Expanding a game isn’t as easy as having an idea

In my last post I talked (mostly) about the work behind two expansions for a game I have been enjoying. Something was nagging me about the placement cards (which I listed as expansion 1) which was really about whether there was a fair distribution of spaces of (what is known in the game as) treasures.

screen-shot-2019-06-02-at-11.34.07-pm

This card has treasures on 15 of the 25 water spaces.

Given that I had designed and laid out those cards in Python, I resolved to use that same code to transfer the data to a spreadsheet, and to visualize how frequently each of the 25 water spaces appeared in all 24 cards.

If you read the Python from my prior post, you’ll know that each card was represented as a string of characters, each character representing one of the 25 cells (a for 0,0, b for 0,1, and so on.) Since I wanted to render these results in a spreadsheet, I created a new Google Sheet rewrote the Python as Javascript. The result is in the code sample at the bottom. It’s not efficient. It isn’t meant to be. But by publishing the Apps Script Project as a Sheets Add-On …

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 9.13.24 PM

it can be used as functions right in the spreadsheet (a new thing for me!)

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 9.14.30 PM

So, what were the results?

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 9.10.31 PM

What is this saying? The 25 cells represent the cells of a card. The number represents how many cards out of 24 have a treasure in that water space.

So the most common place to find a treasure is right in the center. 20 out of 24 cards have a treasure right in the center.

Just like my sample card, above, and repeated below.

screen-shot-2019-06-02-at-11.34.07-pm

For clarity, I added Conditional Formatting on the range, turning it into a poor-person’s heatmap.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 9.15.38 PM

Which came out like this:

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 9.15.30 PM

This colorization shows something interesting:

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 10.34.02 AM

One thing is obvious: there are only 7 out of 24 chances for treasures to appear in the four cells orthogonally adjacent to the center of the board, at spots (1,2), (2,1), (2,3), and (3,2).

Compare that to this heatmap which shows the distribution of the original six cards.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 9.16.01 PM

There, treasures are only found twice out of six times, at (1,1), (1,3), (3,1), and (3,3), but are found five times out of six at (0,2), (2,0), (2,4), and (4,2).

So, is this meaningful?

Let’s see. Now, my statistics and probability is rusty, but I think I can pull this out with help from The Internet.

Let’s start by choosing, for instance, one of the (2,1) spaces where treasures occur only 7 times in the deck of 24.  What are the chances that when drawing four cards, none of them have a treasure on that space?

Drawing 4 cards out of 24, there are 24C4, or 10,626 combinations. I gave each card a number and the computed all the permutations with the help of this permutations calculator. With that, and more spreadsheet magic, here’s the chances.

Occurrences Count %
0 2380 22%
1 4760 45%
2 2856 27%
3 595 6%
4 35 0.3%

In other words, almost a quarter of the time a treasure won’t appear in that water space for the whole game.

Now let’s compare that to the odds when drawing from the 6-card deck. There, the spaces with the fewest treasures are one space diagonally from the center, and those spaces only have treasures in two out of six cards.

Drawing 4 cards out of 6, as you do in a game, there are 6C4, or 15 combinations. Thanks to the same permutations calculator and spreadsheet magic, here are the odds of those low-frequency spaces being drawn in a game.

Occurrences Count %
0 1 7%
1 8 53%
2 6 40%
3 0 0%
4 0 0%

It shouldn’t be a surprise that if a treasures appears on a water space only twice out of six cards, there’s a 0% chance of drawing three cards with treasures on that space.

Let’s compare these side-by-side.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 10.49.46 PM

With a deck of six cards, there’s only a 7% chance those specific low-frequency water spaces will remain unpopulated the whole game, while with the deck of 24 cards, those sparsely-populated spaces will be less likely to be populated.

While I’ve never discussed the rules to the game on this post, you can imagine this means someone will make very different decisions about where to spend my time on the board.

So, what value would work?

Thanks to all that prework, it took much less effort to find out the odds drawing cards when they appear 8 out of 24 times, or 9 or 10.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 11.00.12 PM

So I were to build a deck of 24 cards, I might endeavor to have the spaces least likely to contain treasures to at least appear in the deck 10 times.

And this is just focusing on four cells out of all 25.

The Moral

  1. Designing an expansion can just be about whimsy and fun.
  2. And if you do that, you might find unexpected results.
  3. Math can be whimsical and fun.
  4. And if you do that, you might find unexpected results.

The Code

function parse(counts, str, invert) {
  for (var i = 0; i < str.length; i++) {
    var a = str.charCodeAt(i) - 97
    var row = parseInt(a / 5)
    var col = parseInt(a % 5)
    if (counts[row][col]) {
      counts[row][col]++;
    } else {
      counts[row][col] = 1;
    }
  }
}

function dibsimple(x, y) {
  return dibb(x, y, false);
}

function dib(x, y) {
  return dibb(x, y, true);
}

function dibb(x, y, all) {
  var counts = [];
  for (var i = 0; i < 5; i++) {
    counts[i] = [];
  }
  if (!all) {
    parse(counts, "abdefjmptuvxy")
    parse(counts, "bdfgijmpqstvx")
    parse(counts, "bdgiklmnoqsvx")
    parse(counts, "bdgiklmnoqsvx", true)
    parse(counts, "cfgijmpqstw")
    parse(counts, "cfgijmpqstw", true)
    parse(counts, "cfghijmpqrstw")
    parse(counts, "cfghijmpqrstw", true)
    parse(counts, "bcdgikmoqsvwx")
    parse(counts, "bcdgikmoqsvwx", true)
    parse(counts, "aefgijmpqstuy")
    parse(counts, "aefgijmpqstuy", true)
    parse(counts, "aegiklmnoqsuy")
    parse(counts, "aegiklmnoqsuy", true)
    parse(counts, "aceghikmoqrsuwy")
    parse(counts, "aceghikmoqrsuwy", true)
    parse(counts, "abdefgjpstuvxy")
    parse(counts, "abdefijpqtuvxy")
  }

  parse(counts, "abcdeklmnouvwxy")
  parse(counts, "cghiklnoqrsw")
  parse(counts, "acefhjkmoprtuwy")
  parse(counts, "bcdfjkmoptvwx")
  parse(counts, "acegikmoqsuwy")
  parse(counts, "bdfhjlnprtvx");
  return counts[x][y];
}

 

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Making Custom Board Game Cards for Waters of Nereus

My most recent game obsession is this enjoyable small-print game called Waters of Nereus. I won’t go into details about the game, but I enjoyed it enough to write my first game review. The thing I’ve most enjoyed about the game is that it’s tapped my creativity in two ways such that I’ve spent maybe sixty hours on two expansion projects.

Before going any further, note that this work is all based on other people’s hard copyrighted work. I have no problem scanning and reusing their images for personal use, and I’m happy to show you photos and rough screenshots, but I have no plans to make these cards generally available. (The expansion rules, not reusing copyrighted artwork, will be, and already is, available.)

pic3925234.jpg

Expansion 1

The first, and far simpler expansion, merely provides extra cards for indicating spots on a 5×5 grid. The game itself comes with six cards, each with a different pattern in each of the 25 cells, which is either on, or off. It doesn’t seem particularly advantageous to have more cards with more patterns, but whatever, I want it.

Look at the cards below. The four on the left are my prototypes, and the one on the right is an original. So, either my printer or scanner is losing color. That one doesn’t really bother me.

IMG_20190602_225915

The patterns from the top two cards come from the original set, the bottom two are new ones I laid out.  These four are part of a set of 24.)

I did all of this work in Gimp. As I said, the top two cards are in the original set. If you look at them, between the two of them all 25 water squares are filled. So within Gimp, I put those two images on two layers, and cut holes out of the top one where the lower icons are, and presto! I had a single image with all 25 spots filled.

And I can do the same thing with the negative spaces. Between the two cards, I can also compose a single image that was all background.

From there it was a matter of cutting out the patterns, 24 times. Or, not. Turns out Gimp has scripting! With Python! So, that was another four hours, just learning the ins and outs of the Gimp scripting API. The Python code is at the bottom of this post, because I am a huge nerd.

It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes I forgot to include the base image.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 11.32.26 PM

But persistence paid off and soon I had 24 computer-generated images

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 11.34.07 PM.png

If you go back and look at the photo of the printed cards, you might get an idea how tricky the actual printing process can be. Those white borders on the edges. The wrinkling paper. The corners. Did you notice the corners? The original card has rounded corners. Scanning those images, I had to draw a reasonable looking corner to continue the image. I’m no professional, but I just wanted something … decent. So, that was another hour.

Even though I’ll probably get my hands on a corner cutter, it’s good to feel good about one’s effort.

Expansion 2

The second expansion I wanted was a decent solo automaton. Inspired by the automata for Scythe and Patchwork, I came up with a mechanism for defining actions through a deck of cards. I’ve never done anything like that before, and it took well over 20 hours of thinking, sketching, writing and play testing. I’ve still only play tested 3 times over those 20 hours of thinking and writing.

IMG_20190602_234847

These card above were my original testing cards. They represent a set of rules that I abandoned part-way through for something I like much more. Rather than draw new cards every times the rules changed, I used the numbers in the bottom-right corner to look up actions in the rules document. It still needs more play testing, but rather than complete it, my mind wandered toward card design. I sketched ideas until finally setting on something like what you see on the right, below.

IMG_20190602_235049 (1)    IMG_20190602_235055

Rather than draw icons for everything, I scanned the game board, shown below. Almost every icon you see can be traced to that board.

IMG_20190602_234855

And after hours, and hours, and hours of printing, testing, sizing, and learning features of Gimp I never knew existed, (Alpha To Selection is why you see the border around the 2 and 3, below,) I present my first four (not embarrassing) prototypes.

IMG_20190602_225947

The post-artwork layout is done in Google Slides, which provide far more features than I expected. Still, Inkscape or Illustrator may not be far from my future.

The Card Backs

IMG_20190602_225804

Like everything else, I scanned a card back to make my own backs. A reference card is on the left, my Automaton cards are in the middle, and extra pattern cards on the right.

More Sizing

Go back and look at the card backs on the right. They, like the pattern cards up at the top, have some extra white border. And that’s because I was relying too much on perfectly-sized artwork. (I also hadn’t yet filled in the corners, like you can see in the Automaton cards.)

To accommodate this, I added .03″ on all for edges. And that meant having to fill it in. Which I did.

IMG_20190602_230145

Look at the two cards, above. The one on top is the original, with a rounded corner, and the one on the bottom is a printout with the expanded geography, which you can see along the bottom and sides. I even extended the chain links. And like before, those will probably disappear when I cut them, and nobody will ever notice, but, I’ll notice.

Finally

What a long slog. It’s not even done! I’ve still got plenty of construction ahead of me, and then I need to get down to decent printing and cutting. I’m relying on this great video web series called Dining Table Print & Play, and specifically this time, How to Make Playing Cards. I’ve purchased sticker sheets and a corner cutter, and have carefully laid out a template complete with cutting guides and folding guides. Looking at the image below, I already see a problem with the layout that’ll cost me at least an hour to fix.

Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 12.08.21 AM.png

Python!

from itertools import izip

xts = [128, 391, 645, 926, 1200]
xbs = [332, 591, 854, 1126, 1390]
yts = [155, 500, 825, 1196, 1549]
ybs = [384, 730, 1105, 1430, 1789]

def sel(img, x, y, mode = 2):
  xc = xts[x-1]
  yc = yts[y-1]
  w = xbs[x-1] - xc
  h = ybs[y-1] - yc
  pdb.gimp_image_select_rectangle(img, mode, xc, yc, w, h)

def go(idx, l):
  if len(gimp.image_list()) > 1:
    raise "oof"
  filename = "/tmp/images/img_%d.png" % idx
  img = gimp.image_list()[0]
  #
  layer = pdb.gimp_image_get_layer_by_name(img, 'template')
  copy = layer.copy()
  img.add_layer(copy, 0)
  img.active_layer = copy
  #
  drw = pdb.gimp_image_active_drawable(img)
  it = iter(l)
  pdb.gimp_selection_none(img)
  for entry in izip(it, it):
  sel(img, entry[0], entry[1], 0)
  pdb.gimp_edit_cut(drw)
  pdb.gimp_selection_clear(img)
  #
  new_image = pdb.gimp_image_duplicate(img)
  layer = pdb.gimp_image_merge_visible_layers(new_image, CLIP_TO_IMAGE)
  pdb.gimp_file_save(new_image, layer, filename, filename)
  pdb.gimp_image_delete(new_image)
  #
  pdb.gimp_image_remove_layer(img,copy)

def parse(s, invert = None):
  r = []
  for c in s:
    a = ord(c) - 97
    row = (a / 5) + 1
    col = (a % 5) + 1
    if invert:
      r.append(col)
    r.append(row)
    if not invert:
      r.append(col)
  return r


cards=[]
cards.append(parse("abdefjmptuvxy"))
cards.append(parse("bdfgijmpqstvx"))
cards.append(parse("bdgiklmnoqsvx"))
cards.append(parse("bdgiklmnoqsvx", True))
cards.append(parse("cfgijmpqstw"))
cards.append(parse("cfgijmpqstw", True))
cards.append(parse("cfghijmpqrstw"))
cards.append(parse("cfghijmpqrstw", True))
cards.append(parse("bcdgikmoqsvwx"))
cards.append(parse("bcdgikmoqsvwx", True))
cards.append(parse("aefgijmpqstuy"))
cards.append(parse("aefgijmpqstuy", True))
cards.append(parse("aegiklmnoqsuy"))
cards.append(parse("aegiklmnoqsuy", True))
cards.append(parse("aceghikmoqrsuwy"))
cards.append(parse("aceghikmoqrsuwy", True))
cards.append(parse("abdefgjpstuvxy"))
cards.append(parse("abdefijpqtuvxy"))

cards.append(parse("abcdeklmnouvwxy"))
cards.append(parse("cghiklnoqrsw"))
cards.append(parse("acefhjkmoprtuwy"))
cards.append(parse("bcdfjkmoptvwx"))
cards.append(parse("acegikmoqsuwy"))
cards.append(parse("bdfhjlnprtvx"))

for x in range(len(cards)):
  go(x, cards[x])

A Casual Look at the Clank! In! Space! Modules

Cross-posted to boardgamegeek.

I never really paid close attention to what makes each Clank! In! Space! module distinct until today when I spent some time fixing the frayed edges. So it seemed like a nice opportunity to write up what I noticed about them.

The rule book starts by recommending Hydroponics on top, with Doomsday Cannon and Med Lab below. When a module is on top, it’s rotated 180 degrees. Does that have an impact on how you navigate it? Perhaps.

Let’s start with the modules, by the numbers. It already tells you a couple of things:

Module
(opp.)

Hydr.
(Eng.)

Eng.
(Hydr.)

D.C.
(Arena)

Arena
(D.C.)

Med Lab
(Prom.)

Prom.
(Med Lab)

Rooms

12

15

12

14

15

13

Major Secrets

2

2

2

1

2

2

Minor Secrets

3

3

3

3

3

3

Total Terminals

6

6

5

6

5

6

Clank Terminals

2

1

2

2

1

2

Medical Bays

0

0

0

1

4

0

Shops

2

1

1

1

1

3

  • All the modules have 3 minor secrets, and except for Arena, they have 2 major secrets.
  • Almost none of the modules have medical bays, but Med Lab sure has a lot of them.
  • Promenade is full of shops.

I’ve also realized something else about the modules in general: The tops of the modules are always closest to the corridor and so, easiest to get to. This is true whether the module is sitting on the bottom or the top (in which case the module is rotated half-way round) And this is why you’ll find clank-heavy terminals near the top. If you want a better reward you’ll have to travel deeper into the module. It’s a nice design, I admire it.

Hydroponics

I never noticed Hydroponics’s color and style. Cute, right? Two market spaces within easy access, though if this module sits near the cargo bay, at best they’re a way to grab a last contraband before running off.

The terminals in the center make this a nice board for two or three players: 5 credits or double-life, with a minor secret to boot. You’ll be hard pressed to find something better. (Only Engineering has something comparable with a 5-credit terminal, and still no double-life terminal.)

You might even be lucky enough to grab a major and minor secret on the same turn, if you can deal with a lock and a checkpoint.

If this is the top module, as recommended for your first game, then the crystal and teleporter rooms will sit right by the top of the Command Module, giving you some valuable help before your big move or after starting your escape.

What would it take to get from one end of the module to the other? Naturally there are four entryways, so left to right isn’t the only option, but that’s what I’m measuring.

If you have swords and boots, you can take the lower route to get out from left to right in five steps, and if not, you’ll need seven steps. Regardless, you’ll have a checkpoint in your way.

Engineering

The other side of Hydroponics is Engineering. It seems like a complicated set of pathways because of the checkpoint arcs, but I think that’s just visual trickery. Though, those checkpoints will surely slow you down.

Of all the modules this has the best reward-terminal to clank-terminal ratio (6 terminals, only one delivers clank) so you have to be really desperate to hit that one up. The 5-money terminal isn’t that difficult to get to (8 steps from left to right with some enemies for good measure) with both major secrets up for grabs. But those outside edges can be tough to get to – the payoff is nice.

Doomsday Cannon

Doomsday Cannon. If you didn’t see it, the cannon itself is on the bottom of the module.

Who needs to go shopping? Apparently just a few people because you’ll find one market space on this board. You can skim across the top of this board and get from left to right in six steps (with a checkpoint in your way.) There are plenty of options for money terminals, which I guess you’ll need at the Doomsday Cannon Market.

If you want to work your way into the center you’ll have some options for the valuable terminals, secrets and a Crystal. If you want that crystal though you might need to spend a few boots to get in and out.

There’s not much else there, and nothing thematically doomsday about it.

Arena

Oh, Arena, I love you. Only one major secret, and that center structure! You can hack a terminal to grab an extra sword, reveal a secret and then combat two enemies to hit the other side and grab the other secret, maybe ending your move at a medical checkpoint (and then stop at the market to buy contraband. Or a G0B-L1N t-shirt.)

But if you had to go from left to right, those one-way paths mean you’ve got fewer options through., though there’s a pretty safe path along the bottom in 7 steps, and another one on top in 7 with a checkpoint.

Arena is also the only board with one major secret, and like I said, if you happen to be going toward the left, that’s great.

Med Lab

There’s a reason the Med Lab is on the lower right of the default set-up. By the time you’ve hit that corner of the board you’ve generated plenty of clank and damage. It’s also a decent way to grab a little money and hack a terminal all at once. The lower path is the most attractive with the major secret and 3 credit terminal, and it makes the two enemy icons less daunting: even without swords you can get a major secret hack a three credit terminal for just one life. (It takes seven steps to go left to right through the lower terminal, versus six for the other two.)

If this were the lower left module, it might be a good spot to heal up before making your final escape.

But also, this is one of the weaker modules, only harder to navigate than Promenade, which sits on the other side.

Promenade

Thieving is hard. Let’s go shopping! And like a good shopping district, it’s easy to navigate – you can go all the way from left to right in six steps, no enemies, no two-boot pathways, no checkpoints. This is why I call it the weakest board. You can just run through it. To be fair, the cleanest path has two terminals and each of the cost you two clank, so if you have easy ways to remove clank those might be perfectly fine terminals to hack.

There’s a nice terminal up at the top that gives 3 credits. If you have the swords and a key that’s a nice major-minor combination. It’s not bad, even without the swords.

I wish Promenade had some arrows forcing shoppers — I mean, thieves — to spend more time in the mall. Does this place have a food court? I just can’t get over disliking it.

Finally

Clank! In! Space! Has four new modules in the Clank! In! Space! Apocalypse! Expansion: Mainframe, Viral Lab, Hangar, and Portal Chamber.

There’s some fun themes and ideas in there — I mean — what is going on with that Mainframe module? And how desperate for credits do you need to be to hack that terminal in the center launch bay?

Look, Clank! In! Space! doesn’t change drastically with each module: there’s always a teleport pad and a market, a fair number of accessible terminals, and plenty of secrets, but there’s enough variety in each module to set the tone of your game. And the effort to differentiate the modules, and understand their behavior can give you an edge when you need to compose your escape plan.

If you could assemble your own modules, what would they be like?

Waters of Nereus: The most sophisticated Dr. Finn’s game I know.

Original publication on boardgamegeek.

Waters of Nereus has a little of everything: worker placement, engine building, resource management, multiple paths to victory, and Beth Sobel’s artwork and Steve Finn’s design. It’s also the first game (I think) from Dr. Finn’s Games with a 60-90 minute playtime. Given that he’s known more for shorter, filler games, that’s an ambitious change. It pays off nicely. It’s not just that there’s a lot to like in Waters of Nereus, it’s that it catches my imagination.

Before going any further: I’m fairly biased in that I enjoy almost everything I’ve played from Steve Finn, but this is the first time I’ve even considered writing a few hundred words about it.

The look: Two things stand out to me here: the artwork, which includes 7 distinct character cards for each of the four players, and the boards. Each are well designed. The other components don’t stand out, but they’re perfectly fine. The coins are well sized, the cards and boards have a good finish. I’m enjoying seeing how Dr. Finn’s ongoing success has allowed him to provide higher quality components. Compare the coins in this game to the wooden crates from Gunrunners, where it’s hard to tell the sizes apart.

Big kudos to Dr. Finn for focusing on accessibility for this game, providing a complete extra set of tokens for people with color blindness, and also using the back side of the player board to use letters to distinguish colors. Kudos, I’m sure, also go to the graphic designer, Sebastian Koziner, who I’m sure had a part in that.

So it will seem pedantic to nit about that, but the player markers and ships aren’t distinguished by color. I’m not expecting Scythe-like individuality, I’m only noticing the absence.

The gameplay: As I said, it’s got a bit of everything I like.

It has worker placement, by choosing from a variety of actions to take on a turn. The longer you wait to claim an action, the worse your options become. Every action has a value and cost that comes from lost opportunity.

It has engine building: by focusing on paying off members of your crew, they’ll do more for you.

It has multiple paths to victory: one game I focused on the treasure chest for big rewards, and another game I focused on acquiring vital crew bonuses by day two, and then executing those cards as much as I could.

The crewmember variety is one of this game’s best strengths, and gives you room to combine their options into attractive combinations. Of all the crew, the Boatswain is probably the least used – it’s not often you just want to shuffle your treasures, so it’s made more attractive with the point bonuses. (incidentally, it’s pronounced bo’son, or, /ˈbōs(ə)n/. Thank you, Wifeberg.)

A two-player variant uses neutral third-player with peculiar movement rules, where you roll a six-sided die to determine the ship’s direction. But since ships can travel in eight directions, it means the ship can never move -45 degrees. I’ll probably use an eight-sided die, or maybe I’m looking for a reason to use the seven-sided die I just happened to get.

https://www.amazon.com/gamescience-opaque-white-dice-7-sided…

What was this about it captures your imagination?

This game doesn’t need any changes. It’s complete and good. But the board options the game presents makes me want to try a number of things, and also, pimp my set a bit.

I want pirate coins for this game. It’s not cheap, but options are out there https://www.ebay.com/p/Metal-Pirate-Treasure-Coins-Set-of-30… – maybe even the Scythe coins, https://www.thebrokentoken.com/scythe-metal-coins-80?utm_sou… though they’re a bit pricey.

The set-up for each round comes with drawing four of a set of six cards describing where treasures will be placed each day. While it’s more than sufficient for the game, I just want more.

I want stickers: four markers with the number ‘50’ on it, giving you a way to flip your scoring marker over once you’ve lapped the score board. It’s not critical — Carcassonne doesn’t have one and it’s one of the most successful games in the world. But Sagrada has it, and now I just want.

In the meantime such a sticker sheet could have small color letters to place on the player markers to address the minor accessibility issue I mention above, for color blindness.

The game does not allow you to attack your opponents, and that’s probably the right thing to do. And I’ve continued thinking about how to bolt on rules allowing you to take on a meaningful risk to try to steal treasures from your opponent’s hold. That idea seems to be waning, but that it’s been in my mind this long is a testament to how much I enjoy it.

More than anything I’ve been thinking about solo play. Steve published his rules for solo play warning people he didn’t think it was up to the quality he hoped for. It’s more of a puzzle than I’d like. Inspired by Patchwork Automa and some fan-made solo rules for Istanbul: The Dice Game, I’ve drawn and written a few card prototypes, and hope to focus on it this weekend.

What the game is not, and why it frustrates me, and why it doesn’t matter.

The game has some strategy, but hobbles its strategic depth. Most of this is manifested in the random nature of daily treasure placement. You have no idea where treasures will appear the next day, and even if you did, you wouldn’t know which treasures they were. This limits your daily choices toward maximizing your flexibility on further days.

Azul is pretty similar, you pull tiles from a bag, but in that case, the quantity and broad availability can still play in to an overall strategy.

And while the movement options are much improved over Sunset Over Water (still an excellent tight little game) and appropriate for a game of this size, I can’t help but feel it loses itself in the strategy. Why can a Captain only move one or two spaces? Why can’t a Pilot move diagonally? That’s a weird boat you got there, Cap’n.

So yes, this game isn’t Scythe. But it’s not trying to be Scythe, and even if it was Scythe, Wifeberg wouldn’t play it. And that’s why I didn’t consider mentioning this to begin with: if you want to play Scythe, go play it. But if you want to satisfy your lust for worker placement and engine building, I would be hard pressed to pick something else right now.

Century: Spice Road, a fan Solo Mode.

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Century: Spice Road. A new Wifeberg favorite.

Century: Spice Road is just a stellar game. Most important, Wifeberg just loves it. As much as I’ve had years of fun with Splendor, now I see why everyone says this replaces it. (Part of why is because I played Splendor for so many years.) Recently I have learned the joy of playing games solo. Scythe comes to mind, it has a first-rate Automa opponent that lays clear just how little I know about the game.

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One thing about Scythe: when you play around the table, you really play around the table.

But I also have a soft spot for fan-made expansions. Ticket to Ride: Emerald City being my hands-down favorite. I’ve been enjoying a simple-to-play, yet fairly challenging fan-made solo mode for Instabul: The Dice Game, so when I saw someone made a solo mode for Century: Spice Road, I resolved to play it.

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Look at this. A fan made this. As a labor of love. Because he loves Seattle. It’s gorgeous. And best of all, it plays wonderfully.

While the next paragraph talks about some positives, let’s get this out of the way: these rules aren’t very good. The opponent hobbles itself by constantly using its cube supply to buy market cards, all game. Its next turn is always obvious. In our one and only bout I creamed it by an outrageous margin. It would have been a total blowout had it not  managed to grab a single point card simply because of the good luck of the card turning up just as it had the cubes to purchase it. I’ll never play those rules again.

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This AI opponent is so dumb it’s going to spend the next turn tossing a green cube to take a market card rather than get one more brown cube for the 14-point card above.

 

So what do I like about it? Well, go back to the post on BoardGameGeek. There’s a community of users there, that are providing their own feedback on how they might adjust the AI, trying to make it better. Even I gave my own thoughts on the matter, with a derivative I haven’t actually played despite my promises. But people are trying. So what’s good? The framework was interesting enough to generate discussion. And so now I keep thinking about how to tune the AI so it doesn’t just grab market cards, it grabs good market cards. And just like a human player, it should be part of the early competition to grab decent market cards (or rather, take them from other players) but during the late game not even waste its time on them, and focus on growing their little cube-shaped empire. And the next step should not be predetermined. One thing I learned from the AI opponents in Scythe and Istanbul: The Dice Game: the AI opponent doesn’t even have to play the same rules. It just needs to be tough competition.

These things are surmountable. I’m not about to draw up an Automa deck with a Phase I side and a Phase II side. Or am I? Such an interesting idea.

Thing I Made: Gingersnaps

I enjoy the Food Wishes YouTube channel. And while I mostly watch, these Gingersnap cookies looked too good not to try. And cookies with candied ginger, black pepper and cayenne is my kind of cookie.

If you don’t want the video, here’s the same recipe in standard form.

The first batch was so good, I’ve now made it four times.

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Mine never had the light brown color, and that’s probably because I’m using dark molasses. But those give it a wonderful molasses flavor.

Look, I’m no baker. I’ve made cookies from scratch maybe four or five times. But these are so easy and so pleasing, that I just keep doing it. This last time I even got Wifeberg to pitch in. Next time I’m hoping she’ll make the cookies.

Some things I learned:

  • Soft butter is super important. I’ve tried leaving butter out overnight and still it was too hard. Today with this fourth batch I learned a nice technique: keeping the butter in its wax paper, microwave it for 5 seconds, rotate 90 degrees, microwave for another 5 seconds, and rotate again. I did this four times and got wonderfully soft butter.
  • Pressing the dough down with a ramekin never worked for me — I could never lift the ramekin without taking the dough with me. So I switched to my palm.
  • Putting two sheets in the oven at once really speeds up the process.
  • Not so much something I learned, but I love any opportunity to use my mortar and pestle, so I used it to finely grind the pepper corns, salt and whole cloves.

All in all it makes just over 80 cookies. Just enough to impress everybody.

Rest in peace, Maggie

Our good dog and best friend, Maggie, was put to sleep yesterday after her fourth bout with pancreatitis. We hoped she would rally like she had in the past. And for a while she did. And then she did not.

The house feels empty. We see reminders of her everywhere. The pill sheet. The box of toys. The piles of blankets we stacked everywhere on every floor, and all the water bowls, so she could sleep and drink wherever she chose. The kid-gate we bought just last week to prevent her from climbing the stairs unaccompanied.

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Maggie’s pill reminder sheet. We stopped trying to give her pills Sunday night. Five days later we put an end to her suffering.

With Wifeberg in NYC last weekend, through Monday morning, Maggie and I visited friends in South Jersey. Maggie was healthy. Happy to walk, just … slowly. On one of her last walks she nabbed some random food or poop thing. Could that have been what got her sick? It doesn’t matter.

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A big Maggie fan, who wanted to be part of every walk.

And we had a nice long walk Sunday morning. I’m not giving details, but we had a scary incident which only later did we realize was an early warning sign.

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Later that night things took their turn for the worse.

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Monday through Thursday were the same: visits to the vet, hydration, carrying her outside, offering her food, and looking for signs of improvement. Wifeberg closed in the living room with the plastic gate, and someone was with her all the time. Someone slept downstairs with her every night, some nights both of us, up every two hours to carry her outside to make her peeps.

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This was Thursday. I thought that was the day we were going to do it, so I asked Wifeberg to take this photo. The vet suggested we try one more day. Friday we rushed to the vet and neither of us had our phones. Not that I wanted more photos.

Wednesday night started to see some bad signs: she threw up water all night. (She had long passed wanting to eat.) The vet suggested one more round of treatment, along with a nausea suppression. We expected some improvement by Friday.

The improvement didn’t come.

On Friday morning we knew it was time. At 9AM Wifeberg dropped me at the front door to the vet’s office. I carried Maggie inside while she parked the car. We sat by her side the whole time, giving her pets, telling her stories, and saying thank you. By 9:45 she was gone.

“Are you a hugger,” I asked the vet? “Because I’m a hugger.” I learned my vet’s office has a lot of huggers.

Many of you understand the kind of love we shared. We were a family of best friends.

It’s sad. We’re sad. But we know how lucky we were. How lucky we are.

I don’t have a graceful ending here. And I’m tired of editing this post. And if you’re sad, please don’t be. Because we had the greatest dog there ever was. And they were the best 11 years of my life.

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“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them.

And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart.

If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” (source)