|BOARD AND TABLE
Lovely Dodo board and checkers, both made by Crisloid. Inlaid suede material.
Mongolian Chess table. Made by Mongolian guy to my specifications.
|ICEBREAKER ON BGA
Icebreaker is now in alpha on Board Game Arena.
Dijkstra's algorithm's bark was bigger than
its bite. Fairly straightforward. It made for a complicated program function though. Like twenty nested levels.
There were a few nasty bugs that were hard to track down. But it seems to be in order now. It's an elegant,
ingenious algorithm, and my program reflects that, if I may say so.
I'm really liking Icebreaker. I had my "four musketeers" (simple games Gopher, Dodo, Silo, and Zola). But I just
wanted a fifth one before I go on to my next project (programming for cellphones). I concentrated hard for a few
weeks, ran into a lot of dead ends, then some of the dead ends combined to form a live end. Icebreaker is my second
two player game with three colors. Redstone also has red, black, and white. I like how Icebreaker gameplay can
unfold in a million billion different ways. The game tree must be astronomical. Someone said Icebreaker doesn't
have the tension of my other games, and they're probably right. But not every game has to be a tension fest. I
read somewhere that the biggest market in games is "hyper casual". Not really sure what that means. Sounds like
an oxymoron. But whatever it is, Icebreaker probably fits the description. Let's wait and see.
I always like my most recent game best, but I'm still interested in the four before Icebreaker. Actually, I think
I'm about done with Silo. It's still something to behold. Magnificent architecture. But it's frustrating to play.
Some people get it. I'm not one of them. Dodo is always good.
Gopher is fine now and again. Zola is the only hard to learn game of the five musketeers. People were
having trouble with the concept of Closer to (and Farther from) center. I don't know how to explain it any more
clearly than I already did. If you moved a checker, and it's now farther from center than it was, then you moved
it farther from center. I never imagined this would be such an obstacle. But... Zola is my most popular game on BGA.
So I guess my theory of simplicity winning the day was fallacious. It works for my number one fan though. Me.
And... for Dodo, the simplest game in the world, 29% of the players are Japanese, followed by 10% Americans. So the
simplicity angle works in Japan apparently.
are getting advanced in Zola. It's a little defeating getting defeated all the time, so I've been avoiding it lately.
I played one supposedly "first time player" and thought it would be like taking candy away from a baby, but he tricked
me. Was clearly not his first time playing Zola.
I haven't played at iggamecenter for a few years. I stop in once in a while to use the sandbox to investigate new
design concepts. But when I was more active there, a minus was Lord Arty lording over the designers. His big spiel
is that he's doing the designers a favor, but they're not doing anything for him because he doesn't really care about
iggamecenter. All it is to him is a way of showcasing technology that he developed and is trying to sell - an
elaborate misdirection to deflect from his incapability to credit designers for helping make the site (that he
obviously cares about because he's always there) what it is. He's too high and mighty to recognize the lowly designer.
Many proprietors are a little lordy, but Lord Arty is the lordiest of them all. Why get involved in a field in which
you're a little runt, and try to prove what a big man you are? I don't get it. Arty is a good programmer. I give
him that. But he knows fuck squat about game design. Iggamecenter wouldn't be fit to wipe ass without
contributions from actual designers. Why is that so hard to admit?
Something else I don't get. Now Arty has produced an incoherent video of his wife roaming around in the woods,
wearing a Halloween costume and looking dazed and confused. Editing was done by a Hibachi chef. Arty calls
his backyard masterpiece "a bit of magic" (wtf). Arty. Nausea is not a "mood".
|TROUBLE IN SILO PARADISE
RG at Board Game Arena discovered a tactic in Silo which gave a large advantage (among top players) to Player
Michael Amundsen, esteemed fellow designer, suggested a different object of the game. Get all your checkers into
a contiguous stack, possibly with enemy checkers above and/or below it, anywhere on the board (which could only be
one of the two rightmost squares).
RG's initial impression: "I think his suggestion might work. Not sure. The game is a lot more complicated now."
Based on that appraisal, I changed Silo to incorporate the new goal. And I changed the Board Game Arena program.
Normally I'm not one to tweak a broken game, opting instead to simply withdraw it. But I really like Silo - even
more so now with what seems to me a more elegant goal. I put a lot of work into the graphics and programming...
and the game design itself. I discovered the mechanism in a matter of minutes, but this was preceded by many
unsuccessful attempts over a span of many years to design where you form a contiguous stack (or sub-stack) of only
your own checkers. I finally got lucky with Silo, stumbling onto something that works (or rather will work, with
So why not? Keep your fingers crossed that the new version holds up. Ultra simple games don't come with a
|ABSTRACT GAMES MAGAZINE
Kerry Handscome did an outstanding job with
Mark Steere Games - A Retrospective.
|TANBO IN ITALIAN MAGAZINE
Tanbo article p. 86
Michael Amundsen: "Would love to read the article on Tanbo."
Splooge: "I am genuinely curious: why? [snip drivel] ...self-aggrandising propaganda on the MSG rule sheet:
'Tanbo is a unique, robust alternative to Go.'"
What the fuck is wrong with that?? There's no other game like Tanbo. Like most of my games,
it's totally unique. Tanbo is robust. Talking with Patrick at ItsYourTurn, where Tanbo has been played
like a million times, he revealed that there's virtually zero move order advantage. So far, in the past 28 years,
Tanbo hasn't been solved. I don't know what your retarded definition of robust is, Splooge, and I don't care.
But to me, Tanbo seems pretty fucking robust. Finally, Tanbo is an alternative to Go. If you have a Go
set, and want to play something different, you have Tanbo.
Splooge, you couldn't design your way out of a paper bag. Yet you can't stop congratulating yourself on your
"expertise". What boggles my mind is why anyone gives you the time of day. Splooge,
when you design a unique, robust game, we can discuss your shitty little opinion about Tanbo.
Michael Amundsen (in response to Splooge's question, "Why are you interested in Tanbo?"): "One of the reasons is
precisely because you have given it flak." You gotta love this guy.
Splooge: "I am not just criticising the game... We played Tanbo. The rules are appealing." Classic coward.
Talking smack in a designers' forum, and then when bitch slapped by an actual designer, does a complete 180.
"Oh no, that's not what I meant. You got me all wrong. Hee hee hee ha ha ha." Empty scrotum flapping
in the wind.
What's your big claim to fame, Splooge? Your book on heuristics? Incoherent, pseudo-intellectual twaddle.
Reminds me of Ralf Gering, though not quite that fucked up. It's amateurish, but not psychotic. You should have titled
it "Musings of an Amateur". You're just muddling topics that have already been abundantly covered by actual
"marvelous" wrong, dumbass. Clear indication of mediocrity. Spelling error on page 1. Let's see if you can get
that straightened out. Then I'll have proof you're reading my blog LOL !! Splooge, you're not a designer and
you're not a writer. You're a ZERO.
"Ploog" - German. I knew it. There must be a connection to Ralf "Hermann" Gering. Two German, English challenged,
self important oafs. What are the odds?
| DODO VS BUG
October 16, 2021
Board Game Arena - Games In Progress
Bug: 18 Bug is desperately clinging to slippery porcelain, fighting the swirl
of cold water in the toilet of forgotten games.
Normally I don't like to pick on other
designers' games, but I make an exception for Nick Bentley. Why? Because I'm tired of hearing his incessant
bragging. Incredibly, Nick describes himself as "brilliant". Nick can scientifically create the ideal
player experience. His games are not too hot, not too cold, not too opaque... and apparently in Bug's
case, not too good.
Probably doesn't help Bug that its program is all bugged out. How many times does a game program have
to fail you before you jump ship? Nick was bragging (as usual) that someone had offered
to program Bug for free. I tried to tell Nick, after a list of bugs as long as my arm appeared, half of them
totally ignored by the magnanimous programmer, that he should hire a decent programmer to do it right. But
that didn't happen. Now Bug is fighting the swirling tide.
Nick disrespected me a few years back, for no particular reason, at least that I was aware of. This combined with
his self appointment as the leading authority on abstract game design, while being an unoriginal designer who never
credits the games he "borrows" from, pretty much cements Nick's position at the top of my shit list. Splooge is
more of a piece of shit than Nick, but Splooge is too much of a zero to warrant inclusion in my shit list. Splooge
would be number one on my Insignificant Turd list, if I had such a list.
Nick worshipped Bill Taylor, who is now dead, thankfully. I remember Nick calling Bill "one of the greatest
minds in abstract games." It was such a bizarre statement. Bill Taylor had a long career as a blowhard, with a
tiny fistful of (to me) unremarkable games. Nick, on his website, calls Bill a "great sage of abstract games."
But here again, there's no explanation given for the adulation. At least Bill Taylor's
few games were original. Nick's games don't even have that. Now Nick is trying to fill Bill's gas giant shoes.
"Worship me because... because I'm Nick Bentley !!" Stunningly unconvincing.
I think Nick succumbed to megalomania. He so desperately wanted to be an original designer for so long, that
eventually he just "became" one - in his mind. The obvious fact that nobody is fooled doesn't deter him in
Nick, you claim to be "[looking] in regions of design space where other designers aren't looking." And yes,
you are. But only because you're looking in the immediate vicinity of existing games, where nobody else
wants to look. You announced, for example, a Reversi knockoff with the disclaimer,
"THIS IS NOTHING LIKE REVERSI !!!!" Nobody is fooled by your hand waving.
Nick, stop bragging about what you wish you were doing, and claim to be doing, but have never actually done.
I had forgotten about Ralf Gering. Years ago I wanted him to go away, and he went away. My will be done.
Recently, I saw Ralf mentioned in the Abstract Games Magazine article about me. Apparently he had written
an article on Byte. I read Ralf's article this morning for the first time. Or, I should say, started
reading it. The first thing that caught my attention was the checkers being called stones. This brought
back painful memories of the Ralf Gering Lecture Series on the Correct Use of the English Language. See
A Designer's Perspective.
Then Ralf said that Byte could be called an N-in-a-row game. That's where I bailed.
| DEPTH, CLARITY, AND DODO
I read an article by a certain designer slated for publication in a certain magazine, which I can't comment on.
[Clarity: Foggy Notions, by Christian Freeling, in Abstract Games Magazine.]
But certainly I can comment on depth, clarity, and Dodo. Depth is like consciousness. It has mulitple
complex meanings, which can only be discussed tautologically, making said discussions
virtually meaningless. Yes, there are vague qualities that games seem to have. But it makes more sense to just
discuss a particular game and how it relates to games in general. Even if there were standardized, meaningful
definitions of depth and clarity, they would be vastly inadequate in describing the overall subjective experience of a
game. Enter Dodo. What jumps out at me, after
playing many times, is that it's a very hard game. In particular, there don't seem to be any solid heuristics, tactics,
or strategies - at least that I'm aware of. Dodo may be considered to have low clarity at all skill levels, relative to
the average game. This is a good thing. Players rated more than 100 points higher than I always beat me. So there's
something to it. But it's something that's not easy to articulate. Again, that's fine. You develop an internal
understanding of Dodo and you excel. Your underanding doesn't have to be shared.
It doesn't matter what you do for the
first few moves in Dodo (a good thing). Initial moves serve to "randomly" set up the board for a unique showdown with
virtually zero move order advantage in this super robust game. You don't need heuristics. You just need to see, think,
Does Dodo have depth, in the sense that you can see several moves ahead along a promising line? Some
games, like Dodo and Checkers, have relatively few
move choices per turn and so, on the face of it, should allow for deeper searches. But even in games like Chess and Go,
which have a huge number of move choices, most of them are summarily dismissed. If you're in a ko fight or 50 move rule
situation, only a tiny number of moves are being considered. Many times there are obvious moves or forced moves.
I'm far from an expert player of games, but I suspect that there isn't a big difference in search depth between games.
And if there is, so what? How does this impact the overall subjective experience? Is a game with deeper searches richer
somehow? I seriously doubt it. How deep you search relative to your opponent is what matters. Whether you're
searching deep or wide, or weighing the intuitive favorabilities of various directions of play, you're quickly evaluating
positions in an efficient and effective manner appropriate to that game. There's more to move evaluation
than search width and depth.
One meaning of depth might be how hard you concentrate on the gameplay. But this is more a property of the player
than the game.
Does Dodo have depth in the sense of supporting a huge number
of skill levels? Sure. Any robust game that's played long enough by enough people will finely stratify like this. Not a
particularly profound concept.
Dodo is the essential game, both in its rule set and its gameplay. Yes, it's a parity game. You want to be the last to
make a move. But there are plenty of opportunities to shift the countdown in your favor - opportunites to control the
timing. I think every game is a partity game to some degree. "Jeez, if it was only my turn right now (or wasn't my turn
right now) I'd be winning."
Nick Bentley's theory of what constitutes a good game came up in the aforementioned article. I think the essense is that a
good game deceives players into thinking they know what they're doing but then later they're surprised to discover that
they don't. That a Nick Bentley theory would be based on deception is hardly surprising. Here's the problem with Nick's
theory. How many times will a player be so deceived? Three? Five? By the time you've
played Dodo twenty times, it's pretty clear that whatever you thought you understood about the game, you don't. You won't
be deceived into believing otherwise.
Dodo strategies of charging up the middle, dividing and conquering, skirting and flanking,
and holding hostages have proven themselves reliably unreliable. Every beginner goes through these eureka, "I got it !!"
false starts. The reality is much more subtle. You have to gauge your and your opponent's flexibility and fluidity.
Strike delicate balances between attacking and yielding, blocking and unblocking.
| FRIENDLY COW
One of my cows is friendly. I guess the branding was forgiven and forgotten.
| SHUT THE HELL UP
If at first you don't succeed, shut the hell up.
Err on the side of shutting the hell up.
A house divided against itself cannot shut the hell up.
Life is what happens when you're busy shutting the hell up.
Early to bed, early to rise... Shut the hell up.
| OH COME ON !!
Oh Come On !! is unusual on a couple of levels.
First off, it came to me in a dream. This was the most coherent dream I ever remember having. It was
amost like conscious thinking, except while sound asleep. Beyond that, OCO is out of left
field, both in a general sense and in being way outside of my wheelhouse. It's not an abstract game. It's not
even a board game. There's no equipment whatsoever. OCO is finite and decisive, but only if the players are
honest, they're not expressing disagreement with too many of the judges' rulings, and the scenery is rich
and constantly changing. Like you're traveling somewhere not in the Sahara
Desert. You're lounging in an airport terminal when you notice three slender, young stewardesses walking by
(or two skinny ones and a fat one).
I never would have consciously endeavored to create such a game. OCO is not hard finite - normally my primary
design imperative. But it's way different from anything I've ever designed, it's interesting in its own way,
and I welcome it to my portfolio. Just the fact that I designed OCO in my sleep makes it seem like a
gift from beyond.
Unfortunately, I'll probably never get a chance to play OCO. I never seem to be traveling with more than one
other person. During a taxi ride, I did try to spot "three of something" and it does happen. Not too often,
but often enough.
| MY NEW BEST FRIEND
Puppy who lives at my construction site. Ran away from me the first couple times, but after two dried
duck legs he was rolling around at my feet. Now I clap my hands and he comes running. Was starved for
attention. No human or dog friends. Was a little bitey. But after two days of bleeding hands, I trained
him not to bite. Now he just licks, like a normal dog.
Update: Someone took him. I hope they take good care of him.
| DODO ON YUCATA
Sweetie. I wanted to take it, but who will take care of it when I'm gone? Shit.
Henning Dudat did a nice job programming Zola for Yucata. He
shows the last move and the last killed checker, kind of like what people are always asking me to do with
my programs. I like it. Maybe I will start doing it. No. I'm too lazy.
Addendum: LAVA - interesting new mixed stacks game by Michael Amundsen and Alek Erickson - hard
finite and decisive.
| UNNECESSARY DERISION OF GAMES
Mongolian campfire. Some local flora got singed by the fire, producing a pleasing aroma.
I only release games that, to me, at the time, seem compelling and worthwhile. I thought every one of my
games was awesome, the day I released it. In hindsight, some of the games I released I'm no longer crazy
about. Many turned out to be unpopular. But even my least popular games always had a few players who thought
they were pretty cool. If you're part of the majority that didn't see it, congratulations. Go jump in a lake.
I only still like about 5 to 10% of my own games. And the public probably feels the same way about them. But
do the less popular games really have to be compared to dihareoea and crap and other expressions of excrement?
I create games primarily for my own satisfaction. Secondarily I share them with other designers and
the world as self expression. Not for glory or personal gain, or in the pursuit of praise or validation. I don't
need any of that (although admittedly it is nice when a game is appreciated). I couldn't care less if a
snot ball, bgg rat pack designer doesn't like my game. Fuck off.
I've heard complaints about how awful Tanbo is. Tanbo was, if nothing else, my first finite game. It led
to many others, including one of my most well thought of, Oust. Though stepping stones to each other, my games
aren't variants of each other. I always try to do something different from what's out there (that I know of) and
what I've done before. I try to be as original as I can. No man is an island, but to the extent possible... Not all
of my games have to be smash hits. They all have a place in my portfolio, in my design experience.
Creativity isn't just output. It's input. You're learning by doing - gaining insights that fold back into the
design process. The design process itself grows and matures, deviates, regresses. Early on I didn't like the stalemate
ending, but now I embrace it for its purity. I didn't see it before.
Sorry, but I have yet to see another designer's game that I like as much as my own.
Maybe it'll happen one day. But so far, no. If your game is more popular than mine, and you think it's better
than mine, that's fine. You're entitled to your opinion. Take it with you on your lake jump.
I'm not using a shotgun approach to game design, just shitting out tons of games in the hopes of one of them taking
off. I design games because it's fun, and it's rewarding when something comes together. I design games that meet my
criteria, some of which criteria hold steady and some of which evolve. I don't evaluate the gameplay of my games
because I'm a way below average player of games, and my retarded view of the gameplay wouldn't be relevant. And I
don't have the patience to playtest. As I've said before, gameplay is just not where it's at for me. If this
inconvenienced you, forcing you to playtest my game that you know I didn't already playtest, and you ended up not liking
it, TOUGH CRAP !! If my refusal to playtest my games puts you on a superior plane, great. Enjoy your swim in the lake.
Btw, I'm not addressing any particular individual. I'm responding to a montage of asinine criticisms from the bgg
rat pack. It's like Willard. Grimy rodents crawling all over each other, licking viruses off each other's assholes.
Even with Nick Bentley, I'm not criticizing his games. I'm saying they're not original, because they aren't. Nick is so
desperate to be original that I think he actually believes his own horse manure. It's sad. But I'm not
calling his games crap. They may be good games for all I know. They may be amazing. I'll never know because I'll never play
them. Not that I perceive something wrong with them. I'm just not interested in playing 99.9999% of games, Nick's games
being no exception. Right now I only like Backgammon and Dodo. Well, I guess I play a little Zola now and again on Christian
Freeling's MindSports, since he was the only one to program it for a game site. Other game site proprietors rejected Zola
because it didn't quite rise to the level of their in-the-toilet standards. One guy programmed Zola for Yucata recently. Did
a nice job. It'll be coming out soon. And I suppose I'll eventually program Zola for awesome game site Board Game Arena. Wow,
how did BGA escape my notice for so long? Actually I first found out about BGA from Nick Bentley bragging about his games'
abysmal performance there. Thanks Nick !!
| LOL !!!!
Nick Bentley: "I try to look in regions of design space where other designers aren't looking."
Michael Amundsen: "How do I square this with your relative lack of interest in originality? Or is not caring
about originality one of the things you do differently?"
LOL !!!! Exactly. Nick's original design approach is to never do anything original.
Nick Bentley: "Well, I assume that if I'm rooting around in regions of design space others aren't, originality will
take care of itself, on average."
No, not "on average", Nick. How about "never"? Nick, the only thing you're "rooting around in" is your own ass.
Please stop congratulating yourself on your non-existent originality. You're giving me dry heaves.
After all your pontification on people convinced of their own entirely wrong assumptions, you've just precisely
pinpointed your own.
Update: Nick said... "Maybe there's no difference between a 'tweak' and a game." This is totally accurate, Nick. For you.
| AARON AND HOUSEKEEPER
Calling all Aaron Daltons. Calling all Aaron Daltons. Does anyone know what has become of Aaron Dalton (of
Super Duper Games fame)? Maybe he's gone off grid or something.
Update: I heard from Aaron. He's doing fine.
Housekeeper deep in Dodo thought. (Dodo housekeeper deep in thought?)
| DODO UPDATE
Welp, still not a single bug in my Board Game Arena Dodo program. [Nick Bentley: "OH MY GOD HOW IS THAT EVEN
POSSIBLE ????"] I did add a misere option which caused the wrong winner to be declared in games started before the
misere option was added. Basically, the upgraded version was trying to check a game option that didn't exist when the
game was started. Can't really call that a bug. More like "predictably incorrect behavior from games started before
an upgrade." Games finished before the upgrade or started after the upgrade haven't had any issues.
My Dodo rating is 100. I'm seeing ratings in the high 200s. So progress is being made, by some.
Is Dodo "opaque"? I don't even know what that means. I suppose it's relative. Dodo is, by all accounts, a hard game.
But if you're naturally clever, you have a little experience, and you're winning a lot, it probably doesn't seem
opaque. Probably seems more like you know what you're doing. I can only imagine what that must be like.
| GO STONES UNBOXING
Finally got my damn Go stones from Japan. They were held up in Incheon for like 2 weeks. What does that shit say? "Go
Stones Inside." Ah so. Photographed the stones in preparation for... You guessed it.
REDSTONE !!! (Board Game Arena program.)
9 years just went by and no lazy turd game site owners programmed this significant game. I guess it was just too
hard for them. Assholes. Now it's up to me. If you want it done right, do it yourself. Or in this case, if you want
it done at all, do it yourself.
Shit fucker programmers passing judgement on which games to program and which games not to. Fuck you.
It's a Mark Steere game. Is there anything else to think about? Fuck off. [Hmmm. Maybe this is the beer talking. Oh
well, let it talk. Here in Mongolia we have a different kind of Budweiser. Way better than piss water American
Budweiser. But then again, what isn't? Apparently there's a long ongoing trademark dispute. But trust me, this is
the real Budweiser (in a frozen mug with ice crystals floating on top. Perfect beverage.)]
Photographs taken, gobans created in sizes 9, 13, and 19. I'm making 9 the default. 99%
of players never consider options beyond the default. Selecting a non-default option requires two mouse clicks - way too much
Slow and steady with Redstone. I'm not getting overwhelmed by it like I did with Gopher and
Dodo. Workout in my home gym in the morning (I hate being fat). Then work on Redstone for a couple hours in the evening.
It'll get done eventually. And without bugs - unlike Nick Bentley's Bug program. It's like the Roach Motel. Bugs check
in but they don't check out. What The Fuck ???
| CHRISTIAN FREELING'S GOODBYES
I've lost track of how many times Christian has bid bgg farewell. It usually lasts for
about two days. Parting is such sweet sorrow... except when it starts getting repetitive.
| DODO STRATEGY
Update: One player at BGA, RGRGRG, always kills me, and says he (gender not clear from name, but I will use
"he" for convenience) beat AiAi 2 times out of 20. He says he has tactics and strategy and will fill me in later
when he has time. Dodo skill is progressing perfectly, it seems to me. It's advancing very gradually. Players
are developing vague clues, which are then later doubted and reworked, and which are difficult to articulate. To me,
that's ideal. Gopher, in comparison, does
have clear tactics and it came close to being solved. One math professor (it's always the math professors, lol)
didn't really have a system he could articulate but he's a super good player who almost never loses. He thoroughly
understands Gopher, but in a way that he can't explain. I'm much more satisfied with Dodo, both its gameplay and
how skill is advancing. And it is advancing. Early on it seemed totally random. Now, partway through
the game, I can see potential strategic opportunities, which may or may not pan out. I've always wanted a robust,
simple, opposing armies game, and now I have one.
I'm getting positive feedback about Dodo. A few people are really liking it. One guy was playing back to back
games in real time for hours on end. I asked him how he's liking Dodo and he said, "It's interesting." LOL I'm liking
Dodo too, but I switch back and forth between Dodo and Backgammon to keep
myself from getting overwhelmed by either game.
Unrelated: Michael Amundsen has an interesting concept in Meter - "relative perimiter". Unique, original,
creative... Unfortunately he slapped it into a game with incongruous elements, including the so-called
Catchup goal (seems Nick has claimed credit for something that's been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth), which
I'm not a huge fan of. But still, it's nice to see something new for a change. Michael is a good architect.
Mike Zapala feels that he's developing Dodo tactics, that are hard to articulate. And that's perfectly
reasonable. I know Dodo isn't going to be like Reversi where sides are good and corners are better. Dodo's tactics
will be a lot more involved than that. I take Mike seriously because he's generally known as a good player of games
and he's ranked in the top 10 at Dodo out of a few hundred players at BGA. (I'm ranked 55th.)
We played a game of Dodo. I had no idea what I was doing, as usual. At some point an opportunity came up for me
to shut it down and I pounced on it. Mike probably got overconfident or made a careless error, or both. I ran
away and savored my victory. I'm sure it'll never happen again, and I wanted the moment to last. (Actually I did
have something to do. I'm getting started on my BGA Redstone program artwork.)
Mike said he's not beating AiAi. I, feeling my oats, took another crack at AiAi at the lowest thinking
time setting, 1/10 second. That thing is so fucking good, I don't have a prayer. It's artful in how it defeats me.
After realizing how futile my attempts still are, I played a few more times just to see if I could observe what it's
doing, or not doing.
AiAi plays differently every time. Sometimes it spearheads the middle. Sometimes it advances along one side.
One thing it's not doing is making mostly forward moves or mostly oblique moves. It makes both types of moves about
equally. Dodo is not a game of boldly charging forward, or timidly holding back. It's a game of balance. It's
a game of timing. Dodo the essential game. All you have is lookahead - peering as far as you can into possible
Again, I take Mike seriously, and he may be onto something. Or he may be developing something. But he says he's
not beating AiAi, and AiAi isn't using any particular tactics, at least that I can identify.
It doesn't matter if I move first or second. AiAi beats me just as handily either way. I don't share Mike's
confidence that significant first move advantage will develop in Dodo any time soon. Mine is an admittedly biased
hunch, but I think Dodo will continue to stand tall for a long time.
| NEW DIRECTION SUGGESTIONS
Dice. I wanna see dice. Who the hell said we can't have random elements? Is this a
religious tenet or something? It's fucking racist. Don't be afraid of dice. If cards is more
your cup of tea, then use cards. "But... there are other groups for that." No, there really aren't.
Don't be such a pussy.
Themes. Even if a game is totally abstract, like Dodo, slap a theme on it (like a dodo bird
theme). It's part of the presentation. Like Mattock. Totally abstract game, not hurt at all by
the miners theme. Makes it a little more interesting.
Artwork. If you're smart enough to design an abstract game, you're smart enough to watch a few youtube
videos on how to make artwork. Astralis. The Bug beetle. Again, part of the presentation. Like you
go to a nice restaurant and
order filet mignon. You're expecting some garnish or a side order or a glass of cognac or something. Not
just a slab of meat on a plate. When you produce a game without theme and art, it's like you're going
out on the town in a worn out AC/DC tee shirt. Put some class into it.
New, original concepts. I'm seeing the same old shit rehashed again and again. I guess it's unavoidable
to an extent, but put some effort into new concepts, like Seesaw.
Simplicity. Junket, nice concept. If it's super simple, it may similar to other super simple games, but
sometimes there's a tradeoff between simplicity and uniqueness.
Incomplete concepts and mechanisms. Don't waste everyone's time with that shit. I have a million concepts
and mechanisms I keep in my Concepts and Mechanisms bag, for possible future use. If you can't make it
into a complete game, then just keep it to yourself.
| DRUNKEN DODO
Dodo goes great with cognac and beer. But then again, what doesn't? LOL
My friend beats me more often than not. Oxford educated lawyer. Speaks English better than I do,
with Oxford accent. Meanwhile, I can count to two in Mongolian.
| SIMPLE GAMES AND WHAT I LIKE
People were bitching about Gopher. Not so much with Dodo. Now I see other designers coming up with
super simple games. Nice to still be influencing the state of the art.
I'm not particularly into flippy designs, just because Othello discs make it too easy to design finite
games. Not complaining about any particular game. Just a general comment.
Come to think of it, there are a lot of things I'm not into:
Neutral stone games (Redstone
notwithstanding); games where you place two stones per turn; games where you can place a stone or move
a stone or both in one turn (or phase games where you first partially fill the board with pieces and
later start moving them); games with non-generic pieces like rings and balls and cones and shit (Amazons
being a notable exception). I guess I'm ok with tiles now, though I probably won't be designing with
them myself. A little bit open to unusual boards, though again, probably not in my designs. I hate the
cliche knight move. Sorry Christian. Try as I might, I just can't seem to embrace that. Games with stone
counting (Oust and Rive notwithstanding). Nothing especially wrong with in-a-row games (other than first
move advantage). I'm just not into it (unless I can make one decisive, which I haven't succeeded at so far).
Looping games. The loop goal just seems too ambitious. Like your opponent has to stand there with his thumb
up his butt while you run a complete circle around him. Reminds me of hero movies where enemy combatants
jump out into the open from behind perfectly good cover to make it easy for the hero to pick them off. I am
aware of the recent, interesting developments in looping games, but they're still not floating my boat.
Tumbleweed is nice but I haven't seen any other line of sight games I like. Actually I kinda like Tako Judo.
Mancala style games. Not to pooh-pooh anyone's design. I've seen some clever takes on seed sowing, like
Mike Zapala's use of dice in Lelac (I like dice). But seed sowing just isn't doing it for me now. It's too
one dimensional. Backgammon is one dimensional and I play that every day. It's just an unfortunate habit
with a large player base though. Tired of square grid connection games. Enough already. Micro-variations of
existing games. Nick: "This game started as a variant of Blooms, but..." Nick, why are your new games
exactly like your old games? Branch the fuck out. You're boring me to death. Any non-finite games
of course. Thanks to Christian for reminding me of my still true assertion that draws are like a cancer that
eventually kills a game, LOL !!
I can't think of anything else to complain about right now. I'll update if I think of anything.
I don't have any particular problem with Chess, Xiangqi, etc., contrary to what people may believe. Good
concept. Opposing armies. Different pieces having different functions. Checkmate... I like it (though I won't
be doing it).
I've attempted to design a number of simple, opposing army games (some involving mixed stacks), but they quickly
succumbed to overwhelming first move advantage, and were tossed onto the scrap heap. Dodo is a powerful
counter-example. I remember Breakthrough making an impression on me when I first heard of it.
Mixed stack games. They're hard to represent on computer screens, and just aesthetically, I think I like mono
colored stacks more.
It would probably be easier to list the things I do like than don't like. But what fun would that be?
Checkers would be ok except the jump has become so wretchedly cliche that it reflects badly back on Checkers.
A note on originality. Nick on Slice: "To be clear, this game didn't come at all from Othello thinking." Oh no,
not at all. LOL !!
"This game, a Catchup descendant,..." In other words, "PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT OTHER GAME THAT HAS
NOTHING TO DO WITH SLICE." If you wave your hands any harder, you're going to lift off. Or jack off. Maybe
Splooge can lend a hand.
Nick, "to be clear", this is a recurring theme with you. Stop it. Regardless of where the thinking
started, Slice ended up being a minor variation on Othello, a game you were obviously well aware of beforehand.
Just call the game what it is. I can't imagine anyone buying into your oft repeated "original thought process"
pitch. It's like a guy with a 2 inch dick bragging about his 20 inch dick. Oops, wishfull thinking and a
misplaced decimal. Stop the ridiculous forays into make believe.
It's called integrity. Look into it.
| MISERE DODO
Kerry Handscome made a couple of observations about Dodo. "An interesting thing about this game is
that it reverses what you might think of as a normal goal: immobilize your opponent. Morever, I don't
think the game would work well if the objective was to immobilize your opponent."
Good points, both. Now, if you view Dodo as a race to the other end, where your checkers become
immobilized upon piling up there, it kind of makes more sense (I think). Anyway, that's how
I've viewed Dodo from the outset. When checkers were getting trapped halfway across, I just incorporated
that into an overall goal of getting immobilized, either by piling up at the opposite end or by getting
trapped, or both.
It does seem, at first glance, like Misere Dodo would not be as good. But who knows? I haven't really
play tested it. The goal choice may turn out to be somewhat arbitrary.
In any case, I've added a misere option to the BGA Dodo program. I only
tested the program to the extent of charging both armies forward with no pass-through to make sure it
was working right. But I haven't put much thought into Misere Dodo gameplay.
Update: As hard as Dodo is, Misere Dodo is even harder. You want to remain free and stop your
opponent, but to do that, you might have to open a channel to free him temporarily. Paradoxical.
| SPLOOGE UPDATE
The guy has never designed a game in his life, but he's in a designers' forum making retarded
criticisms of abstract games. Does it get any more asinine that that? Unfortunately, yes. Lately
he stuffed his shit covered shoe all the way in his mouth, instructing a designer on the "etiquette"
of naming games, calling him (of all things, lol) "arrogant" for rejecting Splooge's advice to rename
his game to something not a duplicate another game name. There are 4 other games with "gopher" in
the title. 12 with "dodo", including one straight up Dodo.
Books, movies, paintings, cities... EVERYTHING has duplicate names. Similarly named things are
distinguished by their content. The other Dodo for example. "Save the rolling dodo egg by building
rickety bridges down the mountain." Could anyone (other than Splooge) possibly be stupid enough to
confuse that with my Dodo?
There are so many games, you'd have to give them alphanumeric designations, like in astronomy, to
avoid duplicates. NEWSFLASH: NOBODY HAS EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS TO HOUSEHOLD WORDS USED AS GAME NAMES. YOU'D
HAVE TO BE A COMPLETE FUCKING IDIOT (Splooge) TO ASSUME OTHERWISE.
If it looks like a pile of shit, smells like a pile of shit, and is about as necessary as a pile of
shit... it's probably Splooge. How does something that shitty come into existence? A dog has to eat
something putrid and hold it in for as long as possible, prolonging the putrification process, before
dumping it on a living room carpet.
Dear Splooge. Go. The fuck. Uhh-WAAAAY !!!!!!
| EL POOPO FORMATION
"The Emperor"? "Michelin man"? I'm open to suggestions.
Fredski is one of my best players. If Nick can beat him, I will (almost) never question his intellect
Btw, "Stinker"? "El Poopo"? What's this obsession with the repulsive?
Never mind. I'm sure I'm better
off not knowing.
Bug bugs update: The Bug bug report is as long as my arm. Most of the complaints are just being
ignored. All of them have numerous thumbs up votes. I guess the adage that comes to mind is, You get what
you pay for. Nick, I'm telling you, scrap it and start over. Trying to patch up a bad program is not the
solution. All of the problems your'e having point to a seriously fucked up program. The problems
are intermittent, and they're going to stay intermittent. You need a solid foundation, which you
I programmed Dodo myself and there hasn't
been a single bug. Not one. There have been suggestions. Highlight the last move, etc. But no bugs.
It's not that hard. You just have to follow protocol. Hire the guy who programmed Blooms. He did a really
nice job with that.
El Poopo/Fredski update: Hmmm, it appears El Poopo won. Nice job Nick.
The power was out last night so
instead of the usual movie night with beer and cognac, we had Dodo night with beer and cognac. I lost most of
them. At one point I forgot I was Red and moved a blue checker backwards. My opponent was like, "Hey, that's mine."
| FAIR GAME
Some clown on bgg, in the tradition of innumerable bgg clowns before him, said "Everyone here is
aware that there's no such thing as a drawless, fair combinatorial game, right?"
True, but misleading. The implication being, only non-decisive games can be fair. Chess has draws
and also has first move advantage. Checkers has draws and also has second move advantage. The draw
outcome itself is "fair" in the sense that both players are equally likely to have a draw. But if it
doesn't end in a draw, someone had an advantage.
No game is perfectly fair, be it decisive or non-decisive. The two players are each playing a different
game. Player 1 is playing a game that starts with a symmetrical opening position. The starting position
for Player 2 is different. Right at the outset there's an issue. The pie rule helps level the playing
field (in games with first move advantage), but doesn't eliminate the problem. It's still two different
Assuming imperfect play, and it wouldn't be much of a game otherwise, there's luck. You're making informed,
educated, intuitive guesses, but guesses nonetheless, about the best moves to make.
Players are never perfectly matched. Neither is at a precise skill level. A player's skill varies with
fatigue and distraction. Your skill level can waver during the course of a single play.
Not just perfect play has to be considered in evaluating the fairness of a game. By itself, it's meaningless.
Random play also has to be considered. Dodo is probably
one of the fairest games there is at 50.5% wins for Player 1 in random play. Human play, the kind
of play that actually matters, is somewhere between the two.
For beginner Dodo players, and probably all Dodo players, factors that are WAY more significant than
who moves first are how lucky you are and how focused you are. If you're on top of your game and you've
got the wind at your back, that .5% (which will be at least slightly higher among skilled players) will be
like a little ripple superimposed on a big ocean wave. Or a tiny pebble stuck in your shoe tread during a
marathon. In other words, relative to all the other factors influencing your chances of winning, it just
doesn't matter. The pebble is there, and if you want to blame your loss on the pebble, that's your prerogative.
But that would have to be classified under the general heading of "Sour Grapes".
I understand, the bgg clowns are trying to make an aesthetic point, but it's a fallacy. Non-decisive games are
not inherently more fair than decisive games. The draw likelihood of a game is totally independent of the
fairness of the game.
Oh, by the way. Every game is a game of luck - both for the reason outlined above and because the game always
starts with a coin toss to see who gets to (or has to) move first. Is there anything luckier than a coin toss?
| SAMSUNG S21 ULTRA
Got myself a Samsung S21 Ultra today. What does this have to do with abstract games? Not much, I
guess. Except now I can play Dodo on my Samsung S21 Ultra.
| DODO STRATEGY
Nick Bentley's Take On Dodo:
"1. Move straight forward, rather than obliquely forward, especially for stones that start in the
middle of your initial formation.
2. It's better to move up the center of the board and make your opponent flank around you, than the reverse.
"If so, it's possible that the dominant strategy is:
"1. Move the pieces at the center of your formation straight forward, starting with the ones at the front of
2. Then moving the pieces behind them straight forward as well.
3. If the other player doesn't adopt this strategy, you win.
4. If the other player does adopt this strategy, all the pieces will first gather at the center of the board,
at which point there will be cold and fairly obvious a 'who has to move obliquely first' battle, and the
outcome of that determines who wins. probably Player 1.
"This is just an operational hypothesis. Not convinced it's right. Just putting it out there for study."
Another player confirmed that this strategy "absolutely crushes" humans and AI alike. I tried it and it didn't
work for me at all. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I still can't beat any AIs. Only thing I can think of to
explain the discrepancy is that my computer is faster and does more in a second (Ludii lower limit) than the tester's computer does
in 10 seconds. Hard to imagine though - this crappy Dell I bought in Mongolia 2 years ago is superior to
anything. But, if your computer is 12 years old, that could explain it.
The notion of moving up the center of the board and making your opponent "flank around you" is perfectly lovely...
assuming your opponent is the accommodating sort and willingly opens up a channel in the center for you. There's no
way to force your way up the center, that I'm aware of.
I'm not really fit to comment on strategy, but that being said... The AIs always beat me and
they always make plenty of oblique moves. Logically, if you're using Nick's "tight formation" strategy by
advancing your front row of checkers directly forward, then nestling your next row in right behind them, etc., you'd
do better to hang back (by making oblique moves) and let the enemy come to you. You can keep your formation tighter
if you're not on the march. But then if the opposing army approaches with an open channel, your "tight formation"
won't be tight for long. I think there is something to it - keeping your army tight, as one of many possible tactics,
but it's a long way from a game buster. [Thinking out loud here. Nick stimulated my feeble thought process.] There
may be a tactic of rushing some of your checkers forward, trapping a couple of enemy checkers, and later freeing them at
the last minute. It's the yin and yang aspect of Dodo. It may be a game of strategy, counter-strategy,
Update 1: I've tried Nick's strategy several times as Player 1 and Player 2, using different Ludii AIs set at
1 second. I haven't won yet. Maybe the guy who's "absolutely crushing" everything is using a vintage Atari.
Update 2: People are questioning Nick's strategy. 1. "I'm obviously not understanding the strategy, because I
am unable to [win]." 2. "The strategy seems to fail against Ai Ai (UCT based AI)."
"The Crusher": "I tried again today and the strategy was much less effective. [...] I think I may have just gotten lucky
playing against the AI yesterday." Yes, luck combined with (I believe) running the AI on an antique computer with 10 seconds
thinking time. I've never been able to win, with or without Nick's strategy, running AIs at 1/10 second (AiAi lower limit). Of course I'm a
dodo of a player, so that has to be considered.
The good news: Nick started a conversation and got me and others thinking about Dodo strategy. Hopefully a talented
player will take an interest and clue the rest of us in. I think Dodo is a complex
superposition of parity battles - a juxtaposition of interdependent flows - a quicksand beach. Charging ahead and butting
horns isn't by itself a strategy. There has to be interplay between charging and stalling. Sometimes you can hold back and
wait until your opponent has no choice but to block you. An oblique move only carries your checker half as far as a directly
forward move, so a strategic oblique move or two can have a big impact on timing. And it's all about timing. There will
be opportunities throughout play to toss a wrench into the gear train and win. Spotting those opportunities is essential. I
can spot them - after they happen and it's too late. I gotta turn that around and see them ahead of time.
| MSG BGA UPDATE
I finished my Dodo program for Board Game Arena. Now in alpha !! Very exciting.
Had a party last night. People playing Dodo. The lady saw the board, was asking about it,
wanted to play, lost, wanted to play again, lost again... Then had enough.
Just getting started with my Redstone program. Kind of exploratory at this stage. Will have pie rule. I just
need some Go stones to photograph, including some red ones.
| NICK BENTLEY
Nick: "I like the principle that one should play a game before issuing criticism."
Hmmmm, this is the second time in a month Nick has said something intelligent. It can't just be a coincidence.
I might have to find a new villain to roast. Splooge is too much of a zero to qualify. Self important, asinine
zeros grow on trees. Bill Taylor was a good villain, but he's dead now. I can't very well dig him up and
re-villainize him. Well I guess I could, but nobody wants to see, much less smell, Bill Taylor's bloated, stinky
body with worms squirming in his eye sockets.
Bug question: "Do you know if the developer ever actually fixed those game breaking issues [in the BGA Bug
Nick: "It's mostly fixed. We actually had one odd incident yesterday, the first since
the game went into beta... where
a player was allowed to merge groups illegally. The dev told me it was likely due to a very rare circumstance
in which the BGA client missed an update about game state. He's looking for a way to prevent it."
Nick, that type of issue should NEVER HAPPEN !! Not 1 out of 10 times, not 1 out of 100 times... NEVER !! I'm a long
way from being a professional web developer, but one thing I learned from programming Gopher and Dodo is
that the state machine is everything. Program flow is like pinball, and every other bounce is off the state
machine. Play only advances when the state machine has given notice that the state has changed.
There is constant interaction with the state machine, as required to maintain order in the tumultuous back and
forth between frontend and backend over unreliable internet connections. The state machine's raison d'etre is
to provide sychronicity, to guarantee lockstep. It's completely failsafe... IF protocol is observed.
Sure, it's possible for the client to "miss an update" from the state machine. But the server will keep trying
until the client is eventually notified. Meanwhile, the client doesn't do anything until a state-change notification
If the client did something after having "missed an update" from the state machine, something is seriously wrong.
It doesn't even make sense. This isn't a bug. It's a calamity.
My advice? Scrap the program, start from scratch, and do it right. You'll forever be plagued by this shit. Bug report
report. I had bug reports about Gopher. Three firefox users had invisible checkers. Not to be a finger pointer, but
as I said in my response, there's nothing sinister about the Gopher program. It's an exact copy of the Reversi
program with the board swapped out and the minimum modification to the game logic necessary to transform it into Gopher
still using playDisc, but with hexhex coordinates). And... they were able to clear up their own problems by rebooting
the computer in one case, and deleting unnecessary browser add-ons that were creating a conflict in another case. I
haven't heard any complaints since that initial little flurry. One guy said the checkers are ugly.
If you have a state machine issue, which it sounds like you do, that won't go away.
Christian: "During certain times certain inventors are prevalent. A couple of years back Mark Steere claimed the
top spot and he went so far as to declare that draws are cancerous. They grow in a game till eventually it dies.
Complete nonsense, but it met amazingly little objections. After that Nick Bentley took the top spot but Mark's
Lol, I completely forgot about the cancer analogy. But it still makes perfect sense.
Christian: "If I'm allowed to stride off topic for a moment (probably not but I'll take the risk), we had a flame war
at rga about Symple. I was right all the way but I lost the war. Mark is very good at it and I got no support whatsoever
for Symple. Now there's a number of hypocrites who find it 'a great game' because a much smaller number indeed recognised
it, although none of them said anything in support of the game by countering all the nonsense Mark told about it. And all
the while Mark really didn't understand the game."
Sorry about the flame war, Christian. I had an even shittier attitude back then than I do now. I've included Symple
in "the list" on my website, so hopefully that makes amends. I invited you to rga to unleash you on Bill Taylor. But,
as often happens with unleashed things, they can quickly get out of control. Then I ended up turning on you like a bad
When I was a small child, a lady told me that "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." I was troubled
by this for years. I didn't live in a glass house. I didn't know anyone who lived in a glass house. I had never
even heard of a glass house. Eventually it dawned on me. "Ohhhh, I've been living in a glass house all along. I'm
someone who should never throw stones, under any circumstances." Now, all these years later, I've been banned from
the glass houses. But I still like to throw stones at them - from the outside. I don't want a glass house
collapsing on me like that condo tower in Florida.
Update: I guess Christian doesn't like Dodo. He said he was too busy vacationing to program it for MindSports,
but then immediately went on to program 5 other games.
Splooge: "I am not a designer, [but blah blah blah blah blah]." Kind of like, "I'm not a doctor, but I play
one on TV." But actually more like, "I always step in dog doo before putting my foot in my mouth." Everyone
in the forum is a designer except Splooge, self appointed expert on game design. What a dick. BGG-wives are
so desperate for any game related discussion that they tolerate Splooge's twaddle.
Hey Splooge. After I finish programming Dodo for BGA, I'll probably program Redstone. Give you something to
complain about. "I've never actually played Redstone, but [stuffs shit covered shoe in mouth]..."
Update: Splooge: "I know that. I am writing a book about this stuff."
Ohhhh, so that's why you're an expert on game design. You're writing a book. Thanks for clearing that up, Splooge.
| DODO BGA PROGRAM UPDATE
I'm making slow but steady progress on my Dodo program for Board Game Arena. My Gopher program was
just a copy of their Reversi program with the board and game logic swapped out. For the programming I
just googled everything I needed to know. I learned very little about their system and about programming.
It was like my apartment here. I totally demolished the top floor of an office building, and replaced the
offices with a huge penthouse apartment exactly how I wanted (big bathrooms, floor to ceiling windows on all
big open area, gym,...). Now with Dodo, it's more like tearing the whole building down and rebuilding it
from the ground up. Why? Because the program kept having issues, and it was ultimately easier to delete
the Reversi/Gopher/Dodo mishmash and start from scratch with pure Dodo.
Unlike Gopher, Dodo has two board orientations, one for Red and one for Blue. And checkers are moved,
not just placed. Doesn't sound like much of a difference but it is. The Dodo program is vastly more complicated.
Now I am learning the BGA system. It's a very convoluted relationship among various server files (including
skill... No. I'm still just googling code snippets and copying them, LOL. The internet has TONS of information
on anything you'd ever want to program, and every programming language you'd want to do it in.
Btw, apparently "programming" is an ancient word nobody uses anymore. Now it's "developing" or "engineering".
Exact same thing but engineers get paid more than developers. I'll just keep calling it programming for historical
A few game site proprietors (Arty, Aaron, etc.) have offered to let me program for their sites in the past, but I just
summon the motivation to do that much work and end up having little or nobody playing my games there. I think other
than BGA, iggamecenter is my favorite site, even though it has virtually no players. The site has a lot of untapped
potential. One thing that would make a huge difference would be to have the option of turn based play instead
of only real time play. What's the big deal? It's just a matter of increasing the time allowed for making moves, right?
Most of the game site owners I've
known (not Aaron [truly nice guy] or the owners of BGA, whom I don't know) have a tendency to lord over the designers of
the games they're using. I find
this most disagreeable. To me designers are the true lords of the kingdom. Site proprietors are just migrant
laborers picking beans. They do have an important role to play. People need beans after all. But they'll never ascend
beyond the ground floor. Pick pick pick.... a day in the life of a migrant worker.
Update: Actually that was a tad condescending, LOL !! It was only directed at the lording asshole types. I
generally hold programmers in high esteem (except when they're assholes). Programmers were essential in putting me on the
abstract games map. And, on the flip side, us designers put their game sites on the map. Many programmers fancy themselves
designers, LOL !! Slim chance. Very. They DEFINITELY couldn't do it alone. In any case, I don't want to be dismissive of
programmers now that I'm programming my own games - not even the shitty, lording, asshole programmers.
| GOPHER UPDATE
Apparently, Gopher's popularity at Board Game Arena (185 games in progress) was just an initial surge, and it has now
settled into high 50s / low 60s games in progress. The surge was accurately predicted by Nick Bentley, as dutifully
reported by Mike Zapala... (?)
Yes, I got a little ahead of myself with Gopher. That's why this is the "Thoughts" section and not the
Update: Gopher is gaining in the ranks again. It's at 75 games in progress now, 10 points ahead
of Circle of Plagiarism, and 9 points ahead of Hex. Maybe just a temporary bump. Let's see.
| DODO DATA
It's 3:20am Mongolia time. I just played 100 games of size 4 Dodo on Ludii - AI vs AI. Or, more
specifically, MC-GRAVE vs MC-GRAVE with 1 second thinking time. This AI level is approximately
equivalent to a very smart person with a little Dodo experience, or a reasonably smart person with a lot
The result was Player 1 , Player 2  - statistically consistent with an extremely robust game
having no discernable turn order advantage at that skill level.
Michael Amundsen found that in 10,000 random Dodo playouts, Player 1 won 50.5% of them. In comparison, the
first player in Hex wins 52.42% of the time.
A few days ago I ran tests of insufficient length, and surmised a strong second move advantage in Dodo. I
wondered, How can a game with such a large game tree, and such a wide range of total number of moves per game,
magical, pervasive, strong second move advantage?
And I suppose a game could have such a thing. But in the case of Dodo, No. It doesn't. I had leapt to a
based on insufficient data. There
are streaks of luck in game playouts. In a sample of ten games, a streak is more
likely than not. In a sample of 100 games, most of the streaks cancel each other out. You'd really have to
play 1000 games to get an accurate estimate of turn order advantage. But 100 games is fairly definitive.
| COREY CHRIST
Every other bgg post, Corey Clark is giving a sermon on Christ. Then he says it might not be "appropriate"
to discuss games with dice. The Christ nonsense is really
irksome, especially contrasted with his complaint about dice. I'm working on developing a game with dice.
It's not easy. I received my milled aluminum dice from America a few days ago. Psyched about that.
Corey sometimes makes disparaging remarks about Hex and its inventors, most recently calling Hex "reductive".
Hex wasn't reduced from anything. It was created from nothing and
became the seed of many ideas to follow. Hex is as excellent today as it ever was. The inventors of Hex were
geniuses. Corey looks like a total
vegetable staring blankly into space in comparison. Actually, strike the "in comparison".
Update: Bill Taylor died last year. LOL !! I was thinking about Corey sermonizing about Christ in an
abstract games forum and then having the audacity to complain about a dice game being mentioned. I wondered,
Can a person's head really be that fat? Then I remembered Bill Taylor. I googled him specifically to find out
if he's still alive. He isn't. LOL !!
| UNINFORMED OPINIONS
Note to "the game whisperer" (a name I gave Christian Freeling long ago that seems to have stuck), et al,
about posting uninformed opinions. "Well, Dodo seems like it might
be Nim-like, or non-robust, or vulnerable to blah blah blah blah blah." Play the god damn game
once and the experience will answer most, if not all, of your questions. [The following is not directed at
Christian.] Then you won't have to make
"observations" that seem ridiculous and asinine to those of us who have actually played Dodo. New rule.
Mark's rule. A rule of etiquette. Don't comment on games you haven't played. Your uninformed opinions
aren't worth shit.
Imagine a movie review that starts with "Well, I haven't actually watched the movie, but..." You'd think
it was a joke. Nobody could possibly take themself that seriously. But 15 pounds of shit stuffed
into a 10 pound paper bag is a prized commodity in the game design community. Standards, people. Standards.
Nick Bentley: "Interesting. If I had to place a bet right now, I'd bet this game turns out to be fairly
good. But it's a pretty uninformed bet, not having played."
Lol, ok. I guess this is a step in the right direction. Still an uninformed opinion, but with a positive
slant for a change - not "intuiting" fucked up things about a game you never played.
| DODO NOTIONS
Dodo is causing a stir. There's a feeling, by people who have never played Dodo, that it's
so simple that there must be something wrong with it. Then after playing once, two things become
clear: 1. There's nothing wrong with Dodo. 2. It's a hard game. You have only vague ideas about
what you should be doing. I should have called it Einstein.
Misconception: Because both players are racing to opposite ends of the board, and because it takes
them an equal number of moves to get there, it should be an automatic win for Player 1. Wrong.
A directly forward move carries your checker twice as far as a diagonally forward move. So if both players
manage to get all of their checkers to opposite ends (which rarely happens), and they both make the same
number of directly forward moves getting there (unlikely), Player 1 will win. Otherwise, if
players completely filter through each other, like two-way Pachinko, whoever made more directly forward moves
Other misconception: Somehow it's a problem that play often ends with no moves to spare. E.g., Blue stalemates
(winning the game) and Red stalemates immediately afterward. Dodo is a game of Yin and Yang. You rush forward to
blockade yourself, and in doing so, you blockade your opponent.
You open a channel for your opponent to pass through, and due to a cascading effect, he opens
channels for you. So you're both "cooperating" in doing about the same thing at the same time, leading to a close
finish. Don't get your panties in a bunch over this. It's not any indication of
first or second move advantage. Turn order advantage is undetectable by AI, so it's virtually non-extistent
for humans. As any designer or player can attest, a super simple, small board racing game being
tremendously robust is unheard of.
Mike Zapala observation: "Hex4 Dodo is 'bigger' than Checkers in terms of board size, army size, state space,
game length, branching factor and game tree complexity. Indeed, its game tree complexity is comparable to
Dodo is in a league of its own. I'm looking forward to skilled play emerging from the dense fog.
Update: Mike Zapala beat the Ludii AI. There is hope.
| MIKE ZAPALA DODO BOARD
Mike explains... "Here you can move forward orthogonally or diagonally. Obviously it is 100%
equivalent with your original setup in terms of gameplay, but I think it gives the game a nice 'ancient'
look. Also makes it easier to play with a checkers set."
Nice. Thanks Mike. Cool how it worked out with 13 checkers each.
| DODO CRITIQUES
Some douche clot on bgg... I forget his name. Splooge or something. Anyway, he says there's "nothing
original" about Dodo. NEWSFLASH: A game as simple the hydrogen atom will necessarily be comprised of
only a very few generic elements. Kinda like one proton and one electron. The original (and
astounding) feature of Dodo is that its incredibly simple rule set gives rise to solid, robust play.
Then the clot says let's see five years from now what's being said about Dodo. Ok Splooge. I accept
your proposition. Let's fucking see. We can compare it to your game. Oh right! You don't have
one! What a colossal asshole.
Meanwhile, Michal Zapala, who (unlike Splooge) does have a game people are talking about
(Tumbleweed), and whose opinion actually matters, had this to say about Dodo...
"I think [Dodo] would be by far the most essential racing game in existence, ... Basically the Hex
of racing games."
And... "It's just too simple, too pure, it's a total knockout. A game where the standard forward movement
is the only constraint, and the final goal is as simple as self-stalemate, simply cannot be beaten."
Update: Splooge, the blowhard jackass, who still hasn't played Dodo, is still jabbering on
about how it must be Nim-like. This in spite of people who have actually played Dodo reporting that it isn't
remotely Nim-like. Now the jackass is trying to defend his idiotic comments with yet more uninformed blather.
Here's a quote, just so you can see I'm not making this up... "My snarking remark was
my attempt to give the most negative but still objective-sounding criticism I could muster." Go away!! What
I give Splooge a point for not going along with the crowd. That's always commendable. But like minus 100
points for gratuitous assholery. Here's a quote for you, Splooge, written by a well known abstract
game designer (me). "If you don't have anything nice to say, SHUT THE HELL UP!!!!"
| DODO UPDATE
I don't have any hope of beating the Ludii AI at Dodo it seems. So, just for laughs, I played against the
random move generator.
Me moving first:
Winner Moves to spare
Random moving first:
Winner Moves to spare
Is Dodo opaque? Not how I think of opaque. The first few moves of Gopher are opaque.
There's a big open board and nothing to see. Dodo is just the opposite. Opposing armies start
mixing it up right away and there's a lot to see. It's too much for my simple mind to process - at
this early stage of development at least. Me not being good at a game, especially at first, doesn't
speak to the game. It's just par for my course.
I don't know how people will react to Dodo. Let's wait and see. I've
finished the graphics and started on my Board Game Arena program. It will be harder to program than
Gopher because it has 1. A different board orientation for each of the two players. 2. Moving checkers,
not just placing them.
What Dodo and Gopher have in common: Both extremely simple. Both extremely resistant to first move
advantage (judging from the Ludii analysis). That's a rare combination already. Add to that... Both
have no need for the pie rule.
| DODO LUDII APP
Thanks to Michael Amundsen for programming a Dodo app for Ludii. It's fascinating to watch it play itself. Sometimes
White wins. Sometimes Black wins. Sometimes the checkers completely filter through each other. Sometimes they jam up
with no pass-through. Many times a player is just on the verge of jamming when a passage suddenly opens.
Dodo is a hard game. I don't understand it. It's complex. It's deceptive.
I won't attempt to characterize the subjective experience of playing Dodo. Like all simple abstracts, it is
what it is.
As far as tactics, the basic idea is to get all your guys to the opposite end of the board as quick as you can,
making directly forward moves. A directly forward move carries your checker twice as far as a diagonally forward
move. But you also have to keep narrow channels open for your opponent to slip through so he doesn't get stuck.
| GOPHER ALMOST KILLED
BY WEST WIND
West Wind (Favonia) contacted me on Board Game Arena.
"Hi Mark, I felt I might have figured out a winning strategy for the red player in Gopher of any size.
Please let me check more details before coming back to you...
"Okay, I checked all the details. I'm planning
to create a web page on my website describing the solution. I certainly could not write this down in this
textbox without a picture. My next step is to completely characterize *all* the winning/losing starting points.
However, if the first
player just wants to win the game, there are already 54 starting points that will provably work."
I started to write Gopher's apology/farewell letter. Like a politician forced out of office
for inappropriate behavior with his assistant, "No! It's a lie! Well, actually, it's true. Sorry."
But then, another message blew in from the whispering West Wind. "Too bad I discovered a bug in my argument after
the lunch. Sorry for celebrating
it too early. But I have an even stronger strategy now, I think..."
To West Wind's credit, they are a polite, intelligent person, and an outstanding Gopher player. They are ranked
161 out of 3102 players. My very best players dedicate 18 hours a day to advancing Gopher strategy,
but West Wind's Gopher stature is certainly admirable, in the top 5%. I sincerely appreciate their work on a Gopher
Gopher is a tempting, but wiley, target. It will live to fight another day. If there
is a solution, I want to know. I have a mathematical curiousity about Gopher, and a solution would be crucial.
I owe it to Gopher fans to
find out about any problems and let them know. Actually I've offered a $200 reward for such a discovery, which
reward still stands. The solution would have to work on an even sided board, size six or higher, and must be an
automatic win starting from a given set of cells, and an automatic loss starting from any of the remaining cells.
In other words, something that can't be repaired with the pie rule, currently deemed unnecessary in Gopher.
What I'm looking for here is a "trick". Not some extraordinarily and incomprehensibly complicated algorithm, requiring
extensive computation and analysis on every turn. We already have AI solving the size 4 board. So I don't need an
algorithmic version of that. But, for the purpose of the reward, if I can comprehend the solution, it will qualify.
I'll be a little sad if Gopher is solved, especially after putting a lot of work into programming it and seeing
its popularity explode. But it's not like Gopher is my only game. It's not even my best game. But
for reasons articulated below, Gopher is wildly popular.
| GOPHER AT BOARD GAME ARENA
Huge 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. I was working on this for like 12 hours a day for
the past few weeks.
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 yet." 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
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,
|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
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 malarkey. 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.
I've played a lot of Oust and
a fair amount of Zola. There are no other games I'd rather play (except
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.
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, 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. Ko, triple ko, and superko are malarkey. 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?
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
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 be mediocre 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.