Re: Ultimate Goals in Olympia

David desJardins (
21 Jan 1995 01:47:46 -0500

John Sloan <> writes:
> Quite a lot, actually. Olympia isn't _only_ a wargame, despite some
> people's efforts. I was there to explore the system, try to find out what
> made the economy tick, and playtest the thing. Just because I don't play
> the game the way _you_ would, doesn't mean I'm not playing.

That's why I asked the question, which you didn't answer. I asked,
"What's left?" You answered, "Quite a lot." I don't necessarily doubt
that, I'm just asking what it is. I quite honestly don't have any idea;
that's why I was hoping that you would tell me.

Here is (roughly) why I'm unable to think of anything else. First of
all, anything that doesn't involve interaction with other players seems
inherently boring. At best, you are playing a rather poor computer
game, with moves a week apart. And you always know what's going to
happen, because the game is completely predictable (after a couple of
turns to understand the lay of the land). I can't think of any way in
which playing Olympia purely solitaire is as interesting as any of
dozens of computer games that you can pick up at the corner store. Why
pay $2.50 a turn to get a couple of blurbs that you already have access
to, and make a bunch of baskets, and dig a mine so that you can find out
the exciting table that Rich made up that specifies mine yield as a
function of depth?

So what's left is interaction with other players. Interaction can
basically take two forms: cooperation and competition. In Olympia,
cooperation turns out to be fairly uninteresting, for a couple of
reasons. One is that a single player can basically do everything there
is to do (except fight other players, which we've ruled out), so there's
not much reason to cooperate. Another is that two players cooperating
work exactly like one big faction. By far the most efficient way to
cooperate is for one player to tell the other what to do with certain
units. But now we're back to playing solitaire, except with a bigger

That leaves competition. Competition can be either combat, or
nonviolent competition for resources. The problems with the noncombat
forms of competition are (1) that it's easier to just go find your own
resources, than compete with another player for them; and (2) that if
you do compete with another player for resources, combat dominates:
ultimately, if you aren't stronger militarily than the other player,
there's no way you can deny that player resources you might want. So
competition, sooner or later, engenders combat.

The answers that you do give are "explore the system, try to find out
what made the economy tick, and playtest the thing." Barring combat,
there's hardly any system to explore. If there aren't any unpredictable
(i.e., potentially hostile) players around, then the game is almost
totally deterministic, so you already know what's going to happen. I
don't see how this can't be boring. What makes the economy tick, well,
it doesn't take long to figure that out. I've got more gold than I have
any idea what to do with. And playtesting, well, I would think that the
combat routines need playtesting as much as anything. They certainly
survived the alpha test with some substantial bugs.

Please understand that I'm not saying you didn't in fact have
interesting things to do without combat. I'm just saying that I'm not
sure what they were, and I'd like to hear about them.

David desJardins

Copyright 1995 David desJardins.  Unlimited permission is granted to quote
from this posting for non-commercial use as long as attribution is given.