Monday, February 2, 2015

Pandemic: The Cure - standard deviation and probability

Initial setup
Recently we have been playing Pandemic: The Cure. The goal of the game is (loosely) to cure all the diseases. Each player has a certain number of dice that they roll on their turn (5 for most players, 7 if you're the Generalist) that give them their possible actions for the turn. One of the actions lets you use one of your die to "bottle up" a disease die and at the end of your turn you roll your bottled up disease dice and if the total amount rolled on the dice for a particular color of disease is greater than 13, then you have cured that disease.

Bottling up the diseases is great because it removes that disease die from play and helps you discover the cure, but until you discover the cure that die of yours you used to "bottle" it up is locked up and you can't use it, meaning you'll have fewer possible actions on your turn, making you less effective until the cure is discovered.

Disease Dice
Each color of disease die has different face values from the other colors'. Each one has a "Cross" face (value 0) and 5 other values. The average value of the faces on each die is 3 but since the values are different the standard deviations of the values on the dice are different. The values on the faces of the dice are as follows.

Std Dev1.6722.532.68

So in terms of trying to cure the diseases, the likelihood that the total of the values across all the dice you roll of a color will meet the required sum is different. Below is a table of probabilities of curing the disease with various numbers of a color of dice. The amount needed to cure a disease is normally 13, but sometimes can be 11.

# Dice11+13+11+P13+11+13+11+13+

You'll see that for certain numbers of dice and goal numbers to reach, the probability of curing the disease can be quite different. For example, with 3 dice and a goal of 13 the probabilities range from 7.41% to 23.15%. Most differences are <10%, but that can be a fairly significant difference.

You'll see that no die is universally easier or harder to find cures with. Getting 13+ is only really possible once you have 4 dice. A goal of 11 isn't very likely until you have at least 3 dice, and even then the odds are very bad. It's very hard for a single character other than maybe the generalist to amass 4 or more dice by themselves. After you have 3 dice bottled up you only have two dice left. So getting the 1 in 6 result of being able to bottle up on your dice when you only have two dice is fairly unlikely. The game allows you to trade your bottled up dice to another player if you're on the same square. This probability table tells me that that's a very important part of the game.

Advanced discussion:
In the above two tables, I ordered the dice colors by their standard deviations, lower on the left and higher on the right. One thing you might notice is that for 3 dice, the higher variance dice (aka higher standard deviation) have a higher probability of success. You'll notice that for higher numbers of dice, the colors with a lower standard deviation tend to have a higher chance of success.

When you have 3 dice, the average value of the sum is 9 (because the average for any given die is 3). Nine is insufficient for either goal so results near the average are bad. So you want a result that's far from the average, meaning you want a higher standard deviation. When you're at 5+ dice, the average result, 15, is above the goal so lower standard deviations are better.

When average is bad and you want that extreme result, you'll do better with a higher standard deviation. When the average is good and you don't need an extreme result, you'll do better with a lower standard deviation.

Player Dice, showing all faces
Epidemic Roll Change
Another place where probability plays a big role (roll?) is with epidemics. Each character die has one face which, when rolled, will advance the epidemic track. The generalist, with their seven dice instead of the normal 5, stands a much greater chance of rolling these values on their turn. To balance this, the generalist is allowed to ignore the effect of the first epidemic they roll each turn. This has a huge effect, and it makes the generalist have an overall lower change of advancing the epidemic track than other characters. Below is a table of probabilities for how far each character will advance the epidemic track on their initial roll of dice (with full dice i.e. no dice locked up from bottling up diseases).


The other advantage of being the generalist is that when you have no epidemics on your initial roll (28% of the time w/ 7 dice, higher w/ fewer) you can freely reroll dice to try and get a better result w/ no fear of the consequences of rolling an epidemic.