Thursday, July 28, 2016

Vegas baby, Vegas

I got my first big result at World Boardgaming Championships!

Tonight I collected 2nd place in the Vegas Showdown finals, which has me walking on air.  It was a good game, and I feel great about the result.  It seems kind of ridiculous really since I think the only games of Vegas Showdown I have played in the last handful of years have been the 5 games I played here - 3 heats where I went 1st, 1st, 3rd, the semifinal I won, and the final.  Who needs practice?

The end of the game featured a spectacular finish where I was obviously aiming to buy and place the best building in the game for an absolute truckload of points.  No one could buy it out from under me, but my opponents tried hard to end the game prior to me buying it.  I was in last place at that point, but they were all worried that by placing that building I would win.  It was close - I dropped the Theatre down for 19 points, which is a pretty whopping portion of my 48 point total.  Even though the winner beat me by 4 points there were cards in the deck that could have given me the win on the last turn, but unfortunately they did not make an appearance.

The best part about it was that there were three cards drawn at the end to try to stop me, and one of the possibilities is a card called Pull Strings, which can't itself beat me but could set me up for a fall.  There are three copies of Pull Strings in the deck. The first draw was Pull Strings, which was terrible for me.  The second draw was Pull Strings again, which was even worse.  The last card was ... Pull Strings, and since it could set me up but not knock me down I got to get my Theatre and jump from 5th to 2nd.

I found it doubly hilarious that my semifinal game ended almost exactly the same way.  The game was on its last legs, I got lucky to keep it going, and I dropped down the Theatre at the last possible moment.  In that case of course I won, unlike the finals, but the games were pretty amusing in terms of their similarity.

Now I am in the Thurns and Taxis semi final, the Ra Dice semi final, and the Puerto Rico quarter final.  Will more plaques and showers of glory await?  Tune in next time to find out!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The wisdom of crowds

I have been playing in a bunch of different games here at the World Boardgaming Championships and it has given me a much clearer picture of how people play games and how good they are.  People told me ahead of time that the heats to qualify for finals games are really easy, but I didn't realize quite how much so.  There are of course people who show up for games who don't really know how to play, and that is certainly a source of easy wins, but there are a lot of people who just don't know how to win.

And that isn't to say they are terrible or dumb or anything, just that there are specific ways you go about training yourself to be excellent at games and most of those ways are to surround yourself with really great people who can push you to excel.  There aren't that many people who have a tremendous intuitive grasp of strategy games and as such it is really unlikely that a given person will have a group of those people around them to make them better.

I credit the Lounge in university for much of my education in this way.  I have the natural talent, but being in the company of people who see things quickly, who can find things I miss, made me better in ways that are impossible to achieve on your own.  That training isn't something you can pick up in a day or a week either, and if you end up at WBC without having people in your circle who are amazing then you aren't going to be the shark - your skills won't be honed enough.

It takes a certain attitude too.  You have to desperately want to be the best.  In fact you have to want to play against the best people who are happy to smash you to smithereens so you can learn how they do it.  The desire to learn needs to be much stronger than the desire to do well in a single game if you want to get better.

That isn't to say this is the right way to play - everyone should play and socialize however works for them.  For some intense pressure to learn and win and improve isn't their thing.  But if you want to win, that pressure from others who also have that desire is necessary.

That general game training lets you see things.  It lets you pick up games and win immediately, just because you can see how you have to be in order to win.  I have seen that so much - the people with the best group support just step into games and dominate, even if they don't know the rules well or miss important things.

Practice is good.  Study is good.  But the key to success here and elsewhere in games is to be surrounded by cutthroat competitors eager to improve, and to push them to be better so they can do the same for you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Being skilled

I am tinkering with Heroes By Trade again, trying to work out if skills are being the thing I want them to be.  Right now the basic mechanic is that you roll 1d8, add your Aspect bonus (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Willpower, Presence) and then can add an additional bonus if you are trained in the skill being used.


I am untrained in Gadgetry and have 5 Dexterity.  I roll 1d8 + 5.

I am trained in Intimidation, and have 5 Presence.  I roll 1d8 + 10.

The system technically allows the GM to swap around what Aspect you use for each skill, but skills are presented with a default Aspect that you would expect to be the right one.  Athletics is Strength, Persuasion is Presence, etc.

Something is digging at my brain though, telling me this isn't quite right.

I am thinking that if the system is going to have flexibility in terms of assigning skills and Aspects to particular rolls, that ought to be front and centre.  You can use Strength + Animals to push a donkey across a bridge, but those two aren't going to pair together much normally, so Animals is paired with Presence and I think pairing them kind of locks people into using them that way.

Ideally I would love to present all skills independent of Aspects, so you would have the GM select an appropriate Skill for the situation, an appropriate Aspect, then you roll and add the two numbers to your roll.

However, this results in adding two different numbers to a roll and that somehow feels clunky.  Instead of the 1d8 + 10 above, it is 1d8 + 5 + 5.  Also sometimes if a different Aspect is chosen it might be 1d8 + 5 + 4, for example.  It feels right to make it a core part of the system that Aspects and skills are chosen independently to best represent the challenge, but it means that people will spend more time figuring out what their bonus is instead of knowing automatically that their favourite thing to do is associated with a fixed number.

It is hard for me to figure out how to value those things.  I like speedy play, so normally I go to great lengths to keep people's bonuses predictable.  I hate play grinding to a halt while players hunt for extra +1 bonuses to beat a challenge.

I have been thinking about ways that I could change the skill mechanics to keep bonuses easy to remember without mucking with them in other ways.  For example, instead of training adding +5 and mastery adding an additional +3, I considered training just adding 1d8 and mastery adding another 1d8.  This would mean that a character who is a master of a skill would be rolling 3d8 and adding their Aspect bonus.  This preserves the nice benefit of only adding one number, but increases randomness a lot.  A 3-24 spread on the 3d8 is enormous, and I have spent enough time complaining about the randomness of a 1-20 die that I am uncomfortable with that.

Then I thought about setting it up so that training granted a 1d8 as above, but mastery simply allowed you to reroll any die you wanted to.  This reduces the max spread, but the spread is still potentially 2-16 instead of 1-8, and that is a lot.  I like the skill system to have a fair bit of predictability so that characters have a sense of what they are likely to be able to accomplish, and so that people who actually stack a lot of bonuses can do amazing things that normal folks cannot.

I suppose I may end up just accepting that skill checks take more time to calculate and set up Training and Mastery as +5/+8 and Aspects separately so people usually need to add two numbers to their roll.  Skill checks are really fast compared to combat resolution anyway so perhaps adding a bit more to it isn't really a bad thing.

Sometimes you have to sacrifice elegance of execution for elegance of presentation in the name of improving the player experience, and this seems like one of those times.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Recently I have been watching a few videos where prominent Hearthstone players try to fix random players' decks.  There are a lot of common threads in these videos, and by far the thing that I have seen come out of them is this:  Stop being so greedy.

Seriously, everyone just seems to load up their decks with enormously expensive stuff and then be puzzled as to why they lose to aggro decks.  You have to have cheap spells!  You have to DO things!  The plan of just sit there until you can slam down amazing stuff turn after turn doesn't work if the opponent's plan is to actually kill you.

I guess what people love is the rush of beating people up with big dudes.  It is hilarious fun to watch Ragnaros The Firelord burn your opponent to death, yelling DIE INSECT every turn.  I get that.  But you have to *get* to Ragnaros in order to have that fun.

Play things like Earthen Ring Farseer.  Less exciting, more consistent. It keeps you alive until you can cast Ragnaros.

It all reminds me a lot of my Magic playing days when people ran ridiculous stuff like Demonic Hordes and Lord of the Pit and then couldn't win games.  I was guilty of this too, of course.  I recall my first big tournament win that came with a deck that had 4 Desert Twisters in it, as well as 4 Clone, 4 Control Magic, and 1 Doppelganger.  Plus another 12 cards that cost 5 or more mana.  Greedy!  It worked that time, though.

There isn't to say everyone should play aggro of course.  Control decks are all well and good.  I love them!  However, there is a real problem when you try to play control and do that by just jamming all the biggest stuff you own into a deck.

You have to pay attention to aggro.  You have to recognize that you are going to get attacked.  Control is all about stopping those attacks, not just being super greedy.  Control decks that are just full of expensive stuff aren't controlling anything; they are just shitty aggro decks.

So there you go.  Play control, not bad aggro.  There is my deck advice for all those new players out there.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Issues of style

I have been training for World Boardgaming Championships.  Since the game I am submitting for my team is Puerto Rico, I need to play a bunch of games of it to get back into fighting shape.  Years ago I was really familiar with the interface on BSW, but this time I am trying it on Boardgamearena instead.  I logged on and played a few games, but as you might expect I didn't do very well because of my initial battle with the interface.  When you don't even know what to click on to take an extra barrel of goods it becomes hard to devote all of your faculties to winning.  However, even though I lost my first three games I still gained ELO points at that point so apparently I was up against some really good players!

The question I have been asking myself though is if practicing online is actually the best way to powerlevel Puerto Rico skill.  My other option is to play 4p Puerto Rico with me playing all four players at once.  This has the disadvantage of requiring the setup and takedown, but has the advantage that I don't need to involve anyone else but me.  I also spend my time mastering keeping track of all the money and goods on a physical board instead of getting used to an online interface, and that has real value considering I will be playing on a physical board at WBC.

Clearly a lot of the skill in PR is going to come no matter which option I go with, but I think that you can't underestimate playing in a familiar setting.  Plus playing against myself at least partly mitigates the issue of ending up playing against bad players and winning despite my plans being weak.  If I only play against myself I can't rely on noob mistakes giving me victories!

Swapping sides again, I feel like there is real value in playing against other good players with different skills than me.  Sometimes they will expose me to tricks or strategies that I have forgotten, or perhaps never knew.  You can't surprise yourself.

I guess what I need to do is pour a day into each of the two strategies and see what works.  Perhaps a mix of the two will actually end up being the best overall plan - get a bit of practice with other people to shake the rust off, but spend much of my time practicing in the format I have to master against extremely consistent opposition.

Now I just have to get past my tendency to pick one side and subconsciously try to make that side win.  It is a thing I have struggled with when I play against myself in games for years, and being able to master that would be a great step towards objectivity that should serve me well.