I guess that got pretty pathetic

Some time ago I played with a Spider Solitaire app for iPhone. And I have to say its features are more bewildering than the infamous “At first condemn our very feeble excuse for everything that follows constant negative press (7)” tweet from 2017 US politics.

Earlier this year I could load the program and deal a hand. Unfortunately I couldn’t see any cards!  I eventually decided to update all my apps, but only because Gmail also needed an upgrade for some reason. A few days ago I played my first game and lost narrowly. On the very next game this happened:

(Text version):

Suits removed: Diamonds, Spades

Stock: 0 cards remaining

Column 1: Ks

Column 2:

Column 3: Kh,Qh,Jh,Th,9h,8h,7d,6d,5d,,4c,3c,2c,Ad,8d,7c,6c,5c,4c,3c,2c,Ac

Column 4:

Column 5: 6h,5h,4h,3d,2d,As,2s,Ah,7c,6s

Column 6: ?,8c,Qd,Jd,Tc,9d,8s,7s,6c,5s,4s,3s,2h,Ah,9c,Kh,Qh,Js,Td,9s

Column 7: Kc,Qc,Jc,4d,7h

Column 8:

Column 9: ?,Kd,Qc,Jc,Tc,9c,8c,5h,4h,3h,2h,Ac

Column 10: Kc,Qs,Jh,Ts,9h,8h,7h,6h,5c

Ummm … excuse me? Do I not even get a chance to turn over the last card in Column 9? Like I said, this is more bewildering than the infamous “At first condemn our very feeble excuse for everything that follows constant negative press (7)” tweet from 2017 US politics. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

At the risk of insulting the intelligence of Captain Obvious, I have removed two suits and obtained three empty columns. I know from experience this does not automatically guarantee victory (especially if you are playing a certain server). But this game state is not even close to being one of the exceptions. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to verify the game is mathematically won regardless of the permutation of unseen cards.

Not every Spider Solitaire player has above average IQ and all game developers must cater to the whole market instead of a single expert player – yes, I get that. But whoever wrote this software doesn’t understand the fundamentals of the game. Therefore I am deleting this app.

The good news is Humanity has not (yet) been completely surpassed by its Artificial Intelligence counterpart. While I cannot pretend to understand the detailed game-theoretic specificity of AlphaGo’s Move 37 against Lee Sedol I can still sleep at night knowing AI has some catching up to do when it comes to playing Spider Solitaire.

Out of curiosity I clicked the magic button to see what would happen. The app yanked a full set of clubs from various columns and moved that to the foundations. I’m not sure how this esoteric piece of knowledge will help me in future, but I guess knowing this fact can’t hurt either.

Just In Case You’re Really Bored: can you win the above game with only two empty columns instead of three?

Just In Case You’re Really Really Bored: can you win the above game with only ONE empty column instead of three?

Just In Case You’re Really Really Really Bored: Write a 5000 word essay explaining why move 37 at P10 is more awesome than my attempt to “improve” Grant Woolard’s Classical Music Mashup IV.

Is Joe Bloggs Ltd a legit company?

Following the success with my Spider Solitaire Sudoku puzzle, I think now is a good time to talk about estimating the legitimacy of a game product.

We’ve all been there. We happily downloaded the latest match-3 game. The graphics are slick, the music is polished and – well – the game turns out to be completely rot13(fuvg). Those with good memories may recall the Evony controversy involving some interesting images that had nothing to do with their game play. And the less said about those incessant Hero Wars ads on Facebook, the better.

There are some really shoddy products out there. The worst I’ve seen is a game called “Jewel Swap” by Shanghai New Dragon Restaurant Ltd. Yes, that name is not a typo or a cut-n-paste from the wrong document. A restaurant means what you think it means and it has nothing to do with the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. One level had “6 purple gems” in the goal section increase to “7 purple gems” for no reason at all – and the player had to earn their purples. They also had a different game with the exact same levels, same music but different graphics. The lesson I learnt was some developers are so egregiously bad they don’t even know how to hide the fact they are cheating.

Here are some indicators of a good or bad game:

Location Location Location:

A company’s location must be easily searchable. If Joe Bloggs Ltd sells happy star widgets but I need to pay an arm, leg and sixteen hours of my life just to find its location then forget it. Similarly, if you were applying for a job at Joe Bloggs Ltd you ought to know where it’s located. Like it or not, we have a thing called “competition” and users can easily find a better product out there.

Check the reviews.

Ideally a review should mention something specific about the game, or at least give some impression the reviewer has actually played the game. Otherwise, it fails the lost-sense-of-smell-due-to-COVID test. In other words, if a review is favourable then ask yourself “is it plausible that Joe Bloggs was bribed to write a good review despite knowing nothing about the game play?” If it’s not plausible then there is a good chance the review is legit. If all the reviews mention nothing specific then the flag is coloured red. Reviews should obviously be independent of the company otherwise Joe Bloggs Ltd can cherry-pick the good ones.

Social Media presence:

A good game will have lots of positive user comments on Facebook or Twitter (or some equivalent). A great game will go the extra mile and find creative ways to engage users, e.g., an informal fan art competition. A good example of a great company is UsTwo (of Monument Valley fame). A bad game will have Joe Bloggs Ltd singing its own praises with very little interaction from users.

Does the game stink after a dozen levels?

This is a double-edged sword since it’s easy enough for poor players to throw around incorrect accusations of cheating. One interesting example is Backgammon NJ for the Android Phone. But if you know your match-threes (*) you can quickly get a sense of when something doesn’t add up. If the other dot points above point in the same direction, then the flag is definitely coloured some strong shade of red. Obviously “dozen levels” doesn’t really apply to Spider Solitaire, but you get the gist.

(*) or substitute suitable game-genre here

Does Joe Bloggs Ltd have form?

If the company has other bad games then that’s a strong indication something is off. Although I didn’t mention this in my paper, the company that developed the “rogue” Spider Solitaire software had an even worse “Mah-Jong Solitaire”. We all know how many words a picture is worth so I will dump this gem below and let the reader judge for himself. Of course, I am assuming the reader has elementary knowledge of Mah-Jong tiles.

Needless to say, the company that developed the Spider Solitaire server failed miserably on all the above dot points.

What are your thoughts about good or bad game products? Are any important indicators missing? Do you have any favourite examples worth sharing? Of course, favourite examples don’t have to be bad!

Game Over – Spider Solitaire wins!!!!

Okay, apparently Spider Solitaire level 18 on iPhone is too hard, even for yours truly.

Trevor seemed to be gaining the ascendency with four consecutive wins on 7-10 (unfortunately not a horizontal Connect Four), but then it all fell apart on 11,12,13,14.

november.png

The game on 12 was brutal. Ninja Monkey’s famous 1-suit random move algorithm estimates a win rate of only 0.04. Game 13 was even worse, with Trevor unable to determine the identity of seven (7) face-down cards even with unlimited undo. Assuming random guessing for these seven cards, Ninja Monkey reported a win rate of 0.06.

Game 14 shows an example where Ninja Monkey badly misjudges the win rate (0.70). Trevor never looked like getting a hole at any stage of the game with a critical shortage of Jacks until the final deal. I will let the reader examine the game shoe and judge for himself.

So the jury is still out. Is the iPhone spider solitaire software rigged? My gut suggests I need a better algorithm that can get a decent win rate at 4-suit solitaire. Perhaps this is an exercise for the reader, if you excuse the terrible cliché!

thesegamessuck

Okay so what is this Solitaire Cube thingy all about?

Solitaire Cube

It would be nice if the Solitaire Cube combined my talents of playing Spider Solitaire well and solving Rubik’s Cube (and if there is no cool music I can always play piano at the same time) but apparently they have tournaments where you can play for money. We’re not talking small amounts of virtual money plus a small percentage of dot com stock options indexed to inflation but real money.

Solitaire Cube is your regular i-Phone app with the usual eye candy, cool music and/or sound effects – and best of all it takes the tedium out of shuffling the cards. It was developed by Tether Studios and powered by Skillz, an eSports platform that manages the $$$$

Players are matched with opponents with similar skills in real-time and world-wide. You are scored according to certain rules (which will not be discussed in detail), so even if you can’t win you are still rewarded for partial achievements, such as exposing most of the cards. If you score more than your opponent, then you win the $$$$.

There is also a 5-minute timer, so the game ends as soon as you run out of time. Or you can quit early, cut your losses and take the bonus for time remaining. There is a practice mode where you have virtual currency (Z coins, minus the dot com stock options as described above). Once you are comfortable with practice mode then you can go to the Pro League.

There is something similar for Spider Solitaire Cube, but I described Solitaire Cube first because that seems way more popular (Klondike is much better known than Spider). Besides I would expect former and latter to have much in common.

So that’s the theory, but don’t give up your day job just yet

If I got word of mouth from a trusted work colleague then I might seriously consider wanting in on this. But I heard about Solitaire Cube only because I play way too much match-three games on my mobile and can’t be bothered getting rid of the ads.

There seems to be a growing scourge of low-quality games that are designed to cheat. For instance, a game might be advertised as free-to-play but in reality it is pay-to-win. Or the gameplay itself is lame. Or there is false advertising (think Evony). And don’t get me started on Hero Wars. Solitaire Cube seems to be no different: a simple search (hint: name the largest subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.) reveals a lot of negative reviews. Without going into detail here is a list of complaints:

  • Player’s score is less than it should be
  • Practice hands are much easier than Real money hands (sound familiar?)
  • Frequently crashes
  • Lousy customer service
  • Don’t know if opponents are humans or bots (or if they are same skill level as you)
  • Can’t review opponent’s video ergo don’t know if he legit won. Don’t even know if they play the same hands.
  • The vigorish is worse than Las Vegas
  • You have to deposit $10 into Paypal account, then they ask you for your location to see if you’re eligible for tournaments (wrong location -> no entry).
  • Fake positive reviews.

 

I’m not sure how many of these complaints are legit. For example, players are more apt to remember the time when the game crashed when they were doing well, but not remember the 10 times the game crashed and they were doing badly. But there are some undisputable facts. If you are betting 25 cents to win 42 cents then the vigorish is 16%, which is worse than Las Vegas. Nobody can argue with the math. And there are things that don’t pass the sniff test, because IMNSHO game developers should not only be doing the right thing but be seen to be doing the right thing. I won’t go into exhaustive detail; I will let the reader draw his own conclusions.

Let’s test this software … or let’s not.

If you read this blog regularly, you will know how to test the Random Number Generator. But I believe it is not worth my time to do the same experiment, mainly because I need to set up a PayPal account. There are other issues, but the PayPal issue alone is enough to turn me off. I leave this as the proverbial exercise for the reader 😊