Drugs and Dice

Greetings from the PACU boys and girls!

For those of you blessed enough to have no idea what that is, it’s where they put you to recover from the white collar version of an all nighter in Bangladesh (surgery): you wake up disoriented, woozy, with multiple stab wounds in your gut and a strange lady asking you if you’re ready to leave yet.

So naturally, I want to take the opportunity to introduce another meta-gaming concept, in part to see how well I can manage to form thoughts on schedule 2 narcotics, and in part because I’m way overdue for a post and I finally have some time where I can do literally nothing else.

The subject du jour: the difference between options in a game and options in life. In my mind this is a huge…

That’s about how far I got before passing out. Literally, completely coherent typing, nap time. No middle ground. Whatever brilliant sequitur I promise I totally had from there has long since left me, along with a fair amount of blood and any semblance of abs I might have had… Let’s grab a drink and restart.

I hate dice.

There’s nothing wrong with the familiar ole chance cube ostensibly, and if I’m being really honest about my feelings, it’s not even them I’m really mad at. But I’m a dude and that’s hard for me. So fuck dice. I hope never to use them in a game.

What I’m actually mad about is the role of chance in games, and how it’s approached. I consider adding dice to a game to be a lazy and artificial way to simulate randomness for difficult to model event, and even worse, it’s misleading.

When was the last time you knew you had a 16.7% chance of something happening in your life? You walked into a bar, saw an attractive girl and thought to yourself “Ah yes, I’ll need to roll a 6 for this one!” Very little actually falls into that deterministic fate-driven category where you know all the variables, can slap a number on the desired outcome, and then can’t do squat else to influence it.There’s actually a word for desperately hoping that anything in your confusing and completely out of hand life is simple enough to be modeled by rolling a die: the ludic fallacy.

The example on wikipedia is one of my favorite from the book (The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb):

  • Dr. John who is regarded as a man of science and logical thinking
  • Fat Tony who is regarded as a man who lives by his wits (he is also described as having hairy knuckles and bad cholesterol)

A third party asks them to “assume a fair coin is flipped 99 times, and each time it comes up heads. What are the odds that the 100th flip would also come up heads?”

  • Dr. John says that the odds are not affected by the previous outcomes so the odds must still be 50:50.
  • Fat Tony says that the guy is lying and the game is rigged. Bet on heads.

The difference here is that Dr. John will work his entire career for a predictable and stable income, whereas Fat Tony, who is based on a real person, was actually a disgustingly successful financial trader. Generally speaking the Dr. Johns of the world are usually working for company’s started by Fat Tonys one way or another.

This is the core of the issue I was druggedly lilting towards: the way people learn to interact with the world is far too structured. We seek out rules and then use them to save us the trouble of directing our own thinking and forcing us to consider an the fallibility of our definition of a problem or the sources for our information. They work well for exactly that purpose, but they’re also the single most common source of unsolvable problems.

Games should teach people to appraise situations with an objective focus and concoct solutions based on creative data parsing and unorthodox uses of standard mechanisms, not to roll and pray. The biggest advantage tabletop games have over the computer is their ability to incorporate these intangible methods of problem solving in their design. The ability to negotiate your way out of an impossible battle and play the people at the table off of one another is what makes setting up all the little cardboard pieces and repackaging everything in its little ziplock baggie at the end worth it. I recognize that some situations would just be tedious to create models of in a tabletop context, and that doing so would bog down an otherwise good game, but nothing is more frustrating than deducing optimal strategies, positioning yourself well tactically, and then rolling four ones in a row. There’s no satisfaction in beating someone that way and no lesson to learn from the defeat.

Randomization should be accomplished in a thematically appropriate fashion whenever possible, please keep divine intervention to a minimum in your design.

First Post

People today are awkward.

Granted, I’m pretty sure people in the past were probably pretty awkward too. I mean can you imagine how hard it must have been to make conversation with a pretty girl when there were only like, three words. And even then, when neanderthal man attempted to approach said girl, she probably interpreted all three of them to mean “I would like to club you, drag you back to my cave, and have sex with you” (in her defense, she was probably right, which begs the question: what were the other two words for?). For all the improvements we’ve made in our quality of life, there are some things we never seem to have gotten much better at.

Actually, I’d argue we’ve gotten worse at interacting with our own species, and dramatically so in the last couple decades precisely because of the developments in technology. Pre-internet, if you wanted pretty much any kind of stimulation, you had to actually do something. It took effort, forced you to focus on something, learn a skill, or engage with other people. You built talents and spent a lot of time getting more comfortable with yourself. Nowadays, between YouTube, Facebook, and YouPorn, the only non-work related reason to locate pants is when the pizza delivery guy shows up. And even that is just a courtesy honestly, I assume I wouldn’t be the first guy to answer in my underwear…

The one that usually hits me the hardest is video games though. When I decide to try out a new video game I usually approach it like I’m about to go on a very responsible heroin bender (note that pretty much any new series on Netflix can also be treated this way). I make sure I’m well hydrated, feed up before starting, cancel all my plans for the next couple days, and ready myself to not see the sun again for a while. Basically it’s about a hop skip and a jump from procuring a bucket for basic biologic functions and locking myself in a room for the neighbors to find in a few weeks.

Most  males I know love video games; they’re self-contained puzzles with defined rules and comprehendible goals. That’s the perfect recipe for an intellectual opiate. They’re how a lot of people cope with working on things they don’t actually have any interest in all day, it’s a substitute for actually developing passions, hobbies, or making slow and difficult life changes.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist, I love them at least as much as the next guy and there are plenty of times when I’m feeling tired and frustrated and really just want to bludgeon some strangers with a cricket bat. Video games have totally saved me from having to try to find a cricket bat in the states on several occasions, but I worry that they’re also making it entirely too easy to substitute some instant gratification for something that used to force us to develop social connections.

Fortunately, there’s a trend that might be serving to reverse some small part of that trajectory: a return to tabletop games! Starting with Settlers of Catan back in the mid-nineties, board games have been making a comeback. All the same problem-solving complexity, more flexible rules and interesting interpersonal dynamics, and a genuine catalyst for interacting with other people without needing to be drunk. That’s huge.

Alright, so this is my first attempt at a blog, and actually my first attempt at writing down what I think without being graded on or paid for it. Actually, this blog is gonna be a lot of firsts for me, so things might get weird.

My name is George, I’m a serial entrepreneur turned consultant turned corporate slave (turns out I can totally be bought) then turned back into an entrepreneur. I’m currently starting a board game company, so this blog should be a coverage of that process interspersed with board game industry updates, game strategy, undergraduate level philosophy, and possibly some pictures of cats.

The link below leads to a plucky Britt giving a pretty apt overview of the state of the board gaming industry circa 2013 and identifying a lot of the reasons that it’s been growing as fast as it has. It’s a long video, but if you’ve got some downtime and an interest in the subject, I highly recommend letting it run for a bit.

The above, with a better accent.

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