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The Science of Game Strategy

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the high-score dept.

Games 136

First time accepted submitter JacobAlexander writes "Writing in PNAS, a University of Manchester physicist has discovered that some games are simply impossible to fully learn, or too complex for the human mind to understand. Dr Tobias Galla from The University of Manchester and Professor Doyne Farmer from Oxford University and the Santa Fe Institute, ran thousands of simulations of two-player games to see how human behavior affects their decision-making. From the article: 'In simple games with a small number of moves, such as Noughts and Crosses the optimal strategy is easy to guess, and the game quickly becomes uninteresting. However, when games became more complex and when there are a lot of moves, such as in chess, the board game Go or complex card games, the academics argue that players' actions become less rational and that it is hard to find optimal strategies.'"

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136 comments

In other words.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42583893)

They found out about QWOP.

Isn't that the whole point? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42583903)

Isn't that the whole point?

Re:Isn't that the whole point? (1)

gabereiser (1662967) | about a year ago | (#42584031)

agreed... I thought the idea was to throw off your opponent so they don't know what to do, that's a viable strategy... A strategy of obfuscating strategies...

Re:Isn't that the whole point? (4, Funny)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about a year ago | (#42584391)

My Board Game Geek badge says "RANDOM TACTICS".

Confuse, deflate, conquer. It's worked very well for me. Nobody can anticipate your moves if you're not even sure what you're going to do next.

I've actually had one game where everyone else at the table just stopped, stared at the board, and one guy said quietly, "I really wasn't expecting you to do that."

Re:Isn't that the whole point? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585203)

Getting naked and dropping the soap is not a typical move when you go to Jail in Monopoly.

Re:Isn't that the whole point? (3, Interesting)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about a year ago | (#42585681)

It was a long space strategy game, and instead of ganking the huge fleet everyone else was attacking, I went zig instead and wiped out the home planet of the guy with the most victory points. I had quietly upgraded my ships to go further than anyone else, so it was seriously out of nowhere.

Re:hrow off your opponent (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about a year ago | (#42585761)

I'll join those nipping this in the bud later ...

A *properly* trained oppenent knows the key fundamental point of all "new moves" to be suspicious" and not trust them. It's quite hard to inject yourself into new chess theory. Most players need advice.

Re:Isn't that the whole point? (5, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about a year ago | (#42584045)

The point of doing social science research? Yes. Anybody can "argue that players' actions become less rational and that it is hard to find optimal strategies."
It takes an academic to lay the argument out in a paper so Byzantine that it's hard to find optimal reading strategies.
This triggers the writing of more papers, until an entire academic research field springs from a single seed of "Duh".

Re:Isn't that the whole point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42584789)

The funny thing is, is that the parent poster (likely) intended his response to be serious as opposed to "Funny".

If you are familiar with his journals and Web site, The Other McCain [theothermccain.com], you will realize that he thinks of "social science" (economics, psychology, etc.) as pseudo-sciences that socialists, lefties and Democrats use to promote their agendas. He also views psychiatry in the same manner a Scientologists do.

Re:Isn't that the whole point? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42586259)

Recently, scientists found that something complex is more difficult to learn, and that there are things so complex that you just can't learn them and you need to improvise a little... Really? Is that what government funding goes towards?

What about Magic? (2)

xevioso (598654) | about a year ago | (#42583929)

As in Magic the Gathering? The card game with 12,000+ individual cards? In my honest opinion, it's the greatest game ever made. It's incredibly complex, and yet still understandable.

It's always amazing to be playing at a multiplayer table with a bunch of other folks, each player with a field full of cards, sometimes hundreds of cards on the table (in complex games) and sometimes I have to step back from the table, stare at the board position, and pinch myself that I'm playing a game where yes, everything on the table makes sense.

Re:What about Magic? (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#42584005)

I'm pretty sure that the optimal strategy with Magic is just to wait until Wizards of the Coast is feeling a bit pinched and decides to release a new, more powerful, bunch of cards that you just can't stay competitive without buying and then go buy those...

Re:What about Magic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585773)

Jace, the Mind Sculptor anyone?

Such OP bullshit.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

xevioso (598654) | about a year ago | (#42585973)

Stop living in a standard-only world.

Re:What about Magic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42586941)

Jace is one of the best cards in the Vintage format as well.

Re:What about Magic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585835)

Which is why buying cards in masse (at pennies each) and playing among your friends on decks constructed from that shared pool is the most fun and cheap way to play.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

Vintermann (400722) | about a year ago | (#42585997)

With Magic as it used to be, that was more or less true. Today, competitions are usually held with this years' series, sets released the same year only. And/or they are drafting games of various sorts, where players build their decks as the first phase of the game.

Even in the less restricted events, more likely to be for fun than for prizes, they are careful to disallow the most overpowered cards. That inevitably means older cards (learning from their best players, WotC have gained a better understanding of strategies and balance in the game).

Come on. I haven''t play Magic since 1997, but I know this. You should, too.

Re:What about Magic? (3, Interesting)

vux984 (928602) | about a year ago | (#42587015)

I'm pretty sure that the optimal strategy with Magic is just to wait until Wizards of the Coast is feeling a bit pinched and decides to release a new, more powerful, bunch of cards that you just can't stay competitive without buying and then go buy those...

Yes, and no. Mostly no.

You need to purchase the new cards because to be competitive, (as in participate in tournaments) you need to be using cards from the current block. The old cards, simply aren't permitted in the block.

(Although many old cards from various old sets are reprinted in the current set, and you can play with the originals of any reprinted card if you have the original.)

That effectively solves the power-inflation problem. This years set doesn't have to be more powerful than last years set to appeal to players because nobody is using last years set in competitions. That was, frankly, a very smart move by wotc for the overall health of the game.

Each year the game changes, but the cards aren't on a permanent run towards ever more power. They can even print cards that are strictly inferior to existing cards and those cards can still be desirable due to what is currently allowed.

Of course, yes, you do still have to buy this years set to play competitively which is a smart move from a business point of view. Otherwise, there'd be no reason to keep buying cards.

But pre-constructed is just one format, and there are many; draft games are quite popular where you build your deck on the fly from a pool of available cards (which can new unopened packs in sanctioned tournements, to one of your friends piles of commons in an informal setting... and then play with that. Many many players prefer various draft formats both in tournaments and in private because it does to a large degree eliminate having to buy the expensive rares to be competitive.

they also change the rules on cards due loopholes (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#42587175)

they also change the rules on cards due loopholes that some people have used / tried to use.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

TheFlamingoKing (603674) | about a year ago | (#42584007)

Without having RTFA yet, it looks like we're talking optimal strategies here. The rules for MTG are finite and can be printed, read, and analyzed. The absolute maximum winning strategy for each play, depending on what cards your opponent has in hand, in play, and in their library is not so easy to lay out for Standard play or even a single block. Strategic complexity, not rules complexity.

Re:What about Magic? (4, Insightful)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | about a year ago | (#42584077)

Well, M:tG has both 'resource complexity', there are a vast number of possible cards you can play with and they do an equally vast number of slightly different things, and it also has what you are calling 'strategic' (though I would say most of these games have strategy AND tactics) complexity. That is even if you play the same 2 M:tG decks against each other many many times the players are likely to be able to make a number of different tactical choices in each game. Actually I think the tactical depth and strategic depth of chess are a good bit higher than with M:tG, but its a fairly complex game with a huge number of setup options (IE how you make your deck). The tactical consequences of a move or the strategic consequences of learning certain lines or aspects of the game in chess are however more significant than the individual moves in M:tG, which can often be quite insignificant.

Go of course occupies the uttermost extreme in terms of being utterly simple in form and yet so immensely complex in both strategic and tactical depth that no software yet written even approaches the better human players.

Re:What about Magic? (5, Insightful)

fredprado (2569351) | about a year ago | (#42584015)

I think it is a matter of taste, but a game that purposely allows for unfair circumstances based on the cards you own or not does not seem to be a good game for me. I am also not very found of the idea that complex (and in Magic's case Encyclopedic) rules are a good thing for a game.

Great games, in my opinion, would be Chess or Go, for example. Games that have incredibly simple rules and still lead to incredibly complex situations and strategies.

Re:What about Magic? (4, Insightful)

gauauu (649169) | about a year ago | (#42584041)

As in Magic the Gathering? The card game with 12,000+ individual cards? In my honest opinion, it's the greatest game ever made.

In my opinion, any game where a higher budget gives players more strategic options, is immediately disqualified from being the "greatest game ever made." I might be able to play the game with a $10 investment in a starter pack, but I will lose 100% of the time against players with a bigger budget, no matter what my skill level is.

That's great in terms of profit for the game producer, but pretty weak in terms of actual gameplay.

(That's not to say I don't think Magic is a decent game. It is. But the collectible nature weakens the game in terms of pure gameplay.)

Re:What about Magic? (2)

xevioso (598654) | about a year ago | (#42584619)

This is only if you play competitively. There's nothing stopping you from printing your own cards and playing with your friends. The rules of game play are the same either way.

In addition, and most important, the "budget" issue goes away in multiplayer games. Your nifty 100$ planewalker or $5000 power 9 deck is pretty easily handled in a multiplayer game where the chances of a number of players having cards to deal with your crap is increased 3 (or more)fold

Re:What about Magic? (3, Interesting)

Momomoto (118483) | about a year ago | (#42584705)

I agree 100%. A lot of people will say that you don't have to spend a lot of money to make a deck that wins. Those people are kidding themselves! Sometimes, you've just gotta pay the money to get the good cards.

Luckily, there are formats that are designed to reward skill more than the size of your bank account: sealed deck and booster draft. Both require participants to buy unopened packs and use them, but paying $15 or $25 every once in a while is far less expensive in the long run.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

danger4242 (2723533) | about a year ago | (#42584749)

I will lose 100% of the time against players with a bigger budget, no matter what my skill level is.

The so-called "Sligh Deck" by Paul Sligh and Jay Schneider in the late-90s disproves your point. That deck came from folks that were frustrated by the complex and expensive decks they were running up against, so they built a cheaper, faster deck to compete with. It dominated the magic scene for years.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#42585715)

A bigger budget gives you more options. A person with an infinite budget can build any deck (including a sligh deck), and a person with a small budget can only build decks within the budget. If the best deck happens to be very inexpensive, then hooray, even poor magic players can have the best deck. This is pretty unlikely as MTG is a business and there are bound to be at least a few really powerful cards that are rare, and therefore going to be expensive.

A well crafted deck will always beat a deck that has a bunch of incoherent rare cards. Having a black lotus, 5 moxes, and 40 dual lands, will give you a pretty good advantage, Even if all you build is a sligh deck.

Re:What about Magic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42586017)

Having a black lotus, 5 moxes, and 40 dual lands, will give you a pretty good advantage, Even if all you build is a sligh deck.

It's been years since I played Magic, but isn't the deck size limited to 60 cards? I wouldn't expect to last long with over 3/4 of my deck being nothing but mana generation.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

thegreatemu (1457577) | about a year ago | (#42584783)

I agree completely, but luckily there are alternative formats to Constructed decks, in particular Sealed and Draft tournaments. Everyone puts in their entry fee, then builds decks right there from sealed, virgin packs, so there's no "more money = more wins" mechanic. It's the only way I'd ever consider playing in an environment other than casually with friends.

Re:What about Magic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585077)

I'm not a player of MTG at all, and don't know much about it beyond the basics. I'm also not a fan of any game that follows the pay-to-win model, as TCGs in their purest form absolutely do.

That said, older-than-dirt tournament play styles can easily combat any investment advantage. Put simply, you have one player build two decks, and the other player choose which deck to play.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

gauauu (649169) | about a year ago | (#42586439)

That said, older-than-dirt tournament play styles can easily combat any investment advantage. Put simply, you have one player build two decks, and the other player choose which deck to play.

While that's true, part (maybe even most) of the "game" of Magic is deck construction. Not just the investment of buying the cards, but actually choosing what combinations of cards to build a deck with. Playing with a deck that you didn't build completely takes any fun out of the game.

Re:What about Magic? (2)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42584061)

If MtG is Turing Complete (and it is, see link below) that would imply there is theoretically no optimum strategy because you could have two turing machines playing an arbitrarily complicated program against each other and the only way to solve the halting problem is to run the game... correct or not?

Or maybe another way to phrase it is two Turing machines could play an unsolved / unsolvable problem, like maybe a hard AI algorithm, against each other using MtG cards?

Of course proving an unsolvable strategy exists is pretty far from proving a simpler solved strategy exists or not.

http://www.toothycat.net/~hologram/Turing/index.html [toothycat.net]

I don't know enough MtG to understand the link but it looks interesting.

Re:What about Magic? (2)

oreaq (817314) | about a year ago | (#42584587)

If MtG is Turing Complete (and it is, see link below) that would imply there is theoretically no optimum strategy

Depends on your definition of optimal strategy. The existence of a Nash Equilibrium, i. e. a set of strategies, one for each player, such that no player has a incentive to unilaterally change his action (because changing would increase loss/ decrease win), can usually be proven without actually finding theses optimal strategies for each player. Examples: Every finite game has Nash Equilibria (obv!). Every game with compact strategy sets and continuous utility function has Nash Equilibria (Kakutani FP Theorem). And so on. Note that in game theory the term "strategy" means the complete set of actions the player will take at any stage of the game. Also note that a optimal strategy does not guarantee maximum payout against every opponent's strategy. These strategies tend to not exist for anything but the most trivial games.

I don't know the rules to MtG so no idea if it falls in one of the two examples i gave but pretty much every game thats exist outside math faculties does :)

Re:What about Magic? (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#42585873)

The Turing completeness of magic is referring to specific configurations of the game where automatic effects from cards can cause a certain conclusion depending on a the starting conditions. This is independent of strategy of individual players or trying to win. If you set up a carefully crafted magic game in progress (with many cards, tokens, life points, etc already on the table), and you start the game, the process of resolving all the automatic effects can be used to make computations.

This is just an example. Lets say you set up a board with a bunch of cards, where card A has 10 tokens and card B has 23 tokens. You might be able to set it up so that card C will end up with 33 tokens after one turn before the next player is even allowed to do anything. You have just made a computer that adds 2 numbers out of magic cards and rules.

The fact that magic was proven to be turing complete means that not only can it compute *some* things (lots of machines can compute things, but that it can compute anything that is computable given enough time and memory (tokens). This elevates magic to the computational power of any other turing equivalent machine (like a PC). It can solve the same kinds of problems, but a modern PC will just solve them faster. There is also a good chance that a modern computer will have more "tokens" (i.e. more than the number of atoms in the universe), something that you physically can't do in magic even if you used every atom as a token. There are some things turing machines can't compute, like solving the halting problem. Magic being a turing machine also can not solve it.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42586565)

There are some things turing machines can't compute, like solving the halting problem.

Zactly and the fastest way to test a halting type problem is to run it. So its possible to specify a program inside MtG that cannot be solved other than running it. So at least theoretically (however impractically) there exists uncountable strategies that can only be tested by running them... so there is no simple solution to finding an optimal strategy. A weak proof to be sure, but interesting.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#42586889)

OK I see what you are saying. When you said "solving the halting problem", I immediately thought "you can't do that". But if by "solving" you mean running the program and determining that for that program and input, the program halts (if it does) and finding out nothing if it doesn't halt, then yes you can do that.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#42587149)

Also, if I am not mistaken, it is only certain specific combinations of cards on the the table that are turing complete. I have a feeling that the vast majority of games do not involve decks that contain the cards necessary to constitute a turing machine. So I think most magic games are solvable (they have an optimal strategy that is computable).

Re:What about Magic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42584073)

The strategy in Magic ends when the decks are built. Because you can't know what your going to draw, what your opponent has in his deck, and especially not what's in his hand, it becomes highly dependent on random chance, and hedging against the worst case scenario.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a poker player, which is summed up perfectly as (to imperfectly quote Dan Harrington) "A gambling game based on incomplete information."

I just want to point out that the strategy in MTG is pretty shallow. If you draw nothing but lands, you're screwed. Get no lands, you're screwed. Draw the wrong cards, you're screwed.

I'm sure deck building can be a complex task, however when I first learned of the game, I was a child, and couldn't afford to buy booster pack after booster pack looking to get the right cards to build a competitive deck. This turns you off of the game pretty damn quickly.

Re:What about Magic? (3, Informative)

Gamer_2k4 (1030634) | about a year ago | (#42584245)

If you draw nothing but lands, you're screwed. Get no lands, you're screwed.

This, without exception, is my biggest problem with Magic. No matter how good you are or how good your deck is, it's realistically very possible to be completely screwed out of a game by the random nature of your deck.

That's probably the reason I'm such a fan of Dominion [wikipedia.org]. It's a card game where strategy is truly the only difference between winners and losers. Add in its low cost of entry and high replayability, and you got a game that's (in my opinion) much better made than Magic.

Re:What about Magic? (2)

xevioso (598654) | about a year ago | (#42584671)

And yet the top players rarely get screwed out of lands when they play. The top players finely tune their decks and play them repeatedly in playtesting to ensure that this happens rarely. You don't get to be a top-8 pro player by getting screwed out of lands.

There's randomness in Poker as well, of course, but as a judge pointed out in a recent case determining, for legal purposes, whether or not poker was a game of strategy or chance, there's something to be said when the top players in the world keep showing up again and again at the final tables in tournaments. It's because they are GOOD players, and minimize the disruption caused by randomness.

Magic is the same way. The top players build their decks to minimize being land-screwed, by thinning out their decks early, pulling out and playing lands with various cards that do these things to ensure that later int he game they will only draw good cards and not lands. All the top players do this.

Re:What about Magic? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585525)

The top players also need to know how to shuffle a deck. Learn to shuffle like this guy [ted.com] and it becomes a game of strategy instead of chance.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42587095)

Top players in tournaments are not the ones shuffling the decks.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

thegreatemu (1457577) | about a year ago | (#42584859)

You still shuffle your deck in Dominion, and it's still possible (though less likely than Magic, granted) to get screwed by chance - your money cards can keep getting spread out just enough that you never manage to get enough buying power on a given turn to buy the top-tier cards. Or you repeatedly get all your good combo-building cards in a row and burn through them without encountering anything practical. I've had both happen...

My biggest problem with Dominion is that you don't really interact with the other players much - it's easily possible to set up a game with none of the "Attack" type cards, in which case you're really just racing N games of solitaire. Even with the attack cards, you don't generally get to respond in any meaningful way - e.g., if you have a Moat you can block the Bandits, but otherwise not. There's no choices, or finite resources - should I save my surprise Bandit Blocker(TM) , or save it for a better opportunity?

Re:What about Magic? (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about a year ago | (#42585173)

Dominion is a great game. Even with no attack cards, there's still strategy as to which cards to buy to benefit you, but maybe just to stop the other players from being able to benefit from it.

I love Small World as that has a lot of randomness with the different races/abilities so you have to adapt your strategy according to what's available and what other races are on the board.

Re:What about Magic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585427)

You've got to be careful about calling Small World random though. Yes, the race & power combinations are random, but every player has access to the same ones (in turn, the order you play determines that, but my family usually goes youngest to oldest to give a handicap to older players.) By paying for races further down the line, and getting points for taking the passed over races, you're assigning value to combinations. Yes, some are better than others, but I've taken combinations that were at a disadvantage, just to get the stack that built up on them.

Small world is probably one of the greatest simple strategy board games I've played in the last several years because random chance is not usually a deciding factor in the game. It does still have a dice-roll, but I think you have to have SOME randomness to keep games non-determined. Magic is just TOO random.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

Vintermann (400722) | about a year ago | (#42586163)

No, that's a myth. Check out theory's dominionstrategy blog. He once analyzed a degenerate version of Dominion with just cash and VP, and showed that a strategy that pays attention to the opponent beats the "optimal" solo strategy some 80% of the time.

From a theme gamer perspective, maybe you can say you don't feel like you are interacting. If you play at a low level (say 10 on isotropic) maybe it's even true that you are playing "solo". But at the level we talk about here, the level of e.g. basic tournament magic players, it should be easy to appreciate the interaction of Dominion.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

Vintermann (400722) | about a year ago | (#42586083)

I'm a big fan of Dominion, and I never figured out why the Magic players messed around with mulligans etc. instead of a simple "draw n + m, discard m" mechanic. Or even a "draw n + m, put m back on deck in any order".

But still, on a high level I think you're slightly more likely to be screwed by early bad luck in a Dominion game than in a Magic game. You have to play multiple rounds to really decide who's best with both games.

Re:What about Magic? (2)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#42584431)

As in Magic the Gathering? The card game with 12,000+ individual cards? In my honest opinion, it's the greatest game ever made. It's incredibly complex, and yet still understandable.

Yes, it's very understandable that you're being used as a cash cow. What I don't understand is why anyone would play a game where the rules are continually adjusted to whatever makes a private company the most profit.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

xevioso (598654) | about a year ago | (#42584681)

You realize you don't have to buy magic cards to play magic?

Re:What about Magic? (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#42585429)

No, I didn't realize that. Where do I get free cards? Are those free cards as good as the cards that people play for?

Re:What about Magic? (1)

Your.Master (1088569) | about a year ago | (#42585905)

You make them yourself, perhaps using regular playing cards or just your own stiff paper. The actual function of the cards (and even the art) is entirely online with no legal encumbrance, so you're paying for basically tournament-legal decks / decks that a random opponent will accept, time saved, and small-scale art.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

xevioso (598654) | about a year ago | (#42585993)

You get free cards by printing them. You won't be able to play them in sanctioned tournaments, but you can play them with your friends, if they will let you.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

flimflammer (956759) | about a year ago | (#42587143)

Your standard run-of-the-mill desktop printer. If you really want to go all out, then you can use nice thick glossy paper or even get even the rarest cards printed at Kinko's for a pittance.

That said, cheap decks can be officially paid for and still be strong. Unless you want to be a top tier tournament player, I guess. You might need to invest a bit more to have that hobby. It doesn't invalidate the whole game however.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#42585623)

Magic is not the greatest game ever made. It's not a bad game. I used to play it (1994 - 1997), and I had a lot of fun, but have since moved on to other games. The game design was a pretty good design for it's time. It was the pioneer in CCGs, but it hasn't really changed for 20 years. There have been a lot of games that have come out since that have been more fun in my opinion. Maybe I just have different taste than you, but having 100 cards on the table doesn't seem like fun to me. That sounds like one of those games that takes an hour before each round of turns because everyone is trying to think.

I actually feel like the worst part of mtg is the CCG aspect of it. It just sucks money out of people. It stops being about deck building strategy for many people, and more about what people are willing to spend on trying to get good rare cards. I think magic would be a better game if it didn't require such a financial commitment to be competitive. The "collectibleness" of magic doesn't, in my opinion, add anything to the "card game". I think it just appeals to people who need to collect things.

Re:What about Magic? (1)

bughunter (10093) | about a year ago | (#42585863)

I played around the same time, and even got back into it a bit later (around 2000).

The number one thing I learned from MtG is that the more complex a rules system, the more likely there will be a degenerate set of min/max conditions in the rules, and then the game becomes a meta-game of finding these and exploiting them to maximize gain.... many times these conditions are outside spirit of the game, and those who exploit them look down upon those players who still try to embrace the spirit of the game.

This holds in most of the games I've played,(Car Wars, MtG, Starcraft, WoW, AD&D, etc), and is almost universal in business and government (see banking and the US federal legislature, especially).

Re:What about Magic? (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#42586661)

And sometimes to combat this "abuse" it is tempting to create very strict rules to prevent players from doing abusive things. In government this is called red tape. In games it can kill creativity. You are never able to do anything that wasn't specifically considered and sanctioned by the game designer. It's a fine line.

So what he's really saying is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42583939)

The more complex and hard to understand a game becomes, the more fun it is because there isn't an optimal strategy to win.

Re:So what he's really saying is... (2)

Morpf (2683099) | about a year ago | (#42583989)

Wrong. There is an optimal strategy, but most likely you will find it only by chance.

Re:So what he's really saying is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42584097)

No, that's just an arcade game you're talking about. In a strategy game, you change the conditions to fit you, or you adapt to the conditions, to get the winning strategy.

Chance is the opposite of strategy.

Re:So what he's really saying is... (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year ago | (#42584403)

Chance and strategy are not opposites. They are orthogonal. Increasing one does not necessarily mean decreasing the other unless the complexity of the game is kept constant.

That's the fun of it... (5, Insightful)

DaemonDan (2773445) | about a year ago | (#42583945)

Not being able to "solve" games like chess like you can with Tic-Tac-Toe (http://xkcd.com/832/) is what makes them fun and playable. Otherwise it quickly gets boring. It's also why it isn't always as fun to play against the computer on really high levels. They can cheat and solve the next bajillion moves.

Re:That's the fun of it... (1)

cinereaste (1241082) | about a year ago | (#42584957)

They can cheat and solve the next bajillion moves.

cheat

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

Re:That's the fun of it... (1)

DaemonDan (2773445) | about a year ago | (#42585247)

"Inconceivable!" You're right that it isn't really "cheating", but it is less fun (for me at least) to play against an opponent with an unfair advantage

Re:That's the fun of it... (2)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about a year ago | (#42585783)

I'd disagree with that premise. If I use a computer to calculate the odds of winning every next possible move and use that information to my advantage, wouldn't I be considered cheating? Why does that same logic not apply to AI opponents?

This is why we bundle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42583951)

This is why we bundled things into layers of thought. By treating a system of behavior as a singular entity we can utilize. We then update what occurs in the entity (say opening moves in chess) when new information is found; but otherwise act on the heuristics we have built.

Just another proof of why the assumption of perfect knowledge of the market, in micro OB, is fundamentally flawed and simply can't exist in any real way.

Complex games are even hard for computers. (2)

Morpf (2683099) | about a year ago | (#42583953)

Even for computers it is really hard to find an optimal strategy for Go. To my knowledge it's still a research topic. No surprise it's even harder for humans. Concerning how much effort was needed to research and program software, that beats a human in chess, I thought it would have been well known, that humans can't find an optimal strategy in this game either.

Re:Complex games are even hard for computers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585149)

You might want to RTFP, the research is about learning computer algorithms not humans.

Beat the opponent, don't find the best strategy (2)

tp1024 (2409684) | about a year ago | (#42583971)

The point of a two player game, like Go, is to beat the opponent. If you know your opponent doesn't like a certain kind of opening, or is likely to feel overconfident in certain positions, thus creating weaknesses for you to exploit - this is a viable strategy, provided it works.

However, the better the players the more they look down upon such things - and rightfully so - because they learned the hard way that weak moves will be punished by good players.

Re:Beat the opponent, don't find the best strategy (3, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#42583993)

Even high-level players do tend to use a bit of that kind of thing. Kasparov mentioned that was one of the odd things about playing Deep Blue, that unlike playing another grandmaster, there wasn't this human meta-game element: he couldn't intimidate the machine into screwing up.

Re:Beat the opponent, don't find the best strategy (2)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | about a year ago | (#42584827)

Yeah, if you look at Karpov, Kasparov, Fisher, etc etc etc, you rapidly see that high level chess is rife with 'meta-game'. There are other levels of meta-game as well. Players will master different types of game and different lines, focus on different parts of the game, etc. Some players are more defensive, others more offensive, some more tactical, like Kasparov, others more strategic. One player might be a master of specific styles of opening lines, and other might be a mid-game generalist or an expert at end games. Players will also tweak their game and their focus of study in order to better match other players they are likely to face. The game is RICH in possibilities and thus allows for many different successful approaches. One can almost say that a tournament between top players is more a matchup of overall strategies than one of tactics, though the individual moves of each game in the end are where the action is.

Re:Beat the opponent, don't find the best strategy (1)

fatphil (181876) | about a year ago | (#42585413)

I had some spare time today, and was watching a few of the live GM games in the Tata Steel tournament. The computerkibitz function was quite enlightening, even the best in the world quite often deviated from what the computer thought was best. Which doesn't mean they're wrong at all, of course, for the reasons you state.

(Though to be honest, I'm not really a chess fan, I just wish eevn a fraction of the time, effort, and money, were ploughed into other abstract strategy games.)

Re:Beat the opponent, don't find the best strategy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42584147)

But your point is still valid. At a certain point various complex games involve too many strategies and iterations that you can't simply find the optimal strategy; there are just too many variations. Which is why once players reach a certain level of skill, they focus less on the game and more on their opponent, attempting to deduce what they're going to do and position themselves to take advantage of it.

I admit I find this fascinating, and if I ever have an interest in going back to school it'll be for game theory. My girlfriend is extremely analytical, able to see patterns and logical steps and take appropriate actions, and subsequently she can destroy me when we play Connect 4; she actually competed in Connect 4 tournaments. However she really struggles with a game like chess because her approach to the game is too analytical, and there's just too many complexities for her to brute force her way into analyzing all strategies. I on the other hand play "her" when we play chess; I know she follows that path and I can bait her into over-extending herself for limited gains. She is most certainly smarter than I am on certain subjects, but in a game like chess her intellectual approach to the game can be a high hurdle for her.

game theory doesn't acknowledge an opponent (1)

CaptainNerdCave (982411) | about a year ago | (#42585375)

One of the best parts about Magic is playing with multiple players, and trying to figure out the best way to deal with so many different players/approaches. You _can't_ win by beating your opponents, you need the right strategy.

On that note, Race for the Galaxy is definitely an excellent game to explore. If you're familiar with game theory, try expanding it to three, four, or five people.

Makes sense. (4, Insightful)

tool462 (677306) | about a year ago | (#42584027)

That's why they're fun. With a solvable game, you play the game. With an unsolvable game, you play the player.

Of course, it's a lot less fun once you're playing the stock market or global thermonuclear war, but no less rewarding.
And of course of course, they're neglecting that any attempt at predicting the behavior of a market will affect the behavior of that market such that the predictions no longer hold true.

Kudos to anyone who can pull off the ultimate hack: invest your money based on your -unpublished- theory of how the market will respond the theory that you ARE about to publish.

Re:Makes sense. (1)

dhomstad (1424117) | about a year ago | (#42584529)

Or just pay millions of dollars to get a fat pipe out of the Chicago and New York stock exchange, write a program that bases itself on the Black-Scholes equation, and take advantage of all the traders that aren't operating on the millisecond timescale.

There's always that option too. Oh and if you're too lazy to watch kill switch connected to your billion-dollar monster, just ask that your bogus trades be cancelled when all hell breaks loose.

source = http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/01/us-usa-nyse-tradinghalts-idUSBRE8701BN20120801 [reuters.com]

Re:Makes sense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42584965)

Your source doesn't say that all of Knight's trades were cancelled. Not even close.

Re:Makes sense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585415)

dhomstad didn't say "all," and yes, atleast some bogus trades where cancelled (from the article):

"Trades executed at 30 percent higher or lower than the opening price will be canceled, NYSE Euronext (NYX.N) said in a statement. No trades in any of the other affected stocks will be canceled, the NYSE said later."

If I where on the upside of one of those transactions, I would be PISSED. Knight entered into an agreement, they screwed up, they should be on the hook for it. If their "mistake" had made them fat stacks of cash, I bet THEY wouldn't be so willing to give it up!

Re:Makes sense. (1)

dhomstad (1424117) | about a year ago | (#42585515)

Well that's not what I said happened, but I can see how you may have misinterpreted.

To tell you the truth, I haven't heard enough about how the situation was actually resolved. However, the article does say the SEC redacted trades that +/- % 30 of the opening price, which apparently isn't normal for them.

Mind = blown. (1)

Sydin (2598829) | about a year ago | (#42584049)

So the more complex the game, the harder it is to find optimal strategies...\ Better break out the Nobel prizes early this year.

Reminds me of a Cowboy Bebop episode. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42584059)

However, when games became more complex ... such as in chess ... academics argue that players' actions become less rational and that it is hard to find optimal strategies.'"

Reminds me when Edward played Chessmaster Hex, and he commented that his opponent was either "Brilliant or a complete idiot"

Complex vs. Skill (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42584163)

In Real-Time "esport" games like Starcraft 2 or Warcraft 3 (still the best balanced, entertaining multiplayer RTS around IMO) _Time_ also makes a huge impact on the overall player skill. Being able to choose the _right_ decision a few milliseconds earlier than your enemy can be game-changing in very high, pro-skilled games.
Needless to say, this makes the complexity of such games almost infinite.

In the immortal words of WOPR (1)

Megane (129182) | about a year ago | (#42584399)

[after playing out all possible outcomes for Global Thermonuclear War]
Joshua: Greetings, Professor Falken.
Stephen Falken: Hello, Joshua.
Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

Confusion - people are not computers. (2)

gurps_npc (621217) | about a year ago | (#42584409)

They are not talking about the too complicated for people to play, They mean too complicated for a computer to play 'perfectly..

No one insults a baseball player because he only hit a triple, rather than a home run. But in their definition of game play, they expect every single move to be the best one possible. That is how COMPUTERS play games, not how people do. Computers make calculations based on all possible moves. That is not how people play at all.

Instead, people play the odds. We work in the murky world of probably rather than optimal. Which is why humans will always beat a computer playing Go, even if we lose in Chess.

Games are not about picking the optimal move. Instead they are either about:

Having fun

LEARNING which moves are better and which moves are worse

Both. That is what all play is about. Having fun, learning how to do things, or both. Knowing the optimal moves ahead of time means you can't learn and you can't really have fun.

What they are talking about is trying to win the game for ever and ever. When we do that, we move on to another game.

Just like when I learned how to always win at tic tac toe.

Re:Confusion - people are not computers. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585081)

Instead, people play the odds. We work in the murky world of probably rather than optimal. Which is why humans will always beat a computer playing Go, even if we lose in Chess.

Actually, this is one of the most promising directions that Go programs are headed in. Putting the game into a more Bayesian framework of "what move maximizes my probability of winning". They're still not better than the best humans, but there is progress being made and I think it's a bit presumptuous of you to assume that computers will never take the lead.

Just like when I learned how to always win at tic tac toe.

Play against a 4 year old, or take an extra move when nobody is looking? Personally, I'm a fan of the switch-sides-in-the-middle gambit.

Re:Confusion - people are not computers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585327)

Uh, you don't seem to have a real good grasp of the state of AI. You seem to think the rift between human players and AI is that humans play with heuristics [wikipedia.org].

Indeed, any game that DOESN'T require learning... you know, that thing that artificial intelligence is all about... is pretty damn boring to make a bot for. Indeed, when talking about making an AI for a game it's complexity is pretty equivalent to how people play games. Because there's not really a functional difference. Same goes for the stock market, which is what this article is trying ever so hard to be about.

So, no. People are not confused. They know exactly what they're talking about. But you and the author of this article don't seem to be up to speed yet.

Re:Confusion - people are not computers. (2)

niado (1650369) | about a year ago | (#42585691)

humans currently can beat a computer playing Go, even if we lose in Chess.

FTFY. Go, like Chess, is theoretically solvable, since it is, after all, a game of perfect information. [wikipedia.org] Perhaps neither game will ever be truly solved, but even in Go computers are very likely to become unbeatable eventually, and probably sooner rather than later.

Board Game Geek top 10 (1)

CaptainNerdCave (982411) | about a year ago | (#42585303)

At the risk of seeming like a shill, I have to say that most of the top 10 games on Board Game Geek are worth playing, and definitely hard to master.

Generally speaking, Agricola, and Puerto Rico are considered to be the best board games currently available. If you haven't played them, you should really try to find them, because they're very dynamic, and require a lot of strategizing, while demanding that you be able to react to both your opponents and the game.

Re:Board Game Geek top 10 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585561)

A lot of those games are pretty good, but Agricola is terrible. Easily one of the worst board/table games I've ever played.

Bad science warning (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year ago | (#42585307)

The research didn't study humans and has nothing to do with humans. It studied learning computer algorithms, which are now sometimes used in economics. The researchers claim that their work suggests something about human behaviour without having studied a single human. They should have their science licence revoked.

Bad reading warning (2)

ecotax (303198) | about a year ago | (#42585665)

From TFA:

We assume that the players learn their strategies x via a form of reinforcement learning called experience weighted attraction. This has been extensively studied by experimental economists who have shown that it provides a reasonable approximation for how real people learn in games.

This just in : (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42585609)

Harder games are harder.

  Wow slow down there bob-o do you have any data to back such a bold claim ?

complexity leads to emergence (1)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about a year ago | (#42586041)

Gaia is a thing (read the book by James Lovelock). Gaia is a -result- of complexity.
Look at the chemical operations occurring in a single cell. A cell is the -result- of a soup of chemical reactions. The cell does not initiate basic chemistry anymore than Gaia can create a new species. When a new species is created, it is within and because of all the other complexities of Gaia.

Same with games (and anything). Add a few non-dependent rulesets and suddenly there is an amazing complexity.

If gaia is too conceptual for you, then cogitate on the differences between Rational and Irrational numbers, something independent of reality.

Like many of the 'findings' out of the Santa Fe Institute, this is not a discovery; it is merely an articulation of complexity theory. (Note: 1/t is the inverse of the basic Gaussian Distribution (basic statistics) which is why it is found at all unstable places of reality the same way the bell curve is found at stable ones).
If you want to explain basic complexity, talk about the differences between Rational and Irrational, or the differences between Integers and Fractions.
If you want to talk about games, start by reading The Art of Game Design.

Big whoop... (1)

korgitser (1809018) | about a year ago | (#42586089)

This 'news' does not appear to be anything more than a simple application of Gödel's incompleteness theorems. What's the point, then?

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