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Subject: Intellectually I know playing this game takes skill, but... rss

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Eddy
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russ wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:
So how "lucky" a game feels can be very different from how lucky it is in fact. I wonder what factors make a game feel more or less lucky independent of the actual amount of luck?

Another factor I've noticed is that (loosely speaking: I'm not sure if the following is rigorously definable) there are 2 types of randomness which often appear:

* randomness to determine a game state,
* randomness to resolve the result of a player's decision.


Perhaps one way of looking at single-game Backgammon is this. An average (and uncontested) game will take about 22 rolls to finish. (Basically, just under 167/7, since doubles count more than their pip value.) Each roll you make presents a tactical opportunity to either 1) reduce your likely total game rolls to less than 22, or b) increase your opponent's likely count to more than that. Nothing you do in a single game can counteract an opponent's consistent good rolls. The only thing that can counteract that is the law of large numbers (i.e. multiple games).

Unlike any pure-luck game, but exactly like many abstract strategy games, a player always has some (but never total) control over both their own and their opponent's destinies. If this combination of factors is intriguing, then one will probably enjoy the game. If the combination is not appealing, then quite likely one will not.
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russ wrote:
Another factor I've noticed is that (loosely speaking: I'm not sure if the following is rigorously definable) there are 2 types of randomness which often appear:
* randomness to determine a game state, from which the player then makes a decision. (E.g. rolling dice in backgammon to see what your movement numbers are.)
* randomness to resolve the result of a player's decision. (E.g. rolling dice in a wargame to resolve an attack which a player has decided to make.)

Upon further reflection, I even more realized what a great post this was. I've not heard it presented this way before.

In a sense, doesn't Backgammon offer both? If I roll a 3-5 and choose my stones to move, I've demonstrated #1. But if on that move I leave a blot for which you have a 1/6 chance of hitting, I've demonstrated #2. And if I survive that threat, I have a shot at making a point on my next roll, etc.

I think that Backgammon offers a tactical and strategic depth that's sometimes under-appreciated. It's not a heavy depth like in Chess or Go. It's a lighter depth that probably contributes to the game's continuing popularity.
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Eddy
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ldsdbomber wrote:
Willward wrote:
Nothing you do in a single game can counteract an opponent's consistent good rolls


sure it can. If an unskilled player gets only high rolls but continues to leave blots open against a skilled player for example.

I knew that comment was bound for trouble. I guess it depends on one's definitions of consistent and good. I'd rephrase it this way: If I were able to select my roll each turn (instead of actually rolling), I'd offer pretty favorable odds to even the best players in the world, and I am mediocre at best. Very little can be done against a patzer like me if I happen to get good rolls 20 straight times.

Little can be done if I get good rolls 200 straight times either, of course, but the likelihood of that is so small that it hardly is worth examining. That was basically my point.
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Willward wrote:
I think that Backgammon offers a tactical and strategic depth that's sometimes under-appreciated. It's not a heavy depth like in Chess or Go. It's a lighter depth that probably contributes to the game's continuing popularity.

It may not be as deep as Chess or Go at all. But I think that's beside the point for most players: Backgammon has enough depth for all but a relative handful of studious fans. I don't think it takes much depth to satisfy the above-average gamer. The depth of games like Chess and Go is mostly wasted on casual players like me--even though I've taken the time to study and practice these games to some extent.

What Backgammon has that the other two games lack is randomness. Love it or hate it, randomness gets in the way of planning ahead. Think all you like, and play the odds as best you can, but you'll still have to adjust to the dice rolls that actually turn up.

Many players, I believe, feel that takes the edge off competition. The brainest player, or the one who concentrates the hardest (or has studied the hardest), won't always win. A lucky novice stands a chance.

At the same time, there's enough opportunity for skill in Backgammon that it does pay to study and practice and perform careful calculations during play. Hence, the kind of player who wants to do all that can rest assured he or she will be duly rewarded (overall, in the long run).

Thus, it seems to me Backgammon has something for everyone--except maybe for the extremely studious genius who prefers to plumb the depths of something as profound as Go.


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Willward wrote:
russ wrote:
Another factor I've noticed is that (loosely speaking: I'm not sure if the following is rigorously definable) there are 2 types of randomness which often appear:
* randomness to determine a game state, from which the player then makes a decision. (E.g. rolling dice in backgammon to see what your movement numbers are.)
* randomness to resolve the result of a player's decision. (E.g. rolling dice in a wargame to resolve an attack which a player has decided to make.)

In a sense, doesn't Backgammon offer both? If I roll a 3-5 and choose my stones to move, I've demonstrated #1. But if on that move I leave a blot for which you have a 1/6 chance of hitting, I've demonstrated #2. And if I survive that threat, I have a shot at making a point on my next roll, etc.

I've thought about this too. It may not matter, actually, but "roll and move" (as in Backgammon) does have a different feel to me than "move and roll" (as in many wargames). Wargames have always felt right to me in that regard, and (perhaps because I learned Backgammon after I'd been playing wargames for a few years) Backgammon has always felt wrong.

But really, Backgammon moves are both reactive and proactive. Whether the roll or the move comes first ends up being irrelevant, I think. (In fact, one could think of the setup as the first move, to be followed by the first dice roll.)

The main difference between Backgammon and wargames (and Chess and Go) is that in Backgammon the pieces are confined to a track. Games where pieces move more freely or can be played most anywhere on the board seem deeper than games where pieces move along a track.

This shows up clearly in the opening. In Chess or Go (and many wargames too), there are many good first moves and follow-up moves. But in Backgammon, there are no more than two good moves for any first roll of the game. In fact, there may very well be just one best move for each roll. A newcomer to Backgammon should memorize these first moves, as there's no reason to ever vary them.

Checkers is an interesting in-between game. When there are not yet any kings, pieces move forward only, and there are few choices; so it's almost as if each piece is confined to a track. As we might expect, Checkers openings have become standardized to a greater degree than in Chess, but not to the "one best move" degree of Backgammon.

Freedom of movement (or placement) is, I think, what makes the decision space of Chess and Go greater than Checkers or Backgammon. It also lends a different feel to each kind of game.
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Willward wrote:
russ wrote:
Another factor I've noticed is that (loosely speaking: I'm not sure if the following is rigorously definable) there are 2 types of randomness which often appear:
* randomness to determine a game state, from which the player then makes a decision. (E.g. rolling dice in backgammon to see what your movement numbers are.)
* randomness to resolve the result of a player's decision. (E.g. rolling dice in a wargame to resolve an attack which a player has decided to make.)

Upon further reflection, I even more realized what a great post this was. I've not heard it presented this way before.

Thanks!

Quote:
In a sense, doesn't Backgammon offer both? If I roll a 3-5 and choose my stones to move, I've demonstrated #1. But if on that move I leave a blot for which you have a 1/6 chance of hitting, I've demonstrated #2.

Yes; that's why I qualified it with "loosely speaking: I'm not sure if the following is rigorously definable".

Indeed, I actually think that in fact this dichotomy is probably just a subjective perception thing and that mathematically the "2 types" of randomness are fundamentally equivalent; they just "feel" different to us, and often a given random mechanism seems more easily/naturally describable as "determining a game state" or "resolving the result of a player's decision". But regardless of the mathematical truth of the situation, in practice, we seem perceive this difference (real or not) and it seems to affect many people's perception & enjoyment of different games (I have noticed). (I.e. for purposes of the discussion of why someone might like or dislike backgammon, it doesn't matter if the distinction is real or not, since emotions don't care about reality, just about what they perceive...)
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Eddy
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Here's an interesting game situation I ran across last night in Paul Magriel's classic, Backgammon. When I read it, I thought "Hey, this is exactly what we were discussing in BGG a few weeks back."

The situation is this board
with black to finish his move by playing a 1. (Edited to change the board image -- I think the stones are more visible, now.) Black faces a likely, but not certain, gammon (losing double). At question, of course, is how best to play the 1. Black's goal is to bear off one stone next turn, saving the gammon and losing only a single game. Note that if Red rolls a double next turn (any double), then Black doesn't even roll again. That's the luck part -- any good move on your part can almost always be cancelled by a lucky roll by your opponent. In this case, Red has a 1/6 chance of winning a gammon next turn, with Black unable to affect that.

But if Black does get one more roll, he maximizes his chances of success by moving 2>1 now:
. With this move, Black has a 29/36 chance of bearing off next move. Moving 10>9 instead is a blunder, though not at all obvious:
. From here, Black has only a 25/36 chance of bearing off next turn.

Is a difference of 4/36 significant? Well, it certainly is if you add up such differences across an entire game or match. Every roll presents a tactical opportunity. For one to conclude that the game is pure luck, decisions in situations like the above would have to be obvious and second nature. For most of us, they clearly aren't, and that's what (for me) still gives this game a solidly strategic flavor.

Happy gaming!
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Moshe Callen
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Thanks for the informative example, Willward.
 
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Excellent example! And that's just an obvious, or at least easily explainable, example. Imagine an entire game or match with decisions like this.
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Eddy
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tckoppang wrote:
Excellent example! And that's just an obvious, or at least easily explainable, example. Imagine an entire game or match with decisions like this.

It certainly stood out as a great example when I read it. I'm still in search of another, though. The gist of the OP (and follow-up comments) concerned single-game backgammon. And the trouble with any situation/move in a single game is that it a) can be cancelled by a single lucky roll, or b) becomes lost in the law of large numbers of the following rolls by both players. As basically acknowledged in the OP and confirmed in several responses, the key to Backgammon is not a good decision on any given move, but the cumulative effect of good decisions over the course of an entire game or more. Still, there has to be a brilliant specific situation illustrating the point. Paul Magriel is a bona fide genius. It's in there; I'll find it. (Trouble is that I'm reading it at bedtime, and I usually read about two minutes before falling asleep. And reading Backgammon two minutes at a time is a long-term project, to say the least.)
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whac3 wrote:
1. IntroductionHere I'm going to try to figure out where skill can come into play. Using the rolls wisely to avoid letting pieces be vulnerable to being bumped off onto the bar if at all possible is a given. Alternately bumping off pieces when possible to set back the other player's progress is given. Yet on has to use a roll if one can and so the margin within which to apply such skill seems markedly limited.

To start with, both of your givens are erroneous.

There's no absolute good in keeping your pieces safe or knocking your opponent to the bar. Instead it becomes an amalgamation of risks and probabilities. If there are no established points on your home board, for instance, you have established some points in your opponents home board, and your opponent has unguarded pips then it may be advantageous for you to get knocked back to the beginning. And even when you don't want to get knocked back to your homeboard, sometimes you correctly calculate that it's simply worth the risk to go unguarded because the future combination of rolls look much better than playing it safe.

It seems that you're looking at the game without any depth or imagination and then saying, "This game has no depth." Well, yah. Not if you don't use any. The skill isn't just using bad rolls, it's preparing for them. It's about creating a distribution of pieces such that you don't have to worry about bad rolls. It's like watching a professional pool player. They never seem to have to make difficult shots. Almost every one of them is straight and close to a pocket. But that's not an accident. That's because they're intensely skilled in doing exactly what they want with the cue ball after making their last shot. Backgammon is similar.

For the most part, backgammon is tactical. You're presented with 2 dice rolls and you have to figure out what to do with them. There's long-term strategy in building points to wall in your opponents and choosing when to push your trailing piece out of your homeboard and turn the game truly into a dice-rolling race. But there's a lot in the game to like.
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