The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Final Labor Day Gaming Things and Pandante Non-Notes

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I could write a lot about Pandante …. but it is a gambling game. So I’m just writing that for me to clarify my thoughts (at least near term). I will say this. If you are playing Pandante as a game, double the starting money and double the victory conditions (or maybe not double, but make them 1.5 as much). The base game can end fairly quickly with few players and you invoke the magic gold fairy too often, which feels gamey. Doubling the starting money makes it feel more like poker. The game will take longer of course. Just play until you decide you don’t want to. Like poker.

Our local game evolved a fair amount just over this weekend. I wonder how people who’ve played hundreds of hours are doing. (Another reason not to publish). Does anyone play online?

Played games — Power Grid, Glory to Rome, Concept, Tichu, Celebrities, Pandante.  Concept really does have terrible cards. In what world is Jumanji a ‘medium’ concept to get via iconic charades but Pride and Prejudice hard?

“Book. Female. Love. Group. Old.” Took like 15 seconds. But the core concept is great.

As is BoJack Horseman. (The show. Bojack himself is, well, not good. I’ll probably rewatch the first season when the second season gets close to airing.)

Celebrities — ah old friend, I have missed you.

Written by taogaming

September 1, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Thunder Alley and The Role of the Critic

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The Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game remains one of the most innovative racing game I’ve ever tried. I think of this as the McGartlin game, but until I went onto BGG I didn’t realize that was a contraction (Portmanteau?) of McLaughlin and Garton. In any case, that’s much easier to say. I think I wrote about it (fairly extensively, given its obscurity), but those words were several websites ago and do not appear to exist anymore.

But while TSCCRCG (that’s why I call it McGartlin) was innovative, it never caught on. It had innovative ideas, but many of them. It felt complex and unintuitive. In many ways, the Up Front of racing games. While I (now) flinch at the Hollywoo-esque reductive nature of “It’s X meets Y,” it remains a useful shorthand.

TSCCRCG has no map. The cards do a lot of things. The rules daunt (even me). I was never sure if I liked it. Actually, I was sure I didn’t; but I kept reading reviews about how people did a 6 player game quickly. Ours always ended up taking 3x as long. So I wondered if we were doing it right but got rid of my copy. I should play it again with a group that knows and loves it. I’d be the slow guy, but it would give the game a fair shake.

Which is a long way of saying that when people said Thunder Alley I heard McGartlin. You have a board, but each turn really represents a dozen(ish) laps. You move around the board, but a draft line could just move, move, move, move, so that half (or more) of the cars could get 6x as much movement as the other half an obviously ludicrous view if you consider this as a two lap race, but a clever abstraction of cars falling of the pack.

And the fairly simple rules left experienced gamers saying “Can I do this?” two hours into the game. I’ve looked at a Player Aid on the geek and I’m still struggling how to explain this to new players. I see a clever, interesting game; but it felt too long. Thunder Alley needs the “When it’s your turn you have 5 seconds to play a card and 20 to resolve it” meta-rule (instead of counting things out).

You have a reasonable abstraction of NASCAR, warts and all. When you pit could decide the game — you can press on and hope for a Yellow. A car in our game almost got eliminated (by being lapped in a two lap race), but then a Yellow bunched the cars up and the tail car literally move 90% of a lap in the restart. But that happens in NASCAR. The abstraction can break down in the end. A late caution meant our restart happened in a position where the cars are bunched up 1-2 plays from the finish line. One player ran a draft (perhaps not realizing the implication) which pushed half the cars in spitting distance of the finish line. Then next wave of cars are crossing, with the pusher left out because why would you drag his cars across the line?

So, my initial thought with Thunder Alley — Building a chess like racing game feels like a grail game. But once youv’e grabbed that Grail, you think “Is racing like chess?” Thunder Alley does have push your luck, but so do simpler games like Homas Tour. Thunder Alley feels like a positional chess match (If I bump this guy then run the line, I can connect up my cars and break his chain, and that’s worth wasting this entire card) combined with the luck of random events! I do enjoy the team aspect of it, it’s refreshing to have a game where second place scores 95% of the points as first (etc etc).

It may just be our first game was too crowded. With 6 (as we played) and three cars you have less control and more downtime. I could see groups playing this with two sets to get 10+ players, and If you loved the game it would be great, but I’d be backing away quickly. I’d like to try this with 4. A few less cars on the track, a higher percentage of the Fixed Fun.

Rating — Suggest (at least for a few more times) until I decide.

Written by taogaming

September 1, 2014 at 10:36 am

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with ,

Some non-“monochromatic ursine” games

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At the Labor Day Gaming Shindig, I actually played a plethora of new games, in between teaching Pandante. (Weird thing, just as I typed that, I heard the Kung Fu Panda theme, as the TaoLing had apparently put that on). So, some quick thoughts on the ‘new to me’ games. A day playing 4 new games is rare. Two of them good is surprising. I mean, they aren’t Panda Poker good, but they were “I’d play them again” good.

Train of Thought — An interesting party game. You give clues in three words, but have to use a specific word. (In the spirit of the game, shouldn’t give a two word clue where the forced word doesn’t interact with the other two). If none of the people guess the word on the first try, you can build a clue using any of their guesses as a forced word. So, if my forced word is “Carrot” and I need to get to “Elephant”, I can say: “Who eats carrots?”

I get back “Rabbit” (And some other guesses)

“Bigger than Rabbit”


“Indian Person Rides”

Hopefully someone gets Elephant. It gets confusing because some of my clues may just be to ‘waypoints’ (Because I can never get from “Opera” to “Income” in 3 words) and people are confused as to which clues are which.

Once someone gets Elephant it’s the first forced word for the next clue, and the giver and guesser each get a point.

Rating — Suggest (if I’m in a party game mood).

Concept — Another party game. Charades but you have a chart of icons you using instead of gestures. I suggested this, but I disliked some of the cards of things you had to give. Indifferent.

Bid it Right: The Price is Right Card Game — A Knizian precursor found amidst the rubble of TV Game show tie-ins. Each player has 15 cards (10-150) and there are 15 prizes (ditto). Flip up a prize, each player plays a card, high card gets it, but ties cancel. Discard cards. Sound familiar? A fine little mini-game, rather amazing for a fifty year old title.  Suggest.

Marrying Mr. Darcy — Woof. Fun theme, but draw a card for your turn, which will tell you if a get a useful turn, you lose a turn, or everyone gets a random turn. As a game, poor. As an amusing diversion, OK. Indifferent.

Written by taogaming

August 31, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Some more Pandante

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I started to work out some odds (If you start with a pair, the odds of flopping at least a set are 23%)[1], but it doesn’t matter much because you never pay to see the flop.

Of more practical interest is how the game works with higher numbers. We’ve actually seen some folding on the turn and river (I rather like the terms they have for those, splash/paws/tail, but I’ll stick with general poker terms). After all, sticking around with the 5th best hand or so is not free. I also see hopelessness ability calls which lets you cycle your hand once for free and then again if it misses.

As a non-gambling game, there is some weirdness as people do ‘end of game’ stuff. I think it may be better (as a game) to raise the winning score (which is roughly someone doubling-tripling up based on number of players) and make it a freezeout tournament. That has player elimination, but we have 20-30 people at gaming, so no big deal.

Taught this three times yesterday. I’m officially proselytizing.

[1] (1 minus ((54 choose 3) / (59 choose 3)) ) (In English, take the number of possible three card flops from the remainder of the deck that do not have any of the 5 matching cards (4 + joker), divide by all possible 3 card flops. That’s the odds of a flop without a set, so then subtract it from one).

Written by taogaming

August 31, 2014 at 9:26 am

Posted in Specific Games

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TV Recommendation Open Thread

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Let’s see:

  • I finished The Sopranos and The Shield. I started the Wire, which seems good, but I may need to pause that to get a bit of distance from the prior two.
  • I’m enjoying BoJack Horseman. It’s not the greatest comedy, but it’s amusing. (The credits are surprisingly poignant). About halfway done, it’s growing on me.  Probably finish these this week.
  • Almost caught up on Supernatural. Watching that with the Boy.
  • I’m not optimistic about Dr. Who, although Capaldi may rescue it.
  • Once they hit Netflix I’ll finish How I Met Your Mother (inertia) and continue Arrow. Did Agents of Shield pick up (I gave up after 3 episodes, but the TaoLing is 11, so it may be a watch together thing).

I’ve pretty much blown through all the recent movies I want to see. So, the Queue is weak and need assistance. Remember, I just have Netflix these days (except for a few series I buy from Amazon).

Written by taogaming

August 30, 2014 at 10:19 am

Posted in TV & Media

Science Schmience

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With my regular partner (Hank), I play a complex scientific system. Well, in theory.

The first hand of a club game, playing against one of the stronger East-West pairs, I pick up

Hand #1 — S: void H: AKQ97xx D:JT C:KQxx

With nobody vul, Hank opens 3 Clubs, preemptive (non-vulnerable) and my RHO bids 3 spades. Hank has a saying “7-4 distribution is a one suited hand.” But once partner has shown 6 or 7 clubs, things change. Science Schmience. I bid 6 Clubs. Why tell the opponents about my heart suit …  even playing it in hearts risks a club ruff on opening lead. Besides, this may easily be a “5 or 7″ hand where the opening lead determines if we make 5 or 7.

LHO doubles, which should be “Lead a red suit” (or “This is going down no matter what you do”) but RHO leads a spade and it makes seven. LHO had AK of diamonds (and Hank had two). It was, indeed, a five-or-seven hand. However, looking at RHO’s hand it seems like if she had interpreted the bid correctly, she’d have a guess with little to go on and lead a heart anyway.

Hank comments that this was similar to a hand from yesterday where you have a solid suit but strong honors in partners preempt and a void. It was also a five-or-seven hand. Two in two days.

But the day’s not over.

Hand #2 — S: xxxx H:Q8xx D:Kxx C:Kx

Not vulnerable vs Vulnerable, Hank opens 1H. My RHO doubles and I bid 2 Diamonds, which in our sciencey-way shows a good raise to 2 hearts (usually 9+, but I’ve upped it for the fourth trump). LHO bids 3 Clubs, Hank bids 4 Hearts and RHO bids 5 Clubs. I’m torn. I have an extra heart (which speaks to bidding on). But I have two kings behind the doubler and I know that Hank is capped at 17 High card points. He may have been gambling, and it’s so much easier to take 3 tricks than one. I could pass, but I double in reasonable tempo. I can tell it’s in reasonable tempo because Hank starts thinking. If I was slow, he’d be honor bound (“bend over backwards”) to just pass. But he’s considering pulling. If he’s thinking about it I want him to pull the double, because my extra heart makes me think we only have two tricks. My mental exhortations are for naught. He passes.

Dummy hits with S: AKQJx H:Axx D:void C:Jxxxx

Good news, we don’t have only two tricks. With declarer having AQTxx of clubs this isn’t a five or seven hand, its a plain old “Seven” and I doubled them. Hank having opened a sub-minimum (even by our standards) 1=5=6=1 distribution and then chosen to hide it by blasting to game (just as I hid my running heart suit last time). If I had known of the double fit, I never would have doubled. if if if.

Anyway, After looking at all four hands we still aren’t sure who to blame, but RHO’s vastly offshape double certainly defeated our science. (Interestingly, if we had been vulnerable I could have bid three hearts, showing a four card raise with 6-9 HCP, but non vulnerable that bid shows weakness).

After that the same opponents get a strong jump shift (19 points, solid six card suit) and only get a small slam when a grand makes; huge hands are flying all over the place. Hank and I have the old Quantitative Slam Try (1N-4N;6N), which hasn’t shown up in a while. I miss a cold game when I consider a hand as merely 18 High Card Points when it’s clearly monstrous. (AKQx x xx AKQxxx). I also undervalue (xx — AKJxx Axxxxx) and play a slam in a partscore. The slam shouldn’t be bid, but the game should. Four bad boards, but we’ve gotten obvious gifts to counter most of them, and then my second “Schmience” hand shows up.

Hand #3 — I hold S:AQx H:xx D:AK C:AKxxxx

Partner opens a vulnerable 3 Diamonds … in second seat. (Second seat preempts should be slightly sounder than in 1st seat, since one opponent has passed it slightly increases the odds that partner has a hand). RHO passes and I have to decide.

I could ask partner if he has an ace, but it seems to me that partner should have at least the one king (maybe two) as well as some diamonds, if not the heart ace. And if he doesn’t have the ace or king maybe he has a stiff heart (unlikely) or they can’t/won’t lead them (likely). Besides, it worked so well before. Six Diamonds!

RHO leads a diamond and partner wins, cashes the other, and leads a small spade from dummy. And ruffs it! It’s another five or seven hand, as partner held QJx of hearts.  In fact, partner did not have a king, but had a spade void and three QJ pairs. But apparently two other tables had identical auctions and results, so we share the top this time.

After the game we’re comparing with another expert pair (who slightly edged us out to win, due to my above mistakes) and on the last hand they bid 3 Diamonds – 5 Diamonds. This starts an argument as to whether five diamonds or six is the right bid, when Tom (one of my other partners) says “Brian bid 6 diamonds, and they didn’t lead a heart, so he made the slam. Against me, they did lead a heart, so my 5 diamonds made exactly. We each clearly made the correct bid.”

Science can’t argue with that.

Written by taogaming

August 24, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Bridge


with 6 comments

Courtesy of a Mr. A____ R____ I heard good things about Pandánte. The fact that Sirlin’s new card game makes a good cash game caught my attention, so I picked up a copy. Initial testing (with the Taoling) indicates that the gentleman’s opinion was not mistaken.

The rules aren’t difficult. This really is Texas Hold’Em mixed with Coup, and a bit of “Dragon Poker” special effects. As always, small changes have organic consequences.
There are three rounds of betting with fixed bet amounts. You either bet or fold. The first round of betting is post-flop, and you can’t fold until the turn (or river). The twist — your bet also declares your minimum hand type. You can never lower your bet, so why bet high? The reason is that after the flop (and turn), players can drawing a card and then discard it or replace one of their original hole cards.
This is never bad, since at worst you’ve seen one card. But only the player(s) who claimed the best hand get this option (called “Snacks”) for free. The rest pay $2 for each level difference between their hand and the claimed best. (A pair is level 1, a straight flush is level 10). Two pair isn’t a level, so if you have that you can safely claim a pair (level 1), but maybe you want to claim a full house (level 4) to jack up the price for everyone who just claimed a pair. After all, if other players can replace their cards, they may get a Floosh (4 card flush — Level 5) or Flush. [The deck has 6 suits, flushes are rarer that normal poker, hence higher than full house].
But if you do this you may miss your Full House, Floosh, or whatever. Once you get past the river then each hand can use their hole cards special abilities (or any special abilities, by claiming to have them as hole cards) and then bet again (to raise their hand type).
At that point, If you have the highest hand players can challenge or not. If anyone challenges and you don’t have the hand you claimed; you fold. (And any challenge for high hand, or having cards in abilities, results in a direct side payment between challenged and challenger).
Let me quote an example hand posted by the Gentleman on a mailing list (this example assumes $1 ante).
So, let’s take a typical 4-player hand:
One player buy new cards ($2), everybody antes and bets first round ($12)
$2 goes in for draw-1-discard-1 option, one person folds, rest bets ($6)
$2 goes in for draw-1-discard-1 option, all bet ($6)
Orange/Green (Hand improvement) Abilities are called, a player successfully calls bluff (no pot effect).
Red Ability is used (all other players fold or add $5), 1 player folds, other player adds $5 to pot
Black (stealing) ability is used (no pot effect).
One player adds $2 to the pot to increase his final hand declaration.  He now is claiming the highest hand.
One player calls his bluff, and is correct, the player did not have the declared hand (no pot effect).
There is only one player remaining, he takes down the pot.

As the example implies if the highest hand gets challenged and was bluffing, then the next highest hand gets a shot. But only active (un-folded) players can call a bluff, so if everything else gets challenged away the lowest hand wins automatically, without having to reveal. Clever.

Now, the side bets. There are two types — if you claim an ability, everyone can challenge. If you were bluffing you pay each challenger $5 and can’t use your power. If you had the cards, you reveal the suit(s) of your card(s), challengers pay you $5, and you take the actions. For the full hand, if you are challenged and bluffing, you pay each challenger $5 and don’t reveal your hand. If you were telling the truth, each challenger pays you $5 per player that started the hand.
So a double bluff can take down a huge amount if you can convince everyone to challenge you. (In the extreme case, for a six player game, where everyone thinks you are bluffing, that’s $150 + the pot).
Just to make it more dangerous. If you win before the showdown (or during it, when you could have been challenged) and were bluffing you can grab a special ability (“Panda Lord”) to use in the next hand(s). So is that massive hand call out of nowhere a bluff to get the pot and a the panda lord (maybe risking a few extra $5 bets), or a sucker player to try to get a bunch of big payouts?
Combine all of this and you can imagine that while Hold ‘em has bluffs and setup plays, Pandánte is filthy with them. For example, I can claim a Red/Black hand for abilities, and then claim a flush (which requires me to have say, Red/Red). Or I can claim a red/red ability, get called on it pay out $5 per challenger then claim a flush requiring Red/Red. If people challenge me on it and I have it, now they’d have to pay me $10-30 each (depending on how many players started the hand), and I’d only have to pay $5 a challenger if I’m bluffing. So did I actually have Red/Red and paid that off to set up the obvious challenge?
That’s just one example, the rules make Pandánte an action game:
  • Being forced to play at least to the river means that terrible hands can hit.
  • If you don’t win, you can keep your hand (unless you successfully stole money with a special ability). Since some suits protect you, others build pots, do you keep? But your opponents may have gotten a read on you. Changing hands isn’t free (except for the winner, which it is free and mandatory)
  • Snacks provide more information, and let you shape your hand. Sometimes you split a pair to go for a straight (or rainbow straight) or floosh. These decisions can be tricky.
And then there’s the joker.
Let’s face it, in poker the joker is a terrible idea. When I heard Pandánte had one, I was skeptical. But despite being an immensely powerful card, it has drawbacks. First and foremost, you can use the joker as any suit, which means you can use all the abilities. But if you reveal it, nobody has to pay a side bet for being wrong. And that applies during a showdown AND you only get half the pot. So if you flash the joker during the ability phase, everyone knows its a free challenge.
In what other poker game would you ever consider throwing away a joker mid-hand.
Even playing Heads up with the Taoling revealed interesting decisions every hand.
  • Folding early with nothing?
  • Do you split your hole card pair for a flush draw?
  • How high should I push my declared value to force others to pay more for snacks? Should I (after abilities) raise my bet to go first?
  • Sometimes you don’t want to have the highest (declared) hand, particularly if you didn’t make. And then you definitely don’t want to flash the joker, as everyone will challenge you and get paid out for your bluff.
  • Do I keep my (losing) hand or chuck it for a fee?
  • How do I string people into calling my (made) hand?
  • If I have a tie (for a floosh, say) what exact value do I declare for my hand? (Remember, hands are challenged in order).
  • When should I push a bluff hard to win a Panda Lord?

Remember, all bets (and side bets) are fixed, so you don’t bluff by throwing lots of money at it, you think (and act) correctly. This isn’t No Limit Hold’em “all in” bludgeon. Pandante is fought with rapiers.

Written by taogaming

August 23, 2014 at 9:36 am

Posted in Poker, Reviews

Tagged with ,


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