Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tracks Announced for Championship Formula Racing Event at the 2017 World Boardgaming Championships

The First Corner of Sakhir
The first ever organized play season for CFR will finish up at the 2017 World Boardgaming Championships, July 27th through 30th at Seven Springs Resort.  This promises to be the largest and most competitive in-person event of the season so a lot of points will be at stake.  Afterwards, a champion will be crowned.  (Maybe not in person, we'll see how logistics go.)

Chris Long will continue his fine stewardship of this event and has picked the tracks that will be used for qualifying and the finals.  For the qualifying heats, the number of tracks actually used will depend on how many driver participate in that round, so it is possible that not all tracks will be used.

Q1: Green

Q2: Yellow

Q3: Purple

Finals: Blue

Weaving Through the Old City at Baku

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The What-If Champion of 2015 for Championship Formula Racing

Last month I told the tale of how Chris Long would have won the first ever CFR Organized Play championship, if that had been a thing in 2016.  In comic book parlance 2016 was like season 0.  Now we'll talk about how Mike Aubuchon won season -1 and how Randy Needham became the bridesmaid of CFR.

2015 was a bit of a down year for CFR.  My PBeM was running again but I was struggling with its growth and it would not finish until the 2016 season.  So the 2015 season consisted of 7 races spread over two tournaments: WBC and Redscape's inaugural season.

Michael Polcen won that 1st season of Redscape with a 1st, 2nd, and 4th place finish over three races.  But this Redscape season was just a hint at what it has become.  With only 13 drivers total contesting the season, the field ratings for each race were 0.58, 0.97, and 0.72.  The entire series had a field rating of 0.42.  So while the top 4 from that series -- Michael, Fabio, Rando, Chris -- do appear in the top 10 for 2015 above, those results only gave them a small head start heading into WBC that year.

After 3 heats of qualifying, the finals table at WBC in 2015 included Chris Long, Dennis Nicholson, Don Tatum, Doug Galullo, Jim Fleckenstein, Kevin Keller, Mike Aubuchon, Randy Needham, Robert Kircher, Seth Kircher, and Tim Mossman.

The most successful in qualifying had been Randy (1st, 2nd, dnf), Mike (1st, 2nd, 4th), Don (2nd, 3rd, 4th), and Chris (1st, 2nd, 3rd).  At this point, Chris probably had the most points of anyone given that he had a 3rd place race finish from Redscape and some points from finishing 4th in that series as well.

This WBC finals may have been the most notorious ever because I had picked the long, tight, brutal track at Singapore for the finals.  Five cars would not finish this race and I got plenty of hate mail during and after the event for my track choice.

In the end, Michael ran an unconventional strategy.  On a track that is narrow and hard to pass on, he intentionally started from the back and took advantage of the large number of corners to whittle away the wear on his competitors before just beating out Kevin Keller for the race victory and WBC championship.

That one race was worth 60 points to Mike -- 36.94 for the race and 23.15 for the event win -- and would have netted him the Championship Formula Racing Organized Play trophy... if that had been a thing in 2015.  And would have been the first of two consecutive seasons in which Rando would finish 2nd in the final rankings.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Solo Play-through of Championship Formula Racing

I play a 3-lap race of Championship Formula Racing using the the Historical Driver system that allows you to play solo.  Results after race 1 on the right.

Spoiler alert... I didn't win.  But neither did Vettel after leading the vast majority of the race.  The stars next to each driver are their rating in my historical driver system.  Three-stars are the best.  The point system is the system I always use for races, tournaments, and the CFR Organized Play series.  Rindt got 0 points because he crashed.

This is the first in a 10-race series I plan to finish this year. I pit myself against a simulation of 9 modern and historic drivers: Fernando Alonso, Juan Manuel Fangio, Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Kiki Raikkonen, Jochen Rindt, Jackie Stewart, and
Sebastian Vettel.

This particular race is contested at Yeongam, South Korea. The track had a short run hosting Formula 1 races starting in 2010.

Note that I'm using pre-production bits here and some of the drivers and this track are not currently available. But at the time of posting, the base game is available for pre-order.

I don't go through a lot of explaining here, but you can learn more about how the historical driver (AI) system in this 2-part video series.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Asymmetry in Plants vs. Zombies Heroes

I've been playing a lot of Plants vs. Zombies Heroes lately and have really come to appreciate the asymmetry Electronic Arts designed into their free-to-play CCG -- elements that could certainly be borrowed for physical game design.

In case you've never played... PvZ Heroes has some pretty standard CCG elements to it: 40 card decks, cards arranged into classes, power for playing cards increases by 1 every turn, 20 life, race to kill your opponent.

While deck construction provides all CCGs with some built in asymmetry, PvZ Heroes adds layers to that by making your opponent play with completely different cards in a completely different way.

Turn Structure
True to the game's name each match pits a zombie deck against a plant deck.  This means that your opponent's deck has zero chance of sharing a card with yours.  But the 4 phases of a turn really extend the asymmetry:

  1. Zombie Plays -- but only creatures not tricks (think spells)
  2. Plant Plays -- anything the want
  3. Zombie Plays -- but only tricks not creatures
  4. Fight -- each lane does the usual damage exchange
So the zombie player has to commit their troops first -- generally a disadvantage.  Also, they are limited to only creatures in this first phase, no tricks.  So they have to think through their card interactions.  They can't play a trick and then a creature.  They have to remember to save some brains (zombie power) for the tricks phase if they think they need it.

Plants get to play any of their cards in any order during their phase.  They get to see and react to where the zombie forces are.  But they have to wary of that zombie trick phase.  How many brains has the zombie saved for their tricks phase.  Does that telegraph a play or did they just run out of stuff to do.

Card Differences
This asymmetric turn structure is reinforced by the kinds of cards each faction has.  Zombie creatures tend not to affect other creatures or the opponent when they are first played.  Most zombie cards that affect other creatures or players are tricks.

When a zombie player puts a creature on the board, they often have to sweat out the plant phase before they can buff it.  That buff they hoped to play in the tricks phase may not have a target by then.  Or the plant they were hoping to remove from play in the tricks phase may get buffed out of range of the zombie removal.

On the other hand, if a zombie player is out of brains the plant player can play a creature they can't buff until next turn.  Knowing that the zombie player has few options in the first phase for creature removal.

On the other hand, when a zombie player has brains left for tricks, nothing done in the plants phase is safe.  While the zombie player knows that they will have the last chance to change the board state before combat every turn.

Gravestone and Trick Zombies
Of course, there are exceptions and the exceptions can be very interesting.  There are Zombie tricks that summon creatures (but not a lot).  And then there are gravestone Zombies.  

The Hail-a-Copter trick can summon a particularly large zombie (admittedly the trick is expensive to play).  By being able to play it in the tricks phase, the zombie player may be able to be more tactical about its placement knowing the plant player can not respond until next turn.

A gravestone zombie is hidden in a "gravestone" when it is played.  The plant player does not know what it is and can only affect it with a small number of cards.  Also, the amount of brains spent on that creature is hidden.  So the plant player is left guessing as to what the zombie player did.

When the tricks phase starts, all gravestones are revealed in order (left to right).  A good number of gravestone zombies have affects that trigger when they are revealed.

For me, these exceptions play into the whole structure of the game.  These cards interact with the asymmetry in different ways than a traditional CCG.

First Player Advantage
Another thing I like about PvZ's asymmetric turns is the unique way its deals with the first player advantage.  Magic was forced to tack on rules to try to deal with first player advantage.  Hearthstone built in the coin idea but both are simply add-ons.

I don't even think about first player advantage in PvZ Heroes.  Zombies always go first.  But in the context of the turn structure, I'm not sure how much that matters.

Final Thoughts
This is a level of asymmetry that you usually see in a complex dungeon crawl or hidden movement game.  Among CCGs, this reminds me more of NetRunner than anything else.  I can't help but wonder how creative asymmetry can be used in board game design.  It feels like an area of fruitful exploration.

While not intended as a review, I will close by saying that I do recommend Plants vs. Zombies Heroes.  In addition to my thoughts on the core game design, it works well and does not fall into the pay-to-win trap that hurts many free-to-play games.  I have not spent any money yet and am still enjoying the game.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Organized Play Update for Championship Formula Racing

Note that the rank change is based on last year,
not earlier this year.
Don went on a tear at PrezCon last weekend.  He won the last 3 races of the tournament including the finals.  Those results moved Don up 3 spots from 5th to 2nd in the race for CFR OP's first champion.

But Doug G still leads the pack by a good bit.  Partially because he picked up some points as well over the weekend, but mostly because his 2 race wins and tournament victory came against larger fields and he got more points for them than Don did at PrezCon.

The PBeM series Doug won included 50 competitors and his races always had 10 cars.  PrezCon was contested by 13 drivers total and races averaged 7 competitors.

Brian DeWitt moved up from 45th to 7th after PrezCon on the strength of 4 podium finishes at the tournament.  Chris Brandt moved from 56th to 9th after 3 podiums including 2nd in the finals.

This will likely be the last big change to the rankings for a while.  The Redscape PBeM tournament is promising to net some huge points after it has completed but there is 1 race and likely 2-3 months left before that happens.  Interestingly, neither Doug G nor Don are in contention for the championship of that series so the results will likely catapult some other driver into contention.  Among the current top 11, Giovanni, myself, Fabio, Randy, Tim, and Michael Polcen are in the top series of that PBeM.

The season is scheduled to conclude after the WBC tournament at the end of July.  But there could be more one-off races and maybe a small tournament or two in the works between now and then.

Remember that if you want to host an Organized Play event, email me at least a month prior.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

PrezCon 2017 Championship Formula Racing Results

[Editor's note: I posted this, but it was written by the tournament steward, Chris Brandt.  Pictures by Chris and Don Tatum. -- Doug]

Danny’s Yellow Porsche Leads the field early in race 1. 
Notice the restored Camaro in second place.
This year’s CFR tournament featured the usual crowd of drivers, including myself, defending Champ Brian DeWitt, legendary Doug Gallulo, relatively-new-to-us Don Tatum, Locals Dave Ingraham and Danny Mallison, and veteran driver Mike Greason.  Missing was John Welage.  We also had some new drivers in Dave Wolf, John Steffey, and Mike Lind.

I try to bring something new each year and this year I brought some new track ideas.  I have long used what I call the “model railroad” modular model, where the end of each piece is the same, although the pieces themselves vary.  This year I was able to purchase some nice Masonite hexes, 11” across, already painted for miniatures gaming, and I added some straight pieces I cut on my trusty table saw.  These pieces added some new variety because I also built an adapter between the RR pieces and these new hexes.

I also picked up two new cars, a late 60’s Camaro and what appeared to be an AMC GTX.  They were in really bad shape when I got them (at a hefty price for what they were) and while I’m not a painter, they looked decent on the track after I fixed them up some.  I’m always on the lookout for 1/87 scale cars, as they are not easy to find at a decent price.

Camaro and GTX “Before” Pictures

Race 1
The first race was on a fairly simple track that used a mix of RR and hex-based pieces.  It featured some long straights and 200 MPH top speeds ruled the day.  Danny Mallison jumped out like a rabbit and the field took off in pursuit.  Danny’s yellow DELL Porsche extended his lead and when Doug started pressing him he picked up the dice and started rolling… and rolling… and rolling, but never failed.

Race 1 track with some long, fast straights
and a tight hairpin.
The track had one flaw.  We had a 40/60 curve, 2 lanes but longer longer than the speed limit.  This turned out to be a choke point, which gave Danny the opportunity for the lead.  That piece of track has since been retired after Don spun in HEAVY traffic.  New driver Dave Wolf finished fourth, behind me in third.

Dave Ingraham picked up 5th followed by Don, John, and Mike Lind.  Mike had a piece of wisdom to share after his first race, “Maybe next time I won’t spend all my wear on the first lap.”  Final results.

  1. Danny Mallison
  2. Doug Gallulo
  3. Chris Brandt
  4. Dave Wolf
  5. Dave Ingraham
  6. Don Tatum
  7. John Steffey
  8. Mike Lind
Race 2
Race two slowed things down a bit and drew our biggest field, nine drivers.  Brian, having missed the first race, showed up for the second and picked up where he left off last year, with the win, sneaking by Don at the very end.  Here’s what separates the champs from the chumps.  Midway through the race I was feeling pretty confident.  Although I had only 40 decel compared to the more popular 60, I had my skill chips in hand for those three braking rolls I’d need.  But wait… I thought I had two left and had none!  I was forced to take a naked brake test and failed it!  However, when I picked up my car design tent… there they were.  What a blunder!!  Later in the race, forced to take a REAL naked brake test, I broke the brakes for good and retired… in last.

Occasional racer Chris Gooch finished third, followed by first time racer Anita Landry, who was coached by Brian, who was sitting next to her.  Both Formula De and McGartlin are more popular than CFR/SC at Prezcon but we often get racers from those game in ours when they do not overlap. John Steffey finished next and actually qualified for the finals based on his first two finishes.

Kerry Duggento beat Doug to the line, as he had his problems in traffic.  Mike Greason joined us but the curve before the final straight was very tight and saw several spins, including Mike’s on the last lap.  My broken car finished ninth.  Final results for race 2.
  1. Brian DeWitt
  2. Don Tatum
  3. Chris Gooch
  4. Anita Landry
  5. John Steffey
  6. Kerry Duggento
  7. Doug Gallulo
  8. Mike Greason
  9. Chris Brandt
Race 3
Don found his true calling – track design.  He brought out all the bling, with the bridge, the banked curve, and a mix of hex and RR sections.  Maybe he knew what he was doing because he cruised to the win, with Brian finishing second, a reversal of race 2.  These two were proving to be the ones to beat.  I finished third, edging Doug, with David I, Mike G, and Mike L rounding out the seven driver race.  Mike L DID save some wear, but not enough and bagged his second last place finish.  Final results:
  1. Don Tatum
  2. Brian DeWitt
  3. Chris Brandt
  4. Doug Gallulo
  5. Dave Ingraham
  6. Mike Greason
  7. Mike Lind
Track from race 4.  Bridge!
Race 4
Race four was the race of the pinulator.  Don designed the track again with help from others, and was able to pinulate the entire thing… although he finished the last details as the race was ending!  This race was one of the more interesting ones.  The track was VERY long, with 13 curves and long straights.  We opted to run just two laps but give three laps of wear and driver skill… because we were going to need it.

Don nailed down the top seed for the final with a win in the smallest heat, a six player race that moved very swiftly.  I finished second, edging toward the top spot, with Brian right behind me.  Danny returned to the grid but didn’t fare as well this race finishing fourth.  Mike Greason took fifth and Doug who gambled early failed an accel check crippling his car and his chances for a win during a heat.  This set the finals with eight drivers.  Final race 4 results:
  1. Don Tatum
  2. Chris Brandt
  3. Brian DeWitt
  4. Danny Mallison
  5. Mike Greason
  6. Doug Gallulo
Track from Race 4.
Late in race 4 with standings through
3 races visible.  Don leads Doug and
Danny, followed by Brian, Mike G,
and Chris B.
Although we bid for starting position for the heats, the starting grid for the final is based on points earned during the heats.  We had four heats so each driver could count their best three finishes.  Qualifying points in heats are awarded as follows:
  • 3 points for a win
  • 1 point for participating
  • 1 point for each person you beat to the finish line
Don’s two wins clearly put him on the pole, with Brian in second.  I was third, despite not having one a heat because Danny, who DID win a heat only participated in two races.  Doug tied Danny, but withdrew from the race because he was also in the Puerto Rico final, which he WON – Congrats to Doug.

Dave Ingraham moved up a spot becoming the fifth spot on the grid.  Chris G and John Steffey had conflicts with other tournaments, leaving us with only five drivers for the final, the smallest final I can ever remember by at least 3 drivers.

The track didn’t look that fast, but Brian opted for 180 top speed, noticing that the banked curve, which connected two straights, would give him the opportunity to use that top speed 3 times each lap.  I maxed out wear, while Don decided a big start was the answer.  Danny tried the fast start again, but without having to bid for the pole done simply designed a higher start speed and took off as the rabbit.  Dave went with a conservative car and because he was starting at the back of the grid, didn’t see the need to press early.

Don and Brian fought, passing and drafting each other repeatedly over the three laps.  I had all kinds of wear over Danny but could not shake him to get a clear track.  So, while those two battles raged, Dave I sat back and conserved his car.

I finally lost Danny on the curve following the hairpin when I cleared it and took off for the leaders while Danny was stuck in it.  Don and Brian were nip and tuck, heading to the second to the last curve, which was a very tough, uneven curve.  The inner two lanes were each two spaces with an speed line, but the inner lane was only 60 MPH and the middle lane was 80.  Each had one wear left, but with a slower speed, Brian had to roll on the chance table to keep up and spun.  I was right behind, passed Brian and finished two spaces behind Don for second place.

Danny managed to hold off Dave I for fourth, rolling dice like he owned them.
Starting grid for the final:
  • Don Tatum 27 points (2 wins)
  • Brian Dewitt 22 points (1 win)
  • Chris Brandt 16 points
  • Danny Mallison 14 points (1 win)
  • Doug Gallulo 14 points – withdrew
  • Dave Ingraham 9 points
  • Chris Gooch 7 points - withdrew
  • John Steffey 7 points withdrew

Final Results
  1. Don Tatum – Winner, new Prezcon Champion, and receiver of the plaque.
  2. Chris Brandt
  3. Brian DeWitt
  4. Danny Mallison
  5. Dave Ingraham
[Final editor notes.  I awarded tournament places to the 3 drivers that could have participated in the finals, but withdrew.  So Doug was awarded 6th, Chris got 7th, and John got 8th. -- Doug]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The What-If Champion of 2016 for Championship Formula Racing

... would have been Chris Long... perhaps the best what-if-champion ever.

In last week's Organized Play rankings update I mentioned that I had pretty good data going back to 2013 [1] for Championship Formula Racing results.  What I mean by pretty good data is more than one source.  Prior to 2013 close to all of my data comes from the World Boardgaming Championship tournament (and its predecessors).

From 2013 on, I had at least 2 major tournaments and sometimes some one-off races to draw from.  Below are some stats from those seasons including what I've logged so far in this season.

A race opportunity is the number of total races you could enter that season if you entered everything.  Because most tournaments end up running multiple simultaneous heats in order to accommodate large numbers of drivers, the number of actual races run is always a good bit larger than the number of race opportunities.

This historical data was good to have.  It gave me some reality checks when fine-tuning the rankings process and the 2016 data is used this year to help weight the competition in each race.

It also means that I can go back and run the rankings for each of those years.  These years aren't official Organized Play seasons and none of the what-if-champions from 2013-2016 will get any prize.

But, just for fun, what would have happened if Championship Formula Racing Organized Play had existed in 2016?  Spoiler alert... Chris Long won and racked up the most points by far of any previous what-if-champion.

A quick note about this season... because the results of a tournament and its races do not count until the tournament is over and it took me a long time to finish my F* PBeM, many of those races actually started in the 2015 season but counted in the 2016 season.

Chris won two races that season but also had two second place finishes that counted for more than many wins do based on the competition.  His best race was a win in the top tier of the F* PBeM which had a field rating of 1.55.  He placed second in another race in that series.  He also won a qualifying heat at WBC that year and placed second in a top tier race in the Redscape PBeM.

Chris' main competition in 2016 came from Randy Needham and Fabio Pellegrino.  Both won 3 races to Chris' 2 but while their top-2 races scored them more points Chris' 3rd and 4th best races closed the gap for him leaving him with a slight edge in points from his top-4 races that season.

Chris really pulled away in the rankings due to his tournament results.  Chris not only won F*, he finished 3rd in Redscape's tournament that season.  Combined he received 52.54 points from those two tournaments -- more than double anyone else in 2016.

Bruce Rae was Chris' closest competition based on tournament results after winning WBC that year.  But Bruce labored in lower tiers of F* that season and ended up 15th.  Michael Polcen won the Redscape tournament but finished 19th in F* and 26th at WBC.

One of the reasons that Chris' total score of 161.73 was so much higher than previous what-if-champions is because the 2016 what-if-season was the largest to that point in every metric except total numbers of tournaments.  But Chris drove the hell out of that season and gaped a great field of competitors.

[ 1 ] I name seasons based on the year they end.  So the current 2017 season started Septemberish 2016 but will end after WBC 2017.