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Subject: Thoughts on NECNON rss

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christian freeling
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Kunkasaurus wrote:
christianF wrote:
On the one side there's the 'assembly' type of games where you build a game using different components. On the other hand there's the 'discovery' type of games.

In the first category you may be able to increase simplicity (there's inherent complexity in using different pieces). How you would 'increase emergence' isn't wholly clear to me, I must confess.

In the second category you have to strike it lucky by detecting organic behaviour (mostly by uniform pieces) in the pursuit of a specific goal. You're looking for something that contains everything.
The first category has inherent arbitrariness. In the second category the idea may be self-explanatory and arbitrariness may largely have disappeared.
It's the process of removing the inventor from the process.
It also means that you don't have to simplify and you can't do much about its emergent complexity: it is what it is.
I'm not sure I understand. I imagine Chess is meant to fall in the first category and Go in the second. If I follow, Chess, then, has complexity from special powers but no emergence.
Ah, ok I can see that. In the case of Chess et al I'm inclined to see the learning process as 'emergent complexity' in the sense that things for a long time aren't as you think they are. Actually they're far more complex than your every day beginners tutor would suggest. But I agree that the game is 'complex' to begin with, especially if compared to Go, Hex, NECNON or Symple.

Kunkasaurus wrote:
I think of emergence as traits not explicitly defined in rules... or perhaps obvious in thinking before playing. Wouldn't tactics, like gambits, emerge from play? Or in Hive terms, the formation of gates, rings, and fills? The Hive examples particularly resonate as emergent to me.
I don't see all that much difference between Chess and Hive in this particular respect. One aspect of 'emergence' that sometimes was challenged in previous discussions is the role of the learning process. A game may or may not harbour a significant degree of 'emergence' but to have it emerge, so to say, you need human players. And in that case, given enough players and many played games, emergence is particularly striking in games with simple rules and uniform material. Discovering the wonders of Go and discovering there's no end to them is an example of that.

Edit:
I just read Richard's comment right before this one and he's spot on.
 
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Richard Moxham
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Slight climb-down here. mivanbie asked me what permutation of boards & protocols I'd recommend for getting into NECNON and I said I'd prefer not to advise and he said well it's a designer's job to advise and I said so who's qualified to say what a designer's job is? But actually...

...well, actually I've spent quite a lot of today just idly watching Ai play Ai in various modes, and I've found myself struck all over again by the perfection of connectivity on hexes. It isn't that the game works better, just that it's so much more effortless seeing what's what. So okay, people - if you're new to the game, maybe try the hexes, with either NEC against NEC or NON against NON as you wish. And even if you potter about on the really small boards for a while (which is understandable), try to get onto hexhex6 as soon as you can.

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David Ploog
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mocko wrote:
mivanbie asked me what permutation of boards & protocols I'd recommend for getting into NECNON and I said I'd prefer not to advise and he said well it's a designer's job to advise and I said so who's qualified to say what a designer's job is?
I'm on mivanbie's side, for two reasons: First, time is sparse and games are many -- if you want feedback or support, try to make it as easy as possible to go for it. Alright to say that/which parameters can be tweaked but there should always be a default to start with. This reason would be politeness or just humbleness, i.e. taking responsibility towards players/testers.

Second, while I appreciate that there's a metagame in "find the best game in this parameter set", it does feel to me like sourcing out half of the design process to players. So this reason is responsibility for your creation.

It's totally okay to say "I don't quite know what's the best choice here, of if there is a best choice", but that shouldn't be sold as an advantage, in my opinion. It is both an advantage and a burden. For comparison, consider a game with incredibly many little variants such as the card game Hearts or the board game Draughts. If you sold/advertised one of those, you could just list all the variants but wouldn't it be much better if you presented a default, and then perhaps added the list?

All these words, just to lead to a side (but not off topic) question:

christianF: I really like your Symple (with Benedikt Rosenau, if I remember correctly). And I do not mean that theoretically: we played Symple, and it felt good. In fact, of the current flood of chain scoring games (I might have more to say about that later), Symple and Minimise are the two that stand out to me -- fittingly, at the extreme ends of complexity, as far as chain scoring games go.
However, Symple has a related issue with the P value. Would you be willing to give defaults for the P value (perhaps for 13x13 and for 19x19)? They can be tentative. We put off testing for a while until we finally found the sample game on Mindsports (P=10) and had a reference value.
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christian freeling
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dpeggie wrote:
All these words, just to lead to a side (but not off topic) question:

christianF: I really like your Symple (with Benedikt Rosenau, if I remember correctly). And I do not mean that theoretically: we played Symple, and it felt good. In fact, of the current flood of chain scoring games (I might have more to say about that later), Symple and Minimise are the two that stand to me -- fittingly, at the extreme ends of complexity, as far as chain scoring games go.
However, Symple has a related issue with the P value. Would you be willing to give defaults for the P value (perhaps for 13x13 and for 19x19)? They can be tentative. We put off testing for a while until we finally found the sample game on Mindsports (P=10) and had a reference value.
Hi David,

Symple is just what it suggests, simple. The penalty value entered the equation as a variable and it has a specific effect that gets kind of weird (though not inconsistent) if values are set very high. Set it to a thousand and it's hard to imagine a player would voluntarily make a second group, so the first player would win by one point. Such predictability would bar the game from starting in the first place.
It is not hard to see that the relative value of connections changes with the penalty value, while the territory value remains fixed. Since the whole point of Symple is the 'natural' integration of a territorial goal and a connection goal, I consider the use of the penalty value as a parameter a feature rather than considering the absence of a default value a hurdle. AiAi gives even values from 4 to 12. That might be set to 4-16 to accomodate the larger boards, so far as I'm concerned. Larger values make connections and thus the centre of the board increasingly important. But very large values make the game kinda weird.

Symple emerged explicitly because both Benedikt and I sensed that 'Star' and '*Star' didn't get to the core of the idea (and he couldn't get to the core of that). These games have a fixed penalty, though it might have been variable. But they missed the crucial simplification (that is: simply counting the size of a group rather than its number of 'value cells') and of course they don't have the move protocol to support it.
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Richard Moxham
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dpeggie wrote:
mocko wrote:
mivanbie asked me what permutation of boards & protocols I'd recommend for getting into NECNON and I said I'd prefer not to advise and he said well it's a designer's job to advise and I said so who's qualified to say what a designer's job is?
I'm on mivanbie's side, for two reasons: First, time is sparse and games are many -- if you want feedback or support, try to make it as easy as possible to go for it. Alright to say that/which parameters can be tweaked but there should always be a default to start with. This reason would be politeness or just humbleness, i.e. taking responsibility towards players/testers.

Second, while I appreciate that there's a metagame in "find the best game in this parameter set", it does feel to me like sourcing out half of the design process to players. So this reason is responsibility for your creation.

It's totally okay to say "I don't quite know what's the best choice here, of if there is a best choice", but that shouldn't be sold as an advantage, in my opinion. It is both an advantage and a burden. For comparison, consider a game with incredibly many little variants such as the card game Hearts or the board game Draughts. If you sold/advertised one of those, you could just list all the variants but wouldn't it be much better if you presented a default, and then perhaps added the list?
Well, first of all - and I hope you'll believe that I say this in measured tone and with no intention of aggression or disrespect - your quoting of me here is a good example of the sort of decontextualised response which internet cut-and-paste communication has made so much more common. It's unfair because you omit my introductory signpost "Slight climb-down here", and then seem to ignore the breathless "and I said then he said then I said" continuation whose job is to underline by mild self-satire the fact that some re-think has happened since that original exchange.

So please let me remind you of the context. Michael asked me for an opinion on the relative merits of the various NECNON options. I initially refrained from giving one (I had good reasons), but later reflected that that was perhaps a bit unfriendly and therefore added a word or two in praise of hexes - though (let me stress this) on purely aesthetic grounds. You say that you're "on Michael's side", but I for my part don't regard him and me as being on different sides in the first place.

I suppose I was somewhat taken aback by the phrasing of his initial enquiry as to which combination[s] of boards and protocols I considered "worthwhile", as if by implication there must be some that weren't. But if my hackles were raised a fraction by that, it certainly wasn't a factor in my declining to oblige. Here's the thing. Historically, I came up first with the NEC mechanism, but from the moment I realised that its opposite would have worked equally well I started to conceive of the game in quite different terms. What it then became was, not a core formula with a bunch of variants, but a game which was and is nothing other than a constellation of equal possibilities. So I absolutely wasn't devolving to the consumer the onus of arbitrating, because I didn't want arbitration to take place at all. That in itself was the decision I took as inventor.

Everything you say is predicated on the assumption (actually the direct assertion) that "there should always be a default to start with". But why "should" that "always" be so? And why is it automatically a failure of manners or humility on my part if I've come up with a game based on an alternative premiss? I'm no more unaware than you of the fact that there are so many climbs and so little time, but am I really placing any particular burden on anybody? If someone thinks that NECNON looks interesting enough to tempt them, and if they don't have time to try more than one permutation, then let them pick one at random. That's fine by me. The fact of not having time to do more may be a source of regret to them, but I can't see how the regret can justifiably become resentment.

Just a short afterthought. Alan Ayckbourn wrote a play called "Sisterly Feelings". It consists of four scenes, the first and last of which are constant. But Scene Two and Scene Three both have two versions, and which of each gets played depends upon the onstage toss of a coin at two points in the action. So there are, overall, four quite different and perfectly coherent versions of the play within the play, and even if it were certain (which it obviously isn't) that you could see all four versions by attending four performances, you probably wouldn't have the time or the money (or even perhaps, come to that, the inclination) to do so.

A feature? Or a bug?
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David Ploog
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mocko wrote:
...your quoting of me here is a good example of [...] decontextualised response
Definitely, guilty as charged. I can tell you my thought process, in case that helps: "Aha, someone delivered a game with incomplete rules, I've seen that before, let me comment."
Quote:
What it then became was, not a core formula with a bunch of variants, but a game which was and is nothing other than a constellation of equal possibilities. So I absolutely wasn't devolving to the consumer the onus of arbitrating, because I didn't want arbitration to take place at all. That in itself was the decision I took as inventor.
I fully understand, and I wish you all the best luck with NECNON (which in this niche, means maximal exposure, I guess).
What I do disagree with, and it's just squibbling about words, is when you write "a game". To me, if I can't start playing right away, it's not quite a game. Perhaps a gaming system or almost a game. But not a game. I fully understand being chided as the desingenious consumer, fair enough. Here are two examples outside of board games that perhaps help get my point across:

1) Consider a video game like Super Mario Bros. It consists of an engine and of levels. You could just give players the engine and let them make levels. This happens, and is called "level builder". It's a lot of fun! But only for those who have experienced good Mario games beforehand. This is why it's very good that original Mario came with a bunch of *excellent* levels. Both parts, engine and content, are equally important.

2) For a long time, I've been dabbling with an open source roguelike game (Dungeon Crawl, if you're curious). We often had the problem that there was unanimosity about certain technical parameters, among developers and also including players. The typical solution would be to add an option. So before long, the game had a very, very long list of options. This is not good; it'd have been better (but also much harder) to provide reasonable defaults and as few options as really necessary.

Neither of these examples are as deep as the games we discuss here. 1) is about delivering a good product and 2) is about non-decisions due to groups of humans (rather than a single developer). However, in both cases, one can see how the lack of decisiveness hurts.

Quote:
Everything you say is predicated on the assumption (actually the direct assertion) that "there should always be a default to start with". But why "should" that "always" be so?
That's a very reasonable question, and I should've clarified that: *If you want to reach me (e.g. to make me interested in your game)*, then you should provide a default. I'm happy to play new things, but I'm scared off by what I perceive as arbitrariness. If a game has an initial position, I'd much prefer the manual says "for example this one but you can modify it if you want" than to say "take any symmetric position you like". It's a very subjective matter.

christianF wrote:
The penalty value entered the equation as a variable and it has a specific effect that gets kind of weird (though not inconsistent) if values are set very high.
Yes, this is clear, and I'd consider it as a sort of continuity (bear with me, I know that P is a discrete variable): for P=0 or P=1000, you get strange (=bad?) games, but in between, you get good games. So there should be a sweet spot. I take
Quote:
It is not hard to see that the relative value of connections changes with the penalty value, while the territory value remains fixed.
to mean that there is more than one sweet spot.

I like Symple a lot, and I may want to write a text about it, with the goal of making it more popular. For that, I need to provide default ("need" because I am wired that way). Guess I'll try to make a reasonable guess if there can't be an official one.

Thanks for all the replies!
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christian freeling
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dpeggie wrote:
mocko wrote:
Everything you say is predicated on the assumption (actually the direct assertion) that "there should always be a default to start with". But why "should" that "always" be so?
That's a very reasonable question, and I should've clarified that: *If you want to reach me (e.g. to make me interested in your game)*, then you should provide a default. I'm happy to play new things, but I'm scared off by what I perceive as arbitrariness.
If I may weigh in here, I try to avoid it as much as possible, preferably to the point of eliminating the inventor from the process of invention altogether. But if you must take an arbitrary decision, then take it wholeheartedly.

dpeggie wrote:
christianF wrote:
The penalty value entered the equation as a variable and it has a specific effect that gets kind of weird (though not inconsistent) if values are set very high.
Yes, this is clear, and I'd consider it as a sort of continuity (bear with me, I know that P is a discrete variable): for P=0 or P=1000, you get strange (=bad?) games, but in between, you get good games. So there should be a sweet spot. I take
Quote:
It is not hard to see that the relative value of connections changes with the penalty value, while the territory value remains fixed.
to mean that there is more than one sweet spot.

I like Symple a lot, and I may want to write a text about it, with the goal of making it more popular. For that, I need to provide default ("need" because I am wired that way). Guess I'll try to make a reasonable guess if there can't be an official one.
In this case I'm happy to provide 13x13 and a penalty of 6 points or 19x19 with a 10 points penalty, but it is a variable because it allows players to vary the relative importance of connections. In fact to make the game more of a connection game, or indeed less.
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Russ Williams
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dpeggie wrote:
What I do disagree with, and it's just squibbling about words, is when you write "a game". To me, if I can't start playing right away, it's not quite a game. Perhaps a gaming system or almost a game. But not a game.
It seems like a game to me. I'd call it a modular game, the same way that e.g. Kingdom Builder or 504 has many possible setups (and thus different rules which will apply during the game), but Kingdom Builder is clearly a game and so is 504. They just have variable setup.

(I'm assuming you agree that Kingdom Builder is a game.)

So similarly, it seems that when playing NECNON you determine (whether randomly or by mutual consent) the setup parameters (hex or square grid? NEC or NON?)...

That said, I can sympathize with the desire for a suggested "first time" play configuration. Such modular games sometimes included a recommended "first time" setup, which e.g. uses simpler rules, or has more evident strategy.

But if the game creator considers them all equivalently suitable for first time play, then it seems fair to say "choose arbitrarily".
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Michael Van Biesbrouck
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'Worthwhile' was a poor choice of words, although I was thinking about NEC vs NON games and didn't want to get into that. I was also disappointed by one of the board types. It would have been better to ask which combinations of options are most likely to convince me that NECNON is a better game than the other entrants in the 2018 contest. Knowing the minimum size to play a real game with is helpful and I agree that hex boards seem to work well.

I like the idea of an option that allows you to adjust for taste the balance between aspects of the game, as described for Symple. (I found Taj Mahal interesting in that it was a good game at all player counts but the degree to which it was a connection game decreased with more players).

Russ brings up 504, which I own (it was a very cool idea) but I wouldn't normally play (although I know a fan). One hope is that you could pick the mechanics which would most appeal to your players, but you probably end with a boring game. The other hope is that it might contain two or three good games using fairly different mechanics. There are so many options (and so few players) that the highest-rated configurations on https://504-2f.de/ have only one or two votes. OTOH, this is worthwhile commentary: https://www.reddit.com/r/boardgames/comments/8m2u5x/players_...

If there are too many options (more than NECNON) and the consequences are variable, then someone who finds a great set of options can say that they've designed a game. Otherwise the 'design' is like a patent that enumerates each possible way that you handle one aspect of the subject. Cameron Browne's work was particularly interesting because it provided a way to automate the sieving.

For Santorini I really wanted meta-powers such as Santorini: Nyx to suggest defaults; people seem to have enough trouble picking powers by non-random means. There are good and bad options, but for people who aren't going to carefully explore it is good to have a choice that generally works well. (OTOH, suggesting that players bid for power parameters to improve balance with powers such as Chronus was a non-starter.)

I admit that I went for something different with Jotunheim. It provides a lot of options as there are 36 half-games to be combined and I expect to be judged based on the average success and the value of variation. (There were some suggested first games at one point, but I haven't included them recently.) I went to a lot of trouble to make sure that all the half-games are interesting and almost all pairings are worth playing. If you use the Ai Ai menu option to start a game then you are supposed to get a fair challenge. (Blog post about the analog version of this feature for Jotunheim and Santorini.)
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