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...a forgotten boat in the lonely harbor ...

Alexandre Correia
Portugal
Lagos
Algarve
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Day 758. January 28, 2019. Lagos...

I might be remembering it wrong, but I read somewhere that Ryan Laukat was averse to solitaire gaming. And that it was very unlikely that he designed a game for one player. Well... according to his recent big box game announcement, Sleeping Gods, things have changed. A 1-2 player "storybook" game. Maybe he's a lurker of the 1 Player Guild after all. A dream come true for many solo fans that for years had to resort to fan-made solo concoctions. Most with variable success at best.


Sleeping solo player.

One of the best regarded Laukat solo fan variants is for Islebound. I once owned Islebound. Back when it was a hot off the press title and the Cult of the New was still strong in me. Luckily, the Cult of the Trade was taking over at that time, and I was able to trade it for a severe OOP copy of Ginkgopolis. The Laukat boat sailed away and I never gave it another tough for years...

Until Above and Below rocked both with my wife and the game night group. Ana keeps asking for it, but since Alice is always asleep when we have time to play it, reading the story parts aloud - as they should to shine! - becomes a turn-down factor. With the game night group, success was even better. We've started a 4 player campaign game of Near and Far, last week!


Getting the Laukat's vibe at last.

So it seemed right to trade Islebound back into the collection. To keep the World of Arzium intact. It arrived this morning and Alice loved the ships standees! She said they reminded them of Lightning & Bolt! A game I had to say no to her this morning - and afternoon! - to keep it from overplaying it! Instead, we dabbled a bit with the grandaddy Animal Upon Animal and played with the "Dragons" and buses of Rampage!


Last week I didn't get a chance to return to the design tinkering of a Class 3 Impulse solo system. I blame Neptune's Pride for this design procrastination hiatus! This week though, I'm dead set in getting back on track! Now that I have the digital 4x space empire engine humming like a hawk's shriek!


Return to the galaxy.

Nothing new came out of tonight. It was a "get back into the groove" kinda of a session, with two plays of the game, in multi-hand style. One ended up a VP victor, the other ended by player elimination. Still, fun to play it like this. So much so, that I even considered the "Why" of design a solo variant, when multi-hand works fine!

Added more data to the spreadsheet. Learned that long distance unguarded transport fleets are a prime target, as juicy as the Sector Core itself! Now let's see if I craft some cards tomorrow.


One year ago: ...euphoric bamboo sandwiches...


Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard, Janna_, mechanicalfish, W Eric Martin, K_I_T
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Mon Feb 4, 2019 9:00 pm
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...galaxy under the tree...

Alexandre Correia
Portugal
Lagos
Algarve
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Day 749. January 19, 2019. Lagos & Tavira...

Not so long ago, trips to Tavira, meant among other things, games.

But lately, I'm struggling to go to Tavira at all. And when I finally make it, João and mine's agendas are completely out of sync! I hear that the Dead are starting to rise on Friday nights in Tavira! And I miss those long nights of playing a beast of a new euro, half the night with the rulebook open beside us!

There were - almost - no games played today. Save for the little train escapade with Orchard. It was a mere 33 Satisfac-Tree result after 10 minutes of rotating cards left and right to ripen those fruits! But, this lackluster Orchard session did witness a couple of firsts in the game. The first time I used all the dice. The first time I managed to place two full cards over the orchard! The first, flawlessly. The other - the last card - with only one rotten fruit. It as the move that would give me the most points though. Even with the nasty fruit, so I had to do it.


Waiting for the right apple to fall...

My mind though was somewhere else. After Orchard, I detached from the world around me and entered Impulse's galaxy. A quasi-thought experiment series, running non-stop in front of me. A say quasi because I always carry a notebook. So every idea that came to mind was quickly jotted on the graph paper.

A system for the bot to carry out the actions and tech. A mechanism to boost its own moves. Ways to increase the difficulty level of the solo experience. A proto card layout. Both for the front and the back.


Scribbling.

I must have spent half the train ride lost in that design world. And let me tell you. It's addicting. Just like the games that come out in the end.


One year ago: ...bacteriological agents of the southern seas...


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Sat Jan 26, 2019 9:00 pm
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...space operas...

Alexandre Correia
Portugal
Lagos
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Day 747. January 17, 2019. Lagos...

One more late night session in intergalactic space opera Impulse. Still playing it multi-handed, piloting two factions. Still taking notes for the bot. Still having fun.

Tonight, two games were decided not by points in fact, but by player elimination. Which is ok I guess, if you're playing Impulse solo or with another player. But with three or more, the all elimination thing might be a deal breaker for many. I'm not a huge fan of player elimination myself unless the elimination is consistent with the game's theme and rules. I only have two games in that genre. Snowblind and Impulse. And in both of them, the death of a player ties with the theme. Obliterated space-faring civilization, where only the strong survive. A polar captain who risked too much and had to pay the ultimate price.


Design space...

After the session a few more design highlights to mark.
Command and Build are the truly important actions that the bot needs to simulate. Building ships and moving them around. The other eight actions are perhaps better suited to a downscaling of their purpose, to keep the bot's bookkeeping down to a minimum. I'll probably turn some of them into points whenever the bot stumbles upon them.

Another revelation is that the bot doesn't actually need to use the Impulse conveyor belt as I first thought. Since I'm planning to create a deck of cards for him, I can use those to give it orders. This way I cut down the infinite possibilities that the conveyor belt can create, and keep the bot's mind self-contained on its own cards. Nice and tidy.

What he might do probably, is use the planetary systems whenever transports land. Those, in combination with the orders, should create the game's trademark explosiveness in some of the turns!

So the next major items on the To-Do list:

mb Create an algorithm/behavior/pattern to move the bot's ships.
mb Create the first batch of bot cards. That shouldn't be too difficult. White pieces of paper sleeved and ready to be written with a dry erase pen.


And while I'm in space, why not mention another gaming space opera I've stumbled upon this morning?

While I was lost in the Google sea of English Grammar websites, looking up the word "Browse", Google started suggesting me something else entirely. Web Browser games. A videogame niche I've never messed with, even when I used to play computer games. These days though, they've become a thing. So I browsed through some "Best of" lists. The one that stood out the most for me was Neptune's Pride II: Triton.

In Neptune's Pride, your goal is to capture half the systems in the galaxy and you're competing against several other real players. But, the game is in real time. And true to its intergalactic space opera vibe, traveling between starts takes several hours and sometimes even days! So a single game can last weeks before it is over.


...online opera!

This real part is nothing new. Neither is the upgrading of ships, the build-up of resources or the research of new technology. But what I liked about Neptune's Pride is that you need to negotiate with the other players. Arrange alliances and no-fly zones. Establish borders. Coordinate attacks. Private messages between empires, bluffing and backstabbing galore!

Let's see how well I do in intergalactic web-opera.


One year ago: ...laughter in the dark...


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Thu Jan 24, 2019 9:00 pm
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...a bot's plan...

Alexandre Correia
Portugal
Lagos
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Day 745. January 15, 2019. Lagos...

The last survivors of Chitra, cornered. Death loomed just outside a gate of the Draw system. The Mechani Brotherhood's lone cruiser, had just ended a series of gate jumps, in pursuit of the Chitra's pioneers. As soon as its jump drive recharged, the Brotherhood would be the galaxy's sole ruler. They already ruled Sector Core. Two of their transports vessels, orbiting the main central energy source of the galaxy.


Brotherhood's hunter.

But Chitra's transport pilots had one last hopeful plan.

With their ships running of fumes, they made a desperate interplanetary system jump into the uncharted territory. They might not find anything useful, but at least they would try. Let those Brotherhood dogs, chase them as much as possible.

But the new system, promised a glimpse of hope to the endangered faction. A Build system!

Using the system's facilities, they were able to send a new set of orders to the automated vessel factories in their deserted home system. Three new shiny cruisers came rolling out of the assembly line, ready to turn the galaxy's tide in Chitra's favor!


Ready to pounce!

The cruisers turned their engine to full throttle! Aiming for the shortest possible route to the Sector Core. Where the two unguarded Brotherhood transports orbited. The transports never had a chance! The cruiser pack entered the Core's eastern gate, ready to create havoc on the transports! With the boosting help of energy gems in their home base, the cruisers spread throughout the Sector Core's many gates, running over the transports in their process!

Meanwhile, the second part of the Chitra's plan was about to trigger.

Several plan orders were issued from the automated Chitra's home base. Plans upon plans. Plans that feed on themselves, triggering yet more plans! An interplanetary system chain reaction swept the entire galaxy, guided by the Chitras. Command orders! Trade orders! Build orders!


A few good plans.

One lone transport broke from the back on the Build system! Traveling at the speed of light, he reached the now Chitra ruled Sector Core, and harvested its energy one last time! The Brotherhood's sole cruiser in the outskirts was forced to flee from the galaxy.



When I came home last night, after a "research" two player session of Impulse, it actually dawned on me, that this game plays multi-hand solo very well! So well in fact, that doing it, I can harvest even more data on how I want a future Class 3 bot to behave! So today, I kept Impulse ready on the table. Playing a few 20-30 minute sessions throughout the day and taking copious notes in the process!


Ruler of the galaxy.

Like just one well-placed Sabotage card, either on a tech slot or around the home base, can keep a game in check for a long time. Both factions never able to gain the upper hand on the other by the sheer number of ships. Or like Plan cards are in fact most useful in the plan itself! A plan card on the Impulse and another on a plan area can create chain reactions of +6 actions in one gulp! Explosive is the right word for it! Even a faction about to be extinct can make a come-back out of nowhere with this maneuver! Excellent, excellent! I love this game!


Fun playtesting.

Now I would like to ask you, dear reader, for your input. What to name the future bot(s)?

Poll: Name you bot!
What's your favorite bot's name?
HAL-9000: The obvious name from Kubrik/Clarke masterpiece(s).
Talos: A giant automaton made of bronze from Greek mythology.
Golem: From biblical origin and used nowadays to describe an animated being, created from inanimate matter.
Cymek: A type of cyborg from the Dune universe.
Azad: Taken from Ian Banks Culture series, Azad means machine or system.
Mecha: From many places. My favorite, is the generic name for robots, from Kubrik/Spielberg's A.I.
      18 answers
Poll created by ZombieBoard
Closes: Wed Jan 22, 2020 6:00 am

If you remember another one, let me know in the comments below.


One year ago: ...pirates of bitter ships and failed expeditions...


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Tue Jan 22, 2019 9:00 pm
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...probing fragments...

Alexandre Correia
Portugal
Lagos
Algarve
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Day 738. January 8, 2019. Lagos...

For Class 2 solo system, I have no idea where to begin. A partial game bot that plays a significantly simplified version of the game and still competes with you. Maybe that's what I was doing with the previous class. The A.I. score tracker that gives me something to race. Then again... maybe not. Because that single VP tracking ship does not play any part of the game whatsoever. It does not use the actions of the conveyor belt. There are no ships on the board to battle with.

So... maybe I can't do a proper example of a Class 2 solo system. All I can think of is of ways to make the A.I.'s ships move around and use Impulse's actions against me and that sounds more like a Class 3 system. Regardless of Classes, I wanted to step up the game. So I devised a way for the bot to mimic every single action I did in the action row. Marking every action performed with a small disk. Whenever it was the bot's turn, he would perform a simplified version of that action. And score points equal to that card's power.

Well... It didn't work. Because of the same reason that it didn't work with a Class 1 system. The bot's scored points too fast! Since I usually want to use most of the action cards, it makes the bot score +6 points per turn again! And the opposite was an unwanted result too. If I didn't use any action at all, the bot wouldn't score and I would be able to win, given enough time, using just my techs, once per turn. I discarded that game before it was even over.

The bot needs to use its own basic tech. Or the action row. Or both!


Galaxy stats.

Another aspect kept nagging me. Something I should have done from the start! I have no idea about how many cards of each color and how the ten different action cards broke down among them. How many level 3 green cards there where, or if Command was restricted to yellow cards.

To remedy this, the rest of the design night was spent breaking the game into pieces. I just hope I don't break down it's magic in the process!

Also, I should read what GameRulesforOne solo variant. Maybe he was on to something I can use or adapt for my own solo variant. Another possibility is also lingering in my mind. How similar some parts of Impulse are to Scythe. Instead of a factory, there's a Sector Core. Instead of Mechs and workers, there's Transports and Cruisers. Maybe I should read Morten's solo rules for that game in detail...


One year ago: ...a thank you note...


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Tue Jan 15, 2019 9:00 pm
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...a bot on the horizon...

Alexandre Correia
Portugal
Lagos
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Day 737. January 7, 2019. Lagos...

For the last couple of day, I've continued do dabble with Morten's classification system. Trying to use it as a roadmap to concoct a solo variant for Impulse. Later, I've been playing around a Class 1 system, Non-Player Bot.

In this system, you're still pretty much on your own in the game. Everything stays the same as in Class 0 systems, but with the inclusion of small changes. Put into place to simulate in some way, parts of the multiplayer experience. In Impulse, people add cards to the communal action cards row/conveyor belt at the start of their turn. It keeps you from having complete control over that system and to adapt your strategy to other actions introduced by others.


Glimpse of a new A.I.

To replicate this, once my turn is over, conveyor belt trimmed and ready for another card, I add another card from the top of the deck and trim it again. Just like if another player had added a card and went through his turn.

This improved the experience. No longer King of the Impulse belt, I'm forced to adapt to whatever gets added to the action cards row. Just like when playing the real game. Unfortunately, it solved none of the other problems. I'm still trying to be the fastest possible to win 20 VP and there's no race tension whatsoever. I'm racing alone!

To try and simulate this, I added another player's color ship to the point track. This ship will earn points after the random card is added to the Impulse, and will give me something to race against. The question now is, how many points should the ship advance per turn?

First, I made it move one point per gem in the action row. Depending on the cards there, this number can go from 4 to 12. Usually, around six. Six points per turn is fast! Too fast as it turned out. Even taking into account what cards I would add to the Impulse to prevent it moving faster in the score track, I never won. But the race feel was there! So I counted it as another worthwhile addition, as long as I balance it somehow.

Instead of points per gems, I tried points per card. After the first round, this would stabilize on 4 points per turn. Much more doable and this time I managed to squeak win after seven rounds of the game. My longest solo game since I've started this endeavor.


Still the ruler of the core.

That's another thing I'm realizing. Class 0 and Class 1 systems play too fast! The game is over after 4 or 7 rounds, no matter who wins. Now, I've seen oddballs multiplayer games end in a flash! Some crazy combos are just that. Crazy fast! But usually, games tend to last around 30 minutes for two players. Something like 15 turns per player?

I need to step up the game and move on to a Class 2 system. I need enemy ships on the board to block me. So far, battles have been completely left out of the solo experience! Enemy ships would give me a target for the still useless Sabotage action and a way to engage in space battles. Maybe the rest of the non-Command actions would also go up in value somehow.


One year ago: ...pigs, unicorns and impossible beauty...


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Mon Jan 14, 2019 9:00 pm
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...impulse to travel...

Alexandre Correia
Portugal
Lagos
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Day 732. January 2, 2019. Bairrada & Lagos...

Time to pack up the holidays and go back home.

We spent most of the day doing just that. Packing and traveling. Mostly traveling. But instead of the usual train ride filled with small games on small tables, this time we took up Ana's dad offer of giving us a car ride to Lagos. Faster? Definitely. With lot's of post-holidays chit-chat, and ABBA karaoke moments to keep the driver awake and the passengers laughing.


Saying goodbye to the misty views.


A brick for the road.

Pedro, one of the many cousins, came along for the ride too. And the only game played was with him, during one of the many breaks to stretch the legs or stock up on fuel, for both humans and four-wheeled machines! Brix hit the gas station table. Pedro tricked me and scored the first win. The next game it was he who lost focus. And while we both made the required four in a row in the second game, it was I who placed the winning block.


Later in the night, it was time to quelch the design thirst with some experimentation on a solo variant for Impulse. Following Morten's classification system, I've decided to go through the scale with Impulse. To see what comes out of the experiment.

Predictably, Class 0 (solo mode without bots) does not make up for a good solo game of Impulse. Recapping what Morten already wrote, Class zero as no changes whatsoever in the rules of the game. You just play the same game using the same rules as if playing multiplayer. Merely trying to beat your own score.


A universe for one.

This beat your own score thing doesn't work in Impulse. While there is a score to keep track of, the winner is the players who reach 20 VP first! Thus, a sudden death race, along with the lines of recent Root. Knowing this, I played the game a couple of times and kept track of the number of turns needed to achieve 20 VPs. Instead of beat your own score, a beat your own speed!

The game has two core concepts driving the gameplay. The conveyor belt of actions (aka, Impulse!) that changes and shifts after every player's turn and the action cards themselves. There are ten possible actions among the +100 cards. I didn't count them, but the Command action is the most numerous action. Since the game is all about moving along the board with ships, to occupy planets and control gates, around the sector core, this is to be expected.


Core parasites.

Playing solo, however, it became quickly obvious that most of the other action cards lost their appeal when it was time to add a card to the Impulse.

Sabotage - No enemy ships in which to use them.
Research - Marginally usable. Maybe for a better Command card to replace the standard Tech, common to all factions. Regardless, every time I considered it, it felt like a waste of time.
Plan - I don't need my own private Impulse. I already own the main one!

And since the easiest way to score points in Impulse is to control the Sector Core and the gates around it...

Mining and Refine - Took to long to implement.
Trade - Why would I add a card to the Impulse that allowed me to score 1 to 3 points per turn? When another Command would put even more ships around and occupying the Sector Core?
Execute - One shot actions pale against the possibility of using the same card over and over in the Impulse.
Draw - Good to dig the main deck for more Command cards.
Build - Good to build more Transports and Cruisers.

I won in both games, early in the 6th round. With a little more tinkering and luck, I might stretch it to the 5th round. In four rounds or less, I don't see it happening.

And while comboing between the various cards - another main appeal of the game - was still interesting, it never became what it's meant to be when playing it with more players. When all action cards are important, balanced, and usable.

A few ideas for a possible A.I. behavior, came to me while playing. A more peaceful bot, while I still control one or two sector core gates. Behavior that would change strategy if the number of ships went over a tipping point. Or adding a card to the Impulse during the bot's turn, to prevent my complete dominance in that system. Maybe I could use something like the silent opponent in Terraforming Mars solo variant? An opponent that is ways "there" to receive my hits. Or in Impulse's case, the sabotage cards.

Tomorrow I'll try to devise a simple Class 1 variant, that still doesn't add a bot. But just changes some parts of the rules to create the parts of the multiplayer experience.


One year ago: ...selling infection on the beach...


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Wed Jan 9, 2019 9:00 pm
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...sun baking...

Alexandre Correia
Portugal
Lagos
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Day 587. August 10, 2018. Tavira...

Walking home under the fiery sun after another splendid morning at the beach with the kids, ideas began to coalesce into...


Oh boy!

Nothing new here. What gamer hasn't toyed with the idea of designing a game, after a year or two of immersion in the hobby? Ideas come and go, cheap as air! We're all rich with them and are free to have as many as we want. Getting them out of the head and into something solid. Written, physical, maneuverable, editable. Well... that's the tricky part, isn't it?

For the past year or so, I too have indulged myself with dreams of game design. Some gave me nothing more than a few hours of excitement, before getting wiped out from memory. Some last a day or two. None ever saw the light of day. This one, however... Its avoiding death and clinging to the mind with tooth and nails. I've drafted the main bullet points. The blurb you could say. Planned the manufacturing process, to put it into shape for an easy PnP prototype testing. It feels great! And that's good sign.

...or maybe I'm spending too much time under the sun, my mind already half-baked! Let's see what happens...


One year ago: ...savoring wine for hours...


Photo & Image credits: Red Dragon
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Fri Aug 17, 2018 4:00 pm
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