I started playing a fun online game with some friends this week. It’s a sort of MMORPG called “Fantasy Basketball”. It’s a lot like Dungeons & Dragons or Risk or other games where there are battle systems with a good mix of strategy and chance.

Game mechanics

At the beginning of the several-months-long “season” you take turns picking from a long list of non-player characters. You choose these “players” based on various character attributes to build a “team”. There is a certain amount of narrative that can be crafted around the players, but the choices you make are largely based on numbers and statistics.

Each week your team gets matched up to go head-to-head with one other team in the “league” (my league has twelve teams in total, each managed by one of my friends). The strategy consists principally in choosing which of your players to put on your “roster” and which ones to “bench”. Then as the week progresses, random numbers are generated for each of your players, weighted toward their various attributes. These numbers ultimately determine the outcome of the match.

One of the attributes that affects the players’ numbers is the “position” they play. The positions have exotic-sounding names like “shooting guard” and “power forward”, and they complement each other much as warriors, wizards, clerics, and healers play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses in a typical fantasy RPG. To optimize your roster, as with any good party-building strategy, you need a balanced mix of the different player positions. You also have to pay careful attention to which players are “tired” or “injured” each week.

The chance element

Of course, in games like Dungeons & Dragons or Risk the chance element comes from random dice rolls. I’m not entirely certain where the randomness comes from in Fantasy Basketball, but I’m given to understand it comes from something in the real world.

It’s a little known fact that computers can’t actually produce truly random numbers. Computer algorithms can only achieve pseudo-randomness unless they’re fed some true random data to work with. For instance, I’ve used password generating programs that track the user’s mouse movements to build up entropy. uses atmospheric noise for entropy. A friend of mine today mentioned something he heard about where they’re using pedestrian foot-traffic patterns from London surveillance cameras for entropy.

Like I said, I don’t know where they get the entropy for Fantasy Basketball, but it seems they’re getting some high quality random numbers from somewhere.

Wish me luck!

I’m really enjoying the game so far. I think I’m well on my way to winning my first match. My “players” have a few more “games” this week and I’m crossing my fingers for some big random numbers. Wish me luck! 

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