The Solution to Army Of Zero

May 4th, 2010

At last!  The Army Of Zero solution has been published!

The winner will be announced later this week.

Thank you so much to everyone who worked to solve the puzzle over the past year or so, it’s been a thrill to meet all of you, whether in person or online.

I’ll have some more things to say in the next few days.  If there’s anything you don’t understand, drop us an email or leave comments below.

The mother of all clues

April 30th, 2010

There’s a card missing.

We are experiencing technical difficulties…

April 30th, 2010

Today’s the deadline for the Army Of Zero competition, and I know you’re eager to have the solution revealed (unless you’ve worked it out already, in which case, clever you)!  I had planned to get the website updates finished today, ready to go online tomorrow.  So I went to turn on my computer this morning and…

Nothing happened.

It was, to all intents and purposes, dead.

I’ve been very happy with my computer, and it’s never let me down once in the three years that I’ve owned it.  It really picked its moment.

I fiddled about with it to the best of my ability, but eventually had to give in and take it to the shop (or “Store”, as they call it).  To my surprise and joy, the young man (or “Genius”, as they call him) behind the counter (or “Bar”) managed to work his mojo and, as you can see, I’m back on-line.

However, long story short, I’m way behind on getting to where I want to be for the big reveal, and, what with it being a bank holiday weekend here in the UK, realistically I’m not going to get the solution online until Tuesday.

I did say I was going to publish the answer tomorrow (Saturday), but there’s no way I’m going to be able to do that now.  I’m very, very sorry.

However, to try and rescue some fun from the situation I will take a slightly different approach (and I hope some of you might enjoy this).  Just after midnight tonight, as the competition deadline expires, I’ll publish a blog post that drops the mother of all clues, one which I think will help you tie up a lot of the loose ends that are you might have.  If you don’t have the solution yet, this clue might just take you there.  Obviously, it’s just for fun, as the competition deadline will have come and gone, but if you’re so inclined, you’ll have the long weekend to piece everything together.

Apologies again.  See you later, maybe.

Ready for the Big Push?

April 8th, 2010

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that there are just 22 days left to enter the Army Of Zero competition.  So, just a few things to look out for in the next few weeks…

We’ll be publishing the solution, together with explanations of as many of the clues as we can remember(!), on May 1st.  Probably we’ll put it on the main site, in the Army Of Zero section, together with a blog entry right here so that those of you following the blog via RSS readers will get a notification.  Also, you’ll be able to comment on that blog post, if you want to talk about the solution with us.

Within a couple of days of that, we’ll contact the competition winner, send them their hard-earned prize with our hearty congratulations and, all things being equal, we’ll congratulate them here on the website too.  (If the winner turns out to be a youngster, we’ll only name them with their parents’ permission.)

Good luck!

You’re Not Actually Going To Give Us The Answers, Are You?

March 25th, 2010

We’ve just caught up with the outstanding episodes of the final season of Lost, and it looks like the writers are actually going to explain what’s been going on over six seasons of interconnecting characters, events, timelines and realities.  Now, we really like Lost.  It’s full of interconnected characters, linked in unexpected ways, and there’s a mystery at the heart of it that has yet to be unraveled – remind you of anything?  And because we like it so much, we really, really hope they can end the whole thing in a satisfying way.

The cast of Lost

The cast of Lost

The question, given the enormous amount of continuity baggage that Lost is dragging towards the finish line, is just how satisfying that conclusion can possibly be.  To our way of thinking, it’s entirely unfeasible that anything all the outstanding questions – lostpedia.com lists 170 of them – can be answered in the remaining episodes.

Obfuscation is the natural order of things in Lost.  From the viewpoints of the protagonists, and therefore from our viewpoint, Something Very Weird is going on, but the few characters who appear to know what it is certainly aren’t telling us.  The promise of answers to come leads us on and keeps us watching.  The point of Lost is not that the fun is in getting the answers, it’s that the fun is in not knowing.  The word itself, “Lost”, doesn’t just refer to the characters, it also refers to us, the audience, and our confusion over the events unfolding on the screen.

Once you accept this, realise that the show is yanking your chain, and are prepared to have your chain yanked, there is an awful lot of fun to be had with it.

Frankly, we hope Lost doesn’t try too hard to give us the answers.  Most of the important stuff we’ve already figured out, at least to whatever extent that it matters.  Meanwhile, the troubling suspicion remains that surely, something, somewhere in the six years of the show has no logical explanation: perhaps a plot thread that never got resolved, or something the writers wrote that contradicted something from earlier that they’d forgotten.  In fact, rather than explain everything, I’d rather they went with the “it was all a dream!” ending.  At least that’d be funny.

So our wish for the finale of Lost: don’t give us the answers, we don’t need them.  To remain true to the entire spirit of the show, it needs to leave the major mysteries unanswered.

That, by the way, is not the fate that awaits Army Of Zero. There are answers, and they’ll be revealed on this web site in just over a month!

Hello, New Readers!

March 7th, 2010

I haven’t written much recently, but it’s largely because there’s not much to say at this point!  There’s 54 days left before the Army Of Zero competition closes, and I know there’s a few of you who are pretty close to a solution.  So I’m not about to start giving out any more big hints, because it’s not fair on those participants who have put a lot of head-scratching into the puzzles to start chucking out big clue-grenades at this stage.

So just a couple of pointers for new readers. There are clues here in the blog, and on our Twitter account too (particularly in the tweets in our “clue week”, January 11th to January 15th).  That extra information might be useful, and might give you a nudge in the right direction, but you don’t actually need any of it: the puzzles are solvable with just what comes in the game box.

One you realise what the clues are leading up to, the final pieces should start to fall into place more easily.  This turns out to be the hardest part of the whole puzzle, but it’s well worth getting this figured out, because it’s key to the whole thing.  There’s a clue that relates to this amongst the clue posts here on the blog.

Board Games on the iPad?

February 14th, 2010

Last week I came across this article about board games and Apple’s new iPad device.  It was reporting comments from (amongst other) EA, whose VP of worldwide development was speculating on using the iPad as a way of playing board games. I tweeted about it, but I’ve been giving it a bit more thought and maybe it deserves a bit more than 140 characters.

He described Scrabble, and how the larger screen has the potential to be a new way to enjoy boardgames: the iPad laid down on a table with family and friends.

The idea seems to be that the iPad owner will install a number of games on the device.  When you want to play, say, Trivial Pursuit, you can lay the device down flat on the table, everyone can gather around, and play around it as though it were a traditional board.  And if you don’t fancy Trivial Pursuit, you can dismiss it and just push a button to play Monopoly, or Boggle, or whatever.

EA Mobile produces several traditional games on mobile devices, including Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Boggle, so it’s not unreasonable for EA to talk about one of those, but I do get the feeling that Apple have thrown this device out into the world and now everyone is trying to figure out how it applies to their own business and products.  Newspaper publishers are figuring out how to get newspapers onto it, TV companies are looking at it as a TV device, and people who own board game properties working on ways of using it for board games.

The board game people are following the same logic, basically, that the music industry applied to the iPod and that book publishers applied to the Kindle: you can now carry hundreds of movies, albums, books around with you in a convenient object, and I guess the idea is that you’ll do the same with board games.  One problem that I see as we move along this path (movies -> albums -> books -> board games) is that the connection between the physical object and the experience becomes more important.

  • We’ve never been particularly bothered about the physical object used to deliver our films, probably because we’re just as used to seeing moving pictures on broadcast television or in a cinema as we are via a physical object like a DVD.
  • We somewhat fetishise the physical CD (or vinyl album), but portable media players are gradually getting away from that.
  • Some people (early adopter types, for the most part) do like consuming books through their e-readers, but for most practical purposes, paper is still preferred.  The experience is just plain nicer.

And then we come to board games…

iPad - do you want to play Monopoly on a board that big?

iPad - do you want to play Monopoly on a board that big?

The iPad screen size is less than 8 inches by 6 inches, which makes it about half and inch wider and deeper than a DVD case.  Even in purely practical terms, it’s difficult to imagine a pleasant game of Monopoly or Scrabble for two or more people on a board this small.

The experience of actually holding and moving physical objects shouldn’t be underestimated either.  Monopoly players love amassing the physical cards and the physical banknotes – expanding your assets is a satisfying way of lording it over your opponents.  In Trivial Pursuit, pulling the question cards out and asking the questions is as much part of the social side of the game as answering the questions.  And when you start to think it through, some of the industry’s most popular properties don’t even work as iPad replacements for their traditional versions.  Scrabble, for example, simply doesn’t lend itself to this format, because you can’t hide the contents of your letter rack from your opponents.

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence or not, but most of the board games that you imagine working best on an iPad laid flat between people are the ones that don’t belong to anyone.  I imagine that chess, backgammon and draughts would work very well, but no-one’s going to make a lot of money out of those…

A lot of the “owned” properties will continue to work just fine on the iPad, but only in the way that they already do on iPods and personal computers – playing against the machine or multi-player online.  Replacing physical games, even as a portable option, seems like a big ask.  I expect that the comments from the game industry are just very early reactions to the device, and these people are well aware of the issues that they face in terms of making use of their board games on the iPad.  There’s definitely room for some bright person to come up with a way of using the device that is truly innovative, rather than just mimicking the physical games.

National Puzzle Day (and the rest)

January 29th, 2010

Today is National Puzzle Day! (At least, it is in the United States, where they have a surfeit of such things.)  Why not mark the day by dusting of one of those jigsaws you’ve got stashed in the garage, or getting a free puzzle game for your iPhone/iPod/iPad, or, y’know, treating yourself to a copy of Army Of Zero?

But they do seem to have an awful lot of these days in the US, which started me wondering how something like this starts.  What needs to happen before a day gets widely recognised as what is correctly called a “commemorative day”?

Well, sometimes you don’t need to do anything official.  Some commemoratives, like National Puzzle Day or the more famous International Talk Like A Pirate Day have no “official” standing.  One day, someone just had an interesting idea and somebody else heard about it and mentioned it to someone else, and before long it was adopted as a de facto National Day.  It’s a lot easier to get support for an unofficial day like these nowadays, of course, because we’re all a lot more connected than we were even 10 years ago.

Greetings card companies take the blame for some of these days.  Faced with a blank square on the calendar, they do love to create a special day to drum up some extra business.  In practical terms, the existence of many of these special days can be seen as being due to an alliance between (a) the greetings card industry, (b) special interest groups looking for a bit of love and (c) the unlucky congressperson who doesn’t want to be dismissive of a particular under-appreciated demographic.  (See Administrative Professionals’ Day and Grandparents Day).

To have a day officially recognised in the US requires an act of Congress.  Typically the process begins with an interested person or interest group contacting their congressperson, and convincing them that a national day in favour of their particular cause would be a good idea.  The congressperson then attempts to get it onto the agenda for debate in Congress itself.  If they’re lucky, the day may become reality in a few years.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that there are a lot of attempts to get particular people or ideas marked in this way.  This, combined with the fact that, unlike other bills, commemorative days tend to get passed without much in the way of opposition, meant that in the 1980’s and 1990’s, 30% of ALL PUBLIC LAWS signed by the President were for commemoratives!  There’s more on the subject at CNN’s site.

Army Of Zero Clue Week on Twitter

January 14th, 2010

Just a quick heads-up for those not following us on Twitter… our Twitter messages include an Army Of Zero clue every day this week, just to help you along as the closing date for our prize competition approaches.  Anyone can see our Twitter messages at http://twitter.com/pointzerogames, but if you’re a Twitter user, please follow us @pointzerogames!

Blast From The Past

January 7th, 2010

Ah, there we are.  We’ve been a bit lazy over Christmas vis-a-vis the old blog, haven’t we?  Ah well, if there’s one time of year when it’s permissable, if not expected, then I guess this is it.

Happy New Year, anyway, and I hope you had a terrific Christmas.  Ours was splendid, enhanced rather than spoilt by being snowed in for several days.  If you have places to be and things to do then of course that’s a thundering nuisance, but we didn’t, and the fridge was full of delicious food, so all in all it was very peaceful and festive. We watched some rather good telly too, some of it games-related, particularly BBC4’s short Games Britannia season.

The second episode dealt with the story of board games in Britain, and was a thoroughly entertaining romp through history of the subject, although it was a slight shame that its occasional (and perfectly informative and entertaining) wanderings across the Atlantic to talk about games like Scrabble, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, and even to Essen, had to be curtailed or spun whenever the programme makers remembered about the “Britannia” in their title.

Still, without the “Britannia”, it’s unlikely that the program would have paid much attention to a game that I’d forgotten about, but which I now remember rather fondly.  That fondness is probably nostalgia, because in honesty it isn’t a classic game, but Kensington was a big deal for about 25 minutes in 1979, when it garnered a lot of mainstream media attention and even won the UK Game of the Year award.  These days it’s out of print, but it was significant in that it was one of the first successful independently produced board games, and as such started a cottage industry that’s still going to this day.

Put together by two novice game designers, Brian Taylor and Peter Forbes, as a way of staving off the tough economic conditions of the day, the board of Kensington was inspired by a tiling pattern at the site of the Albert Memorial in London’s Kensington Gardens.  Taylor and Forbes did a brilliant job of getting themselves all over the newspapers and TV, and made some terrific marketing decisions, including distinctive packaging.  The game itself came in a flat sleeve, 12 inches on a side, so it looked like an LP record (and I kept my copy at the end of my row of albums).  You couldn’t mistake it for anything else.

Each player had 15 pieces.  The pieces were small plastic discs, and were all identical except that one player had blue pieces and the other had red.

The board looked like this:

The object of the game was to place six of your counters on the six vertices of one of the white hexagons or one of the hexagons of your own colour.

The game had two phases.  In the first phase, the players took turns to place their pieces on the board.  Pieces could be placed at any unoccupied vertex.  In the second phase, players took turns to slide one of their pieces from one vertex to any unoccupied adjacent vertex.

During either phase, players tried to occupy all the vertices of any triangle or square, and if they did so, they won the right to reposition their opponent’s pieces: one piece for occupying a triangle, or two pieces for occupying a square.

If you’re thinking Nine Men’s Morris on steroids, you’re not a million miles away.  The problem with the game was that the first person to occupy a triangle or square pretty much then had their foot on their opponent’s neck, and it became very difficult to get back into the the game for the other player.

As I said, Kensington is out of print now, but it’s possible to pick it up on eBay.  Or you can make your own.  It’s not a stayer, but it’s interesting enough for a while, and it’s an important footnote in the history of the board game because of its indie origins and as a lesson in the importance of getting good media attention.

© 2017 Point Zero Games Ltd.