Sunday, September 26, 2010

Board games

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I applied a binary tree sort to games that occured to me (excluding party games and monopoly and risk and a few games I've played few times to have an impression of), to order them. Here we go:

45)Zombies!!!- the theme is willing, but the game is weak. Why are the humans competing to win? Its essentially random and goes on far too long
44)LOTR game. The dullest co-op game I've played, most decisions feel unimportant and the theme is just too weak.
43)Hare and Tortoise. A kind of applies optimisation problem. Makes my head hurt and doesn't feel fun while doing so.
42)Origins of World War 2. It could actually be so much better. Theres a lot to like about this game- the mechanics are actually pretty clever, and it can feel quite challenging, but ultimately its just too unbalanced to play.
41)Brass- this is a technically great game, but doesn't grab me. I think maybe more plays might make me like it more, but I've played it maybe 3-4 times and just don't feel in control of it. It doesn't feel elegant to me. Its really hard to express quite why I don't like it.
40)Glory to Rome- this.. could be good. The game is poorly written in terms of clearly showing what the cards do, in a similar way to race. Its a bit clunky, and the fact that I was able to pull off a win on my second attempt in a rather cheesy way didn't really endear me to it.
39)Warcraft 3-This could actually be good. Once again this should be fun, but is a bit unbalanced (certain factions feel better than others), and the victory condition is always the same. I suspect the expansion pack might have made this more fun. This is a game I could play more if I could persuade more people to play it.
38)Pandemic. This is an elegantly designed game, but as a pure co-op game it feels too much like a shared logic puzzle. Theres usually a best move for everyone to do, and theres no reason that you need 4 people to work that out.
37)Bohnanza. The mechanic of forcing people to play their hand in order is kind of clever, but makes for a very artificial feeling game thats never really hooked me.
36)Caylus-I think I may like this game if I play it more. Its a bit awkward in the way it plays, and seems to have been designed to be a bit obtuse,but theres a good game in there.
35)Blokus. Yes its elegant and fine. I just don't like geometry based games. I will never be able to understand how I'm losing or winning in this game, and as a result cannot like it.
34)Indonesia. This is actually a beautiful game in many ways, with some fun decisions to make that really hooks me. Sadly the way the game executes kills it for me- running through the turns can take a VERY long time late in the game, and most of it is taken up with stuff that isn't hard. Its mechanically flawed.
33)Heroscape. Fundamentally unbalanced, certain factions feel a lot stronger than others. Its still a lot of fun, but the set up time is just absurd.
32)Neuroshima Hex. This is a pretty fun game with some nice tactical choices, I just wish it had more strategy. The lack of information about upcoming pieces prettty much cripples and tactical play, and adds too much randomness.
31)Robo-rally. Good chaotic fun, but if you make a mistake you're basically out of the game, to the point where you can have absolutely no effect on everyone elses chances.
30)Shadows over camelot. This is a fun game, the element of hidden information makes it a better co-operative game for me. Its interesting enough, but a little bit slow, and it feels like the traitor doesn't have enough to do (I have yet to be the traitor though)
29)Ticket to Ride. This is an example of lovely design. Easy to understand and certainly fun to play, with too many players theres a sense of lack of control, and I feel like theres too little interaction in it ultimately. I do enjoy it, however.
28)Liars Dice. I maybe shouldn't have included this, but this is good simple fun. Its too basic a game to be ranked too highly, but I do enjoy it.
27)Scotland Yard. A competitive co-op game, this is pretty fun. Another logic puzzle, but the competitive element makes it feel worthwhile. Its probably just as good two player though.
26)Betrayal at House on the Hill. This is all about the theme really. Its not much of game in terms of playing- the choices are usually obvious, but the atmosphere and style does make this good fun.
25)Fair Means or Foul/Hoity Toity. Basically rock paper scissors, it can be a little simplistic, being a guessing game at its core, but its simplicity means it plays quickly. The choices are meaningful, but not very deep.
24)Thebes. I really haven't played this enough. There are some really nice mechanics here, but its maybe a little too random
23)Lost Cities. A lovely two player game, its only ranked low because its only two player. I also suspect that there may always be a "best move" as well.
22)For Sale. This is a fun simple game. Another guessing game mechanic behind this, its pretty enjoyable and plays very quikly. Its also pretty simple to understand as well.
21)Evo. I guess the only reason I don't like Evo more is that I'm terrible at auctions. Maybe the choices are also a little shallow, but this is a solid game, and solid fun.
20)Alahambra. I really like this game, although I'm not terribly good at it. The wall building aspect can frustrate, and maybe theres a little too much luck, but its quick and fun.
19)Last Night on Earth. This is how a zombie game should be. There are interesting choices on both sides, and its thematic and fun, and often pretty funny. It can be cripplingly random at time, but its definitely good fun.
18)Container. Definitely not a game for everyone, but that clever little economic system is surprisingly fun. That theres several routes to victory makes it quite enjoyable, and carving your own economic niche is pretty cool.
17)Power Grid. A mammoth game, and it can be too long, but its interesting and theres lots of nice decisions to make. The end game can come down quite unexpectedly.
16)Chicago Express. I really like this game. Its deep and interesting, and can play a bit differently depending on what certain players choose to do. Its main flaw is that the opening bid, if done poorly, can absolutely cripple you, which is not a good feature- it can screw new players out of the game.
15)San Juan. Basically a card version of Puerto Rico. Feels a tiny bit random, but is fast, elegant, and fun.
14)Railroad Tycoon. Another mammoth game, this is really splendid in style. The openess of building trains is just cool, and there are lots of different routes to victory. Pretty epic.
13)Carcassonne. A nice simple tile based games. A tactical game mostly, but pretty neat and fun. Its brief, easy to explain to pretty much anyone, and interesting enough to captivate me throughout.
12)Antike. As long as everyone playing realises this is a game about gaining points rather than conquest its fine. Futile arms races hurt both sides, so group think is dangerous here, but the fundamental game is sound, and pretty clever along the way. There are several routes to victory. It does feel like certain starting positions are superior to others, however.
11)Starcraft. A hard game to think about, planning your turns in reverse order can be difficult, but theres no doubting that this game is deep and interesting. Its potentially a tiny bit unbalanced, but superior play matters more.
10)On the Underground. A fun little game which is elegant, simple, and fun. Plays quickly, and has no particular flaws I can think of, other than a possible lack of depth.
9)Pompeii. Its got a toy volcano! I haven't really got past that. I know its not that deep, but I find it such an enjoyable experience playing I somehow don't care.
8)Race for the Galaxy. Yes, it does take a LOT of plays to get to grips with, but once you're there its a deep game with a lot of plays to victory. Luck does play a part, but less than one would think. My only frustration with it is that produce consume seems to be a dominating strategy almost all the time.
7)Settlers of Catan. The classic game, and classic for a reason. A simple game with some nice depth, theres some interesting choices to be made, and the turns actually feel different to any other game I've played. I like this game because everyone likes it, which means its nice common ground to turn to.
6)Imperial. A more elegant rondel based game than antike, the share holding mechanic is clever and fun, and jibes nicely with the war element to produce a really fun game. The last few times are a bit clockworky, but this is true of a lot of games.
5)El Grande. A beautiful territory control game, I love games that blend player interaction in so well, along with lots of interesting decisions to be made at every stage.
4)BattleStarGalactica. The be all and end all in co-op games as far as I'm concerned. Its great fun being a human or a cylon, the choices are interesting and meaningful, and the games are often hilarious and tense. A perfect blend of theme and mechanics.
3)Chaos in the Old World. This game is superb. It really is a lot more deep than some might think on first glance, and theres a lot to be learned. It really does require 4/3 players who know what they're doing, however, as it can be frustrating otherwise.
2)Puerto Rico. A beautiful game, the player interaction is lovely, and having two main routes to victory (money and shipping), makes it interesting and fun. Like it lots. Deep and fun.
1)Dominion. It has to be. Every game feels quite different, and even without attack cards you need to be watching what your opponents are doing. I love trying new things and seeing how they pan out, and the feeling you get when you've managed to built a beautiful deck is just terrific.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Tamara Drewe

I have many blogs and rants to write, which I will do so when I find the time. First, a film review.

To start with the positive, this can be a very funny film. The teenagers are excellent, and provide a lot of the laughts. Theres also some good emotional character work, in particular Tamsim Greg and her background is, at least initially good.

Sadly, however, this film. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it establishes several characters which it doesn't really know what to do with, for example the rockstar Ben is either a complete arse in one scene or a decent human being in the next, and to be honest his entire sub-plot could probably be removed from the film. This is exemplified by Tamara Drewe herself. She probably has less lines than the afore mentioned teenagers (who are also, inexplicably, given semi-character arcs that don't really work), and as a result we really don't get a handle on her decisions. Does she love Ben? We wouldn't know, they barely speak to each other. Does she love Andy? They speak even less! Why does she choose to make the poor choices she makes? Well she's very sad, according to Tamsin Greg's character, and other than a random speech at the end, the film never shows us this, it just tells us.

Secondly, the film doesn't really know what it wants to be. Its broadly comedic in tone with a central romantic drama grounding the action. Yet the ending is astonishing in its tone, and without spoiling much, pretty much ruins anything the film could have been. It was a startling choice. I think this tonal difficulty probably comes from wanting to adapt the graphic novel. Not having read it, I strongly suspect that many of the scenes I issue come straight from it.

I ended up not enjoying this film. Alice absolutely detested it, and while I don't have the utter hatred for it that she did, I certainly can't recommend it. I'm surprised its done as well critically as it has.


I think that this film could actually have worked. I would have removed Ben entirely from the film, and spent a little bit more time on the affair between Tamara and Beth's husband, to make it make a bit more sense. The teenagers could have been the fuel towards the plot if necessary, but I don't think giving them a subplot really helped the film- they're better off as Shakespearian fool figures, leavening the drama as we go. I almost certainly wouldn't have killed off the husband at the end, and I'd probably have Tamara leave at the end, rather than getting together with Andy (who'd probably be even more sidelined in my version). I think this would emotionally centre the film, and give it a bit more time to focus on the characters- taking what worked and making that the film.

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Friday, September 10, 2010


One of the issues with playing Nintendo games has been the insultingly childish plots. Zelda and Mario I'll give a pass to. The former has always been light on plot, and any has been told in a reasonably artistic and fun way, while the latter has its roots in an older time, when gaming wasn't that adult anyway.

I'm more glaring in the direction of the gameboy advance, and advance wars and advance wars tactics.

The first game is an unrepentant turn based strategy game... with bright and colourful visuals. I actually think the visuals actually add to the look, but the main plot... urgh. You have to skip through mountains of dialogue which reads like the worst kind of children's televion- stuff written by adults who think children will enjoy it, but couldn't spot a joke if it hit them in the face. Its painful.

If anything the plot of final fantasy tactics advance is worse. Some kids find a book which ends up transporting them to a fantasy world. The main character takes this all in his stride, and inexplicably becomes the leader of a clan with no trouble. He then bumps into some crystals which he thinks will revert the world back to normal. He has no particular reason to think this, but jumps to conclusions, bringing along a bunch of people who will presumably cease to exist when hes done this.

Both of these games are very adult in the way they play- they'd be pretty hard for kids to understand, although thats another post, so changing the story to an embarrasingly bad plot is just distressing.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

using your components effectively

One of the big down sides to the wii's motion controls was that developers obsession with using them. The incredibly irritating Sonic and the Secret Rings was a sign of this- a game which was reasonable in using the wiimote for steering sonic, just as in mario kart, but then required you to push the controller forwards to jump. Why? The controller has some perfectly functional buttons which are in reach, and its not like the speed of your thrust increases your jump, or the style matches the manner in which you do it. Its a gimmick, and a gimmick which made the game distinctly less fun.

This is a constant theme with new controls. The motion controls are great for games which, unsurprisingly, capture motion. Resident Evil and Zelda used the mote to do shooting, which worked perfectly, and was a good idea. They also used the swiping gesture when a button press would have worked just as well.

Unless there is a specific reason to do so, one should not make controls worse than they could be. Doing things like forcing the player to flail the controller instead of pressing a button is stupid, and a poor use of tech. I shouldn't have to explain this, because the game designer is actively making my play experience work for no benefit on their part. I can understand wanting to use the wiimotes capabilities, but do it where it makes sense for your game. If waving my wiimote swipes my sword, make is to that different kinds of swipes matter. THATS interesting, and an actual use of the technology. The alternative is just infuriating

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

Geeks owe it to themselves to see this film. There was never a film made more for those of us who have gamed all our lives, and many of the logic and jokes work from those.

This is a splendid film. Its visually inventive and lovely, blending video game and comic visuals in a stunning manner which is both amusing and impressive, with each fight scene being a joy to watch. Its very funny, with most of the humour deriving from Scott being an arse or the utter incogriuity of the fight scenes being blended into normal life. It definitely made me want to check out the books.

There are some flaws. The film has a lot to pack in, and certain sub plots, such as Envy, feel a bit unfinished, as if there was meant to be something more and the film maker ran out of time. Also, there could have been a little more time spent on Ramona- while apparently in the books she has her own journey, here she is merely someone to be chased after. She does have her own personality, but it would have been nice if she'd had a little more to do.

Still, this is such a fun piece of film making I really do think its worth checking out. See it!

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Another rant on luck (a pointless shout against the void)

It is a subject of some amusement among my friends to chide me on dice beliefs. Many gamers become superstitious about dice, and attempt to convince me that they are unlucky or lucky, and that they have seen strange things.

So, here is an admission. Luck does, of course, exist. Random results are not always ``fair'', in a uniform way. There will be games where most rolls go against you (actually we'd expect that to happen about 50% of the time with two players), and perhaps even a run where this will happen. So yes, one can have bad luck in a particular instance or game. But there is no such thing as someone being intrinsically lucky or unlucky. If someone has had a terrible run of luck, in life and dice, then I would probably call them unlucky, but going forward I wouldn't expect them to be particularly unlucky in the future.

This is the gambler's fallacy, the belief that after a coin has flipped heads 10 times it is now extremely likely that it will flip tails (if anything, from a Bayesian point of view its rather more likely that it will flip heads!).

For those of you who are convinced that you are just unlucky, and can give me countless anecdotes of it, you just aren't. Focusing on dice here, here are the possibilities:

1)You keep using the same dice which are actually biased
2)Your opponents are cheating, either by using biased dice, or tricks
3)You are rolling the dice in such a way that they roll lower
4)You only remember the good times and not the bad
5)You have an inherent universal property called "luck" which inflicts you and causes you to magic dice to bad results.

4, is of course, the most probable situation. If we were to apply occam's razor, we would go with it. Luckily, we're all scientists here, so we can do some experimentation!

1 and 3 can be eliminated together. Get your dice and roll them repeatedly, making sure to record each result, trying to roll as you usually do. Then count up the frequency of the result, and apply something called the chi squared test, where you sum up the squared difference between the number you expect and the number you acheived, and test it against a probability distribution. If you make your sample large enough, and your significance level low enough, you can be pretty certain of seeing whether your dice are biased or not.

If they are not, then 1 and 3 are eliminated. Hoorary! Supposing they are, and we want to fix the problem, we can conduct further experimentation- simply try rolling with some different dice, ideally produced by a different company, and see if your results are different. If they are, its your dice. If not, its your rolling. Both problems have simple solutions. For 1, buy new dice, for 3, buy a dice cup to roll your dice in- that should prevent you from having an unhealthy influence (or, alternatively, use your skills to win at games of dice!)

Number 2 can be tested in much the same way. You will need to meticulously record every single roll your opponent makes, and do so without alerting them that you are doing it. This isn't an easy target, but is vital to ensure that your test is fair and unbiased. If you discover that they are cheating... well the solution isn't easy there, but thats a whole 'nother post.

I've actually cheated a little here. I've yet to eliminate 5. Its a little harder to get rid of. But it can be done. What we need to is make sure that if we are getting bad results, that we eliminate any possible other cause. So we need to roll a range of dice, and we need to roll them using a range of different methods, on a range of different surfaces. We can also start dealing ourselves hands of cards, as we are apparently looking for a universal luck reduction principle here. If all of these lead to a bias, then perhaps the universe is truly against us....

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