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Games News! 26/11/18

Matt: It’s a snappy news roundup this week, as Quinns and I are both prepping and packing for a journey to Philadelphia’s PAX Unplugged! And oonce again we’re stuck with an impossible question- how many games do you bring to a gaming convention?

Quinns: URGH. Bring too many and there’s no room in your bag for more games, bring too few I am reduced to a grumpy banshee, stalking the halls of my hotel and wondering why I have naught to play.

Matt: One of the games I’m definitely bringing is Keyforge, which Quinns and I are currently playtesting for our big, end-of-year blowout review.

And actually, that game made headlines this month.

No sooner had Keyforge launched than Fantasy Flight announced that it was aware of a “problem” with the algorithm that randomly generates deck names.

Quinns: This wasn’t an error with the curious technology behind Keyforge, but a human failing where people had forgotten to blacklist some problematic words. This resulted in the Keyforge community having a lot of fun with deck names like “The Emperor that Pays for Boys”, “Wang, the Suddenly Bruised” and “Titanflayer, the Farmer of Racism”.

Should you try and register one of these “defective” decks with the Keyforge’s companion app (required for competitive play), you’ll be told that you can’t register it, but can instead mail it to Fantasy Flight and receive two new decks in compensation. So that’s nice.

Or should you just keep your Bruised Wang as a collector’s item? Decisions, decisions.

Hey! What’s that smell?

Matt: Is it a gas leak?

Quinns: No way daddy-cat, it’s the smell of the board game industry becoming more accessible.

Matt: It smells like a gas leak

Quinns: This week saw the launch of PNP Arcade, a swish frontend for small publishers and designers to sell print-n-play games and still receive 70% of PNP Arcade’s net profit. In other words, it’s DriveThruRPG for pnp games.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see this. I love the idea of print-n-play games, but I think the scene needs some aggressive curation and professionalism so that I know that assembling a game will definitely be worth my time. If PNP Arcade can help to connect me with the very best of the genre, and help talented new designers to start making sales and getting some positive reinforcement, that’s going to be awesome.

Ooh, and for Cyber Monday they’re giving away this paid roll-n-write game for free! Go get it! Or for a real blast from the past, why not peek at our old Christmas Special about print-n-play games? That’s vintage SU&SD, right there.

Matt: There’s are only three types of slides in the world: children’s slides, fireman slides, and continuing stock slides. Unfortunately CMON have secured the third, worst type of slide after looking at their finances for 2018, clocking up $4.1m of losses across a 9 month period. The company blamed these results on the increase of fixed costs on the Kickstarter side of their business, as well as the high costs of attending conventions for the purposes of marketing.

As always, the truth behind their current woes is likely a broader cocktail than they themselves measure, but it certainly does feel like one or two bubbles within the industry are on the verge of popping.

Quinns: Finally, we’ve got a couple of new game announcements.

Ever since Z-Man founder Zev Shlasinger was hired to head the new board game division at Wizkids they’ve been putting out some absolutely bonkers games. I’m loving their mad attitude, even if their production quality is still often quite disappointing.

Looking like a more robust follow up to Kung-Fu Zoo, Smash City is a game of tossing large, foam monster dice into an arena of cars, tanks and 3D buildings. Considering my only feedback about Kung-Fu Zoo was that I wanted something a little bigger and more ambitious, this looks right up my (destroyed, radiation-flooded) street.

Meanwhile, over at Zev’s old company, Z-Man Games has announced an English-language edition of Lift Off, a German game of competing space agencies with a delicious retro style.

Oh, no. The words “Deliciously retro” have just made me hungry for that incoming Food Chain Magnate expansion.

Oh, no. Now I’m thinking about how good Food Chain Magnate is when I should really be packing for PAX Unplugged. Take care, everybody! Looking forward to seeing some of you there.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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A Model for Decision Making in Games, Part Three: Action Resolution

In recent months, I laid out a three-part model for decision-making in games, where you first choose an action with action selection, then specify an action with action execution. Now, I’m ready to talk in brief about the third part of the process, where you determine the results of an action with action resolution.


Phase 3: Action Resolution

Action resolution forms the back end of a decision, where the decision-making mechanics have been overtaken by the game mechanics. In other words, it’s not actually about the process of making decisions, but instead about how the decisions that a player makes are translated into results within the game’s core system—whether it be resource management, area control, majority control, or something else.

The possibilities laid out below are drawn in very broad strokes, as the specifics will often depend on how the action resolution integrates into the back-end game mechanic itself (something that will be discussed more in some case studies, in a fourth and final article in this series). As usual, action resolution is a phase that can be degenerated, in this case into “Automatic Resolution”. Eurogames are somewhat more likely to have a degenerated action resolution phase, while Anglo-American games, with their increased player conflict and their usage of adventure-game mechanics are somewhat more likely to have a fully considered action-resolution phase.

Automatic Resolution. Most game have a degenerated action-resolution phase: actions just resolve automatically and successfully. When you decide to place a tile in Carcassonne (selection) and when you decide where to place it (execution), there’s no question about whether the placement is successful or not (resolution). This is the most typical sort of action resolution in games of all sorts.

There are a number of different models beyond “Automatic Resolution”. Most games focus on one model, to reduce complexity in this core model, but it’s certainly possible to pick and choose between all the possibilities.

Figure 6: Elements of action resolution

Model 3a: Resolution Uncertainty

What’s the opposite of automatic resolution? Resolution uncertainty, where you don’t know whether an execution will complete as you expected or not. One way to introduce such uncertainty is through a simple game effect that ensures the results aren’t guaranteed.

Random Resolution. The most common sort of resolution uncertainty comes through randomness: someone rolls a die. This is most frequently seen in adventure games: you decide you’re going to take a specific action, you roll some number of dice, and you try to equal or exceed a target nurmber; alternatively, different results occur based on your sum total. Arkham HorrorBetrayal at House on the Hill, and Pathfinder Adventure Card Game all have mechanics of this sort. Random Resolution can also tie into Conflicted Resolution, where you’re facing off against another player. In Risk, for example, both players roll dice to determine which opposing armies are destroyed.

Arbitrary Resolution. Some games use cards rather than dice to determine their random results. The result is largely the same, except you may be able to count cards to determine if upcoming results are likely to be good or bad.

Unknown Futures. The other major way to introduce game-based uncertainty into action resolution is to have some unknown future: you start executing your action, but as you do something changes, and this might force you to change your plans. Take Ascension as an example. You begin executing your action by buying cards, but as you do, new cards will come out into the center row. You may then decide to purchase those new cards, instead of what you’d originally planned. (Technically, these new cards are an arbitrary element, but they don’t actually affect your resolution, but instead introduce uncertainty into how you’re going to continue executing.)

Model 3b: Resolution Conflicts

There’s another way to introduce uncertainty into resolution: through other people. Opponents can mess up your resolution either purposefully or accidentally.

Chaotic Resolution. Other players’ choices may impact yours in a number of ways. SImultaneous-selection games like Basari tend to epitomize this. Players make a secret choice (selection), but before they can execute they have to learn what other players did, which may force them to bid for the right to take their own action. Similarly, in 6 Nimmt! after the players all choose their cards to play (execution), the resolution is based on how those car choices interacted. Chaotic Resolution can even occur in a cooperative game if players are making simultaneous choices, as is the case in Space Alert where one player can use an elevator or energy needed by another player.

Conflicted Resolution. Things get more personal in Conflicted Resolution, where one player is trying to take an action directly opposed by another player. If the players roll dice against each other, this really falls back to Random Resolution, as was the case in Risk. However another possibility is for a player to have an option to stop the action which he may or may not use, because that option is a limited resource. Consider a Counter Magic spell in Magic: The Gathering. Every attack against the player holding that spell is a decision whose resolution is conflicted; the player with the Counter Magic has to choose which one he really wants to stop.

Decision Resolution. Opponents may also have the option to spoil a Resolution without it being a direct conflict. This is often the case in trading or negotiation games, where resolution depends directly upon the good will of other players: a player has to offer enough that his opponent will go along with his selected action. For example in Settlers of Catan, a player might decide to try and make a trade (selection) and he may then offer some specific resources he has in exchange for specific resources he wants (execution). In order for the trade to go through, another player must agree to the trade or even offer an alternative (resolution).

Model 3c: Resolution Delays

Uncertainty isn’t the only way to introduce complexity to decision resolution. You can also introduce factors that change its timing.

Delayed Resolution. An action is usually resolved immediately, but this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s possible for the resolution to occur after some number of turns, such as the way that your resources are delayed in Macao.

Incomplete Resolution. More common is the idea of incomplete resolution. Orléans offers a great example: you can choose to take an action (selection) and choose to place some of the character disks for that action (execution), but if you don’t place all of the disks, the action can be deferred until a later turn when you complete the resolution. (In fact, the resolution can even be deferred if an action is otherwise ready to go!)

Conclusion

In some ways, Action Resolution as the simplest part of my decision-making model. But, that’s because this part of the model is so abstract. This article details ways that you can model action resolution at a high level, but its complexities are ultimately integrated with a game’s back-end engine, and that’s where a lot of the nuances live.

This ends my model for decision making in games, but I’m going to revisit it in the near future to show how it fits together, using some case studies of well-known games.

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The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples

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SU&SD Play… Gloomhaven!

This time last year, Matt published his review of the enormous, decadent game of Gloomhaven. But since (a) it remains a superb game, (b) Quinns hadn’t played it, and (c) it was the only way Matt could make progress in his campaign, this week we decided to break it out on our Twitch channel.

Be sure to tune in on the 6th of December, when we’ll be streaming Pretzel Games’ superb Men at Work!

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down