Magnesium Gardens

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How to Play Well

   Whew boy! Magnesium Gardens, especially as play progresses, is actually a pretty complicated game. Keep balls rolling to make sure their fires don't go out, and take advantage of lit balls striking each other for faster igniting. When you have several balls, igniting them all as quickly as possible is crucial to getting good times. Make sure to ricochet them off of each other as the round progresses, as they'll speed up when they strike each other. The key to playing Magnesium Gardens well is to get into a kind of juggling mindset - while one ball is paused to burn a bush, you should be directing the next ball towards its goal. Once you've got four or five balls in motion, it's sort of like micro-managing units in a real time strategy game.
   The timer only starts once the first bush is killed, so positioning balls before killing your first bush is helpful. You'll definitely do better if you can take care of the special properties of other balls, as well as the special floors types. I know route planning is theoretically key, but in practice, there's enough randomness in the system that it's hard to plan too well.
   It's especially important, when possible, to take advantage of balls that can take out a lot of bushes at once, but most of those are tricky to use.
   Magnesium Gardens is a game that starts out deceptively slowly, probably a design flaw on my part. At higher levels of play, though, it's a game that admits extremely high amounts of skill.

Design Notes


   When designing Magnesium Gardens, I was really trying to come up with an interesting tangle of rules that would make reasoning about the system pretty tricky. As it stands, I'm still not sure, for most levels, that I can tell what optimal play would look like. I achieved that specifically by making a lot of kinds of interactions between different components. So, specifically, 1) a ball has to roll through a fiery square to be ignite, unless 2) it is struck by another burning ball. 3) Ball will stop burning if they slow down too much, but 4) they speed up immensely if they strike each other. 5) Balls striking each other would be almost random if everything were in motion at once, but 6) ball pause when they're burning bushes. That set of rules alone is enough to make for hard-to-reason-about strategy. All of the special ball and floor types then just add that much more to the system of interactions.
   I mention this in my article about Attack Absorption and Multiple Meanings through Interactions on the Incarius page, but I'm very interested in graphing what objects in a system are capable of interacting with which other objects. It seems like a simple thing, but in many games, the graph really is just a bunch of arrows point back in forth between a central player and then individual objects in the world. I think there is something intriguing about exploring interaction graphs that break out of that simple pattern.

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