The University of Essex is trying to trying to increase student retention. That is where Richard Bartle works, and he notes:

The thing is, all the ways that the document listed to increase retention among new students were straight out of the MMO newbie-retention handbook. A place where people can hang out between teaching events and make friends? Check. Organised groups led by experienced students that you can join? Check. A communication channel for students just like you? Check. A method of finding other people who are interested in the same things you are? Check. Fun tasks for people with different skills working together ? Check. Easy challenges with small rewards to get you into the swing of things? Check.

Remember your gaming insights at work. Games are designed to be more enriching and enjoyable than real life, so why can’t we take the lessons of games to make real life more fun? I currently work in educational assessment, and we are looking ahead to games as teaching and testing tools.

: Zubon

10%, 50%, 90%

How many games do you have nearly completed, but just never got around to finishing because you got bored?

I have a bunch of games dropped in the first 10%, either “crap” or “not my thing.” I have another stack somewhere around 50%, a mix of neat ideas with poor execution, promising starts that went nowhere, and generally games that just stopped being worth the time.

And then there are the 90% games. The ones that needed to have 40 hours of play, so they padded in 10-20. The ones with an unreasonable last level that did not seem worth suffering through. The ones where you really did like the puzzles but they were so similar that after 90, you could not muster the energy to finish the last 10.

After bingeing heavily, I am starting to get burned out on Renowned Explorers at exactly 90% of the way through the achievements. Since each set of 5 expeditions is its own game, you’ve beat the game once you do that once, and you’ve seen all the possible expeditions after you’ve done that a half-dozen times (although probably not all the encounters). So a bit of that is burnout, a bit is having used the captains and crews that interested me the most.

Looking at my other installed Steam games:

  • I still have Borderlands 2 going. I think I still have a DLC campaign there I never played, and a bunch of 90% achievements. You kind of enter a Borderland sequel burned out from killing that same bandit in the previous game.
  • The Talos Principle has many interesting puzzles, some BS puzzles, and so many variations on the same theme that I wonder when I will finish map C. Again, in my usual pattern, I binged heavily, but now I can maybe do one of the puzzles and be all set for a couple of weeks. And there are mutually exclusive game/achievement paths, so how about doing all of them again for slightly different story text that you could just as easily YouTube?

I have a category in my Steam library called “shelved” for those 50% and 90% games that I may get back to someday. Steam Cloud is freeing, in that I feel free to uninstall the game and walk away. If I ever get back to the game, great, but having those kilobytes saved on a distant server is all I need to feel free to do the digital equivalent of house cleaning.

: Zubon

I also have a category for those 10% games called “crap,” so that I do not accidentally reinstall them someday.

Tinker Steampunk Meeples 2

Our dear friend Tesh is launching another Kickstarter for metal Steampunk meeples, this time with the Mad Scientist and the Tinkerer. The detail is nice, like the wrench and dagger on the back of the Tinkerer. I am personally more fond of the Mad Scientist, with his lab coat, goggles, and rumpled hair. I have a friend who wants this look IRL, so maybe I well get them some meeples.

And now: steampunk fairies, too.

I enjoy Tesh’s projects, and I encourage you to check it out. Comments are open if you have a crowdfunding project going or want to note exciting ones you’re supporting. (If the spam filter eats your link, please e-mail me, and I will dig through the filter.)

: Zubon

Renowned Explorers: International Society

From the makers of Reus: REIS!

My usual reaction to roguelikes is, “Well that was some BS.” This one I am really enjoying.

The theme of Renowned Explorers is adventure and discovery, under the banner of lighthearded Victorian imperialism. You are gentleman adventurers, heading to darkest Africa, the voodoo islands of the Caribbean, or mysterious lost lands. It plays tropes of the era straight with a joyful lack of modern sensibilities. Occasionally someone tells you off for plundering their cultural treasures, but mostly you are pacifying the natives, making off with the treasures, and working on a good story to tell upon your return. The artwork feeds into all this.

Like Reus, REIS enjoys sets of three. You have a team of three explorers. You can be aggressive, devious, or friendly. Some situations are better solved with charm, others with fisticuffs. There is a rock-paper-scissors relationship among the three, and some enemies will turn that on you. Continue reading Renowned Explorers: International Society

Decks and Pets

Tobold posted about “The Grizzly Bears deck,” which of course reminded me of a Duelist article from 1995. Because you come to this blog for notes on how recent gaming events relate to forgotten gaming history.

The idea is to have some cheap-to-assemble “computer” decks to test your deck against. The variety of them listed in the article give you a range of challenges like you could expect to see in play, although the state of the game has changed a bit since 1995. The two I remembered best were the goldfish and angel decks

The goldfish does nothing, nothing at all. If you cannot beat a deck that does absolutely nothing, quit the game. If you cannot do it in 7-8 turns, fix your deck. (With some exceptions for decks that are doing fancy, slow, safe things.)

The angel decks does nothing for four turns and then gets a free Serra Angel every turn forever. That is your “slow deck” opponent. There are similar decks for defense, weenie hordes, etc.

There is not a lot of point to this post other than to point to history. That is one part “isn’t that neat,” another part that history keeps coming back around. That was an article from 1995 that was mentioned in a Wizards post in 2010, coming up in a variant in 2017. I have several times recommended reading Jessica Mulligan’s archives from Biting the Hand because so many of today’s issues were also yesterday’s issues. We are not just fighting the last war, we are doing so with the strategy that lost the last war.

: Zubon


I have played a bit more Overwatch, and the only time the matchmaker seems to put me in a game with even levels is weekend prime time. As I mentioned earlier, either I am good enough to get matched with players 200 levels above me, they are just that bad despite time spent, or the matchmaker algorithm is just saying, “Sure, this is fine, why not?”

This post from Jeff Kaplan has a lot going on. There is a very good bit here and a “eh, whattya gonna do” bit, where the latter is frustratingly fair.

If I were to summarize match results into 5 broad buckets it would be these:

  1. My team won. We beat the other team by a long shot.
  2. My team barely won.
  3. My team barely lost.
  4. My team lost. We lost by a long shot. It wasn’t even close
  5. It was a broken match somehow. Maybe someone disconnected, was screwing around or we played with fewer than 12 people.

(of course there are more cases than this – I am overly simplifying here)
Most players will say that they want a match to be either type 2 or type 3 as I described above. Those sound even. Barely win or barely lose. But I believe when psychology comes into play, most players actually expect type 1 or type 2 to be the result. Even an amazingly close type 3 match can turn into a highly negative experience for a lot of players. And if you keep “barely losing” it’s not a very fun night. Winning is fun and good. Losing is less fun than winning.
So waiting a really long time to lose by a long shot is obviously not good. But waiting a really long time to barely lose is also a negative experience. And if we assume that your chances of winning are 50%, that means that even waiting a really long time for a “better” match means that you’re going to wait a really long time to probably lose half the time…

There are some rather good insights here.

First, we say we want 2 or 3 (a good fight), but in practice we want 1 or 2 (to win). 2 is always good, but all things being equal, most people prefer 1 (big win) to 3 (narrow loss). And we all like to think we are above average and should win more than 50% of the time, even though perfect matchmaking would lead to 50% 2s and 50% 3s.

Second, most people will feel bad about a 3 or 4 and good about a 1 or 2. Despite our ideal of wanting 2 or 3, many (most?) people would probably rate a 3 about the same as a 4 in terms of how much fun they had. Winning is more fun.

Third, given that, the matchmaker really does say, “Sure this is fine, why not?” Because there is no perfect game for you once all things are factored in, and if it were perfect you would have a 50% chance, so why try to wait several minutes to find that perfect game when odds are you are not going to find it any more fun? And you still have multi-minute waits, so how much longer do you want to wait way outside prime time?

There are other good thoughts in that post, like how many random variables there are in the game, notably if you are a highly ranked player because you are a great tank and you feel like playing a sniper tonight. Most of my ranking must be based on playing support, but I don’t always want to play support. Overwatch is probably worse for that than other games; having a couple dozen classes to play introduces more noise.

But again, players like shiny, noisy, and random. Most people would be unhappy with a game where the more skilled player won 100% of the time. You are not the most skilled player out there.

: Zubon

Pitch Deck

Pitch Deck is a fun concept for a party game, on Kickstarter now, but I don’t think it will age well. The idea is to match a company with a new product and explain why “Soylent for Juggalos” is going to be the New New Thing that everyone should invest in. It is vaguely like Apples to Apples, but everyone gives a pitch for their answer.

I think that sounds kind of fun, maybe you don’t. I do not see it aging well because lots of those companies are going to stop existing over the next five to ten years. A fair number of them you’ve never heard of, because everyone’s “everyone knows” differs. This was written by some folks in San Francisco, which goes a ways towards explaining the variety of recent tech start-ups but the conspicuous absence of major corporations or middle American consumer products (and the notion of having a game about elevator pitches for startups). I would be amused to see how the implications of some of these change over time; in recent memory, MySpace was THE social media hub and eBay was an auction site.

Have you seen that effect in other games? If you have an older copy of Trivial Pursuit, some of the answers have changed over time, and some major celebrities have changed to “who?” Playing Apples to Apples with the next generation gives lots of those moments like, “Who’s Michael Jackson?” I don’t know how well Cards Against Humanity has aged with aggressively edgy references to people who were politically relevant in the five minutes the game was published.

If you are interested in giving the game a look or test run, there is a Creative Commons print and play download available.

: Zubon

More Hexcells

I find myself going back to Hexcells lately, so I am going to recommend it again. Hexcells infinite has a random level generator, so it is an endless source of enjoyable puzzles. Random levels do not have the potential to be clever like the hand-made ones, but it is consistently on the level of a good sudoku.

The sound effects are quite soothing.

: Zubon

Heroes Alive?

Friends at a LAN party were hitting Heroes of the Storm hard, so I joined them. Quick version: it is still a weak LoL clone that replaces the toxic community with one that is silent. It is hard to tell whether the skill ceiling is that low or players are just that casual and disengaged. When you play support frequently, you really get a sense of how random folks can be.

I assume it still has a significant playerbase? I have found multi-minute wait times for quick play, which to me would imply “dying,” but maybe my account is at a weird point in the population density.

Overwatch feels similar, a shiny but somewhat clumsy TF2. Again the silent community and surprisingly long wait times. I assume the latter are not caused by my account level; I assume there is no matchmaking at all, given that I will end up in games with level 100+ pre-made groups, despite being relatively new.

Blizzard codified the trope of “soloing together,” and this is what it looks like in a team game. On the other hand, if you can get a few people working together, that will wipe the map. Fish, barrel.

: Zubon

Tao Long

While I am talking about Kickstarters, I should point to Tao Long. ThunderGryph Games started up last year and Kickstarted their first game, Overseers. It looked interesting and I backed it at the “Founders Club” level, which is a lifetime subscription to their games. So I’ll be paying attention to everything they do. Gonzalo Aguirre Bisi of ThunderGryph has a nice post about his first Kickstarter experience. The game arrived as expected, upgraded, and before Christmas.

I have only had one evening with Overseers on the table, so I do not have a heck of a lot to say about it yet. The mechanics work well. We found the swings of small decisions to be very large, but part of that was due to translation issues with the rules. When you play, make sure you have the FAQ because some of the rules are mis-described and there is a recommended text change that happened between printing the cards and the manual. I think the game runs much better after seeing the FAQ, although Greed becomes much weaker.

Let’s be honest, you expect some language issues when a Spanish company translates a Japanese game into English. Hyperborea, which I love like chocolate, had worse issues trying to avoid language and instead using increasingly arcane symbols to show complicated rules on cards. We have put up with worse to play our MMOs. This looks to be their model, translating games and taking them to new markets. I look forward to more non-European Eurogames.

Storytime over, Tao Long burst out of the gate, more than triple its funding goal in less than a day and currently over 1000%. It’s not a $10 million game, but it is already a relative success, twice the funding that Overseers received. If anyone has explored the game in greater depth and would like to discuss mechanics, rather than just game development meta, comments are open.

: Zubon