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

Timelines

Shout out to Artipia Games. I backed Fields of Green, their new board game. The Kickstarter closed in September with a December delivery date. That was a few days off, but the boxes did ship from Greece in December and arrived here today. I have other games on my Kickstarter list that are years behind and still sending update notes.

Tabletop game makers seem to be just about done when they launch the Kickstarter, with production money needed rather than design money, although some projects have hit it so big on Kickstarter that they needed extra time just to design everything for all the stretch goals (or to massively scale up production). Video game developers seem to have little idea of time estimates, and they make me see the real value in project management as a discipline. It is invisible when done well but obvious when not.

: Zubon

Incentives, Peaks, Valleys

Events add new incentives to games, or sometimes they are just additions to existing rewards like double experience points or gold. For regular players, these are nice boosts, and more players log in for the increased rewards.

And then the weekend is over. The visiting friends are gone. You can run that dungeon again for half the reward without the holiday event buffs.

You are exactly where you were the day before the event, but it sure feels a bit lower.

: Zubon

The Room 2

I previously enjoyed The Room, so I picked up The Room 2 on the Steam Halloween sale. It is what you want from a sequel: more of the same but better. In this case, we are less confined to a puzzle box and instead get to see a variety of puzzle rooms (or is it the same room across several dimensions?). More puzzles, more steampunkish mechanical boxes that whirl, better graphics and art, creepy settings for Halloween. Recommended.

The biggest improvement from the original is the expanded scope. You get puzzle boxes, but you get a seance room, a laboratory, a fallen temple, and more. It’s good. The puzzles are mostly fun, and there is joy in watching it all come together, watching the completed device whir. The use of the eyepiece is significantly improved, with visual indicators that you might want to try it out rather than randomly needing to double-check everything, and the places where you need the eyepiece are more intuitive. The shifting camera does a good job of directing your attention towards the next step.

The flaws of the game remain the same, more or less the flaws of this type of game. Sometimes that shifting attention feels like a trail of breadcrumbs you are following, a very visual non-novel, particularly at the beginning when there are fewer moving pieces (less so by the final room). Sometimes the game operates on old school adventure game logic, i.e. arbitrariness that might have made sense to the designer. Why does putting X in Y make Z open? Why is there a fuse in there? Just keep playing the game, and the illogic is less severe and less common than in the previous game, although some of that might be having learned how the developers think after playing through the first game. The settings of the various rooms lack a unifying theme other than “A.S. was here,” but they are rather nice rooms with variations on “creepy.”

The puzzles are better, the settings are better, the graphics are better. If you liked The Room, you will like The Room 2. If you almost liked The Room, you will probably actually like The Room 2. The game is short, but it is longer than a movie, more interactive, and far cheaper, even before the Halloween sale.

: Zubon

Inelegant

I occasionally use the term “elegant” in reference to design, generally meaning that complexity arises from the interaction of a few simple systems. The Civ V Krepost is one of my favorite examples, one bonus on one building creates three effects that yield Russia.

Definitions are as much about what is excluded as what is included, and our friend Wilhelm has effectively pointed to the opposite of elegance:

Paradox games are deep… as in fall in, founder, and quickly drown levels of deep. There are always lots of moving parts that influence each other that you have to keep track of so that the initial experience for all of there games seems to be getting totally lost in a morass of details thrown at you in rapid succession that quickly leads to overload, exiting the game, and rarely, if ever, returning to it.

This also highlights a reason why elegance in design is desirable. Elegance yields “easy to learn, hard to master.” Inelegance yield confusion and “eh, I’ll get back to it” … and not getting back to it. I never finished the tutorial for Banished because the first one involved multiple actions that each went several layers deep in menus, with little explanation of why would want to do those but a clear implication that these were basic actions that would frequently be necessary. User-oriented design: good interfaces naturally guide you to the action you want to take.

: Zubon

Are Your Eyes Part of a Botnet Attack?

No, not yet, but let’s pair two stories:

  1. The Internet of Things participates in DDoS attachs
  2. Let’s add more things to the Internet of Things

The idea of the Internet of Things is to let all the dumb things in your house talk to each other, thereby collectively creating a smart world. (If that sounds dumb, remember that all the cells in your body are individually dumb, thereby collectively creating you.) Lots of devices now have some degree of connectivity, like DVRs, security cameras, thermostats you can control via app, keyless locks, or your garage door opener. Now think for a moment: when was the last time you changed the password on those? If you have one of those fancy, programmable toasters that makes a picture on bread, do you even know how to access security on it? Maybe they do not even build security into a toaster.

I remember mocking a headline about hackers “using your blender against you,” because the worst case scenario of a hacked blender seems like a lousy smoothie. So far, the apparent worst case scenario is contributing to a DDoS attack. If we now have millions of insecure, dumb devices online, and many of them can make some online requests, you can now flood anything with requests from millions of vectors. And those devices will continue to be vulnerable until they are out of service. Do you even know how many connections you have to the Internet of Things? If you know every device, can you access its firmware and update its security settings?

Adding in that second article: and now we have proof of concept for letting non-powered devices contribute to the Internet of Things using signals already in the air. “The goal is having billions of disposable devices start communicating,” he says, adding to the millions of insecure devices already doing so. The example in the article is contact lenses, hence my headline.

If we are not building security into the Internet of Things, we are building a world where you could attack a computer literally just by looking at it.

: Zubon

Unrelatedly, did you know that you can damage computers by shouting at them? Sound waves are physical vibrations, and computers can be very sensitive.

Osmos

I was not expecting a game this philosophically fraught.

  • Every moment you are not getting stronger, your problems are out there growing and your competitors are eating your lunch.
  • This does not even demand competitors. Things just run into each other, and gradually everything grows beyond your capacity unless you are continually expanding your capacity.
  • Paths that were safe when you started can become fatal long before you arrive. Prey can become predators while you are chasing them.
  • If you knew everything and could do the math, you could theoretically plot out everything that was going to happen. But you do not have enough knowledge and time. You must make decisions now based on a very incomplete view.
  • Often the energy it takes to acquire something is more than it is worth.
  • If two things never touch, it matters little whether they were a blink away or a mile.
  • Your path is sometimes dominated by outside forces you cannot safely escape.
  • You will often want to start over with a better starting point, somewhere it seems less like you are surrounded by stronger forces blindly oblivious to how they can crush you in their paths. Alas, that was never an option.
  • It looks soothing and simple, and each part may be. When you get deeper into it, you realize that everything is difficult and complicated because there are so many moving parts, so few of which are to your advantage at any given time.
  • If you are big enough, you can wait for others to come to you.
  • If you are not big enough, you need to act now before something bigger rolls over you.
  • Sometimes acting now is what weakens you for those bigger things.
  • Tiny moves now can have large, unforeseen consequences in the surprisingly near future.
  • If you really want to grow, you need to go after the biggest goal you can achieve.
  • Finesse is elegant and efficient.
  • But sometimes the right answer is brute force.

The most impactful part of this is how it requires neither mind nor volition. One path of the game involves competing organisms, but mostly it is a mass of blindly moving objects, and yet your problems grow faster than you do unless you find the right path.

The simple mechanic of “bigger things absorb smaller things” yields a puzzle game with predator and prey, mazes, and planetary motion. That is elegance in design.

: Zubon

But seriously, the planetary motion (“force”) levels are kind of a bear unless you can eyeball Hohmann transfers. It seems a popular recommendation to do those levels last, if at all, and to have lots of patience with overlapping orbits.