Thursday, July 31, 2014


Lino recently hooked me up with the Steam cards needed to max out my FTL badge, because FTL is awesome. One of the badge creations gave me a coupon for 90% off of the game Ultratron. I took a look, saw it was normally under $10, and that it had Steam cards, and decided it was probably worth 99 cents. It helped that I had $1.02 in my Steam wallet from selling off summer sale cards, so in some sense Ultratron was completely free!

Ultratron is a new generation take on the 1982 arcade game Robotron 2084. I used to play that game as a kid on the Atari 600XL computer! You play the game with 2 joysticks, one which controls your movement and one which aims your gun. Enemies spawn, they shoot at you, you shoot at them. You need to dodge their bullets while killing them all. Collect some pick-ups. Repeat until you get swarmed to death. It's not rocket science, but it was definitely frantic and fun.

Ultratron feels a lot like that with the inclusion of an in game currency you can collect by walking near dead enemies. You can spend that currency on shields or bombs or on upgrading your character in a variety of ways via a tech tree. So it plays like Robotron crossed with the power-up scheme of scrolling shooters. Without the horrible downside that if you die once you lose all your power-ups and are terrible! Mostly because if you die once it's game over... But at least you can spend money on shields which are a lot like extra lives without losing your stuff. Hurray!

The game features a boss fight every 10 levels, and if you pass the boss fight your progress gets saved. Now when I die I can start the game at level 1, or at level 11 with all my currency/stuff from when I first beat level 10, or at level 21 with all that stuff instead. I already restarted once from scratch thinking I could do the first 10 levels better with experience having played the game and I sure was right! My new level 11 save is way better than my old one.

I'm having a lot of fun with the game. The controls work great with my xBox controller, and I like level up systems and I like the way saving works in this game. Not every level, but often enough I don't feel like I need to do the first levels over and over again now that I've gotten really good at them. Absolutely worth 99 cents!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WBC Team Bracket

Yesterday Don sent out his 'before the con' email for the World Boardgaming Championships and the main thing that concerned me was it provided the details for how to sign up for the team tournament tournament. I found it interesting that they explicitly call out that you need to already registered for WBC to play. I blame Andrew for that since I feel like he tried to play recently despite not going to WBC. He is finally going this year so he got to submit one for reals this time! You just pick 10 teams off the list and then hope those teams finish in the top 10 of the team tournament. Pretty easy!

I've been struggling with if I should include my own team on my bracket. Part of me feels like failing to do so is showing a lack of confidence in my team and that's not the case. I think we have a pretty good shot at making the top 10 since I'm obviously going to win my team game and most of my teammates have won their team game at least once in casual play... But then I got to thinking about what I've actually liked about the team event in previous years. And the best part has always been when people come up and tell me that they chose my team as a dark horse in the team tournament. In 2011 the winner of the bracket contest (Bruno Wolff, the excellent Titan GM) won because he picked my team and we came 9th which was pretty great. Then last year when we were lazy and didn't submit a team we had a couple team complain to us because they wanted to put us on their bracket and couldn't because we weren't there. (Even worse, we would have won for them!)

I decided what this meant is I actually want to be on a good team so that other people want to pick my team. I don't need to pick my own team to have that happen. In fact, if I don't pick my own team I get to pick 10 other teams to cheer for instead of only 9. So I get to root for 4 more people and maybe if I remember (or can get over anxiety issues) to tell them about it I can share some of that around. And if it turns out I lose the bracket tournament solely because I didn't pick my own team, well, at least my team did well and might have made other people happy!

It also makes my bracket more different than Andrew's, which he posted as a comment on Facebook to my last post on this subject. I used a different method of picking teams than he did, but we still ended up picking a lot of the same teams regardless.

I went through the PDF file on the website which listed all the numbers the odds guy used to work out the odds for each team. He doesn't post the exact formula, but the inputs are the total laurels ever earned at WBC, the laurels earned last year, the laurels earned in the chosen game, and the number of wins in the chosen game. A lot of these make sense, but I think they aren't properly weighted. My big problem is actually with how it deals with newer players and newer games. I get that my 3 teammates who have never been to WBC before are worth nothing in the formula. There's no data and since most people in an event don't make the top 6 it seems pretty reasonable to assert that new people are less likely to do well than established players. My concern is more for things like my own team game, Le Havre. I only have 72 laurels in the game, and I only have 1 win. But the game has only been around for 4 years, and I am #1 on the laurel list for the game. I've earned laurels every year it's been an event. That's not as good as someone who has earned laurels every year for 15 years (13 wins, a 2nd, and a 3rd) for sure (James Pei in For The People, for reference) but how much worse is it? I don't know. But I feel like the handicapper formula they use could use to be normalized for percentage of laurels earned in the event, not total laurels earned in the event. Laurels earned all time should probably be laurels per year attended. That sort of thing.

It's also going to miss out on things like someone new showing up and starting to dominate an existing game, though. Something like what Stephane Dorais has done in Air Baron, which is a game that has been played at WBC for 18 years. Stephane first earned laurels in that event 6 years ago and has gone on to earn them in 5 of 6 years including two wins. That's a reasonably dominating performance, but he's still only 4th on the laurels list for that event.
There's also the problem that the laurel count includes laurels earned at events other than WBC, as does the event wins column. So James Pei is listed as winning 18 times in 15 years. In actuality he won an email tournament and 4 at 'WAM', one of which was an 8 player tournament. Which doesn't detract from how strong he is in the team tournament... He's a machine! But that it's included in his stats means it's included in other people's stats too and those people (whoever they might be) may end up looking stronger than they are. At least compared to people who don't play the email tournaments or go to WAM/EuroQuest/whatever.

But I guess that's why they have a bracket, right? So people can see things like that and think they're onto something and stick them in there! But I still want odds to be perfect, so I'm still going to be annoyed and you can't stop me! So there!

Anyway... I feel like getting into the top 10 mostly requires having one person on the team get a win and someone else earn points. So when I see a team like Nest of Spies which has the aforementioned James Pei on it along with teammates that are all multi-time winners in their events I feel like they have to be put on a bracket. Unfortunately it turned out there were something like 7 teams that looked to be about that good and I really wanted to pick more 'sleepers' to show I'm better than the formula. So I had to drop some of the better odds teams. Oh well!

Here's what I submitted:

1 Nest of Spies
2 Wood Bee Contenders
3 Harry B's
4 Uncivil Servants
5 Magic Men
6 Roll One Die
7 Cold Fusion
8 Now Playing
9 Lady Luck
10 Pea Soup

All the pressure is on you now, Robb! You'd better win for me!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Magic PTQ Changes

A year or so ago Matt told me about a local PTQ that broke some records and came in at apparently 367 players. I'm cherry picking a little, but one of the GPs I attended back in University (Pittsburgh) only had 234 people! That was a team tournament with I think 24 people qualifying for the Pro Tour. To have 50% more players with 4% of the slots on the line is a pretty big difference! When I heard how big that PTQ was I decided I was almost certainly done with trying to play Magic at a high level. The switch to Planeswalker Points over the old ELO system had really made it so that running a PTQ was my only hope and the idea of playing a locally run event with several hundred players is super unappealing.

Earlier today Wizards announced changes to the PTQ system that help fix that problem. They realize they have too many people trying to qualify in some areas (a good problem to have I'm sure) and decided to add an extra step into the qualification process. Now you need to win a tournament in order to qualify for a PTQ in order to qualify for the PT. They're letting every single official store run one preliminary tournament each season and then they're going to run a small number of PTQs that are only open to people who won a preliminary tournament. It doesn't matter where you won a preliminary tournament; it lets you play in any PTQ on the planet. But you can only play in one PTQ per PT.

The PTQs themselves are going to be put on by primary event coordinators and will grant 4 or 8 slots based on attendance with the breakpoint being at 128 people. This feels like a good size to me. They probably won't be so big they'll be overwhelming and if they are they'll have a good enough return on investment to justify showing up.

Potential worries are how many people are going to end up showing up to these local store events and just where they're going to locate the PTQs. There are only going to be 16 for all of the US and Canada which makes me wonder where exactly someone out in, say, New Brunswick is going to need to go in order to play in a PTQ. I wonder how many of the ~3100 stores are out in that area... And if Toronto is getting several hundred people for a PTQ how many are they going to get for a local qualifier for a PTQ? The same several hundred? Or did a bunch of those people travel from several hours away for the PTQ and won't bother to come for a PTQQ?

I'm tentatively encouraged by the announcement. While I didn't have any desire to learn a Magic format enough to run a 400 person PTQ for 1 invite I could totally see going out to a local sealed deck event for 40 people. Then if I win that I don't see any reason why I wouldn't want to run a 80 person PTQ for 4 invites. 80 people is very manageable. 4 slots is a good reward. Only getting to play 1 PTQ in a season is fine for someone who wasn't going to play in a huge PTQ in the current system anyway!

It's probably a lot worse for someone who travels a lot to hit all the PTQs in a region, but I don't feel so bad for those people. Especially since Wizards is adding more GPs onto the schedule! I feel like a GP is a better format for someone who wants to travel and play a lot of extra Magic to qualify for the Pro Tour and PTQs are better left for giving more local players a chance. (I do say this as someone who won a PTQ in a different province so it is a little hypocritical of me...)

Maybe I'll get back into Magic...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sick During WBC

As is sadly becoming a bit of a regular occurrence I have once again come down with some sort of bug during WBC. Some sort of weird summer flu? Maybe something bad I ate? (But not gluten related I don't think since it's a different type of feeling terrible.) I've spent a lot of the last two days sleeping, which is good for getting better but less good for playing games all day.

On the plus side I figured out a way to hopefully be alive and well during tournaments at actual WBC... Lie to the evil viruses that conspire to make me sick and have them think this week is the right week to attack. I was feeling better today than yesterday so I should really be good to go by Sunday. Suck on that, sickness!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bridge Match 3 - Board 4

Board 4 - Dealer West - All Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Excellent

My hand: A J 8 5 K Q J 4 K 8 5 6 5

East opens 1 club in 3rd seat. I double. West bids 2 clubs, partner passes, and East goes to 3NT. I guess that's that.

I lead the K of hearts.
T 8 6
Q 7 6 3
Q T 7 3 2
A J 8 5
K Q J 4
K 8 5
6 5

K-6-2-A. East runs a bunch of clubs but then rather than playing the last club he leads a diamond to his A and then plays a heart to me. I cash 3 hearts, the K of diamonds, and the A of spades. Partner ends up also taking the K of spades. Down 2.
K 4 3 2
5 3 2
J T 9 2
9 8
T 8 6
Q 7 6 3
Q T 7 3 2
Q 9 7 6
A 9 7
A 4
A K J 4
A J 8 5
K Q J 4
K 8 5
6 5
EW played every hand and got 7 different results. 3NT made, and it went down 1, and it went down 2 twice. 3 clubs made and it went up 1. 4 clubs went down 1. 1 spade somehow was played and went down 2. We tie for a top board as a result and get 12 MPs.

Captain Jack gets bitter at me for signalling incorrectly on the club. Fine, whatever.

Ranking after board 4/60: 8/16 with 53.57%

Friday, July 25, 2014

WBC: Team Tournament Tournament

Each year at the World Boardgaming Championships they hold a team tournament where you can sign up in a group of 4 players who each pick a game and try to earn points by winning that prechosen game. Surrounding that team tournament is another tournament of sorts where you can pick 10 teams that you think will do well in the team tournament. Whoever ends up picking the most teams that end up finishing in the top 10 wins a free entry into the next WBC.

The deadline for entering the team tournament has passed and they've posted up the odds for each team. My old teammates have slotted in at 18th position with 49-1 odds. My new team is ranked 55th of 81 with 223-1 odds to win the team tournament. Now, this is because my three teammates have never been to WBC before so the algorithm for estimating how well a team will do assumes all three of them are terrible. This is not the case so I suspect if we were to run WBC in 223 alternate universes we'd end up winning more than once. They do explain a bit of their formula and there's a pretty heavy weighting for alltime laurels earned which really deflates the value of people newer to WBC.

Anyway, the teams are all listed, so it's worth spending some time thinking about who you'd pick in the team tournament tournament. I'm not sure if I should put my own team on my entry (if I get around to making one this year) or not. I do think we have a decent chance of making top 10... But I also feel like if we do make top 10 I'll be pretty happy as it is. So do I really want to double down on being happy for making top 10? Choices... Choices...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Off to WBC!

The World Boardgaming Championships don't start until August 2nd so it feels a little weird to be packing up and leaving today, but it is what it is. It turns out Pounder is on vacation and Robb is, for now, still unemployed so there are plenty of games to be played if only I was in Waterloo. It's not like I actually have any real reason to hang around at my place in Toronto so I'm getting kidnapped later today to live in Pounder's basement for a week or so and play games. Have I mentioned I like games?

I don't want to be away from my computer for so long, especially with all the asynch Civ V games I'm in, so I'm going to be carting that along with all my normal WBC stuff like my bed and 10 days worth of clothes. Today so far has been a lot of packing. Now I need to go buy a network card for my computer so I can have internet in Pounder's basement and then I'm going to play games with Sara, Duncan, and Andrew because what I really need to do before playing board games for 2 and a half weeks is play more board games. Hurray board games!

I haven't done any post prepping yet, but I assume I'll actually get a network card and have internet at Pounder's so I'll be able to whip up some bridge posts to go up as an emergency in case WBC internet is as terrible as it sometimes can be. I fully intend to keep a post going up each day! Hopefully about WBC, but maybe extra bridge stuff. Woo!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mystic Quest Update

Today I got an email that a FFVIII speedrunner I follow had started streaming Mystic Quest with the title saying something along the lines of testing out item manipulation followed by a personal best attempt. I was intrigued at the item manipulation testing so I tuned in. He had his split times up, and his personal best was a good 14 minutes better than the world record when I last checked. Something's happened to speed things up! And that something was related to what I was going to test if I ever got around to getting over my fear of talking to the cable company and getting my upload speed fixed: buying 0 of an item.

It would seem buying 0 of an item is the same as buying 256 of an item. But it also does some weird overflow things with the rest of your inventory, especially if all 4 of your consumable item slots are already filled with other things. (There are only 4 consumables in the game so 4 slots should be enough to hold them all, but the weird overflow thing messes with that.) Buying more items after things have started breaking warps your entire inventory by adding or removing key items. The whole game is gated by locked doors, warp zones, and key item related triggers. So being able to change your inventory around on the fly allows you to skip over chunks of the game! The guy who was testing this morning went and recruited the level 31 buddy when the main character was only level 9. This buddy was able to one shot the final boss of the ice dungeon! Unfortunately a lot of the triggers can only happen once so by recruiting that character early in the game they weren't around to trigger the actual plot later on when they were supposed to. He ended up getting the game into a broken state such that he couldn't move around on the map anymore. Then he went to do a real run, but he ended up messing that up and also softlocked the game after playing for an hour.

I was intrigued to see what the world record might be now so I did some searching and it looks like it was actually broken this week. It sounds like the community only found out about the buy 0 seed bug a few days ago but have already made a route that can safely skip the entire fire area. I was annoyed watching the world record run because the guy who did it swears a lot and gets _really_ whiny and bitter when random stuff happens. I feel like if you can't handle sometimes having your party get killed then maybe you shouldn't be playing Mystic Quest.

It does make me a little sad that I knew about (at least part of) this bug but I could never bring myself to ask the people running the game about it. I wish I could talk to people.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

FumBBL League Updates

I'm playing in three leagues on FumBBL that have recently hit a variety of milestones worth mentioning since the last time I posted about Blood Bowl. As a reminder I'm in a league where you draft players out of a different league and an admin helps you cheat those players onto your team. I'm in a league with a salary cap in an attempt to keep teams from getting too out of control. And I'm in a league where there's one copy of every race in the game.

The drafting league recently finished off the playoffs. I managed to make it all the way to the Super Bowl finals where I lost to a Skaven team with a truly ludicrous lineup of gutter runners including a guy who can score in one turn who also has a bonus agility for funsies. I actually managed to get to the second half tied 1-1 with me receiving which is a great place to be, but I was down to 9 players and my opponent still had 12. Having 12 is important because it meant the guy who moves 13 spaces didn't have to come on the field and I couldn't try to injure him before scoring. This meant the game was almost certainly going to be at best overtime for me. But then he took out 2 more of my players right away which meant I couldn't fully protect the ball and he made some lucky but not unreasonable rolls to steal it and score himself. On the plus side I had removed a lot of his players by this point including killing his +ST blitzer. He was down to 7 players, I was back up to 8, and I had 4 turns to tie it up. I also needed to take out the one turner and maybe I could force overtime. But then he crippled my best player and only remaining damage threat and I couldn't get a hold of the gutter runners. Oh, and he stole the ball and scored again. The end result was a 3-1 loss. Second place in my first season in the league is pretty good though! I got the 31st pick in the draft as a result and took a guy with block, +AV, and 27 SPP. So he's only 4 points from his next level where he can get guard and be a nice meat shield. I suspect people think I made a bad pick but since the divisions in this league are fixed I know I'm going to have 6 of my 14 games next season against Dwarves, Khemri, and Orcs. They're all going to be slugfests and none of them can get claw so stacking up extra armour feels good to me.

The cap league has reached the playoffs and I've managed to play ahead to the point where I know I'm in the Superior Bowl finals for the second year in a row but I don't know who my opponent is from 4 available options. The finals deadline is going to be during WBC which is tricky for me. I hope the other side of the bracket plays fast so I can schedule the finals ahead, or that my opponent can play early in the week. Hotel internet is very spotty at best and I don't know that I'd really want to skip a WBC game to play Blood Bowl. Forfeiting the finals would suck. But I got to this point with a forfeit win in the wildcard round, so I can't complain too much! My conference finals game featured two teams at 2170 TV. Considering the cap coming into this season was 1750 those are pretty big numbers. My team got that high mostly by continuing to get lucky with player survival. I've still only suffered one death and one retire level injury in 44 games! I am starting to accumulate random lesser injuries but it's nothing to worrying at this point. I'm not sure if my opponent was surviving well or just earning a ton of experience to replace injuries. I suspect the latter? He also appears to be very good at rolling levels on his team since his elf team isn't allowed to take strength skills except on doubles and he had 6 guys with guard and one with mighty blow. And one guy with a bonus strength and two with bonus agility. He opened that game with a blitz and scored quickly on my possession after my ball carrier rerolled a blitz into double skulls. He then stole the ball again on the next drive and things were looking very bleak. I was out of rerolls but then I started getting super lucky and managed to get the ball back after two go for its and a two die blitz which found a pow and KOed the elf with the ball. I then continued to get lucky to recover the ball and then make the 4+ 3+ pass to end the half with a touchdown. I'd only inflicted one casualty by this point despite being a really bashy team, but on the plus side my opponent had crippled one of his own guys and killed another with failed dodges. He still had 9 left to my 14 and the score was tied with me kicking to him. My way wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible. Then my opponent rolled snake eyes on a hand-off and it all exploded on him. He'd left a lot of guys in contact when he tried the hand-off and I killed one of his best players with the first hit after that. (8/3/5/7 with leap/dodge/block/nerves of steel/catch) By the end of that turn I had the ball and it was 10v4 on the field. He continued to leave guys in contact to try to keep me from scoring and I killed one of his guard elves. He actually managed to get the ball when he was down to 2 elves and he did keep me from scoring at all which took the game to overtime. But overtime was a 4v10 with me receiving and with me having 2 rerolls to his 0. There was no miracle coming and I scored easily in 4 turns. I feel like his team with all the guard and only 7AV was probably really good at bashing finesse teams but he kept leaving low armour people in contact with my mighty blow high armour dwarves and he really suffered the consequences. His team value is down to 1580 for his next game so he probably won't have cap issues. Unless I suffer similar damage in the finals I will have to make some cuts, but those are decisions for another time. I did have a guy level in my last game and now my blocker with claw and mighty blow rolled a 6+4. So he can take a movement or an armour on top of a general or strength skill. I was planning on taking piling on but now need to think about taking the movement instead. I can piling on with his next level and it'll be a lot better when he can move 2 after standing up instead of just 1. 5 movement is also better range for a blitz and since he is claw guy he wants to be blitzing a lot.

In the highlander league I threw back my high elf team and got to start a new Orc team. I'd never played Orcs before, but since they're built with high armour and like to punch things they're right up my alley. I went 3-1 in the first half of the season, losing badly to Skaven but beating up Humans, Elves, and Dark Elves. I themed the team after wrestlers and my best player is Bret Hart, a blitzer with mighty blow and tackle. He's already scored up 2 kills!

Monday, July 21, 2014


I tried out another game from my Steam library that awards Steam trading cards today. The game was Magicka, which came with the premise that you were a mage with access to a bunch of different elements and you could combine said elements in order to create a wide variety of spells. It sounded pretty neat, since I like magic and I like combo systems.

The combo system was actually pretty neat. Casting a spell with one fire element gave you a short range flamethrower thing. Casting a spell with a fire and an earth gave you a fireball. Casting a spell with a fire and an arcane gave you a long range fire beam. Then you could also learn extra combos that could be used with similar combinations as long as you hit a different cast button. So for example a fire, a lightning, and an arcane could make either a long range beam that did fire and lightning damage or it could cast haste.

One thing I had fun doing was combining a water with a steam (itself a water and a fire) to make a rain spell. It would cover the screen in rain for a while, drenching everything. Then once the rain ended I could cast fire on myself to dry myself off. Then it was just me and a bunch of enemies cover in water... Sounds like a fine time to cast chain lightning! ZAP!

Unfortunately the input mechanism was very clunky. You have 8 different elements to choose from, and the way to select an element was to hold down the right control stick, move it in one of the 4 cardinal directions, and then move it 90 degrees to one side or the other. So click->hold->up->left->release to add a life element to your character. Or click->hold->left->down->release to add a lightning element. Add up to 5 elements then cast a spell. The whole process was rather awkward, and I found I spent most of my time running from enemies while I tried to input elements instead of murdering things with cool spell combinations.

The game also seemed to be designed as a co-op game since it would tell me about cool stuff to do and/or avoid doing with your teammates. Stuff like not crossing the beams! I could see how it would be easier to pull off combos with other people around... Someone could be in charge of dousing the enemies while the other person fills them up with lightning! Half as many awkward spell casts per enemy death has to be a good thing. As a bonus for playing single player the game gave me a faerie which would bring me back to life ala Zelda. That was nice since it gave me a chance to learn things by dying without having to reload at a checkpoint. It was abysmally bad since they took the Zelda thing one step to far and decided the faerie friend needed to act like Navi by constantly popping up inane text boxes. Yeah, I get it, people found Navi annoying and you want to be cool by bringing it up. Doing it a couple times would have been a neat easter egg. Actually having it constantly spamming me is actually just annoying and was a big turn off.

All in all Magicka felt like a cool idea for a game that just wasn't very fun for me due to a UI I couldn't get the hang of and an annoying single player experience. I don't remember buying it so I assume it came in a bundle of some kind and it had some Steam cards so I'm glad I gave it a whirl, but I don't intend on playing it any more.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bridge Match 3 - Board 3

Board 3 - Dealer South - EW Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Excellent

My hand: A Q 6 2 Q 9 8 5 3 K J 4 2

I open 1 club, West bids 1 spade and partner jumps to 3 hearts. Yeah, he has a weak hand with lots of hearts and I have a 4-1-4-4 hand. Hurray. 3 hearts is probably our safest place at this point so I pass, as does West.

East leads the K of diamonds.
8 5 3
A T 8 5 3 2
Q T 6 2
A Q 6 2
9 8 5 3
K J 4 2

Well, it sure looks like I'll be lucky to take any tricks at all. I may be able to set up a diamond trick and I probably get 3 or 4 heart tricks. I'll also get a spade. Maybe I can convince West to lead a black suit for me at some point. First the opening lead... K-3-7-2. East shifts to the club ace. A-2-3-2 of hearts. Well, that sure helps. Now I have a club trick and can pitch off a guaranteed spade loser. But there's no real rush for that, so I'll find out the bad news in hearts. 3-K-Q-7. East goes back to a diamond. 4-5-A-6. West plays the last diamond. J-Q-9 of hearts-8. I have a diamond trick now too. Hurray!

East now draws trump for me. Thanks East! 4-2 of spades-J-A. I draw another round of trump. T-6-4 of clubs-4 of spades. Ok, I have the high diamond, 2 hearts, the high club, and the A of spades. The only way I can get 6 tricks is by finessing in spades. I don't see a way that I lose 2 tricks by trying it, and I don't see a way to set anything else up. And I can't drop a stiff king in West unless he's terrible since he already pitched a spade.

I lead a spade and East shows out. Well, I guess there is a chance the Q of clubs is stiff now. So I hop with the A and cash the K of clubs. It doesn't work. Down 1.
8 5 3
A T 8 5 3 2
Q T 6 2
K J T 9 7 4
J 7
A J 7
7 3

K 9 6 4
K 4
A Q T 9 8 6 5
A Q 6 2
9 8 5 3
K J 4 2
There are 8 different results on this board. NS only played twice, going down 1 in 3 hearts and going down 2 in 3 hearts. EW played the rest, going down 2 in 3 spades, down 1 in 3 spades, down 1 in 2 spades, making 2 spades, making 3 clubs doubled, and somehow making 4 clubs doubled up one. Our mere -50 is right near the middle of the pack and is worth 8 MPs.

Jack doesn't like my opening bid. He wants me to open 1 diamond instead. Since I'm going to bid spades if partner bids hearts I think I like 1 club more here. Especially since my club suit is so much better and we're playing Walsh.

Ranking after board 3/60: 10/16 with 42.86%

Friday, July 18, 2014

Final Fantasy X-2: Active Time Battle

All of the core Final Fantasy games from Final Fantasy IV through Final Fantasy IX used what the call the active time battle system. This is a real time system where you input commands for your characters one at a time and everyone's turn to take an action can come up while you're thinking about what to do. Or while an animation is going off. There were tweaks as the games progressed but they were all the same basic idea, and they all really had the flaw that the enemies could take a better advantage of spell animations than the player could. You ended up needing to turn on the 'wait' option and then go into the item menu with another character while spells were animating in order to make the system work properly.

Final Fantasy X changed it all up by basically forcing time to pause for all characters while anything was happening. Spell animations, selecting your command from a menu, falling asleep in your chair... Everything is paused. It was very much a more strategic combat system, and I for one really liked it. You'd think Final Fantasy X-2 would be more of the same, but they decided that keeping the world and characters from the first game was all they needed to keep and went in a completely different direction with the battle system.

Where Final Fantasy X took time out of the equation Final Fantasy X-2 decided to go all in on real time. Not only do your action timers charge up while other things are happening, other things can happen while other things are happening! In all of the other Final Fantasy games one action happens at a time. If I'm stepping forward to swing my sword then that's what is going on right now. This is not the case in FFX-2, where multiple people can be attacking at the same time. They actually made it a thing where you do bonus damage if you chain your attacks together in a short period of time! Yuna's starting class actually has an ability that attacks ~12 times in a row so small damage, but it stacks the chain multiplier up pretty high and can make for some big bonus damage.

There are some weird things going on with the system. Auto attacks happen as soon as you enter the command (with some classes having ranged attacks so they really are instant and others being melee so you need to watch the animation of running up to swing your sword before the damage happens) but spells get an extra charge bar after you enter the command. After the charge time happens you cast the spell. You then immediately get to enter another command, which is nice, but you essentially end up paying the delay for a spell before you get the spell and the delay for an attack after you get the attack.

There's also the issue with a character being in multiple animations at once, which doesn't seem to be able to happen. This opens up the option of delaying an action by hitting the person! I recently had my party set up as three ranged attackers (gunner, gun mage, psychic) and was fighting a big robot thing that had a wind up attack for big damage. He'd start running towards someone to attack him, and I'd hit him with attack after attack after attack. Each time he got hit he'd stutter a bit, which meant he took an awfully long time to actually do his damage. He probably only got to attack a third as much as he should have. This felt good. But when the enemies get to do it to me it feels terrible. I had Rikku as a black mage for a while but this mechanic made it so she got to attack less often than she should, and she had a limited mana pool. So once again I feel obligated to take auto attack jobs in a job game.

I was hoping I was missing something so I decided to go look up a mechanic guide to see how the ATB system worked but there's not much of a mechanic guide for this game. I did find a bunch of people complaining about how terrible black mage spells were, and I found a bunch of people saying how awesome the chaining system of auto attacks is. I did find a damage formula guide which showed that physical attacks square your strength and magical attacks are linear with magic power which means spells are going to suck in the late game in FFX-2 just like they did in FFX.

Oh well... This isn't actually bad for me. I like auto attacks, after all, and tend to avoid using my limited amount of mp on spells anyway. So having spells do less damage and take longer doesn't really hurt my default plan. It's just disappointing that things aren't close to balanced. Especially since Rikku had such great puns in her black mage form...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

League of Legends: Doom Bots of DOOOOOOOOOM!

The newest short term game mode has come out in League of Legends, and it's running with the twist that it's a coop vs AI game mode instead of a normal player vs player game mode. This means you're on a team of 5 humans playing against a team of 5 bots. This is a normal game mode which is great for people learning the game, or for people who are not very good at this type of game, or for people who are good and want to pick up a free win or try a new champion. The twist with the Doom Bots game mode is the bots are not your regular ordinary bad at the game bots. They do still make bad decisions, but all of their abilities have been buffed to be ludicrous.

I played a game with Robb and some online acquaintances to try the mode out and it was pretty great to see the bots use an ability that we know and understand and have it do something stupid on top of what it should do. The first game I played featured an enemy champion who normally puts out a little area of effect around him that does percentage max health damage. In this game mode every enemy unit on the map near him also used this spell! So the enemy minions all had a brutally powerful damage debuff. I faced off against an enemy champion that throws out a spell that roots anyone it hits... Only this time if it hit someone it rooted them and then launched out a ring of projectiles that would themselves also root anyone they hit! So the bot would be stupid and throw it out at the minions, but then the entire area would be covered in things that root you. It was crazy, and it was pretty fun.

We beat the bots pretty handily despite their abilities being buffed. That's ok, Doom Bots is ready for that. Beating them once unlocked a harder mode where every enemy champion also picked up a random powerful ability from another champion in the game. Maybe they get a second life when they die. Maybe they summon whirlwinds around them to constantly knock people up. Maybe they cause a ghost of Garen to spawn in a nearby bush and spin on anyone who comes near. And then each time they died they'd respawn with a different ability! So you never really knew what was going to be coming at you.

We beat them too, but Riot was ready once more. You beat Doom Bots 1? You beat Doom Bots 2? Fine. Face off against Doom Bots 5! Now the bots get super charged abilities, and they get 2 random powerful abilities, and they take a page from the Civ V AI and cheat to earn tons of extra gold. It was insane! (And then we won, because we were 5 humans using voice chat who are pretty good at the game and they're still bots.)

This game mode is certainly crazy, but it's very fun. Definitely worth trying out if you play the game.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Papers, Please

Papers, Please is a border checkpoint simulator. You play as a poor family man in a fake eastern European 80's country that lucked into a job as a border guard. You go to work, people try to get into your country, and you look at their passport. Stamp it and let them through. Look at the next person in line. Repeat until the workday is done. Go home, spend your paycheck on food and heat for your family. Repeat.

There are some twists... You aren't actually supposed to just blindly stamp every passport and let people through. No, you need to make sure the passport checks out with an ever increasing number of banal rules imposed by the government. You need to make sure the passport hasn't expired, and that it was issued in the right place, and that foreigners have the right extra documents. That the extra documents match up properly. And on and on. Mess up and the game yells at you. Take too long and you don't process enough people. You get paid by the person processed so if you're too slow your family starves and gets sick.

It's all very depressing. I can imagine life in a world like this. I can imagine thinking I need to be happy that I have any job at all so that my family can have a nice class 8 apartment and heat if I do a good job. But there are so many stupid rules, and the rules keep changing, and the people you reject at the border make you feel bad for rejecting them. Life in a border checkpoint simulator sucks.

There's a plot going on in the background as time goes by. My first game ended abruptly when I took a big bribe and then was asked about it by an inspector from the government. I told him the truth and got thrown in jail as a result. Stupid government. It made me want to play again and try to find a way to stick it to the government. (Which started by taking a big bribe and then lying about it. Hah!) But the gameplay isn't all that fun, so even though I want to know what happens I don't know that I care enough to keep playing.

There's also the problem that I find one of the rules you need to enforce really offensive. Passports have a gender listed on them and if someone doesn't look like that gender you need to question them on it. Sometimes this is because the passport is a fake and the game uses it as a legitimate reason to reject their entry or detain them. But other times it's because the person presents as the 'wrong' gender and the solution is to use an invasive scanner on them. Then you have to check out the naked photo to look for prominent breasts or a penis to make sure that matches the gender listed on the passport.

This is all kinds of terrible. I don't think I can properly do justice in a discussion of transgender issues, but what I do think I can say is that this is horrible. Turning someone back at a border because of what genitals they may or may not have it just plain wrong. Using a scanner for the sole purpose to check what someone looks like naked is so wrong I can't even find words to find how wrong it is. (You also use the scanner on people who weigh more than they should... Frequently finding stuff taped to their bodies like knives or bombs. Presumably that is justification for having them at all.)

Now, I could just ignore the rule. That's certainly how I started out, because it wasn't explicitly listed anywhere that I saw. But each time you let someone through who shouldn't go through you get yelled at and get a permanent mark on your record. Let too many through in a given day and you get a financial penalty which for me at least tends to result in my family going hungry or cold. I don't like getting yelled at. I don't like being 'bad' at a game. I like following rules. I don't like having my fake family get punished for my failures. It all just adds up to not feeling good playing the game, and that doesn't make me want to keep playing.

Maybe this is all social commentary about how bad oppressive systems can be? Maybe I feel bad about being a border guard in a pseudo-Russian country because the developer wants me to feel bad? If so, good job, I guess? But I'm not going to keep playing your game. At least I got my Steam cards out of you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

League of Legends: Skin Usage Anecdotes

Tobold remains in my blog reader feed so I end up reading his posts. Often this is a pretty reasonable thing to do because he does talk about games and I find games interesting to read about. Sometimes there's a suggestion for a game I might want to play. Or avoid. Note that it isn't always that I want to play games he recommends, sometimes I want to play games he rants against. But it is useful to have any data points when making a decision, right?

One topic he sometimes comes back to is cash shops in games that are ostensibly free to play. I do as well, because it's actually a pretty important topic I think. Cash shops work for the game companies in some cases so they're pretty much going to be a staple for years to come. I've played plenty of games that have cash shops and sometimes I even buy things from them. I bought energy rechargers in Galaxy Legion, and stash tabs in Path of Exile. I've picked up some extra songs in Final Fantasy Theatrhythm. One could even argue that all the stupid DLC stuff I have for Civ V is a cash shop purchase even though the way you buy it is totally outside the game. Heck, I have board game expansions and I used to spend a silly amount of money on Magic cards and those are a lot like a cash shop in a game. I even did some Magic Online drafts recently!

One of Tobold's key ranting points is that people won't buy random junk at a rate that will keep a game afloat. He says games need to sell power in their stores to convince people to pay cash. And then because he thinks game companies should stay in business and he likes the free to play model he pretty easily arrives at the conclusion that 'pay2win' is a good thing for games. I disagree that people will only pay reasonable cash for power and therefore feel I can take the stance that 'pay2win' is a terrible thing and try my best to avoid playing games which have that trait. Which is why I get so frustrated when he tries to paint League of Legends as a 'pay2win' game despite not actually playing the game to know anything about it.

At any rate, Riot doesn't post a breakdown of incoming money so there's no real way to know what people are spending money on. Because of the IP system and the way the game gates your access to champions the argument could be made that spending money to get more champions is increasing your power and therefore you can easily pay to win in LoL. I think this is false because you earn enough IP to buy a good enough selection of runes and champions just by playing the game. (I also think restricting access to champions forces you to get practice on a few champions at a time which actually makes you better off, not worse off.) I see the ability to buy champions with cash as a way to trade money for time, not money for power, and I do think that's a fine way to run a cash shop. But I don't think Riot is making a lot of bank off of it either. I bought one champion for money (because his name was Ziggs and I wanted to reward Riot for naming a champion after me) but most of the money I put into the game was on skins. My assertion has always been that this is how most people operate, especially people who play the game enough to feel like they can justify spending a bunch of money. But I haven't had any way to prove that. I could talk anecdotally about the people I know, and how almost all of them have bought skins if they spend money at all, but that's not evidence.

What I decided to do was start tracking the other people in my games. The people I randomly get matched up with and against in games. These are people I know nothing about. These are people who are a random sampling of people who actively play the game. These are probably the people paying the money to keep Riot's servers running. These are also all people who are already level 30, and for many of the games are people in the high gold/low platinum match maker bracket. So you aren't going to be finding people who could be buying xp boosts at this point (not that I would know if they had). I can't work out a breakdown of what people are paying money for. What I can do is show that people are, in fact, willing to spend money on skins. That is, if my opponents are actually running with skins. If most of the games have no one with a skin other than myself it would point more to the fact that people don't spend money on skins!

There are a few issues based around the fact the game has so many champions and you buy skins on a per champion basis. So even if someone spent a lot of money on skins if they just happened to be playing a game where they weren't using a skin it doesn't mean they don't have any skins. It just means they don't have a skin for that specific champion. With skins ranging from $3 to $13 each and 119 champions in the game that would actually be a lot of money to have a skin for every champion. I've spent a reasonable amount (triple digits for sure, but I don't know how much exactly) and I've only got skins for 21 champions. If I chose randomly from all 119 in the game I'd only have a 17% chance of using a skin. In reality there are a bunch of champions I'd never pick because I don't own them or don't like them but even then I suspect my skin usage is actually lower than 17%. My most played champion now doesn't have a skin I like, so even if I'd spent thousands of dollars I wouldn't use a skin! I also haven't spend any money on skins since I lost my job so any new champions that come out are base model only for me. But I'm a little odd, and probably the random people I get paired against are a little more normal with their skin usage? I don't know.

At any rate, I've kept track of 63 games since I decided to start paying attention. I don't count my own champion, or any of my friends. I'm looking at just the random people. I excluded most of the 'One for All' mode games once I realized they were probably screwing my numbers after getting into a game where someone was able to buy a temporary skin for all their teammates! But the first couple did sneak in because I had no way to exclude them retroactively. My only notes are number of people with a skin, and number of people without a skin. Most of the games are either 5v5 solo queue ranked games or 3v3 team games. Of note, I only played 2 games where none of the other players had a skin at all. 61 of 63 games featured at least one player who had paid money for just a skin. 7 of the 63 games actually had every single other player with a skin. 11% of the time every other person in the game had paid money for a skin. Overall there were 418 random people in my games and 222 of them had a skin. 53% of the other players were using a skin.

That's a really big number. I went into this wanting to exclude myself and my friends because I was worried we wouldn't be representative and had spent too much money on skins. But it turns out we're not representative the other way! We don't spend nearly as much money on skins as a random person!

I can't say if all these random people also spent money on xp/ip boosts or not. I can't say if they bought lots of extra champions or not. (And if they are buying and using tons of champions they're spending extra money on skins in order to keep the odds of using one up!) But I can say that random people are ALL OVER spending money on things to look pretty without providing any tangible benefit of any kind. Especially since people can spend money on some skins and still play skinless champions running into 53% of people actively using a skin has to mean more than 53% of people have bought skins. (Unless everyone who buys any skins buys all the skins I guess, but that really ramps up Riot's bottom line if 53% of people are buying all the skins!)

I think it's pretty clear that people are willing to buy vanity items like skins, and are willing to buy a lot of them, and are willing to pay a lot for them. I don't think a cash shop needs to turn to selling power in order to make money. And I definitely think League of Legends is a pretty darn good example of how a game can sell pretty pictures at a profit.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My 2014 WBC Schedule, Honest

I finally got around to finishing off my scheduling spreadsheet for WBC this year. I'd wanted to update it to make it faster (right now when you select a game it checks every other game to see if it overlaps when I should just build a table of connections and only check other games it can influence) but I ended up deciding I just wanted to get a look at things for myself this year and be done with it. So I stuck with old and slow and put together a little something...

Just like every year I couldn't find time to squeeze in Empire Builder. I have this (possibly irrational) fear of playing some of the more 'real time' games at WBC. I worry that the shortcuts my group uses for these sorts of games (like the mid-turn parse and the no destructive track) will make it difficult or unpleasant to play the game in a semi-competitive setting. It's the same reason we walked away from Gangsters a few years back after getting taught the game before a heat. Being on the clock in a new game is extra stressful and not being able to take things back or count ahead is rough. And yet I still added in two heats of Galaxy Trucker this time. Maybe I just like that game enough to risk running into real time issues? I do worry about how to handle people double fisting it (and I worry that I will accidentally do so myself!) Maybe I'll end up getting enough Galaxy Trucker games in open gaming that I can drop it from my schedule? I do prefer playing with expansions, after all...

This is the first year I haven't found a spot for Queen's Gambit in my schedule and that makes me sad. Even though I haven't won a game since 2008 I still like playing the game. I wonder what I put against it since I didn't consciously exclude it... The first heat is up against my team game (Le Havre) so it's a non-starter. The second heat conflicts with Galaxy Trucker... Hmm... The third heat conflicts with Agricola, which I added in to my schedule this year since I've started playing it again in person and online. But I don't know that I need/want to play all the heats and I can probably drop this one for Queen's Gambit if I don't back out of Galaxy Trucker. Bottom line... I should still bring my copy of Queen's Gambit since I'll probably convince myself to play it over one of those!

A Few Acres of Snow disappearing due to a lack of GM is annoying, but it does open up being able to play two games that have conflicted with it the last two years. I can plan on having time to play in both the San Juan and Through The Ages elimination rounds this year! Woo! There's certainly no guarantee I make them, but I can slot them in for now because there's nothing else really against them.

On top of those two games the only final I've put on my schedule is Le Havre. It's my team game, so I feel obligated to schedule it even if I won't make the finals. I do plan on making the finals since I've done so every year thus far, but anything could happen! And it's not like I'll be getting up at 9am on Friday morning for anything other than Le Havre, anyway.

I only put two demos on the schedule this year, and they're for games that have existed forever but haven't run demos in the past. Ace of Aces and Pro Golf. Both games have been things I've wanted to try but didn't know how to play and 'C' events haven't always worked out the best for me. Part of the reason for not including any other demos is I already learned how to play 2 of the new games this year and have even put them on my schedule! Spyrium and Concordia both were fun enough (Concordia more-so) that they seemed worth giving a spin. I assert that trials tend to be softer fields than established games and I'd like to win something! Also, they fit into empty holes. That may be more important.

I may or may not plan on sleeping in all day Saturday. Even if I don't explicitly plan for it to happen it always seems to happen anyway. Looking back at my old posts it looks like I've started playing games on Saturday at 1pm, 11am, ???, 8pm, 7pm, 3pm, and 9pm. So even putting a game in at noon seems extreme. Looking at it makes me feel like maybe I'm too old for a full week of games but in reality I know that by Friday night it's more likely I'm just up playing games until 4am. When else are Robb and I going to play TOBOGGANS OF DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM?!?

There are also way too many food holes in my schedule this time around. Not a single day is booked from 9am until midnight! I must be slacking something fierce. Or maybe I just want to eat at Red Robin? Yum!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bridge Match 3 - Board 2

Board 2 - Dealer East - NS Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Excellent

My hand: A Q 7 5 4 A 7 7 5 A Q J 6

I open 1 spade in second seat. Partner raises to 3, which should show a weak hand with 4 spades. But it didn't get alerted, which makes me think we may not be playing Bergen raises? Time to cheat and sneak a peak at my card... (Which I feel ok doing because I play one hand per week.) Bergen compex is turned on. So he should have 4 spades and fewer than 6 points. My hand is pretty good, but probably not good enough. I pass.

West leads the Q of diamonds.
J 8 6 3
T 8 5 2
A 8 3 2
A Q 7 5 4
A 7
7 5
A Q J 6

Ok, well, that sure is what I thought partner had. I guess you just don't need to alert the 3 spade bid in Bergen? Good to know! Anyway, I will lose a diamond, a heart, and a spade or two. I'm going to have a hard time taking tricks since I don't really have much to set up outside of clubs. Maybe I should try a dummy reversal and ruff a lot of red cards in hand? I should duck the opening lead to cut communication I think. Q-2-6-7. West continues a diamond. 9-A-4-5. Yeah, I want to ruff a bunch on hand. So I play another diamond. 3-K-4 of spades-J.

But now how to get back to board? Probably I should just go ace of clubs, ruff a club. Run it. A-2-7-5. 6-4-3 of spades-3. Another diamond through. 8-T-Q of spades-3 of hearts. I cash a heart and lose a heart. They try to take another heart, which I ruff. With the heart pitch earlier I have the last heart on board now. So I should probably draw trump? If spades are 2-2 that's fine, but if they're 3-1 it's bad. I'll cash the A and see what happens. A-2-6-9. Bleh. Let's just ruff things. I play a club. Q-K-8 of spades-8.

Ok, they have 2 spades left, and I have the high club. Their two spades are high. So my only way to make another trick is if spades were 2-2. Might as well draw trump then. Spades were 3-1. Making 3.

J 8 6 3
T 8 5 2
A 8 3 2
K T 2
Q J 6 3
Q J 9
K 4 2
K 9 4
K T 6 4
T 9 8 6 3
A Q 7 5 4
A 7
7 5
A Q J 6
Everyone played in spades, but with 4 different results. Two pairs made 4 spades. 2 pairs went down 1 in 4 spades. 1 pair was in 2 spades making 4. And 3 pairs were in 3 spades making 3. We lose to all the people who took 10 tricks and beat the people who went down. So we get 6 MPs.

Jack disagrees with my pass. He wants me to bid 4 spades. That feels crazy. I have too many losers for his hand to be good enough considering how bad it has to be for the 3 spade Bergen bid. He had a complete maximum and it was still a questionable game! He then disagrees with my play most of the way through the hand. He doesn't want me to draw trump because it will cost an overtrick. Which it turns out is true. Doh.

Ranking after board 2/60: 10/16 with 35.71%

Friday, July 11, 2014

Civ V: Balancing Asynch Games?

We've mostly entered the modern era in our first asynch Civ V game and a few issues have arisen in this game and in conversations with Robb that may need solutions outside the game itself. There seem to be certain things that work in a particular way that probably only crop up in an asynch game so they weren't considered or were deliberately ignored by the game designers. Ideally there'd be a solution in game but that's not going to happen...

The main problem is the way turns are treated in the game. Each person, starting with the game host, takes a turn. Then the game does a cleanup step at the end of the cycle and the game host goes again. People used to playing a single player game will understand this concept for sure. Barbarians and city states take moves after all of the AI civs take moves, and that happens after the player takes a turn. Some of the stuff that happens during this cleanup step are crucially important and the game host always gets to act first after they happen which really isn't fair.

There are some minor advantages with going first. For example, the game host will always win a tie for a wonder if two people would build it on the same turn. Matt complained several times in the comment thread for our most progressed game that he'd missed out on wonders by one turn over and over. Rough, but at least he was legitimately a turn behind. He finished Parthenon on the exact same turn I did, but he got to have it and I didn't because he was first in turn order. Ideally the game would look ahead to see if a wonder was going to be tied for and would give it out randomly. Or maybe if a wonder was legitimately completed on the same game turn by multiple civs then they both get to have it. The game host will always be a turn ahead on troop movements, too. So they have a minor edge in both attacking and defending

The cleanup phase is when spies assigned to city states get to rig elections. This happens on a schedule and the starting player always gets to go first. Now, city state elections rarely matter. They can boost someone's influence and knock everyone else down. Where it does matter is when people are at war and an election makes it so one of the warring civs loses control of their ally. When this happens everyone is able to make peace with the city state and can spend money to become the ally. In an asynch game the game host gets first crack.

Now, I don't think this is actually something that should ever happen. Because elections are on a fixed schedule and you can look and see how much influence you have with a city state you can always pay money in advance to make sure you never lose control of the city state. Stealing a city state this way should only work against broke opponents, or negligent ones. But because you don't know where your opponent has parked their spies you don't know which allies you need to bump up and which you don't. Keeping a city state ally is so critically important that you should just pay up on all of them anyway. But the game host doesn't need to bother with this. They don't need to pay attention to city state election timing. They don't need to pay up in advance. They can just wait and see what's going on and pay up only when they lose control of a city state. Because they go first. On the other hand the person last in turn order needs to worry about all of their city states all of the time because every other player gets a crack at them if they ever lose control.

The council vote is another thing that gets generated between turns. The game looks to see who is host, and who otherwise has the most votes. And then the game prompts them on their next turns to make a proposal. If the game host is one of these two people this means they get first crack at making a proposal. Some of the proposals have options on them and the person who proposes them gets to pick the option. This means that the person last in turn order should never get to pick a world religion or a world ideology. (At least not until both options become available, anyway, and they get their second choice!)

It doesn't matter if someone has, say, 21 votes and the opponents have 14 between them. Normally I'd think that person could guarantee world ideology the first time that becomes an option, but not if they're late in turn order. This is happening in our current game, where Dave has a huge vote lead and should be able to force through freedom as world ideology. This should make Matt and I unhappy and give Dave extra happy faces. Instead Matt was able to propose autocracy as the world ideology. A vote sure to fail, but it it does pass then Dave and I will get a big chunk of unhappiness and Matt will get extra happy faces. Extra happy faces he probably shouldn't have. (Dave did get to make a different crippling proposal though so I don't feel too bad for him. I'm the one getting blown out here!)

There are a bunch of solutions to this problem from a game design standpoint. I'd make it so proposing 'world ideology' didn't have a selection at time of proposal. I'd make it so you voted like an election when it came down to it and if any ideology had more votes than the rest combined it would win and otherwise none would go in. Or you could let both proposals be for different world ideologies and let the one that passes by the most go through. But I don't get to make either of those things happen. Instead the game host gets to dominate things.

For some of these things there are outside solutions available. The council thing we could just mandate that the game pauses when proposals are made and we make them in an outside forum. Let the council host pick first. Or choose randomly each time. Or alternate. It would 'slow things down' a little, but it feels like it has to be more fair than running the game as it is. The city state thing you could pause the game and ask if the spy owner has the money to spend on their next turn to get the steal off. And if they do, you have to let them.

I don't know that there is a solution for wonders. You could always announce a couple turns in advance when you're going to complete a wonder, but with great engineers existing I think that would be problematic. I guess you could take the stance that you announce with 2 turns to go and that locks out people from using an engineer? And then if two people announce at the same time you roll randomly which one gets it and the other has to switch off on the last turn?

That feels like it would work, but is a real pain and doesn't feel fun. Maybe you just accept that turn order is an advantage for wonders? You could use it as a handicap system of sorts I guess, by putting the stronger players/civs late in turn order? I guess that could be true for everything. Just accept that people late in turn order don't get a good path to a diplomatic victory?

The other problem comes with the way the random number generator works, and the fact that you're playing a game you have to load up every single turn. Robb did some testing and you can change what is inside a hut by changing what turn you open it up. You can change what is inside a hut by taking a different action in the same turn! Attack a barbarian and you can get something different out of the hut! You can try out combats and reload if they don't work out the way you wanted. You can use significantly fewer units as scouts by moving them in one direction, restarting your turn, and then moving them in other directions.

My boats in our main game are faster than Dave's by 2 I think since I have great lighthouse and exploration opened and I don't think he does. This means I can legitimately control movement in the seas (or at least have guaranteed knowledge of the sea movement) by moving forward a bunch and then juking back so I end up moving forward a little bit. I have a couple boats that can move 6 that keep moving 3 forward and 3 back to keep an eye on a small area of the ocean. But if I was willing to keep reloading I could actually move 6 spaces in every direction every turn. With my extra vision range I could probably cover an entire ocean with 1 boat!

I'm torn on if either of these things are bad or if they're fair pool for an asynch game. I do things like write down the cards in hand in A Few Acres of Snow when I play that asynch on Yucata, and reloading to do extra scouting feels similar. Without doing it it's hard to know where units have moved when in a live game you'd be able to see which way they walked. Reloading to scum good huts would be impossible in a live game though... One thing I am sure of is I want to be on the same playing field as the other people. I've been keeping my huts with maps and haven't been scouting a circle of radius 10 every turn, but if other people are getting good huts all the time and doing big scouts then I should too.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Civ V: Great Person Decimals

Matt brought up the point that he didn't think gardens were very good because you need to get at least 4 great person points (or another multiplier) before they'll do anything because the game doesn't display decimal points for great people like it does for things like food, hammers, and science. I did some testing by making a note of how many points I was generating in a game where I have a 75% bonus to great person generation and was making 9 base great musician points. With the 75% multiplier that would be 15.75 points per turn. I went 15 on one turn and then 16 on the next which shows that the game is tracking hidden decimal points when it comes to great person points.

There were other criticisms left in the comments on my post about wanting to get a garden. Dave said he spreads out his guilds (presumably to dampen the impact of having to run so many specialists in one city) and Sky decided that the hammers to build and upkeep cost to maintain of a garden makes it terrible.

I definitely used to spread out my guilds when they first came out. But back then I made a point of not building a granary if it wasn't going to give me a ton of extra food. I also only built trade routes for gold if I built them at all. (I kept having the AI declare war and destroy them all so I ended up just not building caravans and cargo ships after a while.) But it turns out a granary for just 2 food is enough to cover a specialist so it's a lot like a granary could give you 3 culture and 3 great person points! Or it can give you 2 gold and some great merchant points. Or it can just grow your city faster... Granaries are actually awesome and I've really started building them all over the place. And as a side effect to building granaries all over the place you can start transporting your food around. I used to not do this both because I didn't build granaries and because I thought it would cost food in one city to add it to the other. No, it turns out you actually just generate free food! And you should totally do that! And if you've been doing that to one city for most of the game it ends up really big and has no problem coming up with all the specialists you could desire. (If you go tradition that one city should be your capital due to monarchy.)

I definitely think any time you go tradition you should be building all your guilds in one city and that city should be your capital. If the city doesn't have a lot of food to make that viable you should be shipping in extra food from the outside to make it happen. Get the extra gold and happiness out of monarchy, get the extra culture and great people. And get a garden/national epic in that city to make more great people!

The opportunity cost of building a garden could be a thing. Gardens cost 120 hammers and 1 gold per turn in maintenance. Especially early on, 120 hammers is many turns worth of production and you could get something else instead. Especially if you don't have any guilds there's really no reason to be picking up a garden early. The writer's guild itself only costs 100 hammers! So paying more than that amount again to get only 25% of some of the benefit only makes sense if the writers' guild is a fantastic deal. I actually think it is, since great writers can be sacced for a big burst of culture to get a policy, but I can see how others may think otherwise. Once you've spent the 150 hammers for the artists' guild and especially the 200 hammers for a musicians' guild the extra 120 for a garden stops looking like such a big deal. Especially if you have other things going on in the city to generate great people like wonders or different specialists.

The 1 gold upkeep feels like nothing at all, especially if you build all your guilds in one spot. You're not building a garden in every city, so whatever 1 gold. Whatever I say!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Tower Wars: Mine Upgrades

One of the things you can spend gold and BP on in Tower Wars is to upgrade your mines which lets you make more gold per turn. On the surface this seems like the most important thing to me. Spend your money to make more money! Then when you have an enormous income use it to crush your opponent underneath your massive piles of gold! Unfortunately it turns out that if you take the time to just level your mines your opponent is free to spend his money on units instead. This will force you into spending money on defending yourself on top of upgrading your mines which means you won't have any money left over to attack him. This means your opponent can skip spending money on towers AND it means he has a source of BP income and you don't. So while you'll end up with more gold than him eventually, you're also going to end up dead. It also turns out that if you spend all your BP on mine upgrades instead of on unit upgrades your opponent can just front load their maze with high level towers and it becomes impossible for you to generate enough BP. You need to spend BP to make better units to survive that onslaught, but you can't earn BP without units that can survive in their maze for at least a little bit.

All this means that just pounding out mine upgrades is a bad idea. You need to pace yourself. But when does it makes sense to upgrade your mines? Is it possible that skimping on upgrading your mines can be the way to go? My experience tells me that falling behind in mine upgrades and then trying to catch up is bad because you're taking time off from attacking and getting less out of it than your opponent did. So he just gets an edge. Maybe trying to all-in him is the right play? But then he should just get a small enough mine upgrade edge to be relevant and then switch off to defending himself and attacking you to force your money into towers too. It's all so very tricky...

The first step is going to be looking at what actually happens for you when you upgrade your mines. Every map seems to have exactly three mines on it for each team. You start with level 1 mines that each have 1 worker and every mine can hold up to 6 workers. If a mine has all 6 workers you can pay to upgrade the mine a level and then you're allowed to buy 6 more workers. There are 3 levels total.

The level 1 workers cost 25 gold and 15 BP and generate .65 gold per second. This means a given level 1 miner will pay himself off in 39 seconds. My experience tells me the gold cost, while real, is not the relevant part here. You need to earn BP to buy the workers and the BP is harder to come by. Sending an initial wave of 7 guy seems to generate around 60 BP, so you can earn enough BP to buy 4 workers by spending 175 gold. In a sense I guess it actually costs 275 gold for 4 workers? At least at the start? Regardless, that would still pay off in 106 seconds and that feels like it has to be worthwhile.

Level 2 workers cost 100 gold and 45 BP and generate .8 gold per second. But before you can buy them you have to pay 375 gold up front. So the first miner costs 475 gold and even ignoring the BP it would take almost 10 minutes to pay that guy off. Being down gold for 10 minutes is absolutely terrible. Who cares that you're ahead after that point, you've probably lost! But all that means is upgrading the mine to build a single worker is a bad plan. Realistically you should be planning to do a full mine upgrade all at once, and that costs a total of 975 gold and 270 BP to generate 4.8 gold per second. That pays off in 204 seconds (ignoring BP) which is an amount of time that feels reasonable. I can see playing down for 4 minutes in order to get ahead for rest of the game if the game is going to take 20 minutes, for example. Spending that money is going to set you back on BP generation and give your opponent a reprieve from attacks, but I can imagine how that's a reasonable thing.

Level 3 workers cost 300 gold and 90 BP and generate .95 gold per second. The cost to upgrade the mine is 750 gold. Once again the first miner is a terrible investment since he'll only pay off the gold cost in a little over 18 minutes. A full mine on the other hand will pay off in 448 seconds. That's actually a pretty long time, especially since the 540 BP cost could unlock a new support unit.

One thing worth thinking about is how much gold you're going to be spending on a typical attack wave. If you can get your gold income above the amount you're spending on attacks then you have left over money to invest in upgrades (either more defense, or mine upgrades, or on better units) while keeping your pressure on. At the start of the game you can send out at most 18 guys that cost 25 gold each. You can send a wave every 45 seconds. So your start of game gold expenditure on attacks is capped at 10 gold per second. A full set of level 1 mines will make 11.7 gold per second, and you will also earn money from units when you kill them. If he's sending out the first unit you get 10 gold for killing them, so you get an extra 4 gold per second from them. So you've got a pretty large surplus running to use saving up for an upgrade of some kind. It would take about 3 minutes before you could afford a full mine upgrade, but that's assuming no money is spent on towers and that's probably not true.

Regardless, the first upgrade you're going to get is almost certainly a better unit. The next unit in the chain costs 250 gold and 250 BP to unlock, and increase the cost to send a wave to 513. That's still less than the cost of a full set of level 1 mines (barely) so you can use the bounty on killing the enemy units to buy more towers and save up the initial 250 unlock cost from the earlier profit. That seems pretty good, but then you're stuck without really making money to go any further unless the bounty from unit kills is a net profit (I feel like it probably isn't) or you take time off to upgrade your mines. You lose pretty much a full wave and a couple early unit upgrades to do it, but it will pay off in under 4 minutes. I feel like at some point once your opponent has stabilized a little you're going to need to do this to advance further?

The next set of units are a fair bit more expensive than the second tier. They're also support units, so sending a full wave of them feels wrong, though looking at the stats they actually have comparable health per unit slot as the second tier so maybe I should try sending waves of just tier 3 units for a while and see how that works out. Anyway, a full wave of support units will cost you 828 gold and you have to spend 500 gold and 500 BP to unlock them. Comparable health but way more expensive than tier 2? I guess that's a reason to stick with some tier 2 units. And at a cost of 18.4 gold per second to send a full wave it's actually not viable with only level 1 mines.

The next tier up is even more extreme, with a cost of 1458 for a full wave. The level 1 mines can barely support a 513 cost! Almost tripling the price is right out, especially with the 750 gold and BP cost to unlock him. He does have more than double the health of the tier 2 wave, so you are looking at getting your money's worth out of him. Especially when your opponent's maze suddenly needs to deal twice as much damage as before! Getting these guys out and being able to spam them is a big deal and should cost your opponent a lot of gold on his towers, which should buy you some spare time.

The problem? A full set of level 2 mines will only generate 26.1 gold per second and sending full waves of tier 4 units costs 32.4 gold per second. You probably don't need to spam them on cooldown since they're pretty good, but if they don't win you the game then and there you're kind of stuck. You may have to take the time off to upgrade to level 3 mines at that point?

The way long games seem to end is someone unlocks the ultimate unit and sends a few of them out. I've lost after sending only 3 (you can max out at 5) because of how much gold I sunk into not winning the game. But I bet if I'd saved up a little more money and sent the full wave I would have won. What does it take to do that?

You need to unlock all the tiers of units, though by the time you're thinking about this you should have the support tier at least. I often don't get the 4th tier, but maybe I should be. Anyway, the cost for tiers 4, 5, and 6 combined is 3000 gold and 3000 BP. You may need to fully upgrade him, which is an extra 3232 BP on top. And then to send a full wave (which you have to spend other upgrades to unlock) is 8060 gold. So you need to have a huge stash of BP and then save up 11060 gold. At 26.1 gold per second you're looking at 423 seconds to save up that much cash. Alternatively if you have full level 3 mines you're making 43.2 gold per second and it only takes 256 seconds to save up the money. You can save 167 seconds by getting the level 3 mines. The problem is it's going to take 293 seconds to save up the money needed to buy the level 3 mines! (It will actually be a less since you don't need to save up the full cost up front here, and the extra miners you get along the way will do something. Just not enough!)

So it feels like if you're at a bit of an impasse and want to do something to break things open... You may be better off saving up for a full wave of ultimate units instead of getting more mines. I guess it depends on if you can earn the 6232 BP? The mines do only cost 1620 BP...

I think I'm going to try playing a few games with a focus on getting to full level 1 mines, then just work on spamming tier 2 units. At that point mines are probably better than tier 3 units, unless I think I can win with a few support units. And I'm going to try to avoid upgrading to level 3 mines. I'll try out the tier 4 units and then just save for what I hope will be one 'I win' push.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

League of Legends: Game Recaps

A new feature made its way into the League of Legends client recently that I haven't seen announced anywhere. (Though, to be fair, I didn't look anywhere except the patch notes.) It's a pair of buttons on the game end screen which both take you to a webpage with information about the game you just played.

The game I just played, as Kayle, for example...

There's some really interesting stuff on here. It gives you the normal info like items owned at the end of the game, and the gold totals at the end of the game. But then it goes further and lists barons, dragons, and turret kills. It shows the bans!



(I bought 0. I am terrible. The game as a whole bought 6 pink wards total. We're all terrible.)

Wow, it breaks down the jungle monsters killed by which side of the map they were on. The other team managed to kill a total of 4 monsters in our jungle. I actually placed wards a couple times to try to catch Singed at my golems, but he never went for them despite farming between the turrets.

It also has some graphs showing gold over time, and when various objectives were taken. So I can see that at the 14 minute mark the enemy team made a comeback. Their mid roamed bottom and killed both of my bottom laners and then their ADC killed our jungler and the dragon. We went from being up 4k to being up less than 1k in 2 minutes. It's a shame it doesn't also give a chat log, because I can remember at the time my team was raging at our mid for not indicating that Kat was missing from mid. Things really swung back in our favour at the 22 minute mark, when we aced the enemy team without losing anyone and got dragon.

You can also do a graph comparing individual champion gold totals. So I can see for example that in that 14-16 minute span their mid made 1.4k gold and my mid made 600 gold just obliviously farming away in lane. The graph makes it look like Gangplank was dominating Katerina in lane, but then he lost focus and let her get away to kill people in another lane without accomplishing anything in return.

Or if I look at my lane matchup, I see that I did a bad job. I fell behind in gold for pretty much the whole game. Part of that was two successful ganks from their jungler to zero from mine. (A couple failed ganks as well, and one 2v2 fight that we lost because my jungler wandered off right before the fight started and it ended up being a series of 1v2 fights. Oh well!

On the plus side, that ace for nothing at the 22 minute mark happened because I decided to protect Vayne instead of trying to do damage and managed to intervention her right when Kat jumped on her and then we were able to burst her out. If I'd wandered off to join the big fight happening nearby then Kat kills Vayne in 2 seconds, gets all her resets, and might well be able to wreck our faces.

I definitely feel like I was a weak link on my team, but I wasn't weak enough to cause us to lose. Hurray!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Tower Wars

One of the games I've had sitting around unplayed for years on my Steam account is Tower Wars, which was on sale pretty cheap on the weekend and which apparently recently added a co-op multiplayer mode. Snuggles noticed this and picked it up so we could give it a spin.

Tower Wars is a pretty decent tower defense game using one of my favourite tower defense twists... The monsters aren't generated automatically over time by the game. Instead you play against another player and spend money to generate monsters to attack the other player. This was one of my favourite styles of tower defense games to play back in the WarCraft 3 mod days. It gives an extra dimension to the game where you need to decide if your money is better spent on defenses or on attacking the enemy.

Tower Wars has two types of currency. Gold which you earn over time and by killing enemy units and battle points which you earn by having monsters alive in your opponent's maze. You spend gold to make more towers or to make more monsters to send at the enemy. You use battle points to make your monsters better. You use both to upgrade your gold income rate or to unlock stronger units.

Because of the way you earn battle points (having your units stay alive longer in the enemy maze) it turns out making your monsters better and unlocking stronger units both serve to generate more battle points. It also has the secondary effect of forcing your opponent to spend his gold on more defenses or causes him to lose the game when he dies. There seems to be a real snowballing effect here, where if you get ahead and keep spamming units you end up earning enough battle points to upgrade your units enough that your opponent is stuck spending all of his gold on towers to stay alive and can't spend any gold on units to attack you. This means he doesn't earn any battle points and it means you don't need to buy any more towers. An early lead feels like a guaranteed win.

On the other hand, an even game feels interesting. When do you spend time to upgrade your gold income? Is it better to upgrade your units or unlock better units? There's a tech tree for upgrades and one for units and the way you go will change what towers your opponent needs to build since shields are hard to damage except for a specific tower that seems bad if they don't have shields.

I rarely find myself in an even game. Most of the time it feels like I get blown out, or I blow my opponent out. It actually reminds me a fair bit of playing StarCraft 2. The actual game, not any mod. It feels like some people have actual build orders for each of the maps and I get ruined by their tempo when I just randomly do upgrades that make sense. Knowing how much BP to expect against your opponent and knowing how large a wave you need to send in order to get the exact amount you need right now is probably a very important thing to know in a game with such a snowball factor.

Multiplayer against the AI doesn't seem to have the build units aspect. Instead it seemed to be a pared down tower defense game with an added twist where a big dude would periodically show up and destroy towers or chunks of land. This would impact your maze design temporarily or permanently. I guess it's good that it keeps you on your toes but I didn't find it terrible interesting.

You can also play a game with up to 3 people on each side where each player has their own tech trees and such, but share the gold income. I played a couple of 2v2 games with Lino but the queue times were really long and the games were blowouts in our favour. I'd like to give it a try against not randoms at some point.

Overall the game seems pretty reasonable. Hurray for whatever random bundle it came in!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Bridge Match 3 - Board 1

Board 1 - Dealer North - None Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Excellent

My hand: A K Q J 9 J 8 A T 5 J 8 7

East opens 1 diamond in second seat. I overcall 1 spade, which gets passed back around to East who makes a protective double, whatever that means. (Hovering over it seems to indicate spade shortness, probably to give her partner a chance to pass for penalty.) I pass and West bids 2 spades which apparently denies a spade stopper. East retreats to 3 diamonds. I feel like if partner has anything anywhere they could be going down, but I don't think I can bid again. So I pass and everyone else does too.

I lead the K of spades
T 7 5
K 4 3
Q 9 3
K 9 6 2
A K Q J 9
J 8
A T 5
J 8 7
28-11 points, no spade stopper

K-5-4-2. So partner doesn't have a high spade. Noted. I'm not too worried about dummy setting up a long suit for pitches so I switch to hearts to try to set up a ruff or something. J-3-9-A. East plays a club. A-7-2-5. Then a heart back to board. 2-8-K-6. A heart back that I can ruff, but partner is actually winning it so I pitch a club. 4-T-5-8 of clubs.

Partner returns a spade, which I guess is a reasonable enough thing to do. 8-3-J-7. I guess I might as well see who has the 13th spade. A-T-6-6 of diamonds. Declarer then cashes a club and tries to ruff a club. I overruff with the T.

I'm now stuck with the last 2 spades and Ax of trump. I can give everyone pitches and finesse partner in trump, or I can go ace and out of diamonds and finesse him that way. I feel like partner has the outside suits covered, so drawing trump is probably right. They end up cross ruffing anyway. Down 1.
8 6 4
Q T 9 6
J 2
Q T 5 3
T 7 5
K 4 3
Q 9 3
K 9 6 2
3 2
A 7 5 2
K 8 7 6 4
A 4
A K Q J 9
J 8
A T 5
J 8 7
This ends up being a bad result for us. There was a NS pair that made 2NT, a NS pair that went down 2 in 3 spades, and every other board was EW playing 1NT. 3 of those went down 2, 2 of them went down 1. Our +50 was good enough to beat the 3 spade pair and tie with the 2 who set 1NT by 1. So we get 4 MPs.

Jack disagrees with my spade overcall. He thinks it's capped at 15 points and wants me to double with 16. I do agree that you should start with a double with a good hand but I'm not sure my hand is quite good enough. It's also very one dimensional, and I wanted to make sure partner knew to lead a spade if it came to it. He then disagrees with my pass over the double and wants me to eat up bidding room with a 2 spades bid. Finally he disagrees with my play at trick 2. He wants me to keep cashing spades instead of switching to a heart.

Ranking after board 1/60: 9/16 with 28.57%