Pauper tribal – A fresh MTG format

A tribal pauper game in cockatrice
A pauper-tribal example game in Cockatrice

One of the things I find most fun about Magic The Gathering is exploring deck construction under new constraints. Me and some friends are currently exploring a format which have these rules.


  • Normal constructed magic rules. Decks are 60 cards, players start with 20 life, 15 card sideboards, and so on.
  • Only cards that are legal in Pauper and not on the Pauper tribal ban list can be played.
  • The deck must at all times contain 20 cards from the same tribe. Tribal instants and changeling cards count towards this total.
  • The chosen tribe can not be Elf, Human or Goblin. This restriction is to ensure other tribes are feasible.

Ban list

The point of a format is to explore magic in an interesting way. If single cards dominate or are too obvious choices, they might end up here.

My thoughts so far

I really like that the constraints for this format are so simple. It is easy to make a format that is fresh, but where the constraints are complex. For some reason such complex constraints make a format feel inelegant and less appealing to me.

♥ Princesses versus giraffes ♥

TLDR; I’m writing a coop multiplayer game with my daughter, this is the current result! Works in Firefox and Chrome. Use arrows to move and space to fire. Share a URL to play with a friend.

Some years ago, my daughter figured out I made some computer games, and she even played one of them quite a bit. After a while she wanted something new, and we figured we’ll make a game together. She would draw concepts and come up with ideas, and I would try to make them happen in game.

The initial concepts she drew were these:

We then together made them into vector with some modifications.

Princess and "giraffe"
A princess and a giraffe… I guess

Tips on kid friendly vector drawing programs would be very much appreciated, throw me an email or post a comment. We used Sketch, but Sketch is a bit overwhelming and distracting with all its features. I want a program which only have bezier patches and transformations on them, as well as fill, stroke and possibly opacity settings.

Going from concepts to a prototype

I had been wanting to try compile to JS with Kotlin for a while, so I started a project in IntelliJ and quickly threw something together using a plain HTLM5 Canvas.

We drew some more concepts, and after some evenings implementing we had an infinite randomly generated castle, an arrow firing princess, a hyperactive bow carrying giraffe, and a bunch of collision detection bugs (yay for rolling your own).

Wriggling out of hard requirements

After a lot of fun triggering bugs, my daughter came up with some new requirements.

I want to play with my friends, and we should all be princesses!

These are sort of hard to implement, disregarding networking, it would mean a total rewrite of how the world generation and camera worked. It would also need a solution for how to avoid someone getting stuck due to the camera movement of others and so on.

Those giraffes are in for a surprise.

After some bargaining we made some new concepts, and we agreed to add a player controlled cloud, and a bunch of new giraffes.

Adding networking

For me this meant that I would need to add some kind of networking to the game. For browser games, the choices are:

  1. Communicate with a server using WebSocket and have that relay state, or run the game on the server.
  2. Negotiate a WebRTC datachannel, and send communication directly between the browsers.
  3. Have players install a browser extension like,and use it instead of WebSocket.

Since the game is cooperative, there is little reason to run the game on a server. Actually I really, really do not want to run the game on server, for a bunch of reasons, mostly for abuse and scaling troubles.

Using a server as a relay of state or input is also a bit funky, since it will introduce a lot of unnecessary latency. Since I am also willing to sacrifice some poor kids behind a symmetric NAT, I decided for option 2 and I have not regretted that.

I was cautious about doing this initially, since I had read this Gaffer on Games post which deemed WebRTC too complex, though that was in the context of server based architectures.

Having some more experience with WebRTC now, I agree a bit about the complexity, though I think it has gotten way better, especially with a more stable standard and more complete alternative implementations like rawrtc. I also ♥ how WebRTC abstracts away most of the P2P complications behind a very nice API.

Autorative peer or GGPO?

To share state in the game, I needed to come up with an architecture for networking. Initially I evaluated using something like GGPO, but in the end I chose to go with using the princess peer as an autorative peer, and sync the state to the cloud playing peer continuously, while the cloud peer only sends input. I chose this mostly for simplicity and time constraints. Since the game is cooperative, a lack of fairness is also not really a problem.

For the amount of work i put in, I am very pleased with how the networking worked out. Right now it is not tuned at all, just JSON over the datachannel, but even without tuning and no extra speculative integration, it has worked fairly well.

Where to go from here.

While the game is in a state of continuous updates, I think it is mostly just going to be small changes from now on. Maybe some sound effects and new graphics when we feel like it.

Rendering is currently also quite slow, and takes a lot of the frame budget. I would like to migrate to a framework with a WebGL based renderer. But sadly that seems like quite a bit of work, mostly due to using SVGs for graphics.

For future projects game projects, I will for sure start with a WebGL based framework, or possibly Unity tiny, and raster based images.

That is all for now, go and see how far you can get in our game!

Attempting to solve Get 1000

For quite some time I have been trying to completely solve the Get 1000 game. More specifically I am trying to find the strategy in a 1 on 1 game of Get 1000 that maximises the chance to win.

Analysis of a game with one choice left. If I analyse this sub-game using expected value, I return the average of the distances to 1000. In this case 184 for strategy 1 (S1) and 107 for strategy 2 (S2). This is the wrong metric though, a better metric (if the goal is to win in a 1 on 1 game) is to count wins for each strategy. In this case 1 draw, 1 win for strategy 1 and 4 wins for strategy 2.

Solving for expected value rather then winning

My initial attempt at solving the game failed spectacularity, since I attempted to solve the game by minimising the average distance of the expected value to a 1000. This is an easy to compute strategy (using a sort of bottom up dynamic programming, where I start with the easy sub-games above, and calculate backwards to the top), but it is the wrong goal. This leads to a strategy minimising the distance to 1000 on average. This interestingly enough differs quite a lot from the goal I wanted to solve, which was to maximise the chance to win any 1 on 1 game.

The strategy that bases itself of minimising the distance to 1000 curiously has a big lump of results around a distance of 50, while the win based strategy has more games at distance of 0 and 100, as well as more games with very heavy over or undershoot.

Since Get 1000 is quite small I can calculate how much the two strategies differ by running all possible games. Above is the result of such a calculation. The two strategies draw 41.2% of the time, while the win based wins 30.8% and the distance based wins 28% of the time.

Trouble with situations where choices are equally good

After figuring out I had the wrong goal, I found a way to create a strategy based on wins rather than expected value (this is much harder to compute, even using the same bottom up approach, since it is not possible to collapse results to an average, and ever growing lists of results must be compared). These strategies I suspect are very close to optimal, but there was something funky going on.

There are situations in my calculations where two placement choices have equal amounts of winning sub-games. Initially I thought I could just set an order of preference of my choice for these, but the resulting strategies beat each other when applied to all possible games. If the order of preference did not matter this should not happen.

For the longest time I could not figure out why this happened. I started questioning whether the markov property held in the game (I am still not 100% sure it does).


At this point I took a few steps back and looked at what would be the correct framework to model this game in. Turns out it can be modelled as a Markov Decision Process. That in itself was not very helpful, but it eventually got me reading about the expectiminimax algorithm. Expectiminimax is a version of minimax for games with chance involved. While I had to modify it a bit for a simultaneous turn game, I implemented it for some subproblems of get 1000, which I could calculate to the bottom.

While implementing it I realised that I again would have to code resolution for when two choices are equally good. While googling a bit about that, I randomly read about Nash Equilibrium, and mixed strategies. I was already aware of most of this, but it suddenly it dawned on me that my game might contain mixed strategies which could effect the outcome my expectiminimax calculation, and which I needed to take into account.

Wrong payoffs propagated in expectiminimax

Indeed, after searching for a bit, I found several cases where a mixed strategy is needed. The example below shows a expectiminimax situation where a mixed strategy is needed to get the best outcome.

A Get 1000 situation as solved by expectiminimax. The two games on top are the current situation for two players. To make a decision in expectiminimax we must then compute the payoff matrix by recursively analysing all possible sub-games until the end (returning expected payoffs), and then solve the payoff matrix. Using the solver here, this particular sub-game has the payoff of -98/39 (- means in favour of player 2). In this situation: Player 1 should play ones at ratio of 23/39 and hundreds 16/39, and player 2 should play tens at a ratio of 11/39 and hundreds 28/39.

While this exact situation will probably not arise assuming perfect play, the result still might matter since expectiminimax depends on all subgames propagating correct payoffs.

The road ahead

I need to include the support enumeration or theLemke-Howson algorithm for finding nash equlibrium in the placement situations that require it, and then I need to somehow make expectiminimax run for the full game. Currently I can only run expectiminimax (without Lemke-Howson) in reasonable time, for a game which has 6 placements left.

From AI: A modern approach, it seems A/B pruning can be used, but it seems to be less effective on games with chance. I guess it is worth a shot.

Gl hf to me…

Starting Marathon Infinity in vidmaster mode on linux

A few days ago I installed Marathon Infinity for some multiplayer games. I wanted to practice a bit first, but sadly it is not possible to start a multiplayer game alone, so the only way to get some fast action is to play singleplayer in vidmaster mode.

This resulted in another problem. I could not figure out the button combination to trigger vidmaster mode on linux. After some minutes searching I was quite frustrated, but thankfully the Aleph One source is available, and the source revealed:

static bool has_cheat_modifiers(void)
	SDL_Keymod m = SDL_GetModState();
#if (defined(__APPLE__) && defined(__MACH__))
	return ((m & KMOD_SHIFT) && (m & KMOD_CTRL)) || ((m & KMOD_ALT) && (m & KMOD_GUI));
	return (m & KMOD_SHIFT) && (m & KMOD_CTRL) && !(m & KMOD_ALT) && !(m & KMOD_GUI);

Based on this, vidmaster mode on linux is activated by holding SHIFT and CTRL while clicking BEGIN NEW GAME, and sure enough:

Pledging hard here

Draft Engine

Start a draft

For a while I have been working on a generic draft engine for card games. In trading card games (TCGs), drafting is a way to distribute cards in a semi random way, where players interact with how cards are distributed. In the TCG world this is distinct from sealed deck (semi randomly distributed cards, but no player interaction during dustribution) and constructed (you design your deck before playing from a set of allowed cards).

Supported draft styles

My draft engine supports two styles of draft:

  • Grid draft: A draft style for two people where you select rows or columns of cards from 9 face up cards.
  • Regular draft: In this draft style you pick a card from a pack and pass the pack to the next player. It works with 2-8 players, but 6-8 is recommended.

grid draft
The draft engine in action. This example is an Magic the Gathering grid draft.

These forms of draft can be used for most kinds of TCGs. Since the engine is not tied to any specific kind of game, you can draft anything you can give a name and an image. You can draft your family photos if you want to.

Drafts with custom content

The engine works by using a very simple JSON structure to supply card names and card images, it looks like this:

      "name": "CardOnePackOne",
      "url": "",
      "id": 0
      "name": "CardTwoPackOne",
      "url": "",
      "id": 0
      "name": "CardOnePackTwo",
      "url": "",
      "id": 0
      "name": "CardTwoPackTwo",
      "url": "",
      "id": 0

The values are pretty self explanatory, but for clarity:

  • “name” – The name of the card, which you can export when finished drafting.
  • “url” – An URL pointing to an image of the card.
  • “id” – Not in use, so 0 is a fine value.

The engine comes with several predefined card list. Packs will then be drawn from those lists, but if you want to supply your own set (for example a cube or your own game) it is possible to start a draft where you send in any number of packs of cards using the JSON format shown above.

Have fun drafting.

Artifact 1.0.4 – Hello integer overflowing highscore!

Yesterday I finally finished some of my planned Artifact updates. The new version can be downloaded from here. Below is a detailed account of the changes in this version.

  • Added a game mode (rascal), where you can not lose:

    As my 4 year old daughter was playing the game I had to keep typing cheat codes to keep her alive. This made me realise that I could introduce a game mode where it is not possible to lose, and where the player has infinite resources. Once I added the rascal mode she played for quite a while, and she even figured out some smart plays all by herself.

  • Artifact
    Rascal mode allows exploration of the game in a different way. Hello integer overflowing high score!

  • Removed global score tracking:

    Global score tracking from games not played on a server will always be prone to modified clients posting fake scores. This can be mitigated though obfuscation, but not really solved. My implementation was also very bad, and very hard to maintain. Maybe I’ll revisit this one day, but for now I am glad its gone.

  • Removed hash checks of local data:

    I do not care if you hack your local files so that you have insane scores. Hack the game all you want!

  • Prepare for OS X removal of some carbon audio API:

    I kept getting this message in my logs:

    WARNING: 140: This application, or a library it uses, is using the deprecated Carbon Component Manager for hosting Audio Units. Support for this will be removed in a future release. Also, this makes the host incompatible with version 3 audio units. Please transition to the API’s in AudioComponent.h

    The solution was to upgrade openal-soft by building from source, and replace the old openal.dylib that came with Slick2D with the libopenal.dylib built, which I guess uses the API Apple wants you to use.

BitBreeds stand with the humans; we won’t let it slide.


With the discovery of a possibly habitable planet around one of our closest stellar neighbours, it has become clear that sooner rather then later, there will be aliens and UFOs around.

A new hope

This summer, UFO Hunter, a simulator for waging war against UFOs was revived and released to the public.

Our consultant getting accustomed to the simulator
Our consultant getting accustomed to the simulator.

Since the future of humanity rests on the shoulders of this simulator and spacex, we have called back one of our most important assets (a veteran from future wars carefully regrown from DNA retrieved in the Artifact) to perform a thorough test of the simulator.

The force awakens

In the spirit of Shi Qiang, Lou Ji and Thomas Wade, we at BitBreeds have declared for the humans. Like our spacex and UFO Hunter friends, we have set our sight on the stars, and we are going for the goal.

What will you do?

Artifact – Fixing OS X level 10+ crash

The obligatory level 10 death

For some reason Artifact-1.0.2 would crash on level 10+ on some OS X installations. This seems to stem from some issue with my LWJGL version, the bundled JVM and those OS X installations.

Artifact- includes a later JVM which seems to work in my tests. If you experience any issues with it please report using the address here.

Download Artifact- for Mac OS X

Scape – a very ninja scripting language

I made a small scripting language that runs in the browser. It is very ninja. To see the ninja, first open Javascript console and write:

function recur() {recur()};recur();

Hopefully it blew the stack. Then type this into the Scape REPL:

def recur() recur(); recur();

When you are convinced it will infinitely loop without blowing the stack, hit ctrl-c to stop further processing.

Rincewinds rave, that is black magic! Also called tail call elimination. Scape code is not evaluated by snarfing functions from Javascript (JS functions do not have tail call elimination before ECMAScript 6), but instead is compiled to its own set of instructions, which are then run on a stack machine (running in the Javascript VM). During parsing Scape functions are checked for whether they can use tail call elimination. If they can, they get different instructions that reuse the existing stack frame.

More magic

Scape has forward mode automatic differentiation as a language feature. Automatic differentiation allows you to compute the derivative of a function, without having to define the derivative explicitly.

Without automatic differentiation, this would be the way to compute the partial derivative of the function f(x,y) =  x^{2}y^{2} for x and y:

def fun(x,y) * (* x x) (* y y);
def diff_fun(x,y) [* (* 2 x) (* y y),* (* 2 y) (* x x)];
[200, 160]

With automatic differentiation in Scape, this is how it is done:

def fun(x,y) * (* x x) (* y y);
[200, 160]

This is very useful for a number of numerical methods involving derivatives. The feature is currently experimental, it might interact with non-double types in funky ways.


Mostly just for fun. I also started toying with the idea to make a safe scripting language for use in networked games. A language and runtime that would allow the player to define custom logic during gameplay without being able to ruin the experience for other players.

A dream would be a personalized Starcraft where it is you and your custom control scripts versus the other player and his scripts.

I hope to create a simple real time multiplayer game to show how I imagine it working. For now, playing with the Scape REPL is the only way to try the language.



Today I released Artifact-1.0.2 after finally getting my ass around to create a close to fully automated build script for Mac OS X (a topic for another blog post). The full changelog is listed below, but I instead recommend you go get it and try it!

New second orb graphics


  1. Added full screen and resolution management in game.
  2. Removed splash screen.
  3. Adjusted difficulties and added new names (Apprentice, Journeyman, Master).
  4. Added additional fire button, allowing better control using a touch-pad.
  5. Redesigned second orb with additional graphics and new behavior.

More in detail:

  1. The splash screen in Artifact was unnecessary and the only issue keeping me from removing it was having in-game window and resolution management.
  2. See above.
  3. The Normal and Hard game difficulties were hardly different in version 1.0.0, while the Not sane difficulty was extremely hard. Now the Apprentice difficulty is much easier then the old Normal, Journeyman is similar to the old Normal, while Master is slightly easier then the old Not Sane difficulty. The change was mainly done to make the initial difficulty easier for new players.
  4. On a touch-pad moving the mouse and clicking might interfere with each other, so I added an alternate fire welder button for those who might prefer that.
  5. The Second orb was very hard to predict and its mechanic felt wrong. The new version is cooler , and most of the time way easier to predict. It also has a slight comeback factor, which is nice in this cutthroat game.