Friday, September 09, 2005

Random, Semi-Random and Un-Random (?)

An unusually abstract theme for Kozure this week: Degrees of randomness.

We played three games for the first time: Sid Sackson's "Can't Stop", Cheap Ass Games' "U.S. Patent #1" and Stefan Dorra's "Intrige". Each game is progressively less random than the last.

Can't Stop is a simple game which I would describe as "Yahtzee" Level fun. It's very random, but enjoyable for what it is. The theme is pasted on, but it ostensibly involves climbers going up a mountain. The first to reach the top of three peaks wins. The reality is that the game shows a spread of numbers from 2 to 12, distributed roughly (or exactly?) in columns according to the odds of rolling them (there are three 2s and 12s, four 3s and 11s, etc). On your turn, you roll 4 dice and pair them up into two totals and place a marker on those two numbers. You have a total of three markers to place... and therefore three numbers which can be advanced each turn. You can roll as often as you want, but if you ever roll the dice and wind up with a combination which doesn't let you advance a marker... you lose all your progress so far. Knowing when to pull out is the heart of the game (because when you pull out, you get to fix your markers at that spot on the column)

Most of us spent a few rounds pushing our luck too far and staying right at the bottom of the mountain for longer than we should have. Afterwards, we were more reasonable and the race was fairly close. Kozure did have the lead for much of the game, and in the end he won handily. A fun, light game.

Next up was U.S. Patent #1. The crux of this one is that players represent inventors who have created a machine for time travel, and they are racing through time to go back to the U.S. Patent office in order to file the very first patent ever (before the other players can). I won't get into the specifics of the mechanics, but essentially, each player has a Time Machine in need of 4 parts: A power source, a chassis, a weapon and a shield (... because clearly every time machine should have a weapon and a shield...). Once a player has that, he/she can go to the patent office in the 19th century and take a ticket to stand in line and wait to be called by the clerk (in plain english: when you get there, roll the dice. The result is the number of turns you have to wait to submit your patent). During the course of the game, players hop from one time period to another, stealing items from laboratories and buying items found at markets (in order to equip their time machines). Along the way, players can attack each others with their unholy contraptions in order to slow each other's progress.

As the theme prescribed, this is a game which has a healthy dose of randomness, but it also involves a certain amount of decision making and players can somewhat determine their fate. As with most Cheap Ass games, the idea is humourous, the gameplay is humorous, the components are cheap and the game play is so-so. I didn't feel that this one worked terribly well on a "mechanics" level, and it didn't seem to be as effective at being humorous either. The rest of the group liked this one better than I did, but I felt that there was a certain pointlessness to the whole thing. Not bad, but not great.

I spent too much time combing the libraries looking for the chassis which matched the huge power supply I scored by accident early in the game (it's not necessary to match them, but there are bonuses if you do so). Meanwhile, Luch and Shemp built less expensive Time Machines out of missmatched parts and headed for the patent office. I made a few attempts to stop the leaders with my big gun (which can shoot forward in time to disable vehicle upgrades), but failed. In the end, Luch made it first and wasn't seriously challenged... winning with Shemp hot on his heels.

Last up was Intrige. There is NO luck in this game, aside from what the players personalities and choices bring to it. I was looking forward to this one, because the rules and reputation suggested a deceptively simple game which could result in a strange and potentially harrowing experience... and it delivered. The rules are short and sweet: You have 8 relatives looking for work (4 professions, 2 relatives in each profession). you also have 4 jobs available for other player's relatives to fill. Since there are half as many jobs as there are relatives, many will be out of luck. On a player's turn, there are three phases: First, he collects income for any positions his relatives hold. The second phase is where it gets interesting... If there are any of the other player's relatives at his company looking for work, he must decide who to employ, and who to send to prison (prison= out of the game). In order to sway his decision, the other players involved can make compliments, promise future consideration, make threats, etc... and then finally, in turn order, those players make a bribe to the player. The acting player then TAKES ALL THE MONEY, and makes his decision. The decision regarding who to employ is COMPLETELY UP TO THE PLAYER. He is not bound by the player who made the biggest bribe, cut the best deal or offered the most compelling promises. He is not bound by anything he said during the negotiations. It's kinda evil, in fact. For the record, there are a couple of rules dictating that no two relatives of one profession can exist at each company (spurring yet more bribes and threats)and that a player HAS to offer a position if it's available and not contested. In the third phase, the player simply sends two of his remaining relatives to other player's companies. At the end of five rounds of placing relatives, collecting cash and resolving the hiring of employees, a final round of income takes place and the game ends. Most money wins.

Wow. What an interesting game. This is a very pure game of diplomacy and cut throat treachery. For this reason, I think this would be a definitive "Love or Hate" game, because many people would take this stuff personally and wind up hurt. If you can take your knife in the back and smile, then this game is for you. You have to pick up on the subtleties of each player's personality, read how current events can shape future ones and bribe players/ strategise the order of deployment of your relatives to suit. In our first session, Shemp and I made an early alliance which proved mutually lucrative, distancing ourselves from Luch and Kozure. About halfway through the game, Shemp kicked me out in favour of the others and I did the same. Kozure climbed back on top (by being the "Least hated" and therefore winding up with a lot of high positions). He made a PILE of money on the last few turns, while Shemp made very little and I made a medium amount. When the dollars were counted, my early winnings carried me through and I came in first by a few dollars. In the second game, Kozure and I started out down a similar path of mutual back-scratching that had helped me and Shemp in the first game. I planted my daggar firmly in Kozure's back just before his third turn, having made two rounds of high earnings, so that he wouldn't get the benefit of his second round of cash (I kicked him out of two positions on my board). My hopes of a second alliance with Shemp after that were shafted since he percieved me as the early leader and routinely passed me over for positions. I couldn't successfully repair relations with Kozure, and Luch had a firm alliance with Shemp, so I again had a poor showing in the second half. Shemp won the game with a convincing lead.

I thought about this one for several days after the fact.

Can't Stop: 7
U.S. Patent #1: 5
Intrige: 9


  1. Ok. I didn't want to clutter up the main post with this, but Shemp and I had an interesting discussion afterwards on Intrige, and I'm curious what the rest of you think.

    In what I thought was a fairly innocent and straightforward observation, I mentioned to him that once I saw the scores at the end I realized that if Kozure had sent his scientist to my board rather than Luch's, I might have won (and consequently, that I wished I had tried harder to convince him to do it, but I didn't think that I had a chance to win at the time). Shemp countered that since there is no way of knowing how people would react to the changed move, no conclusions at all can be made on that theory.

    Too me, that seems silly considering the situation. It implies that there is no way to make predictions with any accuracy regarding other player's moves in a game, even when there are very few variables left. If that were true, all games would resort to pure chance. In the games we play, it's ESSENTIAL to be able to do that.

    That's the short version, here's the long one:

    The setup: There was only three (3)moves left in the game, and NO more relatives left to place. This means that most of the game has already played out and there is very little left to determine, and not much room to maneuvre. For the sake of contect for this post game analysis, the final totals in the game were (more or less) Kozure=$80, Luch=$80, Easy=$130, Shemp=$160.

    The remaining moves:

    One move was resolving whether my relative or Kozure's would get top spot on Shemp's board. This seemed like a foregone conclusion, Shemp was pretty clear that he had no intentions of giving it to me, and the fact that I was clearly in second place supported that.

    The second was resolving the effect of Kozure's scientist on Luch's board. The action on this board involved the two players with (a final result of) $80 each, so in retrospect nothing there would determine the winner ($40 to $80 would have to exchange hands to catch up to Shemp's $160, which is impossible).

    Third was Shemp's architects, all competing for the lowest paying spot on Luch's and Kozure's boards. Knowing the end totals, it is obvious that the architects were inconsequential in determining the winner.

    We know how it ACTUALLY played out, but what if Kozure had played his scientist on my board, to compete for the top spot against Shemp?

    If Kozure had done that, it would have given me the opportunity to depose Shemp's from my top spot. Would this move have changed Shemp's decision to give Kozure's scientists top spot rather than mine or Luch's? It might have, but only in my favour: If doesn't give Kozure (or Luch) the job and gives it to me instead (to protect his economist on my board?), I would have deposed him anyway... a combination which would have put me FAR in the lead. Without Kozure's scientist on his board, The action on Luch's turn would be reduced to Shemp's architect going for the lowest position(irrelevant to winning the game), the result of my board was obvious (if Kozure's relative was there, I would depose Shemp's. If there's nothing on my board, I do nothing). Nothing changes for Kozure's turn (Shemp's architect goes for the lowest position)

    Anyone who bothers to read that and make sense out of it can do the math and see that the change results in Shemp's income going down by 20, and mine going up by the value of the bribes on my board... a minimum of 2.

    Am I fairly confident in my analysis of the way the alternate move would have played out? Yes.

    Would the change in Kozure's move win me the game? It depends on the way the bribes played out. It certainly would have taken me from "out of the running" to "in the running". It would have made Shemp's architects more important, because the spread would be reduced to just a few dollars.

    Of course, it's all a moot point, because no one, least of all me, knew that swaying that decision would have potentially saved the game for me. Even if it was known, Kozure had no particular reason to want me to win rather than Shemp (and, in fact, probably had reason to want the OPPOSITE).

    It's all academic, and the particulars of this instance probably don't interest anyone but me (and possibly Shemp), but the question still stands... do people out there really think that NO CONCLUSIONS can reasonably be drawn with any accuracy in a game?

    I find it hard to beleive.

  2. Anonymous4:20 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. OOOOOH - Straw man, straw man, straw man!

    I'll address the article later, but Easy, you misrepresent my point something fierce. I'm rarely THAT bloodyminded.

    In THIS GAME (Intrige) I don't think that your projection takes enough variables into account, and so can't comment on your supposition that changing one move would change the result of the game.

    That is the extent of my claim.

    Specifically, I think that your supposition doesn't take into the account that a changed board would change the AMOUNT of bribes offered. I was pointing out that you were only considering the INCOME side of the equation, without looking at EXPENSES. Since the way to win is to have the most money, and since your proposed change would cause players total cash amounts to converge, I think that the size of bribes is a vital variable. Which is why my answer to your proposition that the outcome of the game could have been changed is: "Perhaps".

    That's all I was trying to get across, althought the brevity that IMing induces in me probably lead to my not being clear enough. Hopefully the above is more clear.

    Now, if I were to forget our previous conversation, and just address this:

    It's all academic, and the particulars of this instance probably don't interest anyone but me (and possibly Shemp), but the question still stands... do people out there really think that NO CONCLUSIONS can reasonably be drawn with any accuracy in a game?

    I would say that yeah, it's likely that SOME people out there think that NO CONCLUSIONS can reasonably be drawn with any accuracy in a game, but I'm sure as Hell not one of them.

    I don't think. It's a little unclear (to me, anyway) if you are talking about projecting the effect of changes in game play to different conclusions, or something else.

  4. ARGH! I wasn't clear enough again, as I used the wrong tense in my comment.

    I didn't think that you took enough factors into account. I see that you have in the above comment. AND I also see that you mention it would be very close. Which supports my "Perhaps" answer. I think.

  5. First off... what's with the deleted comment?

    Second... I figured that the IM was mostly to blame for the missunderstandings in our conversation because I was honestly surprised at what (I thought) you were saying. By the end of it, I was actually starting to believe that you held an "everything is random" life philosophy!

    Any point in the game earlier than the one I describe, and I would be in total agreement that the future is too hard to predict with any accuracy. However, I honeslty felt that with the limited variables left, the final few moves were pretty easy to see coming. Like I said, when I started the conversation, it was an off handed comment that i didn't think would start a debate.

    Glad to see that we finally see eye to eye!

  6. Deleted comment was spam, encouraging people to illegally download Civ IV. Didn't want it hanging around for that reason.

    Otherwise, yeah. MOSTLY eye to eye.

  7. For the benefit of anyone other than our cozy group of friends reading the blog and wondering what the heck we're talking about when we say "scientists" and "architects" in reference to Intrige, I made up my own home-brew version (colour printer print-outs spray-mounted to thick cardstock) of Intrige and updated the setting to modern day corporations in London, New York, Tokyo, Berlin and Paris. I also switched the professions to researcher, marketer, designer and economist.

    Re: how I decided whether to send my architect to Easy's board rather than Luch's. I was running on the assumption that either Shemp was hugely in the lead and very little difference would be made by deposing one of his relatives, while at the same time there was the slim possibility that Easy could vault into the lead (as it turns out, by Easy's estimation, probably correct) that sending my scientist to Luch's city would net me the most money otherwise.

    However, my recollection of the endgame is hazy enough that I can't really comment other to say that I didn't think I was going to win and my decision making was based mostly on who had screwed me the most in that particular game, which was Easy, by his own admission. Thus, I made my best effort to stick it to Easy.

    Ah... friendly games of Intrige.

    *stab stab*