Monday, September 30, 2013

Extra Life 2013

I know this isn't a very popular stance to take, but I am against the concept of a charity. Ok, not that I think being nice to people is a bad thing, or that I think money and time shouldn't go from the haves to the havenots. It's more that I don't like our current system for charitable donations. Or maybe it's that I don't like our whole economic system and this is just a consequence of it? It's hard to say. I do think we'd be in a better place with higher tax rates and with the government in charge of distributing money to the places it should go. Assuming we could get a benevolent and corruption free government to make these decisions, anyway. (Robb really needs to get on his dictator plan.) The current system with tax incentives for donating and with lots of small places where corruption can spring up is the thing I'm against.

Anyway, we do live in the current system. Which means charities exist, and they need to spend time and money on raising more time and money. Extra Life is an organization that tries to get people to donate to the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals by having people play games for 24 straight hours. (25 hours this year because they're running it over the end of daylight savings time.) As far as charities go, ones that help sick children are way up there on the list that I'd hope Robb would fund with my tax money. And as far as silly things to do to encourage people to donate, playing games for a day is something I can get behind. Really, that's a normal day for me if I stay up a little longer than normal! The rough part, if you can call it that, will be being around (eventually) overtired people for 25 hours.

I don't know what the plan is, but I joined Sara's team and I think they're going to be playing board games for the 25 hours. As far as I am aware the more the merrier in the group, or playing the games, or donating the moneys. It's November 2nd at 8am until November 3rd at 8am. With 25 hours and other people around to play games with after an elimination I feel like maybe Titan could be dusted off... Or maybe World of Warcraft the board game! Or maybe 13 games of BSG back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bridge Match 2 - Board 20

Board 20 – Dealer West – All Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Doubleton
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

My hand: A K J T 7 4 Q T 4 3 A 6 2

Three passes to me. I open 1 spade. West overcalls 2 clubs and that gets passed to me. I am uninterested in playing this, so I bid 2 hearts which gets alerted. Hmm... Partner bids 2 NT. I bid 3 spades which gets passed out.

West leads the 3 of diamonds.

3 2
9 6
Q J 9 7 4
K Q J 7

A K J T 7 4
Q T 4 3
A 6

West North East South
Pass Pass Pass 1
2 Pass Pass 21
Pass 2NT Pass 3
Pass Pass Pass

I have 2 heart losers, a diamond loser, a club loser, and maybe 1 spade loser. That's one too many, so I need to get rid of one of them. Fortunately it turns out the opening lead gets rid of one of them for me. If I insert the Q of diamonds here it either wins or I get to cover the K and still win the J. That was easy!

Do I have 9 tricks? I have 2 diamonds and 5 spades. I have 2 clubs after taking out the A of clubs. I may well have a heart too, or a 6th spade if I pick up the Q of spades.

Looking at it closer I may lose an extra heart too, if I draw trump first. I also have no entry to board to collect those clubs. This may be trickier than it first seemed. Oh well, let's play this diamond trick... 3-Q-5-6. If they have to play diamonds later in the hand I might get a board entry after this, so I should really pound out a club. K-4-2-A. West plays a diamond back to my A. I draw trump. A-9-2-6. K-Q-3-5. Glad I didn't finesse a spade!

Ok, I have 4 tricks in and 4 more trump tricks in hand. I need to find one more trick. The opponents have 1 trick in, and have set up a diamond and 2 hearts for sure whenever they get in.  So if they can get one more trick, they set us. I am going to have to break hearts myself, which means leading away from the Q, which means giving them the J. I don't see a play from here. Maybe I can make them pitch most of their hearts or something by running trump.

They pitch all clubs and a diamond. I decide to play my last trump because I don't see how it can hurt and East pitches a small heart. I wonder if that will be good enough? I exit a low heart and East wins the J. And then they cash all their tricks. Down 1.

♠ 3 2
9 6
Q J 9 7 4
K Q J 7

Q 9
A 7 5
3 2
A T 9 6 5 3

8 6 5
K J 8 2
K T 8 5
8 4

A K J T 7 4
Q T 4 3
A 6

All 8 of the tables played a NS contract in NT or spades. 7 went down with 3 pairs going down more than 1 trick (and one of those was even doubled). One pair managed to make 3NT. So despite what felt like a really bad situation, we still get 9 MPs. I feel like partner's 2NT bid spun things out of control. I'm showing a two-suited hand in the majors. He has a 2 suited hand in the minors with no support at all in the majors. I feel like he should have showed a preference by bidding 2 spades instead of 2NT and let me make a big move if I want to keep going.

Captain Jack has all sorts of problems with this hand. His first problem is with my 3 spade bid. He thinks it's too passive and wants me to jump to 4 spades. This seems crazy to me. I have a 14 count and partner has shown no willingness to bid my suits. He probably has a club stopped for his NT bid, and that's going to be wasted values. Nevermind that he passed to start, so he can't have an opening hand! I thought 3 spades might be too high, not too low!

Next up he disagrees with my pounding out the club suit when I won the first trick. He wants me to draw trump. Then when I get in with the high diamond he disagrees with my drawing trump and wants me to play a heart. I guess this makes sense in that maybe, just maybe, I can ruff a heart. If the opponents are bad.

Finally he disagrees with playing the last round of trump. I don't know how it could hurt, but he wants me to duck a heart to start. I tried playing it out and I actually took a trick at the end. I guess letting East pitch his low heart was actually bad for me. Huh. Live and learn!

Ranking after board 20/60: 6/16 with 52.14%.

Friday, September 27, 2013

League of Legends: World's Semifinals Coverage

The first semifinal match from worlds is happening tonight in about 20 minutes or so. Well, coverage starts then, which means the games probably won't start for an hour after that. Regardless, tonight's match is between the two top Korean teams in the tournament, SK Telecom T1 and Naijin Black Sword. I don't care which one wins, but I expect the games will be pretty awesome to watch. Check it out at the main LoL eSports site!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Steam Machines

Valve has apparently decided the next step in being a game distribution platform is to move in on the console market. Microsoft got blown out when it announced all sorts of DRM with their new console and eventually had to fall back from that position. Steam has all of those same sorts of things going on. I can't give Robb my copy of Alan Wake to play for a few days even though I'd really like to because it's a fantastic game. If we both had standard consoles that ran the console version of Alan Wake I could easily just hand him the disk and let him play it at his home. (The flip side being that I probably would have paid triple the price for the disk Alan Wake as opposed to getting it on sale super cheap on Steam.)

How are they doing this? Well, it sounds like they've made a console operating system and they're going to let whoever feels like making hardware for it make the hardware for it. Basically it sounds an awful lot like they're trying to convince people to make small, cheap computers to hook up to a tv and pretend like it's a console.

A while ago a new feature cropped up in Steam called 'Big Picture' which made Steam into a full screen program that was very different from the normal interface. I was confused and didn't like it, but in retrospect that interface was very similar to the xBox 360 interface. And with the announcement that they're planning on making their own consoled that all makes sense. It was not a very good interface for someone who wanted to easily alt-tab to a bunch of normal Windows programs, but it makes sense for someone on a console. I even managed to figure out their weird chat interface in order to type a message to Lino with the controller instead of with the keyboard.

The announcement also mentioned that they're going to be giving away 300 console prototypes to get things started. They're going to hand out 30 of them to people active in the Steam community, whatever that means, and 270 at random to people who earn the 'Steam Hardware Beta Candidate' badge within the Steam client itself. Which basically meant filling out a contest form and then trying out the Big Picture mode with a controller. I played a little DMC on my 42" tv and it was actually pretty awesome. It futzed up my Windows display settings though, which made alt-tabbing to chat with Robb and Lino about playing Titan a little awkward.

Which just goes to show... Even for someone like me, who has their computer beside their tv... I could make decent use of a Steam console. Or maybe I just need to configure my computer a little better so my computer just stays connected to the tv 24/7 instead of just when I want to do something on it. And if I lived in an actual house, or had roommates or something, so my computer was not beside the tv it would be pretty sweet.

I hope I win the contest! Only 142,624 people have signed up so far. Hopefully the odds are ever in my favour!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Diablo III Auction House Removal

It won't happen until next March but Blizzard has announced they're going to be completely removing the auction house from Diablo III. They let me know via email, and by telling every single blog I follow that they should post about it. Well, I guess I'm following suit since I have my own take on the matter and getting it out there is what this place is for, isn't it?

I played a lot of Diablo III when it first came out, and have gone back periodically for more. I feel like the game launched in a very unfinished state, and even now is still missing features I consider core to an online game in this day and age like guilds and chat channels. They also failed badly in their first attempt to balance the end game difficulty and loot drops which really detracted from the fun of the game for someone who plays games as intensely as I do. The way items dropped combined with the tuning failure of monsters meant the only way to make meaningful progress was to grind up money and use the AH to get upgrades. Actually killing monsters for upgrades was not feasible since I couldn't realistically kill monsters that had anything resembling a decent chance of dropping an upgrade.

Different people came up with different solutions to this problem. Sky leveled up a character better at farming and used that character to gear up his main character. James decided the best way to get more powerful was to stop playing entirely and just wait for the prices of gear to deflate on the AH as more and more people became capable of fighting in the higher acts of inferno. I decided the best way was to become an auction house guru and make money flipping gear and finding great bargains from people who knew less about the economy. I then decided I had no interest in playing a badly designed economy simulator and stopped playing the game.

Eventually they smoothed out the difficulty at the top such that you didn't desperately need gear you couldn't obtain in order to play the game. (This was 'solved' at the start by Blizzard allowing the first wave of 60s to farm easy to reach treasure chests that they removed from the game after a few days which let the economy get bootstrapped.) I came back, and by that point James' plan worked for me and I was able to spend what little money I had on more than enough gear to get by even if the difficulty hadn't been smoothed out.

Was the AH itself to blame for the problems Diablo III had at launch? Yeah, I think it probably was. Either Blizzard put out an incredibly unpolished product or it put out what they thought was a pretty good game centered around the auction house without realizing that doing so was fundamentally changing the game and wasn't what the consumers wanted. Having a way to get gear outside the game allowed them to believe they could ramp up the difficulty because people could just buy their way out of the problems. But most people who play Diablo games don't want to throw money at the problem. They want to throw swords and spells at the problem, watch the enemies explode in a shower of experience and loot, and repeat the process.

I have been playing Diablo III every now and then, and I think they've gotten a lot closer to that game. I have fun logging in, killing monsters, and looking at what drops. But I realized that the last couple times I played the game I didn't even look at the auction house. When I'm really playing the game intensely I feel the need to use the auction house to get any edge I can find, but when I'm just logging in and blowing zombies up for a few hours I really don't need extra stats. So removing the auction house won't impact the way I'm currently playing the game at all. Even better, they're working on changing the way loot drops work to make things more interesting for people who go it alone, so that has to be good for the way I'm playing now. And good for an intense way of playing too, since then the way to get better actually will be just killing more dudes and looking at the shiny things that drop.

Blizzard certainly seems to be learning from their mistakes, and owning up to them, and I have to commend them for that. I just wish they were smart enough to not make such brutal mistakes with one of their flagship franchises in the first place!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Final Fantasy XIV: Elemental Shards

When you're crafting things in Final Fantasy XIV you need a small handful of elemental shards to go along with the actual raw materials for the item itself. I don't think there's any actual reason for this within the game itself, mostly it feels like that's how crafting worked in Final Fantasy XI and therefore that's how it works in this one too. Back in FFXI you'd need to grind monsters to get these crystals and they'd take up space in your inventory. To start crafting at all you'd need to use one of the crystals and then you'd get prompted to pick some more stuff out of your inventory to combine with the crystal. If you managed to pick a combination that made something you'd try to make it, otherwise you'd get an error message. So the crystals served as an item in the economy and as part of the game interface.

In FFXIV the shards have their own little tab in your inventory and you never directly interact with them in that tab. Instead you craft stuff by opening up your crafting log and finding the specific thing you want to make from a list. Very similar to the way crafting works in World of Warcraft, actually, except you then have to play a minigame to make an item instead of just watching a little bar fill up automatically. Each time you make something it uses up some of your crystals but I'd never paid any attention to them. Unlocking all of the crafting classes gave hundreds of every type of crystal and it felt like they were something to ignore. The gathering classes could choose to mine up crystals instead of ore but they're worth no experience and that just seemed like a bit of a silly option.

Well, today while leveling up my goldsmithing I actually ran out of wind shards. That was really surprising to me, especially when I checked my inventory and saw that I still have 1335 earth shards and more than 400 of the other four elements. Apparently I made a lot of things out of wind shards. Ok, fine, I still want to make more things out of them... How do I get more of them?

It turns out that isn't such an easy question to answer. Final Fantasy XIV in particular is a game where Google searches aren't as useful as they could be because most of the information on the game comes from message boards and blog posts and a lot of it refers to the original disastrous version of the game and not the more recent version that just came out last month. So I found lots of discussions about where to farm up more shards only to eventually realize that you can't actually kill monsters for shards in this game. You could in the first version, but not anymore. Now it seems there are four ways to get shards: quest rewards, killing elementals, mining/botany, and buying them off the auction house.

Elementals are pretty rare to stumble across, you get no experience for mining them up, and most of the quests with shard rewards are early on and I've already done them. There are some repeatable quests which give shards, but they all require you to craft items to hand in and it feels like you consume more shards than you get when you do them. At the very least the one I was doing today took 24 shards per turn in and you could get 4 or 6 shards back. And a lot of money and experience, so it was totally worth doing, but it wasn't a way to generate shards.

Realistically it seems the only reasonable way to get more shards is to buy them from other people. How do they get the shards to sell? Presumably they do the early crafting quests and then give up on crafting. I do have more than 4200 shards of the non-wind elements, after all! I fully intend on leveling all of the crafting classes though, so I don't intend on actually selling any of them off.

I wonder if creating a new character just to grind through the starting quests makes any amount of sense. I actually can't do that right now (it was $3 per month cheaper to get 1 character slot instead of 8) but it might be the 'best' way to get more shards. Which seems really terrible. Especially since if I sold off all my shards in my inventory for the same price I paid to get some wind shards I'd have about 6 times as much money as I've generated so far actually playing the game.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Final Fantasy XIV: Tanking

I decided I'd really had enough with being an arcanist and restarted as one of the base tanking classes: marauder. The great thing about a Final Fantasy job system is restarting as a new class doesn't force you to restart your whole character. So I have all my crafting skills and my inventory and my main story line progress. I also have all the low level quests in my area completed. I tried going to other areas to find quests but it seems I scooped up a lot of the 5-15 quests in all the other zones too. Perhaps most annoying is it let me pick up higher level quests, and I was able to grind a couple of them down, but I couldn't cash them in. I can understand why this restriction exists (they don't want me doing level 30 quests on my arcanist and cashing them on the level 8 marauder) but it's an annoying implementation. I think what I'd do is have the quest track which class killed the monsters and only let that class cash the quest. But even that has issues... What if the quest is to kill 3 of something and I kill them with 3 different classes? So I guess this is a reasonable solution, even though it meant I was going to have to gain 6 levels before I could turn in some of the quests I did.

Look! A female character in armour that
actually covers the whole body!
One of the things they did in this game is make all low level stuff available from vendors. This has the side effect of making low level monster grinding completely worthless. World of Warcraft at least had linen cloth and copper ore that a low level character could sell for reasonable money to a high level character. When the high level character can just go spend 4 gil at a vendor it's really hard for the low level character to make any money at all. So with no quests and nothing to farm up, there wasn't a lot of options. The 'hunting log' feature where each class gets a list of monsters to hunt down around the world for extra experience was definitely nice. Once I hit level 10 I got the ability to run the training 'dungeon' which was where I grinded a lot of levels. I ran it once on my arcanist when I first hit level 10 but it had a long queue timer and really wasn't worth running again. The marauder had an instant queue to get in and the experience was pretty decent...

The training dungeon is designed to teach new players how to pull groups of monsters in a dungeon. It starts with two packs of 3 monsters spread out and easy to pull separately. Then it spawns in 7 monsters in a fairly tight pile. A boss and the same two packs again. It is definitely possible to pull just a 3 pack at a time, and that's what the training dungeon is designed to do. But I quickly discovered that by channeling my inner Bung I could ramp up my experience gain... Just charge into the group of 7 monsters as they're spawning! They spawn in a tight enough pile that I could hit all 7 of them with my AE threat enmity ability. Pop a defensive cooldown (I added in a second one from another class) and burn them out. As long as the healer was paying attention it was no problem at all.

I must say, I've always hated the term threat. How do you explain why a monster is willing to attack the dude who does 15% of the damage of any
one else, and takes 25% of the damage anyone else would take, and has twice as much health as anyone else? Somehow they're more threatening? That just doesn't make any sense. We've always used the explanation that they're making fun of the enemy with their taunts and somehow that drives them to illogical decisions. It's the same mechanic here, but just by labeling it enmity instead of threat makes it feel better. I'm still heavily armoured, and do less damage, and have more health... But my abilities inspire hatred! I can throw an axe like a boomerang! I can shoot out a cone of force! Rawr!

Eventually I hit level 15, which unlocked the first real dungeons, but also unlocked my next class specific quest and happened to be where I had some quests saved up to cash in. I ended up hitting 18 before I got around to trying to enter a dungeon. I also stopped and made a full set of high quality gear before I went in. Smash! I don't have an actual taunt ability but just spamming my AE ability seems to be good enough to control enemies that get into my pile, and for the most part I was able to keep on top of things and make sure everything came into a pile at the start.

One thing that became clear in a real dungeon as opposed to the trainer is I have a serious resource limitation in the long run. I can spam my cone ability for an entire fight, but then I'm spent for the next fight. So I had to get into a rhythm of going full bore to start a fight, using about two thirds of my TP, and then just stand around for the rest of the fight wishing I could do more than auto attack. But I would still hold aggro and be tough, which is what they pay me for, so it's all good. I just wish I had a really cheap ability to spam after a fight was secure but not actually over.

Arcanists have a tanking pet, and I remember my first dungeon I used him because he's what I had out when I got in. I remember having my pet tank a boss while I used my pet healing abilities to keep him up and wondering why I even needed a team. Arcanists are tank, healer, and damage all in one! Well, I did the same fight as a tank, with an arcanist in my party, and got really bitter at the tank pet. I could hold aggro if I really worked at it, but it would keep my TP near empty. So when adds showed up I couldn't control them as well as I wanted to. The pet also did a terrible job of positioning the boss for his conal AE. And died later in the fight after I gave up on trying to hold the boss. Maybe that arcanist was worse at pumping heals into his pet than I was. Maybe the healer the first time was better than the healer the second time. But either way it's attempting to replace one of your two damage dealers with a second healer and it doesn't let the actual tank convert into something useful. So it sucks. (For the record, I'd started using the non-tank pet in dungeons after that first time so I could spam my terrible damage spell instead of my terrible healing spell.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bridge Match 2 - Board 19

Board 19 – Dealer South – EW Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Doubleton
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

My hand: K Q 9 6 7 Q T 9 Q 9 8 7 3

It's three passes to East who opens an alerted one club, showing that he might have only 2. I pass and West bids an alerted one diamond, showing either a terrible hand or a Walsh bid. Partner passes and East bids an alerted 1NT, showing a balanced 18 or 19 count. I pass and West keeps the alerted bids coming with 2 diamonds as a transfer to hearts. East bids an alerted 3 hearts showing a super accept. The end up playing in four hearts.

I lead a 'safe' 7 of hearts.

8 4
K 9 6 5 3
5 4 2
J 6 4

K Q 9 6
Q T 9
Q 9 8 7 3

West North East South
PassPass 11 Pass
12Pass 1NT3 Pass
24Pass 35 Pass
4Pass Pass Pass
1Dutch doubleton
2Negative OR natural (Walsh)
318-19HCP and balanced
4Jacoby transfer
5Fivecard or fourcard with maximum

7-3-Q-A. Well, I'm thinking from the play of this first trick that partner probably has QJ doubleton of hearts and 5 or 6 other points. I should probably get a spade and a diamond (as long as East has 3) so we're going to need declarer to break clubs and give us two tricks there to set them. Or partner could have the A of spades giving us three pointy tricks and I can score a club on my own. If declarer has 3 of those, too. Which would make him 2-5-3-3?

I guess I really don't understand opening the club there instead of a heart if he has 5 of them. Oh, partner didn't drop the Q under the K, he played it to try to win the trick. So partner probably had Qxx of hearts, not the J, and declarer has 4 and a 19 count. So partner should have 6 other points and declarer could very easily be 3-4-3-3 and I really might score up all my queens after all.

Anyway, declarer draws more trump. 2-3 of clubs-K-4. And then another round. 5-T-J-9 of spades. Then he shifts to diamonds. K-9-2-8. Partner should have an even number of diamonds with that play so I'm betting he has 4 and declarer has 3.

Now he plays out a low spade. Is he trying to prank me since I pitched my 9? Could partner really not have the T, J, or A? Naw. And I don't really want to win a trick yet. 7-6-4-J. I really want partner to fire back a diamond to set up my Q and he does. 6-A-T-4. Declarer cashes the A of spades, ruffs out my Q of spades, and throws me in with the Q of diamonds. I now have to lead a club. Can partner have an honour for me? He's played 1 of his 6 points and can't have high spades, diamonds, or hearts. So yes, he should have the A or K of clubs. I lead a low club. 9-4-A-5. He fires back another club. T-2-Q-6. Declarer is up, but we've taken 4 tricks so he's down one.

J 5 3 2
Q T 4
J 8 7 6

8 4
K 9 6 5 3
5 4 2
J 6 4

A T 7
A J 8 2
A K 3
K 5 2

K Q 9 6
Q T 9
Q 9 8 7 3

Down 1 undoubled is good for 7MPs. 3 other tables also set different contracts one trick (3 hearts twice, 1 club once) while 2 tables set contracts two tricks (4 hearts and 1 club). EW also managed to make 1 club and 3 hearts at the remaining 2 tables. Which means that clubs was played 3 times and took 5, 6, and 7 tricks. Hearts was played 5 times and took 9, 9, 8, 8, and 8 tricks. 

Captain Jack dislikes my spade pitch. He wants me to pitch another club. I was worried that declarer was going to set up a 4th club more than that he was going to set up a 4th spade, but maybe I should have been trying to preserve safer exit cards? Though if declarer doesn't have 4 spades keeping the 4th spade to lead just gives him a ruff and sluff and that seems pretty bad too.

He then disagrees with my 9 of clubs shift. His claim is that when I shift to a new suit I want to play low to encourage. I don't think I've ever heard that before. I guess I can see how it would make sense...

Ranking after board 19/60: 7/16 with 51.50%.

Friday, September 20, 2013

5-Player Single Cylon Game

One of the game options added in the latest Battlestar Galactica expansion is the suggestion to play with 1 cylon, 1 cylon leader, 1 mutineer, and 2 human players. If you really want to use a cylon leader in a 5 player game it seems like the way to go, but is that something you should want to have happen? When the idea was brought up my instinctive reaction was that this option is adding extra complexity and randomness to fix a problem that doesn't exist. BSG is a game that feels properly balanced for exactly 5 players with 2 cylons and 3 humans. Cylon leader and mutineer are extra stuff trying to fix the issue of a 4 player game, or a 6 player game, or a 7 player game. The 5 player game isn't broken, so why try to fix it with two big patches?

That said, I'm willing to try anything, so when today's game was set up with this as the plan I was all in. I ended up starting the game as the president and was dealt the one cylon card in the opening phase. My general feeling for the game is the cylon should reveal as soon as possible because just sitting around waiting for a good opportunity to do damage means you're also drawing extra crisis cards and getting extra jump prep for the humans and jump prep is how they win the game. I drew a card that let me take two actions on my turn, and my president card had the potential for doing damage, so I went for it. Force a die roll to potentially lose a morale and then make them lose a morale right off the hop with my reveal action as well.

Snuggles has commented in the past that he likes having an unrevealed cylon for the power of confusion. I haven't had the chance to test the 'start with 2 revealed cylons' game that he thinks would be heavily tilted for the humans, but he really likes the uncertainty that comes about by the last cylon staying stealthy for a while. In this variant the first cylon is also the last cylon, and the power of knowing the remaining 3 players were human was immediately apparent. Especially given the chosen characters, the humans were set up such that they could use new Baltar to funnel once per game activations to Cain for lots of fast jumps or Boomer for lots of guaranteed crisis passes. But on the other hand I don't know what staying hidden would have accomplished for me. I was only drawing yellow and purple cards and was pretty much forced into drawing extra president cards if I wanted to be stealthy. And my passive ability was a pro human one (basically designed to take some of the sting out of water shortage) and if I didn't use it it would seem pretty shady. I couldn't even play a card to defend against the airlock since every single card I drew would be positive, so as soon as I make a play to hurt the humans and get found out, I'm screwed.

As the game progressed it became pretty clear that the cylon leader wanted the humans to win. Every action she took was pro human, and every card she played into a skill check was positive. (It also didn't help that she took probably the most pro human cylon leader as well.) There was one big skill check that destroyed every cylon ship on the board (the humans passed it by 31!) which allowed her to play a card that wanted the cylons to win but have a hard to obtain game state show up with no cylon ships in play after at least 3 jump prep had been earned. I was hoping this was going to be my chance to finally shift the game out of 4v1 but it wasn't to be. She continued to be pro human, and the couple of moves she made that were against the humans weren't planned very well and pretty much did nothing. (Using the communications space to move civilian ships around instead of going back to the cylon game board to move raiders.)

Things were almost dicey for the humans despite all that, with fuel ending at 2, food at 2, and morale at 3. Galactica also had 4 damage tokens on it, with Pegasus having 2 damage tokens. But even with all that damage I couldn't see a line of play to actually finish anything off and they were easily able to finish the game out with the engine room and FTL control to get the final jump since they still had 9 population.

The cylon leader ended up not winning either. She did satisfy 2 of her 4 cards, but they were both cylon wins cards which was very surprising to me. After meeting that one hard one with the cylon ship genocide it seemed like she had a line of play to win with the cylons winning if she just changed back to the cylon fleet, stopped generating jump prep for the humans, and actually attacked the civilian ships with the raiders I was putting on the board. One cylon fleet activation isn't really enough to make any progress but two of them can do some real damage, especially with the two cylons going beside each other in turn order like we were. To make that line even more right, one of her two unsatisfied cards required the humans to fall down to 6 or fewer population and the only real way to make that happen is to send raiders after civilian ships (or fail lots of FTL room activations).

At one point she did try to fly from Galactica directly to the cylon fleet board and use that space so I think part of the problem may have been that she just didn't understand fully how the game worked. The cylon leader can be seen as a balancing factor because they're able to play both sides against each other, but I think you really need to understand your options and be able to foresee the consequences of your actions in order for that to work. Finding a line of play to meet your hidden criteria while also getting the right side to win can be tricky, and ideally should require helping both sides some at different points in the game. She didn't find that line of play, she didn't help both sides, and she didn't balance the game out. She also didn't win.

It sounded like most (all?) of the people playing didn't really enjoy the game as much as a normal game of BSG and I'm inclined to agree. I'm also not sure this game was a good test because the cylon leader played so pro human to her own detriment. That said, I'm not sure that's actually atypical. This particular card setup was one where the cylon leader should have been working both sides but there are cylon leader card draws that are slanted one way or the other. Replace either of her cylons win cards with a humans win card and I'm not sure what she could have done differently. She plays anti-human for even a few turns and they probably lose since they were so close to losing on a few different conditions and they barely passed a couple of critical skill checks. So she probably has to play just as pro-human and can't meet two of her cards and loses. On the other hand she probably could have gone to the cylon board, shot down a few civvies, gotten pop down to 6 or less, and won because helping the cylons in that way and only that way probably doesn't let the cylons win one of the other ways and they probably don't lose enough civvies to make that a lose condition either.

I donno. The cylon leader certainly adds complexity and complication to the game. And I still think it does make the game more interesting for the cylon leader player in particular. So with a group that plays the game a lot and really wants everyone to get more cylon leader plays in I think this might be a viable game option. It probably makes the game a fair bit worse for the other 4 players in the process but that might be a trade worth making for some groups. I'm not opposed to trying again, but I do think the regular 5 player game is the optimal way to play. I do worry that if the cylon only shows up in the sleeper phase that they can't possibly win. Well, maybe if the cylon leader starts off anti-human at the start regardless of their cards because they need to do so to properly balance the game? I do think that's a thing that could well happen with a cylon leader experienced in this format. It is what they're designed to do, after all!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Garden Dice

In a surprising turn of events I've actually left the apartment two days in a row now, to play board games at different locations downtown. Once in the basement of a Magic/gaming store, and once in yet another board game cafe that's just opened in Toronto. I learned five new games over the two days, with one game being played both days. That game was Garden Dice, and it has a mechanic that felt both mean and bad, but I tried it out anyway and wanted to look at it more now to see if it is actually reasonable or not.

The way the game works is you roll 4 dice at the start of your turn and then get to take actions based on the dice rolled. For most of the actions a bigger number is strictly better but there's one action where you might want a smaller number instead. The typical way to score points is to spend one die picking up a seed, two dice to put the seed on the board, one die to water the seed into a vegetable, and one die to harvest the vegetable for points. You score points equal to the face value of the tile, which is also the number you need to roll to pick up, water, or harvest the tile. You can also roll higher than that number so you can spend any die picking up a 1 tile but the end result of your 5 actions will only be 1 point. The tiles range from 1 to 5, so you could instead get 5 points for those 5 actions.

There are some other things going on too. Place your tile in a specific spot and you can get +3 points when it scores, or you can double the value. There's also an interesting combo mechanism where watering and harvesting tiles can carry over to adjacent smaller tiles. So you could spend 5 actions for 5 points, or you could spend an extra 3 actions picking up and placing a 4 beside the 5 before you water and harvest to get 9 points for 8 actions. If they're both on a +3 or x2 spot that could be a lot of points, especially compared to someone who may have spent 5 actions playing, watering, and harvesting a 2. A lot of the game seemed to come down to building these chains and proccing them in order to save actions. You can even tag along on other people's chains if you sneak in beside them so maybe you don't end up using water or harvest actions at all!

The attacking mechanic in the game lets each player play and control an animal tile on the board. The animal starts as a bird but you can spend a 6 die to switch your bird into a rabbit. Once your animal is in play you can spend a die to move your animal that many empty spaces in one direction, with birds being able to move onto a seed and rabbits able to move onto a vegetable. If that happens they immediately eat the seed or vegetable, removing it from the board for your opponent. You can then spend a die of equal or higher value to pick that tile up yourself, off board, as though you'd taken the seed from the supply. Or if you don't want it you can remove the tile from the game completely. Doing this requires you to add a control token to your animal which restricts how many things you can have going at once. (You have 8 tokens and everything you pick up or have in play needs a token on it.)

The question is, is this worthwhile to do? If I roll a 5 I can just pick up a 5 seed on my own. Instead I could spend 2 actions to play my bird, 1 action to move my bird, and 1 action to capture the seed. So I'm spending 3 extra actions in order to deny my opponent 3 actions. In a 2 player game this is a reasonable thing to do, and could be great if you can break up a good chain or deny a big 10 point play from a doubled 5 tile. In a 4 player game it feels a lot like you're hurting yourself to hurt one other player and the other two players should be dancing a jig.

Things do get a little better once you take this action once. It's still going to cost your opponent 3 actions to pick up and play the replacement seed but if they place it near your bird you can spend a mere 2 actions to move and capture the seed, and one of those would have been used picking up a seed from the supply anyway. This is action positive in a 2 player game, and pretty much means your opponent will avoid playing a seed in range of your bird, which can give you a fair amount of area control which seems like it could be pretty nice. But in the 4 player game it still seems fairly bad. You're costing one opponent 3 actions and yourself 1 action. With 3 opponents this is actually neutral, and you may well be able to target the 'leader' or to spread out the pain.

The rabbit takes an extra action investment up front, but costs your opponent an extra action when you eat a vegetable. This seems great in a 2 player game, and does swing things into the efficient category in a 4 player game, assuming you get to eat enough vegetables to make it worthwhile. Unfortunately I don't think that's going to actually happen. It's possible to both water and harvest a given seed in the same turn, and they'd both chain the same way, so it's actually pretty rare for vegetables to just sit around on the board. Maybe it would happen when there are no rabbits in play but once someone spends the time to make a rabbit it feels a lot less likely to happen. Especially since animals move in a straight line and are blocked by objects they can't eat!

Having a bird or rabbit in play near your stuff does cause you to play differently, so just the threat of an animal attack probably has some value. But with the 8 token limit it felt hard to pull off. In order for the threat to stay viable you need to spend one token on the animal, and you need to keep a couple tokens off board in order to threaten the steal. This drastically limits your ability to build up a good water/harvest chain, especially if you also spend a token on your other special tile. Oh, and that other special tile is the one that gives +3 points for nearby harvests and also protects adjacent seeds from enemy birds. So even if the bird is a strong play there is a limited but direct counter to it.

My feeling after two plays (both 4 player games) is the animal just isn't good enough. On the other hand each game had one player make a rabbit and that player did win both games (once myself, once Duncan) so maybe there's more going on there. I don't think Duncan even ate anything with the rabbit, but the threat of the rabbit did cause Sara to avoid watering some seeds on a turn and I think that may have been the difference between them in the end?

There's also a set collection system of end-game bonus points in play and I think using the animals as set denial might be strong, especially in a 2 or 3 player game. There are 10 of each seed type in the 4 player game and in the game today we split the 1 seeds up 4-3-2-1. If someone had managed to eat Duncan's single 1 seed he would have lost the 15 point bonus for the full set which would have been a bit of a blowout. He probably could have found a way to animal back someone else's 1 at some point, but that probably would have cost a lot of extra actions and slowed him down.

I can imagine playing this game with Andrew... Both of us would have birds in play with 4 or more of our 8 control tokens on them because we'd just be eating each other's seeds without taking them for our own. OM NOM NOM!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

League of Legends: Season 3 World Championships

All this week there's a massive League of Legends tournament taking place in California. Or at least the first part of a massive tournament is this week. The whole thing is being spread across 3 weeks. There are 14 teams in the tournament with the top team from every region except Europe getting a bye through this week's games. (Europe lost the all star game so they didn't get a bye. I like how the all star game can have actual consequences!) The remaining 10 teams are broken into two pods of 5 teams and playing a double round robin event all this week with the top 2 from each pod advancing.

The games are being casted live on all the major streaming outlets and links can be found at the main LoL esports site. They're also being pretty diligent about breaking up earlier broadcasts into proper chunks which lets people who may be asleep late at night a chance to watch the games without having to futz too much with finding the right time on a YouTube video. I was a little annoyed at how lax they got in doing this during the regular season so I stopped watching for the most part, but they seem to care more about the final event.

Spectator sports are always more fun when you're cheering for somebody, and I for one am rooting for Gambit Gaming. They used to be known as Moscow Five in previous seasons when I really started watching streams and I liked their style then. It also helps that they're Russian and I've always had a thing for rooting for Russia in sports. I think it's my contrarian nature. I distinctly recall watching some major hockey tournament when I was a kid ('87 Canada Cup probably) and cheering against Gretzky and for the USSR. Anyway, the name also reminded me of the Russian Five line the Red Wings had back in the mid 90s. The mid laner for GG even looks a little like Pavel Datsyuk!

Anyway, I know some people like to watch high level games and they might not be away that the season final event is on right now. I wouldn't have known if Lino hadn't messaged me about them! So, go watch some games!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Choosing The Wrong Class

I've now played a fair amount of Final Fantasy XIV. I've done a lot of crafting, and a lot of gathering, and a little bit of actual leveling. I'm up to level 28 (of 50) in my starting combat class, Arcanist, and I'm really not liking the way it plays. Essentially the arcanist is like a warlock in World of Warcraft. I have a couple different pets I can summon to do combat for me, I have one nuke spell, a heal, a couple cooldowns, and 3 damage over time abilities. Each of the dots has a different duration and a different symbol that gets listed underneath the health bar of my current target with a timer.

My dots do more damage than my nuke, so ideally I want to fight by loading up the dots and then switch to another target and load them up too. I have a problem with the controller interface though that choosing the next target isn't as easy as I'd like, so sometimes I find myself cycling through NPCs, or allies, or my pet and waste DPS time. And since I only have timers for my current target, not any other target, I have a hard time knowing when I need to go reapply dots to different targets. If I could quickly tab around maybe I could do it, but with things as they are it's not really an option. And I don't know off hand which button corresponds to the purple background dot instead of the green background dot. It gets even worse when there's a second arcanist around since the distinction between my dots and their dots is a slightly different colour font for the timer!

It also sucks when I'm fighting easier enemies too. All my damage is back loaded, so I end up feeling like I'm not doing as much as other people. And not just with the way dots work, even with my nuke I hit my button and then do damage in 2.5 seconds. The archer gets to hit her button and do damage immediately. They may have to wait 2.5 seconds to do it again but they get one more attack in than I do on every fight. There are no damage meters that I've seen, so I don't know how much this matters and no one can yell at me about sucking. But I feel like I'm sucking, and I don't like that feeling.

The back loaded damage thing really hurts when trying to help out on the public quests that appear all over the place. A good way to level apparently is to join a roving band of people who just mount up and run between these when they spawn. I'm not doing that, but I do want to do them when I stumble on them in the course of doing other things. The problem is the first person to tag a monster gets full credit for killing it towards the quest and everyone else gets credit based on the damage they do. But I can't do any damage because dotting up something that dies in a matter of seconds is not a very useful thing to do and often I can't even cast my nuke before they die. Especially when trying to cycle through 20 players to get to one of the 3 enemies in the incoming wave. I've resorted to just trying to tag monsters with my instant cast dot when they spawn and hoping I get enough of them to get credit for helping out with the quest.

I also can't really control my pet very well. If I hit a button on my controller all of my buttons change to pet related buttons, but that shuts down my ability to do real things. I was never very good at using a pet in WoW either, but at least there I was able to switch my pet to a different target pretty easily. There may well be a way for me to switch up my interface to do it here as well, but I don't know what it is at this point.

Finally, when you're running a dungeon the game has a 'limit break' system where your party as a whole charges up a meter and then anyone can hit a button to consume the meter to do something awesome. A lot of healing, or a big taunt or something. Mine is apparently an awesome AE damage ability and people keep telling me to use it on boss fights. I have yet to do so. Even though it's an ability everyone has the game didn't put it on my bar, so the first time I was told to use it I had no clue what they were talking about. After that run I put it on my bar. The next time I mashed the button, and mashed the button but nothing happened. The people in my group then told me it's a targeted AE so I need to aim it on the ground and then shoot it off. But I don't know how I would possibly do that with a controller, or why it wasn't doing anything when I tried. I'd expect I should have limit breaked in a corner of the room or something! Maybe it's smart enough to only go off if there's an enemy in the targeting circle? I don't know. I didn't see a targeting circle, but I wasn't really looking for one. I can't test it out either, because I can only use a limit break in a group and I haven't run another dungeon since then. The 45+ minutes wait to get into one as a DPSer doesn't help.

On the plus side, I don't need to start a new character just because I hate my combat class. I can just equip a different weapon and switch to something else! The downside is I'll lose a lot of levels and end up unable to make progress on the main story until I catch up. Also I actually really like the arcanist quest chain and like the concept behind the class. I just don't like the combat implementation. I'm also not sure what to do instead... Healing with a controller seems like it might be a real problem considering how hard a time I had with targeting multiple things to dot up, but at least there's an interface showing all the players in my party. There is a macro system, so I may well be able to find a website talking about how to set that up. Generally in a MMO I end up playing a tank, so maybe I should wander down that path... I bet the dungeon timer isn't 45 minutes for them!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Cookie Clicker

Following on the heels of the Candy Box and The Dark Room there's another browser game I've been recently linked to: Cookie Clicker. It's a game where you click a button to get some cookies, and then you spend your cookies on a wide variety of ways to get more cookies. Which you keep spending on more cookies. And more cookies. AND MORE COOKIES!

There doesn't seem to be any point to the game, except to make your cookie number bigger and accumulate achievements. And yet even when I describe the game like that I know I should think 'stupid game, pass' but instead I think BIGGER NUMBERS and want to switch back to that browser window and click for more cookies.

I found the game when Robb told Lino and I about it as we were prepping to play some League of Legends. He talked about how he built a spreadsheet for it to optimize buying different sources of cookies. I didn't, and went down a stupid cookie path while Lino went down a smarter cookie path and he was making many more cookies than me. Since then we've both made spreadsheets of our own and I'm up to over 18 trillion cookies produced. (I told you there were big numbers!)

It got me thinking though... There's no competitive mechanic in the game as designed, but what would a game like this be like if there was a competitive mechanic involved? To tack one on to this game in particular, it would be like starting over at the same time with a bunch of people and seeing who could make the most cookies in 8 hours, or who could earn the most achievements in 8 hours, or who could be the first one to make an antimatter condenser, or something like that. See who has the best initial plan coming out of the gates to lay down the cookie making infrastructure...

But in the long run, there is going to be a right way to go. Then the person who notices the most golden cookies, or who clicks the most, will win as everyone implements the single 'right' strategy. Can that be fixed in a game designed from the top as a competitive venture? You'd need to introduce some sort of randomness to add replayability and keep people from just working out the one right plan, but you'd need to control for that randomness in order to actually compare players. Maybe take something from the pages of tournament bridge and have 'duplicate' set ups? The scaling costs of the different cookie making buildings could differ from game to game, but all games that started in a given competitive pod would have the same scaling factors so everyone is looking at the same starting position?

Another option would be to add interactivity between players. Instead of just building ways to make more cookies, maybe you can build ways to steal cookies from your opponent. It wouldn't help you as much as making your own, but it would deny your opponent some cookies and the numbers could certainly be jiggered to make interesting decisions available. And then you could also spend cookies on ways to defend your cookies from other people's thieves. Maybe some rats that have no positive benefit at all but can be unleashed to destroy the other player's store of cookies.

Maybe you could have a multiplayer setup where players could form cookie alliances and share different techs to boost each other? But then Matt would just declare war and conquer cookie India with cookie Japan.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bridge Match 2 - Board 18

Board 18 – Dealer East – NS Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Doubleton
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

My hand: ♠ 8 2 A K 9 6 4 J T K T 6 3

East opens 1 club which is alerted as Dutch doubleton, forcing. I don't know what that means, but looking at the potential options it looks like 10+ points with either a lot of clubs or a pretty balanced hand. So basically it looks like a normal 1 club opener where he might have only 2 clubs. I overcall 1 heart. West bids 1 spade which gets alerted to show he has at least 5 spades. I just assume that's what it means since he could negative double to show 4... I didn't know that had to be alerted. Partner passes and East jumps to 3 spades which gets passed out.

Partner leads the K of diamonds.
K Q 5 4
Q J 8 2
9 6 3

8 2
A K 9 6 4
K T 6 3

West North East South
11 1
12 Pass 3 All Pass
1Dutch doubleton, forcing
2At least fivecard

Well, that's a good heart suit for dummy to have for them. With partner not leading a heart I will probably have 2 heart tricks, but I need to wait on them or I'll set up a bunch for declarer too. The diamond trick goes K-3-J-7. He follows up with another. A-9-T-2. And then one more for good luck. Q-6-6 of hearts-5. And then one for the ruff. 4-Q of spades-4 of hearts-8.

All the diamonds are gone. We need two more tricks to set them, and my club K along with the AK of hearts bode well for having that happen. Declarer decides to draw some trump. 4-8-J-3. 6-9-K-2. Now declarer plays out a small heart. What do I need to do? Declarer has 3 spades and 4 round cards in his hand and needs 6 tricks. If he has 1 heart then he has 4 clubs and I will get a club at the end unless I'm forced to lead a club. Which I will have to do when I win this trick unless I want to set up dummy's QJ.

What if I hop and then play my low heart? He can't throw me in again without going down. I won't set up both of the QJ on dummy since I'll keep one of my high cards. That seems like a good line of play.

What if I duck here? If declarer has stiff T of hearts he can win it and then he's gold. Lose a club and cross ruff. Ducking seems wrong then. So up I go. 2-A-7-5. I play low. 9-T-3-J. Oops. I didn't think that out far enough. He gets to cross ruff anyway since he pitches his second club on the 4th heart. So I pitched badly and then played badly and they make. I really wish partner had played a heart or a club instead of that worthless 4th diamond in order to take the play out of my hands.

9 3
5 3
A K Q 4
Q 8 7 5 2

A J T 7 6
T 7
8 7 5 2
9 4

K Q 5 4
Q J 8 2
9 6 3

♠ 8 2
A K 9 6 4
K T 6 3

3 spades just in is good for a bottom board but at least one other pair did similar so we get a mere 1MP. Setting them one would have been worth a total of 5MPs. Setting them two, which happens if partner plays a club, would have been worth 9MPs. The top scores went to NS pairs that played in clubs. Did them playing dutch doubleton keep partner from overcalling? He has a pretty good hand, I could definitely see him taking action over 1 spade...

Captain Jack wants me to play the K of clubs when I win the first heart. I guess that works out if partner has the Q, and also works when West has 2 hearts, so it was probably a good play.

Ranking after board 18/60: 6/16 with 51.59%

Friday, September 13, 2013


I did the main story mission in Final Fantasy XIV to get to the point where I could start earning grand company points. I set to work doing their crafting daily quests which earn a pretty hefty experience boost and give points. I spent my first 2000 such points unlocking my own personal chocobo mount. Woo! The first thing I got to do is name it, which of course is going to take me a lot of time to come up with the perfect name. Boco would be the default name, but it both seems boring and is probably a pretty popular name. I then thought of Silver, from "Hi-Ho Silver, Away!" which led me to trying a Google search for famous mount names. Which linked me to an article on Wikipedia about the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings. Which talked about how their flying mounts were absolutely _not_ pterodactyls, but how Tolkein could see why people might think they were.

Pterodactyls? Reminds me of Joust! Maybe I should name my chocobo after Terry the pterodactyl from that game. Was that even his name, or am I just making things up? But a chocobo isn't really a pterodactyl... It's more like the ostriches in that game. Ok, did they have names?

A lot of searching turns up nothing on the name front. Old school arcade games didn't have plots or stories and rarely had names. Apparently there was a movie planned in 2007 but it never got made; I bet it would have had ostrich names! On the plus side I did turn up a site that let me play Joust! I used to play this game a lot as a kid, but not the arcade version. I think we had it for the Atari 600XL home computer. It had better sound than this emulated one for sure, because I distinctly remember the sound of little ostrich feet running on the ground and screeching to a stop when you tried to chang directions.

So I don't have a name for my chocobo, but I do have a web version of a 1982 arcade classic to play. Woo!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Few Acres of Snow Stats

Part of being a GM at the World Boardgaming Championships is agreeing to submit a recap of the tournament for inclusion on the website and in the printed yearbook. Personally I read every recap for every event every year so these things have a lot of importance to me. And yet earlier this week the convention director for WBC had to send me an email because I have, in fact, missed the deadline for submitting my recap for A Few Acres of Snow. Because I'm a lazy bum, and a terrible GM. The deadline doesn't actually mean anything because there are no immediate consequences and if there's one thing I've learned about myself over the years I'm either going to get things done right away or they're just going to slip my mind and get left to the absolute last minute. I don't like that this is true, but I'm 'absent minded' and that doesn't seem likely to change. It's why I had to go to a 'post once a day' format for my blog (even if I've fudged what a day means) because when I just posted when I felt like it I never actually posted.

At any rate, there is a second deadline for submitting a recap, and if I don't hit that one then my event loses a prize level for next year. There's even a third deadline, and if I don't hit that one then my event loses a status level for next year. I'm pretty sure A Few Acres of Snow is sunk by attendance issues anyway, but I still want there to be a recap and if somehow it does get back in the century I really want it to have 3 prizes instead of 2. Whoever gets 3rd place will be glad I did! (Which was me this year!) I really don't want it kicked out entirely for next year. Two events which I'd previously won got the boot last year and that made me sad.

The first step to getting this done is parsing through all the data I have on the bidding system since that's probably going to be the key thing discussed in the recap. I had every game fill out a form indicating the bid and result of the game, so I need to enter that into a spreadsheet...

Having now done so, I have data for 25 games. 14 of the games were French wins, 11 were British. The 14 French wins came from an adjudication, a cube out, 8 disk outs, a spoils win, and 3 military wins. The 11 British wins were 2 disk outs, 4 military wins, and 5 spoils wins. One of the disk outs there was a French disk out with the British having the high score. (This was my semifinal game, where I played my last disk out and Nick Henning had one chance to start a siege to keep the game going and did. Winning that siege swung the point total in his favour.) The interesting thing compared to last year is the military win ratio with the French winning almost as many games by military as the British did. I think part of the problem is going to be with the spoil wins since I'm pretty confident the British spoil wins were earned through military means and the French one was likely through raiding.

How about if I split out by bid? Well, bidding doesn't seem to matter. Twice the bid was for 7, and each side won one of the games. Twice the bid was for 6, and each side won one of the games. The British had a 3-1 lead when the bid was 5. The French won 11 of the 17 games when the bid was 4 or lower.

My assertion has always been that the British will win every single game with no bidding system, but the numbers don't back that up at all. If anything the stats make it seem like the French win with no bidding system while the British win once some bidding happens. And that might make sense if people were bidding for the French, but every single bid was for the British!

What I think is actually overshadowing the bidding system is the large difference in skill levels between some of the players who showed up. I had several people play their first game after the demo, and I suspect most people in the event had played only a handful of games in their lives. I've played 315 games on Yucata and a few more in person and I think the two finalists this year had played quite a few games against each other over the past year. Someone good is going to beat someone bad regardless of side choice. And when two newer players play against each other the French have an overwhelming advantage because they start with such a huge point and military lead. The British have an unstoppable line of play to overcome those advantages, but if you don't take that line of play you're in trouble.

If I restrict my numbers to just the last three rounds I have 6 games where the British won 5 of 6. The bids still don't make a whole lot of sense, with there being British wins at 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7. The French won a game at 4.

What I do know, from watching and playing the games, is the 6 and 7 wins for the British were both very close. In both of those games the French were able to play all their disks. The British had to start an attack on their last turn to win. The British had one card in their deck to use to start that attack, and had drawn about half their cards on this shuffle. (And needed to also have a boat and some military cards.) Both games were probably close to 50-50 on the last turn of the game to see which side would win, and it just happened that both times the British got the card they needed. I know in my game at least I put those 7 free draws to good use just getting to the point where I could disk out, and the British would certainly have been able to launch their attack if I didn't have them.

So is the right bid in the 6-7 range? Would having an 8th draw have saved me in my game for sure? Would it have swung the odds a little more in my favour? What about the 9th or 10th? The French did win a semifinal game with a bid of 4, so maybe the number should be lower? Was the play just different at that table? The same French player didn't win the finals with the bid at 6. So that could be a skill difference, or the whole 4-7 range could just be enough to introduce some randomness. It certainly feels like there is probably a bid range where neither side is guaranteed to win which is not something I was convinced was possible after last year, and which may be enough to convince Robb that this should actually be a WBC event. If only enough people had shown up with copies of the game so I didn't have to turn so many people away. Losing almost a third of our attendance in a year where attendance was up in general is probably a death knell for the event.

Well, now I have the data in a reasonable spot. Now to actually try write a reasonable recap for the website...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blood Bowl: To Minotaur Or Not To Minotaur

I joined Duncan's league on FumBBL in the middle of the last season with a limited selection of possible teams. I ended up trying Amazons, and got smushed real good. 6 deaths in 7 games and I rarely felt like I was able to take useful actions because all of my opponents were so much higher TV than I was. At the end of the season I got to start over and switch teams, but considering where my Amazons were I probably would have been better starting a new Amazon team even if I wanted to play that race. I ended up getting the first pick in the team draft thanks to someone not being able to log in for several days and got my top choice: Chaos Dwarves.

Starting over at the start of the season also brought some added bonuses as opposed to starting in the middle of the season. There was a training camp where I got to play 3 games against other new teams. New teams are very much less dangerous than high level teams so those games rated to be capable of building a team up instead of just watching someone die every game. Then there was a 4 week swiss preseason against the real teams, but they all had to make cuts to get under a salary cap right before the preseason started which was actually a really big deal. The really awesome teams all had to fire key players and buy rookies to replace them, or burn rerolls, or both. This meant the really awesome teams weren't actually awesome anymore. Dropping rerolls and going back to rookie positional players is a recipe for potential disaster. Of course my team didn't have any good players at all to worry about losing, so I was still behind, but it was more of an even footing than the previous go where the teams I was facing had all the rerolls they wanted and had full skilled positionals.

I was expecting to end up down several hundred TV every game like last season, so I built my team in anticipation of getting lots of inducements. In particular I didn't want to induce star players because I didn't want to chance losing my MVPs, so I looked to make bribes really good by having all of my hobgoblins take dirty player as a first skill if they didn't roll doubles. My hobgoblins kept getting the MVPs early, so I have 3 dirty players and a guard among them now. Hobgoblins suck and I don't mind if they get kicked out for fouling but if I have a bribe or two back I'm willing to foul without assists or on a less prime target just to get a numbers advantage.

My team is now 9 games in (3 training camp, 4 preseason, and 2 regular season games) and I have yet to suffer a permanent injury or death. Part of this is going to be how much tougher Chaos Dwarves are compared to Amazons, part of it is going to be how the opposition is weaker based on either being starting teams or freshly capped teams, part of it is how well the fouling plan has been working for taking care of my opponent's damage dealers, and part of it is probably that I'm just getting luckier without paying enough attention to it. I have 4 rerolls, a 14 man roster, and all 8 of my core positional players. After my last game I now have 150k in the bank which is just enough to buy the one remaining player available to me: the minotaur!

But do I even want him? My two regular season games thus far have seen me use 11 of my 14 players, and 13 of my 14 players. Having a deeper bench wouldn't have helped in those game since my opponents didn't eat their way through what I had already. It makes me sad to have 3 guys with dirty player but to have one of them never get to play! (In that game I did have to use 2 bribes though, so without inducements I would have needed to bring her in.) The 9th positional isn't just a deeper bench, it's also fewer spots on the field for hobgoblins period. Right now I'm starting my 8 good dudes, 2 dirty players, and the guard hobgoblin. I can't imagine benching a dwarf or a centaur so if I brought in the minotaur I'd have to drop down to a dirty player and the guard guy, or maybe 2 dirty players. This is a little annoying because I do like to use a hobgoblin for early ball retrieval duty even if I don't like to score with them. (1 dwarf TD, 3 hobgoblin TDs, 8 bull centaur TDs in 9 games.) On the other hand with 9 real dudes it's less of a pain to send a bull centaur back for the ball early.

What would he bring? Another copy of mighty blow, which is nice for my team that only has 2 copies of it so far. A 6 strength blitzer which lets me get 3 die blitzes pretty easily on normal dudes or gives me a chance at knocking down bigger guys without devoting most of my team to giving assists, which will be nice. It also brings a 1 in 6 chance of wasting my blitz action and a 1 in 9 chance of generating a turnover on a 2 die block because he doesn't start with block. He also adds 150k to my TV, which is enough for either side to get a wizard. It also could cost me a bribe if I'm below my opponent, which is rough for my kick them in the junk when they're down plan. Straight up I don't know that I want him, but with a couple of levels under his belt he becomes a lot more useful. I have some experience with a similar big guy from my time playing Khorne Daemons, and I really liked their big guy. Give the minotaur juggernaut and guard and maybe doubles for claw and I'm rolling. He also brings frenzy to the table, which lets me make more plays on the sidelines. And he's the only semi fast guy on the team with access to mutations for claw, so in the long term he's the best killer I could have. Only having 8 armour is a potential weak point especially with how hard he is to position with frenzy. I probably won't be able to cover him with enough guard to keep him nice and safe. Hobgoblins are even squishier, but they're only going to be bringing 40-60k to my TV, not 150k+.

It's hard to tell at this point what I'll be up against in the coming weeks since all opponents have lots of games to play and may well get good levels or brutal deaths to change their TV. But I wouldn't be surprised if my next opponent is +100TV on me, the one after that +300TV, then a team -160TV below me. I finish off against orcs and dwarves who are both currently more than 200TV above me.

I feel like the added strength will probably be a good thing against the orcs and dwarves but that I really don't need it against vampires, dark elves, or slann. The last half of the season, in some order, will be orcs, dark elves, necromantic, undead, elf, khemri, and the other chaos dwarf team. Extra strength, and chances at claw, feel like they'll be important for 5 of those games too. So I think I probably want to have the minotaur by the time I hit the stretch of games starting with the first orc game for sure.

On the other side of the coin I may have been lucky with avoiding injuries thus far, but that won't necessarily keep up. Buying a minotaur to see a bull centaur of a dwarf die and not having the money to replace them would really suck. Couple that with the fact that buying the minotaur probably hurts my chances of winning my next game against vampires (probably gives him a babe instead of me getting a bribe which is truly terrible all around) and I feel like the answer, for now at least, is to hold off on the minotaur. Build up an emergency fund, play through the games against the finessy squishy teams, and then see where I'm at.

Does anyone think this is crazy? Should I get the minotaur right now to get him skilled up?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


This morning I was looking up how to make an item I need to level up multiple crafting classes. It's a type of leather made by a leatherworker, but it is made out of two items you can't buy from vendors. One item appears to be a drop from two monsters in the game, but I know where those are and there seemed to be plenty of spawn points so I could just go farm those guys. The other item is found only by mining in a level 17 area. Ok, looks like it's time to try out the mining class!

Mining is different in this game compared to any other MMO gathering skill I've seen. Normally when you're out mining you find a mining point, you click on it a few times, you get some random stuff based on the type of point, and you repeat. In FFXIV when you start mining a window pops up listing all of the things you could get from this point along with the odds of getting the item, the odds of getting a high quality version of the item, and the level of the item. Then you get to pick which one you're trying for. Do I want an 84% chance at a zinc ore or a guaranteed lightning shard? I can buy the ore from a vendor (all low level crafting materials are also vendor bought, so low level mining is really worthless) but not the shard. But I have hundreds of shards, and the shard is only level 1. The level matters because the amount of experience you get from mining is determined by the level of the item you mine up. And since everything I can mine is worthless I might as well be maximizing my experience gain so I can reach the point where I can mine in the level 17 area.

Complicating matters further is the fact you get to try 4 times at each node. You get a experience chain bonus if you succeed multiple times in a row at the same node. Failing is not only worth no experience, it resets your chain. On top of that, I have an ability I can use to increase the odds of success for the entire node. I have a limited resource to spend on this ability that recharges slowly so I can use it on maybe a third of the nodes. The one I have right now adds a flat 15% to all of the odds of getting a regular item, so if I use it on the above node I'd be at 99% to get a zinc ore and 100% for everything else.

My gut feeling so far has been to go for the highest level item with a higher than 90% chance for success, but I want to quantify things a bit better than that. Could it ever be right to change items in the middle of a node? Take 3 hits of tin ore to build up my chain and then risk it all on a 84% zinc ore? The reason I think that might be the case is failing one of the initial three hits costs me experience on the last shot, but failing that one only costs me the experience for it alone. But first I need some base numbers for experience earned. (Note that until I hit level 10 I get an experience boost from an item I got for buying the original game.)

It looks like I get +4% experience for the first chain, +9% for the second chain, and +20% for the third chain. Base experience for the different items above when I am level 8 are 26, 77, 86, and 91. The level 1 item is right out. But I went and made a spreadsheet with a 16 row truth table showing the values and odds for each possible outcome. I made it so I could vary the item I went after each try if I wanted to, and got the following results:

4 zinc ore - 385xp
4 soiled femur - 392xp
4 tin ore - 382xp
4 lightning shard - 133xp
3 femur, 1 zinc - 391xp
3 tin, 1 zinc - 384xp
4 femur, buffed - 441xp
4 zinc, buffed - 462xp

At least for these specific items it doesn't make sense to vary the last item. I should be going for the same thing all the time. And that thing should be the soiled femur if I can't put up my buff, or the zinc ore if I can. Pretty close to my gut feeling. I was slightly overvaluing the consistency of the tin ore when the lowered experience makes it not worth the safety. Good to know!

Monday, September 09, 2013

More Final Fantasy XIV

I spent a good chunk of the weekend playing the new Final Fantasy XIV. I've got my primary combat class up to level 21 and have all of the crafting classes in the 12-17 range. I've decided I'm liking the game enough to set up a subscription once my free trial for buying the original game has expired. It's not all perfect by any stretch and it's clear this is a fresh launch of a new game with the missing features I've come to expect from a new game launch, but it's been a lot of fun and that's really all I can ask.

The biggest problem is probably the number of gold sellers who are getting away with spamming all the public channels into oblivion. There isn't an easy blocking mechanism and there doesn't seem to be a very good GM presence. This isn't an unexpected issue, but I guess they decided it wasn't worth investing time and money into fixing for the launch. I can't block people using just my controller, sadly, but I can go to the keyboard and type in /blist add "their name" to get it done. Once I learned how to do that things got a lot better. My blacklist is getting larger and larger, but I'm finding I just need to block one or two people when I zone into a major city and then I'm fine. A little annoying, but not a big deal.

Another issue is the lack of a sorting function. They've actually done something pretty great for inventory management and it's just missing a sort function to make it awesome. What they did is split your inventory up into different pieces. All key items for quests go in their own tab. All crystals used in crafting go in their own tab. But the big thing is every type of gear gets their own 25 slot bag. So I have a bag for rings, and a bag for boots, and a bag for weapons. This is needed because I currently have 19 different classes! There is a fair amount of gear overlap (all crafting classes want the same stuff for every slot except weapon and offhand) but since I could have them all at different levels it makes sense to have inventory set aside for all these things. There's also an item rack system so I can quickly change classes and have the right gear put on automatically. The only problem is there's no way when looking at an item in my inventory to find out if it's in any of the item sets. I'd like to know if I'm done with something before I vendor it!

A final issue is the existence of a critically important main quest line. I didn't realize how important this quest line was going to be when I started, and I ended up doing pretty much every single quest around my starting town except for the main quest line. This became a problem when I went to look up how to get to the other starting towns to unlock the other starting classes. Turns out you can't leave Limsa Lominsa until you've done a good chunk of the main quest line, and I'd outleveled it. So either I could do a trivial quest line or I could grind monsters in a circle with the other combat class in my area. I ended up doing the trivial quest line route. The main quest line also is a gate locking out the ability to use the auction house, and to disenchant gear into materia, and probably to get a chocobo mount. It also involved doing multiple dungeons, and I randomly chose a DPS class when I started. Dungeons in FFXIV only have 4 people, and as anyone who's tried to use a dungeon finder should know that means there simply aren't enough tanks or healers. I've been looking at a 45+ minute wait time to get into the dungeons with a 45 second window to accept when my turn comes up, which means I've had to stay logged in waiting all that time. I just went and crafted stuff because I like doing that so it wasn't actually a big deal, but if I had to do it again I would definitely start as a tank (marauder or gladiator) or a healer (conjurer) and make sure I stuck to the main story line as much as possible.

On the positive side, the game definitely feels like a Final Fantasy game, with lots of little throwbacks to the older games. Nobuo Uematsu did the music for the original FFXIV and that was pretty much the only part of that game that didn't suck. I got into one story line fight and the music was a remake of the Final Fantasy II combat music. I joined a secret society who's code word was 'wild rose', the same as the rebels used in FFII. There's an evil empire using magitek armour from FFVI. The whole thing just feels like Final Fantasy, and that's awesome for me.

The game has an interesting subclass system going on. You can pull in abilities from other classes, so when I started over at level 1 to get a feel for a different combat class I also got to include a healing ability from my main class. Each of the 8 combat classes has a different feel to combat, which is nice. The crafting classes also get to pull in abilities from other classes, which is a little weird, but each of them seems to get a unique ability at level 15 which is a slightly better version of a base ability, and I get to pick and choose which ones of those I want when I switch to other crafting classes. It makes the whole thing more complicated and interesting which I like.

There are still messages when I log in about server issues and character creation being locked on some servers, but I haven't had any issues at all. I got into a log in queue once when I tried to start playing at 9pm, but I was 10th in line and got on in the time it took to go get something to drink. So it sounds like probably there are some popular servers with huge guilds from the original game having problems, but Faerie doesn't seem to be having any of them. I got randomly invited into a guild in the game (I thought it was part of the tutorial) and it seems like there's a guild leveling system so guilds want as many chumpers doing things as they can. I'm not high enough level to do anything with them because I like to craft things, but it is nice to have random chatter to read every now and then.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Bridge Match 2 - Board 17

Board 17 – Dealer North – No Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Doubleton
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

My hand: A T 4 3 8 4 3 2 J 4  K T 5

Partner passes and East opens 1 diamond. I have nothing to say. They have a game forcing misfit auction and end up in 3NT.

Partner leads the 3 of clubs.


K Q 9 5
7 5
A K T 9
8 7 2

A T 4 3
8 4 3 2
J 4
K T 5

West North East South
Pass 1 Pass
1 Pass 1 Pass
21 Pass 22 Pass
2NT Pass 3NT All Pass
14th suit forcing
24 spades, fewer than 3 hearts

Well, partner has exactly 4 clubs and they should end up 4-3-3-3. So if we keep attacking clubs and if partner has another entry we can get a trick there. I can't see setting up my long suits, so might as well adopt that as the plan. 3-2-K-A. West switches to diamonds. 2-8-9-J. Yoink! Club time! T-J-Q-7. Partner has the 9 of clubs, which he cashes. He then fails to play the 13th club and instead switches to a heart. K-5-2-6. And now the 13th club, where dummy pitches a spade. I pitch my diamond and declarer also pitches a spade. Partner then throws dummy in with a diamond. 7-K-3 of hearts-5. Declarer cashes a bunch of cards then gives me my A of spades. Partner gets the Q of hearts on the last trick as well. Down 3.

J 7 6 2
8 7
Q 9 6 3

A J 9 6
Q 6 5 3 2
A J 4

♠ K Q 9 5
7 5
A K T 9
8 7 2

A T 4 3
8 4 3 2
J 4
K T 5

3NT down 3 is, unsurprisingly, a top board. All the other tables also played in no trump contracts.  3NT-1, 2NT, 2NT+2x2, 3NTx3.

Captain Jack agrees with me all the way!

Ranking after board 17/60: 5/16 with 54.20%