[TT] Kayak Chaos

Kayak Chaos is a card and board game about racing down a river. The river unfolds over the course of play as kayaks reach the next segment. Cards let you move down or across the river or alter its course. A mix of strategy and randomization that seemed subject to a runaway leader effect, also with risks of kingmaker scenarios and piling on early leaders.

Gameplay is simple: play 3 of your 5 cards. Cards can provide movement, alter the river, or block altering the river (rarer). Movement is obviously valuable for getting ahead. Altering the river can make your course easier or impede your rivals. For example, you could shift the river over one space, which re-positions rocks or makes someone need to swerve to avoid the river bank, or you could flip a segment of the river to turn someone around. You can even switch two segments or river, pulling back a rival, leapfrogging ahead, or both.

Each of several boards is a short stretch of the river. Boards are revealed as a player gets past the current stretch of river, with that player picking how the new stretch is placed (from four options). This is the source of the runaway leader effect: once you are in the lead, you get free chances to arrange the rest of the board to your advantage. Of course, everyone gets those cards to rearrange the board, so if someone decides to slow you down rather than advancing themselves, an early leader might be severely punished and thrown back; my first game was a three-player game, so using your scarce turns to slow an opponent means not advancing yourself, and the third player clearly comes out ahead in that scenario. Perhaps this works out better with two or four players? With two, you capture all the benefits of slowing your opponent; with four, you can spread the costs. That dynamic is also the source of the kingmaker scenario, where a player left behind with no chance of winning can focus on making life easier or harder for other players.

Playing (or discarding) 3 of 5 cards in your hand each round means that there will be some interesting decisions but that luck drives a lot of the game. It seems somewhere around the balance between my demand for strategic play and others’ love of randomization, but it is also subject to swings like when I received one forward movement card out of ten cards, while at other times I could sweep through multiple boards in a turn due to favorable randomization. It might also fall into a middle that makes no one happy; I would need more games played to tell.

Basic rules are simple, but there are some complexities and interactions so this might be at the edge of what a casual player is willing to learn for a quick kayaking game. Also not quite as quick if a lot of people spend effort slowing down the leader, but game length can be customized by playing with a shorter river. Enjoyable with surprising depth for a game that looks so simple, but not so deep that a new player is lost or even notices much depth.

: Zubon

[TT] Pack & Stack

Pack & Stack is a game of loading trucks. Every round, you get a random assortment of boxes in different sizes, pick a truck from a random set flipped over, and try to get everything on the truck with as little empty space as possible. You lose points from an initial pool for unpacked boxes and empty space; highest score when someone counts down to 0 wins. The game makes good use of components and simultaneous play, has minimal interactivity, and is strongly subject to randomization. Potentially good for younger players or people who like luck-based games.

The components are good: boxes of five different sizes of colors, dice of corresponding colors with unusual numbers of pips per side, and solid truck boards. In many games, I go with the old idea of having a set of good components to use with many games, rather than whatever cheap pawns, money, etc. come with this box to justify its cost. (I have been using these coins for Seven Wonders, although I think I will be switching all my games’ money to Tech’s new coins.) The components here are essential to the game, well conceived, and of good quality.

Pack & Stack encourages simultaneous play, and if it had more dice, everything could be done simultaneously. You each roll to get your packages one at a time, then all flip trucks simultaneously, then all pack trucks simultaneously, and you can also score losses simultaneously if you trust everyone’s math and honesty. The only interactivity is the dash for trucks, and even then nothing is contested unless two players rolled similar stacks of boxes. Contrast games with no interaction that still officially have everyone acting in play order, or Seven Wonders with simultaneous play and some interaction.

Pack & Stack is mostly a luck-based game. Assuming that you have basic spatial relations skills and can perform single-digit arithmetic, you have all the skills needed for mastery, which you will achieve within five minutes. The one meaningful decision you make each round is which truck to pick, and unless the perfect truck is randomly available, your decision is arithmetic plus least bad choice. If you are on board with my contention that interesting decisions are the fun of gaming, this is not for you. If you like slot machines, this will be an exciting step up in your gaming; you even start with a pool of points and try to be the furthest from zero at the end, so it is like sitting next to your friends at the slots, pulling the bar to see how much you lose this time, and continuing until someone runs out of money and you leave. But you get to arrange little boxes on a truck, which is somewhat more fun than watching the game play itself.

Obviously not something I’m going to play again, but it has a few good uses of rules and could be attractive to some audiences. Its rules fit on a page, not in a book, and the game is not language-dependent, hence my thinking “good for kids?” (old enough not to try to swallow Legos).

: Zubon

Summarizing F2P

“There might be a first rush, and then the contributions wind down.”
Tobold

Starting monetization schemes has been exceedingly profitable, such as the money that flooded into Team Fortress 2 when its item shop opened, LotRO’s huge surge when it went F2P (even subscriptions went up),or many sites, games, and causes that make an initial appeal for money. If this is your first time being given the opportunity to pay for something you like and support, many people will. If it is no longer an “opportunity” but an attempt to build on ongoing revenue stream, that pent up demand reaches a much lower level quickly.

: Zubon

Making Money

I have been quiet on the blogging front, so I should appreciate Tobold picking up the “business of games” beat I have favored. He has recent posts explaining that someone has to pay for games and more money attracts more investment. While you personally might prefer to get more game for less money, the MMO gaming niche only gets increased resources when investors see money to be made there. For-profit games need to show a profit.

We have previously discussed the business model Tobold discusses under “Keeping the Lights On.” Players (and consumers generally) are more sensitive to changes in price than in quality or quantity, so over time you get less game in your game and more add-ons, and wow was the Elder Scrolls IV horse armor imbroglio nine years ago already? I actively dislike the nickel-and-dime model and avoid rewarding it, but I have more money now than when I started gaming and I understand why it happens on both the supply and demand sides.

I want good value. I want to reward it. Sometime, we need to sit down and work out how to make sure we are assigning more of our time and money to their best valued uses. I liked Orcs Must Die! more than Dungeon Defenders, but I spent more time on the latter due to the game structures and internal incentives. My Settlers of Catan board was a much better investment than my LotRO lifetime account.

: Zubon

Good Decisions, Good Outcomes

We have discussed repeatedly over the past year that fun games let you make meaningful decisions. David Henderson comments on a recent football game and the distinction between decisions and outcomes.

Usually, the best choice is the one with the highest expected value (probability of outcome times value of outcome). People frequently look at solely the outcome and then attribute it to the decision, whether or not the outcome was a likely result of that decision. Winning the lottery is a good outcome for you, but playing the lottery is almost never a good decision because the cost of a ticket is more than (odds of winning) times (value from winning); depending on how you estimate taxes, inflation, and the chance of splitting the prize, the Powerball even-odds point is around $1 billion.

I have mixed feelings about games where you make good decisions and lose. This is not the case of single-player games scripted to be perverse, where what looks like the right choice is a trap or all choices are traps. I am thinking of multiplayer games that are anything less than 100% strategy with all information known in advance. We want some unknowns, and making decisions in the face of unknowns means occasionally things come down against you. When the odds are 50-50 and you lose a coin flip, yeah, that happens all the time. When you win unless you lose 5 coin flips in a row, that still happens 3% of the time. I like to think of myself as comfortable with probability and true randomness, but having a 97% chance to win and still losing through no fault of your own is really frustrating. It is absolutely necessary that players lose 3% of 97% chances, but it is still really frustrating.

It is frustrating on another level when people celebrate those 3%s as great victories, rather than blind luck. Don’t get me wrong, if you are in a position where your only chance to win is five coin flips in a row and playing conservatively guarantees a safe loss, take that chance. High variance solutions can be your friend, and even if you lose that game (as you most likely will), it was the right decision. But if you started with equal odds and fell into a situation where you needed five-in-a-row to win, you probably made some bad decisions along the way. And if you are that guy who immediately set up a five-in-a-row situation to win immediately or quit immediately, you are what is wrong with online gaming.

Celebrate your victories, but also celebrate good decisions, whether or not they lead to victory in that particular case.

: Zubon

Playing with Probability

I have occasional discourses on probability. Here is Professor Munger having one upon the recent event that the Michigan Daily 4 lottery drew the same number two drawings in a row. The odds of that happening, of course, are exactly the same odds of your winning or of any given number being drawn once: 1/10,000. (If your intuition tells you it should be 1/100,000,000, remember that there are 10,000 ways it could happen.)

I haven’t checked his math on the all-year, many-states extension, but that’s the next piece on which to train your intuition: 1/10,000 events that have a chance to happen many times per day should happen pretty frequently. If you want the extended version of that, the post links to a piece adapted from a book subtitled, “Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day.” Because in a world of seven billion people, one-in-a-million events happen seven thousand times a day.

Big, foundational ideas in probability theory were based on analysis of lottery and dice games like this. It is perhaps no wonder that we have trouble with designed more complicated games if our intuition has trouble with something as simple as drawing numbers from a hat.

: Zubon