Monday, December 31, 2007

One of Those Boring Retrospective Articles

I hate TV at this time of year, when all the stories on the news shows are "let's take a look at what happened throughout the year". I was there, I did see it, and I KNOW you're only showing it because it's cheap television. Stop wasting my time. I will now demonstrate the height of hypocrisy by doing the same thing myself.

Game of the Year

With 59 plays, more than the next four contenders combined, my Game of the Year has to be Scrabble. I enjoy it a lot, and I can play on-line which means my opponents and I don't need to synchronise in time and location. Given that one of my most regular opponents lives in Beijing, that's just as well. I enjoy Scrabble a lot, and now that I know the 2 letter words hope to play a little bit more seriously in 2008.

Highlight of the Year

The gaming highlight of the year has to have been Scrabblette finding the "Connection Games" book for me. It led to an obsession that has had a massive impact on the games I buy and play. It sure would be handy if I had an opponent with a similar obsession, but the mathematical aspects of these games have kept me amused for hours. Not to mention implementing Hex for Facebook.

Best New Game of the Year

I've probably played only about a dozen games published in 2007, so I'm choosing from a small pool here, but the best of them so far is definitely Unspeakable Words. It's nothing deep, but it's easy to teach and fun to play and does reward skill.

Happily Unplayed Games of the Year

At the end of last year I realised there were a few games I was completely over - Ra, Geschenkt and Poison, for starters. I wanted to avoid playing them for a while. Given that I didn't play them at all in 2007, I guess I succeeded. Their banishment is over now, and while I still won't be rushing to play them I may not avoid them as assiduously.

Sadly Unplayed Games of the Year

I know it's a long time since Ozvortex came over for a game of C&C Ancients, but I didn't realise it had been a whole year. I guess a lot of 2007 was occupied by moving house. I also didn't play GIPF, DVONN or PUNCT, which doesn't seem right.

Ambitions

Apart from my ambitions with regards to managing my collection as described in an earlier post, these are the things I want to achieve in 2008:
  • Find more opponents for 2 player abstracts so I can start playing the again.
  • Play more of my capital games, e.g. St Petersburg, Tigris & Euphrates, Domaine.
That is all. See you next year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Yavalath and Teiglith

Readers may have noticed my obsession with connection games this year, culminating in me voluntarily playing Ticket to Ride last night. The more I know about games the more I have to admit that Ticket to Ride is a sweet design and a perfectly decent game. I lost to Scrabblette, by the way. Anyway, that's not the point of this article. The point is that my obsession comes from reading a book called Connection Games by Cameron Browne. That book was probably one of the defining characteristics of my 2007 gaming year.

Somehow late one night I looked up Cameron Browne on the internet and discovered that he was actually a Ph.D. student at the Queensland University of Technology (sound of jaw dropping here) which is the same university that Scrabblette is a student at. And he's in the same faculty. In stunned amazement I stalked him a little further, only to discover that he currently lives overseas and is finishing his Ph.D. remotely. But, it was amazing to find that the author of such a good book used to live in Brisbane, and with a slight twist of fate we would have met years ago.

Anyway, I contacted him by email and just over a week ago Scrabblette and I attended his final seminar for his Ph.D. I sort of assumed his research was on Hex but it was actually on computer generation of (what BGG calls) abstract strategy games. He implemented a rule description language, an algorithm to combine games using a genetic algorithm, and some automatic criteria to judge the goodness of the games. He then generated some games and tested them with real people and with the automatic criteria. The correlation between those results told him which of the automatic criteria corresponded to what people wanted in a game. He then generated some more games. In his seminar he present 4 games generated by Ludi, his computer program.

The games sounded pretty decent to me (in a Hex / Go / Connect 4 sort of way), so I emailed him asking for the rules. So now I present Yavalath and Teiglith, by Ludi and Cameron Browne.

Yavalath

For two players. The board starts empty. Players take turns adding a piece of their colour to an empty cell. A player wins if they make 4-in-a-row of their colour, but lose if they make 3-in-a-row of their colour without also making 4-in-a-row.

Teiglith
For two players. The board starts with a White piece on each edge cell. Players take turns moving a piece to a connected cell (diagonals are not connected). The destination cell need not be empty; pieces may stack. The first player who cannot move wins.

(I think there's a rule that you can't unstack pieces, and presumably that you can't move stacks.)

I'll see if I can get someone to play Yavalath with me. Let me know if you try it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Recent Scrabble Scores

Hoo boy have I been playing a lot of Scrabulous recently! I've been on leave and have had enthusiastic opponents. I don't know whether it's because of what I learnt from Joe Edley's book, but I've been making a lot more bingos and some poor opponents have been hit with 2 or 3 a game. In one game I got 3 of them and my opponent got 2. My scores from the last 15 games: 309, 398, 393, 374, 373, 394, 462, 321, 409, 359, 451, 289, 334, 343, 377. That's an average of 372, which is about what I reported in November. I've been working on learning the 3 letter words, but there's lots of weird ones in there. FUB FUD FUG FUM.

Call Me "Deacon Blues"

They've got a name for the winners in the world,
I want a name when I lose.

They call Alabama "The Crimson Tide".
Call me "Deacon Blues".

Scrabblette 368 Friendless 295

Scrabblette 353 Friendless 339

Scrabblette 351 Friendless 343

Scrabblette 369 Friendless 356

Scrabblette 377 Friendless 339

Scrabblette 505 Friendless 301

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Labour of Love

No, this is not another post about Kevin Rudd. This is a post about Facebook.

A few months ago Aldie asked for testers for his Facebook board game app. Of course I joined Facebook to see what the story was. I found a few people that I know there, so I hung around for a couple of days adding friends. Somehow I started playing Scrabulous, and that was when I realised what a great site this really was. I was playing Scrabble against people I didn't see very often (because they lived in London, for example) and with people who never had the time for a proper game (even though they lived in the same house, for example). I' ve played 47 games of Scrabulous so far.

So I realised Facebook was a great site for playing games against friends you just can't get to in real life. And other games, as well as Scrabble. I decided to write my own. To avoid copyright issues, I decided to write Hex.

Of course, I had no idea how to. I didn't know whether Aldie had written his app in MSVC or Java or Flash or what, and I had no idea how it got deployed on Facebook. But that was the fun part. I was pretty sure that I could program it, whatever it was. Besides, I wanted to know about this Web 2.0 thing Yehuda was into.

I did some research and found out that Facebook apps are very clever indeed. You write your application as a web service and Facebook delegates requests to your app on Facebook through to your web server. So you can write your app in whatever you like and you host it on your own machine, so Facebook doesn't care about your database maintenance or CPU or anything. It just cares that your app responds to requests. I had used Apache in the past, so I installed it on my home machine. I also wanted to write my application in Python because Java bores me sometimes, so I installed mod_python (lets you write Apache services in Python) as well. I already had Linux and MySQL running, so I'd finally got myself a complete LAMP stack.

I couldn't even get the test example going! I did everything it told me to do and it just didn't work! It was very frustrating! It turned out I was running Apache 1.3 and reading the Apache 2 documentation. You can see at this stage that I didn't know much about what I was doing.

Then there was the Facebook API. It talked all about authentication (yawn) and making requests to the Facebook server. I really struggled with how that was relevant to me. I googled and found something called minifb.py which was Python code for doing Facebook stuff. All of the Facebook doco refers to PHP which I don't speak. minifb did more authentication stuff, and I still didn't get it. Eventually by following examples I figured out what I was supposed to do, and I loaded a Facebook page which made a request to my web server. A small victory, at last.

I've glossed over a few things here. Firstly, my ISP gives me a dynamic IP address, so whenever that changed I'd have to go to Facebook and reconfigure my app to point to the new address. A mate at work told me about dyndns.org which provides DNS services for exactly my situation, and I figured out that my router supports it. So now whenever the router is restarted it connects to dyndns.org and tells it that friendless.servegame.org is at this new IP address now. It's very cool. I also had to deal with the network security - our router was configured to not allow any requests from the outside to come into our home network. I had to tell it to route requests for the HTTP service through to my desktop. Not that hard to do, but tricky to realise that you have to do it.

OK, so we were at the "one request got through once" stage. Nothing got any easier. Facebook uses HTML, but it extends it with FBML (Facebook Markup Language) which implements all of the cool widgets that you use to invite friends to do stupid stuff. So I needed to learn a little about that. I also needed to figure out how I was going to implement the user interface. JavaScript looked pretty handy, so I learned that as well.

JavaScript really is pretty cool. You can do all sorts of programming on the client side, and with AJAX you can even make calls back to the server from within the web page. Without worrying about the Facebook thing, I coded up some JavaScript to render the board in the web page, figure out which cell the user clicked on, then make an AJAX RPC back to the server to make the move. It took a while, but it was sweet. After I got it going I hooked it into the Facebook code, and Facebook said "JavaScript not allowed". They're afraid you'll hack around with there HTML and corrupt the site experience.

Well that was a wasted week! It was fun, but ultimately got me no closer to having a working game. I experimented with many solutions. I knew that Scrabulous used Flash, but Flash is not free and I wasn't particularly motivated to learn it, so I couldn't copy from them. My goal was to do as much work as possible in the client, but as JavaScript wasn't allowed I couldn't see how to do much at all. I probably could have written a Java applet (I mean, I know I could do it, I just don't know whether Facebook would allow it), but even I understand that users don't want to install Java.

This was all complicated by the fact that I couldn't get Facebook to display my images. In fact, I still can't. Any image included in my app has to come direct from my web server - if it goes through Facebook its gets interpreted as text. Yes I'm setting the content type. I still don't understand that one. I have another app in progress using the Django framework and it does the same thing. So I had to solve the client technology problem and the image serving problem at the same time.

The solution I eventually came up with was to generate the board image on the server side, serve it direct from my own machine, into a HTML form, so when the user clicked on a cell it would send me back the (x,y) coordinates of the click. I could then convert that back to a cell on the server side. Nothing at all happens on the client, but at least it seems to work.


I got the game basically working. The code about detecting wins and so on was EASY compared to all of the technology nonsense. The game requires two real players so there's no AI involved. However them I needed to add some of the bells and whistles, for example, notification to your opponent that you've started a game.

That was when the authentication tarrasque bit me. You see, Facebook has this completely sensible system where your page is treated as a form with lots of hidden fields. Some of those fields, e.g. user id, Facebook session id, and so on, come from Facebook and tell you Facebook stuff. Those fields are digitally signed and you use your application secret to check they're kosher. EXCEPT, if you have a form on your page like I do, it sends some of that stuff twice, and digitally signs it twice. So you have to figure out what is authenticated by what signature. I ended up changing minifb to deal with it, because of course I was the first person to use minifb to receive a form submission and nobody else cared that it didn't work.

So after I figured out authentication I was able to get the session key which allowed me to send notifications to the server. At the moment I send a notification only when a game is started, as if your application sends too many notifications in one day your application gets classified as spam. Given the spamminess of many Facebook applications, the fact that they monitor that is a good thing.

Anyway, it's all sort-of working. I need some users to try it out.

http://apps.facebook.com/hexgame/

Please.

Lightning Strikes Twice

Only twice in Unspeakable Words have I played a word worth more than 20 points. Both times I have rolled a 20 so I didn't lose sanity. It's a good strategy if you can pull it off.

Maria, you should get that game.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Another Classification For Games

I've been thinking for a long time about a classification for games that are missing from BGG. It's somewhat underspecified which is part of the problem, but it's to do with the role the game plays in your collection. There will be some consensus on this, which is why it might belong on BGG (like the weight ratings). Particular values of the classification might be:
  • Filler - a light game to be played while waiting for others to finish. Examples - Coloretto, Bluff.
  • Capital game - a serious game that is one of the reasons you play games. Examples - Age of Steam, Domaine.
  • Kids' games - games you mostly want to play with kids. Examples - Gulo Gulo, Bratz Mall Crawl.
  • Gateway games - lighter games you play because your opponents may not see the fun in a 3 hour session of Age of Steam and you don't mind playing them. Examples - TransAmerica, Ticket to Ride.
  • Two player games - games you mostly play because your partner will play them with you. Examples - Lost Cities, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation.
  • Two player abstracts - traditional abstract games. These get their own category because they can be treated very lightly or very seriously depending on how good you are at them. You might play them against your partner or you may compete internationally. Examples - Chess, GIPF.
Are there other classifications? Be careful not to veer into the realm of BGG categories when thinking of new ones.

There are lots of connections between the classifications. If your partner is Scrabblette for example, two player games and two player abstracts are very closely related. However Asterix and Obelix is plainly in the two player game category. And for a lot of people, gateway games and capital games have very strong overlap.

When I look at my games played tally I think to myself that it's only the capital games that really count - St Petersburg, Amazonas, Trias, Domaine - the games I really love that get me thinking. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the others, but those are the games I'd rather be playing, and I think the amount I enjoy a games session is related to how many of those games I play. The difficult part of course is finding opponents who share the same capital games as you do.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Year's Ambitions... Planning Ahead

Having achieved this year's ambition of getting my Friendless metric up to 1, I've been thinking about what to aim for next year. The ultimate goal of course is to have a game collection that I'm happy with, that fits in my house, and that I enjoy playing, but I really think to achieve that it has to be consciously managed. So, my ambition for next year is to halve the number of games I own that I've played 0 or 1 times.

That can be either by playing them or by dumping them - either way is fine! As I have leave now and not at the beginning of next year I'm making the resolutions now. So the resolution is to decrease my zero plays to 25 and my single plays to 40. Also, I plan to continue to increase my utilisation to at least 55% (currently 47.33%), but that should happen anyway if I achieve the first part.

Yes, gaming by metrics is silly. The art is in designing metrics that encourage good behaviour.

Got a Bit Bored

I'm on leave. Can't you tell? Actually I like jigsaw puzzles, and I thought I recognised the picture in this one.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Balance of Trade

I had a session this morning where I went through and put some games up for trade, and also added a lot that I would like to receive in trade. If you're in Australia it might be worth checking for trades with me. After sister gets back from Cuba (don't ask) I'll be doing a bit of a cleanout of the trade pile in preparation for a general improvement of the game collection next year.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Local Warming

Last night we hosted the Gathering of Friendless Episode 8, "Local Warming". We had six players - all the usual suspects and the kid. As we weren't sure what time everyone was arriving we played a quick throwaway game which CyberKev had to teach several times as everybody inevitably arrived just as the rules explanation was almost complete again.

The game was Throwing Golden Sevens which is one of Reiner Knizia's dice games from "Dice Games Properly Explained". Basically you roll 3 dice, and you're trying to minimise your score. Any number of dice which add up to seven count as 0. You can reroll any, all or no dice twice. Scoring high is bad, as when you reach 21 you're eliminate from the game. It's somewhat a game of luck, but also somewhat a game of maths. If you roll 1, 2, 6 on your first throw you could take the 2 points, (6 + 1 is 7, which counts as 0), or you could roll the 6 again hoping to get a 4. If you get a 4 you're better off, if you get 6 you're the same, if you get a 5 you score 1. Other rolls are not as good, but you're still scoring 6 or less (though 6 is quite a lot). As the game progressed players were eliminated due to blowouts - Hubertus scored a 14, Kevin a 16, Scrabblette a 9. I hung out to win, but it was noted that I had had a turn less than everyone else.

We then progressed to a serious game, I'm the Boss! This is one of the very few "fun" games that I really enjoy. The kid started by being a hard-nosed vindictive bargainer, and fairly soon people were refusing to trade with him. He needs to learn about the velvet glove and the big stick. CyberKev somehow got into his head that Jane was losing and Scrabblette was winning, so directed his deals towards Jane at Scrabblette's expense. Sadly, he was wrong, and managed only to give the game to Jane. At the crucial part of the game I was left holding some quite useless cards and couldn't make much of an impact.

CyberKev had brought Rumis+ (the 5-6 player expansion for the German edition of Rumis, which I have), so we tried that. This is a very good game, but with 6 players crowding to see the board from above I began to feel claustrophobic. Through some good management and some good fortune I saved some easy-to-place pieces till last, and was the only player to place all of my pieces and managed to win comfortably. I do like Rumis, though I sometimes feel I succeed because other people make mistakes which help me.

Hubertus and Jane had to leave to get up early, so we had 4 players and brought out TechnoWitches. I played this once about a year ago, and I was very bad at it, and this time I was no better. CyberKev parked his broom in front of me and I was unable to move. I should have thought my play through a bit better. BTW, we play that if you crash into something on your first move you MAY discard your tiles. The official rules say that you do not discard them, which is an awful problem if you crash into a castle, or into a witch who keeps crashing into a castle. Anyway, while CyberKev and I went nowhere Scrabblette and the kid headed off towards the cat. The kid was very close to the cat before I even crossed the start line. He won easily. Scrabblette was a close second, and CyberKev and I played on for third place. Showing that crime never pays, I pushed the evil blocker into last place.

The evening ended with a couple of games of Unspeakable Words while the kid whined that we never get to play Star Munchkin, or Battle of the Bands, or some other thing I don't need to play very often. Scrabblette won the first game, as she always does, but I did beat her in the second game - for the first time in maybe a dozen plays. Woohoo!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Not Only Did I Play Chess, I Won

Many months ago, when I first joined Facebook and discovered Scrabulous, Scrabblette challenged me to a game of chess. I don't want to be accused of not playing games that I think I'm going to lose, so I accepted. It was just as horrible as I expected. Armed with scimitars and magic wands Scrabblette's army of pawns and horses charged across the board and hewed into my hapless back row which was still stuck behind a stolid rank of pawns. Fighting as fiercely as I could while facing check after check I eventually rebuffed her, but the losses were severe. I got a good shot in on a retreating horse though.

I found myself with room to breathe, and rather than prolong my agony I charged to the attack. With some very careful defensive play I managed to put her king in check a few times, and blood was spilt. Then came almost a month of hiatus while we had problems getting the chess program to display well enough to play the game. But when we got back to it, TADA! My knight had an opportunity to fork her king and her queen. Oh, the horror for her! I captured the queen! She still had some troublesome rooks but with her queen out of the picture I sent my queen in to attack. With various checks I managed to capture both of the rooks, and indeed every piece which scared me. The game ended with my queen and rook chasing her king into a wall of pawns as illustrated.
It was a glorious victory, but not so glorious that I would choose to play again. I know that in chess one bad move can be fatal, and I make many of them. I had no idea until the queen got forked over that I might win this game. Every move was played in a panic, checking and rechecking every combination to satisfy myself that what I was about to do wasn't News of the World front page stupid. I just don't get the game well enough to be relaxed playing it.

Nevertheless, I won. Now I don't have to play any more.

A Road Runs Through It

The day after my recent not very good attempt at "A River Runs Through It", I attempted the same scenario again. I decided this time to build a good road system and ignore the raft factory so I could build a second mine. In addition I wanted to irrigate the deserts so I'd have room for a mint and a coal burner. Let's just say the plan was better than my ability to deliver it.

The plan to build a good road network required lots of rock, so I needed to build a clay pit and a stone factory. The stone factory wasn't built until Turn 7 because it clashed with donkey mating season. However the road system arrived quickly when the numerous donkeys got to the overproducing stone factory and took control.

I sacrificed my geese for a research (gold mines, as usual) managed to build two of those. With gold being produced, I needed to irrigate the two desert spaces so I could do something useful with it. However, with the expenses associated with building the wonder quickly, I couldn't irrigate until round 18. That didn't give me time to build the mint and the coal burner and use both, so I ended the game with 8 gold, no coins, and 5 wonder rows for a score of 130 points.

Since I played this game there has been a report on BGG from MarcoGreen of a score of 440 using rafts. As he also had a stock market I guess he built an oil rig for the fuel (which I guess is easy if you have rafts), and must have researched gold mines AND multiple shafts, so he had to have bred geese. Wow, that's a lot of stuff achieved in such a small space. With rafts moving 3 and carrying 3 it *sounds* like you can achieve a lot, but I never found it so easy.

Obviously I'm way off the pace. Maybe I should flog the donkeys harder. Here's my time line:

Turn 1: build woodcutter and saw mill
Turn 3: build clay pit
... built a lot of roads and bridges in here...
Turn 7: build stone factory
Turn 10: build paper mill
Turn 11: research, build gold mine
Turn 12: build gold mine
Turn 13: 2 bricks in Wonder
Turn 18: irrigation
Turn 19: build mint and coal burner

It's a Very Nice Box

In case you haven't caught on yet, I've spent this weekend catching up on writing the blog posts I've been storing in my head for months. This one is a curious story about a nice box.

A parcel arrived in the mail. I thought it must be Santorini which I'd been waiting on for ages. No, it was from GMT. So it must be the new C&C Ancients expansion. I was surprised, because they'd only just charged for it. But, WOOHOO! So I opened the box and found... the Great War In Europe.

Huh? Not a game I had ordered, and not a game I would order. And even worse... the box was empty. It was JUST a box. Double huh?

So I emailed GMT and said thank you it's a lovely box but why did you send it to me and did I pay for it? The quick response was no, sorry, we sent it to the wrong customer. Luckily, I get to keep the box.


Looking at it, the game might not be so bad if I was the sort of person who had a friend who was into that sort of thing and we could sit still for hours doing it. We'd pretty much have to drink beer the whole time. Or bourbon. That could work. If you're that sort of person, get some bourbon and invite me around. I'll bring my box.

WHO TOLD HER TO CLEAN A THING NOW?

Scrabblette bought the very dodgy Super Sentence Cube Game on a trip to India, and recently insisted that we play it. I was pessimistic, but the worst that could happen would be that I would be so annoyed by it I would get into a ferocious rage and kill my family with a bladed garden tool and burn down the house and vote Liberal. So I decided to play.


It's quite difficult, because some of the words really suck. We played semi-cooperatively because we didn't really care who won, we were just having some fun. I lead out with:

WHO HELD A NEW GIRL WHEN YOU TOLD THEM TO STOP?

Scrabblette replied with:

A LEG HELD OUT AND HAD HIM UP.

and the kid chimed in with the very curious:

HOW HARD THE BIG WIFE GOT HIM.

We realised eventually that it's worth chasing the 50 point bonus for 7 word sentences, if you can, but since I was struggling to make one sentence, several of them were unlikely to happen. Scrabblette continued with:

I RAN DOWN THE ATER IN MY LADY WALK.

We don't know what an ATER is either. We decided it could be a wild. The kid continued with:

HE GAVE ME THE SMALL NEW LEG LATER.

I tried to catch up with:

SHE IS OUR WHITE LADY WIFE BUT THE OLD BABY ATE HER.

Scrabblette responded ferociously with:

HE GOT OUT SOME DIRTY PART WHERE SHE SAW MY GOOD BLACK FOOT.

I GAVE UP LIKE ANY OLD BOY.

STOP THIS BIG FOOT IN YOUR PART.

and romped to victory. I hope she never makes me play it again.

Becoming an Expert

When I first went to Scrabble club last year I was impressed by a couple of things. Firstly, almost all the players were old ladies; but secondly, that the champions were all younger men. Not like gymnastics, of course, you can be considerably older than that to be a Scrabble champion. You can have gametes, for one. You can even have grandchildren. But Brian Cappelletto is 3 years younger than me. Anyway, this is a game where I fit the profile of a champion, and it's a game that I really like. That's encouraging.

Of course, to become any good you need an opponent. With me unable to make Scrabble club regularly, and being single at the time, and being friendless to boot, finding a regular Scrabble opponent seemed unlikely. Times change though, and the wonderful Scrabblette arrived, as did the wonderful scrabulous.com. And indeed, the wonderful Jane started coming along to Critical Mass and she'll always play Scrabble. That (well, mostly Scrabulous on Facebook) has led to Scrabble becoming my most played game of the year, and in fact of all-time. I have several games in progress at any one time, so if there's any game I have the opportunity to practise, it's Scrabble.

Of course I could play against a computer, but I really don't like computer opponents. First of all, they don;t have much of a personality. You can't say "TELERANS! How did you know TELERANS was a word!?" to a computer opponent. Also, often they play way too well (e.g. GF1) and just depress you instead of giving you a good game. CyberKev points out that I like to play humans because humans are fallible. Yeah... you're all just imperfect opponents to me!

Now don't get me wrong... it's not just Scrabble that I desire to be good at. There are many great games I'd like to become an expert at - Hex, Go, Kropki, Zertz, Checkers. I presume those old guys playing Dominos in the Buena Vista Social Club see skill in that game that has so far eluded me. I'd love to one day be an old guy playing the same game over and over, if I can see the beauty of the game and always learn new things about it.

I think with Scrabble I've reached the level where I can see what it is I need to know. That takes a surprisingly long time! Obviously anagramming is an important skill, and although I consider it one of my strengths at the moment I can see I need to be a lot better. There are twenty-odd thousand seven letter anagrams in Scrabble, and I can't find most of them. Add in blanks and a board to play on and I'm a babe in the words.

There's also the ability to deal with bad racks. Scrabble is legendary for its ability to produce never-ending sequences of impossible-to-play racks. Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, you draw another two Us. Experts know the words to deal with those situations. I know ZEX, ZAX, EUOI and JIVE. I hope UBUNTU is a word :-). I have a lot of work to do learning short words containing high point letters, and vowel dumps.

There's also the difficulty of playing with closed boards, i.e. one of those boards where your only options for play are to end a word in C, start one with X, or to make any two letter word with a V in it. I find those situations very very difficult, and need to learn to play them better.

If you have an open board, of course you're looking for a bingo. Good players either make a bingo or play a word which will prepare their rack for a bingo soon. In the recent world final match 7 bingos were scored between the players. That's almost half the tiles in the game being used in 7 turns. And there were only 24 turns in the game. I did notice that the top-left corner of the board was hard to get into, but in general there were enough places to play for the few words the players needed to make. Words like BEZ, LEE and WOW were made as the players adjusted their racks looking for bingos, which they found about every 3.5 moves. OMG.

I may never be as good as those guys. But at least I am good enough to appreciate their skill, and I can see what a huge gulf there is between me and them.

Super Scrabble, Alone Again Naturally

I've been reading Joe Edley's Scrabble book, and with Scrabblette working to some deadline I had an evening to myself. I have a feeling the book has been helping, so I sat down to attack my soliatire Super Scrabble P.B. of 1776.
The game started cursed. I drew ADIJLTT, so the best I could make was JAIL. Well, I could have made TIDAL but it would have been a waste of good letters on a 12 point word. At least JAIL was 22 points. If I could have made a 5 letter word I could have got the J on a DLS for another 16 or so points. My racks were then BDFIOTT, BDLROTZ, ABLRRTV, and finally BELRSTV. I kept trying to play away the hard lettters to get a better rack, but I couldn't draw vowels. After I made BELTS my racks were ADDRSVW, DKNNSUV, DFKNQTU where I finally gave in and swapped tiles. What would Joe Edley make of that rubbish? I drew my second E of the game on turn 11.

I was consciously working towards a bingo rack, and on turn 12 found HILLIEST, on turn 15 found LETCHING and on turn 17 RESONATE. It looked like the game was turning for me, though I was well behind the pace for my P.B. However the board was badly closed - notice how I had to come through GAZER to get to the top left corner, as I couldn't build off PUFF / PEKOE / WEFTS / CH, and I had to get to the middle bottom through QUARE as I couldn't build off BELTS or BEAU? This game was seriously hard work. All of the consonants at the beginning of the game had resulted in a board with few places to build from.

My 4th and last bingo for the game was NETTIER. After that I had a blank for a while but suffered another run of nasty consonants until I caved in and built TAIPAN so I could extend into another corner of the board. My total of 4 bingos was better than last time, but nowhere near enough points to make up for the generally much worse words I was building.

My total score was 1623 after 60 turns, which was only 27.05 points per turn. In the previous game I averaged about 34 points per turn. I did start to understand about how closed boards come about, but I still don't know how to deal with them. I'll have to keep reading that book.

For the curious and the obsessed, here are the words and what they scored:

JAIL 22
FIAT 15
DZO 26
JAR 12
BELTS 21
WARDS 42
VANS 33
(swap 7 tiles)
WHO 24
BIGS 10
HOLD 8
HILLIEST 64
WEPT 18
OX 54
LETCHING 68
BEAU 17
RESONATE 60
CORMS 24
PUFF 24
HUE 23
AA 18
MEETS 31
PEKOE 22
TREY 37
RIMS 28
UNLEASH 20
KENS 35
STUDY 15
HANDY 24
QUARE 72
COME 48
WOW 28
NOBLER 32
ROOD 33
ANNS 30
COVEN 26
FLETCHING 26
GAZER 17
WRY 29
(swap 1 tile - a Q)
LICK 11
ARK 14
QI 11
NETTIER 70
DOOM 16
JIG 33
CAMEO 24
XU 38
DIVE 35
EGGY 18
DUSTED 21
TAIPAN 21
RETRAIN 15
SH 21
PLANAR 20
BEEP 50
CH 14
PIT 15
IO 12
TI 6

And now, it's goodbye from Trixi.

micropul

Those of you who notice my double entendres will appreciate the great restraint I show by not commenting on the name of this game in relationship to the name of my blog. If you just want to play a quick little solitaire game, this is a great choice.


Although I'm gradually buying and playing all of the top-ranked abstracts, I haven't yet made it to micropul at number 60 (I'm still working on Aton at number 20). It's a print-and-play game which Secret Santa was kind enough to print and cut for me.

I didn't quite follow the rules the first or second time I read them, but half-way through a solitaire play they started to make sense. Of course then I realised I'd been following the wrong strategy - I was revealing all tiles in my supply when it's probably more valuable to leave them unrevealed.

I'll explain the scoring of the game above. See if you can follow this. I claimed (with a green dot) a group of 20 white micropul - 20 points. Also, a group of 20 black micropul, and a group of 14 white. As the groups are closed, i.e. cannot be further expanded, that's 54 points. I get two points for each face down tile in my supply (another 16), and one point for each face up tile in my hand (another 2). That's a score of 72 which the rules describe as "normal". Pah! Well, at least they didn't say I was a beginner. If I'd realised I could often make more points by leaving a tile face down than by playing it, I wouldn't have drawn so many. I'll know for next time.

Congratulations on the great idea, Santa!

We Love You Kevin!

The most recent Gathering of Friendless was held the evening before the long-awaited Australian federal election. The contenders for the prime ministership were John "Evil Tyrant" Howard, and Kevin "Golden-Haired Boy" Rudd. The contest was echoed on the evening where the (male) participants were John "Funatic" Smee, John "Friendless Bastard" Farrell, and Cyber "Special Event Card" Kev. The result of the contest was anticipated across the nation.

First up we played NoNo, a word game by Michael Schacht. This is one of those Scattergories sorts of games where you have to call out a word that matches a category and includes some letter and has some number of syllables but doesn't contain some other letter. For example, call out a 5 syllable word containing a K which has something to do with a forest. You mean you can't? I couldn't either. I spent most of the game not being able to do it. We think the problem is something to do with the game not being much modified from the German version, where 5 syllable words with Ks are more common. Smee claimed an early lead in the evening's tally. I won't be playing NoNo again.

We then tried out Gipsy King. The game is easy to explain, but the passing rules, which are the interesting part, make the game intriguing to play. I found myself well and truly outclassed by all of my opponents, and came a miserable last. I noticed one mistake I made, but I'm sure there were many others. Mrs CyberKev made a very strong showing but Scrabblette formed a large caravan to claim a surprise victory. I'll have to play Gipsy King again.

With Kevin about to concede due to an early start the next day, we chose to play a short game. Smee had a copy of the latest edition of Can't Stop, and as I'd never played it in real life I agreed we should give it a play. I wonder if maybe the game's name is short for "Can't stop because you're too pigheaded to give up on the game and it just won't stop by itself."? A mixture of cautious and bold (i.e. foolish) play had us all fairly close when Team CyberKev retired to lick its wounds, and within seconds Smee had claimed victory. The Johns lead 2 games to 0.

We boldly pressed on trying out new games. We deshrinked Army of Frogs, the new game from John Yianni, and read the rules which are short and easy. Let me just say, I just want to make the point, that the frogs in this game are absolutely gorgeous pieces. They're easy to pick up and they seem to cling to the table and each other's bases using gecko technology or something. Anyway, we figured out strategies as we went along (don't put any more of his frogs out or he'll win). I had some idea because the game is similar to Poison Pot. However Smee was seriously trying to win, so I had to think as hard as I could to beat him. Johns 3, Kevins 0.

Finally, it was time to close with a very cool game that takes no effort to learn - Unspeakable Words. I have never beaten Scrabblette in this game - the only time I won she wasn't playing. Her strategy is to make big words and roll lots of high numbers. As indeed she did this time. We got trounced.

The Johns took this evening, but it was all downhill for the Evil Tyrant the next night. Not only did his party lose the election, but he lost his own seat. The Evil Tyrant was forced into retirement. His deputy chose early retirement rather than clean up the mess he has left his party in. The backstabbing and bloodletting continues. Senior members of the former government are saying "I told you so", and there seems to be no hope for them until 2011 at least. That's a real shame, because I was hoping for something worse to happen to them. Meanwhile Australia is ruled by the golden-haired boy. But as he says... "I'm still Kevin. I'm still from Queensland."

Note: It might have been very clever to call this episode of the Gathering of Friendless "John's Party", if only I'd thought of it and you would have understood.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Big Magnus Spiele Order, Part 2

OK, so this news is really out of date. I have more things to say than motivation to say them. But here's photos of part 2 of the order from Magnus Spiele which arrived in September.





Of those games I've since played Tsuro many times - I recommend it as a light many player abstract; Fragile is an interesting puzzle; Cartagena II is an interesting change from the original but I haven't got a good translation of the rules; Akaba was fun with my nephew; and Drachenei & Zauberschwert was OK. I'm still to get my head around the rules of Verrater.

Mini-Reviews, Thanks to our Sponsor

I've mentioned Funatical Games a few times on this blog, and no doubt some particularly cranky people would ask "what's his relationship with them and is he plugging their games for free?". None of you, I'm sure, but somewhere some wacko is sharpening his Beretta and throwing it at a picture of Tom Vasel on his dartboard, and I don't want to end up on *that* hit-list. So the deal is that my mate John owns Funatical and brings me piles and piles of new games to try (and then he takes them back). This article I'm going to do very short reviews of some of them and you can decide whether I'm biased or not.

Escalation! by Reiner Knizia, published by Z-Man. This is a very simple climbing card game where you must play a higher combo or else take the trick, and least cards wins. The kids liked it because it had funny pictures and they beat me. I thought it was massively dull. Reiner makes some treasures and some turkeys, and this is a turkey. Of course, Reiner is probably more concerned about selling games than geeks playing them.

Duel in the Dark by Friedemann de Pedro, published by Z-Man. This is a very clever game, something like Memoir '44 but with more going on. I like Memoir a lot because it's so simple and quick. Duel takes maybe twice as long, but a lot of people like their games longer and more complicated. If you liked Memoir you should seriously consider Duel. It's about the bombing runs from England to Germany at the end of WW2. One player is the English and has a massive slow bomber protected by a weak nimble Mosquito. The other player has 4 German squadrons. Points are awarded throughout the game for various reasons. There's a lot of bluff and no luck that I can remember. I won't get a copy for myself as the kid was lukewarm on it, and Scrabblette and CyberKev won't be into the theme, but many people will like this game a lot.

Dragon Parade by Reiner Knizia, published by Z-Man. This is one of Reiner's midweight games, and I would class it as "okay". It's about a Chinese dragon parade moving through a city which is half yellow and half red. Players play cards to move the dragon towards the red exit or the yellow exit. At the same time they place stalls which are effectively bets on where the dragon will end up. Points are awarded according to how close your stalls were to the dragon's final location. This is a lot like Reiner's other midweight game, Members Only, which I quite like. Dragon Parade is quicker (and that's good) and simpler (that's good too). It's probably cheaper, and has English rules. I'm positively disposed towards this game - it's probably a good filler. Scrabblette thought she couldn't control the dragon at all and found it frustrating. I found the dragon went where I told it to, which was nice. Your mileage may vary!

Army of Frogs by John Yianni (Hive), published by Gen Four Two. I very much enjoyed my first couple of plays of Army of Frogs - there's some thinking to do about where to place frogs to block people, and how to jump so as to unify your groups. However I don't know how much depth there is to it. Let me explain... each player has 10 frogs which are drawn from a sack as the game progresses and placed on the "island". The island is just like a hive except it has fewer long thin bits. On a player's turn they jump one of their frogs and place another frog. If you have at least seven frogs on the board and all of your frogs are in one connected group, you win. There's a lot of randomness in the order frogs come out, and then there's player randomness in the placement of them on the board. Your frogs may not come out, or your opponents may be able to avoid placing them on the board. The jumping rule is nice, but not very hard - soon you will learn to look for great moves. And eventually, with players of a basic level of skill, the game will come down to someone can't be held out of winning any more, or someone will make a mistake and cause someone else to win. Or worse, someone will be forced to choose which of the other players wins. It's maybe a good abstract for kids, but I don't see it attracting serious geek analysis like Hive. I won't be getting frogs tattooed on my forearm.

Midgard by Eric Lang, published by Z-Man. Midgard is an area control game which reminds me a lot of El Grande. One of the things people like about El Grande is that it's almost deterministic, and that's definitely not a feature of Midgard. There's quite a bit of chaos and screwage in this game. Essentially there are three kingdoms - Alfheim, Jotunheim and Mannheim, and some provices in each. Players play their vikings to win majorities in provinces, and play cards to attack other players' positions and occasionally just destroy stuff (you ARE a viking after all). Dead guys go to Valhalla where still score points. There are also two heavens you can win majorities in. Midgard is a decent game, with room for good play, but also room for screwage. I find I can't take it too seriously, or I get annoyed when people screw with me. It's a game I'll play but not one I'll buy. On the other hand, I won't even play El Grane.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Festival of Lights

The most recent Gathering of Friendless coincided with Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. This festival commemorates the legendary time when Rama returned to Ayodhya after helping Vishwamitra destroy the demons of the Dandaka-van and demolishing Ravana's army at Mithila using the power of the Brahm-astra. You must remember that. Anyway, it's something like a Hindu Christmas, and with our household being as Hindu as it is Christian (i.e. not at all), we lit some candles and got some Indian sweets and celebrated Diwali. That makes sense, doesn't it?

So the subtitle of the Gathering of Friendless episode was "The Festival of Lights". As the only "light" games I could think of were Nacht der Magier, which only takes 4 players and is played in the dark anyway; and Khet which is a 2 player game; we completely ignored the light theme.

We started with a two-team game of Bamboleo while waiting to see who might arrive. CyberKev made a mathematical mistake and took his team down very efficiently, leaving the team of Aaron, Hubertus and John to win 21 points to -1.

We'd all played Trans(Europa|America) but only a few of us had played the Vexation expansion, so we then played Vexation with TransEuropa. When I read the rules of Vexation I was sure I'd hate it - why take a great game and make it malicious? - but it's not malicious at all, it just has blocking. That I can cope with. Most of us didn't get the hang of the expansion at all, with the game only lasting two rounds, with Aaron on 12, me on 10, and nobody else above 1. Even Scrabblette, who is very good at the Trans games, did very badly.

We progressed to one of CyberKev's favourites, Frank's Zoo, which apparently takes up to seven players. There were six of us, and it seemed to me that the game was significantly weaker with six than with four. It wasn't likely that there was a pair of anything in someone's hand, and I found it hard to judge what might be a good play. Scores were very even for the whole game, with Scrabblette eventually winning on 24 and last place being up to 15.

We then played something we'd been hoping to play for months - Mystery of the Abbey. This is one of the four games I rate a 10 (Scrabble, Trias and Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation), and I don't often play it. CyberKev argues that it's too chaotic and the card-passing takes away from the deductive aspect; but I say that if the card-passing has much of an effect you're not very good at the deduction. Last time we played this at Critical Mass I stole the win from Scrabblette so there was some tension at our end of the table - she determined not to let it happen again, me determined to be even more cunning this time.

Very early in the game we discovered that all of the Fathers were in people's hands, so they didn't do it. There weren't many clear clues for a while then until the second round when the event at Mass was that novices were confined to their chambers. For this event each player places a novice in front of their cellula. Scrabblette didn't have one, so there were 5 novices on the board. A few people asked questions about the other novices and I realised that with 5 on the board, one in my hand, one in Aaron's hand, and none with anybody else, that there were two missing. There was one card in the Parlatorium, so the killer must be a novice. A good deduction I thought, but way too obvious and I was sure everybody saw it.

CyberKev immediately went to the Capitulum and revealed that the killer was a novice. I was trying to figure out how I could figure out which novice. I tried to get around to see as many of the face-down cards as I could in the round, but only managed to get to two of them, one of which I knew about already. That left 4 novices I hadn't seen. Then Scrabblette went to the Capitulum and revealed that the killer was a brother. HUH?

Scrabblette had figured out that there were 8 novices in play, so therefore the killer couldn't be a novice. Except that there are 9 novices. One of those completely stupid screw-ups that happen from time to time. But the best part was, at the second mass she was protecting her brother cards and so passed me a novice - the one from the Parlatorium. That narrowed it down to three! I was first player in the third round and hot-footed it to the Capitulum! I wasn't really clear who the killer was, but I had a suspicion that Hubertus had novice Guy, and I knew which of the other two novices Aaron didn't have... so I guessed that was the guy. Further questions between other players while I was on my way only served to confirm my guess, and when I arrived at the Capitulum I accused the correct killer.

In the post-game analysis, I think it was the novice in my hand that saved me. Nobody knew who he was, and Scrabblette, who was definitely smart enough to Figure These Things Out, was off on the wild goose chase with the brothers. Nobody else quite cottoned on that my novice was the last one who wasn't the killer, and maybe they hadn't seen the novice cards outside the cellula in the second round either. In the end, it was an honest victory to me, which is satisfying but not as much fun as stealing a win from somebody else.

The final game for the evening was Unspeakable Words which is becoming a comfortable favourite, even though we do keep discovering new rules. It's a quick and easy word game, and despite the die hating me I always enjoy it. As often happens, Scrabblette thrashed us.

My stats program tells me that this day was my best day of gaming ever. Here's hoping we can continue in that vein!

Duel in the Light

I'm trying to catch up on session reports for the Gathering of Friendless. Unlike many gamers who shall remain nameless, I do have a fetish for writing, but I'm still quite slack at heart and once something is a responsibility (even if it's only a commitment I've made for my self) I become slack. Anyway, the Gathering of Friendless Episode 5 was subtitle "DUEL IN THE LIGHT". This followed a drama earlier in the week where we dismantled the light above the game table to get all of the dead moths out of it, and I couldn't get it back together. The kid and I had been playing Duel in the Dark, and it looked like we might be acting that out come games night. Luckily we had to get some other electrical work done and the electrician fixed the light for us. But if it comes apart again I still won't know how to fix it.

Anyway, Scrabblette was busy studying and the kid was visiting, so it ended up being a boys' night of gaming. At the kid's suggestion, and with very little coercion, we started with a game of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. I'm always amazed by the cleverness and quality of this game, and it's a joy to play. I don't like long games, but 3 hours was fine for this one. Some people seem to have that level of engagement with Caylus. I don't, but Consulting Detective works for me. We traipsed around London interrogating people trying to solve the Case of the Confused Murderess (is that right? Case 2) until we finally decided we'd figured it out. We were wrong. However, Holmes' solution wasn't supported by the evidence that Holmes had gathered, and we weren't disappointed that we didn't jump to the same conclusion. Our score was 25 points, which was about as badly as we did last time.

It was already getting late by then, so we just went on to a quick game of Tsuro. Aaron finally noticed that the sides of the board had different numbers of squares on them (one's 6x6 and the other is 7x7) so we'll be able to make an informed decision on choice of side next time. The kid won. Yes, the game can have some luck but it's at least quick.

I then suggested Jungle Smart because I was determined to play until I won. This was my lucky play, as I was usually a millisecond ahead of CyberKev. Each time I've played this game there has been a dominant player, and it has always been a different player. I don't understand how that works.

It was getting late and Aaron left, so the rest of us decided to do something silly and play one of my unplayed games - in this case a Chinese rip-off of Hungry Hungry Hippos called Hungry Crocodile Game. The hungry crocodiles looked more like frogs. In addition, the game had quite a few broken bits and you had to play with one hand and hold it together with the other. For some reason I was very good at it, winning 5 of the 6 games we played. Nevertheless when we were finished I dumped it in the bin. We'd had
it since the kid was a baby, and that game was well past its use-by date.

And that was all that happened at Duel in the Light.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Recent Scrabble Scores

Isn't Scrabble a beautiful game? The bonus tiles drag you to all corners of the board. The better players need space to play longer words which they have because they have a higher letter density in the spaces they have used. It just all fits very nicely. I found some tournament games on-line and have been amazed at the words those guys play. I think I'm about one bingo per game away from being a decent tournament player.

Here are my recent scores on Scrabulous (with W for won and L for lost): 363 (L), 356 (L), 409 (W), 290 (L), 479 (W), 339 (L), 347 (W), 332 (W), 413 (W). That's an average of about 370 points per game, so I've definitely improved my game recently. There was also a face-to-face game where I scored about 408. The two lowest scores (290 and 332) were challenge games against Gerrod. Gerrod likes to challenge my words off the board (bastard) so scores are lower in those games. I think I also get flustered and play worse in a challenge game. Yet I persevere because that's tournament rules and I've got to get used to them.

I guess I should mention I haven't beaten Scrabblette in a one on one game for months :-(. The girl is good.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A River Runs Through It

After a break of a couple of months I pulled down Roads and Boats again for a bash. I haven't played for a couple of months and was afraid I might be out of form so I didn't attempt Lord of the Ring which I was previously studying. I decided to play a just-for-fun game, so set up "A River Runs Through It".

Of course, no solitaire session of Roads and Boats can be started without a plan, and as I started to decide what needed to go where I wondered whether maybe I wasn't taking this just-for-fun game a bit too seriously. Well, as I don't ever recall my mum saying, if a thing's worth doing it's worth doing well.



The obvious feature of the map is that there's not very much space - just seven places to build until you can get irrigation. I figured I didn't have enough room for a stock market, and didn't think too hard about a mint, so I planned to build one gold mine and score 40 for the gold, and to see what else I could achieve. I thought it might have been a better idea to only go for Wonder points, but afterwards I realised that the Wonder only has 11 rows to score from in solitaire, so my maximum possible score would be 110.

Upon starting I recognised another feature - a river runs through it! The river almost cuts the map into two parts. So bridges needed to be made. This uses a lot more rock than just roads would. For donkey-breeding reasons the first bridge had to be built in the home space. (What happened was the donkey was on his way to a hot date but had to build a bridge, so he took the rock with him and built the bridge while his date was in the powder room. True story.) Throughout the game there were never quite enough roads, but conversely everything was close so there wasn't often a need for more roads.

The other feature of the river is that it supports water transporters, i.e. rafts. I thought they'd be useful, but on reflection I'm not sure that they were. It took a lot of resources to build them, they used spaces for the (second) woodchopper and the raft factory, and I don't think I got value for money from them. It seems strange to have a river without any water transporters, but I think I would like to try again with a better road network and no rafts.

For the connoisseurs, here's my time-line:

Turn 1: build quarry and woodcutter
Turn 2: build saw mill
Turn 3: build donkey
Turn 4: build donkey
Turn 6: build second woodcutter
Turn 7: build raft factory and paper mill
Turn 8: research specialised mines
Turn 10: build mine and raft
Turn 12: build raft
Turn 14: build raft, 2 bricks in Wonder
Turn 16: build 2 bricks in Wonder
Turn 18: build clay pit and stone factory
Turn 20: build 4 bricks in Wonder

As you can see, on Turn 17 I reached the irrigation space in the Wonder and built a clay pit and a stone factory on the newly irrigated spaces. Obviously to do really well one of those spaces will need to be a mint, and so the other will need to be a coal burner. I also have a feeling that I need to produce a clay pit and a stone factory instead of a quarry so that over the course of the game I can produce enough stone to build a proper road network and to feed the Wonder so as to get to the irrigation level soon enough to build the mint in time to make a coin. I'm not sure how I'll fare with initial resources, so I'll need a better plan next time. Maybe I'll also be able to put a second gold mine in where the raft factory was.

Hmm... back to the current session. My score was 40 points for 4 gold nuggets plus 70 points for 7 rows of the Wonder, which is 110. I think I'm obsessed again!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Tale of Two OLGS

In the last couple of years I've been buying games from on-line games stores. I've had very different experiences with customer service. Here's the first place I ordered from. I'm in purple, OLGS1 in blue.

However there's something weird going on. If I put in this order, it works OK and I can get a price for international surface post. .... If I add a copy of ---, it tells me the shipping method I chose is not available. Huh? Am I crossing some weight threshold or something?

you probably did go over some weight limit. try separate order for ...

But won't that make the shipping calculation wrong (and hence more expensive for me)?

it may. we watch the international shipping. the website is set up to charge get the cost from the post office website and add 50% to that postage cost to help cover the other cost. when the order is packed and ready to go if you were charged more than that then we refund the difference by coupon.

...


I apologize for this inconvenience. Our inventory was off by one for the game ---. We are currently out of stock. We may be able to get the game in soon. Would you like to have us wait 10 bussiness days before shipping your order, to see if we can get more of this game in now; OR Would you prefer to be given a refund of the amount of the game with the coupon that we will be sending you for some of the shipping cost, and us to ship the order to you now?

So in the end the stuff-up on their web-site was caused by the addition of a game that they didn't even have. And the extra shipping cost was because of some web site problem that they didn't really seem interested in. Nevertheless, they had my money and they weren't giving it back and I didn't really have anything else I wanted to order from them. Eventually the order turned up and the packaging was bad even though I'd ordered a VERY expensive game. I resolved not to deal with OLGS1 again, but I had to to redeem my coupon. I ended up ordering a game I sort of wanted, and paying full international shipping on a single game, which is very expensive.

Later on I ordered from OLGS2 and had another problem with their web site. OLGS2 is in green.

When I'm trying to make my order I get this error message:

1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax; check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near '' at line 1

John, sorry for the cryptic messages...it's an area of the site I haven't yet had time to work on.

I believe this message comes up when our FedEx server is down. It looks like it finally worked for you?

Let me know if you still need help!

... and in a later transaction ...

Here are the comments for your order:

CP922504407US

Is this a tracking number? With which service? Thanks,

John, we use FedEx. There should be a tracking link if you log into My Account and view the order.

I can't see a link (see attached snapshot of where I'm looking) and the FedEx site doesn't like the code. I'm sure the parcel will arrive eventually but I'd like to know everything's working as it's supposed to. I appreciate your help on a Sunday night!

John, sorry, I was distracted by the Superbowl

OLGS2 has never screwed up my order or charged me wrongly on shipping. OLGS2 has answered my questions politely and quickly even when the Superbowl is on. I don't even THINK about where I order from any more, I just go to OLGS2.

What have we learned from this?

1. an OLGS is allowed to screw up
2. as long as it doesn't cost me money
3. and especially if you're nice about it.

That's the difference between alienating me forever and winning a loyal customer. Now just say there was a feud on BGG between these two stores, which side would I be on?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Best Game Playing Day Reminiscences

About a year and a half ago I posted an article called Great Days in Gaming describing my 10 best days of gaming according to the extended stats. Since then, most of those days have been superceded, so it's time to update the article.

10. August 17, 2007 - Unspeakable Words, BuyWord, Inkognito, Milleranagrams

This was a simple Critical Mass meeting. Critical Mass himself taught me Inkognito, which we won as a team after a bit of confusion; and then I played some of my favourite word games. I'm surprised it ranks so high, but it was a good evening.

9. June 1, 2007 - Hey! That's My Fish!, Set, Xe Queo!, TransAmerica, Taluva, Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg

Another Critical Mass meeting, where I played Kutschfahrt for the first time. I really like all of the games we played... and in fact I own all of them, since I bought CyberKev's copy of Kutschfahrt.

8. February 22 2006 - Evo, Pick Picknic, Cathedral, Ra, Coda, Coloretto, Pico 2

In my previous article, this was ranked my #1 day of gaming. I met CyberKev for lunch and we played Pico 2, then Mikey taught Ra and Evo at Book Realm in the evening. Since then I've downgraded my rating for Ra, as I don't really like auction games and I've played it quite enough, but I bought my own copy of Evo. I wonder where Mikey is these days?

7. December 15 2006 - Diamant, San Juan, Coda, Trias, Igel Ärgern

Another Critical Mass meeting, with Scrabblette and her friends Puerto Rico and Puerto Rica. Again, these were all my games that we played.

6. May 14 2005 - Saint Petersburg, Mystery of the Abbey, Odin's Ravens, Trias

This was such a long time ago... a box of games arrived in the mail and we tried some of them out. This was probably my first play for most of these games. I still like all of them.

5. October 19 2007 - Tsuro, Scrabble, Hey! That's My Fish!, Unspeakable Words, Midgard, Ricochet Robots

This was the last Critical Mass meeting I attended! We played 8 player Tsuro while waiting for people to arrive, then Midgard and Ricochet Robots. Then I played Scrabble against Jane, and when Hubertus finished his game he joined us to beat me twice at Hey! That's My Fish!

4. June 11 2006 - Space Crusade, Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Memoir '44, Travel Blokus, Gulo Gulo, Coloretto, Cartagena, Make 'n' Break

A lot of gaming happened this day! The kid and I attended BIG where I played Gulo Gulo with some spare little girls, then Coloretto with a group of the guys. Then we went to visit Pauli and played Space Crusade and my first game of Make'n'Break. I still don't own Make'n'Break but I've given two copies to other people. The game of Memoir was probably against Glynn, and Confrontation may have been against Other Kevin.

3. April 07 2007 - Hey! That's My Fish!, Villa Paletti, On the Underground, Portable Adventures: Lair of the Rat-King, TransEuropa, For Sale, Set, Give Me the Brain!, San Marco, Mystery Rummy: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld, Heimlich & Co.

We're getting into the serious gaming days here... this was the first Critical Mass Saturday meeting. Bertie Beetle brought along Villa Paletti, I taught a heap of my games, and to close the night Critical Mass thrashed us at San Marco.

2. June 12 2006 - Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Settlers of Catan 10th Anniversary 3-D Special Edition Chest Set, Shocking Roulette, Poison Pot, Give Me the Brain!, Commands & Colors: Ancients, Hive

This was a very good day of gaming when Ozvortex came to visit and whopped me at C&C Ancients. The kid joined us for a game of Settlers and a few other games. Ozvortex has similar taste in games to me, so game days with him always rate highly.

1. July 07 2007 - Colosseum, Bamboleo, Feurio!, TransEuropa, Unspeakable Words, Torres, Gheos, BuyWord, Ido

The best day of gaming of all?! It was the second Critical Mass Saturday meeting. The day started abysmally as I was negotiating the sale of my house to someone who didn't want to pay a reasonable price, and for the whole morning I was too stressed to play anything except a quiet game of BuyWord against Scrabblette. As the day wore on I de-stressed and got into some good games. I liked Ido so much I traded for it that very evening... in fact Gheos irritated me enough that it was the game I sent away :-). Colosseum was not a very satisfying game, but the others were all very good. During the following week we told the prospective buyer of the house to fuck off (that may not have been how the real estate agent phrased it) and all was right with the world again.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Continuous Friendless Metric

CyberKev and I have been discussing the Friendless metric. You see, the problem is that he's got his above zero, which is a great thing... but let us recap for those of you who don't know what a Friendless metric is. The problem with a large games collection is that you spent a lot of money on a lot of games, and some of them don't get played. In fact, many of them don't get played. You, the non-gamer, may be chortling to yourself thinking "hah, I knew he didn't really buy those games to play - he's just a spendthrift / show-off / wanker / (d) all of the above"... but common wisdom is that 50% of board games never get played. Many are bought as gifts for nephews and nieces who never bother to read the rules. So even though I have 50 games I've never played, that's only 14% of my collection, and I'm doing very well.

A lot of boardgamegeeks keep track of when they play what game on boardgamegeek.com. This satisfies a primal geek instinct to gather statistics about ourselves, and will one day provide an anthropologist with awesome data for a Ph.D. thesis on collecting, leisure and obsession. One of the purposes to which I put this data is to answer the question "do I really need all these games?" It's geek angst.

Now if I had only a copy of Scrabble, and I'd played it 173 times, I could safely answer "yes". If I had 10,000 games and had still only played Scrabble, I could safely answer "no" (though collecting games is a totally different matter and I don't address that here). So the point is to compare the games you have to the games you play to provide some measure of how much you're really using all those games. That's what the Friendless metric attempts to do.

To calculate the Friendless metric, make a list of all of your games in descending order of how many times you've played them. Scrabble with 173 plays comes first, Triominos with 0 plays comes last. For each game at the beginning with 10 or more plays, we consider that game to have earned its keep. Even better, having played one game that many times, you're forgiven one at the other end which you haven't played so much. So for playing Scrabble so many times we'll forgive you for never playing Triominos. People who play games tend to accumulate them, so we'll assume that was a gift. Then, we look at how many times you've played the last game remaining on the list... and that's your Friendless metric. The higher the better. Most bggeeks have a value of zero, so I extended the definition to go into negatives. A value of -x tells you that to get to a Friendless metric of 1 you need to play x more of your games that you've never played. Mine has been between -8 and -2 for most of the year, and just today reached 1 for the first time! Woohoo!

Now, as mentioned above, CyberKev reached positive numbers a few months ago. This is a great piece of news - it means that he's utilising his game collection. However, when his Friendless metric reached 3, CyberKev noticed that there was no longer any reward in playing his unplayed games. By playing an unplayed game he moves that game from 0 plays to 1 play... but his Friendless metric is 3, so that game is still one of the ones which is forgiven anyway. In fact, that game has to get to 4 plays before it has any chance of affecting the Friendless metric. And NO WAY is CyberKev going to play Triominos 4 times (of course, he could just get rid of it - that works very nicely). So the problem with the Friendless metric is that once it gets to 1 it fails in one of its primary aims - to encourage you to play all of your games.

What we need then is a continuous Friendless metric - one which rewards all plays, rather than just a few games you've played 9 times and a few games you've played a number of times equal to your Friendless metric. I've been thinking about this since CyberKev explained the problem to me, but just this evening I think I've come up with a nice solution. The design goal is to reward you (i.e. make your number higher) for playing ALL of your games. Also, to reward you for playing those infrequently played games more than for playing the frequently played ones. That may not make much sense at first, but consider that it actually encourages you to dispose of infrequently played games so that your collection more closely resembles what you actually will play - if you're not going to play this game, you can benefit by not even having it! And finally, a minor goal was to reward even plays of frequently played games, just a little bit.

Consideration of the shape of the reward curve I wanted led me to the exponential distribution. Basically there's a big reward for a first play, and smaller rewards for subsequent plays. The distribution has a parameter called lambda which controls how quickly the rewards drop off (and how long they last). I experimented, and it felt right to me to set lambda to 0.3. Don't worry, I'll explain.

Consider it like this. If you play a game 0 times, you get 0% of the possible reward for it. If you play a game an infinite number of times, you get 100% of the possible reward for it. With lambda set at 0.3, if you play a game once you get 26% of the possible reward for it. And as you get more plays you proceed to 45%, 59%, 70%, 78%, 83%, 88%, 91%, 93%, 95%, and so on with diminishing returns for each play. (This is the cumulative distribution function.) Those numbers feel vaguely right to me.

So, for each game I calculate what percentage of the possible reward you've achieved. I then averaged those numbers, and displayed the percentage. But then I realised, in one of the AHA! moments, that I could turn that percentage back into a number of plays, to a number that was like an average number of plays, but wasn't really. So I coded up the inverse of the CDF and the magic numbers started coming out.

My CFM is (currently) 2.45. My average number of plays per game owned is 4.5 Those numbers are comparable. In fact, if I'd played every game in my collection the same number of times, they would be the same. So the difference is the penalty for owning games I don't play.

I have 350 games of which I've never played 51. My other test subject has 198 games, which he has played an average of 11.6 times each, but he has a CFM of 1.18. Why is that? Well, it turns out that the gentleman is a Magic: the Gathering player who plays LOTS and LOTS of Magic. So his mean plays per game is very much distorted by that. Of his 198 games, he hasn't ever played 113 of them. So my collection much more accurately matches what I play.

I like this number. It feels beautiful. Comments?

BTW, the stats with these numbers in are hosted at http://friendless.servegame.org/stats/. More on that tomorrow.