The dream prison

To be honest, I can think of worse fates:

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells. Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

Brutal workouts during the day followed by playing games all night… throw in some alcohol and three hours at a downtown night club on the weekends and that pretty much describes my twenties.

Hex or CDG?

I consider my options with regards to a wargame set in the world of Summa Elvetica over at the Black Gate.

The game’s the thing

REGINA/REGINA (2314-A788899-A) 201-1105
Last night a series of explosions ripped through Vehicle Assembly Building No. 3 of the General Shipyards facility on Pixie. Both company and military investigators on the scene report that the damage was almost certainly the work of
saboteurs. General Shipyard’s Vehicle Assembly Building No. 3 housed the main assembly line for the production of L-Hyd drop tanks….

Imperial Navy Commander Lobeck hault-Donesev, the naval system liaison officer on the L-Hyd project, announced that Naval Counter-Intelligence was exploring the possibility that the sabotage was the work of Ine Givar terrorists. Ine Givar activity in the Regina subsector has thus far been limited to scattered and ineffective strikes on Efate and Feri, but this incident “definitely bore their signature,” he explained. 

General Shipyard’s press secretary Harcord Haveln, however, discounted any political motives for the sabotage.“There are commercial concerns in the subsector that place their own self-interest above that of the population as a whole,” he said. When pressed for an explanation, he refused to elaborate.

The public affairs officer of the Pixie office for Naval Counter- Intelligence refused an interview later in the day but issued a press release disavowing any responsibility for the remarks of Commander hault-Donesev and stating unequivocally that NCI had no evidence whatsoever of Ine Givar activity on Efate, Feri, or Forboldn.

The module for Fifth Frontier War version 1.0 is now available for download from the VASSAL library.

At the Black Gate

Now, I recognize that this is an announcement that will appeal to approximately 12 people on the planet. But, since one of them is me and another one is our well-loved Publisher and Editor, that makes this announcement of particular relevance for this blog. As I mentioned some time ago, one of my less obtainable objectives in life has been to actually play a certain space wargame that is virtually unplayable by anyone who happens to either lack a large quantity of floor and/or table space that can be left safely unmolested for weeks or has what passes for a reasonable modicum of a life. The problem with monster wargames, you see, is that they combine all the worst qualities of gaming in one intimidating product. Not only are they far more complicated than the average wargame, thus significantly reducing the number of potential opponents, but they take an incredibly long time simply to set up, never mind play. As an added bonus, the large quantity of constituent components usually means that they are more expensive than the norm, but they make up for being more expensive by being less graphically elaborate than most games because no game publisher in his right mind is going to go to the risk of printing what is usually something between a labor of love and a labor of lunacy on the part of a detail-oriented monomaniac.

Read the rest if you are among the few, the proud, the well-travelled.

The beauty handicap

Feminism makes pretty women less employable:

Researchers at two Israeli universities started their study by first asking an eight-member panel to scroll through a series of photos and separate the lookers from the merely OK-looking. That was designed to create some level of group consensus on who qualified as attractive versus not (the researchers had already vetted the pool of photos to eliminate as much as possible photos of candidates whose ethnicity could be easily identified.)

Then the researchers sent off 5,312 resumes in pairs of two to advertised job listings. The resumes themselves were nearly identical, but one resume did not include a photo at all, and the other resume in the pair contained a photo of either an attractive male/female candidate, or a plain-looking male/female candidate.

The overall positive-response rate was 14.5 percent. The resumes that got the highest callbacks from the hiring folks were:

• Resumes for attractive men (photo included): These had a response rate that was 45 percent higher than for plain-looking men whose photo was included, and double the call-back rate for male resumes that were sent without a photo.

• Resumes for women with no picture: These had a response rate that was 30 percent higher than for attractive women whose photo was attached to the resume, and 22 percent higher than “plain” women whose photo was attached.

The reason, it turns out, is that 96 percent of the firms had “a female employee between the ages of 23-34 doing the screening”. And women don’t like pretty women or ugly men. So, if you’re looking for a job, it would probably be a good idea to include your picture if you’re a dashing man but leave it off if you’re a woman.

Ender’s Game

I am increasingly beginning to feel like Leopold Mozart. After a spate of ASL games, Ender decided to design some game rules for his little football men. These are the NFL teams used the old electric vibrating football game; I used to break the flat bottoms off and play with them in the carpet when I was a kid. I didn’t do anything particularly fancy with them, I would just line them up and run little plays, then record the “results” in a notebook. Of course, I created a whole fantasy league with teams in places like Norfolk; both Minneapolis and St. Paul had their own teams.

Ender takes a much more systematic approach than I did. He doesn’t break off the stands nor invent his own franchises, but instead got his mother to make him a paperboard football field for which he makes paper logos that go in the middle of the field for the designated home team. Then he wrote up 10 double-sided pages of rules in which the offensive play call and the defensive call combine to create a modifier that is applied to dice roll on the play result table for the appropriate formation. It’s essentially Maddens meets ASL, or more to the point, a simplified version of Avalon Hills 1959 Football Strategy, but it’s surprisingly entertaining and produces pretty reasonable results despite the fact that absolutely no statistical analysis went into the formation result tables.

My one suggestion was to add a dynamic element via special rolls. “Heat of Battle”-style rolls triggered by net results below 2 or above 12 provide for fumbles and interceptions versus big gains and touchdowns, and blitzes against passes give either a -2 (1-2) for the defense or +3 (3-6) for the offense. Those elements backfired on me last night as I fumbled twice inside his 30-yard line.

It’s bad enough to have been surpassed on the literary side. But playing this last night, I suddenly had the alarming impression that it would make for a pretty good Facebook/Android game.

Crash and burn coming

If Zynga stock was public, I’d short it:

Since launching its first Internet game in 2007, Zynga has grown rapidly. The company’s true earnings are unknown to outsiders, but industry observers estimate that its annual revenue could now be $500 million or more. In May, social-media analyst Lou Kerner estimated Zynga’s total price tag at $4 billion, based on corporate filings for a stock issuance.

In light of Zynga’s phenomenal rise, one former senior employee recalls arriving at the company eager to discover what new business practices were driving its success in a market where other popular Web 2.0 ventures struggled to make money. What was Zynga’s secret? Not long after starting work, he got an answer. It came directly from Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus at a meeting. And it wasn’t what he expected.

“I don’t fucking want innovation,” the ex-employee recalls Pincus saying. “You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”

There’s a company like this every generation or two in the game industry. Back in the day, the self-styled “assholes with the money” were GT Interactive. Everyone, especially the people at GT, thought they were going to dominate the industry, but they didn’t even last as long as Origin Systems, much less Electronic Arts. While you can make a lot of money in the short term with a pure copy-and-churn-it-out approach, it never translates into success in the medium term. Once you grow to a certain point, you have to figure out how to make something that people want to play on your own, and that’s not something a group of employees accustomed to operating on an evil and short-sighted ethos are ever able to do.

But speaking of games, happy 25th birthday, Jumpman!

Everyone’s a winner!

Still the master

Ender has been playing a lot of Maddens and started thinking he was pretty good. And, to be fair, he is getting pretty good; at one point in the second quarter I was down by 10 and he had the ball on my four-yard line. But a very timely interception in the end zone followed by a quick 95-yard touchdown pass got me back in the game and I had a one point lead at halftime.

As in real football, the key to success in two-player Maddens is making adjustments. Ender had been chewing up my defense with deep passes to the right side of the field and my front four wasn’t getting any pressure on him, so I switched to a dime formation and began blitzing from the left. On offense, began calling more audibles to take advantage of his tendency to cheat the free safety. That rapidly changed the game, to such an extent that he began muttering about how I could possibly know when he was going to try to stop the run versus the pass.

The final score was 56-40. We both threw for over 400 yards; the difference was that I had another 200 on the ground. He put up a much better fight than the previous New School challengers I’ve beaten down over the years, but I don’t like my chances once he figures out how to better mix up his playcalling. As I explained to him afterwards, he already knows how to think about his actions, so now he has to take the next step and begin to anticipate his opponent’s actions.

Strategy games for starters

DB asks a reasonable question:

If you have time would you mind recommending a good strategy board game for someone who has only ever played Risk and Axis and Allies.

Ideally it can be played by only two people but can handle more if needed. I would like something that doesn’t take days to play, an hour or two, no more than three. A game whose rules can be easily understood by beginners. While I could probably pick up complicated rules fairly quickly those I play with may not be as oriented toward such thinking.

There are so many games out there that I don’t know where to even start looking.

My go to game for beginners is War at Sea by Avalon Hill. It’s simple, historical, and balanced towards the Allied player so it’s a good game to help a less experienced gamer develop confidence while learning the importance of anticipating an opponent. It also makes it very easy to understand why the Axis lost WWII. However, I’m sure others will have alternative suggestions.