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Girsanov

Possible to design turn based strategy without a board, randomness or hidden info?

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I have been thinking about this: Is it possible to design a turn based strategy/tactical 1v1 game that does not make use of a board/map/grid (chess board, hexagon grid map etc), does not make use of randomness (dice rolls etc) and does not have hidden information (unknown cards in hand, fog of war etc)? So far it appears impossible: When there is no hidden information and no randomness, players seems to always be able to calculate and come out with the optimal solution to counter any move. Unless there is a sufficiently large board/map/grid which makes the number of possible moves large enough to be incalculable. Or is it possible to make such a game work by just adding complexity: e.g. you have 5 possible moves, to which your opponent have 5 possible counter moves, to which you have 5 more counter-counter moves. Hence, it becomes like the chess board - too many possibilities to easily calculate the optimal solution.

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Yes. What you have described is possible. Imagine you have a team of five ships: each has a set move described on a relevant card (movement is in inches), and can fire from cannons at various points on the token. Adding terrain would add more tactics, but this would work.

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The main challenge in what you're describing seems to me to rely on rules resolution. There are many ways to resolve rules and the tools you're omitting are probably the ones we're most familiar with. Anything not familiar may still be viable but likely cumbersome.

Here's an example similar to Star Control's melee mode: It's a ship to ship battle game where fleets engage each other one ship at a time. At the start of the game players buy ship hulls and modules, both of which sit in a visible pool before them. There's no game board and the theme is hard science fiction, which basically means that ships don't engage like World War II battleships but rather at high velocities and vast ranges with battles resolved in minutes.

The game lasts for a number of turns equal to the number of ships. At the start of a turn both players choose their hull and place it before them, then place modules. Modules come in a variety of flavors (defensive, offensive, vital, special) but must match in slots, which are laid out on the ship sheet in a puzzle-like fashion. Modules can also be placed outside the ship, representing things like hunter-killer drones, diamond particle clouds and reflective armor arrays (these are placed off the ship sheet and represent free floating objects moving along with the ship). Internally adjacent modules can affect and protect one another, allow modules to switch position, offer redundancy.

At any time each player can see the ship the other player is throwing into battle. However, to make it interesting players only have 10-30 seconds, depending on difficulty level, to assemble each ship.

Once assembled, modules are eliminated in a rock, scissors, paper fashion from outermost to innermost as players take turns choosing which module to activate and which module to target. Some modules, like weapons, have limited ammo markers (board pieces themselves). Some modules have multiple effects when damaged (represented by turning the module counter on the ship sheet), even cascading effects to neighbors or along conduits visible on the ship sheet. Damage is alternately determined by attacker then defender. Ships can only make one action a round, either turning to rotate modules into position, rearranging a module, defending or attacking (depending on whose turn it is) or using a module to repair another module.

When a ship loses all vital modules or all modules in total, it is destroyed and the hull sheet, along with modules, is removed. The game ends with the winner being the player with ship hulls remaining, or draw if all hulls are destroyed.

You could add rules on top of this, such as allowing players to change tactics each turn, which might change functioning of modules (unless this constitutes as hidden information). Even without a board you could denote the idea of relative spatial positioning, breaking the engagement into long, medium and close range, changing the effect of modules or only allowing some to function at different phases.

One trade-off would be whether you risk watching your opponent build their ship or pour all your time into getting as much onto your ship sheet as possible. If actions against modules had multiple outcomes, chosen alternately by attacker and defender, there would be more variety as well.

I've never tested this so I've no idea if it would be a good game but it seems to me that limited time can act as a stand in for things like dice rolls and hidden information.

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What you need is uncertainty. There are three ways of doing this:

1) Randomness.
2) Hidden information.
3) Complexity.

You can do without randomness and hidden information, as long as you make the game complex enough. I'm pretty sure this can be done without a board, though I can't think of any examples.

What you do need is trillions of possible game states or more, and the easiest way to do that is use a board.

I think you could make a card game that relied entirely on complexity. You might try making a two player version of Freecell or something, where the winner would be the player who put the most cards on the 'finish' pile. You could even start with a predefined arrangement of cards, I think it could still be fun (though it would need some work).

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Original post by Wavinator
The main challenge in what you're describing seems to me to rely on rules resolution. There are many ways to resolve rules and the tools you're omitting are probably the ones we're most familiar with. Anything not familiar may still be viable but likely cumbersome.

I've never tested this so I've no idea if it would be a good game but it seems to me that limited time can act as a stand in for things like dice rolls and hidden information.


Thanks for the elaborate write up. I see two factors that adds randomness to your game: Limited time and the fact that the two players are simultaneously choosing. Although players can see each others' ships, they don't have time to complete the calculations require to come up with an optimal solution. So even though they might try to counter each other, it might be largely random.

Can I say this mechanism is similar to a small army vs army game where players choose their armies simultaneously without knowledge of what their opponent chooses? In this case, the "luck" factor will be much greater than in yours.Both our examples make use of "randomness" in order to make the game work.

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I recommend interaction between players as a way to introduce uncertainty without random elements. Simultaneous turns are the most obvious choice, but every time outcomes depend on what opponents do there is an element of prediction of others' moves.

For example, imagine playing Dominion without randomness, by stacking the deck each time it would be shuffled: you cannot simply plan a (very long and complex) sequence of optimal turns, you must adjust to what each opponent is expected to do many turns before they do it.

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Once I had a friend who had just sold his massive Magic The Gathering card collection, and he saw my cards and was sad that he couldn't play, so I proposed that we play with note cards, and he pointed out that it would be ridiculously easy to mark the cards and take too long to make decks. After some discussion what we ended up doing was creating the rule that on your turn you could draw 1 land and 1 other card, and play both, and they could be anything you wanted from all existing MTG sets. You could not use the same card more times than tournament legal though. It made for a few very interesting games as we were figuring out which cards were most effective this way. It did involve hidden information a little though because you could choose a counterspell and keep it hidden in your hand until you wanted to use it.

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Original post by LorenzoGatti
I recommend interaction between players as a way to introduce uncertainty without random elements. Simultaneous turns are the most obvious choice, but every time outcomes depend on what opponents do there is an element of prediction of others' moves.

For example, imagine playing Dominion without randomness, by stacking the deck each time it would be shuffled: you cannot simply plan a (very long and complex) sequence of optimal turns, you must adjust to what each opponent is expected to do many turns before they do it.


I think simultaneous turns and stacking decks introduce randomness to the game. It becomes a little like Rock-Paper-Scissors where you have to guess your opponent's strategy and build your own to beat his expected move.

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Is there no way to make a strategy game without a board/map, randomness, uncertainty (rock-paper-scissor, simultaneous decisions etc) and hidden info?

Are strategy games all about 1)having so many moves possible on the board that players cannot calculate everything or 2) element of chance through randomness or uncertainty or hidden info?

Is it possible to have a game like Chess without the assistance of the board? Where players can see all the pieces in the game and make decision turn by turn without tight time limits or require reflexes.

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Original post by Girsanov
Is there no way to make a strategy game without a board/map, randomness, uncertainty (rock-paper-scissor, simultaneous decisions etc) and hidden info?

Are strategy games all about 1)having so many moves possible on the board that players cannot calculate everything or 2) element of chance through randomness or uncertainty or hidden info?

Is it possible to have a game like Chess without the assistance of the board? Where players can see all the pieces in the game and make decision turn by turn without tight time limits or require reflexes.

This is something I've considered at length.

I think the answer to your second question is yes, or near enough. Because when you take the opposite approach and say that the game can have so few moves that players can predict every reasonable possibility, and remove the element of chance that makes it harder to calculate which circumstances are likely to arise, then you're left with a game that both players can fully analyse from beginning to end. And under those circumstances the winner is dictated by the game rules rather than the player. eg. Tic-Tac-Toe has an optimal strategy. Obviously this game is still fun for some, particularly those who are not yet wise enough to work out that such a strategy is within easy reach. But most players are more advanced than that and so the game must provide more complexity to prevent them from deducing an ideal strategy.

However, alongside randomness, hidden information, and complex state spaces via 2D abstractions, I would also say you can opt for continuous state space rather than a discrete state space. Consider Scorched Earth/Worms, for example - the almost infinite number of angles you can aim your shot at make planning your shot more interesting and less predictable.

It's worth considering your board/map comment though because I think it's the wrong level of abstraction to think about. Chess is complex not because of the board as such but because there are a vast number of possible states - the board just provides a good representation for the way they interact. In fact, when viewed from this angle the board actually makes it simpler. It exploits a person's prior knowledge of adjacency and geometry to make it easier for players to reason about the transitions between the different game states. Advanced players might be able to play Chess just by looking at the Forsyth notation of a position, as would a chess computer, but the board itself helps the human player! But the game can still be played without the board; it's just a representation of the rules and the current state. (In fact, the positioning of pieces on the board it can be thought of as a visualisation of a state machine, if you're familiar with them - and pretty much any turn-based game can be reduced to a state machine. Learning the game is about realising which states are similar to others.)

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The increasingly popular game Steambirds is turnbased with no board or real randomness or hidden info.

You can play it here:
http://armorgames.com/play/5426/steambirds

Essentially you can choose to fly your planes anywhere on the map, so there's no real grid in sight. Enemy info is displayed to you when you highlight them, so there's no hidden attacks or anything.

Every now and then you lose control of a rudder which makes it so you can only steer in one direction or fly straight, but this is due to taking damage (I think) so it's not a totally random encounter. Instead it just creates temporary limitations on movement. Every other turn you also get to choose from two "skills" that each unit can use. From leaving gas trails to a turbo boost of speed, to doing a 180.

Right now the game is pretty simple but the developer is apparently working on expanding it a lot more.

I think it's pretty fun and inspiring and it sounds like something you were describing so I figured I'd let you know. :)

It reminds me of chess without the grid board and with little airplanes instead of chess pieces.

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Quote:
Original post by Konidias
The increasingly popular game Steambirds is turnbased with no board or real randomness or hidden info.

You can play it here:
http://armorgames.com/play/5426/steambirds

Essentially you can choose to fly your planes anywhere on the map, so there's no real grid in sight. Enemy info is displayed to you when you highlight them, so there's no hidden attacks or anything.

Every now and then you lose control of a rudder which makes it so you can only steer in one direction or fly straight, but this is due to taking damage (I think) so it's not a totally random encounter. Instead it just creates temporary limitations on movement. Every other turn you also get to choose from two "skills" that each unit can use. From leaving gas trails to a turbo boost of speed, to doing a 180.

Right now the game is pretty simple but the developer is apparently working on expanding it a lot more.

I think it's pretty fun and inspiring and it sounds like something you were describing so I figured I'd let you know. :)

It reminds me of chess without the grid board and with little airplanes instead of chess pieces.


great recommendation!

the concept of this game was actually discussed on these boards 1-2 months ago. probably a coincidence they had the same concept though.

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Original post by Konidias
The increasingly popular game Steambirds is turnbased with no board or real randomness or hidden info.

This is not true: rudder damage is a large random factor (if you can't turn your plan is ruined) and predicting simultaneous AI moves is easy but even more important.

From the point of view of the discussion in this thread, these elements make Steambirds a very traditional strategy game, similar to gridless tabletop miniature combat games like Warhammer that share the same emphasis on eyeballing angles and distances to plan movements and attack ranges over multiple turns.

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Original post by Kylotan
However, alongside randomness, hidden information, and complex state spaces via 2D abstractions, I would also say you can opt for continuous state space rather than a discrete state space. Consider Scorched Earth/Worms, for example - the almost infinite number of angles you can aim your shot at make planning your shot more interesting and less predictable.


I was actually trying to figure out how strategy games work and so broke games down part by part to see what is the "essence". The addition of spatial dimensions (2D chess board or height-horizontal-2D space in Worms) seems to be one of the component of strategy games, along with randomness/luck and hidden information.

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan

It's worth considering your board/map comment though because I think it's the wrong level of abstraction to think about. Chess is complex not because of the board as such but because there are a vast number of possible states - the board just provides a good representation for the way they interact. In fact, when viewed from this angle the board actually makes it simpler. It exploits a person's prior knowledge of adjacency and geometry to make it easier for players to reason about the transitions between the different game states. Advanced players might be able to play Chess just by looking at the Forsyth notation of a position, as would a chess computer, but the board itself helps the human player! But the game can still be played without the board; it's just a representation of the rules and the current state. (In fact, the positioning of pieces on the board it can be thought of as a visualisation of a state machine, if you're familiar with them - and pretty much any turn-based game can be reduced to a state machine. Learning the game is about realising which states are similar to others.)


Very good and interesting point. I think we're talking about the same thing in different ways: I too see games as just a collection of states. The board is a tool that increase the number of states (i was tempted to say cardinality of the state space lol) tremendously.

But can a strategy game work without the traditional state-increasing-tools like spatial dimensions (board, map, grid, location/direction etc), randomness (dice, shuffling cards, guessing, time limit etc) and hidden information (simultaneous decisions, hidden objects/moves etc)? These 3 seems to be vital to any strategy game...which is a conclusion that I will accept! (not hell-bent on making my requirements work)

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Original post by LorenzoGatti
This is not true: rudder damage is a large random factor (if you can't turn your plan is ruined) and predicting simultaneous AI moves is easy but even more important.

From the point of view of the discussion in this thread, these elements make Steambirds a very traditional strategy game, similar to gridless tabletop miniature combat games like Warhammer that share the same emphasis on eyeballing angles and distances to plan movements and attack ranges over multiple turns.


Yes. It has 1) randomness 2) hidden information (simultaneous decisions => can't tell what your opponent is going to do) and 3) 2D board/map.

I am beginning to believe it is not possible to make a viable strategy game without at least one of these 3 elements!

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Original post by Kylotan
However, alongside randomness, hidden information, and complex state spaces via 2D abstractions, I would also say you can opt for continuous state space rather than a discrete state space. Consider Scorched Earth/Worms, for example - the almost infinite number of angles you can aim your shot at make planning your shot more interesting and less predictable.


The mentioned Steambirds is an example of this technique: on a grid, it would be boring trivial and/or too random.

I think a continuous or pseudo-continuous state space adds two "good" types of difficulty and depth to games: the skill to evaluate and really understand generic positions rather than remember a few optimal responses, and often the skill to correctly execute or approximate the desired moves, which unlike discrete games isn't trivial (e.g. aiming a rifle in real life vs putting a piece in a chessboard square).

Positional evaluation requires a combination of intuitions and abstractions, like those needed for enormous discrete state spaces (e.g. chess or poker), but the required type of reasoning is mostly geometrical.

Arbitrary randomness in the outcome of continuous moves (as opposed to the randomness inherent in player inputs) is annoying, because it directly nullifies skill: reliably doing what the player wants to do is impossible and/or irrelevant.

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Anyone wanna try this simple experiment? Lets add as little complexity as possible to this "game" and see if we can make it viable enough to be played! Feel free to edit the basic rules too.

Basic Rules
-----------

- 2 players. 1v1.
- Pick someone to start first and the other start second.
- Each player control a character with 40 hp.
- Each turn, they may choose to attack with their character for 5 damage.

Analysis
--------

First player to start win since he can attack first and do 5 addition damage. He will win after 8 turns with 5 hp left.

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Basic Rules
-----------

- 2 players. 1v1.
- Pick someone to start first and the other start second.
- The two players combined control one character with 40 hp.
- Each turn, they must attack the character for 1 to 5 points of damage.
- The player who brings the character down to 0 (or fewer) hp wins.

Analysis
--------

First player to start wins since he can at all times bring the total down to 36/31/26/21/16/11/6, forcing the second player to be the one to bring the total down to 1 to 5, leaving the first player to finish the game.

--> Note: this feels a bit like Tic-Tac-Toe in that the only way to win as the player starting second is having the first player make the mistake of not bringing the total down to 36 on his first turn.

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Original post by Kylotan
Well, I'm stuck. I honestly have no idea how to build from a trivially solvable game towards a non-trivial one without using one of the tools we already talked about.


Could be impossible.

Those tools make it really easy: add a grid map and supporting characters and we have a standard turn based strategy game, add a deck of randomized cards and we can have magic the gathering type ccg, add in randomized damage and chance to hit and some other characters and we have the standard rpg.

Quote:
Original post by Silvermyst
First player to start wins since he can at all times bring the total down to 36/31/26/21/16/11/6, forcing the second player to be the one to bring the total down to 1 to 5, leaving the first player to finish the game.

--> Note: this feels a bit like Tic-Tac-Toe in that the only way to win as the player starting second is having the first player make the mistake of not bringing the total down to 36 on his first turn.


I think there is a small error there: if you bring the total down to 11, I will take it down to 6 and you lose next turn.

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Original post by Girsanov
I think there is a small error there: if you bring the total down to 11, I will take it down to 6 and you lose next turn.

Yup. You're right, it should've been multiples of 6. (6/12/18/24/30/36)

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Quote:
Original post by LorenzoGatti
Quote:
Original post by Konidias
The increasingly popular game Steambirds is turnbased with no board or real randomness or hidden info.

This is not true: rudder damage is a large random factor (if you can't turn your plan is ruined) and predicting simultaneous AI moves is easy but even more important.

From the point of view of the discussion in this thread, these elements make Steambirds a very traditional strategy game, similar to gridless tabletop miniature combat games like Warhammer that share the same emphasis on eyeballing angles and distances to plan movements and attack ranges over multiple turns.

I kind of have to disagree. Rudder damage only happens if you get hit. So it's not entirely random. As I stated before though, I'm not sure how rudder damage is decided after getting hit. It may or may not be based on a random value.

Either way, it only limits your options for the next turn. It's not as though you go to execute a move and then it randomly tells you that you have rudder damage and can't turn that way.

As far as predicting AI being "hidden info" well obviously you cannot predict what your opponent will do during their turn. You make your decisions based on the layout of the current situation and the opponent would do the same. If it just so happens they go in a direction you didn't expect them to go, I wouldn't really call that hidden info. You know what your opponent can do and where they can go, so there aren't any real surprises.

I still stand by the game as being a good example of what the OP was wanting.

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Quote:
Original post by Konidias
As far as predicting AI being "hidden info" well obviously you cannot predict what your opponent will do during their turn. You make your decisions based on the layout of the current situation and the opponent would do the same. If it just so happens they go in a direction you didn't expect them to go, I wouldn't really call that hidden info. You know what your opponent can do and where they can go, so there aren't any real surprises.

I still stand by the game as being a good example of what the OP was wanting.


Not exactly what I have in mind though. I was looking for games/ideas that do not use a board/map/grid (i.e. "spatial dimension" or "position") and this game does have a map.

Simultaneous decision making can be seen as either randomness or hidden information. Randomness because it could lead to rock-paper-scissors type situations where the best option is is randomize or guess. Hidden info because unlike Chess for example, you can see your opponent's move and react to it.

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I think what you are looking for is a way to remove an optimal strategy, whilst adding a minimum of complexity.

So first thing is that more possible moves are needed. So lets start with one additional move:

In his turn the player can chose to take 5hp off the character or add 3 back on.

So now the outcome isn't determined in advance, although there will probably be an optimum strategy, but its hard to tell what it is. It seems to be a balance between brining the hp down as fast as possible, and interceding to stop the other player getting the winning turn.

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