Civs: the Bots...sort of...

The Scotti won twice (once at 5th Epoch and the again at the end!)

Final, 6th Epoch, scores: Scotti + 2, Saxons 0, Dux -2, Civs +1 (I think…Gus?)

Surprisingly close. We tried playing the NP's as Bots, but found some of their decisions were so amiss we stepped in and saved them from embarrassing themselves. For me, the Bots do not seem to work so well towards the end of the game...the Civs kept trying to Trade even when they had plenty of Resources, and trying to get them to March! Also their Muster left something to be desired. Mustering for maximum troops is great early in the game, but towards the end-game it's better if they Muster to take or break Control. And their Battle selection box would be better if it took Reinforce into consideration, and didn't just focus on taking Control, but also looked at reducing enemy control. Tough to build in though…that would be a heap of clauses within clauses.

We mostly played by following the flowcharts, but if the selected action was “sub-optimal”, we stepped in and gave them, what seemed to us, a better choice. (They still had a Full Command and Feat each time...so, sort of super-Bots.) This lead to some great discussions around tactics, especially for the Civs who neither of us has actually played...I think...Gus? (And, that’s my next goal: Full Campaign as Civs vs “Super Bots”…pant, pant!)

The Dux, as seems usual, looked to be nowhere until the very last few cards when a timely bit of Retaliation propelled them forward. A stack of Retaliates in the last Epoch seems a very strong tactic with them.

The Scotti were in a massive lead until an eleventh hour Saxon Deep Raid took out two Settlements they'd left under protected. The Scotti seem dangerous in this scenario as they start with the "Scotti strike during Trap on their own Battle Command" (Celyddon Coed, #56) card out. This made it unappealing for the Player Dux to get stuck into them as he had to March in and then sit there like a lemon while the Scotti battered his Cavalry. The Civ Bot showed no interest whatsoever in Scotti suppression...I know, I know it's complex and there's only so much that can be fitted in, but the Bot seems to have no facility for reigning in a winning faction. This left the Saxons on Scotti suppression...not ideal really given how far away they are. The Deep Raid got them, lucky roll for a lot of Raiders. Even luckier the Settlements were under-protected. That was our mistake, not the Bot’s, we had pushed it to "Settle at the cost of not having many Warbands" in a "near to end of Fifth Epoch VP grab" (that worked really well..."technically" the Scotti thrashed us at the end of the Fifth Epoch, but we decided to ignore that and played out the Sixth anyway.)

And, the Bots compulsive "Effective but pointless at this stage of the game" Event taking became very obvious. Last Epoch, five cards left in the deck, at Fragmentation, plenty of Resources and Wealth and the Civ Bot wanted to take the Monastries (#61) Event giving it +10 Wealth...eh? “Battle with Reinforce you fool” we shouted until it listened…

So...the Bots...for me, they give a great game before Fragmentation (or possibly it’s before the 5th Epoch…I’m always in Fragmentation by then, so I’m not sure), and then it seems to turn to custard....maybe they need a different set of priorities after Fragmentation? Personally, I'd like them to take less Events, focus more on nobbling the leaders and generally become fully sentient...sigh, I know, I know...they're a bunch of decision trees...

…bring on the Super-Bot!

p.s. can I just add that I am in awe of the designers of the Bots, I can appreciate what a massively complex task designing them must be. My comments above are in no way at all intended as criticism of the design or designers; more my own "post-play-excitment-hoping-to-help-others-have-a-great-game" type ramblings...
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Paul Schroeder

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I think there should be a decision diamond before trade for Civitates that goes something like this:

"If below victory condition and >15 resources and >10 wealth and would march"
-> Yes -> March
-> No -> Trade

I have had the same problem as you where they just never roll a 1 or 2 for the normal march and it just leads to a cascade of unproductive moves over a few turns. I think I would start at 15 resources and 10 wealth to test it out and adjust it after a few plays to get the sweet spot for the amounts. I've played a lot of games with non-player Civitates and they just never try to retake any land when they should at least try because they won't win otherwise anyway.
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Chris Lampard
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Reimius wrote:
I think there should be a decision diamond before trade for Civitates that goes something like this:

"If below victory condition and >15 resources and >10 wealth and would march"
-> Yes -> March
-> No -> Trade

I have had the same problem as you where they just never roll a 1 or 2 for the normal march and it just leads to a cascade of unproductive moves over a few turns. I think I would start at 15 resources and 10 wealth to test it out and adjust it after a few plays to get the sweet spot for the amounts. I've played a lot of games with non-player Civitates and they just never try to retake any land when they should at least try because they won't win otherwise anyway.


Awesome. I like that idea. I'll give it a go. I've got Petty Tyrants set up and waiting to play, so would be a good opportunity. And yes, I agree, tinkering with the values is good.

I'm tempted by some form of "> Resources-total number of Event cards played this Epoch" metric, to drive them to March for control towards the end of the Epoch...

I've had the same experience: Britain ends up looking very empty because the Civs rarely March to take new areas, and hence struggle to reach Victory in later Epochs.

Nice one, thank you

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Morgane Gouyon-Rety
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I'm sure the bots creators will be interested in your feedback; I just want to point out that, for the sake of keeping the bots somewhat manageable, they are not actually trying to win themselves, or from preventing another bot from winning, like a human player would do, but first and foremost to prevent human players from winning.
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GouyonRety wrote:
I'm sure the bots creators will be interested in your feedback; I just want to point out that, for the sake of keeping the bots somewhat manageable, they are not actually trying to win themselves, or from preventing another bot from winning, like a human player would do, but first and foremost to prevent human players from winning.


That's useful to know, thank you. What if they were trying to win...? That would be fun...although, admittedly, more complex.
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Dobbin2 wrote:
GouyonRety wrote:
I'm sure the bots creators will be interested in your feedback; I just want to point out that, for the sake of keeping the bots somewhat manageable, they are not actually trying to win themselves, or from preventing another bot from winning, like a human player would do, but first and foremost to prevent human players from winning.


That's useful to know, thank you. What if they were trying to win...? That would be fun...although, admittedly, more complex.
Well, they are following reasonable strategies that advance their best interest as much as possible. I did not develop the bots (I have neither the inclination nor the competence), but I did provide initial guidelines as to how I think the various factions should play (in broad brushes), as well as feedback on how the bots actually played. But again their main priority is to create problems to the human player(s) in order to try to avoid sneak or runaway wins by players taking advantage of the limited intelligence of the bots.
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I haven't played either game, but I'm intrigued by what I've read regarding the Gandhi bots. Might be worth looking into for Pendragon. It has cards that you cycle through that can change the behaviors of the bots. I haven't read a ton, but the way I imagine it is that they essentially dictate certain branches of a flow chart (that doesn't exist in that game) which accomplishes a couple of things: 1) simplifies the process of figuring out what the bot will do, and 2) makes it less predictable what the bot will do. Both seem useful/desirable.
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chuckles2000 wrote:
I haven't played either game, but I'm intrigued by what I've read regarding the Gandhi bots. Might be worth looking into for Pendragon. It has cards that you cycle through that can change the behaviors of the bots. I haven't read a ton, but the way I imagine it is that they essentially dictate certain branches of a flow chart (that doesn't exist in that game) which accomplishes a couple of things: 1) simplifies the process of figuring out what the bot will do, and 2) makes it less predictable what the bot will do. Both seem useful/desirable.


That does sound interesting. I'm looking forward to Gandhi.

Thanks for the heads-up.

Have you seen the Bot for Gaia Project? It plays off cards too. Makes for a very interesting game, and pretty simple too. The nice thing is that the Bot ignores the rules, all placements are driven by the cards.

And saying that, GP seems like a simpler game...
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Thread on the Gandhi Bots. Interesting reading.
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Morgane Gouyon-Rety
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Indeed there are some very interesting developments both with Gandhi and All Bridges Burning using cards for the bots. I am definitely following these closely for my future designs, because I'm not happy with bot rules and procedures being actually heavier than core rules, and, at least in my case, so heavy that I shy from using them more than very occasionnally...
 
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If you don't want complicated bots, don't give the factions in your next game too many different mechanical options to choose between, and don't give them goals that change over time. It also helps if there aren't a lot of fleeting opportunities or sudden emergencies that can make or break a faction depending on whether or not it can react quickly enough.

When goals change so much that the faction needs to change its strategy during the game (e.g., the Dux suddenly needing Control instead of Prosperity at Fragmentation, or as an extreme example Mark Herman's solo system for Empire of the Sun), you either give that faction's bots different algorithms for different stages of the game, or you'll get a bot that will perform poorly at some stage of the game.

If there are too many mechanical options to choose between, and thosee different options have different situations where they are useful, you either give the bot instructions regarding when to choose which option - and the more options it has to choose between, the more instructions it'll need - or you'll get a bot that chooses the wrong option (and thus again performs poorly) a lot of the time. E.g., Civitates Rule to add Wealth or reduce Prestige or increase Population, or FitL's Air Lift and Transport SAs that need completely different priorities depending on what Operation they accompany, or the FitL NVA Attack Operation which when augmented by Ambushes can strike a given space in up to four different ways (with very different effects depending on which way is used)... you can't just say "Rule" or "Air Lift" or "Attack"; you also need to specify how.

Likewise with fleeting opportunities or sudden emergencies. In Pendragon and FitL, if your opponent leaves a Stronghold or Base unprotected you usually want to hit it ASAP, because it won't stay unprotected for long and the benefits for removing it can be significant; or if the enemy moves a large army into one of your spaces you need to react before they can Attack/Assault/Battle you - otherwise they'll get to fight on their own terms, which will most likely be very painful for you. With cards determining what action the bot will take, there's a high risk that the bot won't react soon enough to situations like these because the cards tell it to execute some other valid, but less urgent, action first.

Gandhi was designed from the start with solo play in mind, and Bruce made a deliberate - and quite successful - effort to limit the number of different options within each separate action. That makes it a lot easier to streamline the bots: e.g., if there's only one way to execute a given Special Activity, the bot doesn't need detailed instructions on how to do it.

Gandhi also doesn't have nearly as many urgent/fleeting "must reinforce/flee/strike NOW" situations as Pendragon or FitL have, mainly because two of the Gandhi Factions are non-violent and not very mobile. IOW, they can't suddenly threaten to send half of your pieces to Casualties, and they also can't easily run away or hide when you threaten them! As a result the Gandhi bots don't need elaborate algorithms to handle such situations... whereas the Pendragon and FitL bots do, in order to keep human players from crushing them.

So: if you want simple bots that are nevertheless effective, you need to take that into account from the very beginning of the game design process. If instead you try to add bots as an afterthought onto a finished - and that is how all COIN bots prior to Gandhi have been designed - then you run a very high risk of having to choose between bots that are complicated but effective, and bots that are simple but weak.

Regards,
Oerjan

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Morgane Gouyon-Rety
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Oerjan wrote:
If you don't want complicated bots, don't give the factions in your next game too many different mechanical options to choose between, and don't give them goals that change over time. It also helps if there aren't a lot of fleeting opportunities or sudden emergencies that can make or break a faction depending on whether or not it can react quickly enough.

When goals change so much that the faction needs to change its strategy during the game (e.g., the Dux suddenly needing Control instead of Prosperity at Fragmentation, or as an extreme example Mark Herman's solo system for Empire of the Sun), you either give that faction's bots different algorithms for different stages of the game, or you'll get a bot that will perform poorly at some stage of the game.

If there are too many mechanical options to choose between, and thosee different options have different situations where they are useful, you either give the bot instructions regarding when to choose which option - and the more options it has to choose between, the more instructions it'll need - or you'll get a bot that chooses the wrong option (and thus again performs poorly) a lot of the time. E.g., Civitates Rule to add Wealth or reduce Prestige or increase Population, or FitL's Air Lift and Transport SAs that need completely different priorities depending on what Operation they accompany, or the FitL NVA Attack Operation which when augmented by Ambushes can strike a given space in up to four different ways (with very different effects depending on which way is used)... you can't just say "Rule" or "Air Lift" or "Attack"; you also need to specify how.

Likewise with fleeting opportunities or sudden emergencies. In Pendragon and FitL, if your opponent leaves a Stronghold or Base unprotected you usually want to hit it ASAP, because it won't stay unprotected for long and the benefits for removing it can be significant; or if the enemy moves a large army into one of your spaces you need to react before they can Attack/Assault/Battle you - otherwise they'll get to fight on their own terms, which will most likely be very painful for you. With cards determining what action the bot will take, there's a high risk that the bot won't react soon enough to situations like these because the cards tell it to execute some other valid, but less urgent, action first.

Gandhi was designed from the start with solo play in mind, and Bruce made a deliberate - and quite successful - effort to limit the number of different options within each separate action. That makes it a lot easier to streamline the bots: e.g., if there's only one way to execute a given Special Activity, the bot doesn't need detailed instructions on how to do it.

Gandhi also doesn't have nearly as many urgent/fleeting "must reinforce/flee/strike NOW" situations as Pendragon or FitL have, mainly because two of the Gandhi Factions are non-violent and not very mobile. IOW, they can't suddenly threaten to send half of your pieces to Casualties, and they also can't easily run away or hide when you threaten them! As a result the Gandhi bots don't need elaborate algorithms to handle such situations... whereas the Pendragon and FitL bots do, in order to keep human players from crushing them.

So: if you want simple bots that are nevertheless effective, you need to take that into account from the very beginning of the game design process. If instead you try to add bots as an afterthought onto a finished - and that is how all COIN bots prior to Gandhi have been designed - then you run a very high risk of having to choose between bots that are complicated but effective, and bots that are simple but weak.

Regards,
Oerjan

Oerjan, thank you for this detailed view, but, and I know it may come as a shocker to you ;-), solo play is not the foremost priority in any of my designs, and these "complicating" features that you list are exactly what I am after, along with the rich interwoven tapestry between players, so there is zero chance of me making that sort of compromises :-)
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In that case you won't be able to avoid bot rules that are heavier than the actual game rules, unless of course you forego bots entirely. Your two design goals - lots of detail for the players vs simple bots - are mutually contradictory.

Regards,
Oerjan
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Oerjan wrote:
In that case you won't be able to avoid bot rules that are heavier than the actual game rules, unless of course you forego bots entirely. Your two design goals - lots of detail for the players vs simple bots - are mutually contradictory.

Regards,
Oerjan
Oerjan, I mean no offense, but these two design goals are not equal in priority by far in my mind. Until further notice, I am not designing solitaire games...
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GouyonRety wrote:
Oerjan wrote:
In that case you won't be able to avoid bot rules that are heavier than the actual game rules, unless of course you forego bots entirely. Your two design goals - lots of detail for the players vs simple bots - are mutually contradictory.

Regards,
Oerjan
Oerjan, I mean no offense, but these two design goals are not equal in priority by far in my mind. Until further notice, I am not designing solitaire games...

I don't mean any offense either, and I'm not saying that you must compromise with the amount of mechanical detail you include in your future rules.

What I am doing is replying to your "I'm definitely following..." post above, where you seem to say that you're looking at the Arjuna concepts hoping to avoid "heavy-bot" issues in your future games.

If that is your reason for studying the Arjuna system, then you need to be aware of all the factors that allow the Arjuna bots to be as "light" as they are.

Graphical presentation and ergonomy are big parts of that, but the way Bruce has ruthlessly streamlined the Gandhi core rules is at least as important - yet it is very easy to miss, since the Arjuna cards and graphical priority tables are so much more visible. And, as I very well know, that kind of ruthless streamlining of mechanics is also a style of game design directly opposite to your own preferences, which further increases the risk that you'll overlook its importance to the Arjuna system in your own analyses.

Regards,
Oerjan
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I have no direct experience with either Gandhi's or Pendragon's bots (I have eagerly pre-ordered both), so please take this as an external perspective only.

I suspect the best compromise for bots in complex games is to develop tablet applications or interactive web pages ("apps") which migrate the complexity from the players to the app. It will also allow for complex, multi-turn tactics to challenge more experienced players, and for updates to be automatically pushed out if any errors or balance issues are found after publishing.

The problem with an app will be keeping the board state up-to-date on both the app and the physical board at the same time, which although not a big issue with two or three players, will be a time drain for one.

There is also a cultural barrier of some players not wanting to use an app with a board game, which I appreciate. However, if the non-app experience is compromised in comparison, I don't think serious players will mind.

[Technical addition: I also think there is the opportunity for a publisher to release an API for each game that third parties can use to develop their own AIs, in addition to the core AI that they provide. Alternatively, the bot code could be released under some form of creative commons-license to enable non-commercial updates by the community]
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Speaking as a regular (mainly solo) player, I'd hate for anyone to shy away from making complex games for the sake of including a better solo bot. I love Pendragon for all it's complexity. I also enjoy a good bot fight regardless of any additional time added. I'm playing solo, it's not like I'm wasting anyone's time but my own.

I do wonder whether anyone who prefers playing all 4 sides to using a bot will suddenly see the light and use a bot just because it's simpler than previous designs. It's still more time, effort and playaids/cards needed than playing without.

Still, I am only a player. COIN games sell, bots sell, so it presumably just makes commercial sense to design simpler COIN games that aid better bot play. Doubt we'll see another game in the series like Pendragon for a long time.

(Personally think the idea of bot as app is nice, makes a lot of sense, but would never use it myself. I play wargames to get away from my PC and phone for a while).
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Oerjan wrote:
GouyonRety wrote:
Oerjan wrote:
In that case you won't be able to avoid bot rules that are heavier than the actual game rules, unless of course you forego bots entirely. Your two design goals - lots of detail for the players vs simple bots - are mutually contradictory.

Regards,
Oerjan
Oerjan, I mean no offense, but these two design goals are not equal in priority by far in my mind. Until further notice, I am not designing solitaire games...

I don't mean any offense either, and I'm not saying that you must compromise with the amount of mechanical detail you include in your future rules.

What I am doing is replying to your "I'm definitely following..." post above, where you seem to say that you're looking at the Arjuna concepts hoping to avoid "heavy-bot" issues in your future games.

If that is your reason for studying the Arjuna system, then you need to be aware of all the factors that allow the Arjuna bots to be as "light" as they are.

Graphical presentation and ergonomy are big parts of that, but the way Bruce has ruthlessly streamlined the Gandhi core rules is at least as important - yet it is very easy to miss, since the Arjuna cards and graphical priority tables are so much more visible. And, as I very well know, that kind of ruthless streamlining of mechanics is also a style of game design directly opposite to your own preferences, which further increases the risk that you'll overlook its importance to the Arjuna system in your own analyses.

Regards,
Oerjan
Oerjan, I appreciate your insights on this. I would also comment that it may not be wise to judge my design style on just one game, my first published one, but, more importantly, I think the complexity I am looking for should not be in the mechanics but in the gameplay, and bots are ill-equipped to deal with gameplay complexity even more than they are with mechanical complexity IMO.
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Morgane, I'm primarily basing my judgement on a number of occasions where you've statements like this one (from earlier in this thread):
GouyonRety wrote:
... and these "complicating" features that you list are exactly what I am after, ...

The "complicating" features I had listed above - and that you said were exactly what you're after - were specifically mechanical complexities, not gameplay ones I'm glad to see that you now emphasise gameplay complexity instead, though.

But we're getting further and further from the subject of the thread, and for that I apologize to Chris.

Regards,
Oerjan


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Oerjan wrote:
Morgane, I'm primarily basing my judgement on a number of occasions where you've statements like this one (from earlier in this thread):
GouyonRety wrote:
... and these "complicating" features that you list are exactly what I am after, ...

The "complicating" features I had listed above - and that you said were exactly what you're after - were specifically mechanical complexities, not gameplay ones I'm glad to see that you now emphasise gameplay complexity instead, though.

But we're getting further and further from the subject of the thread, and for that I apologize to Chris.

Regards,
Oerjan


Oerjan, until you substantiate your claim, I do respectfully disagree: Pendragon is not mechanically complex, certainly no more than previous COIN games, though it presents significant mechanical differences.
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Substantiate what claim? That I was talking about mechanical complexity in the post you replied to with your "exactly what I am after" comment? Those posts are higher up in this thread; you can re-read them anytime you like.

Regarding Pendragon being mechanically complex, it follows trivially from the facts that mechanical complexity is a function of the number of game mechanics - linear if the individual mechanics don't interact, exponential if they do - and Pendragon has both the largest number of game mechanics and the largest number of interactions between game mechanics in the COIN series to date. I can go into detail if you like, counting the number of mechanics and interactions in each of the games in the series to show you the numbers explicitly, though in that case we should definitely start a new thread for it.

Regards,
Oerjan
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Shonai_Dweller wrote:
...Still, I am only a player. COIN games sell, bots sell, so it presumably just makes commercial sense to design simpler COIN games that aid better bot play. Doubt we'll see another game in the series like Pendragon for a long time...


There's already enough mechanically simple COIN games!

I definitely prefer the series to go more in the direction of Pendragon rather than Cuba Libre. Hopefully they keep pumping out enough of the series (but not at the expense of quality) that both sides of the (mechanical complexity) spectrum get the game style they desire. If they start needing to focus on simplifying the game actions at the perceived necessity to make the non-players more accessible, I don't see myself needing to keep buying every game in the series anymore.

The Arjuna, even if I like it in the sense of being something (new)/(different)/(easier to use), worries me a lot that it might take a formula that's been working for years (for non-players) and change it to focus on a direction for the COIN series that I don't personally care for. One which starts boxing in the design of the COIN series to fit the Arjuna system in addition to (CoIn dynamic) / (turn order) / (command+feat) model at the expense of keeping actions from having many options during execution. We'll just have to see where the series goes from here, but I sincerely hope what I've read from Orejan's posts, that the games do not focus on what he has described is required for the Arjuna (under the assumption he's correct about his assumptions about what makes the Arjuna system work)... This would be a great loss for the COIN system and what some of the later volumes were doing to diverge from previous ones in the series.
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Oerjan wrote:

But we're getting further and further from the subject of the thread, and for that I apologize to Chris.


Thank you, but no apology needed, I'm enjoying the discussion. Thank you, both, for being so passionate about what you do.
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Oerjan wrote:
...though in that case we should definitely start a new thread for it.


If you do, can you link to it here, please?
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Morgane Gouyon-Rety
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Oerjan wrote:
Substantiate what claim? That I was talking about mechanical complexity in the post you replied to with your "exactly what I am after" comment? Those posts are higher up in this thread; you can re-read them anytime you like.

Regarding Pendragon being mechanically complex, it follows trivially from the facts that mechanical complexity is a function of the number of game mechanics - linear if the individual mechanics don't interact, exponential if they do - and Pendragon has both the largest number of game mechanics and the largest number of interactions between game mechanics in the COIN series to date. I can go into detail if you like, counting the number of mechanics and interactions in each of the games in the series to show you the numbers explicitly, though in that case we should definitely start a new thread for it.

Regards,
Oerjan
I was not speaking specifically of "mechanical complexity", but of the game's complexity as a whole, but anyway... What I meant, if it wasn't clear enough, is that I have zero interest in dumbing down my designs to make the bots easier to operate, no more than I have interest in playing dumbed down designs in general. Now, I understand the value of providing depth and complexity while keeping the rules themselves as simple and easy to memorize as possible, and am striving to go in that direction with my new designs. Time will tell if I succeed...
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