The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Some Recent Bridge — Hearts or NT?

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I’m playing a bonus game (the TaoLing and Mrs. Tao unexpectedly declared they would be gone today) with Roxie. I’ve played with her several times over the last month, and we do reasonably well. On the first hand of the day I pick up:

S: Txxx H:AKJ9x D:Tx C:Tx

Roxie opens 1 Diamond, I bid 1 Heart, and Roxie bids 1NT. I’m not going to game, so the only question is do I want to play in 1NT or 2 Hearts. Well, if Roxie only has two hearts, then my hand may be worth five tricks (if she has the queen or Qxx is onside) but it could be as few as two (if the Q is offsides and hearts don’t break). But in hearts I’m likely taking four tricks. And if she has a fit, then hearts is certainly better in case a minor is wide open. I bid 2 hearts and am pleased to find Roxie with S:Kx H:QTx D:AQxxx C:Kxx. I get the 8 of diamonds lead and when the queen holds I play the diamond ace and LHO follows with the nine. I ruff a diamond low and lead towards the spade king and when LHO flies the ace the hand is basically over. I make four. This looks (to me) to be pretty good, but every card was basically on (I lose two clubs as the CA is off), but later on I find that the people in 1N are making five! (Looking at the traveler I think it was just novice pairs, but even making four would beat the hands in hearts. If the cards weren’t well placed then 2H would play a trick better).

Later on I pick up another interesting hand with hearts:

S:QJ H:KJ942 D:J98x C:Tx

I’m in 3rd chair and the only interesting problem is what to do if partner opens 1NT. I have an 8 count and we play 15-17 1NT, so game would be very touchy, but partner could have a heart fit (even four of them). Then normal move would be to transfer and bid 2NT. But ….

  • The hand feels like a seven count. The QJ tight of spades is dangerous. I do have nice spot cards, but still…. (The K&R evaluator agrees,, calling this 7.3)
  • If I transfer and bid 2N, partner will likely go with most 16 counts, putting us in a 24 point game. Particularly in 3N, that’s ugly.
  • Unlike the last hand, where I expect us to have ~20 HCP, here we’re around 24, which means even if partner has two small hearts, then my other points are likely useful in NT. I may even have an entry or two.

I think the most likely result of transfering into hearts and inviting is 2NT (with partner having 15) or 3NT (with 16 or 17) or 4H. (Partner could bid 3H, but I’ve noticed that most people just bid the game with a fit). I’d certainly rather be in 1N than 2N or 3H and probably even 3N, I think. Even if partner has a great hand for hearts, there’s always the chance that hearts rail or the cards are poorly place (this is from Kit Woolsey’s Matchpoints).

Against all of that, I’m almost certainly breaking with the field. I may lose the board on my decision. Sticking with the field gives us the chance to win it in play.

I’ve recently splurged on several more books for my Bridge Library (the Bridge World had a sale) and I spent a few days reading “Master of Bridge Psychology: Inside the remarkable mind of Peter Fredin” and while I certainly can’t analyze at his level, one of the interesting points is that he’s willing to look quite stupid if he thinks he’s right. (The book has a number of truly weird bids and plays, and he does indeed get some silly results sometimes. He goes down in contracts any little old lady would make).

I decide to trust my judgement that this hand is not an invite. Therefore my options are transfer and drop partner in two hearts (barring a super-accept) or pass. I’m going to just pray partner doesn’t have a super accept. If I’m wrong, well, perhaps hearts rail.

I’m glad I started thinking about this, because partner opens 1NT (a bit before I finish my thoughts, but only just) so I pass (relatively smoothly) and we play in 1NT.

My RHO tables a card face down and as LHO says no questions I say “I’ve taken a position,” but I’m pretty happy when LHO flips over the three of hearts. Partner wins RHOs ten with the ace, then hooks a heart (RHO showing out) and comes back in clubs to hook the heart again. Later partner reveals that she had a long club suit and shows up with

S:xxx H:Axx D:Qx C:AKQxx

This means the opponents could have rattled off the first seven tricks (since spades were 3-5) but that meant I would have tied with those that went down in 4 Hearts (or 3 hearts, in one case). But with no information LHO reasonably (but unluckily) led his four card major, and so we rattled off the first ten tricks for a top. Of course one result proves nothing, but that felt good.

One final hand. I pick up S:Qx H:xx D:AQ9xx C:A8xx and have an easy 1 Diamond opening. With 9 cards in the minors I should bid 2 clubs if partner responds one of a major. But this is matchpoints so I think I’ll bid 1NT if partner responds one heart, since I have a partial spade stopper. I could do that after one spade as well, but I think in that case I’ll bid 2 clubs. Partner does bid 1 Heart so I respond 1 NT.

Partner bids 2 clubs, New Minor Forcing showing at least an invitational hand (and saying nothing about clubs). My first priority is to show a heart fit, but I don’t have that. And I haven’t hidden four spades (which I might do), so I show my fifth diamond (and relative minimum) by bidding 2 Diamonds.  I’m still deciding if I’m going to pass 2NT or retreat to 3 clubs when partner ends the auction with 3NT, sparing me the choice.

I get the ten of clubs lead and I see partner has also gone for the gusto, as dummy has

S:xxx H:AKQT8x D:x C:KQ9

Huh. Even after what I did earlier, I would have just shot 4H after my 1NT response with two weak suits, a stiff  and a known fit. But that’s in the past. I’m in 3NT. In 4H I’ll make five if the opponents lead and continue spades, but only four if they pull dummy’s trump and nothing good happens in diamonds and clubs (Assuming hearts break) That means I need to make at least 4 NT, maybe 5NT.

The club ten looks like a lead from shortness (since I can see the 9) and denies the jack (unless from JT tight), so I’m going to want to keep my A8 as a finessing position. I play the club king and RHO follows with the jack.

I stare at this for a while. LHO led T from T7xxx? Apparently.

Well, that’s solved one problem.  I hope hearts are breaking, so I cash two hearts and they do. I want to make RHO make as many discards as possible before I lead the diamond from the board, so I cross to my club ace, back to the club queen and run the hearts. (I wish I could have cashed the fourth club, but I need it for communication. (In hindsight, I should have gone all out and only played one round of hearts, cashed the clubs, and then used my last heart to enter the board and hope they split, since if hearts were 4-1 I’m likely getting murdered no matter what as the defense will no doubt find a spade switch after the auction).

RHO seems to have no problems pitching the five, seven, and eight of diamonds (after following to three hearts). LHO pitches her (non-winning) clubs and then the seven and two of spades. I can afford two diamonds, but then pitch a spade and finally the spade queen. It likely doesn’t matter, unless RHO has made a horrific mistake or LHO has the stiff king of diamonds. When I lead a diamond RHO plays the ten.

These aren’t particularly good players, but I can’t imagine RHO pitched away xxx from KTxxx of diamonds in a suit I bid twice. Actually I can imagine it, but she may have encouraged in diamonds then. In any case, I’m not finessing because cashing the diamond ace and my good club means I’m making five, beating those in hearts (unless they didn’t get a spade lead). I play the diamond ace and LHO follows low.

When I cash the club LHO goes into the tank. I don’t know what she was thinking but she eventually pitches the diamond king! (To keep her KJ of spades, which is most odd after I pitched the queen). So I make seven. No matter, making five was a top.

We have a few disasters (I’ve played with a few other new partners recently and mixed up “which systems I play right now,” and we have a rather spectacular mis-defense) but overall we have a reasonable game and end up in second….

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Written by taogaming

October 12, 2019 at 10:24 pm

Posted in Bridge

Recent Media

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Let’s see ….

  • I finally saw Stop Making Sense (the concert movie). Hypnotic and excellent.
  • The Good Place is starting its final season. Finally hooked up my fire stick to watch it (Amazon discontinued support for my TV).
  • The Spy (starring Sacha Baron Cohen) worked as a slow burn period piece.
  • Read a Jack Reacher book. It was Make Me (the 20th)  but I’m not sure it matters. Pulpy fun. Picked up a second one (the bridge club also has a giant rotating library of books people are done with).
  • I just started Mad Men, which is decent.

I also enjoyed the Invader Zim movie (“Enter the Florbus“) on netflix, despite not watching much Invader Zim back in the day. It’s the right combination of stupid and stupid.

Written by taogaming

October 10, 2019 at 6:15 pm

Posted in TV & Media

Irish Gauge

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Played this at game night and this strikes me as a good entry in the Chicago Express (etc) line — clean design with no rough edges. The random (but highly structured and easy to grasp) way of calculating dividends might give this huge replayability. From my (single) play this clearly has the same implicit collusion angle that Chicago Express does, but also some guide rails that help newer players (which I appreciated). Anyway, I’m not going to rush out and buy this, but I’m glad to have played it and would play again. Also this had a good aesthetic, will above the norm for a cube-train game (which it is).

Rating — Suggest.

Written by taogaming

September 30, 2019 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with

The best suit I’ve ever had

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Playing bridge I pick up S: — H:x D:AKQJTxxxxx C:Jx

Yeah, the hand wasn’t very interesting. In 3rd seat I’m torn between opening 5D and 6D, but as it turns out partner opened in front of my (1H) then reversed in spades. So I was never staying out of slam (which happened to be cold, partner having the black aces). Still, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a better suit.

Written by taogaming

September 27, 2019 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Bridge

Race! Formula 90

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Joe Huber once told me a gaming ‘life-hack’ (my wording, not his) — play people’s favorite game with them. Maybe you’ll see what they see in it. (And Joe’s just a generally nice guy, so left unsaid was “and you’ll make them happy.”) I’m not going to say I’ve gone out of my way to apply his advice, but I’ve said yes to a few games I might not have. (This is also the advice given in the Documentary about Bill Murray and why he has so many interesting stories about him, he is inclined to say yes to polite, well-intentioned requests even from complete strangers from time to time).

Discount Joe and Bill at your own peril.

Anyway, the (very minor) way I’ve always applied this is by watching my geek buddies for odd/obscure/against the crowd titles and recommendations, so RF90 has been on my watchlist for several years. It has a high rating but a glowing geekbuddy comment intrigued me. I managed to get my hands on a copy (trading away Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea, may it find a better home) and have been puttering around with it. As it’s obscure, perhaps its time to go old school and dish out a review that does a lot more mechanical explanation than I’ve done. (As of this writing I’ve played about a half dozen games split between solo and 2er).

RF90 sits between the classic “cars on a map” F1 games like Formula De and the pure “order only” games like the Stock Car Championship Car Racing Game. There is a map, and a fairly complex one, but each space (‘section’) can hold any number of cars and the ordering in the space matters. But each turn represents a few laps, so it doesn’t matter where you are on the board, you can always pit. The board means tracks have a different feel (they have Monza and Hungaring in the base game), but — like in the more board-based games — you’ll only do around two laps.

Each player has a hand of cards that have:

  • A movement point value of 1-4 (sections)
  • A ‘suit’
  • A check value (1-99, I think)
  • Possibly some penalties (tire or body damage, a driving check), benefits (a card draw or two, typically) or event triggers in the advanced game

At its core, this is a hand management game. On your turn you draw one card and play 1-2 cards. You can only play two cards if the second card is a single movement point, or if both cards are two movement points each, so you have 1-5 movement points via cards. A movement point lets you move a section, and possibly pass a car.

Sections are divided into three types:

  • In Straightaways, you spend a movement point to pass. So if there are two cars ahead of you in the next section, one movement point to enter, one to pass Car A, one to pass Car B and another to go to the next section.
  • In Corners, you can’t pass during your turn, and any excess movement points are lost. But have a contest at the start of next turn to switch order.
  • In Braking sections you lose spare movement points (like in corners), but you can make a check to pass with a risk of disaster, via ‘Late Braking’

A check is done by either drawing the top card of the deck (a “blind check”) or spending a card from your hand to compare a check value with a target. For late breaking (which must be done via blind check) each corner has the target listed — make the target and you pass everyone and get another section. Miss it and you spin out. (In the advanced game, how badly you spin out is often another check, which need not be blind).

One of the details that helps this game shine is that each car has a slot for the individual driver’s aggression level (which starts with the card used in qualifying) . Many cards (the entire green suit, I think) force the driver to make a driving check, which could be resolved by blind draw (off the deck), or spending a card in hand, or event the card you just played. Make it, no problem. Miss it and take a point of damage (which may be fixable in a pit stop, or not). But — here’s the fun part — the card used to pass/fail the check replaces the aggression level (called the “Driver Check Level”) for next time. So if you have a check level of 70 and play a green card with a skill check and it’s got a check level of 60, no problem, you can use that card and replace it. But your next check is harder. If the green card had a 75, perhaps you want to spend a card from your hand (lowering your hand size until you pit or play a slow card that draws cards) or draw blindly or maybe just grind up against your neighbor, take the damage but at least you’ll have an easier number for next time.

Eventually you are going to fail and take damage. But damage isn’t really horrible. Until you take the point that puts you out of the race. (Cars can take 4-6 points).

Cornering is another fun hand-management game. Each card (starting from the rear) plays 1-2 cards — this time you can play any two you like, and only the movement points matter. The section leader may get a bonus or penalty (some corners are very hard to overtake in, others very easy). Everyone who played cards gets re-arranged in movement point order and ties cause a point of damage. Cars that didn’t play cards keep their order (behind all the challenging cars) and then you go off. You even get to keep the cards you used — but you can’t use them that turn.

Also on the board some spots provide good driving lines (‘trajectories’) on them. Ending on a trajectory provides a 1 or 2 Movement point bonus next turn, if you play a card that matches the trajectories’ suit.

So you have a combination board/hand management. You start with 4-6 cards, but you want high values to pass and go fast. You’ll want to play your low value, hand-size boosting cards when you are about to be blocked by that pack in the corner. Single Movement point cards are slow, but you can play them as a second card. Green cards will inevitably accumulate damage, but hopefully slow enough. You’ll want to keep a good match of suits for trajectories. High value cards let you pass easily, at the cost of tire and body damage. And so it goes.

Oh, and you’ll need to pit. This repairs tire and body damage (although some body damage is not fixable during a race, random draw), discard any unwanted cards draw up to hand size. (You must discard down to max hand size if you happen to be above it). Oh, and it moves you back 2-3 turns worth of sections. But you have to pit at least once for fuel, so when to pit? Big decision. And there are robot cars on the race (more than players). These go at varying speeds and general get in the way once you start lapping them,

Each driver’s car may be different (in allocation of body damage it can take, tires it can spend, and starting hand size). There are six strategies a driver can pick from, which allow you to conserve tires by driving safely, gain extra movement by driving recklessly, get better card draws. You can change strategies when pitting (or giving up a turn).

Qualifying is its own little mini game. Each player starts with one card above hand max and plays it. Higher cards go first, but ties — of which there will be many — are broken by aggression. Lower check values go before higher, but those lower values start as the driver’s check target. (The robots just draw chits). Thankfully — for those who start later — you pick strategies after seeding.

The advanced rules add weather, give more depth to the strategies by allowing them to earn track cards (which differ for each track and can only be played in the appropriate section, but really shine at those places), driver skills (like strategies, but they can’t change during the race), more advanced spin-outs, yellow (and other) flags, tire types, fuel, a restart-pace car, and the like. There are also plenty of expansion rules (and tracks/decks) in the BGG forums, although some of those are fan-made.

Thoughts

For a racing game, the complexity is up there. Nothing compare to wargame standards, but still. The rules aren’t complicated, but take time to get used to. In particular, turn order and the robots. The robots have some (fairly simple) rules but don’t bother with cards, etc. But the robots react differently to human cars and other robots. This makes for a fine simulation — you can play 2p and still have a full track — but takes a while to grok all the interactions. As for turn order …. like most racing  games you start with  the leader and work your way back, but when the leader laps cars, they activate. This works nicely (and realistically): the leader gets tangled up with the trailing cars, eventually passes them, but then they fall in right behind the leader (robots will not challenge someone who has lapped them).  There is a chart of checks, and some of them must be done blindly, some don’t.

Nothing difficult, just subtle variations that take time to absorb. A copy or two of the (inside) back cover of the rule book as a player aid would be nice. Some rules were unclear — all spaces are counted as straightaways on the first or last lap. But laps are abstracted and a turn can represent multiple laps. (A check to BGG confirmed that lap meant “turn,” in this instance. There’s a glossary, but lap wasn’t defined).

Frankly the rulebook had several spots where I had to stare at the rules, the map, the (often good) examples and possibly read the FAQ and/or watch a video of the designer playing a (modified) solo system. It didn’t take long, a few hours, but the fact that I needed those resources may deter someone thinking about this. I did notice there was a new advanced rulebook on BGG (with a few rules changes).  I skimmed it and it had some much clearer examples. (The simplified, non-production quality graphics make it easier to understand, since all ordering is depicted as a straight line, instead of curvy real-world corners).

I got this because it looked like it would work well solo (or with the TaoLing). The box lists the range as 2-6 but I would imagine that six would have to be a group that really loved this, fixed fun. But I think once you know it moves at a quick pace. In particular, once the track spreads out you can plan your turn and move. Robots take a few seconds, so that’s not a problem — although even the designer forgot a few points in the video I mentioned above — but he was also playing with some expansion solo rules. After a basic solo game I found it fairly easy to play a nearly full solo game — I forgot one or two things, but mostly made mechanical errors (like forgetting to advance the turn track, or missing some options I had).

So — I spent a bit of time learning this, but on the order of two hours, not twenty. Some points are still unclear.

RF90 has flaws. Firstly, its a touch long even at 2p. (Solo is fine because all the time wasted is wasted by me). With the full rules, we’re looking at 90m or so for a race. The basic game (with super fast robots) is a touch too hard, the addition of the track cards makes it fine (all of our games have been humans 1-2, the solo game with the even faster robots is hard). Secondly, even with some of the second edition rules, the strategies are not balanced. Hazard needs nerfing (a perusal of BGG forums shows solid agreement) and I think Lucky and Chase should strengthened, although I have no particular ideas as to how. (Saving Tires, Banging Wheels and Balance seem ok). I’m not sure about the skills, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are a touch off. (Hazard + Reflexes seems dominant and possibly broken, but I think most of that is on Hazard).

Like any F1 game, a downside is that each track requires it’s own board. Worse, they also require their own cards. So short of getting the expansion or printing out the track and decks on BGG, I just have two tracks for the time being.

Of serious concern for some groups: a runaway leader (or fallaway loser) is likely, possibly inevitable with 3+ players. The leader must deal with lapping cars (and yellow flags) but a player making a failed high probability check can lose a turn or two (or be eliminated). This seems thematically realistic to me, and I doubt I’ll ever suggest this multiplayer (it may not even make it into the bag) but that’s a concern.

For me, the biggest issue is likely the length/sameyness. I eventually got rid of all of my Formula De stuff because each race felt the same. RF90 does admirably work in making each turns decisions feel bigger, more complex, but are they actually? Not really. There are many more variables to juggle and it’s got refreshing depth, but twenty six turns of it (for Monza) is a bit much. The really important decisions are basically going for a 1-pit, 2-pit or 3-pit strategy and then optimizing. These are difficult decisions, but I’m not sure it justifies a 90 minute game. At 6 players I’d likely shoot myself.

Still, I’m pleased with this as a change of pace from our other games. I likely won’t solitaire it much since the TaoLing enjoys it, so I’ll likely have more than enough 2p plays to tide me over.

RatingSuggest (solo), dropping a bit with each more player. Likely indifferent with 3 and avoid by 4 or 5.

 

Written by taogaming

September 22, 2019 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Forty-Five

Another slow-and-steady game joins the list.

Written by taogaming

September 16, 2019 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with

Dicey Dungeons, again

Great investment … I defeated the game at fifty hours in and I can easily see playing it for quite a bit longer. The final dungeon crawl actually wasn’t too hard (but it may be that some of the lucky finds we got wouldn’t be replicated). Great writing, lots of little laugh-out-loud moments, and the idea that the achievements unlock the enemies backstories is a nice little reward. Only regret, I probably should have sprung for the soundtrack, assuming that it makes the music less repetitive. But a great little game, highly recommended. I did have one battle freeze up (possibly due to overwhelming decisions) and in the final battle the game looked like it might lock again, but after 20-30 seconds it made a (bad) decision.

Written by taogaming

September 15, 2019 at 5:37 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents

Tagged with