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Posts posted by jalefkowit

  1. On 2/3/2018 at 5:12 PM, CaptainKoloth said:

    I played Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space. Or At least, tried to. It was horrendously, horribly broken in its design and execution.  It was essentially impossible to win. For example, your first flight of a man into orbit might have a 10% chance of success if you didn’t launch an unammed mission first. Chance of success if you did? 11%. If you did have a failure the reliability of your vehicles plummeted dramatically rendering recovery from such failures basically impossible. The concept was good but as a game it was just odious. 


    This was not my experience :-D

    I loved BARIS! Loved it to death. It was a game with a Big Idea, which was that manned spaceflight is much more dangerous than you think, and (IMO) it did a great job of communicating that while still remaining fun and playable.


    The whole game was built around a relatively simple structure. There was a series of missions that you had to successfully accomplish in order to get to the moon, starting with launching an unmanned satellite and working up all the way to a full manned moon landing. You had to choose space hardware to get you through each step, and develop an astronaut corps with the skill to operate that hardware. And each time a space vehicle completed a mission successfully its reliability would increase, making future missions with that hardware a little safer.


    That was important, because each mission had multiple stages -- launch! orbit! extravehicular activity! docking! lunar insertion! lunar orbit! lunar landing! lunar EVA! lunar extraction! re-entry! -- and each stage involved a die roll against the safety factor of the hardware you were using. So you could have a vehicle with an 80% safety factor and think "wow, that seems pretty solid," only to realize that there were going to be a dozen d100 rolls against that safety factor in a single mission, and suddenly 80% doesn't sound so reliable anymore. And if a mission failed -- and it only took one failed roll to fail the entire mission -- the safety factor of that hardware would fall through the floor. So the challenge was to use each set of hardware just enough to build up its safety factor to a point where it can make it through all the dice rolls you need it to make it through, without doing one mission more than you needed to, since each mission was basically a crapshoot. The result was that every mission was a nail-biter, as you prayed that you hadn't pushed ahead too far too fast.


    There were also big-picture, budgetary decisions to make. You have a budget, given to you by the political Powers That Be, and that budget tracks the ongoing success of your program. So if you're doing well you'll have plenty of money, so much money that you can consider things like doing for a direct-ascent moon landing using the gargantuan Nova rocket. And if you're not doing well, you find yourself willing to take on more and more risk to try and turn things around. Maybe it's worth trying to go all the way to the moon in a two-man Gemini capsule, which you've already developed and teched up to a respectable safety rating, rather than starting from scratch with the three-man Apollo. Or maybe it's worth abandoning disposable capsules altogether and going with a reusable mini-shuttle, which will have a higher up-front cost but save you money with each consecutive mission. There are a lot of these kind of big strategic choices to make, and they're all crunchy and satisfying.


    If this all sounds interesting, I'd encourage you to try out the game yourself. The rights to it reverted to the developers in the mid-2000s, and they generously open sourced the whole thing, so a version that will run on modern Windows machines without a hitch is just a click or two away. (And the source code is on Github, if you want to root around in its guts.) It's not a perfect game -- a few missteps early on can crush your budget, for instance, making it more practical to just give up and restart than to try and soldier on -- but it rewards patience and teaches some important lessons about just how many risks both the US and USSR ran in their pursuit of lunar glory.

  2. Great show, and count me as another +1 for bringing Matthew back in future.


    I've been looking forward to a 3MA discussion of RtW myself, and now that we have one I found it quite satisfying. The one thing I thought the panel overlooked was that much of RtW's appeal comes from managing a resource that strategy games generally don't make very good use of, which is time. So much of the tension in a game of RtW comes down to questions of timing. Another power is acting belligerently towards me -- do I take them on now, or wait to build up my fleet further, knowing they're getting stronger every day too? I've just unlocked a new fire-control technology -- do I build a new class of battleships around it, knowing that it'll take three or four years for that new class to come off the ways, or do I just retrofit it to my old BBs and wait for more techs to unlock? I've just won a far-away new colonial possession -- do I station a squadron there, cutting those ships out of my main battle fleet, or do I keep the home fleet strong and hope that if war comes the colony can hold out for the four or five months it could take for reinforcements to reach them? That sort of thing.


    When the game serves up Sid Meier-style "interesting decisions," more often than not they're decisions about when to do something.

  3. Count me as another person who has found Twilight Struggle inaccessible. In fact I've now found it inaccessible twice! A few years back, I picked up a copy of the tabletop version after hearing so many raves about it; tried to play it a few times with a gaming buddy who was also new to it, and we repeatedly bounced off it pretty hard. Now the PC version comes out, I pick that up on a whim thinking maybe I'll finally learn how to play, but even after playing through the tutorial several times and trying a few games against the AI I still find myself at sea.


    It's frustrating, because I know there must be a good game in there -- so many smart gamers can't be wrong! But I've never been able to get far enough past all the rules and mechanisms to find it. I get the sense from the podcast that this is one of those games that works best if you have an experienced player on hand to show you the ropes.


    Although I have to ask why you expect a game to teach you strategy in addition to the rules.


    I don't expect it to teach me every nuance of the strategic model -- half the fun of a strategy game is figuring out those on your own. What would be nice, though, was if I had some sense after playing the tutorial of what sorts of things would make for a good move on the first round. I have to start by placing alignment points, for instance -- what are the pros and cons of dumping them all into a couple of countries versus spreading them around? What are some good early cards I should be keeping an eye out for, and why are they significant? What are some "tells" I can use to spot when my opponent is building towards a big move in one region?

    After finishing the tutorial I tried a game, and immediately ran into the fact that I had no idea what to do first because all I'd picked up were questions like these. I know you can learn this stuff the hard way by losing a lot, and for some people that may even be fun (the popularity of Dwarf Fortress is testament enough to that). But for me, feeling dumb is not fun. Constantly losing games because I don't know what I'm doing is not fun.

    (It could be I'm just stupid, though. I am completely open to that possibility.)