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QWERTYmartin's Unabridged Insights On Play

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Don't end up with a stinky finger! Using a language model to generate board game descriptions.

Martin G
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At work recently, I've been investigating developments in the field of language modeling. Ever-increasing computer power has allowed researchers to train their models on *vast* quantities of text from the internet, books etc. allowing them to predict more and more accurately which word will follow another in a given context. This is the technology behind the predictive text on your phone, Google's new search feature that highlights the answer to your question on a web page, and bots that write news articles that look like they're by journalists.

The models also allow you to generate text that imitates a particular style. And it turns out it's actually pretty easy to play with them at home, using someone else's computer power. I used these two Google Colab notebooks made by Max Woolf. They allow you to supply a file with some text you want to mimic, fine-tune the pre-trained model and then spit out new examples.

My idea for training text was the new, 85-character, user-submitted descriptions that have been popping up on BGG game pages in the last few weeks. I've written a couple of these myself, and they have a particular style that I thought might be quite successfully learned by the model.

I scraped the descriptions from the 500 most-rated games in the BGG database and uploaded these to the notebook. After a bit of experimentation with the settings (I needed much *less* training than the defaults to avoid it just parroting back exactly what I'd supplied), I came up with something that worked rather well. Or at least I think so. I'll let you be the judge...

Some I genuinely had to check weren't just in the training data:

Use gems, shields, and attack the hero in this popular strategy tower-building game.

As you progress through your trade missions, you must acquire tech to connect destinations.

Compete against others to gain space stations & control asteroid belts.

Defend an ancient temple against a formidable enemy, the Tamauk!

Out-think your opponent and race to climb the tallest building in this classic!

Move each tile as fast as you possibly can to win this unique board-less party stealth game!

Be the first to divest your assets in a deal that will collapse during the market crash!


Others are close but there's something a bit off:

Place your men on high alert to pillage cattle, pillage cattle, and gain glory.

It's strange being out alone. Someone stands in the path of you or your opponent. Will you find peace or... perish?

After Eridani wins Egypt, King Tut (Tutor!) and his friends must conquer the Earth in this sequel to the 2014 Egyptian sci-fi epic.

Use a criss-crossing fantasy tomorailer network. Expand as you see fit, until you get to a spot you can't find!

Become a banking acrobat and earn all the profit you can with small amounts of cash.

Become the complete Hoodrat and repeat your quest to attract dragonflies.

Send out the best team of wizards you can find to battle aliens and Mongols!

Research roads, build roads, get roads and get paid.

Place flowers, dice, bake, chase after your idols and win big.

Roll dice to foil the plans of your adversary! Your deck can hold 4,000—but hopefully not more!

Assert your martial prowess as you race to stave off cancer!

Race to identify the lone wolf and escape the city in this appallingly difficult game.

Send your assistants through the shops of Istanbul as you race to sell curries, while simultaneously trying to sell hot dogs to everyone!


Some are a little weirder:

Do not work as a team to rob a brothel. Release the rich ones and run out the clock. Then come back empty-handed!

Pass the sushi round or stack the deck to keep everyone from peeling off their bottoms.

Pass the sushi round with unique curries and a side of chips for good luck.

Play fantastical roles by transporting your arbitratorous>Botanicula to deliver delicious iced tea.

Use innkeepers to bring safe drinking water to your wealthy friends and family at one o'clock in the afternoon.

Assert your martial prowess as you propagate your race's DNA, utilizing unique mating strategies.


*gulp*. This one made me laugh out loud:

In this app-guided foot jog, complete the steps with your partner but don't end up with a stinky finger.

While this one made me think the model might be approaching sentience:

Science wonders why the human race can't unite to avert a pandemic.

Science really does.

And that's just a few highlights! How long before it can write the rulebooks too...
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Fri Jul 24, 2020 9:42 am
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1000!

Martin G
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A very pleasant introduction to The Rose King on yucata.de last night with

Chris Marling
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racked up my 1000th game rating, after about 13 years of logging them. I also hit 6666 logged plays.

I'm pleased to see that about 2000 of my plays have gone on games that I've played 50 or more times, and a bit under 500 on games I've only played once.
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Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:51 am
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New to me June 2020

Martin G
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The playingcards.io site has given me a way to try out some of the Japanese trick-takers I've been reading about without massive shipping fees or having to physically proxy a copy. And I've taken full advantage with four different ones by Taiki Shinzawa (新澤 大樹), co-designer of the excellent Maskmen, all of them very interesting!

American Bookshop Card Game - 5 plays -  8 
First Published 2019
Board Game: American Bookshop Card Game


This one's the simplest and feels like it could be a Knizia. The crux is that tricks end early if the total value of cards reaches 15, with the player who breached that total taking the cards. If you stay below 15, it's high-card wins as normal. The dickishness comes in because you only score positive points for cards in suits you have the (sole) majority of, everything else is negative. Brilliant!

Time Palatrix - 3 plays -  7 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Time Palatrix


And this is the most brain-twisting! Tricks are played in batches of 3 at a time. While *playing* cards to tricks, you have to follow (if possible) the suit that was first played to that trick. But when *resolving* them after everyone has played three cards, that might not turn out to be the lead suit of the trick at all! e.g. three blues and an orange in a trick where blue was played first, but when resolving the player who put the orange down wins the trick before so they 'lead' the orange and the blues are all throw-aways.

Zimbabweee Trick - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Zimbabweee Trick


Dois - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2014
Board Game: Dois


These two are the most similar as they entangle each trick with previous ones, meaning you have to plan your run really carefully. In Dois the numbers and colours are on separate cards, of which you have one of each in front of you to show what you played to the trick. But you only get to play one card each trick, so you can only change either number or colour.

Zimbabweee doesn't have suits, just a Pairs deck (1x1, 2x2, 3x3... 10x10) and you have to follow number. But the tricks stack, so if you play 3 in the first and 7 in the second, that's 73. By the 12th trick you can hit the trillions! And the player who wins most tricks goes bust, High Society style.

Origin of Failing Water - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2005
Board Game: Origin of Failing Water


Another Japanese trick-taker, but not a Taiki. It's a bit like Palatrix in that you play the tricks backwards before resolving them forwards, but the lack of any follow rule in the playing meant less control and shenanigans.

Tea Time - 5 plays -  6 
First Published 2012
Board Game: Tea Time


This is about as complex a game as I can tolerate learning on BGA (i.e. not very complex at all!). It's not a bad little set-collection thing which amuses for the 10 minutes it takes.
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Wed Jul 1, 2020 10:24 am
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Q2 2020 review

Martin G
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Total plays: 139

Distinct games: 43

New-to-me games: 8

Dimes: 1 - For Sale (14)

Nickels: 9 - 7 Wonders (8), Race for the Galaxy (8), 6 nimmt! (6), Innovation (6), Tichu (6), American Bookshop Card Game (5), Codenames (5), Quirky Circuits (5), Tea Time (5)

Well, here we (still) are. I don't think I'd have predicted when I did the last of these quarterly reviews that I'd not have been under a roof other than my own house by the time of the next one!

Very little face-to-face gaming, just Quirky Circuits with Sarah and a few kids games with Effie. But my online gaming life has been fantastic! Tuesdays with the usual games night crew have kept going, with a mix of social games and favourites (plus 7 Wonders) on BoardGameArena. Thursdays I usually arrange to play something a bit meatier with friends I don't usually get to see often. And then there have been several fantastic trick-taking nights using playingcards.io (Games implemented on playingcards.io).

I've been saying for years that I'd rather be playing my favourites than learning loads of new games, and here we are!

Now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 4 - Quirky Circuits, Heir to the Pharaoh, Letterpress, Finished!

Removed: 2 - Onirim (Second Edition), Fresh Fish

Owned: 224

Unplayed: 3 - Heir to the Pharaoh, Res Publica, Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation

Heir to the Pharaoh (which Nick sent me in return for Onirim) awaits the return of face-to-face game. The other acquisitions were intended for play with Sarah or solo (both in the case of Letterpress).

Best new-to-me: Quirky Circuits has been a lot of fun but the last month has seen me try four great trick-takers by Taiki Shinzawa (新澤 大樹), of which the best is American Bookshop Card Game.

 10   6 nimmt! x6 (159 all-time)
 10   Babylonia (14 all-time)
 10   For Sale x14 (63 all-time)
 10   Hanabi x4 (76 all-time)
 10   Innovation x6 (87 all-time)
 10   Love Letter x3 (136 all-time)
 10   Pax Porfiriana x3 (87 all-time)
 10   Race for the Galaxy x8 (254 all-time)
 10   Tichu x6 (54 all-time)
 9   Circle the Wagons (46 all-time)
 9   Fuji Flush (61 all-time)
 9   Haggis x2 (18 all-time)
 9   Jump Drive x4 (138 all-time)
 9   Just One x3 (27 all-time)
 9   Northern Pacific (10 all-time)
 9   Perudo (78 all-time)
 9   The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine x3 (15 all-time)
 9   The Palaces of Carrara x3 (29 all-time)
 9   Voodoo Prince x2 (18 all-time)
 9   Wir sind das Volk! x2 (15 all-time)
 8   American Bookshop Card Game x5 NEW!
 8   Codenames x5 (53 all-time)
 8   Coloretto x2 (25 all-time)
 8   Quantum (15 all-time)
 8   Quirky Circuits x5 NEW!
 8   Red7 (27 all-time)
 8   Texas Showdown x3 (15 all-time)
 8   Wavelength x4 (13 all-time)
 7   A Fake Artist Goes to New York (6 all-time)
 7   Can't Stop x2 (10 all-time)
 7   Diamant x3 (18 all-time)
 7   Dois x2 NEW!
 7   Dragon's Breath (10 all-time)
 7   Letterpress x2 (3 all-time)
 7   Lost Cities (6 all-time)
 7   Time Palatrix x3 NEW!
 7   Zimbabweee Trick x2 NEW!
 6   7 Wonders x8 (31 all-time)
 6   Chicken Cha Cha Cha x3 (5 all-time)
 6   Kingdomino x4 (7 all-time)
 6   Origin of Failing Water NEW!
 6   Tea Time x5 NEW!
 6   The Fight: We gonna fight them all! NEW!
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Wed Jul 1, 2020 10:02 am
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Black lives matter

Martin G
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I don't have anything like the platform in this hobby that some do, but I will say this.

If you say 'black lives matter', the only people attacking you will be racists. And I'd take that as a badge of honour.
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Fri Jun 5, 2020 10:07 am
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Creating custom card games on playingcards.io

Martin G
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I recently discovered http://playingcards.io, a really easy-to-use site where you can create a 'room' equipped with a deck of cards and share the link with as many players as you like (no login required). Movement is automatically synchronised between all players, so you can see cards being dragged around in real-time. You each get a 'hand' area too, and you can add named areas on the table to stack cards. If you've used Tabletop Simulator, think of this as a 2-D version.

But the coolest thing about it is the customisation features they've been adding! You can add new decks from a .csv file containing links to card images, so you choose basically any deck that you can create/scan images for. You can also resize decks, so you can easily use them to generate custom tokens too, and there are coloured pawns, counters and d2/4/6/8/10/12/20 spinners too.

Recently you've also been able to save an entire room layout (decks, positions of stacks on the table, counters etc.) which makes it very easy to share a customised set up for a specific game. For someone else to use it, they just create a new room as usual, go to 'edit mode', choose 'room options' and then upload the .pcio file.

From gallery of qwertymartin


So far I've made templates for:

The Crew: Quest for Planet 9: https://github.com/mcgriffiths/cardgames/blob/master/crew.pc...

Voodoo Prince: https://github.com/mcgriffiths/cardgames/blob/master/voodoo....

Texas Showdown: https://github.com/mcgriffiths/cardgames/blob/master/texas_s...

and I also made a generic deck (0-20 + blank, 8 colours): https://raw.githubusercontent.com/mcgriffiths/cardgames/mast...

which you can easily load up and then choose which cards you want and how many of each.

I wrote a bit of R code to generate these (rather basic) deck images so it's now very easy to create any deck that's just colours, numbers and one optional symbol.

Let me know if you try any of these out, and also if you have any requests or if you'd like me to give you a hand getting started with your own.

And please post any of your creations here: Games implemented on playingcards.io
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Fri May 15, 2020 2:10 pm
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New things to read from my geekbuddies!

Martin G
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A couple of things to plug from geekbuddies.

Jeff Warrender

Jeff Warrender
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of the excellent Jeff's World of Game Design has published a book! "You Said This Would Be Fun: What makes a game good and how to make a good game" will be a thought-provoking read if the blog is anything to go by, and it's available in paperback or epub form for a very reasonable price on Amazon. I'd already bought my copy before I was flattered to discover my name in the acknowledgements!

And Dan Laursen

Dan Laursen
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has finally () taken my advice and started a blog to host some of his super-smart commentary: Ought From Is. Dan came to my attention as a fellow Knizia-phile but the blog will focus more on how philosophy relates to board games. Promises to be fascinating!
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Mon Apr 13, 2020 10:09 am
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Q1 2020 review

Martin G
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So, that happened.

Total plays: 119

Distinct games: 54

New-to-me games: 11

Dimes: 1 - Jump Drive (16, all solo)

Nickels: 5 - Wavelength (9), Babylonia (9), Res Arcana (6), Khmer (5), Mandala (5)

It's been a strange one! Prior to all gaming going virtual, I had a great pub meet-up with long-time geekbuddy JamesT.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 6 - Vollpfosten, Small Indigo Plant, In Vino Morte, Melee, King Chocolate, Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story

Removed: 3 - Karate Tomate, Blue Lagoon, Ticket to Ride: New York

Owned: 222

Unplayed: 2 - Res Publica, Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation

The zero net-spend challenge went well with a few sales and some bargain purchases. I'm £11 for the year-to-date.

Best new-to-me: definitely Wavelength, which works really well virtually too.

New 10s: Babylonia is fantastic! Knizia's best in a long time.

 10   6 nimmt! (153 all-time)
 10   Babylonia x9 (13 all-time)
 10   Kingdom Builder (88 all-time)
 10   Ra (73 all-time)
 10   Tichu (48 all-time)
 9   Eggs of Ostrich (40 all-time)
 9   Elements x5 (47 all-time)
 9   Jump Drive x16 (134 all-time)
 9   Just One x4 (24 all-time)
 9   Mamma Mia! (26 all-time)
 9   Pairs (102 all-time)
 9   Senators (14 all-time)
 9   Taj Mahal (16 all-time)
 9   The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine x4 (12 all-time)
 8   Codenames x3 (48 all-time)
 8   Coloretto x2 (23 all-time)
 8   Las Vegas x2 (15 all-time)
 8   Mandala x5 (8 all-time)
 8   Q.E. (6 all-time)
 8   Res Arcana x6 (32 all-time)
 8   Team Play (15 all-time)
 8   The Mind Extreme x2 (10 all-time)
 8   Throne and the Grail (22 all-time)
 8   Was sticht? (4 all-time)
 8   Wavelength x9 NEW!
 7   Bring Your Own Book (4 all-time)
 7   Codenames: Duet (3 all-time)
 7   Dragon's Breath x2 (9 all-time)
 7   Good Little Tricks (6 all-time)
 7   Hurlyburly (9 all-time)
 7   King Chocolate (2 all-time)
 7   L.L.A.M.A. x2 (21 all-time)
 7   Letter Jam (4 all-time)
 7   Letterpress NEW!
 7   Melee (3 all-time)
 7   Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Edition (16 all-time)
 7   Sissi!: Die Bohnenkaiserin NEW!
 7   Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story NEW!
 7   Stinker (8 all-time)
 7   Tajuto x2 NEW!
 7   Tulip Bubble (2 all-time)
 6   7 Wonders (23 all-time)
 6   Blitzkrieg! (2 all-time)
 6   Chicken Cha Cha Cha x2 NEW!
 6   Facecards (4 all-time)
 6   Gold Fever x2 (7 all-time)
 6   Happy Salmon (2 all-time)
 6   In Vino Morte x4 NEW!
 6   Medium (2 all-time)
 6   PUSH (5 all-time)
 6   Small Indigo Plant x3 NEW!
 6   Vollpfosten NEW!
 5   TEAM3 PINK NEW!
 4   Azul: Summer Pavilion NEW!
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Wed Apr 1, 2020 10:30 am
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Checking in

Martin G
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Just in case anyone was wondering, I'm fine Have a very privileged situation in that my wife and I can both work from home, so we're doing shifts working and looking after the 4-year-old who can no longer go to pre-school.

The UK is now under a lockdown of sorts - we're still allowed to go out once a day for exercise, which mainly means a run around the cemetery at the end of the road.

Haven't been keeping up with BGG at all, but we're keeping our Tuesday games night in place as a virtual session. Last night was Bring Your Own Book, Wavelength and Las Vegas (on yucata.de).

External image


Hope everyone's staying safe and coping well.
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Wed Mar 25, 2020 10:43 am
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An alternative top 100 / Hall of Fame

Martin G
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I've been playing with the data available here showing the number of unique users logging plays of a game each year.

Here are the two simple criteria I came up with to generate a list of games that have been popular over an extended period.

1. Published at least 5 years ago -- anything 2015+ has not yet had time to demonstrate longevity.

2. Appears in the top 100 games ranked by number of unique players in at least 5 different years


I picked 2005 as the start of the window of plays I looked at (since play logging data gets sparse before that) and 2019 as the end.

Pleasingly, this generated a list of exactly 100 games, which I present in descending order of number of appearances, oldest first within each tier.

I honestly think this list of games is a better representation of modern gaming than the top 100 by ranking, and would make a great starting point for a Hall of Fame.

See the games here! An alternative top 100 based on popularity over time
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Thu Feb 13, 2020 2:44 pm
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