How “far” is “far right”?
This weekend there are the main federal elections in Germany, which will determine who the next chancellor after Angela Merkel will be. Unlike the one-party system of China, or the two-party system of the USA, German voters get a choice between many different parties, from the far right to the far left, everything in between, and a couple of kooky ones, like the Pirate Party. And The Atlantic has an article about the main far right party, Alternative für Deutschland
Now, while I don’t live in Germany anymore, I am still a German national, and I still vote (by mail, obviously). And while I did vote center left, I would like to correct some views that foreigners might have about a German “far right” party.
Politics in Germany now, and for the past decades, have been very centrist compared to most of the rest of the world. The current government is a coalition of the main center right and the main center left party. “Far” right in this context means a party that is against immigration, doesn’t like muslims very much, and is sceptical of the European Union. In other words, they are pretty much indistinguishable from main stream politicians in other countries, like Donald Trump, or Boris Johnson. Of course, given the Nazi history of Germany, people worry a lot more about such politics in Germany than elsewhere. But still, this is “far” right only on a relative scale, or on a scale designed by woke media.
Which brings us to Voltaire, and the quote often mis-attributed to him of “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Which is pretty much the exact opposite of the current cancel culture. I am very much pro-immigration, being basically an immigrant myself. But I do believe that in a multi-party system, a party that is against immigration should exist. Multi-culturalism is something to work towards, it doesn’t come to everybody naturally.
Alternative für Deutschland is named as a counter-argument to something Merkel once said, that there is no alternative to her policy. And as much as I prefer Merkel’s policy in this case, I am pretty certain that I don’t want to live in a political system without alternative. What we need is political dialogue and open discussion, not demagogy. Even policy that is morally right needs explanation and persuasion. Because if we don’t do that, we end up with a political system in which there is no center between the “far” right and the “far” left, and no possible compromise.
Gloomhaven digital release date announced
Gloomhaven is an absolutely brilliant tactical game. Apart from the core board game, there is also a “lite” version called Jaws of the Lion, and a digital version on Steam
, currently in early access, but with a full release coming October 20. And, weirdly enough, you’d probably want one of these other versions, and keep away from the core game.
I am looking forward to the digital Gloomhaven full release, because that will allow me to play the full campaign digitally. In early access, the “guildmaster” mode also provides some sort of campaign experience, but with less story and different rules for the character management part between battles. With the release version having both of these modes, that is a huge amount of content. You get more content than the core board game version, but for a fraction of the price, so that is a really good deal. For me the main attraction of the digital version will be solo play. For playing the game again with my wife, I’d go back to the board game version. A board game on a table to me has far more charm than two people having to share a mouse, keyboard, and screen.
One reason we don’t play this all that often is that the core Gloomhaven box is such a huge thing with 2,600 components. It is the only one of my board games where I went and bought an insert system for orderly component storage. With my other games I either didn’t need anything like that, or could just 3D-print a simple token tray. Given that we don’t have the table space to keep Gloomhaven built up for a longer period, this means that every session requires extensive set up and take down periods.
So for anybody who wants to try out the board game version, I would very much recommend starting with Jaws of the Lion. It is exactly the same tactical combat system, but easier to learn, and easier to set up. For solo play, I’d recommend the Steam version. I can only hope that at some point in the future Asmodee Digital will make a digital version of Frosthaven. Because that will be another game using the same great tactical combat system, but in an even bigger box, that I don’t currently plan to buy. With board games, “too much game” is actually a thing.
In the last 250 years of US history, there have been 1 revolution, 1 civil war, and 59 presidential elections. That would suggest that it is easier to gain political power through votes than it is to gain political power by force. Now it is in the very nature of different political parties that they believe in different things; but it seems that a party that doesn't believe in voting would be ultimately self-destructive. The world has a long history of political activists organizing election boycotts, but in the overwhelming majority of cases the election still was declared valid, and the non-participating side lost by default.
Now a very vain individual losing an election might understandably claim that the vote was rigged against him. There is no forward-looking strategy in that, it is just an expression of personal weakness to be unable to admit defeat. It gets slightly ridiculous if you claim fraud after losing an election decisively. But the psychology of trying to save face in not admitting reality is pretty clear.
However, as a forward-looking political strategy, claiming that elections are fundamentally rigged at a very large scale looks like political suicide for any party. How is a follower of a political party supposed to react when told that his vote isn't counted? He basically has the choice between insurrection and apathy. As I mentioned at the start, in the US real insurrections happen less than once per century, and have a historical 50% success rate. Smaller scale violent protest is more frequent, but has a 0% success rate. With little chance of success for violence, and a natural human preference for apathy, most people who believe that going to vote is useless will simply stay home.
Now obviously the winning side in any election is usually quite certain that everything with the vote was fine. Having won the previous election makes the supporter of a party more convinced that his vote made a difference, and thus motivates him to go voting the next time around. So the risk of a party promoting voting apathy has a potential of becoming a death spiral: In a close election the more motivated side wins, then gets even more motivated, while the party of apathy loses, and becomes even more convinced that voting is of no use. And then having made voting more difficult can really backfire.
My prediction still is that this isn't going to end well. Even as a foreigner just skimming US news, it is noticeable that losing politicians talking of violence as a solution to "take our country back" is on the rise. If that trends isn't reversed, they might take their country back all the way to 1861.
Why you shouldn't listen to financial advice from your bank
A sizeable chunk of my retirement savings is currently on a simple savings account, where the measly 0.1% interest rate I get is way below the inflation rate. So I am losing money, slowly. And my bank is writing me that they noticed the money on my savings account, and advise me to invest that money in one of their investment products instead. Sounds like good advice, doesn't it? Not so fast!
The large majority of investment advice you get, whether that is from professional bankers or dubious YouTube influencers, is backward looking: Look here, the investment product I am peddling gained this much over the last X months! That argument is very misleading, which is why the SEC actually requires funds to write "past performance is not indicative of future results" in their prospecti. In reality often the opposite is true: If a class of investment had a spectacular run over the last X months, it becomes increasingly likely that a "correction
" will happen, if not a downright crash. So if you want to decide whether to invest in shares, you should look at the Shiller price/earnings ratio
. This is currently 38.7, compared to a long-term average of 16; only just before the dotcom crash has this ever been higher. If you invest in shares or a fund based on shares now, chances are that somewhere in the next 12 months this correction or crash happens, and you lose a big chunk of your investment.
So why is the friendly banker advising me to invest now? Doesn't he know about price/earnings ratios? Well, it turns out that the banker has a conflict of interest. Because he is paid by the bank, his main goal is to assure that the bank is making money, not me. And my money on the savings account isn't making much money for my bank. If I would buy their investment products, my bank would get the usual mutual fund fees
. These fees are completely independent on how well the investment product is doing. In other words, the risk (which they were legally obliged to mention exists) is completely carried by me. If I buy an investment product from them and lose my shirt, my bank is still earning the same money. Advising me to invest is risk-free for my bank, but certainly not for me.
So how about alternative ways of investing? Buying meme stonks on RobinHood? Buying cryptocurrency? Well, I am not saying that one should never do that. But one has to be aware that this isn't investing. It's gambling. My personal experience with gambling is on the positive side: The one week of my life I spent in Vegas I ended up winning $700. But I had determined in advance how much I was willing to lose and set aside a $1000 pool for that. I would have stopped gambling if I had lost that, but luckily managed to win a bit instead. Fun, but not solid investment advice. Meme stonks, cryptocurrency, collectibles, or whatever else you heard on the internet was a surefire way to get rich quick are all gambling. You can win money, but it is far from certain, and most of these products can easily lose far more than a balanced share portfolio during a stock market crash. That is not the right investment product for my retirement savings. Feel free to set aside a sum of money that you could afford to lose and gamble with that, but not more!
Sometimes the best investment advice you can get is to not invest anything now. When you open your newspaper and read about a terrible stock market crash, that is probably the time to invest. Also, with inflation on the rise, sooner or later the interest rates on bonds are going to rise again. The ultra-low inflation / ultra-low interest rate era is a historical anomaly, and can't last forever. And while investment in housing for speculative reasons can be risky, investing in a house you plan to live in for years is relatively safe, if you don't get too much into mortgage debt for that. Me, I'm planning to do just that, and ignore the friendly advice letter from my bank.
While there are literally thousands of video games these days, there are a lot less different genres of video games, and some games play very much like each other. For example Humankind plays very much like Civilization, or, even more obviously, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous plays a lot like Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Finding a game that *doesn't* play like something else is a rarity these days: This year I can think of only two, Wildermyth and the freshly released Dice Legacy
Dice Legacy calls itself a roguelike dice-based survival city builder, which is a handful. So is the game. My first recommendation, if you want to try it, would be to play your first game on easy difficulty. Otherwise you probably end up still trying to understand the mechanics of the game while some raiders burn down your whole city. In Dice Legacy you build a city/village/colony on a world that is the inside of a ring. So your map is not very wide, but quite long. The goal of the game is to extend your city once around the ring and capture the harbour building of the enemy at the other end.
To do that, you need to use your population, of which you can have only 12 (or slightly more, temporarily). But your population consists of dice in different colors. At the start, they are all peasant dice. Over time you can create citizen dice, soldier dice, merchant dice, and monk dice. Later you can even create custom construct dice. All the dice are 6-sided. You can only use the face showing up. For example a peasant has one "work" side, two "gather" sides, one "build" side, one "fight" side, and one "scout" side. Once a die is used, it becomes greyed out. You can roll your dice, which reactivates the greyed out ones, and gives you a random result on each of them.
The obvious difficulty with that is that if you need something specific fast, most often a "fight" result to battle some enemy raiders, you might not get that result on your roll and end up frantically rolling the dice several times. But each time you roll the dice, their durability goes down, and then you need to recover that with food. Basically Dice Legacy plays a bit like a worker placement board game, but with the randomness of dice, and the added pressure of stuff happening in real time.
Personally I like Dice Legacy very much. One negative review compares the game to a "timed IQ test". I would agree, but I see that more as a positive. This is *not* a casual game at all. You really need to think hard and fast to make it work in face of the randomness. The game is quite challenging, even at "standard" difficulty, and once you win a game like that, there are different ways to make it even harder.
Having said that, I'm pretty sure that I will play this for 10+ hours, and then uninstall it. Each game is only a few hours, and it does get repetitive, so there isn't all that much replay value. The "roguelike" aspect isn't really well designed: You can "ascend" dice and take up to 2 improved dice into your next game; but getting improved dice and ascending them is more or less already an end-game activity. If you set the difficulty too high and lose the game, you aren't likely to get to any ascended dice, and thus the next game isn't going to be any easier. The different rulers aren't adding much variety, and the different scenarios are more designed to be punishing in some way, instead of offering much variety.
So I definitively wouldn't recommend Dice Legacy to everybody. If you are okay to pay 20 bucks for 10 hours of very challenging puzzle gameplay, this might be the game for you. If you are looking for something more casual, or prefer action over thinking, then you might not be the target audience. The Steam reviews are "mixed" for that reason.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous army management
I mentioned in my previous post on this game that Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous has a sub-game which plays a bit like battles from Heroes of Might & Magic. Now I played that system a bit, I can say more.
Just like in Heroes of Might & Magic, you will have armies with a general moving on the main map, and once they meet an enemy army, battle ensues. Battles are on a square grid, turn-based, and your general can participate by for example casting spells. Unlike Heroes of Might & Magic, you can have a certain amount of losses and recover them at the end of the battle, so a series of battles with minor losses doesn't diminish your army size. You can hire fresh troops every week, get some troops through events or dialogue options with your adventuring group, and you general gets stronger by earning xp.
The interesting part is how the army game interacts with the adventuring group role-playing game. Basically each army has a movement limit per day, while your adventuring party consumes time by movement and resting. This forces you to constantly switch between the two games: You play your army until you run out of movement for it, then play your adventuring group until you reach the next day, where you can again move your army. The enemy armies on the main map are visible both in army mode and in adventuring mode. And in adventuring mode, they simply block the road. So you need to move your army and beat the enemy army that blocks the way for your adventuring group.
I find the system is okay as long you like both RPGs and fantasy tactical battle games. There is more "game" to the army part of Wrath of the Righteous than there was game in the kingdom management part of Kingmaker. However, just like in Heroes of Might & Magic, you better make sure not to occur permanent losses to your army, as that would seriously hinder your progress in the game. While you can turn gold from your adventuring into resources to buy soldiers, the number of soldiers you can hire per week is very limited, and rebuilding a lost army would take a very long time. If you really lose a battle, you are basically forced to save scum and try something else. The strength of the enemy armies tells you what you can beat, and that tells you where your adventuring party can go, which is an interesting new approach on progressively unlocking world map locations.
Do you want to win a lot of RPG and board games?
It is in the very nature of lotteries that your chances of winning are slim. But when you can enter a lottery for free, a slim chance to win big isn't all that bad. There is a Giveaway action to win a Complete 5E Book Collection + Any 3 Boardgames You Want + Tanares RPG. Tanares RPG is a Kickstarter project for 5E compatible RPG books, and as a promotion for that, Dragori Games is doing this giveaway lottery. You can improve your chances of winning by watching some YouTube videos, and by spreading the word, which is what I am doing with the link above. So the more people click on that link, the higher my chances of getting about a cubic meter of game material. Then you can create and publish your own link, and we have a nice pyramid scheme going. :) But seriously, the link gives a lot less "lottery tickets" than the YouTube videos, so those are probably your best bet.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
On Thursday, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous was released. And for once, I bought a game at release. Or, actually, a day before release, in order to get the pre-order bonuses. So, how is the game?
In a nutshell, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is pretty much the same game as Pathfinder: Kingmaker, without the kingdom management. Instead it gets a "Heroes of Might & Magic" style sub-game, but I haven't reached that yet. If you have played neither Kingmaker nor Wrath, well, Kingmaker is €20, and Wrath is €50, and Wrath certainly isn't more than twice as good as Kingmaker. Neither one of the Pathfinder games is especially beginner-friendly. Wrath has 25 classes, with around 5 sub-classes each. Unless you know the system quite well, you are likely to have no idea which one of the over 100 options to choose and end up with a premade character. Or you spend several hours searching the internet for the perfect build for your character, which makes the character much more efficient, but not necessarily more fun to play. In any case, there aren't that many fundamental roles in a party, so those 100+ subclasses are definitely overkill.
After having started Kingmaker with a cleric, and then started over with a wizard, this time I directly went for the wizard. Of course I ended up with lots of wizard-y companions and only one cleric-y companion. And Owlcat games subtly nerfed arcane spellcasters by making the story about battling demons, which are more likely to have spell resistances or elemental resistances than the enemies in Kingmaker. On the other hand, wizard is still a very fun class to play. And once you leave the tutorial mission and get into the proper game, the first vendor is selling all scrolls that your wizard might ever want to learn spells from, which removes a major disadvantage of that class.
Wrath of the Righteous, like the patched version of Kingmaker, can be played in turn-based mode. Which is what I prefer. My group is only level 3, but there are already so many different options that they have in combat, that I would find real-time combat far too chaotic to be fun. Outside combat, the game is mostly about doing quests and having character dialogue, sometimes involving skill checks. You follow these quests to various locations on the main map, each of which then is a battle map to explore and do your quests in. Wrath is to Kingmaker what XCOM 2 is to XCOM 1: In the sequel the bad guys won and your job is it to get the good guys back up again.
As I liked Kingmaker and played it for over 180 hours, Wrath of the Righteous is a nice enough game for me. I would have wished for more improvements over Kingmaker, especially in terms of loot and inventory management. But other than a button to sell all junk loot, the game is still pretty much the same here. Basically I would only recommend Wrath of the Righteous to people who already played Kingmaker and want more of the same.
The pitfalls of stopping immigration
Pretty much any right-wing party in the world has some sort of anti-immigration manifest in their program. While completely incorrect, the assertion that immigrants rape your women, steal your jobs, and exploit welfare benefits are often rather popular among voters. The part that nobody tells you is the economic reality, where immigrants are often essential to fill the worst-paid jobs. So, what happens if you actually kick all those foreigners out? Well, nothing good
It turns out that cheap foreign labor is actually necessary for the lifestyle we are leading. Immigrants not only pick the fruits, they also drive the trucks / lorries that make up the supply chain necessary to bring those fruit (and everything else) to the supermarket shelves. Rather than "stealing" anybody's job, immigrants take the jobs that the native population doesn't want, because those jobs are uncomfortable and underpaid.
So now Brexit has turned into an interesting socio-economic experiment. If Britain can't fuel their supply chains with cheap foreign labor, what are the alternatives? How much do you have to improve working conditions to make these jobs actually acceptable to the locals? And how much would for example food prices in supermarkets go up if you paid truck / lorry drivers a decent wage? First estimates are between 6% and 9%, and the average shopper won't like that.
While I am sure that politicians will blame others (in Britain that "others" is usually the EU) for those problems and the inflation that follows, it would be worth starting a more honest discussion around immigration with those voters. How much *do* they actually hate immigration? How much would they be willing to pay to keep immigrants out?
Cards and Dice
I was watching the D&D Beyond Honest Trailer
, and remarked how awkward the service sits between the two chairs of real life gaming and digital gaming. I spent a lot of money on D&D Beyond, mostly to buy digital versions of books I already own in physical form. But I prefer the legal digital version to some pirated pdf version. Plus the character creation tool and database are nice. But the one feature that is now most heavily advertised is the one I never use: Chucking digital dice. I don't mind digital dice on Roll20, but there the whole D&D game is online. D&D Beyond doesn't have a virtual tabletop; and if I am sitting with friends around a table, real dice are an important part of the experience, and a lot more fun than digital ones.
I am a big fan of dice. Yes, they create randomness, and some people don't like it. But the impact depends on the game system. Often board games have means to mitigate the randomness, like rerolls. And ultimately the fun comes from the outcome not being certain, and the dice creating a risk to be managed. In D&D, dice ideally become the "third party" around the table, next to DM and players; especially lucky or unlucky outcomes turn into memorable story moments that weren't foreseeable by neither the DM nor the players.
Another popular method to create randomness in games are cards. However, cards are slightly different than dice, in that earlier results impact future results. Imagine a hypothetical deck of 6 cards, simply numbered 1 to 6. Drawing 3 cards from that deck isn't the same as throwing 3d6. Even if you had a thicker deck, with 18 cards, each number from 1 to 6 appearing 3 times, the chance of "drawing" an 18 is lower than the chance of "rolling" an 18 with 3d6. Every time you draw a card, you change the probability distribution of the remainder of the cards, until you reshuffle. The thinner the deck, the bigger the impact.
As a result, cards don't work well for slim decks. For example my experience with LOTR: Journeys in Middle-earth, where the decks are very thin and have to be reshuffled very frequently. I was trying to play that game solo, and ultimately gave up, because then I had to constantly reshuffle the decks of every character. Dice would have worked better for me there, although I understand that it isn't possible, because the deck manipulation of keeping or returning cards with successes to change probabilities is an important part of that game. But while I am good at shuffling large decks (to the horror of some other players I riffle-shuffled by Magic the Gathering decks, without using sleeves), I find shuffling thin decks repeatedly extremely annoying.
In the end, it is probably a question of numbers: Cards scale down badly to thin decks, because of the shuffling, and the extreme impact of a single card draw on the probability of the rest. Dice work well in small numbers, but you wouldn't want a game system that requires you to physically roll 60 dice.
I recently wrote about the board game Descent, saying that I wouldn't buy it, because it is too expensive for me. But I predicted that the game is important, because it tests the market acceptability of a $175 board game outside of crowdfunding. Since then, I have seen several videos on YouTube from board game channels discussing the high price of Descent and some Kickstarter games. And in one of them, Alex of BoardGameCo mentions that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck (and that was from data before the pandemic).
In the context of my work, and with me being part of the Boomer generation, I have also been reading up and watching videos on generational conflict. Millenials think that they have it much worse than Boomers, and they believe that the Boomer generation deliberately went out of their way to screw them. Looking at various economic data, it is obvious that in many respects Millenials *do* have it economically much worse than Boomers. But while Boomers might occasionally give well-meant but not very relevant comments to Millenials about success being a consequence of life choices and values, the idea of a generational conspiracy against the younger generation is pretty absurd. If you study human behavior, one recurring psychological trait of humans is that they go out of their way to make life better for their children. Not that they always do a very good job, see for example climate change. But it is extremely unlikely to the point of ridicule that a whole generation joined in a conspiracy to make life for their children economically worse.
On an individual level, I believe that your economic success comes from a mixture of luck, economic circumstances, and life choices. If you take a whole population, the influence of luck and life choices becomes statistical noise, and only the economic circumstances remain. If 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, it basically means that the whole economic system is rigged against what Marx would have called the proletariat, the social class of wage-earners. A large part of the inequality comes from the different tax treatment of wages and capital gains, heavily favoring people living from capital income. Thus the famous story that Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Or, as he says: "There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.".
Now obviously there is some correlation between age and wealth, older people are richer than younger people, and increasingly so. But there are a lot of older people that are poor. And as easy it is to make fun of the hippy generation 50 years later, at least they would have correctly identified the problem as one of class warfare. The identity politics, including generational identity politics, of the last decades are mostly a distraction from that. Basically the economic circumstances that were kicked off in the 80's by the Reagan/Thatcher power couple, with less regulation and more globalisation, created winners and losers. And the so-called "knowledge workers" ended up on the side of the winners. Which was a bit of a moral problem for them, because they were leftist intellectuals. So the left abandoned class warfare, and replaced the struggle for better economic conditions for wage-earners by identity politics. You don't protest to "tax the rich" if you *are* comparatively rich.
I think that the old school left politics are superior: If we taxed capital gains as much as wages, and gave workers a fairer share of the wealth they help create, a lot of of the identity-based social problems would be solved at the same time. Better economic conditions for low-income wage-earners would help black families far more than some well-off white intellectual carrying a "Black Lives Matter" placard. That isn't communism (which obviously didn't work). Nobody should want to turn the USA into communist Russia. But we should want to turn the USA (and everywhere else) into a Scandinavian country. Because it has been shown that their economic system works, and makes people much happier.
Curse of Strahd - Session 8
The Curse of Strahd campaign is only advancing slowly, due to European Summer holidays. In the previous session
, the group gained an ally in Rudolph van Richten, a famous vampire hunter. That was lucky, because in this session a new player joined the group, and he is now playing Rudolph (by name, I still let him make any character class etc. that he wanted).
The largest part of this session was taken up by a long battle against Baba Lysaga, a witch and former nursemaid to Strahd, who thinks of him as "her son". In order to help Strahd, Baba Lysaga orchestrated the attacks on the Wizards of Wine, as the Martikov family of wereravens are enemies to Strahd. So she has the third gem that produces the best wine if brought back to the vineyard. But she planted that gem into the heart of the large tree in which her hut is built, and that brought the tree to life. So the combat was against the witch flying in an upturned giant dragon skull and a ginormous tree who hit very hard. But the group managed to kill them both.
In Baba Lysaga's hut, they found a surprise: A crying baby. It was even more of a surprise when the gnome found the "baby" to be too heavy to lift. It turned out to be a clay golem with orders to behave as a baby. Creepy, but otherwise harmless. The group recovered the gem, and then also found the second artifact they were looking for against Strahd. As their fortune reading had told them, it was hidden in the monument to a local girl which was a previous reincarnation of Strahd's love Tatyana. The locals had killed the girl, rather than give her to Strahd, which then made Strahd destroy the whole village.
The group brought the gems to the vineyard, and then remembered another task they had been asked to perform: Bringing a wedding dress to the abbot in Krezk. However, two sessions previous to that
, they had brought a young werewolf to the abbey, not wanting to bring him to Vallaki. They new that the abbey was full of crazy mongrelfolk, former humans who had accepted "help" from the abbot, who had made them "better" by replacing various of their body parts by animal parts. You must imagine these mongrelfolk as being very open to gaining animal power by scarifying their humanity. So when the group came to the abbey, they found the place full of 80 werewolves, with a somewhat angry abbot. That turned out to be a fight they couldn't win, and they had to turn and run. [None of that is planned in the module, but it seemed a logical development, as well as narrative gothic horror gold.]
The group then decided to go towards Amber Temple, the location of the third artifact against Strahd. That artifact is the Sunsword, which is also the patron of the Hexblade / Paladin of the group. To get to Amber Temple, the group needs to go over Tsolenka Pass, which is what will be upcoming in the next session.