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What have I been up to? Sometimes, too much game playing. Not immediately recently, actually, but a bit ago. Ubuntu Linux makes it easy to install and try out lots of free games.

Pente: My program has 6 levels of difficulty, and at first I could only beat the 3rd; the higher three just mysteriously slaughtered me. After a bunch of playing, a break, and playing again, I worked my way up to being able to beat the top level, sometimes. What's bizarre is that I have no idea why. I mean, I've acquired no new conscious concepts, beyond basic open 3 and open 4 stuff you figure out pretty easily. There's a vague sense I'm trying different things, but basically it feels like I try a bunch of good moves, it gets complicated, and sometimes it works out for me and sometimes not.

Othello/Reversi: computer beat me up. I read a bit about strategy, went "oooh", now I can beat it, though not perfectly. Decided I didn't care that much and dropped it.

Settlers of Catan: or rather, "Pioneers". Has modes for Seafarers, 5/6-player, plus weird boards I can't figure out, but I've been sticking to 4 player. And tracking my win list, to see how I actually do. Current score is 21 wins to 10 losses, which is way better than chance; at first I was mostly winning when I had the first position, but later I was winning in any position. Computers of course may not be optimal play, but they seem to play non-stupidly.

I also did some game reading, and learned about Gonnect, a cross between Go and Hex. Rules are the same as Go, but the winning condition is to connect two opposite sides of the board, leading to different opening and endgames. Haven't played it with anyone. Ditto for Arimaa, a new game playable with chess pieces but totally different, designed to be simple, elegant, and computer-resistant.

A year ago a friend from Caltech was at IU for the opening of the Lilly Library puzzle exhibit, and we played an in development game he brought, Race For the Galaxy. It seemed fun at the time, and I bought it recently, having learned it was out. Seemed fun, and anima liked it; others deemed it 4-player solitaire, which kind of soured me. That seems a common take, though I saw a review later emphasizing the subtle player interactions involved.
A Eurogamer's take on Go is a funny review of the game, even if you don't know the rules. This is less hilarious but still amusing, and says "Chess has been described as being a knifefight in a telephone booth", which seems apropos.

Which leads us to, hey, Go. I'd been playing Go on my laptop, losing at 3 stones to gnugo, and getting tired and annoyed. Well,one nice thing about computers/robots is that you can completely abuse them: I gave myself 9 stone handicaps and beat it a lot, for the sheer visceral pleasure of going stompy-stompy. Also to see how much I could win by, with a score difference ranging from under 100 (huge, for Go) to 300 a couple of times (ridiculous.) And once I made it resign early on, which shocked me as I hadn't known it could do that. The game was nowhere near to being conventionally done, but gnugo is apparently able to recognize when it's totally screwed, as it was, with a handful of dead stones, maybe one sort-of live group, and no room left anywhere to plausibly get life.

Well, after bullying the poor emotionless program for a while, I started easing up. 7 stones, 5 stones, 3 stones... and know what? The experience of ruthlessly exploiting advantage apparently paid off, because I found myself soaring past the prior point of frustration and being able to play evenly. In fact, a couple of days ago I switched to playing as white, and so far I've won more often than not. So I've learned something, and I think it is a generic something about denying eyespace, guaranteeing my own, cutting enemy grroups and connecting my own, building and using walls more effectively, rather than just exploiting the computer's quirks, which I'm actually not aware of.

Thoughts about the abstract "war" games:
The chess line above was good. I usually think of it as a tight battlefield, what with the 8x8 board and many pieces exerting influence all the way across. Shogi's a lot different -- 9x9 board, so 4/3 as much area, and more importantly the pieces suck. Each side has one root and one bishop, then you get pieces which move like restricted kings, or knights which can only go forwards. Bigger board, slower pieces, rather more spacious... of course, prisoners can be dropped down on your side, so you need to keep your defenses tight, not from enemy queens but from enemy paratroopers. Go is a huge board, and pieces have no direct influence on non-adjacent stones; a game there is more like a clash of civilizations, or a world war.

Two big board games are Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico. Compared to Catan, PR has a lot less randomness. Also less direct interaction, player impacts are more in who takes what role when, and how the trading house and cargo ships fill up. Also, it's a big pain to set up. Catan's annoying in how random the dice can be, but I figure its popularity comes from a sweet spot of ever-changing board, always doing a bit of something, if only collecting cards, not being too backstabby -- no one can take your settlements away -- while having a fair bit of interaction, social interaction in trading and game interaction in moving the robber, or building so as to screw someone over.

I'd like to play the Buffy game again. Haven't in a while. Hey, I gave a copy to Fanw, and I'm going to Boston!



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
I see plans for Buffy gaming this weekend!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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