Sunday, May 23, 2010

Calculation is Not Decision Making

Decision-making occurs when you have multiple options. When you are evaluating the worthiness of a decision, you use calculation and prediction. Calculation requires you to add up the facts: known numbers and odds. Prediction requires you to mentally juggle possible reactions to your decisions, reactions that are not calculable or predictable; well, perhaps predictable if your opponent always plays rationally and to his or her maximum benefit, or has a blind-spot, but not predictable as in mathematically "set in stone".

Some amount of calculation is ok. Too much calculation is boring. Poker against the house is pure calculation, and ultimately futile; you only have one "right" decision, which you can arrive at after much calculation, and it's never going to win in the long run. Poker against other players also requires calculation, but also a lot of incalculable prediction, and is therefore more interesting, at least as far as decision-making goes. Caylus, and several other meaty Eurogames I could name, favor too much calculation in the decision-making process.

Your game is fiddly if you mistake calculation for decision-making.


Poet said...

"Your game is fiddly if you mistake calculation for decision-making." Agreed. A game needs to allow enough player interaction for your opponents to generate the decision making.

"Too much calculation is boring." I don't agree. I would say: "Too much calculation makes a game into a puzzle." Puzzles aren't necessarily boring, they are simply different.
Pandemic is pure calculation. Its fun.

Avraham Grief said...

"Your game is fiddly if you mistake calculation for decision-making." I disagree. I think a game is fiddly if it has a bunch of different pieces that I have to move around or keep track of over the course of the game. This fits better with the formal definition of "requiring an annoying amount of close attention" than having too much calculation in the decision-making process. I have never thought of poker against the house as "fiddly."

"Too much calculation is boring." I agree. It's more fun to play games intuitively.

Chris said...

Interesting perspective here... I'm enjoying your attempts to cut up the mental processes in game playing by kind, although I think perhaps you are too little interested in the representational elements to get a "complete set"... :)

Thing is, my group and I love "Power Grid", which is way-heavy on calculation, and I wouldn't say it was fiddly. Of course, there is decision-making to supplement the calculation. "Power Grid", we like to say, is crunchy.

Poet says Pandemic is pure calculation... I suppose this depends on how you play. Because not all the information is available when you must decide, I find it to be pure decision making, personally, with very little calculation.

I have sympathy for Avraham's idea that a game is fiddly if it has a lot to keep track of, but then that doesn't necessarily mean a game *isn't* fiddly when it has a lot of calculation... but I can't think of a calculation-heavy game I've played that felt fiddly. Might be forgetting something.

"It's more fun to play games intuitively."

Now this is my preference! I love Mah Jong (played four player under BMJA rules with special hands) precisely because there is no question of calculation, one must always trust one's intuition and feel out a course of action based on what has happened so far.

I think one can substitute intuition for calculation in some games and not others, and my preference is usually for the former.

Just some rambly thoughts. :)

Yehuda said...

It must be that my playing with heavy calculating players, that I equate number crunching with fiddly. Fiddly, in the sense, that you have to keep track of and juggle dozens or different numbers. Just like it's fiddly when you have to keep track of and juggle dozens of different bits.

When I say that too much calculation is boring, it's not that I don't like calculation games like Power Grid. It's just that, in some cases, the designer appears to have thrown lots of different numbers in the way of a decision in the mistaken impression that this enhances the fun of the decision, when all it really does is give a mental math workout. Often, the result of this workout is a trivial decision. So it works as an educational math game, but not really (for me) as a fun or deep game.


Poet said...

Yes, it depends on how you play.
We play in a very deterministic way.

We distribute the player draw pile into 6 even decks, and place a pandemic in each, shuffling.
That makes it known that if a pandemic hasn't shown in the past 4-5 turns it has a 30-50% chance of showing up next turn.
We know how many cities are of each color, so we know what the chance is of drawing a certain color from the bottom of the deck. We make decisions based on that about which outbreak cubes to clean and which not to.
Each time an epidemic strikes, we know exactly which cards are on top of the deck, and we make our decisions based on the probability of said cards to show up.
As an awesome magic: the gathering player once said (forgot his name). "If there is only a specific card left in your deck that if drawn, allows you to win, you must play as if you're going to draw that card."

If we lose for certain if something randomly happens, we must assume it will not happen.

If an airlift is the only card that can allow us to win before the last outbreak, then we play as if the next card is an airlift.

All the information is available, it is not 100$ deterministic, but you know the odds, and in most cases, the odds are quite high for certain things to occur.