Friday, May 30, 2014

Civ V: Dangerous Bug Abuse

I decided to see if I could pull off the research bug I talked about yesterday in an actual game. So I started up a 12 player highest difficulty game as Venice with the goal of just sitting around setting up the bug and hope I was ignored until I had infinite tech. I wasn't sure how I was eventually going to win but I wanted to see if I could make it happen.

It turns out that yes, I can totally make it happen. I may have gotten lucky (I got to make a proposal at the first council meeting and was able to get scholars in residence through) but no one even looked at me funny the entire time. There's just so much space on a pangaea that it seems like if you never expand you don't get anyone's attention. My capital was truly terrible though, and I couldn't even increase my hammer production because I was skipping mining, but I got it it work.

And then disaster struck. I don't know the exact value but one turn I was carrying more than 200000 beakers over between turns and the next turn it wrapped around into the negatives. Not only was I not learning a tech per turn anymore, I'd broken poor chemistry. Even if my position was otherwise playable I'd never be able to progress beyond chemistry. (Actually I may have been able to build the national university wonder for a free tech to fix it, but stalling out with less tech than everyone else was not playable.)

What I needed to do was force a path to new techs. I'd picked up all of the cheap stuff but since the bug only applies on techs with a discount if I could have opened up a 'new to me' tech then I could have started actually spending science when I had 100k or so. Or maybe I just didn't need scholars in residence at all. Or maybe I could have started earlier with a smaller start-up value from my great scientist.

I'm going to give it some more thought about how to transition from infinite tech into a victory and how much set-up I actually need. Maybe I can just use the sailing side of the tree and can afford to at least get mining and masonry to build up my capital. Maybe I can even afford to expand a little bit? And I can probably find a better civ to play... I'm actually think Mayans for the early great prophet (I couldn't see any other way to get a religion in this game unless you can get a huge faith pantheon) and the also free great scientist which might let me get started without waiting for the university workers to generate one for me.

I did learn that I don't need to waste time using scouts to find all the other civs. As long as someone else does it the council will introduce me to everyone else and unlock all my discounts.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Civ V: Research Catch-Ups

I was annoyed at the last Civ V video I watched because the guy playing didn't talk at all to explain anything so I went searching for someone who does. Yoruus is a pretty cool dude who clearly doesn't speak English as his first language (he sometimes has to stop and think to find the right word) but he does a really good job of explaining what he's thinking. And he even uses the crazy opening I used to use way back when I first started playing where you open up both tradition and liberty to get the early culture bonuses! The more I think about it the more I actually like it, since the tradition opener pretty much pays for itself over the whole game and gives you faster border expansions. I really wish I had it in my Dutch multiplayer game since my cities refuse to border expand any of the hills near them! How am I supposed to stop growing the cities and work all the hammers without hills? I've mostly been watching his 2 player real time games so there's actually not much to learn from them but they're entertaining and that's good enough for me!

Anyway, he has some videos tagged as being important or something and they talk about a science bug in the game that can essentially grant all of the techs one turn at a time starting at the middle of the game. His test run took a civ that almost had architecture and was able to learn the entire tree except lasers, stealth, and future tech. You get knights and pikemen along the way so it's not even a super vulnerable strategy! I decided I wanted to know more about it, but rather than try to find a post about it on the internet I decided to rig up a test game of my own to see if I could figure out what was going on.

The crux of the matter has to deal with a catch-up mechanic I didn't even know existed in the game. Basically the idea is techs get cheaper the more other civs you know that have learned the tech. It makes some amount of sense. It's easier for me to figure out a book when I see that Dave has a big stack of them over there. I wrote down a bunch of numbers from my test game and it looks like there's not an exact discount but it's in the area of 6.5% cheaper per player. Or maybe it's just rounding screwing things up? I learned that the game only displays whole numbers in the tech tree but it definitely keeps track of the decimal points so it may well actually be 6.5% per player. It may also vary based on number of players or difficulty or game speed or map size. The precise amount doesn't really matter though, the important thing to know is that techs get cheaper as other people learn them and that you need to actually meet the other civs before you get the discount.

I was lamenting on Facebook that I didn't see how I could keep up with Dave in tech since he's making approximately three times as many beakers as I am. I still need to build a national college and universities and such to close the gap but it felt like I was going to be stuck way behind for the whole game. But if it turns out I only have to pay 87% of the cost of the techs that he had to pay I don't need to pass him in beakers to catch up. I just need to get close and the discounts should be a boost. There's also apparently a premium for researching the first medieval era tech where that person needs to pay like 4% more. Couple that with the other catch-up mechanic (spying) and things only look bad, not impossible. That is, if I'd met Dave. As things currently stand I couldn't spy on him even if we had spies and I'm stuck paying full price for my techs because I'm stuck on an island on my own. My worry is the first time I meet Dave it'll be an entire army landing on my little island and starting to catch-up at that point won't be worth anything. Of course he could just stay away and deny the discounts as long as possible while building up a powerful position to win the game any of the other ways. Bleh.

Anyway... Catching up is fine and all but what about that bug? It turns out the game is set up such that you can only learn one tech at the start of each turn. You can learn more than one in a turn if you learn free techs or earn science in the middle of your turn (like by popping a great scientist) but otherwise it just carries any excess science forward to the next turn. Even if that excess science would be enough to learn multiple techs at once. Like if you saved up a bunch of great scientists and used them all in one turn, for example...

Here's the state of affairs in my test game after I'd played around a bit with abusing the bug. You'll notice I'm working on learning sailing which costs a mere 36 science. I have 4159 science sitting around waiting to be spent. On this turn I legitimately earned 87 science from my city. So if everything was working properly I'd expect to add 87 to my 4159 to get 4246 and then pay out 36 science to learn sailing. I should be left with 4210 or so, with weird rounding maybe shifting things by a couple. Instead...
That's not 4210! That's 292 bigger than it should be! Which is in the neighbourhood of the ~6.5% discount for someone else knowing the tech. I made notes of every tech I picked up during this overflow streak and the pattern holds up. Tech known by 3 other civs gave a boost of around 19% to the science on hand. At least when the cost of the tech was small compared to the overflow. There was still a gain even when I was working on techs that cost over a thousand each but it slowed down and petered out. Part of that problem is I was getting techs known by only one other civ, not three. And I didn't manipulate the start very well I don't think. I certainly only got almost to the modern era before I ran out of science, but it was still a big gain.

So how did I set up my test? I made a hotseat game with 4 civs. It was a quick game. I wandered them around until they all met each other. Then I settled down and set them down different paths. One civ was going to be a scumbag cheater. His goal was to get all the research buildings in order to have as big a burst as possible when I used great scientists, and then was to pick up said great scientists. One civ just went down the bottom of the tree, taking mining and going as far as they could. The third civ followed the second civ but first it detoured up to get a national college. The last civ was designed to research all the things so it beelined straight to universities and also picked up the great library along the way. All of the civs built a worker and then tried to get as high a population as possible to max out the science gain.

I totalled up a few numbers for each civ at various points of the game. My bug ran out on turn 147 after settling so that's going to be the end point. I'm also going to look at the numbers after 50 and 100 turns. The numbers are total beakers earned (by science per turn or by burning a great scientist), total base value of techs learned, and 'free' beakers earned either by a catch-up mechanic, the bug, or rounding issues.

50 turns BabylonAustriaAssyriaRussia
Science Accumulated518350527720
Total Tech Value568364585868
Bonus Beakers501458148

Science Accumulated214794823575296
Total Tech Value239299924416338
Bonus Beakers24551841042

Science Accumulated71591778456015572
Total Tech Value172562023463816753
Bonus Beakers10097245781181

Now, the city spots weren't all equivalent. Russia got to settle near Lake Victoria which was huge for early pop growth. They were also beside a mountain. One interesting thing is despite growing at the same rate and being later in turn order Assyria actually got writing a turn before Babylon did. Because they had to pay 2 less science for pottery as a result of Babylon learning it first. Russia's early beaker bonus was almost entirely the free tech out of the great library which I didn't count as science accumulated. They also accumulated significantly more science than the other players thanks to the +3 from the great library. They were slower to national college because the other two civs got to build the cheaper library and then start in on it right away. But once they got them both up they were making double what the other science civs were making. And more than 5 times as much as the poor mining civ! The university really put things over the top with the science per turn sitting at 36-13-40-145 at turn 90.

I didn't do a good job abusing the bug but even still look at the end result! Babylon ended up with more tech value learned on turn 147 than Russia did despite Russia actually being such a dominating science force. Some of the 10000 free science was the legitimate catch-up mechanic but the vast majority of it was the bug coming home. And at the end, after rush buying the public school for Babylon, the science per turn ended up at 182-20-59-272. Babylon still had the oxford university to build, too, which was where 550 of Russia's bonus came from.

I actually ended up abusing the bug a little bit with Russia without meaning to. They probably only got 300 or 400 free science out of it, but when you're researching techs that cost 80 or 100 that's a pretty huge boost. (Also, Austria only got 2023 total value in techs all game... So 300 free science is really big relative to them!) They didn't even have to pop a great scientist or anything... They just plowed straight up to universities without getting any of the side techs. They researched masonry (which cost 33 beakers) while they were generating 119 per turn! And that was with only 2 civs knowing masonry... If Babylon wasn't also being cheesy and had also picked it up the cost would have been lower and the carry-over multiplier would have been higher.

There's one thing I didn't do in my test, and that's grab the 'scholars in residence' diplomatic boost. If that boost gets voted in the cost of all techs is lowered by 20% if any other civ knows it. Given what seems to be the case with the carry-over multiplier having this in play would stack up the science lying around by an absurd amount.

I also suspect you could set up the bug even when you don't have a lot of low cost techs lying around. You could, for example, research most of a tech and then switch to something else right before it finished. This should manufacture a fake low cost tech. Prep up several of these and then pop your great scientist and go to town. I suspect this is what the guy was doing in the first game I watched since he switched off of a tech and I didn't understand why but he eventually popped several great scientist at the same time to burst his way to artillery. I thought maybe he did that as a surprise move to jump up in the literacy number but he could have also done it to steal some extra beakers to get there a little faster.

Ok, so this bug exists... What should be done about it? There are people who would say anything in the game is fair to use. I feel like this bug is outside the realm of what's acceptable but I hate enforcing outside rules on a game. Even my civ that was trying to play fair ended up using the bug incidentally! Anyone that rushes national college into university while mostly ignoring the other junk is going to get extra free science for doing so. I actually wouldn't be surprised to find out that Dave unintentionally got some science out of the bug in our faster asynch game. He was making more than 50 beakers per turn before I was even close to researching writing. The writing tier of techs cost 36 with someone knowing them, the first tier only costs 23! So if he'd met Robb by that point in time and if he researched any early tech that Robb knew (mining/masonry/bronze working?) he could have triggered the bug. It probably wouldn't be for very much, but when I'm only making 11 per turn him getting 8 for free is a big deal.

How could you even fix it? You could research all the 'cheap' stuff before you power up that many beakers? You could only select a 'cheap' tech after barely finishing a previous tech so you're not carrying over more science than the cheap tech costs. Or you could just accept that sometimes it will happen.

The big thing is to not pop a great scientist for a huge amount of science and then research a cheap tech. Pop the scientist to get an expensive tech, and use it early on in the tech?

Some people have suggested banning great scientists entirely. Use them just for the improvement, never for the one shot. Which sucks, but if the alternative is making them absurdly powerful? I donno. Also you could ban scholars in residence since that's what really gives you the huge overflows. But even without it I was able to more than double my science!

Or you could just play with it as a potential strategy. I don't know how a real game would actually go if I wasn't allowed to research anything from mining forward and if I was forced to generate 3 great people without using them for 125 turns. I feel like someone should have killed me by then...

But then I think about my Dutch game... I'd need to take sailing in order to go meet up with Dave but it would have been a strong strategy to build up just science and ignore the bottom half of the tech tree. Meet Dave and then more than double my science? Seems strong. As it is I have several techs that will only take 3 turns to finish and I don't have universities yet. Even without the bug existing it's definitely right to rush to universities and eventually I will meet Dave. All those cheap techs may well become cheaper than one turn. I could probably alternate picking them up to not get extra science, but if I don't want those techs yet it seems bad for me.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Browser Click Games

It's been about 6 months since I started playing the Sandcastle Builder game. I've been playing it every day since, though many of those days by 'playing' I mean 'left open in one of my browser tabs'. It has a mechanic that can't be accelerated through good play or frequent play. All you can do is have hours pass to advance time forward. There are almost 3100 time frames in the game and for the most part you get one new frame every hour. So you really have to leave things up for almost 4 months straight to get to the end. I suppose you could cheat by manipulating your system clock or something but otherwise if you want to get to the end of the story you need to just have the game running.

The game itself is pretty cool. I really like how your focus ends up changing wildly as you move through different stages of progression. Sometimes you want to be clicking the picture like in Cookie Clicker. Sometimes all that really matters is how many of a given production building you have. Sometimes you just need to be solving rudimentary logic puzzles. And then things shift around and you start caring about old stuff again for a period of time. It feels really well done, though it also doesn't seem to have any actual end. They keep adding more ways to make use of older things again and again!

One thing that has bothered me about the game is the periods of time when the only thing that matters is clicking the picture. Not when clicking the picture accelerates you but you could just spend time... No, there have been times when the only thing that matters, at all, is clicking. I hate this, because I can't stop myself from clicking a lot. And then my wrist starts hurting and my hand goes numb.

But is there a way to make a browser game without a lot of mandatory clicking? Is there a way to make a good racing game? I've watched a few Cookie Clicker races where they play a full reset game to the neverclick achievement. But that just boils down entirely to getting lucky with the golden cookie spawns to get the good abilities. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if the game itself was set up to let people race within its framework instead of people needing to use SRL to coordinate it. Maybe? I don't know, but it's something I try to devote thinking cycles to every now and then.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Civ V: Tourism

Matt made a comment on my post yesterday about how tourism isn't just used for a cultural victory but has some other useless, particularly defensively against ideology unhappiness. And then it just so happens that in my current single player game I'd started off ignoring tourism completely and I'm now suffering 18 unhappiness because my people want to autocracy instead of order. But what's really weird is England is unhappy with their autocracy and wish they were freedom because of Brazil. Brazil is unhappy with freedom and wish they were order because of Poland. And if Brazil was actually order then I would be happy because Brazil influences me! (I'm actually influenced by Brazil, Poland, and the Huns who are all different ideologies and I guess the autocracy one is winning the tiebreaker, whatever it is.) 6 civs are content with where they are, 3 haven't yet chosen an ideology. Something seems wrong when 3 civs cover all 3 ideologies and all are unhappy with their choices. If only Brazil would make the switch, then I'd be happy! But even if they made that switch if a world ideology was ever created I feel like I'd be unhappy unless I was that one regardless.

The really annoying thing is there are 5 order civs who are all happy. Two of them have a lot of tourism and are influencing the rest. Except me, because I have a mediocre amount of tourism now. (I built the Eiffel Tower which comes with 12 tourism and I've been making works out of my musicians because there's nothing else to do with them.) It feels like if I'd continued to ignore tourism (not build the musician's guild or the Eiffel Tower) I'd be content. I have happy faces to burn so my empire isn't actually unhappy but I'm going to be getting golden ages less frequently as I result.

But seeing how things play out in one game is one thing... I want to actually know how this stuff works. Internet, hook me up!

Tourism is a number you generate each turn, mostly based on great works you have lying around. Each turn that number is applied to every other civ in the game that you've met. Each civ has a multiplier applied to your number individually and that multiplier is based on having open borders, a trade route, a shared religion, a different ideology, and a diplomat when you have a different ideology. That number is stored individually for each other civ and is added up over the course of the game. At the same time their total amount of culture generated over the entire game is also added up. Then each turn you compare those two numbers to see what your influence level is with that civ. The actual numbers don't seem to matter at all; what matters is what influence band you're currently in. The bands are {0-10%, 10-30%, 30-50%, 50-100%, 100-200%, even more}. They will also have generated a tourism number against you, and you will have generated a culture number, so you will also be in an influence band the other way as well.

Influence bands actually matter for a lot of different reasons, many of which were added in the last big patch so they didn't exist back when I played a bunch with the 'new' expansion. The biggest one is the cultural victory which is achieved when you've managed to get every other civ into your 100-200% or higher influence band. In order to make this happen you need a lot of tourism and they need not much culture. Your culture and their tourism are irrelevant. That's why you'll often read about how culture is the defensive stat and tourism is the offensive stat. It's totally true when you're talking about the victory condition! And most of the other things too, but there's one where it's not quite the case...

First, the other things that only care about where you've put the other civs into influence bands. If you get another civ into the 30-50% band then your trade routes to that civ generate an extra science per turn. Getting them into higher bands raises that bonus. Spying works in a similar way, with a bonus that applies at the 30-50% band (only 1 turn to establish a spy in a city) and spy level up bonuses as you get into higher bands. Conquest has the same sort of deal going on with the 30-50% band granting a 25% reduction in population loss and civil disorder period when you conquer a city. You get another 25% reduction for each escalating band. So even if you don't intend to win with tourism getting a lot of it can still generate minor bonuses along the way. They seem really minor to me though, and I can't really see getting tourism in the hopes of having faster spies or anything like that. Especially since the 30% band is pretty hard to get into in my experience, at least with harder AI levels. Maybe against humans it'll be easier?

There's one other spot tourism matters and it's the ideology unhappiness thing I mentioned at the start of the post. It turns out that when you're doing ideology comparisons what you're comparing against each civ is not tourism values or culture values. It's the difference between your respective influence bands. So if someone is at 10.1% of your culture but you're only at 9.9% of their culture you're still a full influence band apart. When looking at your own potential unhappiness all you care about is influence band comparisons where you're lagging behind. Comparisons where you're tied or are beating them are completely irrelevant. All that matters is the ones where you're losing. Now compare the number of times you lose to civs matching your ideology to the number of times you lose to civs of different ideologies (with a multiple band gab counting multiple times and with civs without ideologies being completely ignored). If there are more different ones than same ones you're going to be unhappy. This is the case even if the different ones are split between the different options. In my example above I had one loss to each of the 3 ideologies and assumed there was some sort of tiebreaker. No, it turns out the two opponents get added together and 2 is bigger than 1. Note that in this case it actually doesn't matter what ideology I'd pick. I'll still be dominated by the same three civs and they all picked different ideologies from each other. I have no course of action that doesn't result in getting an unhappiness penalty.

I actually went and played a few more turns and I ended up knocking one of the opponents into the 10-30% band. That's where he had me, which meant he no longer had any influence on me. This brought things into a 1-1 tie which means I get to be happy. Hurray! Unfortunately I'm also about to bump the influence of the other order civ into the 10-30% band so my stay in happy land will be short lived. I do expect to also knock the last guy into the 10-30% band as well soon though which will remove all influence.

Note that there's a mechanic for voting in a world ideology and that is worth 2 influence points for that ideology. Once I reach the point where no civ is influencing me I will be forced to synch up with the world ideology or be unhappy. Meanwhile the no-tourism civs will be able to sit around influenced by me and another order person and will be able to stay happy!

As such it seems like if you ignore tourism then you get to follow the crowd and be happy. If you have a lot of tourism you get to be what you want unless there's a world ideology and then you have to follow it or be unhappy.

It does mean tourism has some value in a game when you aren't just trying to win by tourism though. Maybe that's good enough to justify making great musicians? Maybe I even want to use some great writers for works instead of the one shot ability? It's at least a choice at any rate. It could certainly be pretty powerful in a multiplayer game to have the other people in the 10-30% band if they all have everyone in the 0-10% band. Then everyone has to follow your ideology or eat a ton of unhappiness. So it may end up in a situation where it's 'right' to ignore tourism as long as we all collude to do so, but if someone breaks rank the other people may or may not get burned. Very interesting...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Civ V Great Leaders: Plant, Pop, or Save?

Historically I have always taken my great leaders in Civ V and planted them in the ground. Give me good tile improvements! Why would I want to get a one shot boost when I can set up an ongoing boost that keeps on giving turn after turn? I've never actually cared to look at the numbers, I've just always been glad to get a good square to work. Well, the video I watched had the guy save up his great scientists. I've had people tell me recently that capping the liberty policy tree was good because it would build you a free wonder when you took a great engineer. Build a wonder? But I want more production! And in the comment thread on Facebook for a post last week a small discussion broke out on if popping a great scientist early was cost effective or not... This calls for some research and math!

Let's start with the great scientist. Consuming him for the one shot effect gives you an amount of beakers which are immediately applied to your current research task. If this amount takes you over the amount needed to research it you learn the tech right away and the excess gets applied to the next tech. The amount of beakers is dependent on the speed of the game and your current research per turn. In a standard speed game this amount is equal to 8 turns worth of research. Planted in the ground the scientist will build an academy which gives 8 research per turn. If you're only making 34 beakers per turn like I am in a current game then the academy will surpass the scientist in 34 turns. If you're making 800 beakers per turn then it'll take 800 turns to break even... A game is going to last a couple hundred turns so the first option the long term plan seems reasonable. The second one is abysmally bad.

Of course that's not the whole picture. The academy planted in the ground can be augmented by buildings, tech, and policies. You're apt to plant it in your best city, so it's entirely possible to be looking at having a university, a national college, a research lab and an observatory. You may have the rationalism opener, and you may have researched things that give it +2, +2, and +4, and you'll have a multiplier of 311%. So you could actually be looking at getting 50 science per turn from the academy. It also replaces a different improvement, so it costs you something like 2 food per turn. And you get to make immediate use of the technology right away when you use the one shot. It may take 34 turns to break even but that means your Civ was weaker for those 34 turns because you were behind on tech that whole time (not to mention being behind on the food too).

How about holding on to the scientist for later? Well, if you've decided not to plant him and you're in the process of drastically increasing your science output you definitely want to hold off on it. But if you're going to be waiting a long time you probably want to plant it because you lose all of the benefits by waiting close to the hypothetical 34 turns before popping it.

Looking at it, I think planting an early scientist is going to make sense most of the time. Unless there's some tech you really want to get right away (maybe you're racing for a wonder or you have a timing attack set up with artillery or something), anyway. Later on you might as well hold on to them until you really want a specific tech right now. If you're trying for a science victory then you only really care about getting the very last tech and you get the most from your scientist by waiting for all the pop growth before using them.

How about the great merchant? His one shot gives 350 gold plus an extra 50 per era. You also get 30 influence with a city state! The downside being you need to walk the merchant over to the city state before you can use the ability. Planting him builds a customs house worth 4 gold, 5 with a relatively early tech. Just like with the scientist there are building to amplify the return from the improvement so you're probably looking at getting 8 gold per turn (with market and bank) at the cost of 2 food per turn versus scoring up 550 gold. So it would pay off in ~70 turns. 70 turns is a long time to be down money. You're also down whatever goodies the city state would have given you as a result of being friends/allies with the extra influence. The great merchant one shot seems to give a bigger return early on than the scientist and the improvement is worse. So it feels like planting them is almost always wrong. Only if there are no city states to run to? Or maybe if you have a game plan that revolves around your cash on hand solely at the end of the game? So if you're going for a big surprise diplomatic victory play and want to just horde cash all game? Ok, I can see that as being a real thing. Holding onto them seems just wrong, since the gain from waiting (50 gold per era) feels like it's probably not worth delaying the city state influence. Unless you're about to tech up into a new era, anyway. (Merchants of Venice actually give double the one shot bonus but the same planting bonus, so it _really_ seems like cashing them in with the one shot has to be right.)

The great engineer apparently doesn't automatically rush a given item. Instead he grants 300 + 30 per citizen in the city. In practice that might as well be an instant buy if the city is of reasonable size. You don't get the building/wonder/nuke until the next turn though. The planting ability is an improvement worth 4 or 5 hammers. There aren't nearly as many things that multiply hammers as there are light bulbs which makes this compare unfavourably to the scientist already. And then there's the downside of building a wonder slowly... You don't get it at all! Wonders are unique and if you're not first you're out. That said, hammers over time are also very powerful and if you're planning on pumping out a lot of units then maybe you really want 4 hammers over 2 food? I donno, I now feel like rushing a wonder that's potentially under contention is just awesome.

Great writer is one that I've been looking at closer and decided in my game today to use the one shot over the 'plant' for the first time. Like the great scientist he gives 8 times your culture per turn as his one shot ability. If you plant him you don't get an improvement, instead you get a great work that needs to go in an appropriate slot in your city and is worth 2 culture and 2 tourism per turn. It turns out 8 times your culture per turn is a pretty big number and is just going to dwarf 2 per turn for anything resembling a reasonably amount of time. If you're trying for a cultural victory then you probably need the tourism (it's not like you have many other sources of it) but otherwise using the one shot here seems like it has to be right. And you should probably save it up until it will give you a new policy? Or maybe if you're planning on rushing a specific policy that's deep in a tree you should wait? Or if you haven't unlocked the tree at all? Some of the ideology stuff is pretty great, maybe there's a good plan around saving up a bunch of great writers and blowing them all after building your 3 factories.

Great musician has the same plant ability but the work goes into a different building. It wasn't clear but it sounds like the one shot is 10 times your tourism to the targeted Civ. If you're trying for a cultural victory and one Civ has a significantly higher culture threshold to break through then I'm sure using the one shots here makes sense. Otherwise I guess you might as well plant them for the 2 culture? Frankly I'm not sure getting a great musician is even worth doing unless you want the cultural victory.

Great artist has the same plant ability with the work again going in a different building. The one shot is to start a golden age. Golden ages are awesome and unless you want the tourism for a cultural victory it feels like the golden age has to be good? It's 20% culture and production with a gold bonus of some kind for 8 turns I think? So it's actually only 1.6 times your culture per turn as a one shot which is a lot worse than the 8 times of the great writer. But it also gives gold and production so that's really good. So again, if you don't want tourism... And even if you do, you can use archaeologists to fill the same slots.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 56

Board 56 - Dealer West - None Vul

Opponents convention card: Bridge World Standard
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: K T A Q J 9 J 4 T 7 6 3 2

East opens a strong 1NT in 3rd chair. I guess I have a pretty decent hand to interfere a little bit, especially black on black. We're playing Cappelletti and I think I have a pretty typical 2 hearts bid. I'd rather my black king was in clubs but you can't have everything. West jumps to 4 spades which gets passed out.

Partner leads the 2 of hearts.
7 6 5 4 3
A J 9
A Q J 9
J 4
T 7 6 3 2

Hmm. The 1NT opener had 5 cards in my suit. They cap out at the 7 though! I was hoping that a heart lead would be great because dummy was going to have the missing hearts and I'd be able to finesse them but that doesn't look to be the case. 2-3-A-T. Well, either declarer has the K or he's out. But leading any other suit seems pretty sketchy too, so I fire back a heart. Q-3 of spades-8-4. Declarer draws trump. 4-2-J-K.

Do I have a good aggressive play? At this point I don't see one, so I just make declarer ruff another heart. J-8 of spades-K-5. Declarer draws my last trump with partner showing out. So he has 4 more trump tricks to go with his 3 taken tricks and 2 aces on board. And he can establish his 5th heart with another ruff, which he does. Then he pitches it away because he's got all the high diamonds too. Making 5.
K 8 2
9 8 6 3 2
K Q 8 5
Q 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
K 7 5
7 6 5 4 3
A J 9
A Q J 9
J 4
T 7 6 3 2
All 8 tables played 4 spades. 7 of them made 5, the other made 6. So we eek out 8 MPs by virtue of one table giving away a trick.

Jack disagrees with my Capp bid because he says my suit is just too bad. He may be right. And then he also disagrees with the way I signalled once I knew declarer had all the tricks. Sorry Jack. Maybe if your AI could claim that wouldn't have happened.

Ranking after board 56/60: 1/16 with 63.01%

Friday, May 23, 2014

Civ V Tidbits

I finally ran into Robb in one of our asynch multiplayer games and I sent him a declaration of friendship request. He ignored it because he's mean. I saw it was still pending when my turn came back around so I bugged him about it on Skype. He wanted to know what it meant and I didn't have a good answer other than I wanted to be friends. I'm Venice and can't build settlers so we have nothing to get into a conflict over anyway so we might as well be friends, right? Snuggles then chimed in and asked what it would actually do. We didn't know so we did some internet searching to try to find out. Pretty much everything we found was related to AI diplomacy so other than allowing research agreements it doesn't seem to do anything in multiplayer.

As part of my searching I somehow ended up in a thread on some message board where people were posting about being good at multiplayer Civ V and were posting links to games that were streamed as evidence to back up how good they were. I watch streams of games all the time... So I figured I'd check out one of these Civ V games and see what was up. I picked one at random and put it up on the tv while doing web surfing yesterday.

The first thing I noticed, completely unrelated to Civ, is how bland a game stream is without commentary. Six and a half hours of some guy playing Civ V without saying anything about what he's doing or why is pretty tame. I definitely spent more time not paying attention than I do even watching something like Feasel grind monsters for 6 hours in Dragon Warrior 1. Something to keep in mind if I ever get streaming myself... Talking is important for entertainment.

The big strategy thing I picked up doesn't apply to the games I'm playing. This game was played live, and they had it set up so even at war the game was playing simultaneously. (I gave up on playing life pretty quickly because our games forced the games to be turned based when players were at war... I wonder if that was just a setting we missed or something added in an expansion we couldn't use because people didn't own them.) The key to winning seemed to be unit micro more than anything else. A unit will die to 3 ranged attacks... If you move it out after the other guy clicks 2 ranged attacks and before he gets to the 3rd that's great for you. If your guy dies instead it's terrible. So it felt like you needed a smaller army to win a fight as long as you were good with it. Oh, and they were using all level ups on the 50 health heal instead of on abilities. Using that in real time seems really strong!

There were a couple things the guy did that were interesting. I don't know why he did them, because he wasn't talking, but they seemed like things to think about. The first was the way he used trade routes. He didn't send a single one to another player. He sent a couple to nearby city states that wouldn't need to go through anything but his own borders but mostly he used them between his own cities to deliver food and resources. I'd never really done this since I always seem to desperately need the gold from external trade routes but the numbers seemed really big. And something I didn't realize until recently is calling it a trade route is a real misnomer. You don't ship off some of your food. You stay the same. You magically generate food out of thin air and send it to your other city. This guy founded a second city early (he built scout, scout, settler I think) right beside his capital. Like, 4 squares away. He had both cities build granaries, and caravans, and ship food to each other. The cities got silly big in a real hurry! He stuck on 2 cities until he built the national college wonder then plopped down 2 more cities and altered the trade routes to feed food to those cities and they very quickly built up in size.

You do lose a bunch of gold using these trade routes over external trade routes... Or at least you would if those trade routes would actually work. Against the AI I can reasonably expect the trade routes to survive as long as I get rid of nearby barbarians. Against other players? Why is Robb going to let Dave and I each score up 5 gold per turn when he can click a button and scoop up 100 gold for himself? Presumably that would make us both mad and we'd try to kill him? But it's a lot easier to believe that a human could make an opportunistic grab for plunder money that an AI would ignore. (This is a real concern for me in one of our games since I'm Venice and get double trade routes but no extra cities... I can't trade with myself!)

The next interesting thing he did was he had preset plans for what he was going to do. He built a bunch of composite bowmen and hid them around one of his cities. Then he raced to machinery while saving up gold and instantly upgraded 5 of them the turn he got it and set off on a direct course for an enemy capital. He should have taken it but he screwed up his micro badly and didn't leave himself a way to actually walk into a city at 0 hp. It really reminded me of watching StarCraft 2 more than a strategy game since it looked a lot like a timing push set up to get blink and a few stalkers or a bunch of marines with stim or something like that.

Later on he did the same thing with artillery, only this time he set it up by saving up several great scientists and the last turn of his national university wonder to time out getting 3 or 4 techs in one turn. He blew right up to artillery in the blink of an eye and went back for the city he failed to get earlier. This time being able to attack from 3 squares away was enough to blow his opponent out. And then he blew everyone else out because his 5 cities just built units for every turn for the rest of the game.

Saving up great scientists to maximize every last lightbulb from them is not something I'd considered doing before. Build a land improvement or just use them right now were my options. But I guess storing up a bunch to get a specific crucial tech is important? Or maybe it's mostly important for the surprise factor? I imagine people who play a lot understand what tech % lines up with an artillery rush so if no one is near that number you have nothing to worry about. But when you get 4 techs in one or two turns your number is going to really spike!

Another interesting thing was the way he abused city states. And not in the sense of getting allies with powerful effects or going down the patronage tree... No, he was stealing things from them. He camped an early spearman beside a city state, waited for it to spawn a worker, and then stole it. Immediately went to peace. The city state was mad, of course, but it wasn't coming to kill him and he was up an early worker. He got another worker the same way, so he had 3 workers working on his 2 cities but only actually built one of them. Later on he was stealing money from the city state by bulling them. I've never bullied a city state, so I had to go look up the mechanics. It seems you pretty much need to be #1 on soldiers in the game, or near the top of the list anyway, and have a large army around the city state. But if you do then they'll give you 250 gold every 10 turns. That seems pretty hot, especially if you're using your trade routes all internally.

At one point he took the honour policy for a free great general. That seemed weird since he had 3 in his army already. But then he started aggressively stealing land and defending his artillery by building a steady stream of the defensive buildings. Seemed pretty strong!

Oh, and I got an answer to my question of what good is a declaration of friendship... It isn't. The early rush with the crossbowmen? It was on someone the streamer had a declaration of friendship with. And the target was _really_ bitter about it, too. So what does a declaration of friendship actually mean? I guess it depends on the players. Just like in the game Diplomacy...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Paint by Numbers Puzzles

I've always been a big fan of puzzle magazines. Dell/Penny Press/Games, you name it. I'd take them to school and do them in class because I'd get all the homework done in the time we had to work on it in class and then would otherwise sit around bored. Anyway, the magazine 'Math Puzzles & Logic Problems' was my favourite one, and of the puzzles that would show up in those Paint by Numbers was my favourite. It's also known as Picross I believe. You get a grid with a bunch of numbers on the top and left and need to use the process of elimination to work out what squares of the grid needed to be shaded in to make a picture. (It's the closest I'd ever get to 'art'.)

Anyway, the other day I started seeing Facebook spam for a game that looked like it might contain Paint by Numbers grids. I haven't given a Facebook game a try since the debacle that was Plants vs Zombies Adventures and I figured I'd give it a spin to see what was up. I've had a lot of fun with some Facebook games, after all, and I do like me some Paint by Numbers...

The game is called Riddle Stones and it is a bit of a debacle. I set it up to only post updates to myself, not to my friends, and went off to play it. I played through something like 12 levels in the first day, so probably 30 puzzles or so. It had posted 50 things to my feed. FIFTY! And that's all the junk it posts without asking me about it. It also prompted me at least once per puzzle, often more, to make posts on my own to my feed. Presumably those posts would be seen by my friends because it would be me posting them, not the app on its own. Every time I got a faster time than anyone who had played the game it wanted me to brag about it. Every 3 puzzles it wanted to brag about that too.

The UI was either very badly designed or deliberately terrible to be confusing. After having Who Wants To Be A Millionaire steal 5 cents by tricking me into clicking a button that changed meaning I'm leaning towards the latter. I'm actually not sure how alternating if I wanted to click green or orange or nothing was confusing me into paying them money but I'm sure it would have happened at some point. It kept asking me to make it full screen before every single puzzle. Why? Once, sure. That might be helpful? After I decline to do it? Leave me alone!

The game itself was pretty boring when it came right down to it. I'm used to doing 25x25 or bigger puzzles; these ones were all either 5x5 or 10x10 with most of the grid filled in for me in advance. You can't make a puzzle with all that much thought in a 5x5 grid, nor can you make a puzzle that looks really cool. The game seemed to be designed around doing things fast, not smart. You could click in the wrong spot several times before you'd 'die' so there wasn't much sense in using logic. I can spend a couple seconds to work out the right answer or I can just click a couple extra times and brute force it. Blah.

But what it did do was prompt me to go looking for some real Paint by Number puzzles. I found a cool site that looks to have a ton of puzzles of all shapes and sizes, including some with extra colours. I like it! Interesting, challenging, free, not annoying to me, and not annoying to my Facebook friends. Wins for everybody!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Peggle Deluxe

I often find myself on Speed Runs Live browsing their list of current streamers to watch games. My first priority tends to be watching Final Fantasy games. After that I'm actually more drawn to games I've never heard of instead of games I know about but don't really know. I'll get excited to watch a Megaman or Zelda run during a marathon but watching someone practicing or resetting a ton doesn't hold that much appeal for me in those games.

One game I watched a couple months ago was Peggle Deluxe. A bunch of people were running a race and it was interesting to watch them play through essentially a silly mindless single player game. There's obviously a lot of skill in the aiming and such. It reminded my of the Papa Pear Facebook game I watched my mother play a bit while I was visiting over the holidays. Aim a ball at some pegs, watch the ball bounce around using physics, lose the ball when it hits the bottom of the screen. Repeat until you hit all the relevant pegs or lose all your balls.

Anyway, I put it on my Steam wishlist and it went on sale earlier this week. $3 or something like that seemed like a fine price to pay to give it a shot!

There's a relaxing element to watching a ball bounce around and having no way to impact how it will play out after the initial aiming. It reminds me of the pachinko machines in Japan. No crazy prizes available for winning in this one though. Peggle does have some power-ups you can collect and use and there are challenge levels after you beat the base game. It can certainly be played well, and I can see why people might want to speed run it. For me it's more the sort of thing I want to play when I don't want to really focus on a game. When tired or watching LoL or something. But it is enjoyable, and I'm glad I picked it up.

And it doesn't beg me to pester my friends for free lives. If I want to play the game, I can play the game. If I want to walk away, I can walk away. So it's definitely got that over the Papa Pear thing on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Final Fantasy Mysic Quest: Hacking Progress

I did some searching around in an attempt to speed up working out optimal plans for fighting each time of enemy in the game. There's no need for me to cast life on every enemy if there's a list out there, right? Unfortunately I couldn't find such a list. Mystic Quest is fairly easy and relatively niche so it doesn't seem like anyone's put in the effort that's been done on games like Final Fantasy VI to work out exactly what is going on. (In the 100% speedrun for that game they manipulate the RNG to spawn Doomgame by walking in and out of a town over and over again until they see the exact pattern of NPC movements on the one move the NPC gets each time they enter town!)

What I did find was someone posting a preliminary deconstruction of what existed where in the ROM. Image tiles, stuff like that. It also listed where the monster stats were stored and gave a list of the order of the monsters but it didn't actually post what the monster stats were.

So I went and grabbed a hex editor and pulled all the stats out myself. I built a little spreadsheet to parse the monster section and convert it into something I could read so now I have health, attack, defense, speed, and magic stats for every monster and boss in the game. I also have a bunch of other columns and no idea what they mean. Several of them look more like bits that get toggled and not numbers, probably for spell immunities/weaknesses and such. I don't know what they are right now, but I figure I can start playing the game and keeping track of what works on who and probably figure some of it out.

I also found a low level guide that went through and tracked every possible encounter from each monster icon in the game and compared how much experience each fight was worth. The idea being you'd reset every single encounter you absolutely had to fight until it came out with the lowest number. Unfortunately the guy writing the guide didn't realize that you can use exit on many monsters which makes them grant no experience at all. So his 'lowest possible level' was higher than what the speed run beats the game at. On the plus side I now have a list of all possible encounters and don't need to keep fighting fight over and over to make sure I know what can spawn!

One thing that confuses me about the ROM data dump is there's nothing that seems to line up, at all, with experience or gold. I was thinking maybe there's another section of the ROM with that data in it, maybe stored with the encounter formations? But then it feels like exit shouldn't be able to remove part of the experience from a fight. I'm going to make notes of experience and gold earned for a bit and see if I can't find it in the ROM with a little trial and error searching.

I found someone's guess for damage formulas. My plan is to make a tab for my spreadsheet into a predictor for damage done based on my stats and the monster stats to see if I can verify them. They were completely deterministic so if they're right it means you can work out exactly what spells/attacks are needed to one shot each enemy in a fight. Except for crits, anyway. But the idea is to kill everything in one round except bosses so crits are irrelevant most of the time.

As part of building out this area of my spreadsheet I needed to track the stats of my buddy. I wrote down the stats for the first one and decided to try out the equipment bug by saving the game and then loading. Her stats went up because she went from using the no gear of a fresh state (which carried over to her when she joined the party) to her actual gear. I figured I could use this to get 2 data points for the damage formula so I closed my emulator and restarted the game. But when she joined up she still had the stats from before. I hadn't loaded any game since loading the ROM so that felt weird. Maybe it was an emulator issue? (I was doing testing in the emulator so I could save states.) I went to try it out on my SNES. I started a new game without loading anything and when the first character joined my party I checked out her stats. She was awesome. Because the last time I'd played the game was when I beat it during my marathon and presumably I'd loaded at some point with the last character in my party. This means the bug isn't something you need to set up to abuse... If you ever save a game on a given cartridge you're stuck with it in some form. So either I'd need to waste time saving/loading to get the 'right' stats or I'm forced to use weird stats. Might as well be forced to use the best stats?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Asynch Civ V: Success?

It's been a little over two weeks since we started trying out the Giant Multiplayer Robot website and client to try playing turn based games of Civ V. I wasn't sure how it was going to work out with the playing one turn every so often and needing to run an extra client and all that jazz. It turns out to actually be pretty smooth. For the most part the client handles absolutely everything for you. Assuming you run it in the background it'll pop up a notification when it's your turn in a game. It has an easy thing to click on that both downloads the save file and opens Civ V for you. You do need to go into the multiplayer menu and load the save file but it's easily named so you know which one to open. Take your turn, hit save, and the client detects that you saved a new game. It closes Civ V for you and prompts you to upload the new save to the website. Then it goes and notifies the next person. Super easy!

It's got some other neat stuff going on, too. You can set a password on the website that it will auto-include in the save files for you so that only you can play your turns. It encrypts the password on other people's turns so they couldn't easily hack it open to get at your password in their file. (I suspect if they had the file for your turn they totally could, but the site won't give them that.)

The site lets you play 2 games at a time for free but it's been working so well at least 3 of us paid them $5 to upgrade our accounts and now we can play up to 5 games at a time! ($10 gets you 10 games and $15 gets you infinite games.) I'm only in 3 games right now though, so if new people wanted to give it a shot I totally have room for another game!

To give an idea of how fast things are moving I'm in 3 games right now. One of them is a 4 player game with 224 turns submitted so far. That means we're on turn 57 by now which is actually a pretty good pace. We'll be done by the end of summer most likely if we keep this up! It's also on 'quick' settings which speeds things up, and several times all 4 players have been online at the same time and able to get a turn played in less than half an hour.

The second game is a 7 player game including two people who have limited availability on weekends. It's been running for 11 days with 43 turns submitted. At this rate the game will probably go on for another 2 years. 7 players may be too many, normal speed may be too long, foregoing weekends may be a mistake. But it's still fun when the game pops up!

The third game is a 6 player game that's been up for 4 days and already had 60 turns submitted. So it's already ahead of the 2nd game in terms of game turns completed with 10 instead of 6. Even still, at this pace it'll probably take until October to get done.

So these things aren't fast by any stretch of the imagination. I do also have no real idea when a multiplayer game is going to end. Will we be able to keep preventing victories and drag it out to the time limit? Will someone get bitter and collude to spite someone else? At this point I'll be happy to meet another player in one of these games!

The discussions around the game have been pretty interesting, too. I've learned a lot more about Civ V in the last two weeks than at any time in the past. Good times!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 55

Board 55 - Dealer South - All Vul

Opponents convention card: Bridge World Standard
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: A Q 9 3 J 9 6 3 7 6 A Q J

I open a weak no trump. Partner jumps to 3NT. Simple and easy.

West leads the 2 of clubs.
K J 8 7 5 4
A 8 2
Q 5 2
A Q 9 3
J 9 6 3
7 6

2-7-K-A. Why does partner only have a 10 count? Why does he have a 6 card suit? Why is that suit a major? On the plus side I have incredible support for his 6 card suit and the opponents didn't run diamonds off the top. I have 10 top tricks and no reason to let the opponents in to play diamonds. So I do that. Making 4.
K J 8 7 5 4
A 8 2
Q 5 2
T 6
Q T 5 4
A T 4
8 5 3 2
K 7
K J 9 8 3
K T 9 6 4
A Q 9 3
J 9 6 3
7 6

The other 7 tables all played spades. 1 made 3 spades, 2 went down in 4 spades, and 4 made 4 spades. Playing in NT got us 10 extra points which is enough for a solo top. So, uh, good bidding partner? Though we really should have had a bottom board...

Jack agrees with me all the way! (It may have something to do with making approximately no decisions this hand.)

Ranking after board 55/60: 1/16 with 63.12%

Friday, May 16, 2014

FumBBL: Team Logos

I played my final regular season game in the NBFL earlier today. (That's the FumBBL Blood Bowl league where you get to draft players between season.) I won the game which put me at 8-3-3 and at worst second place in my conference. That means a bye in the playoffs! Woo! My team is starting to accumulate a lot of permanent injuries but I also managed to level up 3 of my more important players today which is pretty sweet.

My goblin rolled a normal skill and I gave him two heads to go with his big hand. Now he can dodge anywhere on a 2+ and pick up the ball on a 3+ regardless of who may be nearby. I actually used it to negate the rain in this game which is how he leveled up.

My main ball carrier (a dark elf with block, dodge, and foul appearance) rolled doubles and can now take whatever in the world he feels like. I don't have a clue what that should be. The doubles opens up the strength and passing categories but I should probably take sure hands or a mutation of some kind. Or maybe even boring tackle since he's normally hanging back on defense. It's not like my team needs to take mighty blow or guard on an elf since most of my team can get those on regular rolls. But in reality I haven't skilled up many other people and I only really have 2 big guys with guard right now. Maybe putting guard on a hard to hit guy makes sense...

My main safety also leveled up. He was one of my drafted guys and started the season as a block/dodge/tackle dude. I've since given him mighty blow. He has plenty of good options for a 5th skill... Frenzy to get extra shots at taking someone down. Horns to get a strength boost since he does a lot of my blitzing. Claw to do more damage! (Ideally he's hitting 'softer' targets since he's my only mobile tackle at the moment and tries to hit people with dodge... But especially in a draft league there are lots of heavily armoured dudes with dodge running around.) Piling on is a different damage option. I still really need more guard and this guy also is harder to knock down with his dodge so that's always an option. Oh, and he actually rolled a non-doubles 10 so he could also get movement or armour. Having my main blitzer be a little faster actually feels like a really useful thing. My team is also a bit on the slow side as it is (only one player with more than 6 movement) and this would put him up to 7 movement. I do like armour, especially since I can probably keep him away from enemies with both claw and tackle. And my division has no claw in it (the other 3 teams are orcs, lizardmen, and khemri) which makes armour that little bit better.

Realistically I'm going to wait and see who my opponent is in the conference semifinals and pick what I think will help me win the next game. Because I'm all about winning now at the expense of the future... (The Leafs should hire me as GM!) But probably I'll end up taking guard on the elf and movement on the marauder.

But what was really interesting about my game today is my opponent complimented me on my team logo before the game started. I had my sister make me a sweet looking swamp creature thing (my team is the Hacksonville Quagmires as a Blood Bowl spin on the Jacksonville Jaguars) that used the Jaguars logo as the head for the swamp thing. It's really awesome. I was in the process of telling the guy that my sister made it when he made a comment about how he didn't know you could go across the line of scrimmage with your logo. This confused me for a second because I just wanted a logo for the standings page of the league but then I remembered that league teams could actually have their logo show up on the field. So I turned that on and saw the following...

I think it's completely unintentional since I don't think I told her anything about dimensions or anything like that. It's entirely coincidental that the monster's hand is just barely reaching across the line of scrimmage as though it were going to crush the front line of the enemy team. Which makes it even more awesome! Possibly considered rude to have your logo go into the other team's side of the field but the way this one does it seems too good for me to want to change it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fantasy League of Legends

I found out by a couple friends linking the website that Riot is in the process of rolling out a fantasy League of Legends system to supplement their professional circuit. It sounds an awful lot like fantasy football in that you get a bunch of people together and then draft players off of the pro rosters. Your team then earns points based on the performances of the players you drafted. Robb thinks it's silly because the way you earn points in the fantasy scoring system doesn't line up perfectly with the way you win the actual games. (Supports earning more points for kills than assists really seemed to be a sticking point.)

The NFL really blew up in popularity when they heavily embraced the concept of fantasy football. Why? It got the 'casual' viewer interested in the outcomes and details of all kinds of games where before they would only care about how their one favourite team was doing. I ended up drafting Aaron Rodgers the year he took over for Brett Favre and he put up some great stats for me. I wanted to tune in to the games and see how the Packers were doing because I wanted to know how 'my' football player was doing. It can get even deeper though... Sometimes you'll draft two star quarterbacks but you only get to score points for one of them. You need to choose in advance which one... This causes people to not just watch the games as they're happening but to look up information on upcoming games before they happen. Is Rodgers playing against a really good defense this week? Maybe I should be playing Matthew Stafford this week? They are playing the Raiders and they're terrible...

Adding in fantasy LoL is a way to get people caring about the games not just while they're on (if Lino tells me a game is on I'll generally turn it on and watch it) but to care about them before they happen. If I get heavily into fantasy LoL I'll end up spending time managing my roster and trying to figure out who's going to have a good game... Darien is known for sometimes having terrible games where he just lets himself get killed over and over again so maybe I want to grab one of the top laners for the teams he's playing against this week? It will also get me to care about some of the matches that are obvious blowouts if I have one of the players on my team.

Robb is right in that if we were just drafting to win LoL games then I'd care a lot more about objective control and ward placements and not even a little bit about how many kills my support was getting. But when it comes to having an interesting fantasy game I think you really need an easy to understand system with numbers you can follow on the fly. I know that a kill is worth 2 points and that if Genja manages to pull off another pentakill I get 10 bonus points! So even if Gambit is losing I still have something to care about while I'm watching. Just like how I'd actually want the Packers to start losing badly because that would encourage Rodgers to throw for more yards and more touchdowns! Woo!

I don't know if the LCS will get a big boost from a fantasy LoL system (especially one that broke after Lino invited me to a draft and hasn't been fixed all night) but I'm really intrigued. Riot is even in a position where they could be giving out interesting prizes to ramp up the excitement. Temporary ward skins that can only be used if you were the top scorer in a fantasy league the previous week? Or minor IP awards?

I think it sounds fun regardless, so I'm going to give it a spin. Probably it will serve to remind me when games are on each week which means I'll spend more time watching the LCS. I guess Riot wins this round.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Civ V: Tradition Follow-Up

I was playing some single play Civ V while watching a FFVIII speedrun this afternoon when I got to select a new policy. I didn't have tradition yet in that game and I had 8 cities in various stages of advancement so I figured it was a fine time to test to see if I could figure out what exactly the tradition policy does in terms of border growth rate. I saved in case it ended up being as bad as my searching yesterday indicated it was going to be...

The first thing I noticed while writing down the 'next cost' for each of my cities was how wildly they varied. I tried counting all of the adjacent spaces that were under my control but couldn't really find any rhyme or reason to it. Several of my cities bought land and a full half of my cities were obtained by conquest. Other cities in the area were burned to the ground. So it's possible that some of the squares were obtained by cities that no longer exist or something, and it's possible bought squares are treated differently than earned squares. So when it comes to finding out exactly what is going on... No dice!

But when I went back and tracked how the costs changed when I gained tradition it was obvious that while I don't know exactly what is going on, I do know something significant is going on.

Squares Previously 'Earned'Next CostNext Cost w/ Tradition

One of the cities (a capital I conquered) managed to knock 71% off of the cost of the next square! My own recently settled small city 'only' saved 38%. Most were saving in the 65% range. When the game says signficant it isn't lying!

So the secondary benefit of tradition is actually a real thing. Assuming expanding your borders is a thing you care about, it's a really insane boost. The question then is how much do you care about expanding your borders? Getting a few expansions fast tends to be pretty clutch because often I settle 'near' resources I want but not right beside them. The AI is pretty good about bee-lining towards those, though. After a city has a few really good squares to work it really doesn't need any more unless you're making your cities really, really big. (And if you're making your cities really big you probably need the rest of the tradition tree anyway.) I like expanding my borders against the AI because it keeps them off your land. I like expanding my borders when I'm settling near other people because squares I control are squares they don't control. But in the game where I did this test I went on a warpath early and I don't think I care that I don't own ALL of the land around my cities. I burned all the other cities nearby to the ground so no one owns it. Expanding your borders is actually also a downside if you're trying to farm barbarians for culture with the honour policy since encampments disappear if they get inside your borders.

In my current game I kept tradition because I didn't really want to reload, the 3 culture in my capital isn't nothing, and I just like seeing big borders. But I feel like it wasn't really needed. I still haven't needed to choose a 4th policy in my main multiplayer game so I haven't been put to that choice yet... Is expanding my borders fast against humans I've yet to meet a thing I actually care about? 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Civ V: Culture Policies

Three of the four policies you can choose as your first policy in Civ V have the primary benefit of generating more culture to use unlocking future policies. I know I've played games in the past where my first three policy choices were actually all three of the openers under the plan of using the early culture boosts to ramp into more policies. Unfortunately one of the factors determining how much culture it takes to unlock a policy is how many policies you already have. So these minor culture boosts may or may not actually speed anything up. And even if they do speed things up in the short term it may well end up hurting you, especially since one of the early policies eventually does absolutely nothing.

But that's just a gut feeling... I want to actually look at what's going on with the policy costs and the different early policies and see just how big a boost they end up giving. Do note that even if it may not be much of a boost, if any at all, they do all unlock future policies and have secondary bonuses along with them so they can still be fine choices. Just likely not all three of them!

Tradition gives you 3 extra culture per turn in your capital city and 'greatly increases border expansion' though I've been searching for how much it reduces it and haven't been impressed. It sounds like you normally pay an extra (10*(t-1))^1.1 extra culture for tile t but with tradition that changes to (10*(t-1))^1.075. That's not nothing, but it's not greatly increased. No idea if that's actually the case; I may need to start up a game and hold off on taking tradition until late and see what it seems to go. It also lets you build the Hanging Gardens wonder.

Liberty gives you 1 extra culture per turn in all of your cities and lets you build the Pyramids wonder. This is worse than tradition in terms of getting more policies until you have more than 3 cities, but I think there's benefit to getting the culture growth going in your other cities to get their initial border expansions in quicker.

Honour gives you 33% more combat strength against barbarians and gives you culture for killing barbarians equal to the barbarian's strength value. This can range from being worthless if you have no barbarians to kill (like on an island map when your cities can see all of the land tiles) to being a pretty big number if you have barbarians to farm for culture. It also lets you build the Statue of Zeus which is good for conquering other people.

The cost for your next policy is a function of how many cities you own and how many policies you have. The function is c(25+21.03*p^1.7)(1+.3(n-1)) where n is the number of cities you own, p is the number of the policy you're buying, and c is a constant based on the difficulty settings and game speed. Right now in my current multiplayer game I have 3 policies chosen, but I didn't take tradition. (I bee-lined directly to the free settler in the liberty tree because my starting city spot sucked.) Would I have been better off grabbing tradition instead?

The combined cost for 4 policies would have been 220 culture. For 3 policies would have been 110 culture. In order for tradition to have paid for itself it would have needed to take me 37 turns to get to this point. It was more like 20 turns. And I wouldn't have gained 3 culture for all of those turns, since some of them I actually had liberty instead so I'd only be gaining 2 culture per turn with tradition first until I got enough to pick up liberty too.

Ok, well, in this game where I really wanted that first settler policy it was definitely right to skip tradition. But maybe I should go pick it up now?  Let's look ahead a ways into the future. If I have, say, 4 cities each with a monument then I'll be rocking 13 culture per turn. Getting 3 more from tradition would take that to 16 culture per turn, or a 23% boost. If I look to the area of the table where I have 4 cities and 8 policies the cost difference for a 9th policy is 22%. So at that point it would be pretty much break even if I had a free tradition to start the game or didn't. But I've already played a bunch without it...

So it really feels like grabbing tradition at this point is just wrong in terms of getting more policies. I still might want to get it if I want some of the other policies in the tree (monarchy is pretty sweet) or if I want to ramp up my border growth. Or maybe I want to build the Hanging Gardens! (I did a quick test and my second border growth cost 10 instead of 15 which is way better than what that one formula on the internet told me. I don't know what's up with that, but knocking a third off is pretty significant if it keep bubbling forward.

But how about honour? It's the one I really care about. Robb apparently had a settler kidnapped by barbarians and I jokingly suggested he should grab honour to go beat them up. 33% increased combat strength is a pretty big deal, after all, and his city is stuck until he goes and frees his settler. But is he culture gain from honour viable? Tradition is worth 3 per turn and I don't want it... Could I want honour? It is important to note that this is a multiplayer game with no AI which makes it easier to keep barbarian encampments around to farm up more culture.

I did some searching and can find nothing to tell me how often units spawn out of a barbarian encampment. I feel like I've seen 3 units spawn out of the 1 camp I've found in this game so far (on top of the 4th that's guarding it) and the camp has probably been around for 15 turns? So one unit per 5 turns is probably a decent enough baseline. The power of the units that spawn depends on the techs learned by people in the game but having an 11 strength spearman doesn't seem too unreasonable? So each encampment generates 2.2 culture per turn. So if you could keep just 2 spearman camps around it would be a fair bit better than tradition in terms of more culture for policies. A lot worse for border growth since I don't think any city gets the culture from the barbarians, though. Getting 3 or more farms going? That's actually a pretty significant culture boost. If 3 culture per turn is break even with 4 cities then farming 3 barbarian camps for 6.6 culture per turn feels like it has to be worthwhile. Plus you get the vision of spawning camps and the 33% power boost to help take them out! And you may even get some city states who like when you kill barbarian units?

Will I be getting honour next? I don't know. I settled right beside my first barbarian camp so I can't farm it (it'll disappear when my borders expand into it I think) but I may be able to set up some other farms? I feel like if I have something really important to head towards then I should probably skip it, but that if I have nothing better to get then it's a fine use of my time. (Some policy trees unlock at higher tech levels so if you wanted to save up to get a bunch of city state or culture related techs fast then picking up a booster now could make sense.)

But I don't think it would be a big mistake. And if my settler had been junked by the barbarians then I think getting honour to help get it back faster would actually be a good idea.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: Glitches

If you'd asked me last year what it would take to beat a game really fast I'd have told you things like learning all of the maps. Knowing where all the enemies are, and how to react to them. If it's a game with RPG elements then knowing what treasures to run to and which ones to skip. If you need to gain extra levels or not. I'd probably think to mention something like working out enemy weak points (especially if I was thinking about a Mega Man game, where using the right weapon on each boss can really speed things up).

I probably wouldn't have thought about finding weird bugs and abusing the living daylights out of them. I probably wouldn't have even mentioned something like a 'damage boost' which is where you intentionally take damage in a platformer in order to gain a bit of invincibility and get launched a little bit in the right direction. There are spots in Chip & Dale's Rescue Rangers where you go faster because there are enemies in your way and you can jump into them at the right spot to boost yourself the way you want to go. It's a little crazy, but it's faster, and that's all that matters!

All of the stuff I mentioned at the start is really important too. You're not going to get anywhere fast without a proper plan and a lot of practice inputting the exact right commands at the right times. But the people who go the next step are going to have a higher ceiling for how fast they can go because they're squeezing extra speed out of more elements.

Which means if I want to be really fast at Final Fantasy Mystic Quest I need to know what glitches exist in the game. This is possibly more important than just getting good at the menus and knowing what spells to use when because some games can have glitches that fundamentally alter the way you play the game. 3D platformers and adventure games are notorious for having out of bounds glitches where you can jump or clip through a wall and skip entire parts of the game. Getting really good at a Zelda boss fight that no one else fights because you can skip it isn't going to be a very good use of your time! So I've been doing some searching to find out what glitches are known for Mystic Quest...

First there are glitches that no one seems to be using and that seem pretty worthless. There are a couple glitches with battlegrounds such that you can either gain an extra level prematurely or can set it up to get infinite fights. These could be useful if you desperately needed to hit one specific level, or if you needed access to a large number of quick fights to grind up experience or cash. Mystic Quest is easy enough (thanks to having a high level buddy) that neither of those things feel useful at all.

There's also a glitch where one of your buddies can randomly cast a powerful spell she doesn't know, but only if she's out of mana for a powerful spell she does know. Since this occurs after you can buy a large number of seeds (and hence have essentially infinite spell charges) it probably isn't much use. I'm going to be keeping my eye on it because maybe there are enemies weak to aero or something and it's actually faster to keep her going at no spell charges? I doubt it, but it's going to be in the back of my mind.

Then we have some glitches that are used in current speed runs. There's a bug where the life spell kills off non-zombie enemies instead of zombie enemies. This is more of a thematic glitch I guess since I was planning on testing every enemy anyway to see which ones could be lifed to death.

There's a brutally powerful overflow glitch where enemy health is stored in a 16 bit field so if you can put them over 65535 health it wraps back around. Because the mechanic for the cure spell is percentage of max health based (at level 24 you heal your target for ~91% of their max health) and the end boss has 40k health you can abuse this glitch to kill him in 3 rounds mostly with the cure spell. I don't think any other enemy in the game has enough max health to hit the glitch threshold but it's certainly used to trivialize the final boss.

There's a weird bug where once you get the 3rd bomb weapon you can start throwing bombs. If you run out of bombs you still have the 'throw bomb' button, but it glitches out to be 'repeat last action' instead of 'throw bomb'. There's one dungeon where the 'last action' can be to ride a bucket down to the next floor of the dungeon. Run out of bombs after using one of those elevators and suddenly you can manufacture elevators elsewhere in the level. There's one spot where if you do this a couple times you actually repel down a cliff to the exit of the dungeon, behind the boss of the dungeon, and can just leave out the door. This triggers the game to continue as though you had beat the boss. Not only do you get to skip most of a dungeon you also get to skip a hard boss. He's the fire boss and skipping him means you don't need to worry about getting fire resistance, which lets you skip a bunch of other fights earlier on too. This is exactly the sort of bug you need to know about before just randomly learning the game because I'd imagine if you tried to fight the boss you'd decide you need the fire resist hat and it would alter how you play a lot of the game up to that point.

Then there's a fundamental game changing bug that feels really sketchy but is accepted practice in the community. There's a glitch in the game such that when a new buddy joins your team they don't actually come in wearing their listed equipment. They come in wearing what the last person was using instead. This bug gets fixed if you save the game and then load it back. What's really crazy about the bug is that it chains, so if you don't save/load at all you can keep using the same buddy equipment over and over. This doesn't sound do useful because your buddies get better gear as the cycle in and out... Except that if you load a game with the final buddy, soft reset, and start a new game then the equipment last used is the equipment from the end of the game and all of your buddies all game will get the stats from that gear. Stats that include resistance to status conditions and extra damage on their attacks/spells! Mystic Quest has a lot of RNG based deaths where both of your members get paralyzed or stoned or whatever... But not so much when you abuse this bug since your buddy just won't get stoned (as much or at all is not clear).

Part of me feels like loading a different save game in order to carry over the loot from that game is cheating. How is that different than using a game genie to alter my stats? But this sort of thing is standard in the speed running community. It's a glitch native to the game code itself, not introduced by an outside source like a game genie. That you need a saved game doesn't seem to change anything. People who run Final Fantasy VI do the same thing with a saved game on the Veldt where they reload over and over again to get the encounter random number counter into the right spot to get Gau faster/safer. The time spent manipulating the game in this way doesn't even count against the speed running time. This feels wrong to me, but it's the way of the world, so there's no sense fighting it. And really, it is pretty neat that you can glitch in gear from a different saved game! Creative use of game mechanics instead of just flat out cheating.

There's one final glitch I found that hasn't been mentioned in any of the videos I've watched. It was some guy posting on a forum that showed up on page 7 of the Google search results and that I haven't seen anywhere else. Apparently there's a way to get infinite copies of a consumable item once you have access to a store that sells them. The current world record for the game visits the shop to buy seeds twice; if the glitch actually works then that should shave off a little bit of time by saving a trip to the store. It would also potentially speed up some of the fights between the two shopping trips since seed conservation was a real thing he was worried about until he could go buy the second batch. If you could have infinite seeds then you could just refill your mana as desired. This could be a way to save a bit of time, but only if this random post works out.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 54

Board 54 - Dealer East - EW Vul

Opponents convention card: Bridge World Standard
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: 6 5 4 Q 9 6 5 4 K J 7 7 3

East opens 2 diamonds, weak. My hand sucks so I have no reason to bid. West jumps to 4 spades so I guess East preempted his partner. I again see no reason to bid.

Partner leads the Q of clubs.
A Q 9 8 6 3
T 8 6 5 4
6 5 4
Q 9 6 5 4
K J 7
7 3

Q-4-3-A. Declarer shifts to a diamond. T-2-Q-K. I may be able to get a club ruff if partner led from KQx so I return a club. 7-4 of diamonds-J-5. Turns out partner lead a club from KQJxx and declarer decided to pitch a diamond loser rather than ruff. Partner shifts to a heart which feels like a big mistake when dummy has 1 heart and 1 spade. 2-3-Q-T. I won? What?

Ok, so partner for some reason underled his AK of hearts to get me on lead. Why would he do that? I really want to draw trump here to stick declarer with a heart loser but it feels like partner is trying to get me in to lead something through declarer. A diamond? Does partner want a ruff? I don't think I believe him enough to let declarer ruff a heart though, so I draw trump. 6-K-3-9. Declarer draws more trump. A-Q-3 of diamonds-5. 7-8 of hearts-6 of clubs-4. Declarer draws lots of trump, takes his A of diamonds, and then has to lose a heart at the end. Down 1.
Q 3
A K 8 7 2
K Q J 9 2
A K J T 8 7 2
T 5 4
A Q 9 8 6 3
T 8 6 5 4
6 5 4
Q 9 6 5 4
K J 7
7 3
Four tables played in 4 spades, with three of them going down 1. The other four tables all played hearts from our side going down a ton. So we split a top board with 2 other tables for 12 MPs.

Jack disagrees with my spade return at trick 5. He wants me to return a diamond. It turns out my play is a loser when declarer has an 8 card spade suit, but if declarer had an 8 card spade suit he had 10 top tricks and didn't need to finesse the diamond. If he only has 7 spades then he has to have a loser somewhere (I know partner has the high club and heart and I have the high diamond) unless he gets to ruff it. So taking away dummy's trump should guarantee down 1.

Ranking after board 54/60: 1/16 with 62.43%