Friday, July 13, 2018

Organized Play 2018 Enters The Home Stretch at WBC

The World Boardgaming Championships arrive in a couple weeks which means we are getting ready to crown another CFR Organized Play Champion.

Stats are updated so that only races from WBC are left to account for.  Doug Galullo remains in the lead but his lead continues to shrink for reasons I explained back in May.

You can see total points for the top 13 here or see the complete rankings for all 131 currently ranked drivers.

By my count there are 9 drivers who definitely have a shot at passing Doug G with a win at the finals table at WBC and at least 2 more who are close enough that deflation might get them there.


Assumptions:
I am assuming that the finals will end up with an AFR+ around 2.00, each qualifying heat will have an AFR+ around 1.00, and the tournament at large will have a value of 1.83.  This assumes similar values to last year.

I am also assuming that the independent "demo" race being held at WBC does not have a huge impact on the event... although it could have some impact.


Calculating Potential Value for the Event
Based on assumptions above, a qualifying race win will be worth really close to 23 points.  A win at the finals will be worth 46 points for the race itself and 42 points for the tournament win.

But those are just raw points.  Remember that a driver's OP points is equal to their top 4 races and top 2 events by points.  For example, Don stands to gain 50 points at WBC.


If Don wins every race he enters at WBC. he would book 3 races worth 23 points each, 1 race worth 46 points, and 1 event worth 42 points.  That is only worth 50 points to Don because only the 46 point finals is more points than Don's current top 4 races and is only 23 points better.  The 42 point tournament is worth 27 points to Don as it is that much better than his current 2nd best tournament score.

But those 50 points are more than enough to potentially beat Doug who sits only 39 points ahead of Don. 


Who Needs to Do What to Have a Chance
First off, keep in mind that because all scores get re-adjusted after every race, scores can and will change a little even if a driver does not get a great result out of WBC... especially tournament related points.  So being close to closing the current gap to Doug G might be good enough and might not.

That said, the following drivers look like they can gain enough points just from qualifying for and winning the WBC finals. 

  • Don Tatum (would gain 50 points and is 39 behind)
  • Gianluca Lari (would gain 63 points and is 42 behind)
  • Chris Long (would gain 64 points and is 43 behind)
  • Michael Polcen (would gain 61 points and is 43 behind)
  • Chris Brandt (would gain 68 points and is 59 behind)
  • Dave Ling (would gain 76 points and is 68 behind)

Of the above, three might be able to pull off an OP title finishing 2nd in the WBC finals:
  • Gianluca Lari (would gain 44 points and is 42 behind)
  • Chris Long (would gain 45 points and is 43 behind)
  • Michael Polcen (would gain 42 points and is 43 behind)

The following four drivers might have to win a qualifying heat in addition to the finals in order to surpass Doug -- depending a bit on how scores get readjusted:
  • Gary Sturgeon (is 69 behind and would gain 71 points from just a Finals win and 76 if he also won a qualifier) 
  • Danilo Volpinari (is 72 behind and would gain 69 points from just a Finals win, 73 if he also won a qualifier, 76 if he also won two qualifiers)
  • Tim Baker (is 76 behind and would gain 79 points from just a Finals win and 90 if he also won a qualifier)

Mario and Jeff probably have to win two qualifiers on their way to a Finals win:

  • Mario Ales (is 73 behind and would gain 71 points from a Finals win and two qualifier wins)
  • Jeff Harrington (is 80 behind and would gain 80 points from a Finals win and a qualifier win and 82 if he also won a second qualifier)


What about Doug Galullo?
Obviously Doug has his destiny in his hands.  Winning the WBC finals guarantees him the OP title as well.

Second in the finals might also make it impossible for anyone to catch him -- adding 28 points to his total.  Third in the finals would net Doug 16 points which would probably knock many of the above drivers out of contention -- all except Gianluca Lari, Chris Long, and Michael Polcen. 

Fourth in the finals would only net Doug about 5 points -- enough to make the math harder in many of the close calls but not enough to keep one of the top competitors from winning WBC and snatching the title from him.  Same goes for a qualifying win without a top 4 finish at the finals which would net him about 2 points.


Everyone Else?
Everyone else, including 12th ranked Dave Ingraham, 14th ranked Tim Mossman, and everyone below that is probably out of contention for the OP title.   Even a newbie who shows up, wins 3 qualifying heats and the finals would "only" pick up 157 points.  Possibly good enough for second place in OP this year.


Caveats
Remember that scores are fluid in this system.  The value of older races change every time a new race is booked and compared to every other race already run. 

The numbers above include some rounding because I'm lazy.

If more people show up to WBC it could increase the value of the event itself and give more people a better shot at overtaking Doug (30 different drivers participated in WBC last year but 37 participated the year before).  Same goes if higher ranked drivers make the finals (last season included a pretty highly ranked set of drivers making that race worth a good bit).

If fewer people show up to WBC it will make the event worth less in total and make it harder for people to over take Doug.  Same goes if the finals includes fewer highly ranked drivers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ways to Create Space for Signaling in Games

Hot on the heels (for me) of my previous post about "Game of Strategy" (June 1: Design Pattern: Repeat Play Within A Single Game) I just finished reading chapters 9 and 10.  OK, I mostly skim read.  Chapter 9 on uncertainty and information was interesting but I did not feel the connection to game design as strongly as some past chapters.  Chapter 10 on strategic moves had some really interesting core ideas and LOTS of examples... that I started skipping. 

Look, if I'm going to finish this book any time soon I've got to make some compromises.

by Delapouite via game-icons.net
What is Signalling Again?
Signalling is something that the book discussed back in the first couple of chapters.  I talked about it a bit here.

Signaling is when you say or do something that implies your intent for the future.  It can be anything from an absolute guarantee that you will do X to a completely untrustworthy proclamation.

Chapter 10 talked a lot about signaling and strategic choices around signalling.  Parts of chapter 9 also delved deeper into signaling.

Why Do We Like Signaling?
I think signaling provides some really interesting strategic opportunities.  Social deduction games are an entire genre of around signaling.  Werewolf and The Resistance and their kin are built around trying to signal which team you are on -- either in truth or not.  Sometimes the signalling is all in the table talk but often there are mechanics that act as signals too.

Why does signaling have such value?  It gets to the core of what makes a game.  Remember that this book defines a strategic game in large part by having two or more participants who are aware of the impact their choices have on each other.  Signaling messes with that awareness and can add depth to the simplest of games.

Just think about Werewolf.  This is a game whose only required component is a small deck of cards -- from which you get 1 card each for the whole game.  Werewolf also has very, very few mechanics.  After set-up you basically have two things to do: talk and then decide who to hang.  That's it.  And yet this is a game that defines a genre and a game publisher.

Now lets look at three things that I think can be captured in game mechanics and generate space for signalling.

by Delapouite via game-icons.net
1) Partially Aligned Interests

In Chapter 9, the authors talk a lot about talk as a signal.  The big take-away is that talk's value as a signal is related to how aligned the interests of the participants are.  

If the players have perfectly aligned interests (and know it) their talk is a pretty reliable signal.  Think co-op games.  If the players' interests are completely competitive then talk is completely unreliable and best ignored as a signal.  But that leaves an interesting space in the middle -- a situation the authors term partially aligned interests.

Dead of Winter is a decent example of this.  In Dead of Winter, most players a shared public object and a unique secret objective.  So one goal is shared with the group and yet the other goal is not shared and sometimes those two goals are in conflict.  This creates an interesting dynamic where apparently sub-optimal plays can either be willful sabotage (there can be traitors), bad luck (they just don't have the cards to help), or prioritization of the player's second goal.


by Quoting via game-icons.net
2) Voluntarily Reducing Your Freedom of Action

The end of chapter 10 had a great section on ways to add credibility to your signals.

The first main category was reducing your freedom of action.  This harkens back to their old example of the game of chicken.  If the driver of one car throws her steering wheel out of the car, you know she isn't turning.  She is committed to going straight and you better turn.

I can't think of any games that really use this idea mechanically but I feel like this would be really interesting.  What if a game gave a significant advantage to the player who went first, but that player had significantly fewer options on their turn?

Hmmm...


by Delapouite via game-icons.net
3) Public Betting on Outcomes

The second big category in this section was entitled changing your payoffs.  This is something I do have some good examples for.  Nearly every horse racing game has you bet on different horses.  Sometimes publicly, sometimes not, sometimes semi-publicly.

Titan: The Arena is a good old-school example.  In Titan Arena you bet on various monsters that may or may not last the round.  Obviously that action changes your incentive to have that creature win and strongly signals that you will and can do things to keep the creature around.

Further Discussion
I'm behind in my listening to the podcasts by Messrs. Aaron, Austin, and Paul on these topics.  Here they talk about Chapter 9... here Chapter 10.  

I'm going to go do that now, in fact.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Design Pattern: Repeat Play Within A Single Game

I know, it has been a while since I last talked about "Games of Strategy" (October to be precise: Why Do Players Do It Wrong?).  But I did knock out chapters 6, 7, and 8 over the winter... and then got busy and stopped blogging.

So lets talk about repeat play.  I once heard Richard Garfield say that poker is close to being the perfect game.  One of the biggest reasons being that each iteration is very short and so the game lends itself very well to lots of repeat play.

I do not remember him going into all of the game theory behind why repeat play is so good (I suspect he knows and was just trying to spare his audience the math).  After reading this part of Games of Strategy I think Mr. Garfield was right to avoid the math.

Just kidding.  A little.  I did skip much of the math...


... But the idea of repeat play was my biggest take away from this part of the book.  So lets get into the weeds on why repeat play is good and then talk about my big idea of how to take advantage of repeat play when your game takes 2 hours instead of 5 minutes.

Mixed Strategies

In chapter 6, the book discussed mixed strategies.  The idea of mixed strategies will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of strategies in sports from football to baseball to the book's favorite example of tennis.  A mixed strategy is when the ideal play is to randomize between a sub-set of choices.

For example, no football team will pass the ball every down -- even though it is almost always more effective.  Instead they run the ball some times... even on 3rd and long.  If teams did not mix their strategies, the defense would be able to predict the offense's strategy and pick the best defense every time.

The math I glossed over can show you the ideal mix of strategies -- maybe 60% pass and 40% run.

Repeat Play

But this all really works best if play is repeated.  If you are only playing one hand of poker, you play to win that 1 hand.  You are much more likely to simply use your best strategy. 

If you are playing an entire evening of poker, you are playing to win the night not each single hand.  Now it makes sense to vary your strategies.  Sticking with only one strategy through-out will just not be the most effective as the night progresses.

Games Within Games

Poker is a great example of repeat play creating a wider strategic space.  More options open up because you play the game over and over and various mixed strategies become the ideal options.

This is much more fun than a single game of poker.  But poker is a 5 minute game.  How do you do that if your game is an hour long?  How likely are people to play that hour long game more than once in a night?  Does repeat play have the same affect if the plays are months apart with different opponents?

What if a single long game can contain smaller mini-games that do repeat?  What does that look like?

The quick answer is that it looks a lot like a football game or a night of poker but I think there is a complication inherent in larger board games that you don't have in sport or poker.

I envision that the strategies I chose for the mini-game would not be constrained by the strategy I have for the whole game or by my current standing in that game.

I think this separation between the larger game and the mini-game is important.  If strategic options in the mini-game are affected by the larger game some of the mini-game's strategies can be made in-effective.  If that happens enough, than the mini-game loses its opportunity to have the 2-3 strategic options needed to allow for mixed strategies.

The Zero Sum Euro?

Euro games are largely non-zero sum games -- what you do hardly affects me at all.  This contributes to the lack of interactivity in most euros. 

It also means that strategic mixes are generally worthless.  The whole point of the strategic mix is to keep the opposition guessing.  But in most euros they are hardly paying any attention to you at all.

What if you put a zero sum mini-game inside a non zero-sum euro?

Now, I care what you are doing -- at least inside that mini-game.

Caveat

I do not hold out this idea as any sort of ideal of game design.  I enjoy a good 3-4 hour game that I will never repeat. 

But the idea of combining repeat play within a larger context is an idea I would love to explore.

---------------------------------

Hat Tip to Isaac Shalev at Kind Fortress who introduced me to the idea of game design patterns.  And to the excellent Lodology podcast where I first heard Mr. Shalev discuss design patterns.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Two CFR Seasons End, Big Changes at the Top of the Rankings

Organized Play Top 5 after DMV
When I posted the last Organized Play update, I mentioned a couple big series that would end soon and have an impact on the rankings.  Well, one of them just ended and another smaller one did as well.

The DC-Maryland-Virginia season got off to a small, 4-race start this year with Chris Brandt organizing.  All races were held in my back-yard of Northern Virginia but my schedule never did permit me to attend one.  Next year I hope.

Chris ended up winning the final race last weekend and was able to take the season victory as well.  That gave him a little boost in the rankings up to 3rd from 6th.

Michael Polcen and Tim Mossman also benefited from doing well in DMV this year.  Polcen moved up from 15th to 7th and Mossman moved up from 11th to 8th.

OP Top 5 after San Marino
But then the San Marino 2017-2018 season concluded with Gianluca Lari winning the race and securing the season title as well.  The San Marino season was the longest in person season with 9 races and currently is the 2nd most valuable tournament in the rankings.

That gave Lari a huge points boost to propel him from 13th to 2nd!  Unseating Tatum who has been the #2 ranked driver for most of the last couple of years it seems.

Danilo Volpinari ended the San Marino season in 2nd and moved up the OP rankings from 17th to 6th.

Why Did Some Drivers' Point Totals Go Down?

Astute observers of the two charts above will notice that just entering a race and series result for San Marino cost everyone in the top 5 points except Lari.  Why did that happen?

Almost entirely the point loss was due to a change in the points each driver received from placing well in previous tournaments.

All points for the rankings in CFR Organized Play are adjusted based on the competition in a given race or tournament.  The points received from a race against average competition is multiplied by 1 (granting no bonus or penalty).  The points multiplier for an above average race is something greater than 1.  So, if the average race value changes, so does every races' multiplier.

At this point in the season, race multipliers are not moving much.  After 58 races, the 59th is not going to move the needle much.  However, San Marino was the 5th tournament in the rankings.  Which gives it a much bigger impact on the average tournament multiplier.  

Since the San Marino series ended with an above average value the average value increased.  That means that the P1 tournament Galullo won is now closer to the average and so the multiplier got smaller.  Effectively all multipliers for previous tournaments got smaller.

Oh, and expect this to happen again since Redscape and WBC have historically been graded as above average tournaments.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Indianapolis Build

Credit statsF1.com.
Another track build from a request.  This time Indianapolis.  Although the oval was officially an F1 track from 1950 through 1960, scoring back then let you drop your worst couple results from your season total which let all the regular F1 drivers safely skip this race with no consequences.

It wasn't until Indianapolis built an infield section that the track held a real F1 grand-prix in 2000.   This new track configuration featured one of the famous banked corners and most the two straights on either end of it.  The rest of the track was a tight, twisting affair before dumping cars back on to the oval.


Not a ton of great video to watch from this track as YouTube is a glut of video about the infamous 2005 race when all but 3 teams withdrew because their tires were imploding under the stress of the banked corner.

I did find corner speeds online.  So, good data to work with there.  Notes (pdf) in hand, I came up with some initial corner ideas (PDF) and started a build.

This was a tough track as the main straight is super long but the track in total is pretty short.  So I had competing needs to put enough spaces in the twisty in-field to get me back to the main straight and make the main straight long enough to feel right and come in around 60 spaces.


Often when building a new track my first build is close and just needs tweaking and refining.  Not so this time.  I got a lap into a test of the first build above and decided it was terrible.  I was shooting for an infield that was close to 1-line but this attempt gave too few choices to drivers.  I also decided to exaggerate the short straight in the middle of the infield and compress the corner sections on either side of it.

A number of iterations later and I was happier with the final version (PDF).


As happened when I built Imola, shrinking up the number of spaces in the in-fields resulted in some creative corners.

Corner 1

This was the only real good passing opportunity for F1 cars when the track was used by them.  That said, the green line will usually be your best bet.  Although running wide so that you can delay braking before taking the 60s through the corner can work and landing right on the apex on the red line can also be an advantage for next turn sometimes.

Corner 7

This may be one of the oddest looking corners.  It was not meant to look this odd but the combination of my layout and how I had to twist the track to make it fit and allow cars to fit inside it...

Anyways, this corner is important because there is a short straight right after.  So speed exiting this corner can be important.

It also works closely with the corner immediately before it.  If you are clear of Corner 6, taking the 60s for a faster exit can be best.  But you can often spend the less wear to exit through the 40 space at the cost of a slower exit speed.

I've been building more corners like this based on an interesting insight I read a couple years ago from the driver who used to play the Stig on Top Gear.  It was a discussion of different racing lines through a corner.  While there is a theoretical ideal line through most corners.  Most drivers don't take that line.  They take some variation of it based on competing desires.

Some drivers want to brake later.  This has the advantage of allowing them to maintain speed longer before the corner.  However, they end up having to wait longer before accelerating out of the corner again.  My quick way to model this is to effectively take a speed limited space away from the beginning of the outside lane -- allowing the car to travel faster before having to slow down.

The other option is to brake sooner.  This gives them a slower entry into the corner but lets them get back on the acceleration sooner.  My quick way to model this is to take a speed limited space away from the end of the inside lane -- allowing a car to accelerate out of the corner sooner.

Corner 13

Of course the final, banked corner of the lap needs to be important for this track.

I played with some of the concepts I noted above and with different racing lines.  I ended up tweaking this corner more than any other.  Having 4 lanes for the first time in a CFR build was challenging.  Maybe because I'm not used to trying to develop that many meaningful options.  



The far inside lane plays off of the early brake / early accel concept.  The next 2 lanes are actually the most efficient.  The 3rd lane is more efficient if you get stuck in the corner but cars with lower top speeds may not be able to take full advantage of that.  The outside lane is sub-par.

Another oddity of this corner is that the two inside lanes have a 120 posted speed limit and are the same number of spaces in length.  The outside lanes both have 140 speeds and the same length.  This is a nod to the fact that it is a banked corner which should narrow the difference in distance traveled between lanes.  But the lines running through the two middle lanes create 4 different options.

Conclusion

Despite the super fast back end of the track, I think this will play out as a pretty tight track that favors running from the front.  However, I would not be surprised if it ends up being a yellow track at the end of the day.

Will its nearest comps end up being Sakhir (PDF) or Barcelona (PDF)?  We will begin to learn that as it gets played.  The track is scheduled to be run during Redscape's next season.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

WBC Tracks Announced for 2018

Since we decided as a group that we still want to know the track selections ahead of time, here is the much anticipated announcement of our track selections for this year's WBC.

The basic criteria we use is to cycle through the colors, one group a year.  So since this year it is Blue, Purple, Red, and Yellow that means that next year would be Purple, Red, Yellow, and Green.  That gives the greatest variety of tracks and keeps shifting what we play at any given time.  Within that selection, we simply pick tracks that either haven't been played at WBC before, or haven't been played in the longest amount of time.

So without further ado, here are the tracks:

Qualifying Heat 1, 2 blue tracks + 1 purple:
Valencia (PDF) last seen at WBC in 2015
Oyama (PDF) never seen at WBC [Edit: this track will run 5 laps because it is short]
Baku (PDF) never seen at WBC

Qualifying Heat 2, 3 purple tracks:
Sochi (PDF) first seen at WBC as last year's finals
Francorchamps 1983 (PDF) never seen at WBC
Castellet (PDF) never seen at WBC

Qualifying Heat 3, 3 red tracks:
Imola (PDF) never seen at WBC
Nürburg (PDF) never seen at WBC
Estoril (PDF) never seen at WBC

Finals, a yellow track:
Suzuka (PDF) last seen at WBC in 2013

Lots of the tracks above have never been used at WBC because they are very new.  Oyama, Baku, Castellet, Imola, Estoril have all been built in the last year or two.  Baku has only been on the F1 calendar for a couple years now.  Oyama, Castellet, Imola, and Estoril were all built as special requests of one variety or another and are older tracks from a variey of eras: 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Nurburg is a track that I built a good bit ago but yet has never made an appearance at WBC for no good reason.

Lots of tracks that should provide an edge to racing from the back this year until Q3 which is literally some of the tightest tracks ever.  Bidding in Q3 should be very interesting.

And then a great looking finals track in Suzuka.

Monday, April 23, 2018

CFR Rankings Shuffle

I spent some time last week updating the CFR rankings and noticed a couple things.  First, I was very far behind recording results from the Detroit series that just finished its 8th and final race.  Also, the Detroit series was the first tournament to have that many heats. 

Both of these events caused some shuffling in the rankings for different reasons.

In the past, tournaments were either online or at a convention and included 3, 4, or 5 heats.  Not much variation there.  But Detroit raced 8 times this year and San Marino will finish their 9th race soon.  That feels different to me and was not really taken into account in the way I was gauging series value before.  So, change.

I am now taking into account the number of heats that a series or tournament has when judging the value of said event.  This is in addition to the quality and quantity of competition that made up the majority of the original measure and determines the events Field Rating and AFR.  The last factor remains a bonus for events held live which is included in AFR+ as seen on this chart.

Otherwise, the addition of results from the last 6 Detroit races and the last San Marino race and most importantly the final rankings from the Detroit season rocketed some drivers up the poles.  Obviously, the reconfiguration of the series rankings had some affect on rankings as well.  With PrezCon results getting a bit of a bump.

Rankings Update

That said, Doug G still rules the roost.  Having won 3 races and 2 events already this season, has granted Doug a huge lead over current runner-up Don Tatum.

Gary Sturgeon was the big winner after this update and an early candidate for rookie of the year as he won 2 races in the Detroit series and won the season for a nice point total.

Mario Ales did well in the only tournament he ran in that has completed.  Dave Ingraham has some better race results than either Sturgeon or Ales but placed 3rd in the only event he has finished in the points for although is the early candidate for come-back racer of the year.



Next

The next shoe to drop for these rankings will be the completion of the San Marino season in early May.  Probably followed closely by the end of the current Redscape season.

Current San Marino season leader Gianluca Lari is sitting 9th in the CFR standings.  A season win would likely vault him up to 3rd but he will have to fend off Danilo Volpinari and Palmiro Matteini who would both jump up into the top 10 with a season win.

Tim Baker seems like the odds on favorite to win Redscape this year which would likely jump him up from 12th into the top 5 in CFR.

Season Stats

So far 2018 has seen much more racing than 2017.  New or re-generated season in San Marino, Detroit, and Washington DC contributed to the 57 races included in the rankings so far.  47 were recorded for all of the 2017 season.  
The season is also on pace to include 7 tournaments and currently includes 126 different drivers.  Last season had 5 series and 100 drivers by the end.  

The downward trend in field size continues with races averaging 9.1 drivers.  Last season saw an average of 9.5 drivers.  This continues a trend I've seen even prior to organized play rankings.  Some of this is due to reductions in field size standards in both my PBeM as well as at WBC -- two of the larger CFR events.

I can not point out too often how much credit the community of CFR drivers and especially stewards deserve.  It continues to be a pleasure to be a part of.