Saturday, 14 July 2012

Thoughts and theories on game development (II) - about chess and board games

Games are not necessarily electronic. There are many famous board games and chesses and they are popular and globally recognized. Now we are going to discuss a way to classify the games and relate them to popularity and other reality measurements.

Assume the player is at his/her best form. How can we access his/her performance and how do we measure his/her ability to play? There would be two part of measurement: techniques and luck.

Techniques is the major measurement on the ability of players, and it's a constant value in short term while luck is a random variable, and could be different in every game.

I must admit that the definition is far too simple and failed to deal with many cases, for example the ability to play varies case-by-case but let's make it as a general measurement. Luck should be totally random (all known factor should be excluded). Let's have some example here: when we play bridge, you're the declarer and you know nothing useful from opponent's bidding and leading, a simple finesse has 50% of successful rate and this is totally random and this is luck. However, "100%" approach like squeezing is not "luck" but techniques because the process that determines whether the game successful is not random, and the player is able to maximize the probability to win.Psychological operation on opponents would be somehow between techniques and luck because it has a chance to put a bigger pressure on the opponents but there's only a certain chance that the opponent is affected. For example, a large raise in texas poker which may mislead your opponents that you may have a very good hand.

Now we can set up a spectrum between techniques and luck: from nearly pure luck (e.g. rock, paper, scissor), then games highly depends on luck (aeroplane games, poker), games that rely little luck (e.g. PCG, pokemon card games), nearly no luck (bridge) and purely techniques (chess). In fact, the proportion of luck in a game also depend on how decisive the luck is.


When the game relies more on luck, the performance is more disperse and a larger number of matches is required so that the performance of distinct players can be separated. For example, it's common in international chess match that a best-of-7 series is used; for "go" a best-of-10 series is also popular since 20th century. On another hand, games like poker or bridge takes numerous board/hands to determine the scoreline (of course this is not the only consideration of number of matches taken in a game series). The above phenomenon is resulting from statistical result that increasing number of trials (games) would produce a more precise confidence interval, and as a result their ability (techniques) can be easier distinguished.

However, there are some games that practically can't go for a large number of games, but highly related to luck, like the aeroplane chess, or monopoly --- both games rely on the result of dices and this is decisive to the game progress. It's easy to show that with extreme cases one can never win despite techniques (for example, the plane may failed to "startup" forever since only "6" can start up the plane only; or everytime you're sent to the jail in the monopoly, and you failed earn any money through looping the map). One noticiable fact is that these games still have their international competitions, but they are less recognized and the result are very unstable. For example, the monopoly had a worldwide competition before, but one of the previous champion has failed to re-enter the final round. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_Wah_Lau) Comparatively, the matches associated with chess, "go", bridge and poker is far more famous. Chess, bridge and "go" has their own leagues, and poker is sometimes stated as "intellectual sport" or "alternative sport".

Despite how the competition popular is, we must be clear that how player's ability to be recognized is totally different from how the game itself recognized. The monopoly is still popular since it's flexibility on number of participants, the principle behind and excitement (brought by uncertainty).

Other than a few "classical" chess/board games, the measurement of popularity of board games is usually the sales of it, and as competitions are not explicitly recognized, it only serves as a approach to promote the chess itself.  Pros in the competitions are pro because they spent a long time on these games but under the current society and information flow the board games wouldn't allow games to be popular so long, so attracting or producing pros of the game isn't really a suitable approach to promote the game. Since then, the direction of board games development is in the direction of simple but larger flexibility and variation based on the same reason as electronic games mentioned before: they aims for a wider customer group, not the pros only. This is, and will be the major tactic in making more sales by diversifying the target (like finding commercial partners in various animations), larger entertainment and excitement with less "brain exercise". Newly produced strategic board games are still the minority in the market --- this is an expected result in the sense that people tend to use their brain less to relax, but it's also a sad fact.

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