Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A bashdown

I am in the semi finals of my Blood Bowl league.  It turns out that Ziggyny decided to just concede to me via not waking up for the game so instead of me bashing his elves to bits I just got my free win.  Tomorrow I will need to face down a team of Orcs coached by Umbra and I am a lot less confident of my chances in this matchup.  Orcs and Dwarves are two of the most bashy teams with both teams lacking in speed and ball handling.  It will be a brutal slugfest.

I have some real advantages.  I have Block on my entire team, and my opponent is missing 3 copies of it.  That helps me.  I also have 2 extra copies of Guard, and 2 extra copies of Mighty Blow.  I rate to get more assists and do more damage.  Plus I have Thick Skull on my entire team, which normally isn't a big deal, but against another powerful bash team it will keep my dudes from getting KOd, in fact it reduces 'off the field' injuries by a full 33%.

This all sounds great!  I have better blocks, more assists, and superior injury and armour rolls.


The Orcs have strength.  They have four dudes with Str 4, and one with Str 5.  This is a serious problem for me.  That additional strength means that I am going to have a really hard time pushing through their lines, and when their Str 4 dudes manage to single out one of my dwarves the dwarf is getting dominated.  I do way better in a massive dogpile where my superior Guard numbers help out, but I am worried that Umbra will be able to punch through my lines too easily.

My opponents so far have been way behind me in overall fighting ability, mostly through me having lots of Guard and them not having much or any.  The one game I won where my opponent had more strength they didn't have any Guard to speak of.  Umbra has both lots of strength and lots of Guard and this means that I can't rely on a line of dwarves to hold.  Umbra is going to roll more dice than me, and I am going to have better odds on each die rolled.  Overall though... I think he has the advantage.

However, I do have one ace up my sleeve, which is that my team value is lower, just enough so that I can buy a Wizard for our game with the extra cash I get to compensate.  A Wizard can do a nasty 3x3 fireball once a game and since my opponent's strategy is almost certainly going to involve caging around the ball carrier I have a great tool to blast that cage wide open.  The Wizard can potentially turn a half where I am just getting beat into a half where I score, or at least one where nobody scores.

And while I generally rely on the game plan of beating my opponents into bloody submission, I can't expect that against the orcs.  They are almost all 9 armour, and that means it is going to be extremely difficult to actually get a man advantage on them.  Umbra, of course, is facing down roughly the same dilemma.  It is even harder to get a man advantage on the dwarves, because of Thick Skull, but he at least has better options for getting good blocks in.

When I look at the four top teams I see a Chaos Dwarf team, Ziggyny's Dark Elf team, my dwarves, and Umbra's Orcs.  I think the Orcs are the team I am most scared of.  I really like my odds against the Chaos Dwarves, and although elves normally rate to beat dwarves I think my chances of beating Ziggyny's Dark Elves are pretty good.  Meeting what I consider to be my toughest matchup in the semis is not the result I wanted, but there is nothing for it but to hope that my singular fireball can swing the match to me and catapult me to the finals.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hang out next to the kitchen

I played Castles of Mad King Ludwig last night and was asked a tricky question at the end of it.  I was in seat 4 and won the game by about 15 points or so, and the player in seat 2 asked what I thought of her arrangements of the tiles during her master builder turns.  2 had the issue that she ran low on cash in the middle of the game and felt like she just hadn't been able to make enough money.

It is tricky sometimes to figure out whether arrangements were correct when you didn't know at the time what everyone's cards were.  I might look askance at a placement but if a tile has 5 bonus points on it from secret cards it really changes how you think about it, and how the placement goes.  That said, I thought her placements were fine and she certainly wasn't giving up money like crazy.

So why was it that 2, who should have had more money than me because I was 4th chair, struggled with cash?  Also why was it that I ended the game rich?

A big part of the answer is yellow rooms.  Yellow rooms give you extra turns and you usually want to use those extra turns when you have the best selection, so most of the time you use them when you are the first player to choose tiles.  Also when you use yellow rooms you end up paying a ton of money out all at once, so you really want to do that right before your own master builder turn so that going low on cash won't break you.

When I thought about this I looked at the board and lo and behold the player after me in position 1 had three completed yellow rooms and I recalled distinctly that I got paid off on the turn when he activated two of them.  Not only did he buy three things, but the other players also bought stuff and I sold all but one of the tiles in front of me.  That happened on turn 4 and it took me from nearly broke to rolling in cash.

Part of this was deliberate of course because I priced those yellow rooms to move.  I wanted to get paid so I let people have some sweet buys to build up my bankroll.  But part of it was just luck because those tiles might well have come out differently.

I think the key is that you want the player after you to buy yellow rooms.  When they do that you can set it up so that they have multiple good buys and make sure that the options get scarce, which means that other players after them will often end up paying more for things than they would otherwise.  Cash itself may not be that great but I noticed during the game that I had plenty of chances to pay about X money for X points and that means that if I can sell an additional tile at 8 bucks it is absolutely amazing for me and could easily raise my final score by 8, assuming I am cash limited at any point.

Getting yellow rooms into the hands of the player after you is a hard thing to take advantage of.  Aside from giving away yellow rooms for really cheap on your own master builder phase it isn't exactly an easy thing to do and is highly luck dependent.  I think though that it strongly emphasizes the strength of giving people good deals on your turn when they have yellow rooms out no matter which seat they are in.  You don't want to give away the farm obviously but if you make sure that they are at least strongly tempted to use both turns you rate to get paid.  You can't afford to let them get a deal on a tile for 1 coin but any intermediate amount is pretty solid.  The trick is that they are going to spend those turns buying stuff.  Once they have the yellow room that much is a given.  What you can control though is whether or not those extra turns and the associated income come to you, or to somebody else.

That concept is a key thing to grasp in many games and I see a lot of players fail at it.  They often see someone setting up something big and do everything they can to stop it but fail to consider whether or not that interference will actually work for the whole game.  If someone sets up a big score and you know that they are going to cash in on it at some point you shouldn't desperately try to delay it; rather you should figure out how to cash in as much as possible personally when they finally do make their thing work.  Making sure people with yellow rooms use them on your master builder turn to get yourself paid is a great example of this.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Just one more turn. Hardly any time at all.

I am one more turning really hard this week.

I finally got around to installing Civilization 6, and it is a beast of a game.  Unlike Civ 5, 6 is actually super complicated right out of the gate.  5 had fairly simple mechanics, not much more challenging than the earliest Civ games, and had some really enormous balance problems.  6, on the other hand, is ridiculously complicated in all kinds of ways.  I am a veteran gamer, played 5 for 1500 hours, and I am struggling to keep everything straight.

It is marvellous.

Hell, there are still a couple of major mechanics and victory conditions that I have absolutely no idea how to handle.  Starting a religion and having religious battles is a core mechanic in the game and yet because I didn't get in quickly to found a religion I can't do any of that stuff at all.  There is an entire subgame that the AIs are playing against one another involving pushing their various religions and while I can see them bashing away at one another with religious units I have no idea how all that works.

There is this thing about tourism that is apparently a win condition and I have no idea how that works.  How 'come visit my booth' is a win condition on par with 'conquer every other civilization on the planet' I don't know, but even if you set aside how bizarre it feels I don't know how it works.  I know how to hang paintings in my buildings, and apparently people like to come look at those, but there is all this stuff about stealing tourism from other people and trade routes and geez I have no idea what I am doing.

I decided to just go for a scientific victory since that seemed at least vaguely similar to previous Civ games.  Just stack a lot of science, build a spaceship, win.  Doing this made sure I would have competitive units at least, so if I get attacked I won't be sitting there with a bunch of fancy artwork and books while the enemies burn my cities to the ground.

There are just so many things to think about.  Some districts want to be near mountains, some near rivers, some near other districts.  Some like pretty settings, and others want to be nestled in the mines.  Farms want to be in tight groups, and every city needs a mix of production and food to go along with all the districts.  Plus you have to factor in which districts your cities each want based on your win conditions and what tiles they currently have access to and which they will eventually have access to... it is just so much.

I have to keep in mind also all the random stuff the city states are demanding and the Eureka criteria for all of my scientific advances and my cultural stuff.  Some of these rewards are building related and some are about using specific units.

Usually when I play a Civ game I can figure out how everything works.  Finding the optimal strategy can take time, but the mechanics themselves have mostly been easy.  6 is not like that.  I have multipliers all over the place for various things and I just don't know where it all comes from.

This complexity is overwhelming, especially when I consider that I am playing on easymode - Prince difficulty should be a cakewalk for anyone with the amount of hours invested into Civ that I have.

I think this is a worthy entry into the Civ lineup.  Anyone itching for more complex gameplay is going to find it here.  There are so many things to think about and to do - you could spend an hour analyzing a single city placement to consider every thing it might build in the future to pick the perfect location.  Whether or not the numbers are all correct isn't something I can figure out with not even a single playthrough under my belt, but so far nothing felt egregiously wrong.

Civ 6 feels like a game I will need one hundred hours of play in before I will really know how things work.  That is a good feeling, to be delving deep into something really challenging to master.

So far, two big thumbs up.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Run or die

My final game of the Blood Bowl regular season is against Ziggyny.  He is running Dark Elves, which are generally a pretty good matchup for dwarves in my opinion.  Once his whole team levels up a bunch he will be better off, I suspect, because he will be in a much better position to dodge away all the time but right now he has some Dodge but not enough.  I will be able to consistently counter it with the five copies of Tackle I have on my starting lineup.  He also has four copies of Tackle... but this is worthless to him because I don't have any Dodge at all.  In fact his team is only barely better than a starting team against me and my team is a monster against him.  I have tons of Guard and Mighty Blow so he absolutely cannot fight me, but he simply doesn't have enough Dodge to be able to run away consistently.

His team is well built for our league where there are two other elf teams, Brettonians, and a Lizardman team.  Against those his Tackle is good, and three of those are the teams that are at the top of the rankings with him.  The Tackle is worthless against the two Dwarven teams, but I think it is pretty reasonable to build a team to try to dominate the majority of the league and just accept that you are going to get beat by a small section of it.  Ziggyny's build is hoping that I get beat by somebody else in the semifinal and he doesn't have to face me in the finals, and that seems like a fine strategy.

Ziggyny is considering just conceding to me.  I don't know if he will, but it is a thing to consider.  My team is extremely good at bashing now and is ideally matched against him.  I am at the top of the league at the moment so if he fights me to a 1-1 draw I still win our division and get a bye into the semi finals.  If he wins he gets a bye and I have to fight my way in.  However, in either case he has the problem that I rate to injure a lot of his dudes and after the match with me he may be in no condition to fight anyone.  It is terrible to be against the Dwarves when the Dwarves are perfectly happy to draw, because if they score once they just have to get the ball and completely surround it with dudes.  He won't be able to break in without getting absolutely wrecked, and a 1-1 draw is worse than a loss for him because he rates to get beat up.  There is a really good chance that losing or drawing with me causes him to lose his next match, whereas if he just concedes he goes into his next game with a healthy team and a much better matchup.

I think numerically it is clear:  Ziggyny should concede to me and find someone else to fight for a finals berth.  His team is built to do exactly that.

But the numbers aren't the whole story.  Ziggyny wants to play football!  If you don't want to play football, then why sign up for a football league?  Also I want to play football, and obviously I will take a concession if I get it but in every game so far I have gotten more experience than a concession will get me and won the game, so science says I should want to play!

Also bloodlust says I should play because I can crunch some flimsy elfses under my big Dwarven boots.  CRUNCH.

I don't get to decide though.  I am playing, and if the elves want to slide their slender, snappable necks under my feet, well then I will just have to oblige them by crunching them.  If they run away and leave me victorious, that is fine too, and I will mock them savagely for their cowardice.

Now I just need to wait and see.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Run away, its the dwarves!

This past week my Blood Bowl game was a blowout.  It was another good matchup for me against a team that has some Dodge, but not enough to be able to dance around me.  The Dwarves love playing against people that have a little bit of Dodge so they can use their Tackle to lock the board up.  My opponent was The Thief who was running Brettonians who were levelled just enough to have Dodge on all their Blitzers and a small collection of other skills.

My ability to negate Dodge on my enemies and their base Agility of 3 meant that it was going to be a slugfest.  The Thief couldn't plausibly run away from me consistently so he had to stand and fight.  Unfortunately for his fighting chances his team has much lower Armour and he had only 2 copies of Guard to my 6 copies of Guard.  His team is faster of course, (since everyone is faster than the Dwarves....) so I rated to have positioning struggles and would be slow on scoring but I liked my odds.

I actually had some real fun before the match.  I had 160,000 gold over the cap, and a Deathroller costs 160,000.  Deathrollers are extremely powerful but they have the problem that they get kicked off after a single drive.  I didn't think a Deathroller was worth it because my opponent didn't have a Big Guy I could push around with the Deathroller but I had nothing else to do with the money so I bought one.

And of course after buying it I yelled a lot about how I was going to crunch The Thief with the Deathroller.  People told me I was being stupid because Deathrollers are bad, but they seemed to believe me.  I guess I have built enough table cred for doing dumb but hilarious stuff!  Right before the game started I fired the Deathroller, hoping it had done its job of intimidating The Thief.  I doubt very much that it had any impact at all, aside from momentarily confusing him when we got to the game start screen and my team value had dropped from what he was expecting.  However, I enjoyed his momentary confusion followed by immediate understanding of what I had been doing, so there was that.

My odds got a lot better when on my first action I injured one of his dudes with Guard.  Every dude counts in a slugging match, but losing that copy of Guard was particularly awful.  On turn 3 he got in position to take a shot at my ball carrier but he had to take some dodges to manage it.  The first dodge failed and his dude fell down and got injured, removing his other copy of Guard from the game.

It was pretty much over at that point.  I was actually thinking he might concede, but I think The Thief believes in bashing through the game because the whole point of being in the league is to play, not give up!  With no Guard left The Thief had no prospect of getting decent blocks in a big brawl and was going to get punched around the field for the remainder of the game.  I sealed the deal by injuring another two random dudes during my push up the field, and then used Barik Farblast, the Star Player I recruited for the match, to foul another player and injure him out.

When Barik fouls someone he shoots them with a cannon!  That sounds unfair enough that even the Blood Bowl referees won't put up with it.

At halftime there were five injuries on The Thief's side, I had a touchdown in the bag, and another one of his dudes was still KO.  He started the second half with only six dudes.  I proceeded to beat the hell out of them, injuring two more, and the last turn saw his team on field reduced to two dudes, both of whom were on the ground and did not get up again.

My team is now 5-1, and that single loss came from a game I could not show up for so my opponent got a free win.  I have three wins at a score of 2-0, all of which were absolute slaughters.  I have two wins at 2-1, both of which were against elves, and both of which I won solidly but not without some difficult moments.  Since joining the league I have sustained zero deaths or serious injuries and in fact I am fairly sure I have never activated my apothecary.

I wonder how much of this is luck.  Make no mistake, this extremely strong record has both luck and skill components.  I am a good Blood Bowl player, having many hundreds of games under my belt.  Lots of those are against the computer, but even against the computer you have to practice what to do against a variety of formations and skill sets and those games help.  I am one of the top players in the league, this I am confident of.

But I have also gotten ass lucky.  My dwarves haven't been knocked down much compared to other teams, but I have gotten knocked down.  I should have taken some injuries by this point.  That isn't relevant in terms of money because I have so much I have no idea what to do with it and I just set it on fire after each match.  However, losing players who have experience is a real threat especially because most of my most experienced players are the ones with lower armour.  Part of my lack of injuries is playing tight and being a super bashy team, but a big part is just the dice going my way.

I have also been pushing my luck.  My ball carriers should have a ton more experience than they do, but instead of pushing levels on them I have been handing off the ball to other random dwarves to try to level them up.  This is kind of ridiculous to do in a league against other humans, but it is a thing you can get away with when you are in a really dominant position.  Sometimes you are guaranteed to win and you just want to give the ball to a random lineman so he can get some experience and level up, and I have had opportunities to do this, and taken them.  When the elimination rounds come about I am going to be a lot less aggressive and just take the best line to win the game regardless of the experience situation.

At any rate I think I had a good matchup against The Thief and my early success with taking out his dudes with Guard made the game easy for me.  There was a combination of early luck and the skill to capitalize effectively on it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The end times

Knowing the duration of a game is critical.  So often strategy games come down to various players building plans that will peak at different points in the game and the winner ends up being the person who manages to get the game to end just when their strategy peaks.  Puerto Rico is a great example, where the builders want the game to end as fast as possible because their strategy peaks right when their second big building finishes, while the shippers peak right when the last shipping point leaves the pile.  If the builders manage to finish the game quickly they will win because their strategy peaks much sooner.  Generally that means that in a game with three people shipping and one building the builder loses because all three shippers refuse to take actions that end the game and the shippers will help each other lengthen the game to generate more points from the Harbour and Wharf.  Similarly a single shipper will lose to three builders, with the winner almost always being the person who builds the Guild Hall.

During my birthday party on Saturday this was on display quite clearly.  I didn't get my timing perfectly right but on my last turn I completed my second Basement room and also finished off my big purple room to rescore it for 9 points.  I had thought the game would go one more turn and if it had I would have done better but I can't complain because I did manage to complete all of my major plans, albeit a bit awkwardly.  I won the game by a big margin, which wasn't a surprise because I was teaching all three of the other players the game.

Some of the other players asked what they had done wrong and why they lost, and as usual the obvious errors were mostly the placement of the best tiles on the 15k space.  In an auction game you don't want to let people get good stuff cheaply, but you can't keep the good stuff out of their hands indefinitely so you really want to sell it to them at a high price rather than having them buy something else for cheap.  The best tiles shouldn't be put out of reach - the optimal placement for them is *just barely* within reach.  That is when you get paid, and being rich gives you options, including the option to pay a ton for a tile if you really want to.

However, I don't think their tile placements were the reason I won by a lot.  The main factor was that I knew when the game was going to end.  I bought one big purple room and focused my game around bulking it up and completing my other stuff opportunistically.  The other players bought multiple big purple rooms and aimed to complete everything and they all ended up with a bunch of rooms incomplete.

There is nothing wrong with incomplete rooms in theory but you have to pick which ones you will leave out.  Buying a cheap 4 point room for 1 or 2 coins and sticking it on to close a door is a great play even if you make no attempt at all to finish it.  Paying 6 coins for a 2 point room that has a huge completion bonus and then never completing it is a disaster.  It isn't always true that buying a second big purple room to build around is a bad choice but you have to be really careful that you don't bite off more than you can chew.

One of the key tricks is knowing when to take the money and run.  I bought the big purple room that gives a 4 point bonus for each attached yellow room.  I quickly slammed another tile onto it that wasn't yellow because hoping to get a full 4 yellow rooms attached to it is just too optimistic.  You need to know when to start closing doors and accepting that you won't get the maximum points possible.  You can spend the game desperately trying to score 34 points from that room, but the likely result is that the game ends and you get 9 instead.  Being willing to accept a lower payout that is much more likely to come home is how you make 18 points like I did, and that is the more likely path to victory.

Knowing when to start finishing up is a skill that takes time to hone.  If you give up too quickly you won't score many points because you attach the wrong stuff, but if you wait too long you don't finish your room.  You want to end the game with every major completion bonus done, but only just barely.  Too soon, and you miss opportunities to max out.  Too late, and you get nothing.

It should not be taken that the people I played against were bad.  They played well, for first time players.  Castles is a game that is extremely sensitive to the timing of game end and I think that skill is actually one of the hardest ones to master when playing a new game.  You need a full understanding of the way the game flows before you can really make any decent decisions in that regard anyway, so until you have played a number of times figuring out how to design your plan to peak right at game end isn't really plausible.

For anyone looking for a best guess on how fast to finish up your rooms, I would suggest assuming that you need twice the number of plays as you have doors available.  If your big room has three open doors and there are about five turns left, start closing them off with anything you can.  If you have eight turns left, chill and wait it out.  With brick rooms you can generally assume about the same since there are more tiles that work and you don't get nearly as much from finishing it so you really don't want to slam crappy things on there.  Leaving a brick room incomplete isn't so bad because you got most of your points when you dropped it, so you can afford to be picky.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Kid games

Today I played some board games with Pinkie Pie and her friend at the cottage.  Being as it is an old cottage it comes with the mandatory collection of garbage old games that are just coin flips that take an hour or ten to resolve.  It does have a few real games though, so today I tried to teach the girls Pente.  This is a simple old 2 player game that looks like Go in that you place markers on a grid but the rules are quite different.

The thing about Pente is that it has no randomness aside from who goes first.  I am not good at the game by any means, but I can't lose to the kids without deliberately setting out to do so.  We tried playing where I alternated turns with them as per normal rules but they quickly realized they were going to lose and had no interest whatsoever in that.  Then we tried a version where I play red and take a turn, then they both take a turn with yellow.

It should come as no surprise that in a game with no randomness if you take two turns to your opponent's one turn you win.  Nothing can possibly let me get a victory, and after smashing me effortlessly three times they got bored.

The trouble is that the girls want to win.  They aren't interested in learning, or practising.  They just want to beat people.  Since they are horrible at every game this means that they lean towards games that have effectively no decisions (or perhaps one decision that is completely trivial) so that they win as often as anyone else.  They don't want to get a handicap either, because then they don't feel like they were winning, so stupid old coinflip games are where it is at.

This is a cruddy situation.  I love games, and everyone knows it, so they want to play with me.  But when we play I am bored to tears because either we are just pushing tokens around all day with no thought or I smash my opponents immediately.

It is tricky because I don't want to say to them that games against them are boring as hell for me, but that is simply the truth.  I would play games where I win and they learn, or games where I have a reasonable handicap, but neither is acceptable to them.  They only want pure randomness.

So we have a shared hobby that we cannot share at all.  At least, not while everyone involved actually enjoys themselves.

People have told me that this will change as Pinkie Pie gets older but I don't see it.  I remember myself at roughly her age, and I liked challenging games.  I liked figuring them out.  She doesn't have that desire, or the mindset to be really good at games.  It just isn't a thing I share with her, much as I might want to.

I have been thinking about this a lot because while I was at World Boardgaming Championships a few weeks ago people were asking if my daughter would be coming along one year.  The honest answer was no.  She doesn't want to lose, and she would.  She doesn't want to play interesting games, and WBC has lots of those.

And, to be fair, I want WBC to be my week of total hedonism, not my week of being resentful while I follow my daughter around and skip out on seeing cool people and playing games I love.

Whatever I end up sharing with my daughter, I don't think games are it.