board games

AlphaMystica

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So, what’s the deal with AI these days?

What do they know? What are they capable of? What do they want from us? And how do they feel when we abandon them in the woods with their sad little faces staring longingly into our swiftly departing rearview mirrors?

You’ll find out all that and more from this article.

Designer Diary: The Search for AlphaMystica

Alright, I confess, it’s not really about that stuff I said before. But it is about AI and boardgames. 

Tysen Streib, an AI developer for games shares his insights and struggles as he works on an AI for a digital version of the game Terra Mystica.

I’ll admit, the article gets very technical by the end—even for a genius like me (yes, I still have to look up how to spell the word ”genius”), but the beginning part is especially interesting. It turns out that not only can AI beat the best chess player, they can also beat the best Go player.

First, there was AlphaGo, which learned by studying human games, then came AlphaZero, which was completely self-taught and markedly better than AlphaGo. It’s kinda freaky when you think about it too much (which I do), especially if you’re really into boardgames (which I am).

What other areas of life will AI develop complete mastery over their human competitors?

Well, I have yet to meet one able to make a better quesadilla than I can, so we’re still safe for the time being. But when that day comes ... be afraid, be very afraid.

Planecrafters

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Every now and then someone I know makes something awesome. In this case, it’s a board game (well, technically a card game) by my buddy Michael Patience.

And the name of the game is

Planecrafters

It’s up on Kickstarter right now and if you’re into card or board games I recommend you get it.

In Planecrafters, you build a task force of specialized workers in order assemble airplanes out of any spare parts available. Based on the workers you hire and the planes you build, you get shiny coins.

I have played the game in a nearly finished state and my wife and I loved it. It has all things I enjoy in a casual game: easy to learn, many roads to victory, player interaction, great art, unique theme, and, most of all, fun!

So fire up your engines, propel yourself over to Kickstarter and nab a copy.*

*I was not in any way paid or even asked to promote this game, I honestly enjoyed it and hope it sells well (I’ve already backed it myself).

fun and games

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Fun! 

There’s nothing I love hearing more than that word after introducing someone to a board game.

Being a board game aficionado, I have a lot of interest in what makes a game fun. 

During a family gathering, we played an old classic game I’d never heard of, Enchanted Forest. There is a special place in my heart reserved for old games. Granted, most of them don’t stand the test of time (based on my highly biased opinion), but they do retain a certain charm, an endearing quality, if you will. Likely this is because of all the old memories contained in their, dusty, weathered boxes.

I was actually surprised by Enchanted Forest. It had some interesting mechanics such as rolling two dice and using both results to move forward and/or backwards. It had a clever memory component where the players wondered through the forest peeking at symbols under trees in hopes to make it to the castle when a symbol they remembered came up. Though it had one aspect which I’ve never enjoyed and which took away some fun from the game: having to make an exact roll to land on a space. Even so, considering when it was made, it wasn’t a bad game.

The fact remains, many older games just aren’t as fun as their more modern counterparts.

But what is it that makes a game fun at all? I’ll save an in-depth treatise for a longer post, perhaps an article. Beside, the idea of “fun” is highly subjective. For example, my sister enjoys games with a high level of chance, while more hardcore boardgamers like games with more strategy. Chess-players enjoy a game with no chance at all.

All that said, there are three important fun factors which come to my mind: memorable, challenging, and surprising.

A memorable game does something unique, it has an element that stands out from any other game. When the party game Cranium came out it was a huge hit because it combined many forms of talent and artistry into one guessing game, rather than just focusing on a single one like drawing (Pictionary) or acting (Charades).

Who doesn’t like a little challenge in their game? A level of difficulty adds interest to a game, it creates a risk/reward system. Did I say Risk? Let’s shelve that for another time. Easy games with a predictable outcome get boring very fast.

Children’s games, on the other hand, are hardly ever challenging. Why, I used to outwardly scoff at games such as Candyland. The card game War isn’t much better. Then why are they so popular? Having kids, I’ve realized games like these do serve a purpose. They teach kids how to follow a set of rules, leading to a victory of some sort. They’re good for learning—a stepping stone to more advanced (and fun) games that favor smart decision-making over pure luck. Children’s games have their place, but you’d be hard pressed to find a bunch of grownups sitting down for a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders.

Last, a game needs some level of surprise. Replayability is the term you’ll often hear concerning a praiseworthy game. Most games have a randomized system built in, which allows for a good measure of the unexpected. Whether it’s a shuffled deck of cards or a modular board, even a familiar game should have some element of the new and unexpected to keep things fresh.

Alright, so that’s my crudely thrown-together list of what I find fun in a game.

How about you, are there any particular factors you’re looking for in your next game night?