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Automatic Generation and Evaluation of Recombination Games

Cameron Browne

PhD Thesis
Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
July, 2008

Many new board games are designed each year, ranging from the unplayable to the truly exceptional. For each successful design there are untold numbers of failures; game design is something of an art. Players generally agree on some basic properties that indicate the quality and viability of a game, however these properties have remained subjective and open to interpretation.

The aims of this thesis are to determine whether such quality criteria may be precisely defined and automatically measured through self-play in order to estimate the likelihood that a given game will be of interest to human players, and whether this information may be used to direct an automated search for new games of high quality. Combinatorial games provide an excellent test bed for this purpose as they are typically deep yet described by simple well- defined rule sets.

To test these ideas, a game description language was devised to express such games and a general game system implemented to play, measure and explore them. Key features of the system include modules for measuring statistical aspects of self-play and synthesising new games through the evolution of existing rule sets.

Experiments were conducted to determine whether automated game measurements correlate with rankings of games by human players, and whether such correlations could be used to inform the automated search for new high quality games. The results support both hypotheses and demonstrate the emergence of interesting new rule combinations.

Winner of the Dean's Award for Outstanding Thesis of 2008.

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