Sunday, February 25, 2007

How'd that work out for you? Early indications of Denver's trade for Allen Iverson

Like David Berri (the author of The Wages of Wins, not Dave Berry the humor columnist), who I spoke with the day after the trade, I was confused by Denver's acquisition. Yes, Carmelo Anthony was going to be out for fifteen games on a suspension, but that's not a very temporary thing; it shouldn't hurt a team by more than five games--if that--and he was be available again quite soon. As Dr. Berri pointed out, the trade was bad for both teams! Philadelphia would still be unlikely to make the playoffs, but adding Andre Miller would mean they could win more games, which would decrease their chances of picking first or second in the draft and getting Greg Oden or Kevin Durrant. Iverson wasn't playing with the team, and they weren't getting any really good offers, so they could have continued to not play him, which would hurt their team, but not add anyone else. Then, after the season has ended, they could shrug their shoulders and accept approximately the same deal that Denver was offering.

Denver gave up a true point guard. This is always a mistake. There are two near-essential elements for an elite-level NBA team: a point guard and a quality Center or Power Forward. The top teams in the league are: Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Utah. Of these, only San Antonio lacks a true point, but they are able to mitigate this shortcoming through solid unselfish play by Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Before the trade, they were in contention for a mid-level playoff spot in the very difficult Western Conference. Finishing even fifth would have been a serious accomplishment, and the more likely sixth-place finish would still be very respectable. Instead, they're in eighth, and only by a small margin. Unless the team gets much better results than the 2-7 they currently have recorded in the games Iverson and Anthony both play in, they won't reach the playoffs, but they also gave up their draft pick, so they wouldn't even have a small chance at a top three pick in this great draft, either.

In short, both teams were hurt by this deal, unless Philadelphia still manages to win a top lottery spot, despite decreasing their chances for such an outcome.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Economics of The Settlers of Catan

As some of you may know, this is my favorite board game. I enjoy it quite thoroughly, and play it whenever I can convince at least two others that they need to be involved as well. I've decided to write about the economics of the game, explaining what is usually valuable and what usually is not. For those unfamiliar with the game, it's one of the world's greatest board games, accessible to newcomers, yet sufficiently complex enough that it can hold a more serious gamer's interest. Ideally, the basic game should be played with four players, though it is possible to play with three, and I also have the expansion pack that allows five or six players. Here, I will focus on the 'pure' four-player version.

The board is made up of hexagons that are randomly assembled to create a larger hexogonal island with three of the small hexagons on each side. There are six kinds of land present on the island of Catan; four each of forests, fields, and pastures, three each of hills and mountains, and one desert. Forests produce wood, hills=brick, fields=wheat, pasture=wool, and mountains=ore, while deserts produce nothing. Each of these tiles are randomly placed as part of the island at the begining of the game, and then small tokens with numbers between 2 and 12 (but not 7s) are placed on them. When a number is rolled, the tiles with that number produce the corresponding resource for all of the players that have settlements or cities bordering the tile. Obviously, since hills and mountains are only 75% as common as the other productive tiles, brick and ore are often less common as a result.

Each of the resources have specific uses. To build roads leading from one's intial settlements to other locations to build new settlements costs a wood and a brick. Building a new settlement requires a wood, a brick, a wheat, and a wool. Turning a settlement into a city (which will then provide twice as many resources from adjacent tiles) requires two wheat and three ore. Buying a Development Card (which provide certain benefits I'll examine later) requires a wheat, a wool, and an ore. (The game even comes with handy reference cards for each player that provide this information.)
What will be immediately obvious to many is that there are some resources that are complimentary to one another. Wood and brick, for example, are perfect compliments; they must be used together each time in a fixed ratio. (1:1) These resources are used for roads and settlements, but not anything else. Wheat is nearly a perfect compliment for ore; when ore is used, it requires either a 3:2 or 1:1 ratio with wheat. Ore is not quite as good a compliment for wheat, though, as building a settlement requires everything but ore. Sheep are an odd exception; they are produced with great frequency in many games, but when compared with other resources, are relatively less valuable, as they are only used for towns and development cards. Wheat is a perfect compliment to sheep, but the reverse is not true. Consequently, sheep are often the resource in greatest stock during a game.

Players are able, on their turns, to trade resources they have with those of other players in any amount or combination found mutually agreeable. Players may also trade with the 'bank', but at steep rates; four resources of one type for a single card of another. (There are also specific "ports" on the coast that, if a player has a settlement or city on, allow 3:1 trades, or two of a specified resource for one of any other.)

During future games, I intend to determine the relative values of each of the resources to the groups playing as a collective. This can be measured by recording the amounts of each resource being produced through a game and seeing how often each resource is given up or collected in trades with the bank, as well as documenting the cards given up when a seven is rolled. (In such a circumstance, instead of the board producing resources, all those with more than seven cards must discard half of their holdings. Sevens also trigger the 'robber', a game dynamic I will also discuss another time.) The resources that are most valuable should become apparent; players will infrequently trade these resources with the bank to gain others or discard them when a seven is rolled. Additionally, these will be the resources that players are trading with the bank to obtain. I predict that wheat will turn out to be the most valued resource, followed by ore, brick, wood, and finally, sheep. Obviously, in some games, the relative values of these resources will vary, but this is the general pattern I expect to see emerge.