It brings BSoMT great pleasure to welcome back Scott DeMers of Hellenica fame…
Advanced AI… What the heck is Advanced AI? …
Hellenica: Story of Greece was released in 2019 and solo play via the AI is a real highlight of the game. In addition to solo play, the AI can be used to augment a game with fewer players and even step in should a player have to leave mid-game. Hellenica’s AI is robust and plays a good, dare I say great, game; challenging even for the best players. This is shown in Hellenica’s current 8.2 rating on Boardgamegeek.com, with solo players rating it even higher. So, why revisit the AI when it is one of the most hailed aspects of the game? Let’s discuss that topic.
For those who read any of my posts on this very site here about the AI
you know that the AI design followed some guiding principles: the AI would be easy, no flowcharts, AI would not cheat, etc.. Well, what do you do when those principles come into conflict? The easy answer is, “You do what is most fun for the player”. Simple, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out that the definition of fun is different for different people (who knew?).
Some people love a game that plays quickly with the AI simulating a human, more or less, but where ease of play is emphasized over detailed gameplay (those people don’t play solo games by Mark Herman). It is less important for them that the AI implement every nuance of the rules. Hellenica’s AI maps to this goal very well. But, there were strategic edge cases that had always bothered me and, in some cases, examples where the AI abstracted decisions that could be more discretely included. Turns out, some of these items mattered to some of the more experienced solo players as well. So, what does the Advanced AI add to the game? Let’s walk through each of them.
AGGRESSIVE FIRST MOVE:
In Hellenica, most human players split their forces in order to capture as much area as possible on the first turn. This is not true of the AI in the base game. Implementing this is very easy. If the AI is not attacking another player, they too will split their forces and capture as much territory as possible.
In Hellenica, objectives represent the victory conditions and a player wins when they complete any three. Only five are available to a player in any one game of Hellenica. Two of the five objectives are held in secret by each player and only revealed once the player has accomplished them. For the AI, these cards must be dealt face up since a player needs to know when an AI has accomplished an objective. To keep bookkeeping to a minimum, the AIs all share their objectives. i.e. they are all trying to accomplish the same things. Additionally, since the AI is not mentally aware of what it is actually trying to do to win the game, an extra objective card is revealed for the AI players. Thus, humans have two hidden objecties. The AI players, whether one or six, all share three “hidden” objectives.
For players looking for more challenge, especially in solo games where six AI players may all be ripping each other apart to accomplish their objectives, the new rules say to reveal one AI card for each AI in the game. This means that in a solo game, the AI will have many more options. Note that the AI can still only complete any two of the “hidden” objectives, but this does mean that it is more likely that they will do so without stepping on each others’ toes to get there.
Commerce in Hellenica is one of the more unique strategies in the game that newer players often overlook. Commerce can be spent to take free actions in the game – a simple pay now, benefit later strategy that can be quite powerful. To reduce bookkeeping, the AI in the base game ignores commerce. In that sense, it is like a newer human player who cannot apply its benefits. The new advanced rules enable the AI players to now spend commerce for free actions, just like a human player would do. This one simple rule expands the competitiveness of the AI significantly.
This is my personal favorite Advanced AI rule. In the base game, players take single actions each round of a turn. It takes multiple rounds for a human player to complete their production (building new city upgrades, training new units, worship to get favor with the gods, and researching advancements). Often, human players will move units on the map only after they have completed their other actions.
To reduce the overhead of a turn, AI players receive all of their production on the first round of a turn and then move each round after that. This results in the AI almost always running out of movement allowing the human player free reign to move without fear of reprisal until next turn. Well, no more! After receiving production on round one, each time the AI would normally move, a die is cast. Half of the time, the AI will move normally. The other half of the time, the AI will simply decline to take an action. This simple addition means that you may run out of movement before the AI does – a frightening proposition.
The expansion of Hellenica adds the concept of unique leaders that modify your civilization and how it performs. The AI takes full advantage of these leaders and will sometimes forego an action to instead recruit a leader to their city-state. It is critical that when adding new content to a game, as we are doing with this expansion, that the AI takes full advantage of it.
This is the biggest, and arguably the most complex, addition to the game. Casting invocations (much like a spell) break the rules of the game in your favor and their are 30 invocations (3 each for 10 different deities in the game). Keeping track of these across up to 6 AI players sounds like a nightmare. Because of the complexity of trying to remember all of these invocations, we abstracted it. AI did not cast invocations in the base game.
With this new Advanced AI rule, keeping track of what an AI player can do is quite simple. First, each AI player receives a single deity to worship (like the humans do at game start). As the AI player’s empire grows, they unlock more powerful invocations to cast. By reducing each AI player’s focus to a single deity, a human running a solo game only needs to look at the 1 to 3 invocations that the AI player has unlocked for their deity. By reducing this to 3 invocations instead of the complete 30 invocations, this becomes a much easier effort. It allows the AI to fully participate in the mythological aspects of Hellenica. i.e. they can call upon the gods to help smite you for your insolence.
Each of the above rules has the potential to increase the complexity of running the AI. Thus, it became very important to include some measuring system so that players can determine for themselves which rules to include and which to ignore. Hellenica: Leaders & Legends AI rules are modularized. You can play with none, some, or all of the new rules for the game. And each Advanced AI rule is rated on a scale of 1 (easy) to 5 (more complex). Players can, at a glance, realize the investment they are making in time and effort to weigh that against the fun that can be had with the game. Want a tougher opponent? Include more rules. Want brutally simple game play? Leave them out. Simple. Intuitive. Elegant. And most importantly, it allows for players with different definitions of “fun” to play the game at the level of complexity that they wish. Everyone wins!
I hope this helps you understand the AI in Hellenica: Leader & Legends. The expansion, and a 2nd printing of the base game, is live on Kickstarter right now at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/532062403/hellenica-leaders-and-legends.