Welcome to Episode One of The Mechanics of Meaning. You might have thought that, for the first episode, we would take a look at a really story-heavy, narrative- driven game, but no. Today we're going to talk about Dice Wars: a browser-based flash game made by a site called GameDesign.jp.
It's a great little strategy game, super addictive, and lots of -- Yeah. Yeah, I'm serious. Yeah -- where are you going? Hey, come back here! Please! Please play roulette here !
Okay, I know this might seem like a strange choice, but trust me: Dice Wars does some really interesting things with its gameplay. Plus as you can see the design is very minimalistic, so we don't have to work as hard to untangle the gameplay from the visuals, the audio, and so on. Talking about dice wars will also let me introduce some fundamental concepts that will come in handy for discussions of more complicated games later on, so it's actually a perfect subject for our first episode. Okay? Good, then let's get started. First, we need to talk about how the game works.
Before we get into it, I encourage you to try the game out for yourself and make your own impressions. There are links down in the description, and this is your last chance to go into the game with a blank slate. So, how does one play Dice Wars? At the main menu, you choose the number of players -- sort of a mislabel since it's actually one player against one to seven computers -- and then you hit "Play". The game presents a randomly generated map with regions and dice distributed between yourself and your opponents, and asks if you accept this starting point. Click "no" and it'll generate a new board that will hopefully be more to your liking.
Click "yes" and the game begins. The turn order is random so some of your opponents might go before you, but when it gets to your turn, you click on one of your purplish blue territories and then click an opponent's territory to attack. You each roll your dice and add up their value.
If the attacker gets a greater number than the defender, the attacker wins and takes over that territory, leaving one die behind. If the attacker's number is less than or equal to the defender, the attacker loses all but one of their dice. You can attack with any territory that has more than one die and borders and opponent, and you can attack as many or as few times as you want during your turn. When you decide to end your turn, you gain dice equal to your largest number of connected territories, which are then randomly allocated.
Each territory can have up to 8 dice, and if you max out all of your dice, any leftovers are banked for your next turn. The goal is, quite simply, to take over the entire map. We're going to come back to this later, but for now, it seems clear that these are pretty simple mechanics. There's nothing too inherently complicated or intricate about the game, but the mechanics work together to create a cohesive and compelling experience, which will become clear as we talk in more detail about two key elements: chance and strategy.
Chance or randomness is often treated as the opposite of strategy: when someone is an expert strategist or planner, we even say that they don't leave anything to chance. And at a certain black and white level, this contrast makes sense. Imagine that I asked you to play a very simple game with me: I flip a coin and you guess whether it will land on heads or tails.
If you guess correctly, you win. If not, you lose. We could play this game over and over again, hundreds or thousands of times, and it probably wouldn't matter if you guessed heads every time, or alternated between heads and tails, or anything else.
There is no strategy that will help you win at this game. It's just pure chance. Even in games that aren't completely or entirely random, chance is still seen as antithetical to strategy because it's an element that we cannot control, that we can't 100% account for.
Since strategy is all about control and planning, chance is often viewed as a negative. We see this a lot in video games with players bemoaning the RNG, or random number generation, that can influence many different parts of a game, like the equipment and items you get, how much damage an attack does, or if the attack even hits. On the flip-side, there's a game that doesn't have any form of chance in its game design whatsoever, and it's often held up as the pinnacle of strategy. Of course, I'm talking about chess.
Chess is sort of distilled strategy. Every single game of chess has the same component parts, so to speak: the same board, same pieces, same movements. Players can strategize purely based on their choices and those of their opponents. There is uncertainty, perhaps, as to what one's opponent will do, but not randomness.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote a short story called "All the King's Horses." It's a compelling story about chess, strategy, and Cold War geopolitics, and I'd like to share a quote from it here, specifically from the character Barzov, a Russian major: "'it's a very distressing thing about chess,' said Barzov [...]. 'There isn't a grain of luck in the game, you know.
There's no excuse for the loser.'" Dice Wars is decidedly not like chess in this regard, and is very upfront about its incorporation of randomness. Dice is right there in the title, after all, and it shows in the basic gameplay. In chess, if you take an opponent's piece, you always win that battle; it doesn't matter if it's a pawn attacking a queen or vice versa. In Dice Wars, though, victory is almost never a guarantee. Here are the ranges of possible rolls for every number of dice from 1 to 8.
Note that victory is literally only guaranteed in two specific circumstances: when attacking one die with either 7 or 8 dice. In all other cases, victory may be very probable, but not certain. You could employ the optimal strategy in Dice Wars and still lose. There's a very low probability of that happening, but it's still possible.
There are plenty of potential excuses for the loser, as Barzov would say, but Dice Wars is a single-player game. You're really only making excuses to yourself. Besides, Dice Wars is still fair: all the players / computers have the same mechanics for success and failure. It is also still a strategy game: your plans and choices might not exclusively determine whether you win or lose, but they certainly affect the likelihood of a win or loss. What is strategy, after all, but a series of if-then statements? "If my opponent makes X move, then I will respond with Y."
Even trying to think ahead and predict your opponent's actions just means flipping the script and imagining you were your opponent. "If my opponent does Y then I will respond with Z," and then you plan to counter Z. The strategic behaviors in Dice Wars and chess are functionally very similar; it's just that the sources of uncertainty (the ifs) are different. Chess focuses solely on your opponent's choices, while Dice Wars incorporates random chance.
Humans generally tend to be better at understanding and evaluating conscious agency and intentions than raw probability. We're pattern finders, after all, and we excel at interpreting or imagining reasons behind phenomena or behavior. Randomness thwarts us because there is no pattern, no agency, no intention, no reason.
This is why so many players bemoan RNG in video games, and some of them even jump to the conclusion that the game is rigged against them somehow. That pattern, that intentional behavior, is more readily imagined than chance just not going their way. These ideas and principles will be really important for us going forward because games tend to use both random chance and active decision-making in their games in different forms and for different purposes. In Dice Wars, for example, you control your own choices and can predict how your opponents will behave, but the dice rolls are always random.
It's important to know and distinguish these types of mechanics so we can evaluate how they shape the game and the player's experience. Specifically for Dice Wars, these factors mean that players will almost never be able to guarantee a particular outcome, but they can affect the probability of successful outcomes as they learn the game and how to strategize, which brings us to our next topic. Dice Wars tells you almost nothing about how the game works. When you start the game, you get two short sentences of instruction that are mostly about the controls, and that's it.
Over the years, air travel has declined significantly. Bad economic times, acts of terrorism, and the overall high cost of flying have deterred many travelers from flying the friendly skies. Instead, they’re opting for local travel that doesn’t require flying or selecting other methods of transportation such as driving, taking the train, or going “Greyhound”. As a result, the major airlines are making less and less each year, forcing some to close up shop and call it quits.
However, bad economic times and acts of terrorism aren’t the only things affecting the major airlines and the air travel industry as a whole.
Discount air carriers who offer limited yet discount air travel rates have put a huge dent in the business of the major airlines. These airlines, such as U.S. based Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines, can undercut the major players in the air travel market because of lower overhead and less labor costs.
Since the discount air travel carriers are smaller and often only have one type of aircraft (compared to bigger airlines that have full fleets of varying plane types), they have more flexibility with their pricing and can offer discount air travel deals more often then their much larger counterparts. And when combined with the decline in overall air travel, the discount air carriers are winning out over the larger airlines, causing the major players to rethink their game plan and, in many cases, start offering discount air travel through dynamically priced fares.
Using Discount Air Travel and Carriers for Your Benefit
For the most part, discount airlines operate within their country of origin. In other words, many don’t offer flights abroad. So if you need to fly domestically for business travel or a family vacation, a discount air carrier is the way to go. However, just because the discount airlines don’t offer overseas travel, it doesn’t mean you can’t get discount air travel deals on international flights. Remember, domestic AND international air travel has dwindled significantly over the years; so, the major airlines are often scrambling to fill overseas flights. As a result, the bigger airlines are starting to offer last minute travel deals and dynamically priced fares to try and fill their flights as much as they can. And since the discount air carriers are taking much of their previous domestic air travel customers, the larger airlines are desperate to make a buck any way they can.
Finding Discount Air Travel Deals
Some airlines offer last minute and discounted travel deals directly to the consumer; however, many work with online travel sites and supply them with bulk-rate deals on plane tickets. Either way, the key to finding discount air travel deals is to search the web and call the airlines. Compare prices and give yourself time to research your discount travel options. You may find that booking last minute will save you a bundle on your flight in some cases, but cost you twice as much in others; so be flexible and don’t purchase the first ticket you find. You’ll find a better deal on discount air travel if you shop around.
The discount air carriers have caused a significant shift in the air travel industry. There is more competition and less people buying, causing the industry to offer more discounted air travel deals than ever before. As a traveler, this means there are currently more ways to save on your air travel. All you have to do is go out and find those deals.
Taiwan hotels are generally a very good value for travelers, especially if you book your hotel online. As long as your hotel isn't part of a vacation package, this is recommended for vacationers and business travelers who want to make the most of their travel budgets.
Taiwan draws millions of tourists annually, with tourism making up a large part of the Taiwanese economy.
There is plenty to entice the traveler from abroad: visiting the top of Taipei 101 as well as outdoor activities like hiking in the mountains or taking a trip to Sun Moon Lake.
The Grand Hotel Taipei, one of the best Taiwan hotels
Taiwan offers luxury hotels with all of the world class amenities you could ask for and many hotels in the country offer unparalleled dining as well. One of the most famous is the Grand Hotel in Taipei with its traditional style architecture.
Unique and Cosy
The past ten years, more and more Bed & Breakfast accommodations have been developed in the Taiwan travel and tourism industry. They are absolutely unique and cosy.
Luxury motels are also another good choice, especially in Taichung. Taichung has about 200 of these motels. Owners decorate the rooms with romance and elegance, glamour, even underwater themes. They have created city villas, packed with super-modern amenities and extras like king-sized beds, Nintendo Wiis, fancy shower heads, spas, saunas, milk baths, private outdoor swimming pools and courtyards with waterfalls; the list goes on and on.
And, whenever guests get tired and hungry from swimming, spa-ing and playing video games, room service is just a phone call away.
Book Online and Save
Booking your Taiwan hotel online is quick, easy and will typically save you a great deal of money as well.
Using online booking websites can get you discounts of 30%-50% on luxurious hotel rooms at 3 and 4 star hotels which offer great accommodations for your visit to Taiwan.
These online hotel booking sites can offer these deep discounts to travelers since hotels can save significant amounts on marketing costs by providing online bookings. It's far less costly to the hotel to market themselves and to make a booking online than it is through other channels.
When you book a hotel online you can also save by making an accurate comparison of the amenities and rates of all of the hotels you're interested in without taking a lot of time. You'll be able to get all of your confirmations and other necessary documents in writing via email when you make your booking.
This ensures that you will receive exactly what you've been promised on the site where you booked your hotel.
In conclusion, Taiwan hotels are relatively cosy and with good facilities. The staffs at hotels are always helpful and caring. Enjoy your stay in Taiwan!
Taipei attractions... There are so many and every time I am in Taipei I don't want to miss any of them. Try and visit these places yourself and you will feel the wonderful culture of Taiwan.
One of the main Taipei attractions - Chiang Kai Shek MemorialTaipei, the capital and largest city in the country, is divided into twelve districts. Its most famous landmark is the Taipei 101, otherwise known as the Taipei International Financial Center. It is the second tallest building in the world. This building is known for its fast elevators, and the view from the top is outstanding.
But there are more Taipei attractions besides the obvious...
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park
One of the most beloved sights in Taipei is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park. Built in memory of the former President of Taiwan, this walled park has a white pyramid monument to Chiang Kai-shek that is topped with blue tiles.
The park also is home to the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall. Public performances are often held in the plaza in the park. This is also the location for the Lantern Festival.
If you want to see a wonderful example of traditional Chinese architecture, visit the Longshan Temple, one of the most beautiful of the Taipei attractions. This temple is dedicated to Kuanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. Built originally in 1738, the temple has been rebuilt many times after being damaged by fire, earthquakes and bombers in World War II.
The National Palace Museum contains the largest collection of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world. This collection used to be housed in Beijing, but was moved to Taipei due to the Chinese Civil War. The museum is home to some very famous items, including the Jade Cabbage.
Martyrs Shrine TaipeiDon't miss the Beitou Hot Spring Museum. This museum was built in 1913 by the Japanese as the first public bathhouse in Taiwan. It was once the largest hot spring bathhouse in East Asia.
Also, don't forget the Martyrs Shrine, a magnificent construction overseeing the Keelung River and dedicated to the Taiwanese men who sacrificed their lives in war.
The shrine rests on the slopes of the mountains, surrounded by enormous grass fields and makes a lasting impression on every visitor.
The Shi Lin Night Market is the best one in Taipei. As soon as the sun goes down, the shops open up, offering everything from pets to clothing to tools. There are lots of restaurants, famous casinos and fun to be had as well. Don't miss it while you're in Taipei.
Animals and Plants
Founded in 1914, the Taipei Zoo is a wonderful place to spend the day. You'll get to see all sorts of animals, including local fauna like the flying fox, the Chinese Pangolin and the Asiatic Black Bear.
There are several habitats for the animals, such as the African savannah, the Asian Tropical Rainforest and the desert area. This is one of the most popular Taipei attractions.
The Taipei Botanical Garden is a wonderful Taipei tourist attraction, delighting many visitors every year. It features beautiful lotus ponds that are especially magical in the summer when the lotus are in bloom. The garden has been captivating tourists and locals alike for over a hundred years.