Friday, May 27, 2011

The Monastary of Isaac the Pilgrim

In retrospect, it was almost inevitable.

When you rocket people into space, some of them won't want to come down. When you build self sustaining habitats in orbit, they won't have to. The interesting results happen when they save up enough money to buy their own habitat.

Enter the Isaac the Pilgrim. Or Isaac the Welder, as he was known during the early days of the space boom. Isaac was an early adapter; he came up the gravity well to work in space. In those days it wasn't nearly as developed, you had the options of working and sleeping. That suited Isaac just fine; he loved his welding. He'd work sixteen hours straight, take his rest and do it again for the sheer joy of it. In no time flat he's paid off his indenture. But Isaac didn't want to go back down.

Isaac had a repuation at this point; not just hard working but as the best welder in orbit. There are tricks to puddle control in a microgravity environment, tricks to wielding your torch in a spacesuit. Even in directing robots, Isaac was the best. As a free man in orbit, Isaac soon grew wealthy.

But what do you spend your money on in orbit? The entertainment industry had just started up in the floating factories (at least, more legitimate entertainment than vacuum stills and magnetized dice). But you can't sell entertainment to a man who enjoys his work that much. Isaac spent his entire life in orbit, when it came round to retirement age he wasn't going to land back on Earth. Sure there are drugs and therapies for the gravity increase, but those aren't exactly mild and Isaac was a man who loved orbit.

So he bought his own habitat. Previously they had only been available to corporations; nobody else had the money. But by this time we were well along in the space boom, the prices had come down significantly. He got an older model, in need of maintenance. But every spaceman has to know a thing or two about maintaining his habitat, and Isaac was well equipped in that regard.

I don't really know what exactly caused him to quit orbit; the rumor is it had something to do with taxes; the real estate around the Earth can be pretty pricey. But he set off for the moon in a Hohmann Transfer Orbit. From there he set out for Venus, on the Interplanetary Transit Network. Nobody had ever used that path before; it takes years to get from point to point. It's real efficient as long as you're more worried about fuel usage than time. Isaac had all the time in the cosmos.

He was about halfway to Venus before he declared it to be a hermitage; by the time he got there it was a monastay. I guess something in the lonliness of space spoke to his soul. Building from his cramped, one man capsule into a proper habitat took some material, and some labor, but was eminently possible. Spacemen are good at jury rigging, and this structure was never meant to withstand the rigors of an atmosphere. They float from planet to planet, living a lifestyle that would have been recognizeable to any medival monk. They work long hours to maintain their habitat, to keep their lifesupport running, and they spend the rest of their time in prayer.

Currently they're somewhere beyond the orbit of mars, heading towards Jupiter. If you stop by, you'll still see Isaac the Pilgrim's welded message emblazoned over the main airlock:

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord"

This post is mostly me looking for a way to use that transit network. It's a really cool idea, being able to toss things all over the solar system with very little energy involved. The trouble is, it's not going to be very useful; the only time it's practical is when you've got quite a bit more time than fuel. But if you're going to be in orbit already, and if you're already assuming heavy industry up there like I am, then you'll almost never want things that slow. Even if you're shipping in large masses of raw material from the asteroid belt a Hohmnann transfer orbit is going to be a much better compromise. So who would use it? Someone who doesn't care about time at all. And I gotta say, the idea of a monastary in the stars is pretty cool.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Joys of Looting

I like killing things and taking their stuff. This has been the basis of fantasy gaming at least ever since Arneson met Gygax. You find that 8x& room, you kill the ubiquitous orc and you take whatever it was that he left in the chest he was guarding. Imagine, for a moment, you're in a role playing game where you've finally broken into the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Do you go for the Ark like you're being paid to? No, you crack every last crate in the warehouse looking for goodies. Or at least something to pawn.

One of the basic principles of good game design is that you want to reward your players for doing something fun. Killing orcs is fun. Killing orcs and then finding gold pieces is a reward for having fun. Exploring the depths of a Soviet ICBM silo is fun. Finding a sweet new rifle when you're doing it makes you want to do it even more.

The trouble comes when the game you're playing gives you perverse incentives; it penalizes you for looting too zealously. Often times the designers do this with an appeal towards realism. Let's look at an example.

How much does gold weigh? In many games there's no limit given for how many gold coins you can carry. To an extent that's reasonable; given current prices (about $1500 an ounce) you could lug around the price of a decent house all day (vague numbers provided by courtesy of I can't be asked to look up the conversion from troy ounces.) Assuming you're dealing with lesser sums, then the gold coin you're carrying will worry you less than that full plate armor. So quite a few games take the reasonable approximation that gold doesn't weigh anything.

Of course, this easily gets silly, granted people's natural desire to loot. By the end of a game of Fallout II I'd almost invariably have a hundred thousand caps stored up. (I like looting; perhaps more than most.) On the more extreme side, when I played The Realm Online people would routinely walk around with tens of millions in gold.

Now let's say you put a little extra realism into your game design. Let's say you want gold to weigh something. I spent several hours playing Return to Krondor, which was a game that had exactly this in mind. Care to guess why I'm discussing it now? Anyhow, a single coin weighs one twentieth of a pound in that game. Once you get up to a hundred, five hundred and a thousand they automatically exchange your coins for jewels whenever you visit a shop. A diamond worth 1000 coins weighs one tenth of a pound. Well enough so far, if you'll ignore my confusion when I first encountered the mechanic. (I don't remember looting this diamond. With my gold reserves I'm rich! Hey; where'd they go?")

The trouble arose when they sent me on a mission up the coast. I spent a while wandering around in the wild, gathering beaten up bits of armor and such to sell off, and grabbing a dozen coins from each bandit that I met. Unfortunately, there isn't a shop on the entirety of the coast. So not only was I desperately lugging around all kinds of loot that I didn't strictly need, I had amassed about a thousand gold pieces. That's fifty pounds of weight, necessarily restricting my abilities to loot other things. What's worse, combat speed is based partly off of how much weight you're carrying, so by picking up all those gold coins I'm making myself less and less able to fend off those bandits that I want to loot so very very much.

And that's the crux of the issue; by giving me several options, all of which frustrate me (kill efficiently but abandon any loot; loot as much as I can but waddle through combat), the game makes itself annoying to play. That's not something you want to do as a designer.

Friday, May 20, 2011

L' Axis & Allies (Turn 5 Continued)

Coming back to the game after the night, we return to Japan's turn. If you're just arriving, click back through the blog until you get to a post not instructing you to click back through the blog.

The main news of the day is the reentry of Zerg_Rush on the allied side.


Japan has a Korean invasion to take care of, and various fleets. And plenty of ground forces in china to pick off.

Japan sends it's land units to hit the remaining Chinese forces. This leaves Japan (after a successful battle) with two tanks on the border with Russia, opening up some traditional Russia ganking for next turn. Doesn't work nearly as well this game since Siberia just doesn't have the IPCs it used to. Even so, the allies on the mainland are merely treading water until Japan finishes them off. Japan still has a stream of tanks being produced on the mainland, while Britain East can manage three infantry every two turns.

In the sea, the Japanese fleet by the Phillipines swings down and hits the ANZAC submarines. This will force the American fleet down to Australian waters or the allies will sacrifice the ANZAC transports.

The Japanese fleet retakes the sea of Japan and Korea with very few casualties. If the game lasts another turn things will happen, interesting things in this game.

Britain (West)

In Africa, the Sudanese army attacks Cairo. The Italians mount a successful defense, surviving with only one fighter.

Britain launched simultaneous sea assaults on Normandy, Denmark and Holland. The assaults are successful.

Britain (East)

Purchases a transport. Moves it's ground units into the Shen state.


ANZAC does a fighters sweep on the Japanese fleet; loses four fighters, kills a destroyer and a submarine.


Italy gets one hit, the American infantry hit twice. The Axis is unable to retake the Italian capital in anything like a reasonable time. Next turn America can upgrade the factory and build three tanks. The turn after that it's ten tanks, and continuously until Germany is utterly boned as well.

At this point, with the axis powers unable to shut off a stream of American tanks in Europe, the Axis concedes.

Japan is in a very good position; it's able to keep America at a standstill while finishing off it's other enemies. It's in position to take Hawaii, or land a tank in Alaska, or so forth. Britain built a transport outside India, but Japan would be able to wipe out any British units they could put on it. Japan has a couple tanks which can start ganking Russian back country. It can ignore the Russian troops retaking China for a turn or two; Russia isn't getting any IPCs from it and chinese infantry aren't much of a threat.

ANZAC still gets it's 15 IPCs a turn, but ANZAC has been spectacularly unsuccessful at turning those IPCs into a meaningful contribution to the war effort. The subs were unsuccessful, the transports were going to sink easy, and then it'd still be two turns before they could do anything. again.

Russia remains a tough nut to crack. Failing a Japanese ganking of Siberia, it'll take about eight turns for Germany to crack Moscow, which is entirely too long.

The British invasion of Holland, Denmark and Norway would refocus some German resources on the atlantic wall, but ultimately wouldn't be enough without the Yanks taking out Italy. The Africa campaign was stalling, which is about where they wanted it to be.

In the end, the gamestate devolved into several hold the line operations. Russia attempts to hold the line until Germany gets hit at Normandy. Germany attempts to hold the line at Normandy until it can take out Russia. Britain holds the line in Africa until the Americans can launch the operation Torch. Japan was trying to hold the line until it could gank the rest of the pacific countries. It looked like it the Axis were in a winning position, seeing as the Japanese ganking was the most successful on the board, as well as one of the better line holdings.

The axis was winning until the US got lucky with two attacking infantry killing two defending infantry. "I approve of dramatic reversals, but when a single lucky roll wins you the game from a generally losing position it makes for a bad day."

L'B'n Axis & Allies (Turn 5)

Our All day Axis and Allies Extravaganza continues. If you're just getting here, I'd suggest you start from the beginning. Like that part in the Wizard of Oz, where they have to go to the exact center of the spiral and follow it all the way out. I mean, I can see the road ten feet to my left. Maybe if I took a little shortcut I'll be free of singing munchkins that much sooner. But no. Gotta skip on through the whole spiral. Even when I was freaking five that made no sense to me. I tell ya.


Oh, right, Axis and Allies. On to turn 5


Germany's concerned with the giant stack of Russian infantry marching east through the Ukraine. In a turn or two, they might hit the German heartland of Poland and start mucking up the place. Russia gets a 6 IPC bonus for each German territory they control, which means that Germany can't do the same defense in depth thing the Russians master. Barbarossa proposes his strategy of buying stacks of infantry to deal with this. Seeing as it's his exact same strategy for everything, I'm not surprised. I talk him into some tanks. I like tanks.

Speaking of Tanks, Germany's northern army is dancing around, taking out single Russian soldiers, trying to get into a position to either gank Russia's Siberian IPCs or make a decisive assault on Muscovy.


Russia lost it's fighter in a fighter sweep, it buys another along with it's traditional stack of infantry. It's southern Army proceeds into Western Poland, sending a squad to take back Southern Ukraine.

In China, Russia splits it's infantry, attempting to liberate as much Chinese territory as it can.


Japan is in an interesting spot. Britain has a number of units it can't really replace. China has a number of infantry it can't really replace. Russia is bringing in infantry it can't really replace. Japan is largely constrained by only being able to manufacture three tanks a turn. I expect I'll take them all out eventually, but in the meantime the who and when is interesting.

This just in, Game postponed until the morrow.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Li''Bl''''n' Axis & Allies (Turn 4)

Behold! Turn 4 is upon us. This is in my continuing series of blowing up the world in Axis and Allies. Start from the beginning. Or not; I'm not the boss of you.

Germany (insert allies comments) SUCKS!!

Er... yeah. Apparently Napoleon has cracked the Enigma code.

Germany purchases yet more vast stacks of Infantry. It's task this turn is to take as much Russian territory as it can. This is complicated by the Russian vast stacks of infantry. It's launching simultaneous assaults on Karelia, Archangel, Eastern Poland, the Ukraine and blitzing through Vyborg. Oh, and the British pulled their tank out of Norway for use in Normandy, so they're sending someone to pick that up again. The Russians are going to lose infantry, and land, but they'll have more time, and they've got more infantry to back things up.

After much contemplation, the Luftwaffe doesn't attack the remnants of the combined French and Brit fleet in the Mediterranean. Also, the rules regarding convoys are discussed. If we're lucky we'll get an angry blog post about it by Barbarossa sometime soon.

The news from front is good; Russia failed to kill a single unit.


Russia bypasses the southern German army entirely, marches into Ukraine. Possibly this allows Germany to march right past into Stalingrad. On the other hand, it threatens a Russian stab into the German heartland (Poland). On the Eastern side, the first Russian soldiers have rounded Mongolia and struck Japanese soldiers in Kansu. Russia places it's hordes on Moscow.


Japan apparently miscalculated; since America controls the Caroline Islands the Japanese fleet can't get all the way to the sea of Japan to fight the dregs of the last American fleet. This gives Japan pause. It makes it's traditional fleet purchase, but still needs to kill the Yanks, now. On the mainland, it doesn't quite have enough forces to attack Calcutta yet, and the Chinese have taken residence in parts of China originally controlled by Japan. They weren't even invited.

Japan postpones it's finishing off of Britain (East), pulls it's units and fleet back, where the sun comes up like thunder inter China cross the bay. It also sends land units in to take those british tanks out of Yunnan and the Burma road. It launches a pair of fighters off of it's caroline islands carrier and it's four bombers, which go and take out the aforementioned American fleet. Two fighters are lost, compared to a tilted battleship, a carrier and a fighter. The Chinese are put down rather permanently at the loss of one infantry, and a critical tank was lost in Yunnan. Russia is sending in a fresh supply of infantry, so the fight for China is by no means over, but I remain optimistic.

Japan places three more tanks on French Indochina, three destroyers and a battleship in the Sea of Japan, and collects at 66.

Britain (East)

Britain east moves all it's units up to Burma. It places it's one infantry into Calcutta. Seven IPCs to spend next turn.

Britain (West)

Blitzes through French Equatorial Africa, hits the Italian in the Sudan. In Europe they attempted to invade Normandy again, but the combine Italio-Hunnic force pushed them off at great losses. Still holding strong.

There's going to be another battle for Cairo soon; it's anyone's guess as to who is going to win it. Britain has three tanks, two infantry and an artillery piece. Italy has two mechanized infantry, two tanks and two fighters.


ANZAC purchases two transports. Some noncombat movements happen, the submarine fleet is hanging out by their naval base. Notably, it's only three spaces from the Phillipines.


Much debate is going on over Italy's purchasing. I'm arguing strongly for an aggressive Africa campaign; three tanks. Barbarossa is arguing strongly for putting more infantry on Normandy (it's been working pretty well so far). Additionally, there's an American transport with two infantry that's threatening to land somewhere in Italy or Southern France. We settle on a tank and two mechanized infantry in Cairo, three infantry (and a factory repair; the Americans had been industrial bombing) in Normandy, and leaving only just enough in Italy to fend off invasion.

Italy's assault on Yugoslavia results in three immediate hits and no casualties. Guess switching British opponents into French ones worked.

Italy takes Persia from the British as well. In two turns that might mean something.


America buys another fleet, this one with a stack of cruisers and of destroyers. Presumably eventually it'll settle on a mix it likes. It sends it's fleet in to invade Korea. After an extensive battle wherein six destroyers over four rounds hit a combined total of once, the invasion succeds.

In a last ditch effort, their eastern fleet attacks two infantry with two infantry, in Rome.

Two hits. No losses. Holy crap! Rome has fallen!


Has one infantry, collects three IPCs. Spends it's fifteen, places it's five in the extreme backwaters of China.


France is down to exactly one province. It still has a fleet, and a couple men in Africa. Oh, and that one sucker who got evacuated from Dunkirk. Who's been sipping wine in a London cafe all war long. Hasn't even been a blitz. The height of French military achievement.

At the end of Turn 4, Napoleon is suggesting that maybe the Allies are finished. Granted that Britain (East), China and ANZAC don't have much force, even combined, and Granted that the U.S.A is far away from invading Japan, there's some doubt that they can go on. On the other hand, that surprise invasion of Rome might change things.

liveblogg'n Axis And Allies (Turn 2 Continued)

Continuing turn 2, after the break

We take up again with


Anzac purchases nothing. Anzac marches its units into the outback, and some across New Guinea. Anzac collects at full, with all bonuses intact, has 31 IPCs saved up. Enough to buy a new fleet next turn. ANZAC passes.


Italy invades Greece, six at one and one at three against four at two. Italy invades normandy, fighting off the british invaders. Italy masses in Cairo, attempting to push the british out of N. Africa entirely. After a bloody but not especially bad battle Italy is reduced to just it's tanks and mechanized infantry and airforce. Greece fights poorly, the Italians kill everyone and suffer no losses; really it's not their fault; the Italians invaded during August and nobody in Europe works in August, least of all the Greek army. Besides, their senior command was all over 5o and therefore retired.

Due to it's aggressive campaign of conquest, Italy is up to 26 IPCs from a start of 10. Amazing.


The US spends it's prodigious wealth on building a newer, more modern fleet of victory ships. The U.S. fleet in Pearl harbor takes out a pair of unaccompanied submarines around the Caroline Islands. It lands troops from Brazil into subsaharan Africa, taking French colonial territories.


China goes out on a limb here, builds some artillery seeing as the Burma Road is still open. They make a raid on the Nipponese lines, but mostly just build up in Yunnan, attempting to hold the Burma Road open.


Bold military action-- in this case defined as anything that isn't surrendering. It's fleet attacks the newly placed Italian destroyers, exchanging one for two. It's infantry in Algeria attack Tunisia, losing one and retreating.

The Second turn is Ended.

Li'blah'n' Axis and Allies (Turn 3)

We continue, with Germany's turn.

Germany builds masses and masses of men. About 15. Germany is hunkering down for an extended siege by the allies. Quite a bit of their battle plan depends on how the battle of Leningrad goes.

The Battle of Leningrad
Germany's side:
16 infantry
4 Artillery
11 Tanks
2 fighters
3 tactical bomber
1 bomber
12 at 1, 8 at 2, 13 at 3, 4 at 4, and bombards at 3 and 4

19 infantry
1 artillery
3 tanks
1 tactical bomber
2 fighters
20 at 2, 4 at 3, 2 at 4, and 6 antiaircraft

Bombard misses both shots, antiaircraft takes down one fighter.
First round: Germany rolls poorly, inflicts ten casualties. Russia rolls well, inflicts eleven hits.
Second round: Germany rolls about average, inflicts ten casualties. Russia rolls well, inflicts seven casualties.
Third round: Germany finishes Russia off, which gets three more hits.

Barbarossa declares a heroic victory, having lost all his infantry but only one of his tanks. His forces in Poland march into the Ukraine, pushing through minor resistance. Germany stacks it's men, collects it's Leningrad bonus (5 IPCs I believe) and stacks men up like cordwood.


Russia's honor has been savaged. More importantly, it's armies. Russia is so distracted by it's buys it doesn't notice me stealing it's eggroll. That's what I mean by total war.

Russia goes to trade land for space again, spreading it's infantry out into one man in every country it can reach thereabouts, defense in depth. It's lone tank, representing what's left of it's striking power, goes south with a mass of infantry to head off Germany's southern force.

In a bold maneuver, Russia has purchased two more tanks and a fighter, along with it's infantry. We'll see if it pays off.


Japan has to deal with an American Fleet around the Carolines, and push back China. China has massed seven infantry, an artillery piece and it's flying tigers in Yunnan. I'd dearly like to take them out, but I've only got one infantry and one artillery piece as ground units in range. Japan would also like to take Malaysia and the Shen State (again). This turn boils down to two critical battles; the battle in Yunnan and the American fleet:

Against Yunnan, I focus my paltry two ground units and the mass of the airforce; eight fighters and five tactical bombers. China hits three times, Japan loses two fighters and an infantry, leaving an artillery piece there to take the province. This probably breaks china's back, as they'll have a hard time keeping the Burma road open from this point.

On the fleet side, Japan takes four destroyers, two submaries, a carrier, two fighters and four bombers from the mainland against the American fleet. A submarine, a destroyer, a cruiser, a carrier with a tactical bomber and a fighter and a battleship defend two transports. Japan rolls well, hitting with all four bombers. In the carnage, America lost it's destroyer, so Japan's surviving submarine has first strike again. The submarine gets a surprise hit in, sinks the battleship being the only remaining sea unit, and the fighter is shot down. Net cost to Japan: two destroyers.

Even more than the material costs, this victory is important as America doesn't have any more transports nearer than San Fransisco. It'll take them at least two turns to put more pressure on Japan, even if they do massacre that Japanese fleet. Napoleon has already suggested that that might be a turning point in the war.

Japan places two carriers and a destroyer in the Sea of Japan. Four already extant planes land on them. Japan also places three tanks on it's factory in French Indochina.

Britain (East)

Britain sends two tanks and it's remaining airforce to reopen the Burma road. While it succeds, with no casualties, it's two tanks are stranded out where Japan's new tanks can hit them.

Britain east collects at five. Japan collected at 64. Odd don't look good for them.

Britain (West)

On the Afrika campaign, Britain cosolidates it's South African troops in the Belgian Congo, presumably to lend them a hand down there. It's transport lands a man in French Madagascar, for that one critical IPC. Britain attempts a sea landing in Normandy, gets beaten back bloody, taking out three german infantry while losing four units of their own. Despite the Italian advances in Africa, their colonialism efforts leave Britain at +3 IPCs


ANZAC saved up it's IPCs from last turn. Uses same to purchase five subs. It has no other military actions in which it can engage.


Italy has a suspicously large amount of resources. Italy's frontiers have expanded to the point where they're going to have problems fighting past the guards on their new borders. As such they're consolidating in Cairo. An attempt to finish off the men in Yugoslavia failed due to stiff resistance. Looks like they'll try again next turn.

To ensure victory, they changed the neutral units from british representation to french.


The U.S.A has to deal mostly with the problem of the Japanese fleet. It buys another fleet. This one with half a dozen submarines. It's Hawaii fleet attacks the carrier group off of Japan, sustaining heavy losses. Significantly, it's pacific bombers are removed. Seeing as Japan has no transports in range, it moves it's pacific fleet up to the ocean outside of Japan (not yet the same sea zone), and places yet another fleet on the San Fransisco coast.


China purchases four infantry, places them on it's newly acquired seaside vistas in Kiansu. Kwangsi. Kwiansu. Whatever; the one directly north of Hong Kong.


Thanks to British and American predation, France is down to exactly two territories, from which it would collect two IPCs, if it had a capital. Which it doesn't.

An inauspicious turn for the allies, but the war is far from lost. Join us next time, in Turn 4.

Livebloggin Axis and Allies! (Turn 2)

This is the second turn of the game. It's suggested you read the first turn posted just previously.


Germany spends some of it's French largesse buying transports. The German advances come in two directions; hitting Normandy, the last French holdout on the continent, and hitting the Baltic States. Entirely too much force is used taking the Baltic states, but it pretty much guarantees that Leningrad falls next turn. Updates as the situation warrants.


At this point Zerg_Rush has gone home to sleep, or possibly play Warcraft. Napoleon takes over.

Russia pours everything it has into defending Leningrad. This should be interesting. Russia buys stacks of infantry elsewhere, but the coming battle will likely leave both armies depleted of forces along the front. Germany also has a stack of infantry that won't be able to make it, which might make a stab towards Stalingrad, or be brought north as well.


Japan's main problem now is that the American Fleet, congregated around Hawaii, can reach the Japanese Mainland should it so choose. It can also reach Korea, which has led to defeat in previous games. America hits Korea, Japan has no troops to retake it, America builds factory there, America builds tanks there. America Upgrades factory, America builds even more tanks, Japan can't stop it. So it's imperative for Japan to head off an attempt. As such, even though japan has a significant fleet it spends 30 IPCs on a carrier, a submarine and a destroyer, which will help it fend off a possible fleet engagement. It also purchases an industrial complex for French Indochina and mainland production.

The Japanese fleet successfully lands troops on Indonesia, Java and Borneo, for twelve IPCs and the 5 IPC bonus for the co-prosperity sphere. The British Fleet, On the coast of Burma, gets destroyed. China has it's units bunched into Yunnan, which Japan doesn't have the ground forces to attack. On the other hand, it doesn't have much elswhere in China, and those units get slaughtered. ANZAC loses it's destroyer and transport to a pair of subs, inflicting no casualties.

Britain (West)

The transport from the mediterranean moves a unit from Britain into Normandy, while the transport in Britain enacts operation Jupiter. The man marching from West India makes it to Persia. Couple IPCS, and infantry on the back end of nowhere. The battle for Africa is shaping up with Italy poised to strike Cairo from three directions. We'll see. More tanks placed on S. Africa, More transports and transport fodder in Britain proper.

Britain (East)

Their soldiers relentlessly march back into the Shen state, driving out the lone Japanese defender. Aggressor. It's hard to tell when it gets as much fighting and conquering as that territory does. In a bloody and desperate defense the lone Samurai destroys three british fighters. A single infantryman is moved over to Africa, into Italian Somalia. Much debate is poured into whether or not to send the airforce against the Japanese fleet, with the end result that they go for it. Britain loses a destroyer and two fighters, taking out a tactical bomber and tilting a carrier. A net victory for Japan.

Britain places more ground forces in India, including two tanks, and passes turn. A brief intermission occurs.

Liveblogging Axis and Allies!

We've been working ourselves into a frenzy over Axis and Allies over here. Today we're playing it. And I intend to chronicle it here.

Dramatis Personae:

Barbarossa, playing Germany and Italy
Zerg_Rush, playing Russia and France briefly.
Havoc Jack (myself) playing Japan
Napoleon, playing Britain, ANZAC, the U.S.A, China, and the other allied powers after Zerg_Rush bows out.

There's much confusion as to who exactly is going to play what power this game. Barbarossa shotguns Germany, starts planning attacks, and it's only after his turn that we finally figure out who all is playing what all else.


Germany is reaching out to consume all it can, much like Barbarossa himself reaches accross the table for the last slice of pizza. He's doing the traditional Germany-attacks-everything-it-possibly-can manuever, which worked out so well in the original war.
The unterseaboat fleet has joined with the Luftwaffe to destroy the British fleet, which goes well for the krauts, except for the battle in the north Seas. Britain's battleship and cruiser survived, sinking the submarines and gunning down one fighter. On the Russian side, the German battleship and cruiser sink the Russian battleship. War is declaired on Russia.

On the land, Germany marched into Paris, over heavy losses. The Panzers survive, the one Stuka is allowed to live despite never getting a hit off even though it rolled at 4 all battle. Germany offers an abortive invasion into Yugoslavia, mostly as a ploy to move troops. The rules have a bit of a sticky spot that you can retreat into any country you invaded from. so by attacking Yugoslavia with troops from rumania and Greater Southern Germany, you can retreat all your infantry to Rumania, effectivly giving them two spaces of movement. Clever, suspect, but legal. Russia gets hit in Eastern Poland, losing it's three infantry with no casualties inflicted.

In the noncombat phase, Germany takes over finland for the troops and IPCs. Notably, it leaves Bulgaria alone, for the Italians.

On the other side of the board Japan and Russia negotiate a treaty, without any help from Teddy Roosevelt.
Be it hereby resolved:
Russia will make no move of aggression against peace-loving Japan and their colonies in Korea and Manchuria. In exchange for not keeping the Korean wives up at night for fear of Soviet rapine, Japan has courteously agreed not to send expeditionary forces into Amur, Siberia or the Soviet Far East.
Undersigned Havoc Jack for the Empire of Japan
Napoleon for the C.C.C.P

Effectively, this border is sealed. note that it's entirely possible for battle to be engaged accross the Chinese border, or even the border with Persia, should troops of either side get there.


Russia engages in it's traditional strategy of exchanging land for time. They leave just enough infantry to stop a German panzer blitz, and reinforce Leningrad. Russia places infantry, three on Leningrad the rest on Moscow. Russia buckles down and waits for winter.


Japan also engages in the traditional Axis strategy of attacking like a wolverine let out of a burlap sack; everything and everyone at once. Except for Russia. Inroads are made into China, the burma road is split at Yunnan (at the loss of two infantry), and the Phillipines is hit with the combined might of the Japanese Navy. It goes poorly for the allied troops. Japan loses two infantry in the ground invasion though. French Indochina and the Shen state get trampled, and the infantry from the Carolines and Palau Island are landed on Celebes. Some quick slaughter, and Japan places the three transports it purchased just outside of Japan.

These actions bring the U.S.A into the war early. It's questionable that that's the right move, seeing as the U.S. gets a 30 IPC bonus for being at war, but given that they'll be building up war resources anyway (it's amazing how aggressive you can be while still technically being neutral), the consensus is that we hit them hard and now.


In the East:
Britain moves it's transports out to place units in the Southeast Asia Co Prosperity Sphere, taking Java and Indonesia from the innocent dutch. Otherwise, it's land units go to retake the Shen state, without incident. Places a tank, two men and an artillery piece in India

In the West:
Britain attempts to sail a cruiser over a submarine, argues that sea units can pass over submarines. The rules are consulted: "Sea units must stop movement as soon as they enter a hostile sea zone." Britain replots it's naval maneuvers. Further rules are consulted; Submarines alone don't stop naval movement, but they would get a pot shot if he moved a transport with them. I confess this is a section of the rules I was entirely ignorant of. A lone German sub occupies the sea zone off of wales, is being assaulted.

Germany has left a single fighter in Holland. Britain sends the R.A.F on a fighter sweep. They hit the fighter without losing any of their own. Painful.

Britain also does the traditional beating up of the Italian fleet. The Italians traditionally die horribly. One British destroyer is lost, to an Italian cruiser and Battleship. Much frustration is heard from Barbarossa.

Britain withdraws from Alexandria, defends Cairo. Places Tank, man, artillery piece in S. Africa, two destroyers in Britain.


ANZAC feels the pressure. It purchases two infantry and one artillery piece, to defend the homeland. It sends a lone fighter out to hit the lone Jap destroyer in the carolines successfully. He moves troops down to New Guinea, in hopes of taking Dutch New Gunea and his 5 IPC bonus next turn.


Italy starts in a bind, having lost the better part of it's fleet and inflicted very light casualties. It goes for a desperation attack against the British Fleet. Two fighters, a destroyer and a cruiser against a cruiser, a carrier a fighter and a tactical bomber. The fighting in S. Europe is being postponed until troops from Bulgaria arrive. S. france is being attacked by 4 at 2 against 2 at 2. Italy lands an invasion force in Syria, masses in Alexandria. And sends two infantry against one in Tunisia and the Sudan.

"Hey! It worked!"
The feared Italian battle cry. Against odds and consistent Italian sucking, Italy takes out the Mediterranean Brits. Their other aggressions in Africa and the Middle east go well. Italy places it's purchased infantry, artillery into northern Italy. Lands it's planes in Tobruk.

U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A.!
(Sorry, force of habit)


The Doolittle raids are a success; Japan failed to notice that the American bomber could launch from Hawaii, hit the transports in the sea of Japan, and land on Midway. (And by "Japan", I mean me. I; I failed to notice.) They move their fleet up to Hawaii, place some new carriers, and pass turn to...


China spends 12 IPCs, purchases four infantry. China attacks Yunnan, attempting to retake the Burma road. The attack is successful. China places it's infantry into Yunnan, and one into Hunan.


Moving on...

To be continued

Monday, May 16, 2011

Markov Chains

Today we're going to talk about gaming theory. What we're going to do is try to solve games, or small portions of them. Some games can be solved completely. This isn't necessarily true with other games; either because they're computationally too difficult to master, or because there are elements which can't easily be reduced to equations. By and large though, I'm not interested in completely solving games; when you have a computer that will play the game for you then necessarily you're not playing the game, which isn't an outcome I'd like to end with. So I'm only going to attempt to solve bits of games.

We start with RISK. If I take one soldier and attack one soldier, what are my odds of winning? Two dice are rolled, one attacking and one defending. this gives us 36 possible outcomes:

Every (vertical) pair of dice gives you one possible pair of rolls. Each of these pairs has the same chance of occurring, and each one defines a winner on that roll. As ties go to the defender, everything on that center line (and everything below it) constitutes a kill for the defender, and everything above it a kill for the attacker. So your gladiator has a 15/36 (about 42%) chance of winning, and a 21/36 (about 58%) chance of dieing gloriously and pointlessly.

So there you go; pure math has taught you the same thing that you knew instinctively about 30 seconds after playing your first game of RISK. And it only took several times as long. If you're so inclined, you can work out similar dice arrays for 2v1, 3v1, 2v2 and 3v2 battles. It'll take you a while though. But you'll still be left with problems; what happens if you have seven attacking five? It won't be over in just one round, so you'll be left with a new problem. And you can't exactly map out a dice array to number that. Well, you could, but it'd get incredibly large and complicated. So to do things properly, we'd have to resort to the math.

No no, come back! I promise I'll only describe the math! Please?

The solution is to use Markov chains. It's a way of diagramming out these sequences of probabilistic events. Here, let me show you one:

Russian Roulette; a classicer example there isn't. Every time you spin your chamber you've got a one in six chance of finding the bullet with your name on it. As long as you don't, you stay in the alive state, once you do, you transfer to the dead state. Once you're dead, you don't go back to the alive state. Unless you're Hindu. And right. But back on track here, you can set up a matrix with representations of your states and the probability of transfer from one to the next, and use that matrix to answer questions. Questions like "How long will I keep spinning this damn revolver before something interesting happens?" Or more germane to the blog, questions like "If I invade Siam, will I win the battle and how many guys will I have left over afterwards?" That's the sort of answer that can help you win games.

So get out your graphing calculators and-- Just kidding. I won't make you do any of the math. The short version is that the numbers work out the same for most values of attacking and defending; you're favored on the attack when you're rolling all three dice, and that you want to hit single unit defenders as often as possible. In general, you'll lose one unit for every defending unit you kill when they're rolling two dice. Oh, and bring as many armies in as you can manage so you don't get pushed below three dice.

Again, these aren't that useful of revelations. You probably figured most of them out on your own playing the game. I mean, attack when you are strong where he is weak? That's out of frikken Sun Tzu. The really useful one is the losing one for one bit. I mean, I get that impression playing the game, but I only trust my impressions so far. So having actual numbers helps me plan that sort of battle accordingly. But the theory ought to give more interesting results in a different context. Say, Axis and Allies.

Talking with Barbarossa we discussed two hypothetical battles tonight.

1) Russia uses it's transport to sneak attack Germany: Battleship bombard, infantry, tank and fighter against three tanks. Who wins? How many units die?
2) Germany attacks a British cruiser and battleship with two subs, a fighter and a tactical bomber. What are the odds that Germany gets out of it without losing any air units?

And on and on. The major conflict of the game is based on stretching your resources as far as they can go without bursting them. (Oh, and storywise a little altercation called the Second World War) So if you could make and solve a matrix for these battles you could figure out much more precisely your odds, and hopefully give yourself an edge in future games.

I say that generally, because so far my attempts at building an algorithm have come to naught; there are vastly more potential game states with a given number of Axis and Allies units than with the homogenous RISK units.

I'll let you know if I figure anything out.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Let Slip the Dice of War

Since the proprietor of this blog couldn't be bothered to update in a couple months, that apparently means it's time for me to make my debut on the Awesome Games blog. For blog purposes, you can call me Barbarossa, seeing as how that's who I was in my first appearance As was stated there, Havoc Jack and I have been gaming for nearly a decade and a half now, and while I wouldn't claim to have nearly as much gaming experience as he has I've certainly got my share.

Today I'm going to talk about Axis and Allies, the 1940 variant in particular which is really the only game I've been talking about for the past month or so. It's quite likely that this will actually take up two posts, one in which I discuss the games already played, and another based on strategies I'll employ in later games.

Axis and Allies is a venerable franchise of games representing, hopefully obviously World War II. We've played the original, revised, Europe and Pacific editions, and are currently playing the 1940 variant, which in addition to starting roughly a year and a half (I believe the original editions started around 1942) introduces several new units and strategies to the game, as well as actually being split up into Europe and Pacific theaters, which can be combined to form the Global map. (I'd also like to say that my record at the previous editions was fairly solid, and that I am also to my knowledge the only person in our gaming group who has won as Germany in the original A&A Europe. It's entirely possible that victory was due to poor luck on the Russian player's part than my good strategy, but I digress.)

Moving on, two of the other innovations in the 1940 edition include the fact that not all nations are at war when the game starts, and income bonuses based on meeting certain objectives, particularly the United States gaining an extra 30 IPCs per turn when at war. The desire not to have the US gain those extra IPCs, as well as Germany not attacking Russia immediately would be our downfall in the first game, as leaving them alone gave them time to build up too many forces for us to break.

In the second game, the Axis leaders (myself and Havoc Jack) did some pregame strategizing, and eliminated many of our errors from the first game. Germany attacked Russia immediately, losing one of their bonuses but gaining it back in land taken, as well as pushing them back and knocking out their more fortified border territories. The U-boat fleet was able to disrupt British shipping, and France (unfortunately, this game does include France as a playable nation) fell immediately. On the other side of the world, Japan moved into China, took out the US in the Philippines, and took out most of the Royal Navy and ANZAC forces. ...Italy? They were busy failing, as usual. In the two games I've played and one or two others I've heard of, Italy has done terribly in all of them. I don't know if I'd say it was entirely due to my poor dice rolling as Italy that we lost, but it certainly didn't help. After Italy lost terribly in an opening sea battle in the Mediterranean, and then failed to take Cairo, the UK had resources free to mount a successful amphibious assault on Normandy. Even though Germany had captured both Stalingrad and Leningrad, Japan's general lack of ground troops as well as real-world time limitations meant that we had to negotiate a partial surrender.

So, what lessons did we learn? First, if you're playing as the Axis, you have to hit hard and fast. In the first game, waiting to attack Russia meant that I never came close to seeing Stalingrad or Leningrad, where in the second game I was able to take them both. With Japan, the fear of the US gaining extra income in the first game meant that they were played in a cowardly fashion, allowing not only the US but the UK and ANZAC to be in a much stronger position when the attack finally occurred. In the second game, Japan was doing much better, although lack of ground troops and certain unlikely die outcomes were painful.

Secondly, to focus on your goal. The win condition for the Axis is to control 14 victory cities, and it's necessary to determine which are easiest to take and hold. Additionally, make sure you have enough forces to accomplish said goal, as referenced above, Japan had too few ground troops to take and/or hold the territory they were attempting to conquer.

Third, though not applicable to everyone: try to plan around Italy's failings and get them to be as worthwhile a nation as possible. As I said during the second game, Germany can deal with Russia easily, and if things go well, even hold off the UK, but that's it. With Italy threatening the UK's position in Africa, the Germans would have an easier time fending off their amphibious assaults.