Devil to Pay 2

An evolutionary update is in the works for the ACW game Devil to Pay. After 4 years of running these at conventions we have a few reasonable rule updates that will improve the game without changing it too much. There are various abuses we have seen that are being tweaked out of existence. They were legal abuses, but still. We also discovered a rules hole or two simply because out of all the playing we’ve done, we just haven’t seen every single permutation! The ones we did see are fixable though.

Massive Update to the Yard Sale

I finally have some time and I’ve updated the Yard Sale with tons of miniatures from the Napoleonic period. These are all marked 50% off of retail. All proceeds go to the widow of a local war gamer, and the figures come from his large collection. Help out his family this Christmas!

New Items added to the Yard Sale

It’s been a busy day. A couple of days ago I was in a car accident and my car was totaled. Luckily no one was injured and we both had insurance. I spent today looking at cars. It wasn’t a bad experience. There are a lot of models out there but the technology has changed a lot over the years (my last car was 9 years old) and it struck me that this sale is the same thing. These miniatures are WAY better than the miniatures I had growing up in the 80’s. Also there are now a lot of brands. Some people have their favorites. So far I am just lucky to make enough room to get around in my office. So the selection of figures is just what I randomly pull out of my over stuffed storage and bring into the house. But as the sale progresses, more breathing room is created and I am able to open up the collection some more for special requests. Right now the boxed miniatures are the easiest to sell because they are highly labeled and I know what the retail price is on them. Once they are moved then it’s on to the metal miniatures. Let me tell you – there are a lot of them. Its crazy. I don’t even know what they are. I am dumb when it comes to the period. That is when I will need the help of you folks. Someone will help me figure out by visually identifying the figures so I can come up with a decent description.

I implemented weights for everything so the postage should be more fair. The first wave was shipped at rates I just don’t think were right. It’s all part of the learning process. My day job is as a data scientist for casinos. I can tell you a lot about the exponential curvature of the histogram of run length for similar balls called in bingo games. And my own interests are in ACW, Dark Ages, Old West, and WWII. I think the Napoleonic period is beautiful – but I am going to depend upon you experts to sort this thing out!

WIN_20160716_18_54_19_ProWIN_20160716_18_54_27_Pro

First Wave Sale Items Shipped!

I am adding more stuff today. If the site stays up. My host suffered a DoS attack for most of the day yesterday, I assume in association with the Turkish Coup. Who would have guessed a cyberwar that far away would have affected us. The site seems stable so far so lets hope it remains up!

I am redoing the shipping. I learned my lesson. Weigh everything. Shipping is a killer. Now I know why businesses use Amazon for fulfillment! No one was over charged in Wave 1. Quite the opposite actually. I have purchased a scale and I am using the Post Office’s Click-n-Ship. I also noticed that they have the ability to pick up from the house so shipping isn’t dependent upon me having to make a side trek to the nearest Post Office!

I am also going to do a give away. There is a small painted army based for skirmish warfare. I have no use for it. Its about 30 or so figures. Extremely well painted. Everyone who buys anything is in the running. Every whole dollar you spend will be like a raffle ticket. At the end of Summer I will have a program pick a winner. It could be you! I will get photos of the Army up soon. The army will also come with a hard case, so it’s ready for you to take to the hobby store and fight with!

The Sale Begins

WGN-RUS-04_russian_starter_LRG

I finally have a web store up to sell the gaming materials of my old friend to help his family. All of the stuff can be found at the Victory Points Yard Sale. This is just the beginning. There  were be a lot more stuff added on a weekly basis. I expect it will sell quickly because the prices are very low.

Help a widow, buy Napoleonic Miniatures!

black-powder-french-line-infantry-5683-0-1396615397000A dear friend passed unexpectedly. It was left up to me to help his widow by liquidating his collection. I was shocked to find nearly 10,000 miniatures still in their boxes. So, these have to go. All proceeds are going to the widow. I’m not taking any fees. It’s a huge collection and she deserves what she can get for it. However, neither of us know much about the period. I will create a discussion the forums so that people can discuss the items for sale. some items I will have to put up without having much knowledge of it. Luckily I do have part numbers for most of the boxed stuff. The loose lead, though, will be an interesting challenge. You can help!

Mark was a great guy and I’m happy to help out his family this way. I hope that you can help by spreading the word. I will be putting things up for sale one bin at a time. If there is something you want and don’t see I can make you a deal deal if you buy in larger quantities. There is other stuff for sale. Mainly O scale model railroad stuff. I am even more clueless about that, than I am about the Napoleonic soldiers. So, if you have any interest in that, let me know. I can’t tell you what most of it is, but I can say that I’m certain someone out there has a cross over interest between miniatures and model trains.

Nashcon 2016 After Action Report

20160527_212726Nashcon 2016 was a blast. I really had a good time overall. The staff was great, as usual, the hotel was refurbished, and there were plenty of games and gamers. There were a few hickups, but nothing really major. The bar and restaurant were combined in the hotel and the noise level was pretty high when it was packed. The marble surfaces they added looked very nice but reflected sound a bit too well. The outside deck was still nice however. The convention registration area was unexpectedly not part of the Nashcon floor plan and so the staff had to scramble to create a new registration area. Those were the only complaints I had about the convention site and the convention itself. Otherwise it was a well run affair.

20160528_221654I ran I’m Your Huckleberry twice and Devil to Pay once. I had signed up to run 4 games but there were a lot of GMs so one of my games got bumped. It was a minor blessing that Devil To Pay got bumped because, as I found out, I did not play test the scenario enough and it needed tweaks. The Union Army was so fouled up by terrain and traffic congestion that it just could not reach the target area in time to commence fighting properly. Most of the game was spent with the Union artillery plinking back and forth with the Confederate artillery, and the Confederate Cavalry making an extremely daring dash into the Union Rear area. That was when we hit a rule bug that I will discuss in the forums. The long and short of it is that the Union, following the rules to the letter, were able to use a formation change to get out of charge range and then got a favorable fire order which they used to blast the hell out of the confederate cavalry. Everyone agreed it was a sad state of affairs and didn’t feel right. I have a suggested rule modification that I think will address this problem. I saw the same problem in the 90’s when I was developing Bonnie Blue Flag so this is oddly familiar. The next game will go better as I plan on a more stringent play test of the scenario.

In complete opposition to that, the I’m Your Huckleberry games were extremely smooth playing and extremely fun! A few changes made all the difference. Nina had suggested to me that cards representing the characters would be really nice. That way people could see what they had and basic information without having to really look closely at the miniature. I added a data line for each weapon and I created a spreadsheet that made fast posse creation loads easier. Further, one places the die on the card instead of next to the character. This is a much better way of hiding what  you are doing. It made the game play go a lot smoother. Another change was to eliminate almost all of the effects in the wounding table and replace them with YELLOW (scared), BLUE (bruised and injured), and RED (incapacitated). RED and BLUE can be reduced with Patch Me Up. YELLOW can be cleared with the recovery option of action #10.

20160528_141530A few things still need a touch of cleanup. The one mounted character dismounted and remained dismounted for the whole game. That made sense in the context of their strategy. That’s a scenario cleanup. The handling of wounds for mounted and dismounted need to be carefully considered. Marking who is wounded (horse or man) isn’t easy now. I think we will assume the wound is on the man but optionally let the man lose the horse to avoid the wound. Another thing I am cleaning up is shotgun range. I dialed it back, but in light of other changes it needs to be extended from 9 inches to 12 inches. Also, sawed off shotguns need to be considered in hand to hand combat if they are loaded.

My next planned convention is Siege of Augusta in January. I did consider going to GenCon this year but when I went to buy badges, you need an account for every badge. I didn’t have time to create two accounts, get the friend’s request/acceptance passed for both, and then get back on and buy tickets. It’s really overly cumbersome, in my opinion, and they lost 2 badge sales over it. Maybe next year – though I tend to keep a sense of distaste after something like this so probably not. Any system (gaming, convention, governement, etc.) that doesn’t do it’s best to smooth the path with efficiency tends to push me away. In this case, GenCon is gaining a lot of personal information that they want, without giving anything back to the consumers other than the burden of doing this thing. Not that it’s hurt the convention. Their attendance has grown from 25,000 to 61,000 in the last 12 years. They expect continued growth this year. I think it is a good convention, from the reports I’ve heard. I just hate bureaucracy that only benefits the organization and not the consumer.

Nashville needs a Fall convention. A big one day show in October. That’s my opinion. I think we should get it going! We also need a one day show in Atlanta in the Spring. What do you think? Chime in on the forums!

 

The Devil to Pay at Nashcon

DevilToPayI am running two games of The Devil to Pay at Nashcon. If you have not heard about them yet, these are regimental level rules for warfare during the American Civil War. They have been out since 2015. We started work on them in 2006, with primary development getting underway in 2011. This first edition plays really well. The mechanics are easy to understand and you won’t need an expert player to turn to in order to figure out something like a charge. The authors have been playing Johnny Reb since the mid-1990s, and other civil war games as well. From 1989 to 1998 I developed Bonnie Blue Flag, a brigade level set of rules. When Nathaniel St. John set out to write these rules he knew what he liked and didn’t like in rules. He didn’t like complications and felt that the rules had to be memorable. He did like there to be friction of command. As a veteran he has some experience with that.

The scenario I’m running is Lookout Mountain. Normally one would not choose this as the historical outcome was so one sided. In the real battle the mountain was beset by heavy November fog and by 3PM was in whiteout conditions. The Union was able to advance unimpeded by Confederate artillery. This is an interesting situation. Fog like that is extremely random. I’ve seen fog like that. It’s tenuous. So, for my Lookout Mountain scenario I make the fog random. It can build and wane. If it get to an extreme of either clear or foggy it will stay at that level for the rest of the  game. This means the Union can’t rely up Mother Nature being a solid ally. The most notable feature of the battlefield is it’s rough and steep nature. I’ve been working on custom terrain for it. While the convention is right around the corner, it’s not quite ready yet. Otherwise I’d have photos up! I treated the miniatures and the scenario first. Terrain can always be cobbled together, so not having special terrain wasn’t going to stop the game from happening. Not having enough miniatures, however, was! I’m confident the terrain will be ready in time, however.

The rules will cover this battle very well with little intervention. One rule I will be making up will be how artillery works against troops. There is a flat area that leads up to the mountain, which artillery can fire upon with no penalty. However, trying to fire at troops on the mountain at a different elevation is at half strength. Its not easy getting cannons to fire above or below their normal angles and that would be required upon this hill.

Another thing I like about The Devil to Pay is that if you just follow the turn sequence and don’t try to seize the day, you are going to lose. The turn sequence isn’t set. It’s kinda random, actually. You need to take advantage of the Carpe Diem cards to force the sequence to do what you want. If you just let the other side decide it will become their battle, their way, and ultimately their victory.

I’m Your Huckleberry, Update

I am continuing to work on I’m Your Huckleberry. I started this project about 3 years ago. The current revision is looking ready for release. The biggest change lately was how the damage system works and it’s a major change. One of the dissatisfying aspects of the old damage system was the large number of tokens that could end up on the table…

20160518_094753As you can see, one can end up with a rather gigantic amount of tokens and it isn’t just unattractive but you have to move them and it becomes a real problem when you have multiple stacks of effect tokens surrounding a figure. Of the many possible streamlining changes, this one was at the top of the list. Any change that makes the game play more efficient and aesthetically pleasing is a big win.

The change I propose is to reduce the wound states to Duck Back, Startled, Bruised, Incapacitated, and Dead. 3 of the states require tokens: Startled, Bruised, and Incapacitated. I chose to use round acrylic disks to be placed under the figure but which are visible enough to clearly indicate the state. The Recovery token is removed from the game. The new damage effects are as follows:

  • Duck Back – simply move toward cover and getting out of line of sight. The recovery token has been removed.
  • Scared – this is with a yellow marker. Can be removed with a Recover action. -1 die to combat and movement.
  • Bruised – shown with a blue marker, a more substantial injury, -2 dice to combat and movement.
  • Wounded – incapacitated. Shown with a red marker.
  • Defeated

20160518_094646There is a progression of wounds I am working on. I want it easy enough to remember. Basically, a yellow marker won’t increase the wounds of any other marker. A blue will promote a blue to a red. A red will promote a blue to a red, or a red to defeated. We will see how it plays out in convention games!

 

Game Theory on Extraterrestrial Contact

The Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation

Enrico Fermi, the flamboyant “Physicist with an F” as he would say, had a startling revelation one day. “The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist. However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.” It would not take a lot of time compared to the age of the universe to have covered it in a star spanning Empire. Why, then, were there no alien civilizations out there already? The Drake Equation can make very high estimates of the amount of intelligent life in the Universe or even in just our galaxy. Why can’t we hear the chatter of alien civilizations?

The fact is that SETI didn’t start until 1959. All sky survey’s have had the assumption that beacons would be continuous. So, all parts of the sky have been looked at for just moments of a time at random intervals since 1959.

The Wow! Signal

For some reason this topic has been coming up in my social media networks a lot and has gotten me to think about it as well. Does Firmi’s Paradox still hold or have we already found proof of alien life? The only credible point of evidence is the Wow! Signal, detected by Big Ear in 1977. It was a narrow band, strong signal, near the frequency of the precession of hydrogen. It was exactly what scientist would hope to find. Its the message we have sent as well. However, there is this disturbing bit of news that comes with it: The signal appears to have come from an area of the sky with no stars or planets, northwest of the globular cluster M55. The signal was also required a quite powerful transmitter at 2.2 Gigawatts. That kind of power is achievable with nuclear power, but is quite expensive and not likely to be kept on all the time. However, it is strong enough to be seen across the galaxy.

The Wow! signal has never been heard again. It lasted at most 24 hours and as little as dozens of minutes.

Humans are curious. We love exploration of ideas. We love knowing new things, because that helps us advance. The reason we want to know if ET exists is fundamental to our nature. However, in looking back at our own history of discovering “alien cultures” here on Earth, we are cautious. We know what colonization looks like. We have no record of what happened to Neanderthal man, yet, but all indications are that it did not end peacefully for them, as Homo Sapiens expanded into the World. However, some optimists have imagined wise and peaceful ETs out there. Others contend there can only be paranoid fear and our only true visitation by aliens will be via Relativistic Kill Vehicles, sent to sterilize our planet.

Lets Play Interstellar Identify Friend or Foe

In this game, lets assume just two players. One is an alien civilization that has decided to become known. What isn’t known is if they are friendly or hostile. We don’t assume the civilization is a non-broadcaster because not broadcasting is one of your choices and leads to a very quiet galaxy (which we currently have.) Why would a hostile agency broadcast at all? They want to find other alien agencies and need to lure them in. They are hostile because they are paranoid about the other forms of life out there. Their response is to follow up detection with relativistic kill vehicles (perhaps using asteroids that they get up to speed and destroy the planets in the solar system of their enemy. Not hard because gravity is a predictable effect, giving all the targeting information one needs.)

A friendly civilization is interested in information exchange. The more information they have the better. While there are risks in full disclosure, even between friendly agencies, they are outweighed by the benefits of mutual information exchange. That Full Disclosure communication, however, is heard by everyone, which is an important point.

There are three broadcasting levels. The first is a total blackout with passive listening only. The second is intermittent signals, broadcast loudly, but far away from the home system. This is most like the Wow! Signal. Finally there is constant Full Disclosure broadcast. This is like some people on Facebook! Those smart people at SETI and NASA have been doing this: loudly telling the Universe where we live, that we still have internecine warfare, our biological make up, and that we still worship cats and Kardashians.

Lets use game theory to understand the consequences here. I did my work in a spreadsheet which I’ll add as images. If you want the spreadsheet just get it from here.

GT-01

Here in Game 1 we see what happens when we broadcast. So if we were Silent (row 1) and the other agency was an Intermittent broadcaster (column 2) our result would be ND, PD which is read as, Player 1 is Not Detected, Player 2 is Partially Detected. That means that Player 1 knows Player 2 exists but not much else. This is still useful information. Player 2 is unaware of Player 1. This game is simple and obvious and we don’t assign any value to the choices, just consequences. Understanding those consequences requires a more indepth understanding of basic desire. Perhaps I over-simplify, but an agency is going to be either hostile or friendly. Hostility, here, is defined as paranoid of competition. Friendly is defined here as seeking information exchange. Would this be possible without faster than light communication? I don’t have an answer for that. Let’s assume once communication is established, it eventually will have a positive payback between friendly agencies.

Since we must assume one side is breaking intergalactic radio silence, here is how I think it plays out.

GT-02

The Infinite Cost Scenario is where you were detected by the other agency and they opted to sterilize your planet with a relativistic weapon. Since player 1 (left side) has the choice to produce a signal or not, we limit the 2nd player (top row choices) to partial or full disclosure. I would like to point out that NASA has already chosen the Partial Disclosure, with possible Full Disclosure. This gives us a 25% to 50% chance of being visited by a Relativistic Kill Vehicle in the next 800 to 1000 years. You’re Welcome. Of course it also has the chance to give us full and friendly relations with wise and benevolent space beings. People thousands of years into the future, you too are welcome!

 

How Close are we to Extinction via RKV?

GT-03

I take our neutrality in this matter as a fact. I think we might consider open and fruitful conversation with alien people. Then again I also look at how some people treat other people who think even modestly differently on this planet… and I consider us more likely to be hostile. That said, looking at the chart I see two Nash Equilibrium in the mix. If the signal came from a hostile force, they have risk that we will determine their location, however, they are hoping for us to just be all open and fully disclosed so they can smash our home planet to pieces. If we suspect them to be hostile we prefer a zero disclosure strategy. If they are friendly, we benefit with full disclosure. Of course there is a risk not covered in this analysis. What if there is a third party, definitely hostile, and not doing anything to reveal themselves? Two parties blabbing on about nerd science crap in the bandwidth around Hydrogen are now going to both be targeted. Again, Thanks NASA and SETI.

GT-04

But it’s not all bad. Maybe everyone leaks information and we just haven’t invented the right equipment yet to hear them. Removing the ND options reveals that there are low risks in PD. You gain information that you aren’t alone. However Full Disclosure brings Infinite Cost risks. In the last block I look at what a stealth agency gets. It is all gravy. In fact it favors being a hostile jerk. So, if that is the case then the Universe is divided into two camps. Hostile Jerks who lay low and snipe at your civilization versus Nerds who share everything and get removed from the gene pool. Thanks NASA nerds! Now I can sleep tonight knowing you have doomed us. On the upside, the most dangerous hostiles are the ones who send no signal, so its quite possible the Wow! Signal was a genuine friendly message. As stated above, I give us 50-50 odds that if it was a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence, it’s friendly.

Conclusion

The Wow! signal was sent from empty interstellar space. It was broadcast with an antenna the size of the Arecibo Observatory and powered by a nuclear power plant strong enough to power New York City. We can’t even come close to doing that. Not. Even. Close. So, I think it’s a lure. After doing the above analysis, it’s a lure for dumb civilizations to raise their hands and volunteer for extinction. Now, we can’t create a signal strong enough to compete with Wow! And if we ever get better at broadcasting into space we should seriously reconsider doing that. Certainly not from Earth. Certainly not communicating that we are organic life living on a water rich planet…

Other possibility exists. What if a hostile race discovered one trying to be silent? They could position a beacon designed to encourage contact from other agencies that would then investigate and find the hiding alien intelligence. If they were friendly with each other then the silent one would kill two birds with simultaneous attacks. If one was hostile then they would use that in the future to direct this violent species to attack neutral ones, letting them do the dirty work and then destroy them once they were no longer useful or too much of a threat.

Further Reading:

Prisoners Dilemma and Alien Contact: Harold P. de Vladar (2013). The game of active search for extra-terrestrial intelligence: breaking the ‘Great Silence’. International Journal of Astrobiology, 12, pp 53-62. doi:10.1017/S1473550412000407.

Less nerdy version of above: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21628954.200-search-for-aliens-poses-game-theory-dilemma.html#.VWY-KkbmwRl

Pessimistic Viewpoint: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/general/300793-game-theory-applied-to-aliens

Wikipedia on the Wow! Signal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wow!_signal

Skeptoid Podcast (one of my favorites) on the validity of the Wow! Signal being from extraterrestrial intelligence: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4342

Image of the actual Wow! Signal printout: http://www.bigear.org/Wow30th/WowL.jpg

National Geographic on post Wow! Signal searching: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/chasing-ufos/articles/what-is-the-wow-signal/

An astronomer believes Wow! is a lighthouse http://zeenews.india.com/news/space/wow-signal-came-from-space-lighthouse_759218.html

Crank astronomer states we should have found the signal again, even though we only send one every few decades… http://www.damninteresting.com/the-wow-signal/

How to make your own Big Ear observatory and look for Wow! signals: http://www.setileague.org/articles/calibwow.htm

Skeptical thoughts on what else Wow! could have been: https://lflank.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/the-wow-signal/

Full on NERD after action report, by Dr. Ehman himself, discoverer of the Wow! signal: http://www.bigear.org/Wow30th/wow30th.htm