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   GOPHER AT BOARD GAME ARENA
Huge, huge fucking project. I haven't programmed anything in 235 years (no, not a typo). Big thanks to Sunil Patel for clues to solving project-derailing bugs. He didn't actually write any code, but he gave me hints... like the murderer drove a brown car in London. Not a lot to go on, but sufficient to turn it from mission impossible into mission difficult but doable. Fuck. I was working on this for like 12 hours a day for the past few weeks.

Anyway, now it's in the capable hands of Jurica. She rightfully objected to the green indices on green granite (it did vaguely occur to me that it was hard to see). Now it's eye popping magenta.

So... stay tuned. I will need play testers. If you're a member of BGA, volunteer. If you're not a member of BGA, sign up and then volunteer. I have big plans for Gopher. But sometimes big plans fizzle. Let's give Gopher a big push and see what happens.

OTHER DESIGNERS
Michael Amundsen got me going on game design again after an eight year hiatus. He contacted me about Cage to see if his understanding of the rules was correct. Reading the rule sheet didn't refresh my memory. Cage was gone. He asked me to let him know if I were to design any new games, and BOOM. I designed eight games in about as many weeks. Michael play tested all of my games, programmed them for Ludii, added them to BGG, and invested long hours investigating potential problems with Gopher. And... he suggested a change to correct deadlocks in Inchworm. I acknowledged Michael's contribution in the rule sheet (in fine print, lol).

Drew Edwards put extensive effort into analyzing Gopher and found a solution on size 5, 7, 9... hexagonal boards. Red starts in the center or a corner. Then, whichever way Blue branches out, Red continues the branch in the same direction. Drew is now mentioned in one of my rule sheets as well. This never used to happen.

My take on Gopher? After all of Drew's investigative work, without finding a solution on even sized boards, I don't think it'll happen. If there ever is a "solution", it'll be a combination of a futile attempt to play only on a certain subgrid (or avoid one) and trying not to form losing parity zones. More a set of tactics than a solution. I really appreciate Drew's help though. I'm currently programming Gopher for [unnamed game site; stay tuned...]. Drew's discovery led me to change the board from size 5 to size 6. Now I'm satisfied that I have a super simple game, which is not solvable, and doesn't require the pie rule. And... it's fun. I play Gopher several times a day. A lesser designer, with no appreciation for simple games, cautioned me, "Don't break out the champagne." Au contraire. I'm thrilled with Gopher. My ceiling is dimpled from all the cork popping.

There are a small number of well wishers, including Alek Erickson, and a long list of naysayers. Christian Freeling doesn't seem to be positive or negative. In discussions of my games, he only ever repeats the same comment. "This is like [insert Christian Freeling game here], because where and if but..."

SOFT FINITUDE (CYCLES PART 2)
Corey Clark contrived a non-finite game in which cycles wouldn't occur: Hex with the option of removing your own stones. The principles I outlined in the Cycles section below still stand. Fact: In Chess, Checkers, and Go (without ko), cycles never occur among beginners but almost always occur among experts. I'm not a mathematician or a game theorist. But I can see that there's a principle at play here. In perfect play of a non-finite game, there are three possibilities. A win for Player 1, a win for Player 2, or a cycle which neither of the players can break without losing. There will be zero or more first moves which guarantee a win for Player 1, zero or more first moves which guarantees a win for Player 2, and zero or more "equitable" moves which leads to a cycle. Maybe in a particular game there are no equitable moves. Every possible first move swings the advantage toward Player 1 or Player 2. I admitted as much in the Cycles section.

Just as a general principle, and I've yet to see a non-contrived example to convince me otherwise, there is a tendency toward cycles with increasing skill. The designer's argument that he's seen his game played hundreds of times by any number of beginners and never saw a cycle fails to convince me. I personally played Quadrature around 1000 times with one of my neighbors, before our skill advanced to the point where we had a cycle.

I believe that Cycles find a way in normal games. E.g., not a game of 100,000 moves that takes a month of continuous play to complete, not a connection game where players are gratuitously removing their own stones...

For me as a designer, finitude is more about architectural aesthetics than potential gameplay issues. Finite games are a solution to a challenging puzzle. They're harder to design. I've had plenty of interesting concepts that I've tossed out because I couldn't find any way to make them finite.

The recent trend of designers congratulating themselves for their latest soft finite game, that they've play tested ten times, is just more crap heaped onto an already towering mountain of crap.

"SOLVABLE" NONSENSE.   (REQUIRED READING)
I am so tired of the, "This game should be solvable," SUPER asinine bullcrap. It's almost always, "Should be solvable." And almost never, "I solved it." The extreme asininity is compounded when it's extended to supercomputers solving games. For example Checkers. As though a supercomputer taking weeks to solve Checkers has ruined the game for you and me. Every game is solvable given enough time and computing power. SO WHAT ???? Is the extensive computer analysis being uploaded to your brain, making you capable of perfect play? NO !! IT ISN'T !! Checkers is still a perfectly viable game.

Dear fellow designers: SHUT THE F*CK UP WITH THIS "SOLVABLE" SH*T !!!! If the game is so f*cking solvable, play it against a decent AI, lose ten times in a row, and then let's talk about how "solvable" it is. Until then, SHUT !!!! UP !!!!!!!!!!! Have I made myself clear? For a game other than a Nim variant, your chance of solving it is exceedingly remote. Please stop congratulating yourself on your superhuman game solving capability. Self congratulation is a pandemic among game designers. STOP IT !!!!!!

Update: Drew Edwards found a solution to the super simple game of Gopher on size 5, 7, 9... hexagonal boards. Red starts by placing a stone in the center or a corner. Then, whichever way Blue branches out, Red continues the branch in the same direction. So... I guess I stand corrected. It can happen. But... the song remains the same. "This game should be easy for someone else to solve. But not me because my time is way too valuable to waste on some unchallenging problem that someone else could easily solve."

Update update: I was demonstrating Drew's technique to my lawyer, and he beat me. Twice. Back to square one in the quest for Gopher solutions.

Update update update: Oops, no Drew was right. We basically forgot the rules and didn't finish the game. Next time play first and drinks later.

Carlos Luna accused me of insulting BGG members on this issue. After I got done laughing, I checked the preceding text and, as you can see, there's no mention of BGG or its members. But, if you want to insult yourself at my expense, permission granted.

MY DESIGN APPROACH
My designs are motivated solely by architecture. I like to make original, unique, and interesting rule sets. Of course if a game turns out to have outstanding gameplay, like Oust or Zola, it's gratifying. Gameplay is just not what drives me. Christian Freeling is the "game whisperer". He can intuit characteristics of a new design's play in advance. I don't have that superpower. And I wouldn't use it even if I did.

I see designers congratulating themselves for their ability to analyze a game's hotness, coldness, soft-finitude, and other esoteric qualities... and scientifically determine how much fun it will be to play. To me these discussions seem like bullshit. They usually result in uninspired variants, like Nick Bentley's Blooms (for which he extols his own "brilliance").

I usually, but not always, give my games at least half a run-through to see if deadlocks or cycles can occur. Or, if a design seems like it might be vulnerable to first move advantage, I'll play it until I'm satisfied it's solid. I've tossed out somewhere around a quarter of my designs because problems developed, or because they turned out not to be as original as I thought. Someone already had a similar game. Now if their game is based on yet more similar games, it's not such a problem. But I don't want to run off with anyone else's unique, original work.

I'm known for specializing in finite games. Or I guess I should call them "hard-finite" now since the emergence of "soft-finite" discussions. I don't want to take a chance on cycles developing. I don't want you to invest a year advancing your skill in a game that may ultimately fail you. I rule out cycles from the get-go. If cycles can't occur, they won't. I'm often criticized for my devotion to the finite, and for my antipathy toward the player experience. But I do what floats my boat. Not yours.

Particular Games
I've played a lot of Oust and a fair amount of Zola. There are no other games I'd rather play (except possibly Inchworm).

Inchworm, with its natural theme, is unusual and intriguing.

I played a lot of Flume. It's a parity/Nim experience, which is not really my forte. But there's something engaging about Flume.

Fractal is my favorite connection game. Beautiful to behold. Designed to minimize first move advantage.

Gopher is a super simple game.
Update: Gopher is an awesome game. It's the only game I like to play currently. I play it several times a day using Michael Amundsen's Ludii script.

Rive has an extreme churn rate. Full sized game on a tiny board. Good travel game.

Monkey Queen is well thought of.

Hex KB, like many of my games, is an interesting concept.

CYCLES
Like when Jeff Goldblum said, "Life finds a way," in Jurassic Park... Cycles find a way. So-called "soft-finite" games may be crappier than claimed. Cycles may not happen in the first 10 or 100 plays. It may take 1000 plays. That's what happened to me with Quadrature. Cycles are a force of nature, like a whirlpool. You don't realize you're caught in one until it's too late. Players can't break out of a cycle without losing. As skill increases, play "tightens". Advantage doesn't flop back and forth with each successive blunder. Expert opponents together chart a course for a distant whirlpool. Good and perfect moves keep them on course. Bad moves divert them.

Classic examples of cyclic games are Checkers, Chess, and Go. "But wait," you say. "Go has superko!" - an asinine, retarded thing to say, oft repeated by otherwise semi-intelligent individuals (Corey). Superko means you're not allowed to repeat a board position. You're saying in essence, "Go doesn't have cycles because you're not allowed to cycle." You could apply that "principle" to any non-finite game. Colossally stupid. Ko, triple ko, and superko are crap. Go - "minute to learn" (rofl). You about need a PhD to understand all the intricacies of Go rules.

Beginners may never experience cycles in the three aforementioned classics, but experts are plagued by them. My reasoning is inductive and intuitive. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there's a game out there in which cycles can happen but never will because intelligent, competitive play somehow thwarts them. I sincerely doubt it. Not to glorify my own design strategy. I really don't care. It's just my belief. Cycles find a way. For most games we'll never know. There are too many games, and not enough players, for play to become expert enough to find out. But do you really want to invest years of effort, advancing your strategy in a game that may ultimately fail you?

I've heard the ridiculous counter claim that finite games are somehow vulnerable to "implosion" - a conjecture postulated by cyclic game designers, projecting their implosion insecurity onto real games. All finite games can eventually be "trivialized" (lol). In other words, learning some trick about the game makes it trivial to win. If winning becomes trivial then there must be an automatic win for Player 1 or Player 2. They can't both win - at least not in my games. Chorus of clueless designers: "HUH?" Call it the Mark principle. So many designers are grinning ear to ear, with their pants down to their ankles and their thumb up their butt, congratulating themselves for their firm grasp of game design theory. I deserve some credit for cluing these bozos in. Other cockamamie theory: Cycles mysteriously improve the quality of a game. Like a time bomb strapped to your fuel tank improves your mileage.

You want to play a real game that will never let you down? Play Oust. You will never wring out Oust as long as you live. Point of interest - Oust has cycles. They're just not infinite cycles. Group dies, space is vacated, new groups fill the space. Repeat. It just can't go on indefinitely. This "finite cyclic" behavior is what makes it so hard for AI to play Oust. You need real intelligence to play Oust. Not artificial.

COREY CLARK
VS OUST

Corey Clark said, "Hex Oust was really decimated by the strategic ideas of Raph on iggc a decade on (not like it became a bad game but no more 1 stone comebacks)."

WHAT?? I played Raph many times and watched him play many times. He was just a super good player whom nobody could beat.

Sure, Raph destroyed the 1 stone comeback. And the large group comeback. And every other kind of comeback - against Raph.

Raph must have beaten Corey down to his last remaining stone. Corey presumed he could mount a comeback, and instead just lost his last stone. Like the tennis player who hits a bad shot and immediately examines his racket strings, Corey found an explanation for his loss other than his own inferior play. "Yeah, that's it! Oust is coming apart at the seams!"

It's not as though Corey gained any insight from playing Raph. Corey continued to suck after Raph left (after Raph got tired of beating everyone and moved on to something else). Corey can today be beaten by a 1 stone comeback. Corey could himself execute a 1 stone comeback - against someone other than Raph.

Raph has a high IQ and was able to peer farther into the future than the rest of us. He also undoubtedly developed some tactics that would have been impossible to explain to mere mortals, had he wanted to. There's no shame in acknowledging good players. Most of them couldn't design their way out of a paper bag, and wouldn't want to. They're perfectly content playing what's there.

No, the death of the 1 stone comeback has been greatly exaggerated. It's still alive and well - between evenly matched players. I was there. Had Oust developed the slightest problem, I would have known about it. I think Corey got into a patch of bad mushrooms in the Canadian outback. Why else would he go on a flight of fancy and make up something absurd about Oust?

If Oust had revealed a flaw, I'd be the first to admit it. Other of my games are flawed. Quadrature, my first game, has what I consider to be a flaw. Move cycles can occur. I found out the hard way, after having played at least a thousand times, and it wasn't fun. Never again would I design another non-finite game.

Addendum: Witnessing the interminable flaw-fix cycle of Faust (Fussed?), I think I see the root of Corey's bizarre Oust critique. Faust is fatally flawed. So now Oust, the inspiration for Faust, must also be flawed. Classic post hoc fallacy.

Update: Corey claims to have occasionally beaten Raph after Raph's ascendance to Oust supremacy. Show me the replay. I'm having a little trouble with that, lol.

BANNED
I don't play well with others. I've been banned from some sites, and I've self-exiled from others. My latest temporary membership was at Corey Clark's discussion forum. We got along for a while, but he was persisting with his nebulous claims that Oust was somehow harmed by advancing strategy. Strategy may have advanced in Oust. From this one can deduce that strategy may have advanced in Oust. Nothing more.

Corey kept challenging me to a game of Oust to prove the power of his newfound theory of opening play. I finally relented even though a win by Corey would prove nothing. Like most designers-cum-player, I'm not particularly known for my playing skill. Neither is Corey.

So we open a board at igGameCenter, and Corey is executing his "advanced" play out of the gate. And he's winning, quite convincingly. Then, he makes a less than ideal move. Not exactly a blunder. But not, as I told him afterward, what I would have done. A short time later the game begins to turn slightly in my favor. Then suddenly he up and quits. Classic Corey. The game served to demonstrate one thing. Oust is and will continue to be a game of least worse moves. Not a game of Johnny-come-lately theories. If you're way smarter, you'll always win. Otherwise you won't.

Corey has claimed (it never ends) that even though the Oust game tree is ginormous, "not all moves are meaningful." What does that even mean? What's a non-meaningful move?* If he's alluding to the prospect that, after thousands of Oust plays, some opening moves have emerged as better than others, then fine. Make those opening moves and get on with it. Chess has huge catalogs of opening plays. Memorizing opening plays isn't what one normally thinks of as "strategy". But it hasn't exactly been a death knell for Chess, has it? As Corey himself has demonstrated, moving first and making some "prescribed" opening moves doesn't guarantee victory. He had asked me if I would invoke the pie rule. I said, "No. Move wherever you want. I won't invoke the pie rule." It didn't help him. He still lost.

So we go back to Corey's discussion forum and he's pretending not to be butthurt. Fine. Then he starts taking his frustration out on Christian Freeling, who has declined invitation to the forum (wisely, lol). Apparently, Christian is the king of self-glorification. It's debatable whether he once was. But what's not debatable is that Nick Bentley currently holds the title. Nick, a zero talent ass, has taken the glory trip to heights Christian never dreamed of. I said in Corey's forum that Nick's bathroom mirror has lipstick smudge from Nick kissing it every morning. (Nick periodically stops into the forums to bless everyone with his latest self serving, sh*t eating little tidbit. Back in the days of r.g.a., which thank God has been dismantled, Nick referred to Bill Taylor as "one of the greatest minds in abstract games." Bill Taylor was one of the fattest oafs in r.g.a., lording over the group with his fistfull of Nim variants, insisting that I "earn his respect", rofl. Don't worry, I fixed Bill's wagon. But it was then that I first learned of Nick's unbridled lust for a man's buttocks.)

Corey announced that he was deleting my comments. In his mind, it was somehow ok for him to smack talk Christian, because Christian wasn't there to defend himself. But not the ass, Nick Bentley, who might see it. Never get between Corey's lips and Nick's anus. Lower ranked subordinates like Corey are vital in the chain of butt lust.

Buh bye Corey forum.

* In a parity game like Flume, the initial phase consists of non-meaningful moves. This serves to set up a "random", unique position for the strategic phase. But in a game like Oust, every move is meaningful, from the first move to the last. If you're too retarded (Corey) to make meaningful moves, you'll never beat someone who does.

TO COREY'S CREDIT
Corey designed an Oust class game. (Naturally finite [i.e., no ugly superko needed]. Played with two colors. Board starts out empty and finishes with one color.) A rare achievement. Actually Faust is the only game I'm aware of, other than Oust, in that class. Corey honestly admitted that Faust was inspired by Oust (though he later denied it). Named it Faust to rhyme with Oust.

Nobody really understands why Faust works, or even IF it really works. So we kind of have to take Corey's word for it. But I'm satisfied it's the real deal.


COPYRIGHTS AND TRADEMARKS - All of the games presented here were designed solely by me, Mark Steere.  I retain all of the rights to all of my games, including copyrights and trademarks.

  Contact - marksteere@gmail.com


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