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Subject: A poll concerning a much debated topic: trackable hidden information rss

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Adam McD
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There has been much debate on BGG on issues concerning trackable hidden information in various games (see this thread or this thread). I will recap some of the issues & opinions given on these threads, followed by a few polls to see where people stand.

T.H.I. (trackable hidden information, which I accidentally call 'H.T.I.' in one poll -- doh!) is any information (cards, chips, etc.) that a players keeps hidden which could theoretically be known if one were to use paper & pencil to keep track of. For example, in Puerto Rico, players get victory point chips for shipping goods. Some play that these victory point chips are to remain hidden, but of course, with paper & pencil one could keep track of which players received how many VP-chips on which turns -- this is trackable hidden information.

Some game designers use T.H.I. to avoid 'analysis paralysis' -- the idea here is that if there is too much known information on the table, some players will try to analyze it all before making a move. Other believe that using T.H.I. has the opposite effect -- the idea here is that hidden information slows certain mechanisms down (like trading) and can actually encourage a players to take longer turns (for example, a Settlers player might try to recap what has been rolled/built in the last few turns to determine what cards other players have).

Whether or not the T.H.I. mechanism slows games down or speeds them up, choosing to play without it could possibly impact game-play in a significant way. Some have reported that playing Settlers with open hands making trading go more smoothly, speeding up the game. The effects could be adverse too. Take the extreme example of playing the game of Memory without T.H.I. -- this would mean that all cards remain face-up once seen, completely defeating the purpose of the game. Of course there are many gray areas too.

Many other interesting points were made in the threads listed given at the top, but I will get on with the polls. I am most interested how people respond to the last poll.

(One last tidbit that I found interesting was that playing Settlers with open hands actually goes beyond removing the T.H.I. mechanism. With revealed hands, everyone knows what is stole after moving the robber. Similarly, trades of the type "I'll give you a brick for any two resource cards" are exposed to all without T.H.I. So, playing with open hands not only makes a card like 'monopoly' easier to determine how & when to play by removing the T.H.I., it actually makes extra information available that would not usually be known.)

Poll
Do you prefer to play board games with or without trackable hidden information?
I prefer to play games with trackable hidden information.
I prefer to play games that do not have trackable hidden information.
It doesn't really matter -- I enjoy playing games for other reasons and don't care one way or the other whether there is trackable hidden information or not.
      229 answers
Poll created by AdamMcD

Poll
Some believe that making (trackable) information hidden avoids 'analysis paralysis', avoiding long turn. Others believe that hidden information just slows down the game. What do you think?
Using H.T.I. makes turns/games less long.
Using H.T.I. makes turns/games more long.
There are pros and cons to each which perfectly balance one another out, meaning that using H.T.I. has little to no affect on game/turn length.
      214 answers
Poll created by AdamMcD

Poll
Do you tend to think/strategize more with games that have hidden trackable information, or more with games that do not?
I think/strategize more with games that have T.H.I. (because I have to make an effort to keep track of who has what cards, etc.)
I think/strategize less with games that have T.H.I. (because the info is obscured, which means I act quicker & less precisely, etc.)
I don't spend much time thinking regardless. Games are about having fun, not about maximizing my strategy in order to win.
      184 answers
Poll created by AdamMcD
 
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Travis Worthington
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My big issue with information that could be tracked, but the rules say it should be hidden is that can remove the social interaction of competitive gaming.

 
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Adam McD
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T Worthington wrote:
My big issue with information that could be tracked, but the rules say it should be hidden is that can remove the social interaction of competitive gaming.

Interesting. In one of the threads someone noted that playing Settlers with open hands makes the trading phase more quick & simple. This makes sense to me, but it also would seem to remove the most social aspect of Settlers. Here is a typical conversion I have in the Settlers trade phase that would be truncated if we played with open hands:
.
.
.
"I have a lot of wheat, does anyone need a wheat?"
"Oh, I'd take a wheat I guess."
"What would you give me for it?"
"That depends, what do you need?"
"Wood, Sheep, Brick, or Ore." (sarcastically)
"Just make an offer, and I'll tell you if I accept"
.
.
.

But of course, this is just a single counter-example. I can see how a game's social aspect could suffer from trackable hidden information too.
 
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Jorge Montero
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The cards in player's hands in Settlers are not THI: The robber makes sure of that.

What is trackable and could be considered hidden is the total number of cards in play of each resource type. I'd not deny anyone a card count of the unused stacks though.
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alan beaumont
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Off track
AdamMcD wrote:
There has been much debate on BGG on issues concerning trackable hidden information in various games......Some have reported that playing Settlers with open hands making trading go more smoothly, speeding up the game.....everyone knows what is stole after moving the robber.
This is what makes Settlers a bad example. The Robber muddies the waters and makes perfect information impossible, notes or no notes, only the Robber and victim know what has really happened. Remember the rules explicitly forbid a player showing their trade hand, which is a bit of gamesmanship you might employ to fend off a Robber looking for a rare commodity.
It is a valid tactic to pretend a victim still has that elusive brick, when really you have just made off with it, equally as victim you can make out it's gone when in reality you still have it. Time to put on your poker face.
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Philip Eve
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hibikir wrote:
The cards in player's hands in Settlers are not THI: The robber makes sure of that.


Clearly there is a continuum from complete unpredictability to complete trackability. Examples of things at the "trackable" end are VPs in Puerto Rico and money in Power Grid. An example of something at the other end is Occupations in Agricola*. Settlers, then, occupies a position somewhere in the middle of the continuum.

* You can deduce very little about what cards another player has; you only know that he does not hold any of the cards that you have, and that he does not hold any of the cards present on the table. In some situations you know that a player holds a card that has been passed to him from his neighbour. And in some situations you might deduce from a player's behaviour that he holds a particular card (e.g. Mendicant), if you know the game very well. Thus there is a vanishingly small amount of trackability.
 
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Eric Clason
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AdamMcD wrote:
... Take the extreme example of playing the game of Memory without T.H.I. -- this would mean that all cards remain face-up once seen, completely defeating the purpose of the game. ...


I never liked Memory and I don't like it when other games use T.H.I. in the same way, i.e. part of the game is that the player is expected to try to remember T.H.I. I'm not saying there is something wrong with memory games, I just don't enjoy them. Other people do.

However I don't have a problem using T.H.I. to hide victory points (or the like) in an attempt to avoid either AP and/or 'gang up on the leader' towards the end of a game.
 
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Andrew H
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...and cue Clearclaw, avid and vocal hater of hidden trackable information, to tell us once again why he refuses to play games with HTI unless it is played unhidden.
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Seth Owen
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Quote:
The effects could be adverse too. Take the extreme example of playing the game of Memory without T.H.I. -- this would mean that all cards remain face-up once seen, completely defeating the purpose of the game. Of course there are many gray areas too.


Would this be as true if you were playing Busen Memo ?
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Tim Benjamin
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Half way through my first ever game of Midway I asked my opponent:

Me: How many of each type of aircraft do you have left?

Him: I don't have to tell you.

Me: I could have kept track.

Him: Yes, you could have.

I thought that was pretty 'competitive' considering it was my first time with the game.
 
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Drew Spencer
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I don't think of it as having much effect on analysis paralysis. My understanding is that, in the case of points, it's to prevent people from consciously kingmaking or targeting the leader, and in other cases it's to add a little statistical strategy (assuming you've forgotten the exact information), such as in Settlers where a player who needs wheat might target another player with the robber because they are on a lot of good what hexes, not because they remember them getting a lot of wheat.

In the latter case, it would only work if it's applied to information where the strategic value of memorizing it does not warrant the work required to do so. Also, if that seems to be the case, then it's understandable to remember the last few rolls or whatever, but it's good sportsmanship, in my opinion, to not try too hard to memorize what people have, to the effect that if someone actually started writing down such information, I would probably tell them to stop or refuse to play with them.
 
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Adam McD
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On analysis paralysis:

So, the idea is that if there is too much info on the table, some players will try to use the plethora of info to make sure they are making the best possible move, thereby taking a long turn (e.g. Chess -- I get thoroughly annoyed by chess players who take 5 minute turns angry )

Perhaps making info hidden can help speed up the average players turn by a bit, but just that, a bit (of course these bits could add up over the course of a game).

But what about the player who was taking such long turns? I have a feeling that the annoying player who takes long turns will find a way to be annoying whether the info is hidden or not. My gaming memories of the most annoying game situations have a lot more to do with the particular individual than the game itself.

Edit: Ok, there are some exceptions to the annoying game memory thing. I specifically remember Monopoly being annoying to play regardless of who was playing. But that didn't have much to do with T.H.I.
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Matthew Kloth
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Over the years I've actually change my opinion on this.

Currently I can see the pros and cons of it and I understand which games implement it well and which games use it as a crutch.

If a game says you have to keep a resource hidden, but other players can deduce how much you have just by looking at the current game state then it's a bad implementation. Why waste everybody's time counting things up. If the game slows to a crawl or isn't fun when you figure out the number of resources in this instance then the game sucks.

If a game has hidden info that is revealed and then hidden again and subsequently divided or moved around so it's impossible to know where everything is exactly then that challenges ones ability to both remember and deduce what your opponent is doing. I find that fun usually. Block wargames are a good example.

If a game has hidden info that could have been memorized from the start, but isn't calculable from the current game state then it gets into the fuzzy territory.

Some games do this, but the info is so little and easy to remember it doesn't properly mask the info. Those games feel like playing with a fly buzzing around your head. It's mildly distracting and reduces the fun of the game. I play those games open, so everybody doesn't have to bother wasting brain power remember single digit totals or something else equally inane. If this slows down or breaks the game then the game sucks.

Some games have info that could be memorized but there is so much of it you'd have to be a professional card counter to keep track of it all. The result is that the vast majority of people play by gut instinct. Maybe a few choice nuggets of info are stored in your noggin and you try and hold them in there to get a bit of an advantage. I find this type of implementation interesting and fun. A lot of traditional card games are like this.

The border between easy and impossible to remember is the danger zone. This is the area where people with a good memory will have an advantage and those without will get a migraine from trying to keep up. In this situation it varies on the group. I personally have changed my opinion about these games so that now I just accept the fact I'll only have a fuzzy but strong picture of what is happening, and somebody with better memory has the upper hand. I used to get really annoyed when mr. perfect memory would buy something for exactly 1 more than me. Now, I just roll with it and do my best and try to improve. I know I'll have the advantage when we play a game where my skills are better (like probability calculation).


So, currently I think memory is a perfectly valid mental skill on par with spacial awareness, mind reading, probability calculation, etc. I now play games with some memory aspects since I find it fun to work out different parts of my brain. Maybe it will help stave off Alzheimer's.
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David desJardins
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MusedFable wrote:
Some games have info that could be memorized but there is so much of it you'd have to be a professional card counter to keep track of it all.


It just seems like lazy design. If you're going to have so much information, with the goal being that the players can't track it all, then why not put in some mechanisms that are actually not trackable, so that it works as intended regardless of whether the players pay more or less attention.
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Christopher Todesco
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The minor problem I have with it is not that it COULD be tracked, but if another player has a good memory and can remember stuff like that while I cannot (my memory sucks), but I COULD HAVE written it down but don't want to bog down the game--that gives the player with good memory a distinct advantage.

But then again, I am good with strategy and considering the totality of information in front of me, while these are some other peoples' weak points. They COULD have strategy guides and suffer AP by calculating every possibility on paper but don't want to bog down the game--giving a player good with strategy and details a distinct advantage.

so in my case it evens out...

 
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Josiah Miller
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I am pretty sure that Trackable Hidden Information ultimately burned me out on Dominion. I used to really enjoy looking at the cards and developing interesting combinations and strategies. Now I feel like I just watch other people and assign them a number based on their current VP count compared to mine, i.e. Guy to my left is +3, guy across from me is -6, etc.

Instead of enjoying the games finer points I am just concerned with "keeping the count".
 
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David desJardins
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brotherjo wrote:
Instead of enjoying the games finer points I am just concerned with "keeping the count".


Why? Do you really think this helps you win?
 
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Colin Kameoka
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If its trackable, it should be public. If it shouldn't be trackable the game should have hidden vp cards which give a variable amount of VPs so it can't be tracked.

Critical Mass wrote:
...and cue Clearclaw, avid and vocal hater of hidden trackable information, to tell us once again why he refuses to play games with HTI unless it is played unhidden.
 
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Josiah Miller
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Why? Do you really think this helps you win?


More often than not, it does.
 
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Patrick McInally
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MusedFable wrote:
So, currently I think memory is a perfectly valid mental skill on par with spacial awareness, mind reading, probability calculation, etc. I now play games with some memory aspects since I find it fun to work out different parts of my brain. Maybe it will help stave off Alzheimer's.


Well, actually, numerous studies have shown that this is the case. I don't think it's accepted as scientific fact, yet, but there's a lot of evidence to support the theory.

People who exercise their memory still may suffer Alzheimer's, but their chances and the subsequent severity are reduced.

Interestingly, some recent studies have suggested that game playing -- in particular games with a memory aspect -- might even help treat Alzheimer's and reverse some its effects.

Anyway, my particular opinion follows that some games use HTI well, some don't, but if a player has a blanket disdain for HTI it's probably just a crutch to help them avoid games they're not good at rather than games that aren't good. (Nothing wrong with this if the player admits the games are good. Everything wrong with this if they insist that they're bad.)
 
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Jason Fritz
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RaffertyA wrote:
Half way through my first ever game of Midway I asked my opponent:

Me: How many of each type of aircraft do you have left?

Him: I don't have to tell you.

Me: I could have kept track.

Him: Yes, you could have.

I thought that was pretty 'competitive' considering it was my first time with the game.


Nope, sounds like he was just trying to win. I bet you'll keep track next time!
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brotherjo wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
Why? Do you really think this helps you win?


More often than not, it does.


You have just said that your desire/attempt to win is keeping you from enjoying the game. Maybe you are playing the wrong sorts of games?
 
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Daniel Cristofani
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AdamMcD wrote:
Poll
Do you tend to think/strategize more with games that have hidden trackable information, or more with games that do not?
I think/strategize more with games that have T.H.I. (because I have to make an effort to keep track of who has what cards, etc.)
I think/strategize less with games that have T.H.I. (because the info is obscured, which means I act quicker & less precisely, etc.)
I don't spend much time thinking regardless. Games are about having fun, not about maximizing my strategy in order to win.
      184 answers
Poll created by AdamMcD


I tend to think/strategize until I start worrying that I'm annoying people, and then cut it short. Which is about the same amount of time regardless of THI. So, basically the opposite of the last option.
 
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Michael Potter
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Remember the game of Concentration you played as a kid. Just imagine if everyone kept a list of the cards and their locations everytime one was turned over. Not only would the game take longer (record keeping) it would become a mechanical bore.

Half the fun of Power Grid is trying to guess whether the leader has enough cash left to build the 15th house after you take away the cheap builds. What fun are the last few turns if you can fully calculate the outcome before you play. The target should be fun - not perfection.
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Joe Huber

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Interesting poll; my preference (that any information that can be tracked be kept public, regardless of what the rules say) isn't really present in the first poll.

The reason I don't care for hiding information that can be tracked is simple. If everyone tracks it, why bother hiding it? And if not, it often has a very negative impact upon the game. Imagine a game with hidden victory points, and a reasonable ability to focus on another player. A player who doesn't track victory points may well focus on the wrong player simply because they don't see the situation well. I don't find that satisfying, whether I'm the person getting incorrectly attacked or the one getting incorrectly ignored. I prefer games either drop the pretense that players can't count - which requires that the players understand that the currently lead in VP isn't always the superior position, but that's a different problem - or, better yet, add hidden elements so that the information truly isn't trackable.

In practice, I simply advocate for keeping trackable information public. If I can't convince the table, I like to keep my information public, at least.
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