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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Degenerate hunting

I have a strategy for the board game Shadow Hunter.  It can be roughly summarized as Git Em.

I played Shadow Hunter a few times this past week and the other players seemed surprised at the level of aggression I displayed in the game.  The way the game works is you have hidden roles and identities for each player.  You can either be a Shadow, a Hunter, or a Neutral.  Generally Shadows win by killing all the Hunters, Hunters win by killing all the Shadows, and Neutrals have weird win conditions.  In my five player games there were 2 Shadows, 2 Hunters, and 1 Neutral.  Throughout the game you have opportunities to figure out which team or individual the other players are.

My fellow players seemed to really like the idea of playing it cagey.  They would pass up opportunities to attack other players on the basis that they didn't know who they were attacking and thus the attack might make their situation worse rather than better.  They usually waited until they knew exactly who to attack before getting aggressive.

I, on the other hand, came out swinging.  I figured that since I was a Shadow and I had to kill 2 Hunters to win I should always be attacking somebody.  If I kill the Neutral that is probably just fine, and if I kill my fellow Shadow that is bad, but if I attack a Hunter then all is well.  That means that I am happy hitting 3 of my 4 possible targets so I might as well hit whoever I can whenever I can.  I will of course try to figure out who the other players are but I don't need to wait to be sure before bashing some faces!

I won both games in part because of good luck, but in part simply because my aggressive strategy worked out.  I did injure my ally in both games but I put far more damage onto the Hunters I was trying to kill and they ran out of hit points before I did.  In a game with five players and no second place I think you usually want to favour high risk, high reward strategies.  Especially if the other players are being really timid you will do very well by spreading out damage on everybody but yourself, and while occasionally you will kill your ally and lose badly most of the time you will win.

I like to think of it in extreme terms.  If I do nothing then I stay even with everyone else and presumably have a 20% chance of victory.  If I lay out an absurd beating and everyone else dies I am a heavy favourite to win, probably 80%+.  (You might think it would be 100%, but the game has weird mechanics I am not getting into.)  The closer I can swing the game towards that 80% win situation, the better off I am.

The unfortunate thing about this conclusion is that everyone should employ it.  The neutral characters sometimes really don't want other people to die because of their weird mechanics but for all the Hunters and Shadows you generally want to attack all the time.  If everyone does this then the game doesn't work all that well because everyone dies in an extreme hurry and there is little in the way of strategy.  By the time you figure out who some of the other players are the game has ended one way or the other.  It feels as though the game creators wanted to build a game where people spent time ferreting out their opponent's secrets and working out complex guesses about hidden information, but what the players should be doing if they want to win is just murdering anyone they can as fast as they can.  That results in a game that is quick, random, and thoroughly uninteresting.

This sort of issue crops up all the time in games.  Puerto Rico is a good example, where the game designer clearly had ideas about large scale production and shipping dominance, as evidenced by the design and cost of the Hospice, Large Warehouse, and Wharf.  But instead what usually happens is one person builds all the production facilities and quickly ends the game with enormous Mayor phases and the Guild Hall.  The optimal line of play is not actually one that makes the game enjoyable because it forces a narrow style of play that leaves much of the game in the dust.

The base set of Dominion is similar.  There are all kinds of interesting cards to buy but most of them flat out aren't good enough to be worth it.  It is far too common that the optimal line of play is to buy a single copy of the best Action card on the table and then just buy Silver - Gold - Province.  What a snooze fest.  Thankfully for Dominion the expansions are much better.

If you want a game to have any longevity and good replayability this is important.  Clearly optimal play is going to be different from weak play, but it is important that optimal play incorporate all the major game elements and have good feel.  For example, in Agricola an optimal player still wants to build some rooms, grow the family, and collect some of all the types of goods in the game.  That player is going to do all the things, they are just going to do it more efficiently, and they are going to make lots of interesting choices in the process.

It is important that optimal play support both interesting decisions, varied lines of play, and allows for a high skill cap.  Shadow Hunters fails on all three counts.  Optimal play involves few decisions that have little effect, the same experience every time, and makes the game highly random.

It is too bad, because I like a lot of the lore and the ideas behind the game.  I just can't get behind the final design.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A concession in the real league

Last week I played another round of Blood Bowl in my real league against a bunch of people I am connected to IRL.  My dwarves were 2-0 so far, but both of my previous opponents were Dark Elves, and that is a great matchup for early progression dwarves.  This past week I was up against Undead, who are a much more difficult matchup.

In theory.

In practice I smashed the Undead from one end of the pitch to the other.

The Undead received the first kickoff and KO'd one of my dudes on the first turn.  It wasn't a good start, but I returned the favour, KOing one of them.  Then I got a couple of dwarves next to the ball carrier and knocked down a bunch of their team.  My opponent decided to run a Mummy over to rescue the ball carrier but they failed a Go For It, used their reroll, and then the dwarf knocked the Mummy down on a double Both Down result.

That sort of thing is rough.  It meant that on my next turn I got the ball away from the opponent, scooped it up, and knocked down most of the enemy team.  My opponent tried a crazy Dodging Mummy play (roughly 7% to succeed) and it failed and he left the rest of his team on the ground.  I ran the ball to the end zone and my dwarves spent the rest of the half standing menacingly over his prone players while we each hit End Turn.  I scored on the last turn of the half and was up 1-0.  I had KOd two of his units and injured another, but he had a huge bench so he was still fielding a full team.

We started with me grabbing the ball and knocking down a few of his dudes.  He tried to fight back, but ended up in a terrible position where I pushed one of his two Mummies off of the field and injured or KOd another two random dudes.  I had the ball in a safe position and was definitely giving him the beatdown and my opponent said that he thought he should concede.

This was a difficult spot.  I was up 1-0, in scoring position, and clearly dominant in the hitting game at that point.  My opponent had only a tiny chance to win.  However, even if he was a real long shot to win, staying in the game would give him 5 experience from earning an MVP and would also get him the cash from the game.  Conceding gets him out without any serious injuries but left him without any experience from the game and still broke.

I wasn't sure how to respond.  I wanted to continue to play, and I really wanted to play in a league where people fight to the bitter end, but his position was terrible and the most likely result is that I beat his dudes up for another five turns and beat him 2-0.  I think my opponent would be better off fighting on, mostly because he had lots of cheap linemen to spare, so if I injure them it hardly matters.  Getting more experience on his important units was critical enough to stay in and take the beating, I think.

But I don't want to be pushing people to play if they don't want to play.  If a person wants to duck out, then I don't like harping on them to fight on.  I did well with his concession - I got 17 experience in total, tons of cash, and a win.  You can't ask for better, especially since I took no injuries.

Now I am 3-0, like two other teams in the league.  I am among the highest in team value, and my team has a max bankroll and no injuries.  I am in a great spot to compete for the trophy, and that makes me happy.

I am of two minds about this week overall.  On one hand I like winning and doing well in a tournament.  On the other I like games that are hard fought and tight, and this one felt like a blowout where I just smashed my opponent.  The concession two thirds of the way through cemented that.  I don't exactly know if I want other opponents to go the same way or not!  I want to win... but I want to win *just barely*.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What kind of game is it anyway?

At WBC this year I was introduced to a variety of games, of which two in particular stood out:  Orleans and Terra Mystica.  Orleans was enjoyable, and fairly obviously an engine game where you have to set yourself up to have lots of powerful actions to generate points in the later game.  I liked it a lot, but don't have a lot more to say about it.

Terra Mystica, on the other hand, was a bit confusing.

I showed up for a TM heat and Umbra had approximately 2 minutes to teach me the game.  If you know TM you know that you can't possibly teach it properly in 2 minutes, even to someone who picks up games really fast.  What Umbra managed to get across to me was that the points scoring turn tiles are the key to the game, and I should just listen to them and do whatever they say.  Umbra insisted that TM pretends to be an engine game, but it is lying, and it is instead a game where I build points based on what the turns tell me to.

Cool.  I didn't know what the resources were, or in fact what most of the game mechanics were, but I was ready to play.  Obey the turn tiles!  I can do that!

I ended up leading through most of the game but ended up third in the final scoring.  For someone who really didn't understand how most of the game even worked before starting to play this is a pretty solid result.

Later on I played another game of TM and ended up winning by a substantial margin, though I think I got kind of lucky in terms of being able to capture the territory I needed.

Afterwards I talked to Pounda about TM and he gave me a totally different speech.  Pounda told me that people will tell you that TM is not an engine game, but in fact it is an engine game.  You get a temple, buy the favour that gives you bonuses for each dwelling you put down, and then put down as many dwellings as possible.  Don't even worry about what the turn tiles say, instructed Pounda, just get your dwelling engine online and win.

So now I have a conundrum.  Two strong players gave me different instructions.  Now, Umbra did tell me that the favour that Pounda liked so much was the best one, so they aren't that far apart, but their philosophies differed quite substantially even if their actual game choices seemed similar.

I want the game to be the way Umbra paints it.  I like the idea of a game where you have shifting priorities in each playthrough so you have to develop a different strategy based on what each set of turn tiles brings.  So I know what I want the game to be, the question is:  which game is it really?

Is TM an engine building game where you just focus on doing the same thing each game, trying to be slightly more optimal than your opponents, or is it a game of shifting priorities where each playthrough you must develop a new strategy?  Damned if I know, I have only played twice.

I guess the solution is to play it one hundred times until I actually know what I am doing.  Rough work, but somebody has to do it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Expectations of success

Last week was World Boardgaming Championships week.  I had thought I might write gaming posts from the event itself, but the wifi was shoddy enough and the games were distracting enough that I never did get around to it.  This week I am to remedy that to some extent.

The short version is that I racked up eight semi final qualifications, played in six of those semi finals, advanced to the finals twice, and have a third place plaque for Castles of Mad King Ludwig to go with my second place plaque from last year.  I also got a fourth place in Santa Fe Rails, though for that I didn't get any hardware to clutter up my home.  Maybe that is a good thing?

Overall it was similar in terms of success to last year.  Both years saw two finals tables, though last year had better results at those tables.  In both years my team game was Puerto Rico, and in both years I failed my team by scrubbing out in the semi finals.

Also in other silly news I skipped the semi finals of Lords of Waterdeep both years to participate in a Puerto Rico heat.  I also missed the semi finals of Monsters Menace America for a heat, but that game is kind of silly and fluffy so I didn't mind so much.

Overall the experience at the convention was a good one, but I had a few moments that really weren't great.  The first was in a semi final for Santa Fe Rails where it was me, my teammate, the GM of Santa Fe Rails, and a dude I didn't know.  The game was about to end and the GM had a decision to make.  He could either give four points to me and to the random dude, or give fourteen points to my teammate.  Now normally this is an easy choice and you give four points to two people, especially when one of those two is clearly last place.

But instead of doing that the GM explained that he was sure that my teammate was winning, so he wanted to hurt me as much as possible to secure second place for himself.  He handed my teammate fourteen points and the game ended.

I felt almost ill.  I felt like I had played well, and was pretty sure my teammate was really close behind me, so it really sucked to have someone throw points away from me in such a fashion.  It would not have been fun to lose like that.

But instead it turned out that I was way ahead, more than anybody thought.  I won the game anyway, with points to spare.  But because my teammate got those fourteen points he pulled ahead of the GM and got second.

Ouch for the GM.  Onward to the finals for me!

Then later on in the week I was in my Puerto Rico semi final, and again I was playing against the GM of Santa Fe.  He was fourth chair and quickly sold a corn, bought a coffee roaster, and sold coffee.  His game was looking amazing.  However, I decided that it was my mission to prevent any more coffee sales and I jammed the trading house as hard as I could.  This was helped by lefty and righty both having tobacco to sell so nobody was able to safely craft.  I managed to wrangle selling sugar, and it was the third last turn of the game before someone finally sold a tobacco to clear the trading house.  When the game ended there were two Offices that had never been used, a Small Market that had never been used, and a Small and a Large Market that got used once.  Totally nuts.

I realized on about turn six or seven that all three opponents were going hard for Guild Hall.  Everybody was buying up production buildings as fast as they could.  I decided that the only chance I had was to get it myself, so I saved up cash and snagged it right before two other people could step in and buy it.  All three opponents were unhappy as all of them would have gotten far more points from it than me.  I ended up getting six from the Guild Hall so it was still the best choice for me but two of the others would have gotten the full ten.

The GM from Santa Fe Rails then announced that he was deliberately throwing the game to my right hand opponent because he had been jammed so hard this game.  He ended the game instead of trying to score more points himself, and was left in last place.  I came second and failed to advance to the finals, though I did crush lefty and the GM across from me by huge margins.

So this one guy went to great lengths to throw the game away from me in two semi finals this year.  Once it worked and made me lose (though I might well have lost anyway, to be fair) and the other time it just screwed him over and did nothing to stop me.

Not the ideal way for games to go.

Thing is, I don't regret losing Puerto Rico that way.  I think I played a brilliant game.  I stopped my opponents from running their game plans, I had perfect tempo when I grabbed the Guild Hall, and I wrangled a strong endgame position from a terrible early game situation.  I played great, and crushed both downstream opponents mercilessly.  The guy upstream of me really isn't my problem - I can't do much to stop him, that is the job of the player to his right!

But despite doing things right I lost, partly due to spite, partly due to the other two people not jamming my righty enough.

So while I wish I had managed to win to help support my teammates, I don't find any blame for myself here.  I did the right things and I lost anyway.  That happens.  However, next year I am definitely not making Puerto Rico my team game.  It is so frustrating to have a game where you do it all right and lose anyway, and Puerto Rico really jams up my schedule.  Maybe I will make my team game Castles of Mad King Ludwig next year.  I am apparently consistently good at that, and I love playing it.

Lessons learned.