An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

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An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby NoPunIn10Did » 16 Apr 2018, 17:43

In most Play-by-Forum games, we use a Blind Auction system whereby players allocate points to their preferred powers. Everyone handles this a little differently depending on the game, but most auctions use the same default rules as stated in an old post (where Pedros is quoting a procedure outlined by Dirk Knemeyer).

Pedros' post, which is often linked to: https://www.playdiplomacy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=412&t=27988

There is one element that I take issue with in how we've interpreted these rules: the interaction of rules #5, #8, and #10:

5. Your bids will be evaluated from the highest points allocated to the lowest, regardless of the order you put them in. However, in cases where you bid the same amount on more than one power, whichever is listed first is considered your "highest" bid, all the way down to the bottom-most being considered your "lowest" bid, and this ranking will affect the order in which your bids are evaluated (see para. 8)

8. The GM will then review the bids of all players and identify the most points spent on any power or powers. Where a player has more than one bid of that value for powers not already allocated to any player, only his highest ranking bid of that value will be considered.

10. In the event of a tie bid, where two or more players have bid the same high amount on the same power, the GM will randomly determine which player receives the disputed power.

In short, when a player makes multiple bids of the same value, the default rules currently in place treat their first listed bid as higher in preference than their other bids.

However, I think the way many GM's have been applying this rule is to treat that preference order (and not just the point value) as having value across multiple players. I don't believe that interpretation of the default rules is actually correct, and using preference order outside a single player's own bids introduces ambiguity into the value of those bids.

For example, let's say we're looking at a game of Classic. The max bid is 50, and the total points to allocate is 100. Phil and Quincy have submitted the following:

Code: Select all
Phil's List     Quentin's List

50  Russia      50  France
45  France      40  Russia
 1  Austria      4  Austria
 1  Germany      2  Turkey
 1  England      1  Germany
 1  Turkey       1  England
 1  Italy        1  Italy


Let's assume other players have won the bids for everything except Germany and Italy. Both Quentin and Phil have bid 1 point each on Germany and Italy. Which is the right way to resolve this?

  1. Both players bid 1 on Germany, so the assignment should be resolved by coin flip.
  2. Phil bid on Germany as his fourth choice overall, while Quentin bid on Germany as his fifth overall, so Phil should get Germany.
  3. Quentin bid on Germany as the first of his 1-point bids, while Phil bid on Germany as his second 1-point bid, so Quentin should get Germany.

I think a number of GMs might pick option C, but does that actually make sense here? Phil clearly has higher preference for Germany overall, though Quentin has higher preference for Germany within his 1-bids.

The interpretation that I believe is actually supported by Knemeyer's rules, but that we aren't using, is A. The resolution should be a coin flip. Rankings granted by a single player should "affect the order in which your bids are evaluated," but the two players' bids are still the same amount. Phil's bid for Germany is higher than his other 1-point bids, other than for Austria, and Quentin's 1-point bid for Germany is higher than his other 1-point bids, but when compared to one another, Quentin and Phil have made equal bids for Germany.

Similar ambiguity can be found if an auction gets down to England and Italy. Again, I think a coin flip would be in order. If we treat preference order as having meaning outside a player's own bids, however, it's not immediately clear who actually has the higher preference here.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Based on what I think the correct interpretation of Knemeyer's rules, preference order does matter in situations like this:

Code: Select all
Ophelia's List

40  Germany
40  Austria
 5  France
 5  Italy
 5  Russia
 4  England
 1  Turkey

Let's assume that after the max bids (50) have been resolved, neither Germany nor Austria was assigned. Let's also assume that no other player remaining in the auction has bid 40 or more points on either Germany or Austria. In this case, the default blind auction rules as stated would assign Germany to Ophelia. The order of her preference matters within her own bids, but not in comparison to anyone else's.

Potential Solutions:

Because not everyone likes to write up the full preference auction rules in their house rules for each game, many GMs are likely to use the default rules. I propose that we need to amend those rules in one of three ways in order to avoid ambiguous scenarios in the future.

Option 1: Change the default rules to require unique bids.

My own games use an additional rule whereby no two bids from the same player can be the same number, and I make it clear that the order one's bids are written has no bearing on the auction whatsoever. The only same-value bids allowed from a single player would occur when that player bids no preference.
It totally eliminates all ambiguity, but there is a downside: not everyone prefers the extra arithmetic. Calculating one's bids becomes a bit of a math problem when your least-preferred countries have to be allocated 1, 2, 3, etc. points.

Option 2: Change the default rules to remove any value to order-of-preference.

Another option is to get rid of the order-of-preference mechanic entirely. Bids of the same value are then treated exactly the same, even from the perspective of a single player. Coin flips occur not only to determine the winners of a power, but also the order in which powers are resolved (where their high remaining bids are equal).

This gets rid of the arithmetic issue stated for Option 1, but players may worry that, in order to have what they perceive as fully-optimized bids, they won't be able to state a third pick. They'll put the max points into their first pick, as many as possible into a second pick, and 1 point each into everything else.

To an extent, this might just be a problem of people overthinking their bids, but I imagine it may be a problem for some.

Option 3: Leave the existing rules intact, but with an addendum that clarifies that preference order matters only to your own bids.

There should not be an expectation that player A's 1-point bid will have different value than player B's 1-point bid simply because it occurs in the list in a different order.
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby NJLonghorn » 16 Apr 2018, 18:14

I never participate in Play-by-Forum games, so I'm not sure why I read your post. That said, I think option 3 makes the most sense. It seems to be the intent of the rules as they currently stand, but the intend could and should be clarified.
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby sinnybee » 16 Apr 2018, 18:50

I made several posts on this topic on the following thread (and the thread I link in the following post), starting with this post:
Blind auctions for country assignment
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby NoPunIn10Did » 16 Apr 2018, 19:09

sinnybee wrote:I made several posts on this topic on the following thread (and the thread I link in the following post), starting with this post:
Blind auctions for country assignment


I think I see what you're saying here, but if I'm reading what you've written here correctly, I think you're describing a significant modification to the algorithm. It increases the likelihood of consensus, but by doing so it can create scenarios in which a player's remaining bids weaken their chance at receiving their first pick.

It's something I'd be interested in playing around with, but what I'm trying with this thread is to fix an ambiguity (or misinterpretation, really) of the current rules, either by amending or clarifying the existing rules.

What you propose might be a good option to play around with in addition to one of the three above, but it would have a much larger impact on the algorithm itself.
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby GhostEcho » 16 Apr 2018, 19:20

When I'm using blind auction, I've used preference order as a tie-breaker. I don't see the problem with that as long as it's publicly stated. (I am curious now whether it actually helps more players get a higher preference - it almost seems like the reverse might be true. Um. Maybe I'll go check some bid histories to see.)

I do like the idea of a unique bid requirement, specifically to avoid the situation with a bunch of 1-bids from several players.
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby NoPunIn10Did » 16 Apr 2018, 19:52

GhostEcho wrote:When I'm using blind auction, I've used preference order as a tie-breaker. I don't see the problem with that as long as it's publicly stated. (I am curious now whether it actually helps more players get a higher preference - it almost seems like the reverse might be true. Um. Maybe I'll go check some bid histories to see.)

I do like the idea of a unique bid requirement, specifically to avoid the situation with a bunch of 1-bids from several players.


Ah, but a tiebreaker in what sense? Is it a tiebreaker based on the order that bid arose out of those with that number, or is it a tiebreaker based on the order overall for that player?

Take this example. How would you resolve these two players' bids, assuming only Turkey and Italy remain?

Code: Select all
Al             
50  England
45  Russia
 1  Germany     
 1  France
 1  Italy
 1  Turkey
 1  Austria

Tim       
50  Russia
30  England
10  Austria
 7  Germany
 1  France
 1  Italy
 1  Turkey
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby asudevil » 16 Apr 2018, 19:53

It should be B...his overall pick was higher...but I agree most GMs probably do it wrong.
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby NoPunIn10Did » 16 Apr 2018, 19:58

asudevil wrote:It should be B...his overall pick was higher...but I agree most GMs probably do it wrong.


I think that both B and C are doing it wrong, though. Knemeyer's rules don't specify how the rankings of same value bids are to be judged across players (rank overall or rank-within-value), in all likelihood because those rankings aren't supposed to be judged across players.
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby Woolgie » 16 Apr 2018, 20:44

Since the rules make no reference to rankings across more than one player and only state that points shall be the determining factor, the answer must be A. This I think is what NoPun is also saying.

Options B and C require that the relative positioning of choices across more than one player be a part of the rules. This is not explicitly part of the rule as written and so should be discounted.

Was that the intent? I don’t know. Can GMs use other rules if publicised? Of course.
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Re: An Ambiguity in the Blind Auction System

Postby NoPunIn10Did » 16 Apr 2018, 20:48

Woolgie wrote:Since the rules make no reference to rankings across more than one player and only state that points shall be the determining factor, the answer must be A. This I think is what NoPun is also saying.

Options B and C require that the relative positioning of choices across more than one player be a part of the rules. This is not explicitly part of the rule as written and so should be discounted.

Was that the intent? I don’t know. Can GMs use other rules if publicised? Of course.


The problem right now is that many GMs state they are using the default rules but use B or C. Likewise, they might state that they take order into account across players, but it's not clear whether B or C is their interpretation of that order.

I'd personally like to do away with same-value bids from the same player, but I'll settle for just making sure everyone is on the same page for how those work (or, if they prefer to run it a different way, to make that unambiguous in their house rules).
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