The sun is high in the sky, shining directly down onto Main Street in this ramshackle town of wooden buildings. The heat is almost unbearable, if it wasn’t for a light breeze that is creating small swirls of sand and dust. You have to squint in the bright light, as you stand outside the saloon waiting for the clock to strike twelve. A speck of dust makes you blink, which doesn’t bode well. You need to be able to see your opponent clearly, so this won’t do. You step away from the saloon and try and position yourself in a more sheltered spot, where dust will be less of an issue and there is more shade, making it easier to see. Yet, this duel is different. You actually have to face off several people in this Six Gun Showdown, and you also have to play your cards right to make sure you come out victorious.
It is with a sense of deja vu that you desperately type into the console in front of you in a frantic attempt to contact your colleague who, like yourself, has locked themselves into one of the bays on this vast manmade construct. It feels like you have been in this situation before, where both of you were trying to escape alive, as the station’s AI was watching your every move and interfering where it could. As if with the help from your previous self, you manage to switch some of the station’s functions to manual mode, making everything ten times harder. Now, every command you issue will have to be confirmed by your colleague, and the AI will be able to listen in. You know you have only so many commands before the AI will lock you in permanently, sealing your fate forever. Even though the situation feels very familiar, there is something very different. You notice robots on the station, and there is an additional safety mechanism that forces you to lock all bays in clockwise order. You are back on the Assembly space station, like you were before, but this time the Re-Sequence & Override expansion doubles the difficulty.
The rain is relentless, pouring down in heavy sheets, making the city outside your office window appear like it is behind net curtains. The James River appears to be bubbling, but you haven’t noticed any of it. You have spent the last few hours staring at your computer, checking various databases and cross-referencing intel. You drank at least six coffees, yet you’re no further. Welcome to Detective by Portal Games where you’re an officer in the recently created special unit of Antares. Your task is to solve curious cold cases, following up leads and doing other detective work, all against a mercilessly ticking clock.
Imagine the asteroid field scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, where our heroes risk their lives to try to get away by entering an asteroid field, then add the AI HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which has gone mad and taken over the spaceship, forcing the crew to try and outwit it – and you basically end up with the gameplay of Sensor Ghosts, the new game by Wren Games, due to launch on Kickstarter on 28 May.
We have a sort of house rule in our games group where you’re not allowed to introduce a new game, unless you know the rules and can teach it to the group. It might sound harsh, but it makes for a smoother experience during the games night. I know other groups do it differently. They might expect the whole group to learn the game themselves beforehand, which is of course also an option. However, whatever approach you choose, you will probably come across a situation where you will teach a game to someone, so I wanted to discuss an approach I have started to adopt recently.
After the Kickstarter campaign for Assembly by Wren Games finished successfully back in June, the game is now close to being sent out to backers. So it is time to have a closer look at this fun, co-operative card game. The game can be played solo, which is also possible using an app, or in a two player co-operative setup. The aim is to manoeuvre a set of tokens along a randomly configured circle of locations into their correct slots by playing cards that allow you to rotate, swap and lock these tokens in place. To do this efficiently you need to play cards that your team mate can match with a card in their hand – but the problem is that you don’t know what cards they have.
Imperfect information games have been around for a long time. Games like Cluedo or Guess Who? are examples that most people will know and have probably played. In these games you all have the same goal, but everyone has a different set of information, and nobody has the full picture. These type of games create an interesting puzzle for players who try to win without revealing too much information to their opponents. It is often impossible to know which of the possible actions is the best one, and whether it will give others an advantage. A whole branch of game theory is dedicated to solving imperfect information games, but in this blog post I want to describe a couple of games that have built on the basic premise of these type of games and developed it further.