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Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has been available stateside for about a week now, and it is… strange. This post on ‘Every Game I’ve Finished’ (written by Mathew Kumar) mirrors a lot of my thoughts – I would recommend reading it before reading this. I haven’t really played a lot of Animal Crossing games before, and I tend to avoid free-to-play1 games. The aforementioned post is largely predicated on the fact that Pocket Camp doesn’t fully deliver on either experience. Which, I guess I wouldn’t really know, but something definitely feels odd about the game to me.

Early in his post, Kumar states that ‘[Pocket Camp] makes every single aspect of it an obvious transaction’, which is comically true. My socialist mind has a hard time seeing the game as anything but a vicious parody of capitalism. My rational mind, of course, knows this is not true because the sort of exploitative mundaneness that coats every aspect of the game is the norm in real life.

This becomes even more entertaining when you observe how players set prices in their Markets. For the uninitiated, when your character has a surplus of a thing, they can offer that thing for sale to other players. The default price is its base value, but you can adjust the sale price down a small amount or up a large amount. Eventually you’ll likely just max out your inventory and be forced to put things up for sale in this Market. More eventually, you’ll max out the Market and be forced to just throw stuff away without getting money for it. But in the meantime, people (strangers and friends) will see what you have to offer and be given the opportunity to buy it.

For the most part, if you need an item (I use the term ‘need’ loosely), it is common, and either hopping around or waiting a couple of hours will get you that item. So there should be no reason to charge a 1000% markup on a couple of apples. But (in my experience thus far) that is far more common than to see items being sold for the minimum (or even their nominal value). I don’t know if it’s just players latching on to the predatory nature of free-to-play games or what, and I’m really curious to know if it works. I’ve been listing things in small quantities (akin to what an animal requests) for the minimum price, and while I’ve sold quite a few items, most still go to waste – I can’t imagine anything selling at ridiculous markups.

So far this description of a capitalist hellscape has probably come off as though I feel negatively toward the game, which I really don’t. To return to Kumar, he leaves his post stating that he hasn’t given up on the game yet, but ‘like Miitomo, the first time I miss a day it’s all over.’ This comparison to Miitomo is apt, and a perfect segue into why I’m invested in this minor dystopia.

Miitomo (another Nintendo mobile thing) is really just a game where you… decorate a room and try on clothes. You answer questions and play some pachinko-esque minigames in order to win decorations and clothes, but it’s basically glorified dress-up. It seems like mostly young people playing it, but it’s also just a wonderful outlet for baby trans folks, people questioning gender, and any number of people seeking a little escape. I find Miitomo to be very valuable and underrated, and a lot of the joy Miitomo brings me is echoed by Pocket Camp.

While the underlying concept behind Pocket Camp is that you’re a black market butterfly dealer or whatever, there’s also a major ‘dollhouse’ component to it. You buy and receive cute clothes and change your outfits, which has no bearing on the game. You buy things to decorate your campsite which (effectively2) has no bearing on the game. You can drop 10,000 dollars bells on a purse that does nothing but sit in the dirt looking pretty. I guess it’s hypocritical to praise this meaningless materialism, but it’s a nice escape. A little world to mess around in and make your own.

I don’t know how long I’ll obsessively island-hop the world of Pocket Camp, but I think that (like Miitomo) once the novelty wears off, I’ll still pop in to play around with my little world when it occurs to me to do so. And the whole time, in my mind, it will remain a perfectly barbed satire on capitalism.


SVG d6

I’ve posted a few games-in-posts and other toys that involve rolls of dice, and my strategy is to use Unicode die-face symbols. I think, for the foreseeable future, this is how I will continue to handle such matters – it’s clean, compact, and rather portable. For whatever reason, I was wondering how best to achieve this in an SVG containing all of the pips, with the face selected via class and modified via CSS. So, below is an SVG die that contains seven pips, with its class set to .die1. But if we set it to .die2, it hides the (0-indexed, left to right, top to bottom) pips 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. If we set it to .die4, it hides pips 2, 3, and 4. This works, of course, for .die3, .die5, and .die6 too, of course. Since pips 0 and 6 and pips 1 and 5 will always be (in)visible together, we can combine either set into a single class, .pip06, and .pip15 to simplify the .die classes that hide them.

Pros include the ability to customize dice (regular D6s and fudge dice, say, or simply multicolored pips), the potential to mix in other-sided dice, and likely superior accessibility. Cons are complexity and file-size (SVGs must be embedded into posts as SVG elements). The latter can be mitigated by generation of the SVGs from whatever JS would be running the show, but it’s still a bit clumsy. An interesting experiment, regardless of whether or not I ever use it.


Discoveries

‘Timeline’ is a game that I’ve been pushing to non-gamers lately. The premise is very simple – everyone has a (public) hand of several historical events, inventions, artistic creations, discoveries, etc.; anything notable and dated. The flip-side of every card has the corresponding date. One event starts the timeline date-side up. Players must then choose one of their cards and make an educated (or not, I suppose) guess as to where it goes in the timeline relative to the other events. Place it, flip it, leave it in place if correct or pull a new card if not. Gameplay is simple, fast, and almost educational. There are a whole bunch of sets, and they can be freely mixed-and-matched.

One of these sets is ‘Science and Discoveries’. Something always felt a little off about this set, and the last time I played it, I think I figured it out. There are 110 cards in a given set, and I have (to the best of my ability) narrowed this one down to a handful of categories:

I had to make a few executive decisions so that I could neatly categorize things, and if I did this categorical exercise again right now, everything would likely be give or take a couple cards. But the heart of the matter is that the creators (rightfully) marked 22% of the cards as having been discovered (by Europeans). If my categorization is even remotely accurate, that’s 40% of the physical/corporeal ‘discovery’ cards.

Now, that ‘rightfully’ up there is important – I am glad that Asmodee opted to point out that these peoples and places were only ‘discovered’ in a very surface manner – the pygmies already knew that the pygmies existed. And this isn’t a very deep thought, hopefully it’s immediately obvious to any given American or European that their history textbooks are written with a bias and to a purpose. But I guess what fascinated me were those percentages.

This is by no means representative of a history textbook, nor the average person’s understanding of history. But I can’t imagine it’s terribly far off, either. Coming from a colonialist sort of viewpoint, a lot of our ‘big moments in history’ come from finding this or that ‘savage’ population and treating them not as humankind, but as a scientific subject. And here we have a truly trivial history game telling us that >20% of the notable achievements the creators could come up with are, in fact, just stuff we’ve decided we can claim as having discovered. Despite either it (for lack of a better phrasing) having discovered itself, or other (‘lesser’) civilizations having beaten us to the punch. I suppose there is far more important stuff to worry about right now, even in the context of colonialism, but I still find it to be an intriguing glimpse into our historical ownership.


Game-in-a-post: Rolling Market

Here it is! Game-in-a-post of ‘Rolling Market’, which I’m still pretty happy with, truth be told. Rules are here. This JS implementation has one bug I’m still aware of which lets you cheat during the endgame, so just… don’t do that until I fix it.

A few additional tips/thoughts on the game:


Rolling Market introduction & rules

I’ve been testing out a little solo game design lately that’s somewhat inspired by Sackson’s Solitaire Dice. Inspired in the sense that I was looking to come up with something that has that same lack of Yahtzee-esque luck mitigation, instead relying on intuition, probabilities, and risk management. Much like Sackson’s game, this can backfire, and the dice can utterly screw you. But even when that happens, there’s enough going on to where the game is still enjoyable (in my humble opinion).

Full rules are listed after the jump, and will repeat some of this brief overview, but here’s the idea: players have four companies they can buy and sell stock shares from. On every turn, the player rolls dice which influence the current value of a given company’s shares. Buying and selling also affects values. On some turns, the market is closed, but when it is open the player can buy shares of one company and/or sell shares of a different company. The player goes through 12 of these buying/selling turns, and scores based on their final pile of cash.

I have a JS game-in-a-post implementation nearly ready to go, so that will appear shortly, along with a PDF of these rules, and potentially a few more strategic thoughts. Until then…


Game-in-a-post: Sid Sackson's Solitaire dice

Sid Sackson, in his book A Gamut of Games1, describes a solitaire dice game that I have grown very fond of. Fond enough that I decided to whip up a little js version of it, found below. I won’t go into the rules here, others have done that well enough. I will just put a couple of thoughts out there on why I find the game so compelling. Dice are obviously the epitome of randomness; roll-and-move mechanics are universally bemoaned for this. Games that try not to be awful while still using dice generally do so with some sort of randomness mitigation technique. Yahtzee is an easy example – a player gets three rolls to a turn to mitigate luck. Sackson’s Solitaire Dice does not offer any mitigation, and in fact it can be brutal. You could theoretically lose 400 points on your last turn. And while this sounds objectively terrible, it really isn’t. Occasionally you will have a game where the dice just torture you, but for the most part the game forces you to think about probabilities, and attempt to control pacing. If the game is going really well, you may want to try to blow one of your scratch piles up toward the game-ending 8 marks. Similarly, if things aren’t going great, it would probably be in your best interest to take poorly-scoring pairs in order to scratch dice evenly. In my plays thus far, I’d say that a meh game is in the -100-100 point range, a successful game being 350+.


Solo play: One Deck Dungeon

On to my number one solo game at the moment: Chris Cieslik’s One Deck Dungeon, released by Asmadi Games. This game takes all the uncertainty and the brutality of a roguelike, and packs it into a small deck of cards and a pile of dice. One’s character has attributes which indicate the number and color of dice that can be rolled in resolving a conflict. A section of dungeon, so to speak, is entered by spending time (discarding cards). This fills the player up to four face-down dungeon cards, which can then be encountered on a turn by flipping them up. One can either attempt to defeat the card or leave it for later, wasting time and available space to fill with new dungeon cards. Defeating these cards involves rolling the dice allowed by the player’s character attributes and placing them to beat numbers on the card. These can be color-specific or not, and spaces can either require the placement of one die or allow multiple dice. Unfilled slots are what ultimately cause damage – to either health, time, or both. Assuming the player lives, resolving a conflict allows them three choices – the card can be taken as an item (additional dice and/or health), a skill or potion, or experience.


Solo play: Deep Space D-6

My (probably, maybe) second most-played solo game currently is one of dice, cards, and worker placement. Designed by Tony Go and released by Tau Leader (in very small print runs, it seems, though one can print-and-play), Deep Space D-6 packs a lot of game into a very small package. One of several tiny boards with illustrated ships, explanations of their features, countdown tracks for hull and shield health, and placement areas for worker dice sits in front of the player. To the right of the players ship, tiny threat cards are added every turn, and positioned to indicate their health. The player rolls their crew dice for the turn and assigns them to various attack and defense roles. Worker actions are taken, then a die is rolled to see which, if any, enemies activate and attack on that turn.


Solo play: Friday

Friday is third up in my list of top solo games, and routinely comes up whenever solo board/card games are being discussed. Designed by Friedemann Friese and released by Rio Grande, Friday is a card game in which the player takes on the role of the titular character, helping Robinson Crusoe survive his time on the island. The theme is not one that has been beaten to the ground, and while the game by no means drips with theme, it makes sense and the art supporting it is goofy fun. Even if the theme does nothing for you, the gameplay shines so much that it’s easy to get lost in it.

For as small as the game is, as few card as there are, Friday is just loaded with decisions. Essentially, every turn involves pulling a hazard from the hazard deck (actually, decision number one: you pull two and choose one to take on), then pulling a series of counterattacks from your fighting deck. You get so many fighting cards for free, and then pay life points to keep drawing. Additionally, if you opt to simply lose the fight instead, you will lose life points. While the primary goal here is to obviously not run out of life, you’re also essentially building your deck for the future – defeated hazards become fighting cards, and a lost fight gives you the opportunity to get rid of poor fighting cards that you may have drawn that round. When your fighting deck runs out, you get to shuffle it anew, including the new cards you’ve gotten from defeating hazards, but you also end up throwing one aging card in with negative effects every time this happens.


Solo play: Onirim

Beyond Dungeon Roll, this list is a real struggle to rank. Do I push games with creative mechanics higher, or games that ultimately speak to me more? I’m inclined to go with the former, in this case, only because the things that make my no. 3 work as a solo game make for such a tight, decision-addled game. But Onirim (Shadi Torbey, Z-Man Games), my no. 4 may very well get more play for its relative lightness, small footprint, and fascinating artwork/theming.


Solo play: Intro and Dungeon Roll

As someone who is far more into board (and card) than video games, as someone who spends a lot of time alone, and as someone who has immense insomnia (compounded by the ridiculous anxiety brought on by recent politics), the volume and quality modern board/card games continues to impress me. While I know I’m not alone in seeking these out, I do think they get pushed to the side a bit, and I’ve been meaning to get a few write-ups out there about the games I’ve been enjoying as of late. Initially, I’m going to present this series as my current top five, but in the future I’ll be tacking others on in no particular order. With that…

First up is Dungeon Roll from Tasty Minstrel Games and designer Chris Darden. Its appeal is pretty clear: it’s cheap, has fun dice, and comes in a tiny cardboard chest that you pull treasure from during the game. They bill it as playing 1-4, but multiplayer is essentially just every individual playing a solo game while others watch. All of the encounters are based on dice, with no automatic rerolls (some character abilities grant rerolls), so it is very much a game of randomness and of pushing one’s luck. There are a handful of expansions out there (all bundled together in a cheap package at CoolStuff Inc., conveniently), which are largely just new player characters, though the winter one also adds some interesting new treasure.


Brains: Japanese Garden

Brains: Japanischer Garten (Japanese Garden) is a single-player game brain-teaser, if we’re being honest, from Reiner Knizia. With Knizia’s name on it, it’d be easy to assume that it’s actually some sort of solo game, but really it’s a simple set of puzzles based on this theme of a Japanese garden. If anything, it reminds me of those ThinkFun puzzles with the chunky plastic pieces, except this uses seven cardboard tiles and a stack of paper containing the puzzles.

The Lazy He

While searching through the rule book for ‘Raptor’ (an admittedly great game by everyone’s favorite Brunos) for a bit of errata this weekend, I came across a grossly irritating footnote early on:

Note: throughout this document male pronouns are used for the sake of simplicity and readability. It should be clearly understood that in each instance, we mean to include female players as well.

This is bullshit on so many levels. The most inclusive choice would, of course, be to use the singular they. The most sorry-gaming-is-horribly-patriarchal choice would be to use female pronouns throughout1. And while I hate enforcing the gender binary, the most ‘readable’ choice would be to use male pronouns for Player A and female for Player B or vice versa. ‘Raptor’ is exclusively a two-player game, so all of the included examples rightfully include two players. Switching between two people with a shared set of pronouns is far less readable than unique pronouns for either. Ambiguity is always a potential pitfall of pronoun usage, easily avoidable when you’re dealing with two purely hypothetical humans.

Failing all of the above, however, I’d almost prefer they just used male pronouns throughout and cut out the nonsensical and condescending footnote. The footnote reads as though ‘some woman complained that we did this once and rather than adapt we’re just going to make up a bunch of excuses.’ Whose ‘simplicity’ is this for the sake of? The reader’s? Are we to assume that they are so caught up in the masculine gamer trope that a single female pronoun would cause their brains to shut down, eternally paralyzing them, rulebook still in hand? Or is it for the sake of simplicity on the part of the writers and editors, so lazy and consumed by male hegemony that they can’t even bother to do a find-and-replace on their masculine-as-default pronouns? The message put forward by the footnote is a brutally honest display of privilege: ‘we know we should be more inclusive, but we think it’s simpler not to.’ The footnote does not read as a statement of inclusiveness, rather an outright denial of it and a mockery of the very idea.


Yamzod

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about new game concepts and designs using existing bits – dice, playing cards, checkers, &c. One such recurring thought is expanding on the Yahtzee sort of theme – solitaire dice-chucking games with poker-like scoring. It’s easy to pan Yahtzee as a garbage game, but as a quick solo activity it isn’t terrible. It isn’t great, but nor is it terrible. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing around with an idea for a dice game that offers a tiny bit extra in the decision-making category. I call it Yamzod, which is a name I came up with while on the brink of sleep, and have stuck with because it makes me laugh.


Super Mario Run

So, Super Mario Run has been out for half a day or so now, and I’m sure more meaningful opinions than mine are bouncing around all over the internet. It’s just too juicy to not set my own uninspired thoughts in pink internet stone, however. I’ve always been a Nintendo fan. These days I really don’t game much at all. The occasional weird indie, a nostalgic retro re-release here and there, but mostly if I’m gaming on a screen it’s either a roguelike on the computer or a board game adaptation or point-and-click (point-and-tap?) adventure on the phone. The last consoles I’ve owned were the original Wii and DS Lite. All this to say, having a Nintendo side-scroller on my phone is ridiculously exciting. The game is a ton of fun, well worth the cost of entry, and generally feels very much like a Super Mario Bros. game. A few thoughts:


Karuba: Solo

Karuba is, essentially, a solo game that two to four players play simultaneously. One player could theoretically play for a high score, but the randomness of the draw makes that a little problematic – and playing to beat a high score outside of the arcade isn’t terribly fun anyway. But as I was playing with the pieces and the tiles and thinking of a simple notation for my aforementioned hypothetical correspondence game1, I accidentally came up with what seems to be a decent solo variant for this game.


Karuba

I recently received a copy of the 2016 Spiel des Jahres nominee, ‘Karuba’. It’s a tile-laying game of sorts, albeit less free-form and less interactive than Carcassonne. It’s really about solving a puzzle more efficiently than everyone else at the table. I don’t really aim to explain or review the game, however, as plenty such explanations and reviews are already out there. There is one interesting angle that I would like to touch on, however.

I have always been a fan of correspondence chess1, the idea that the game is open, all information is public, and moves are simple enough to easily notate, pass back and forth, and replicate. It was immediately obvious to me that Karuba has a great potential as a correspondence game. Due to the lack of interaction, it will certainly be nothing like chess. But as a casual puzzler, all the pieces are there for correspondence. All information in the game is public. All players start with the same board configuration. All players place the same tile on a given turn. Because of the way this mechanic works, tiles have unique numbers and would just as easily be described in correspondence. To ease in initial setup, rows and columns of the board already have labels. The four explorers every player controls are all unique colors, and can therefore easily be described in notation.

I don’t expect a huge community to explode around correspondence Karuba, but this possible means of play immediately struck me as such a perfect fit. Kind of the icing on an already rather impressive cake.


Game-in-a-post: Yz (or, on post-specific JS/CSS requirements in Hugo)


Finding the greatest Yahtzee score

I’ve been meaning to implement a way to incorporate style or script requirements into my posts using Hugo frontmatter. I’m not there yet, and before I get there, I need a test post that requires one or the other. I thought a little toy that lets one play a turn (three rolls) of Yahtzee, and then returns the highest possible score of the roll would be a fun and simple demonstration. Aside from small straights wigging me out a little (and I still have a nagging feeling this can be optimized), it was indeed simple1 to come up with an optimal score search. Fortunately, for a single-turn score, we don’t need to worry about a few scoring rules: bonus (joker) Yahtzees, the upper row bonus, nor chance. We could implement chance easily, but it really doesn’t make sense for single-turn scoring.


A night of Pokémon Go

Tonight marked my first night spent actively hunting Pokémon; it was, in fact, the first time I’d ever bothered to catch one outside. Finding new critters in new places, seeking out pokéstops with lures attached, comparing notes with a friend… this was all fun but predictable. I guess I just also haven’t been on an evening walk in a while1, because the whole meatspace community aspect of the thing was new, and very unlike what I expected.

Walking through our main town park, which was technically closed since it was after dark, was fascinating. Where there were pokéstops, there were just masses of people huddled together… enough where it seemed rather unlikely to me that all these people actually knew each other… little social gatherings were forming in the middle of the night just out of the desire to catch virtual monsters. And while the basic idea here wasn’t surprising, the sheer scale of the groups, the sheer number of people glued to their phones and alerting others to the presence of a Goldeen really wasn’t something I had anticipated.


SCorCh, Part Two

This is an old post from an old blog; assets may be missing, links may be broken, and my opinions may differ considerably by this point… Notably, this became FENipulator.
Couple of minor developments on the scorch front. First, I have a rough flowchart whipped up. There are likely flaws in this chart, but I wanted to quickly get my thoughts diagrammed out. PDF, or Graphviz/DOT. Development two is more or less just a vague thought. Since the main goal here is correspondence chess, and nothing terribly intensive, efficiency probably isn't the highest priority. Some sense of modularity could be achieved, at the expense of efficiency, by writing the FEN handler in C (or whatever) and leaving the rest of the task to builtins and shell scripting.

SCorCh - Simple Correspondence Chess

This is an old post from an old blog; assets may be missing, links may be broken, and my opinions may differ considerably by this point… Notably, this became FENipulator.
I've thought a lot in the past about correspondence chess, and the current state of such. There are a number of online solutions, most of them not so great. Twitter-based --ChessTweets-- is my current favorite solution (anyone who wants a fight, --@brhfl--) although the constant barrage of DMs from the system does get somewhat irritating. I use the somewhat clumsy XBoard with a variety of engines for the sake of analysis, but using it for correspondence is far from ideal.