25 March 2009

Snake Eyes

I learned a new word!
ambsace (AYM-zays) noun, also amesace

1. The double ace, the lowest throw of the dice with one spot showing uppermost on both dice.

2. The smallest amount of anything.

3. Bad luck.

[From Middle English ambes as, from Old French, from Latin ambas (both) + as (aces).]

"O noble, prudent folk in happier case!
Your dice-box doth not tumble out ambsace ..."
Geoffrey Chaucer; The Man of Law's Tale; The Canterbury Tales; 1380.

[found on A.Word.A.Day *** Image ToyVault.com]

23 March 2009

Basketball, Chess, Scrabble, WoW, and Arpad Elo

Ranking the relative skill and performance of people who play a game is an interesting problem. Physicist and Chess enthusiast Arpad Elo invented a system of ranking the relative skills that is both simple and flexible. Variation of the Elo rating system are used for Baseball, Basketball, Backgammon, Football (American rules and Soccer), Go, Pokemon, Scrabble, World of Warcraft, and many others.

The basis of the system is very simple: Players start with an arbitrary number of points (generally 1000) representing that players' rating. For each scored game played, there is a "trade" of points, with the loser giving some number of points to the winner. The amount traded is scaled so that winning against a higher rated player (one with more points) is worth more than a lower rated player, and vice-versa. Beat a player rates higher than you and you gain more points, and less for a lower rated player. Over repeated games, wins and losses against many opponents, players tend to accumulate points that reflect their ability relative to other players.

March Madness SI Sports Illustrated VaultIf you have any interest in the NCAA Basketball Championship and March Madness, and have ever wondered how they come up with the team ratings, the Elo system is a big part of it. You can find Jeff Sagerin's Basketball (and other) rankings at USAtoday.com, and more rating from Jeff Sagarin at his site.
[Image SI Vault]

A fair criticism of the Elo system is that it is better at rating past performance than it is at predicting games yet to be played. It's good information, but don't count on it to win the office pool for you. For that, you might need a bit of luck.

22 March 2009

Hiawatha Hobbies

Hiawatha Hobbies train engine Atlas, HH660 - Milwaukee Road #1603As much as I like miniature figures and painting, I think it's important to remember that my hobby owes a lot to other hobbies. This is why I try to support more than just the narrow aspects of Battletech miniatures the hobby I am interested in.

Hiawatha hobbies Bachmann Autumn Walnut, 2.5-3.5Hiawatha Hobbies, the model train store closest to my home, is now open in it's new location at 2026 Silvernail Road, Waukesha, WI 53072. I visited today; the new store is nicely organized and much more visible than the old location, which ought to help them out. Train shops like this are a great resource for tools, paints, flocking, scenery, and tips on how to get tricky jobs done.

Hiawatha hobbies Bachmann On30 Spectrum Roaring Ridge Passenger SetIf you like working with miniatures as much as I do, then you can probably find something the train hobbyists use that will interest you too. Take time to find a visit a store like this. You might learn something new.

Hiawatha hobbies HO Assorted Junk PilesHiawatha hobbies American Models, Company House laser Kit

20 March 2009

More Tin, Less Coin

Purple Pawn reports that Reaper Miniatures is lowering it's prices on some figures, apparently because the price of tin is going back down.

Will Iron Wind Metals, maker of Battletech miniatures, follow suit?

18 March 2009

Giant Battling Robots at ORIGINS 2009

I will be attending the ORIGINS Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio on June 24-28. At this point I have no plans to run any Classic Battletech events as I have in the past, though I may offer to help out a bit. I do plan to play in as many different events as I can and collect ideas to write about. In the past there have been some interesting military history seminars I wanted to attend, but was too busy to get to them. This year I will have most of my time free to spend as I like, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Origins game fair
So ... is anyone else out there headed to ORIGINS this year? If there is enough interest we might set up a Blog-n-Grog meeting. :-)

09 March 2009

Skaph Tips and Tricks --- Part 2

Today a few more tips for the game Skaph.
[Previous Posts on this game: 1) Intro 2) Tips & Tricks Part 1]

SKAPH tips and tricks
--- Tips & Tricks --- Part 2 ---

Spending Your Level-ups:
With every level increase, you get three level-up picks to improve certain aspects of your game. I have a suggestion ...

SKAPH tips tricks1) Increase your Resources. The resource extraction level-up increases the production of all your resources. That means every hour, every day, 24/7, you get more resources to build your bases. None of the other choices give you back so much. The only down side is that the bonus you get is rounded down rather than carried over, so you need to invest a fair number of picks to get best use of this, but it is well worth it.

2) Build more bases. You automatically get more bases as you gain certain levels (3,6?,9?), but the Bases level-up lets you build an additional base for every 5 picks you put into it. When you get to the level where you can build new bases, you should save 2 pick so you can have 5 at the next level, and build another base right away.

SKAPH tips tricks3) Go back to #1 and #2. None of the other level-up choices are worth considering. Here is why Resouce Extraction (RE) is better than everything else: Protected Resources-->[useless] You save a tiny amount when you get raided, but you could more than make up for the loss with RE, and eventually you can build Bunkers to do this job better. Max Resource Storage-->[useless] Same reasoning, for the little bit extra you can save you could be building other building with have the same effect. More Energy-->[barely useful] With RE you can build more tiles and more reactors instead. Sensor Power-->With RE you can build more tiles and more reactors sensors instead. Long Range and Short Range-->[barely useful] These are tempting, because they booth your firepower, but with RE you can build more firepower instead. Also, these only benefit you when you attack or are attack, where RE helps you all the time. Hangar Space-->[barely useful] With RE you can build more tiles and more reactors sensors hangars instead. Extra Points--->[doubly useless!] Long Range and Short Range do the same thing, AND they boost your firepower at the same time. Unit maintenance, Unit build time, Building construction time, Building strength-->[useless, useless, useless, and useless]. Resource recovery, Unit recovery-->[barely useful] These might help a little if you do a lot of raiding, but only then.

4) Economics. Skaph is basically a game of economics, and the best thing you can do is increase your resource production. Did I mention that yet?

SKAPH tips tricksCombat:
There is much to describe, but not much to tell. That is, the detail of combat in the game take a bit to explain, but there is not much you can do about it. The only real rule - more is better - but you didn't need a guy with a degree in statistics to figure that out. Still, there is a little bit more to it.

1) Straight to the point. Combat is linear, meaning that if you just have one type of unit is a combat, the total attack strength of the opponent destroys units up to the total resistance of all the units, rounding down.

SKAPH tips tricks2) In proportion. The only random part of combat is how damage is allocated amount difference groups of units. It appears that units in your force are randomly selected to be destroyed, and combat ends when the total resistance of the units absorbs all of the attack strength. The allocation of damage is proportional to the types of units is your force, but different units have different resistance. This means that by including some Boga (no offense, high resistance) in with a group of Veen (light combat mecha), the Boga will absorb proportionally more damage, letting more of the Veen survive. This might not be the most efficient way to attack, but it can help a smaller group of Veen make a successful attack against a well defended target.

3) In Veen we trust. Veen appear to be the most efficient combat unit in the game, interms of the combat strength received per unit of ore spent. You might be better off with a large number of Veen rather than a smaller numbers of more expensive units. I still can't build all the different Skaph (mecha?), but I suspect this will still hold true when I can.

In part 3, a discussion of strategies, and maybe some help from a suicidal duck.
[a small update: I never did write part 3, my interest in the game ran out.]

08 March 2009

Blog Thoughts

Recent changes with the merger of Follower and and Friend Connect has fouled me up a bit. By way of blogging reciprocity I try to follow or subscribe to almost every blog that links to me, but now it looks like I have to go through my entire list and change the settings to "follow publicly". If you have a blog linking to me and I have recently disappeared from your list, this is why.

Sneaky SPAMmers keep trying to slip post in, and I am deleting them as they appear. To repeat my posting policy, I am happy to help promote your blog, so long as you make the effort to post something relevant here.

I intend to switch over to a three column layout, but haven't had the time to figure out just how to do it. If anyone has other suggestions for layout changes to make at the same time, I am looking for ideas.

I am working on a series of posts about basic strategy, and contemplating a two-parter about Trivial Pursuit. Not unexpectedly, my life is busy enough that I don't get to these topics as quickly as I would like.

05 March 2009

Battletech One versus All

Battletech Total WarI tried an experiment with our local Battletech group last night. I recall seeing Chess demonstrations were one player (generally a very good player) would play 10+ games at once, walking around a circle of players each with there own board, and I've been wanting to try this with Battletech. In recent weeks we have been playing a series of tournament style games where two players pair off with two Battlemechs each. Tonight I set up 4 identical battles and played against 4 others, all at once.

Battletech SolarisThe Setup:
I used HeavyMetal Pro to generate pairs of Mechs at 3750 Battle Value. To simplify play I only accepted Mechs with no more than 2 primary types of weapons (2 different range brackets, not counting small lasers and MG's). I generated 5 pairs this way, but I was in a hurry and I didn't check carefully enough for other items which might complicate play; this caused me some trouble later.

Battletech CitytechThe Plan:
Of these 5 pairs I, I let the guys choose 2 pairs that we would play with, and I would randomly chose one of these as the Mechs I would play. The random assignment here is intended to encourage selection of 2 pairs that will make a fair match. I ended up with playing with a Lightray LGH-4W and a Centurion CN9-D3, while everyone else got a Bushwhacker BSW-L1 and a Wolfhound WLF-3S. I used a Rolling Hills maps (either one) for each battle, and randomized the starting sides (short edges). Maps were set up on two long parallel tables, with the players on the outside and me in the middle so I could quickly move between games. All Mech pilots were Gunnery 3 and Piloting 4.

Battletech MarikInitiative:
I had everyone roll three dice for initiative and counted how many players beat my roll. I then started movement each turn with the player that got the highest roll, moving counter-clockwise among the games. I "won" lost initiative, moving first for the number of players that beat my initiative roll, and "won" moving second for the remainder.

Battletech Compendium SummonerFire Phase:
I would declare fire for each of my Mechs and lets the other player make all the rolls - including mine - and mark all the damage. Once I got the idea across this worked quite well, and my selection of easy-to-play Mechs paid off. My one mistake was the Centurion; letting a TSM (Triple-Strength Myomer) Mech into the mix made managing the heat levels a big issue, requiring more time and slowing things down a bit.

Long story short: I lost BAD. One match was essentially over in three turns, and the longest took 7 or 8 before I was soundly thrashed. The poorly-armored Centurion with TSM was an obvious target and took an immediate beating in all four sessions. By the time I got to 9 heat and close enough for physical attacks, there was not enough armor left to hang in a fight. I ended up getting in 1 successful TSM kick and 2 TSM punches between all four maps. The Bushwacker with its LBX-20 was a nightmare, but the well armed Wolfhounds probably did even more total damage. My Lightrays held their own, but the cluttered maps hurt them, and once the Centurions went down first (which they did on 3 of 4 games) they were outmatched.

Battletech King PainRecap:
This experiment was a partial success; We ran four games with 5 players in about the same amount of time it would take with 8 players paired off. There was a bit of a slow-down in explaining how things worked, but things ran very smoothly once we got going. A written plan for this type of play would have helped. What didn't work was the Mech selection; The Centurion was a poor choice for me to play, and if I hadn't been in such a hurry I would have tossed out that pairing. I might also have given myself an advantage in Battle Value to make up the the fact I was splitting my attention between many games. That would have added a little extra challenge for the other players too.

In summary, it was an interesting and fun experiment,and I would do it again sometime. With a bit more refinement this might make an interesting convention event, where many players could match themselves against a panel of expert level players (one per round) in a sort of mini-tournament.

[Images from the Gallery at ClassicBattletech.com]

03 March 2009

Reading about Group Theory

Mario Livio Equation Couldn't be Solved Amazon

On the recommendation of a friend, I'm reading "The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved" by Mario Livio. I know very little about Group Theory, and I don't really expect this book to offer much in the way of improving my education, but so far it is interesting.

Rubik's cube puzzleSince symmetry underlies a lots of common games and puzzles, I expect there are some useful connections to look into and write about. I might have to do some serious homework first though. Learning something new about math (or anything else) is a bit like figuring out a puzzle; First you work hard at it, then you enjoy the payoff when you figure it out.
[Image Zedomax.com]

OK, so maybe it's not really that much fun, but I might have to try anyway.

01 March 2009

Skaph Tips and Tricks --- Part 1

I have been playing SKAPH, a browser based game for several months now, and a month has passed since I first wrote about it. Since I've been spending a lot of time playing lately, it seems like a good time to offer advice to new players. Skaph is a little bit Sim City, a little bit Civilization, and a little bit ... well ... Viking raiders greedily pillaging each other. Here are some tips for play.

Skaph game
--- Tips & Tricks ---
Skaph game resources tips tricks1) Concrete is Precious. Concrete is the most important resource in the game, and if you have enough concrete (and a bit of money) it will enable you to do anything else you want to do. Protect it, use it wisely, but most importantly use it before someone steals it from you.

Skaph game resources tips tricks2) Expand. Multiple bases are key to increasing you resource production. Build new bases as soon as you can, and put 2 or 3 concrete plants on each. You are automatically allowed a new base as you gain certain levels (3,6?,?), and you you should save some level-up choices to have enough (you need 5 each)for extra bases as you gain levels too.

Skaph game resources tips tricks3) Float Resources. Use Bogas (cargo mecha) for short-term storage of resources so that you base won't stop producing as it reaches the maximum limit. These Bogas are vulnerable to your human neighbors attacking them, but if you keep them in groups of 1 or 2, and keep them out of detection range of enemy bases. You can also send 'slow' transport/transfer mission between bases. One or two Bogas are generally undetectable, and the resources they carry are safe while in-transit. This is especially helpful for overnight (or work-day) missions; time the arrivals so the resources are there when you will next log in.

Skaph game resources tips tricks4) Transfer not transport. If you haven't noticed already, your Bogas cannot transport resources to a base once that base has reached its maximum storage (the resources just stay in the Boga for the return trip). However, you can transfer Bogas full of resources and exceed this limit. This is one thing I wish could be changed, because all it does is create busy work, forcing me to use two transfer missions in place of a single transport mission.

Skaph game base buildings tips tricks1) Be flexible. Sometimes you will want extra hangar space, other times you might need to maximize your cash production. Don't be afraid to tear down building you don't need at the moment and put up those you do. Advance Hangars and Gen Mines are conveniently the same size, and make an easy swap.

2) Plan ahead. Plan space for big things. As you progress through the research tree, you will eventually want to build a large building like the Advanced Research Facility (ARF), or Advanced Armory, which both have a 4x5 footprint (20 tiles), and the Extended Research Facility (ERF) is even bigger (6x7 = 42 tiles!). If you plan ahead where these big buildings can be built, and fill the space with buildings you can afford to tear down later, you will save yourself a lot of time and concrete. An extra concrete plant (or two) is a great choice for this, because it will help you build up your base, and tearing it down will free up most of the space you need for the big build.

Skaph game resources tips tricks1) Turn it off. If you aren't doing research currently, power down your research facility and use the power for something else, like powering Turrets and Rocket Towers.

2) Tear it down. I'm presently saving resources to research the Extended Research Facility ($10000, 2000 oil, 2000 ore, 5000 concrete). Once I had over 2200 concrete saved up, I realized that the concrete plants were maxed out and not doing anything useful. I was still very low (<500) on oil and ore, so I tore down the concrete plants and put up ore mines and oil pumps instead. This will cost me an extra mission to transfer replacement cash /concrete from another base, but will save me 4-5 missions by mining the oil/ore in-base, rather than transporting it.

[UPDATE] In part 2, I will discuss some different strategies more tips for the game (strategies in part 3).