Game Theory (Changing Your Attitude, Part.2)


In a recent article from Fantasy Flight Games, "Three Rules to Mill By", the design team mention the following criteria for two players to enjoy "a fun and challenging battle of wits":
  1. Both players are playing the same game. If one player is trying to play chess while the other is trying to play checkers, the game will be mystifying, to say the least.
  2. Both players generally want the game to be fair and to be balanced enough that either player has a good chance of winning. For games like Star Wars: Destiny, the inclusion of an element of chance also means that even if a player loses ground in the early game, they have some hope of making a comeback.
  3. There should be interactivity in the game. The way you play the game should change based on what your opponent is doing. Players should have some ability to disrupt or outpace each other’s strategies.
Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 125335pngAnd while this is true from a pure game design point of view, it is the exact opposite if you are a competitive player. In competitive play it is about breaking the "rules of the game" (challenging the criteria). The following addenda can be made to the criteria outlined:
  • 2a. From the outset the game SHOULD be fair and balanced, but your task is by virtue of your strategy and game play to make your opponent's chance of winning slimmer and leave as little hope as possible for a comeback.
  • 3a. You want to create situations in which there is as little interactivity as possibly. Additionally, you want your strategy to be as independent as possible of the choices your opponent makes.
These will be some of the guiding principles in the following article.


Recently, I wrote an article on "Changing Your Attitude" for Star Wars Destiny players, and the reference point of the article was the ill-famed expression "Sabine doing Sabine things!". If you haven't read the article yet, it might be a good starting point before continuing with this one, and while the articles deal with separate aspects of the attitude or mentality of competitive SWD players, they are to be interpreted in conjunction with one another.

But to recap, the main points from the previous article could be summarized as follows:
Players like to think of Destiny as a game based on statistics, and while this is true in game mechanic terms, it is just one aspect of the game, and (maybe) in a competitive aspect it might even be the least important.

The second installment of the article deals a bit more with the complexity of games in general and WHAT I believe to be a major influence on our decision making processes as human beings as well as formative for the stratagems that we conceive in order to make something possible (i.e. winning a game).

In February 2017 the world renowned Swedish statistician and professor in public health research Hans Rosling died. One of his many TED-Talks, "How not to be ignorant of the world" is one of my absolute favorites. If you haven't seen it yet, then do go and see it (but only after you finish reading this article, OBVIOUSLY!)
Hans Rolsing TEDjpg

Hans Rosling was (in)famous for his adherence to the pollyanna principle, that is to remember the pleasant things over the unpleasant things. Or simply put: In the face of negatives to remind yourself of the positives, even when they are (seemingly) overshadowed by the negatives.

In Star Wars Destiny terms:

Do you remember all the good plays you did, even when you lost the game?

Anyways. Hans Roslings TED-Talk is brilliant because it highlights a general tendency in human beings, namely our passive negative approach. We are more likely to see the limitations rather than the possibilities. This is not going to be some bullsh*t positive psychology amateur course, but rather a fresh reminder that there are always possibilities, whether in life or in games. As mentioned in the previous article, we should always be looking for our outs.

This was what I tried to underscore with various examples  in the previous article and the run-through of the various Sabine Wren plays, the statistics behind the possible outcomes, and the extent to which you as an opponent could positively influence those outcomes. In the article I labeled it: Swing the variables in your favor. And then, obviously, at the end of the day, we have to live with the cards we are dealt and the dice that we roll. It's as simple as that.
In an attempt to underscore his point, Hans Rosling, asks his audience in the TED-Talk the following question:

How did deaths per year from natural disasters change in the last century?
A. More than doubled
B. Remained about the same
C. Decreased to less than half

Going through the answers, they were distributed like this:
And as a humorous reference point he showed "results" from the local zoo where he had asked chimpanzees the same question with the following distribution of answers:Mentality2jpg
The right answer is:
C. Decreased to less than half.

Our ability to deal with phenomena like earthquakes, tsunamis and droughts are in fact now so developed due to better constructions, better emergency systems, better risk management, etc. that we've reduced deaths from natural disasters from 500.000 pr. year in 1900 to less than 100.000 pr. year in 2000. So why were the majority of the TED-Talk respondents wrong? Fewer responded correctly "compared" to chimpanzees in the local zoo!

Hans Rosling's point is quite clear. We are predominantly negative in our evaluation of our situation. We are more willing to believe the negative outcomes than the possibly positive ones, and in many instances we are reluctant to accept that the positive outcomes are more than likely. Whereas chimpanzees are not influenced by data, neither facts nor rumors, and are therefore totally "random" in their "estimations" of the outcomes of any given situation.

And how does this relate to Star Wars Destiny?
Well. My contention is that we tend to look at Destiny in the same way, namely from a predominantly negative angle. We primarily see the restrictions and refuse, subconsciously, to embrace all the possibilities, and we never expect the odds to be swinging in our favor, which then, when we are proven right in our pessimism (which is bound to happen sometimes) is used as an argument for consolidating that pessimism as the right approach.

I firmly believe this is a wrong approach. And more importantly, it is going to lose you more games than it will win you! There are obviously more to winning a game of Destiny than approach itself. There are both qualitative and quantitative factors such as player skill, deck construction, card draws, die rolls, etc. But they are all parts of deciding who will eventually win any game of Destiny.

I've heard players, at gaming nights, and at local and international tournaments exclaim after a few turns of play "OMG! This game is going to be impossible to win" ... well, if that's your mindset, then you didn't exactly make it any easier for yourself, did you? If you are not only tasked with defeating your opponent who might, at least judging from your exclamation, have gained an advantage on you, but also have to combat your own attitude, then you will be fighting an uphill battle on all fronts.

Ask a chimpanzee who might win a game of Destiny, and the answer will be totally arbitrary. That's why chimpanzees are smarter.

You need to change that attitude!

For those of you who are Backgammon literate, here's a small puzzle to set the tone for the rest of the article.
Backgammon startjpg
You are playing the red checkers, so your direction of play is moving from point 24 towards point 1, while your opponent's direction of play is from point 1 towards point 24.

You are trying to create a "great prime".

Priming is the part of the backgammon game where you are trying to limit your opponent's choice, stifling his game plan in the process, while positioning yourself ideally to win. Most of the early to midgame of backgammon is all about priming. If you manage to lock your opponent's checker(s) (pieces, and in this example your opponent has the white checkers) behind a "great prime" (6 consecutive made points = 2 checkers in the same point on 6 consecutive points) or a 4/5-prime then you are in good shape to win a game.

In this experiment you are trying to create a "great prime" from point 2 to 7, while you still have two checkers in point 24 and one checker in point 13.

The conditions for you to complete the great prime are:
1. You have 3 consecutive rolls.
2. Your opponent does not roll or move his checkers.
3. You are allowed to roll and use doubles in your inital roll.Backgammon primejpg
There are at least 2 known solutions to this, the way that it's normally solved is as follows (the green checkers are indicating the checkers that are moved and the yellow checkers indicate the point to where they are moved):

The first roll is DOUBLE 6. Three Checkers from point 13 are moved to point 7. One Checker is moved from point 8 to point 2.
Backgammon move1jpg

The second roll is DOUBLE 4. One Checker is moved twice from point 13 to 9 and then from 9 to point 5. One Checker is moved from point 8 to point 4. And One Checker is moved from Point 6 to Point 2.Backgammon move2jpg

The third and last roll is DOUBLE 3. One Checker is moved from point 8 to point 5. One Checker is moved from point 7 to point 4. And two Checkers are moved from point 6 to point 3.Backgammon move3jpg

The FINAL RESULT after 3 consecutive rolls and moves, without interference from your opponent is a perfect great prime.
Backgammon Great primejpg
How did you go about solving the above problem of creating the great prime in 3 consecutive rolls? Did you go by trial-and-error? That is to just try die combination after die combination until you succeed? If so, you probably haven't solved it yet. Did you on the other hand change your view on the problem, and looked at the main problem, namely: How many points do I need to cover in order to facilitate the great prime? Then you might actually have gotten there.

Or differently put. In order to solve the problem, you need to understand the challenge, which is to see how many Checkers, and what distance must they cover, to be able to form a great prime.

In this instance you need at least 12 Checkers and combined they need to cover 52 points. Which rolls will allow you to do that? Now, we've already seen one possible solution, so let's go straight to it's application to Star Wars Destiny.

Just like the problem outlined above, any game of Destiny is about understanding the challenge. You need to figure out what it is you need to do in order to fulfill your objective.

If your objective is to defeat all your opponent's characters, how much damage do you need to deal in order to facilitate that win condition? And how are you going to do it? Think about the last deck you piloted. What rolls and what cards allowed you - in the shortest possible time - to defeat all your opponent's character (in your last game)? That's your starting point, right there! That's the problem you must solve. If you already know what cards you needed to play, and what die sides you needed to roll, then you're already well under way to solving the problem.

If the objective is to mill every card from your opponent's deck and hand, then how do you get there?

You see where we're going?

Before you start priming, you need to understand what it is you need to do in a game. Despite all the variables present in a game of Star Wars Destiny, you should always enter a game with a clear game plan. You need to have a clear "great prime" strategy in mind. Which upgrades/supports do you need in play, and what dice rolls do you need to facilitate the successful implementation of the strategy to win, and how long will that take you?

If you are playing 5dice villain and are facing Kylo/Anakin, you need to defeat 2 characters with a total health pool of 22hp. Your maximum damage output with a DH-17 is 12 Ranged damage (without a Bala-Tik reactivation from his ability. It's 18 with the reactivation). You need at least 2 rounds. That's your starting point. Now, you are ready to draw cards and mulligan.

Now, obviously, a game is interactive, which means your actions (usually) prompt counteractions from your opponent and while you are priming, so is he. That's the second challenge of the game. How do you push ahead with your game plan, while ensuring to stay clear of the traps and pitfalls laid out by your opponent.

That's the adaptive part of the game. Even the most well laid plans can be screwed over by poor dice rolls or poor draws. We have all tried to pitch three cards to re-roll 4 dice just looking for that last 2 damage only to be rewarded with nothing but blanks. Adapt. Once all the outcomes are clear, you need to figure out how to continue the prime. Consider the board state, and while the situation might have changed slightly, your game plan essentially remains the same. If you are trying to defeat your opponent's characters, what is the health pool you need to defeat? How do you get there? It's not different in round 3 from what it was in round 1! The means to getting there might have changed, but you are still drawing cards, playing cards and rolling dice. Adapt your priming strategy to get there!
Look at the following situation. The conditions are:
  • You are playing 5dice Villain and it is your turn.
  • Both you and your opponent have 3 resources.
  • You know the two cards in your opponent's hand because you removed a second copy of Lightsaber Throw using Friends in Low Places.
  • You have one card left in your deck, and you know that it's a Witch Magick (you just checked your Discard pile).
  • You haven't activated Mother Talzin yet, and your opponent has a ready Kylo-Ren.
  • Your opponent has eight cards left in his deck. The two bottom cards are Ancient Lightsabers. He already used them to heal earlier in the game.
  • Your opponent is controlling the Battlefield (Rebel War Room).
Mentality article3jpg
The situation outlined above is pretty straight forward as it is (almost) non-interactive. You know that the strongest play here is setting up for a "Free-for-All", but you need to protect your dice (characters). So, you use:
  1. Tactical Mastery to play
  2. The Best Defense (to remove the two Anakin dice) defeating the First Order Storm Trooper in the process, then
  3. Deal 3 damage to Kylo-Ren (using the DH-17 1 Ranged damage and the Bala-Tik +2 Ranged damage) thereby avoiding the potential loss of Bala-Tik on the Kylo activation. Ready Bala-Tik.
  4. There's 7 health remaining on Anakin, so
  5. You use the Dark Counsel die to Focus the Bala-Tik die into +2,
  6. Activate Mother Talzin and use the after activation trigger to turn one of the Talzin die into a 2 Ranged damage,
  7. Deal 4 Ranged damage to Anakin.
  8. Reactivate Bala-Tik
  9. Play Free-for-All to remove the two Bala-Tik and the two Upgrade dice to deal 4 Indirect damage.

Following the above outlined ideas of priming (subsequently understanding the challenge) and adaptation, how do we then proceed in the example below? The conditions are essentially the same, but with the following amendments:
  • This time around you do not know the composition of your opponent's hand, and
  • His Discard pile reveals nothing meaningful of his cards in hand (imagine there's one of each card from his deck list in his Discard pile).
  • Your Opponent has healed twice with two different copies of Ancient Lightsaber, which is now sitting in the bottom of his draw deck.
  • Your opponent played a Lightsaber Throw in his previous turn. It is now your turn.

Mentality article4jpg
You still need to deal 10 damage to defeat both your opponent's characters to win the game, and you still need Bala-Tik's dice to make that happen.

and figure out what cards your opponent has in his hand?
WERE YOU THINKING about Lightsaber Throw or No Mercy?
DID YOU THINK about what dice rolls Mother Talzin or Kylo-Ren might get if they were to activate?

If yes, then ask yourself why? These are all part of the variables that you cannot control, and they can therefore not form parts of the conditions for priming you for the win. These variables are also in many instances (although not always) part of the negatives that will be prohibitive for you setting up a great prime (or as close to as possible); that is positioning you to win in a way that is either 1) non-interactive or 2) swinging the variables in your favor.

While the second situations has several outs, the purpose is to demonstrate how the influences of negatives disturb our judgements and ability to prime.

This is probably still the strongest play under the given circumstances as it allows you the strongest position for a non-interactive play AND swings the variables in your favor. You are removing the danger of any of Anakin's dice outright killing Bala-Tik, and you'll reduce Kylo's chance of hitting with his activation trigger significantly (the chances of him hitting might even be lower than 33% if he is assuming you might have the last Witch Magick in his hand).Outcome Ajpg
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