January 30, 2005

Ambition S*

This is a variant I developed called "Ambition S*". It may supplant standard Ambition among some players, because it's designed to further reduce the role hand-luck plays in the game.

It's no secret with Ambition that I had a specific aesthetic mission: to reduce the role of pure chance, in the form of hand-luck. I figure, based on some statistical analysis I've done, that hand-luck contributes to about 3-8% of the game's variance, most likely 4.2%, or 95.8% skill, strategy, and "flux" (more on flux later). Also, the 4.2% figure does not account for "strategic luck" (which is inevitable in strategy games of 3 or more players) nor table position.

While 4.2% luck may sound high, chess is about 1.7% luck if you randomize the white/black determination. It's very tough to get a game above 90% skill-and-strategy, without iterating it a bunch of times (e.g. Poker, which converges to 100% skill in the long long run).

Here's Ambition S*, or Ambition for the purist.

Ambition S*

This variant involves two alterations:

1. Randomized seating (*)

Seating arrangements change with each round, randomly. The deck is shuffled once or twice, then each person draws a card from the middle and places it face up. Cards are ordered by Rank (A high, 2 low) then suit ( > > > ). The person with the highest-ranking card stays put. The person with the 2nd-ranking card sits to that person's left, 3rd-ranking across, and 4th-ranking person sits at his or her right.

Motivation: Simply-put, table position matters a lot in trick-taking games. It's obviously not "hand-luck", but in trick-taking games, table position is an active source of "strategic luck". Being on the left of an aggressive player means that one will be in 2nd position a lot, and 2nd position is strategically much weaker than 4th position.

2. Scatter passes (S)

This follows, at least in an aesthetic sense, from the first alteration. If the standard passing cycle were used, one could possibly pass to the same opponent multiple times, and even in succession.

Scatter passes are used in every round of Ambition. For those unfamiliar with the term, a Scatter pass is a pass where each player sends one card to each opponent.

Motivation: Hold rounds, while challenging, add quite a bit of hand-luck to the game. My models (based on some research I've done on the game; I don't get much sleep) represent hand-luck as a normal random variable (in terms of contribution to relative score) with mean 0 and standard deviation around 1.5, but Hold rounds have a standard deviation of about 2.0, maybe a little more.

Also, there are rare "sure Slam" hands that are clear outliers to this normal model. These hands can become common after bad passes. For example, a person with 5 spades might be passed 3 more, by an opponent trying to clear the suit, leading to a slammable 8-card spade suit. This effect is partly "strategic luck" (seasoned players know mono-suit passes are a bad idea; poor players always add "strategic luck" factors to the game) but also part hand-luck. In fact, it's mostly hand-luck.

Finally, a common offender in terms of hand-luck is the usually abysmal "straight-flush" configuration, consisting of 3 or more cards of a suit in sequence (8-9-10-J). Some of these configurations are good (slammable) and others are harmless, but as a general rule, straight-flushes are bad: they involve a set of equivalent (for trick-taking purposes) cards that are hard to get rid of. We can't eradicate the straight-flush entirely-- sometimes it just happens-- but a common "screw-pass" will involve 2 or 3 cards in sequence, possibly creating a straight-flush in the passee's hand.

Scatter-passing also gives players more liberty in terms of their available pass options. For example, mono-suit passes are no longer dangerous, since the cards passed will all go to different opponents. It makes it "safe", in that regard, to clear a 3-card suit; on the other hand, it is more difficult to keep that suit cleared, since the cards received all come from different opponents.

Comment or write me: What do you think of this variant, Ambition S*? Good idea, or not so hot?

6 Comments:

Anonymous poker chip racks said...

Hey this blog is not about cheap poker chips sets. Silly internet bringing me here :-) Funny I have been doing hours of research on cheap poker chips sets and it brought me to your blog on Ambition S*. The web plays funny games sometimes. Anyways, I was reading your blog Mike Church and I think it is really cool. Keep up the great work.
If you do not mind I may snag your blog and put it in my favorites. I read a ton of stuff that interested me. Keep blogging away :-)

1:23 AM  
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