Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dreadnought is almost always the first ship you should build, here's why

The past few weekends I have been playing the board game Eclipse and this past week I wrote a battle simulator, but unlike others I have seen mine tries all possible ship part combinations to give the best combination of ship parts to defeat an enemy.  Using this took I took a look at the best moves for the beginning of the game.

At the start of the game the first battle objective is to kill single ancient (to get more/better hexes, to get more research/actions/builds….) .  It would be great to save up and built perfect ships before doing any battles, but for the majority of games you need to incrementally upgrade, fight the weakest battle first etc.  I took a close look at this situation and concluded that a dreadnought is the ship you want to build at the start of the game.  From higher percentage wins, cheaper cost, easier retreat, faster movement, and significant improvements on percentage of wins with cheap easy upgrades the dreadnought looks to be the first ship any race should build.

Plugging in the ancient and the stock ships into my simulator I have come to a few conclusions:

#1 Don't build interceptor's until fighting other players

If you want to use interceptor's against ancients with no research the best option is to put an extra HULL on it.  These are the percentages of wins against a single ancient for 1/2/3 ships.

1- 7% Upgrades: 1 Cost:0 Research:0 boxes:ion cannon, nuclear source, nuclear drive, HULL, influence_2
2- 17% Upgrades: 1 Cost:0 Research:0 boxes:ion cannon, nuclear source, nuclear drive, HULL, influence_2
nuclear source, nuclear drive, influence_2
3- 33% Upgrades: 1 Cost:0 Research:0 boxes:ion cannon, nuclear source, nuclear drive, HULL, influence_2

**Note that the interceptor 17% and 33% only count wins where no ships are lost as continuously chucking away ships in battles will not win the game compared to opponents that continuously grow bigger armies.

If you build a dreadnought, for *less* (8 build points v.s. 9) then the same building cost of the interceptor you have a *much* better chance of surviving with the same single single HULL upgrade.

1- 81% Upgrades: 1 Cost:0 Research:0 boxes:ion cannon, ion cannon, electron computer, nuclear source, nuclear drive, hull, hull, HULL

Granted no research is a little extreme, so if we upgrade the interceptor to the *best* cheap config (Anything under price of 10 which you could reasonably effort in the beginning of the game) which was found to be this configuration you get:

3- 79% Upgrades: 2 Cost:10 Research:2 boxes:PLASMA CANNON, nuclear source, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, influence_2

So for less cost, less research, less upgrade you are just as likely to beat the aliens.  And here is the *best* parts:
- If the dice just are not going your way and it looks like your dreadnought is going to loose you can retreat, while with 3 interceptor if the ancient gets a lucky roll you could loose a ship which is lost building resource you will _never_ get back
- Only the human's can move 3 ships at a time so for everyone else would take two actions to move the interceptors into the hex.
- After beating the ancient your ship(s) are now stuck in that hex and need to move elsewhere.  With 1 dreadnought you can move 2/3 hexes! on a move action while a move of an alien you can only move 2/3 of the interceptor 1 hex total!  While your dreadnought can only move 1 because it is much more powerful you only have to move it and it alone can use both move actions behaving as though it has a 2hex drive.

So it is completely clear that while you can attack and ancient with interceptor's and you could get lucky in the long run you are better off getting a single dreadnought to clean up the ancients on your side of the board.

So what are interceptor good for?  The use cases I have thought about are:
- When battling other players each ship big or small each one counts as a "pin" so building several interceptor's at your boarder is a nice way of making sure they don't invade your territory taking over hexes uncontested.  Of course if you have no plans to move them to pin building starbases are the stronger option.
- Plasma Missile pinning.  Armed with plasma missile and a computer/hull they are a great little ship to send over, take a shot and retreat.  Best case you take out a ship, average case you pin one of their ships so they can't attack you on that turn and you can do something better, worse case you lose a cheap ship (but still get to pin them).  Of course I would rather send a cruiser for Plasma Missile pinning as it will have better odds, but if they are all occupied...
- Sacrificial pinning.  On the last turn when you want to get the hex's with the best victory points, but they are on the other side of an enemy fleet you can send in some interceptor to pin the enemy's ships and then fly your fleet across the battle zone to the real hex's you want.

This wouldn't be complete with some stats about the cruiser v.s. an ancient:

With 0 research:
1- 38% Upgrades: 1 Cost:0 Research:0 boxes:ION CANNON, ION CANNON, electron computer, nuclear source, nuclear 
drive, hull, influence_1
2- 66% Upgrades: 1 Cost:0 Research:0 boxes:ION CANNON, ION CANNON, electron computer, nuclear source, nuclear drive, hull, influence_1

Again at two cruisers you are paying more than a dreadnought and getting less.

With 1 research:
1-71% Upgrades: 2 Cost:6 Research:1 boxes:PLASMA CANNON, electron computer, nuclear source, nuclear drive, HULL, hull, influence_1
1-65% Upgrades: 2 Cost:4 Research:1 boxes:ion cannon, electron computer, nuclear source, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL, influence_1

If you only have the resources to build 1 cruiser and not a dreadnought building 1 cruiser might be worth the risk, but that early in the game it might be worth waiting for the sure bet of the dreadnought that will probably be only one turn away.  Loosing against the first alien would put you back a few (2?) turns in the game.  On the other hand if there are two ancient hex's out, two cruisers against two different ancient hex's could jump you ahead in the game if you are lucky, but then you are stuck with cruisers and upgrade actions spent the the cruiser and not the dreadnought...   Probably the most interesting early risk with a potential big payoff I have seen, anyone seen this done in a game?

2- 91% Upgrades: 2 Cost:4 Research:1 boxes:ion cannon, electron computer, nuclear source, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL, influence_1

As we will see in the next section building 2 cruisers + 1 research again cost more than a dreadnought and have worse odds.

With 2 research:
98% Upgrades: 3 Cost:12 Research:2 boxes:ion cannon, POSITRON COMPUTER, nuclear source, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL, influence_1

As we will see in section #3 building 2 cruisers + 2 research again cost more than a dreadnought and have worse odds again.

#2 Improved Hull is the best upgrade on the board.

In running the simulations with different combinations time and time again I see Hull and Improved Hull show up in the winning combo's.  From a numbers perspective most parts only upgrade your chances on the dice, but each hull is a whole extra actual hit that the other player has to achieve.  The Improved Hull combined with the ability to stick two or even three of them on a ship such as a dreadnought or cruiser make it so it can last much longer in battle than against someone with a stronger weapons.  Besides being cheap this upgrade requires zero power unlike every single level 2 part.  Being able to stick a very powerful upgrade on a ship without being required to also upgrade your power source gives you an edge against any opponent that can't get an improved hull, but has to go with a positron computer or plasma cannon which does require a power upgrade.  There are five improve hull parts so by the time players begin battling some/all players will have it and if you don't you will be at a disadvantage from an upgrade perspective.  

Given that Improved Hull is a 4/3 build cost if you have to buy it anyway it is something you want to buy early to take advantage of the cost break.  If we take the single dreadnought and the only upgrade we do to it is two Improved Hull's the odds of it winning against a single ancient jump from 81% all the way up to:

1- 96% Upgrades: 2 Cost:4 Research:1 boxes:ion cannon, ion cannon, electron computer, nuclear source, nuclear drive, hull, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL

So buying Improved Hull is cheap, available, requires no energy, and is the best first upgrade for your ships you can buy from the very start of the game.  A dreadnought equipped with just Improved Hull could be able to survive through all the ancients in your area until it comes time to attack other players.

And if you are in a battle before you were able to get Improved Hull note that the free Hull is still a very good choice.

#3 Never buy shields (at the start of the game)

Comparing level 1 shields/computer tech, Gauss Shield (-1) just doesn't seem to be worth it at all considering that it takes up 2 research and much more importantly a whole action just to get what is free with the electron computer (+1).  In the simulations Electron Computer almost always shows up ahead over Guass shield because of the higher cost of actions.

The one exception is when for example your ships are outnumbered.  A good example is when you are sending a single dreadnought against two ancient the cheapest/best upgrade is:

88% Upgrades: 3 Cost:6 Research:2 boxes:ion cannon, ion cannon, electron computer, nuclear source, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL, GAUSS SHIELD

But right behind it is the positron computer with the same number of total upgrades: 
86% Upgrades: 4 Cost:12 Research:2 boxes:ion cannon, electron computer, POSITRON COMPUTER, nuclear source, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL

For the majority of battles I have witnessed in a game the number of ships are evenly matched so if I had to do a research action I would go for the Positron Computer any day of the week over a Gauss shield.  So Positron Computer is better than Gauss shield, what about Phase Shield (-2)?

Positron Computer (+2) also produces more wins than Phase Shield (-2).   When it comes to multiple ships if you are "winning" a battle the Phase Shield becomes less powerful (effects less dice) as the battle progresses.  And if you are not building interceptor, but dreadnought then the +2 effects two dice.  Lastly if you are ever up against ships with no computer (a common interceptor) or only a single electron computer (+1) then the Phase Shield (-2) can only do the same dice wise as a Gauss Shield (-1) while the Positron Computer (+2) will always effect your dice rolls.

In summary shields are okay in a very small specific set of circumstances, but computers are better all around and in the few cases shields are better they are marginally.

Game designer thoughts: It really feels like Phase Shield (-2) and Plasma Cannon should be swapped on the research board as it is very clear that Plasma Cannon is more powerful than Phase Shield (-2).  Maybe it is more about Plasma Cannon *needs* to be cheap and plenty or otherwise whomever gets it has too big of an advantage?

#3 Computers are underrated

In many of the games I played no one really put many computers on their ships.  Maybe the Plasma Cannon is a pretty obvious upgrade, but less obvious is Positron Computer.    But if we take our same dreadnought as before and let it find the best two research parts to upgrade (excluding Plasma Cannon) then we get this lovely combination which will destroy an ancient ship.

99% Upgrades: 4 Cost:12 Research:2 boxes:ion cannon, electron computer, POSITRON COMPUTER, nuclear source, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL

And if you still needed another reason why Positron Computers are better than Phase Shields, Positron Computers give you an extra Initiative which can add up to you getting to go first in battles with other players which can add up.

#4 Weapons

Given that the Improved Hull and Positron Computer alone can kick the ancient butts with the ion cannon it isn't as required to grab the Plasma Cannon's early.  No matter what gun you research to fully stock your Cruiser and Dreadnought's you want to upgrade the power source so if luck falls your way upgrading straight to an antimatter cannon would make for a killer ships.  Of course by the mid game time you could afford an Antimatter Cannon you might have a more pressing needs.

Plasma Cannon's are abundant, cheap, and combined with the above upgrades are a really great ship and it depends upon what the other players ships if you need to do more or not.  For some fun numbers:

Taking on the galactic core with a single dreadnought and Antimatter cannon's give you:

82% Upgrades: 6 Cost:30 Research:3 boxes:ANTIMATTER CANNON, ANTIMATTER CANNON, electron computer, TACHYON SOURCE, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL

Or much less safe you could go for the Plasma Missile which because the core has no initiative (note unlike other players!) it pretty much a guarantee kill:



Dreadnoughts are the best bang for you buck so making it the the first ship you build is a very good bet.  Build cruisers after you have your two dreadnoughts as backup.  Don't bother building interceptor until later in the game and even then build them only as required.
Try to research the following things in the following order:

- Improved Hull <- absolutely a must have
- Positron Computer
- Plasma Cannon (but if lady luck works for you and you have spare research, go for the Antimatter Cannon)

These three cheap research parts alone are so good dreadnoughts equipped with them battling two ancient
1 - 98% Upgrades: 6 Cost:18 Research:3 boxes:PLASMA CANNON, POSITRON COMPUTER, POSITRON COMPUTER, nuclear source, NUCLEAR SOURCE, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL

And the central hex get:

And if you have the time for one more research for the cheap power you can equip the dreadnoughts

Two ancients:
1 - 99% - Upgrades: 6 Cost:24 Research:4 boxes:PLASMA CANNON, PLASMA CANNON, electron computer, POSITRON COMPUTER, FUSION SOURCE, nuclear drive, IMPROVED HULL, IMPROVED HULL

To take the center:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Solar Panels 1 year in

A year ago this week we had our solar panels turned on, so its fitting to write a follow up answering the question of how well they worked.  The short answer is close to exactly as estimated, it provides the electricity we need in our house and is on track to pay for itself in under five years.

First up the raw numbers for one year of production:

The panels generated*: 5952 MWh
We used:                       5085 MWh

The most one day generation was on June 1st at 33.441 MWh
The least one day generation was on January 21st (Excluding days the power went out ) at 18Wh

Below is a screenshot of our panel generation over the course of the entire year.

As we are generating a significant amount more than we use over the past year we have picked up a few electrical appliances including an AC unit for our main floor and a small electric heater (smaller gas bill yeah!).  I expect next year our production will be more in line with our usage.

During the summer months we generate more electricity than we use and each month we get a credit from our electric company.   This credit not only pays for our winter usage (where we use more than the panels generate), but also the $6.43 monthly fee for being connected to the grid.  Due to getting the panels installed in the latter half of summer we didn't have a ton saved up for this winter, but with the light winter we only had one bill at $11 in January.

Over the year we have a number of neighbors inquire about the panels and been told several even got quotes for panel installation themselves.  The feedback has been very positive and I haven't heard anything negative.  In fact most people don't seem to notice them so going with the all black panels was a good choice.  Even a guy that runs a wind farm and is very much into panels didn't notice them when he stopped by, nor did the sales guys that go door to door trying to get me to switch electrical providers.

From the payback side so far the panels have minted three SREC's (over quarters: Q42011 Oct-Dec, Q12012 Jan-Mar) and just like initially estimated we are on schedule to mint six each year.  Electrical costs have also risen ~4% from last year and minus the $11 from January all our electric bills have been covered.  The only "excitement" is that there is oversupply in the SREC market for 2012 so assuming that continues every year from now on it will only add an extra seven months to my original estimate for our panels to pay back putting it sometime in 2017 on the conservative side.

Overall the panels performed nearly exactly as I estimated they would after taking into account sun light, orientation of the house, the lat/long of the house, angle of the roof, efficiency of the inverters, and historical and legal requirements on electrical rate change.  The first month I couldn't help but peek at the numbers all fo the time, but after a few weeks I amusingly realized that they there wasn't going to be some crazy day where we generated twice the normal amount and the day to day change was fairly boring and predictable.

*This is the post conversion and transmission loss number

Monday, April 30, 2012

How to collect valuable toys/comics/stuff cheaply

For those that collect, determining which items will become rare and valuable is desirable information.  Once an item is sold out and it gets pegged as desirable the price can skyrocket very quickly.  In my years of collecting Transformers I have noticed a predictable case of valuable/rarity: The last item in a popular line will typically become valuable.

An item becomes rare when the number that are produce was smaller than number of individuals that desired the item.  That sounds like something that should be simple to figure out, but there is a lot of randomness involved.  Just a few things to mix it up can include:

  • A so-so toy could become a central figure in the story/cartoon raising the status significantly.
  • A so-so line takes off and the first run items are sought after.
  • An unforeseeable problem at the factory resulting in a toy production run that was significantly cut back.
  • Only one of toy X is included in a box while everything else get two (short packing).
  • Only after most of the toys come out it is clear the toy X is the best.
  • The line is cut early to make room for the next line and the last toys are sold/disposed in unusual ways and not sold at the typical retail stores.
  • The fan community goes insane over one particular toy for random (maybe nostalgia) reason. 

Given all of this you would think that online stores that have data to be able to predict some of this would be jumping over themselves to help you be notified when it looks like something is going to be rare so you can buy it with them "right now".  But oddly that isn't the case (yet).

But besides the above mostly unpredictable cases stuff released at the end of the line is one situation I have seen that results in value/rarity it is limited to toy lines either.   For many comic books as the series progresses the print run gets smaller and smaller as less people pick up each issue.  Later when trying to collect all of the comics in that run it wouldn't be a shock to find later issues are more "valuable" simply because there are less of them.   This seems to be a pretty universal truth and a basic economic story.  People tire of the shiny new thing and move onto something else.  Stores that want to move out the old line in preparation for the next line don't order more stock and the number of items produces later in the line can be much smaller especially at the end.

In the transformers world this stands out even more for a number of reasons.

  • Typically every toy gets repainted at least once.  The toys at the very end of a line are simply repaints of toys the buyer probably already has that mold.
  • If a buyer had to choose between the two paint scheme often the first paint job is the cooler version.
  • The toys at the end of the line are rarely if ever main story characters, at best they are in a single episode of the cartoon and at worst they are simply a character from the overarching universe.
  • Collectors that had picked up every toy in the line might not take the extra effort to hunt down these because even if the toy is interesting the hero toy from the shiny new toy line is right around the corner and takes the collectors dollars.
So you have toys that everyone thinks are not very high on anyone's want list from the consumer/collector to the store manager and so the production numbers match this expectations.  And then like clockwork about a month later there is a message on a board asking if anyone has seen toy X because they have been hunting *everywhere* for it and have been unable to find it.   As time goes on anyone that tries to complete that line will find those last few toys difficult to acquire and song will be sung (or well posts on message boards) on each successful find of this toy that is suddenly rare.  Prices will rise on ebay and people will complain about scalpers.

These last toys are always difficult to procure in person, but can usually be ordered online for only a few dollars more than retail, well worth it because even online they sell out quickly so pre-ordering is a must.  The toys at the end of a line have their own appeal.  Not only are the cheap and easy to acquire with a little forethought, but they often become rare and valuable quickly.  They also make for a very interesting and unique collection by themselves.  When people post there collection photos it is amusing how many "complete" collection will be missing all of the toys from your little end of the line shelf.

Revell Big Boy Locomotive Model Kit

When I was a child I received a model train kit as a present, but as I was just a kid I never painted it or actually put it fully together. ...