The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

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The last month I binged through the last season of the CW (“The CW: Geek shows, ridiculously attractive people. You know you’ll watch.” At least, I assume that’s there motto). Flash (s1), Arrow (s3) and iZombie (s1). All good fun in this, the golden age of geekery.

I’ll get around to watching Spectre. The bad reviews are helping lower my expectations.

This season of South Park? Great. (It’s been resurgent the last three years or so). I watched the first season of Steven Universe and I’d watch more, but its not free. (Technically S1 wasn’t either, but my kids had bought it already). Ditto Adventure Time (S1+2). Why are animated comedies dominant right now? (At least, to my tastes).

Shows I have tried and not been able to get into:

  • Orphan Black
  • Master of None
  • Bob and Dave show (Odenkirk and Cross). To be fair, I find it funny in 5-10 minute chunks. But so far it’s taken me 3 chunks and I’m not through the first episode.
  • I watched a few episodes of Sons of Anarchy and its OK.
  • I bought a season pass for Doctor Who and … I think we’re all pretty much done with it. I’m probably 6 episodes behind and don’t feel a strong urge to catch up. I guess when I run out of other shows it will happen.

I did watched Rectified earlier, may have mentioned that already.

I watched the first two episodes of Jessica Jones. It’s good, and I assume that I’ll be finished watching it in a week (less if the wife does not want to watch the rest of it). Then I’ll need more recommendations. I’m also watching Psycho-Pass, an anime recommended to me. It’s not bad, definitely got a Blade Runner + Minority Report feel. Right now it’s the show I’ll finish when other shows run out. But that will be soon.

Technically I will be finished creating my media in a few weeks, which was good to do. I’ve had side projects and they typically peter out at a few thousand words. It was a good proof of concept — I can produce a novel-sized work. I think I understand my (fictional) writing flow much better now.

Consider this an open media and BGG.CON thread. For media, I’m mainly interested in the Netflix-able.

Written by taogaming

November 20, 2015 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Open Thread, TV & Media

Towards a derivation of Roll for the Galaxy Strategy

I read – with interest – the recent article on the Math of Roll4tG. I have some quibbles, but let’s get to the core…

In short, the player who moves the most dice from his Citizenry or the general supply to the cup will generally win. Every $ you spend will generally give you another VP at the end of the game. This is in many ways similar to RtfG, where the player who drew the most cards in the games is usually the victor.
I turned this wording over in my head several times and said “I prefer the phrase ‘the velocity of dice,'” but the idea is basically the same. You roll a die, you do an action with it, it goes to the citzenry, you put it back into the cup. That’s the velocity, and that definition captures that idea.
The 1$ = 1VP is obviously just a short hand, the actual ratio is lower, but the idea seems sound.
Consider the explore-gain credit action. You spend a die exploring and put two dice back in the cup. In effect, each explore gains you one die back plus itself. So the spent die’s action is “Rescue another die.” You might not put the literal die back that you used — choosing to put back a better color. That’s a quibble.
The leader “Eye+$” action is actually twice as good as regular, since it puts back two dice + itself.
The starting tile that lets you get four credits for a yellow die is 3x a regular explore, etc.
Similarly, selling a novelty good gets you three credits, but costs two dice, so its similar. Selling an alien good is 4x as good (it returns 6-2=4 other dice). Of course, in both cases you also give up 1-3 VPs as opportunity cost, but if you take 1 VP and it makes you have 3 dice sit out, you’ll probably lose it earlier.
Velocity helps analyze the Dictate ability. The dictator die doesn’t really go to the citizenry but it does perform a useful action before diving back into the cup: moving a die from a meaningless task to a good one. If you dictate a useless produce/ship to an explore (or dev or settle) you may get an extra credit (etc) and the dictating die counts (somewhat) towards velocity. Instead of having two useless dice that you toss back into the cup, you toss back the dictator die, the die you moved to explore and one more die.
Not optimal, you’d have much rather just rolled a fistfull of explores (etc), but an improvement. This is like a half-efficient explore.
Rule — Tossing dice unused to the cup doesn’t help velocity, because those dice did literally nothing.
Putting the final die on a development or settle may let you activate on an ability earlier and  (or get extra dice/credits earlier) which is worthwhile. Dictator turns a useless die into a useful one, as you’d expect. Later on you may (particularly with the right colors) leave dice on Produce/Ship (or Settle/Dev) to leech instead of dictating for a minimal boost.
My earliest strategy was simply: Get lots of dice. That would often work but sometimes I’d spend in a burst of building, and then I’d have ~2 dice in my cup (one purchased and one from my new world, say) and my velocity  plummeted. If I rolled “Exp + Any” then I’d be OK. Grab four dice and then be (roughly) back in it, but if I rolled two non-explores … death. I could place a die on explore, but unless my other die traded, I lost a full turn. The word “Race” isn’t in the title, but it’s still there.
Now I’m careful to not sacrifice velocity. Better to roll 4-5 dice each turn instead of 8 then 1. (Of course, if you roll 8 dice you are likely to only be able to use 5, which effectively makes it a 4-5 then 4-5. Ironically, often I’d murder myself when I yahtzeed and burned all/most of my dice on a huge development/settle orgy. (On the final turn, you want to do that, although dice in the cup are a tie break, it’s worth sacrificing that all for one extra VP).
How to judge # of dice? Extra dice boosts your max velocity, but you mainly need them to maintain a reasonable velocity while letting dice sit on a partially completed tile (or as goods), while you take another turn to finish. It’s nice yahtzee and just finish that alien world (that conveniently provides 3 credits, so you don’t stall out). Realistically you need a few spare dice, otherwise you may miss and not roll many settles. So you place a die on settle then dictate.
Next turn, roll and select settle. Now you’ve finished your world, but several of your dice sat there (slow velocity) and you still have half your dice sitting in the citizenry next turn (again). But with a few spare dice, you would
  1. Finish faster because you’ll probably roll an extra settle
  2. Also be able to leach an explore/ship (or even other dev/produce)
 So — Velocity.
A shallow insight, but deeper then my early “Get dice at all costs.” More dice improves velocity, but you can actually do just as well with decent abilities. For example, some devs (like Minor Research Labs) effectively give you dice and, since they trigger each phase, effectively toss them back into the citizenry. Having the right color (blue dice for novelty worlds) makes your dice more efficient (shipping for 3VP is much better than shipping for 1).
The velocity of colors — Trying to take this to a non-obvious level, getting better dice helps velocity beyond just having more dice. The right color dice (red if you are trying to build, color/purple if you are shipping) makes your dice more efficient. Military dice will explore and build, phases you want. Blue dice will produce/consume (phases you want) and provide VP efficiency. Shipping with Red dice? Disaster. Those dice are terrible, mainly of value for leaching. Ditto building with Blue.
Consider Alien dice. No matter what you want to do, they’ll roll that phase (as wild) half the time. You can always set one die, and dictate another, but if you had 6 yellow dice, you’d be ridiculously unlucky to not get 4 dice on a phase you wanted (more, if you wanted a phase that a non-wild side showed). Five dice would be reasonable, and all six wouldn’t be that rare.
Alien dice are fast.
The impact of phases — A “Dev only” or “Settle only” strategy has a bonus, you only need to call that phase (and the phase you call to buy dice back). Shipping (or mixed dev/settle) requires produce & consume, you need some implicit collusion. That can happen, and is sometimes obvious when one player needs goods and another wants to ship, both phases will happen.
But (I think) the number of different phases affects velocity, and this is probably where the subtleties start appearing. I’ll leave that for another time.
Update — For some reason this post is screwing up whitespace, and doesn’t want to be fixed. Sorry.

Written by taogaming

November 10, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with

I have now recorded 7500 plays on BGG

Which is about 500/year, since I signed up a tad under 15 years ago. In honor of that, I submitted my “Adjusting for Inflation” geeklist for 2011-2015, since I doubt I’ll add another game by the end of the year.

The games that got me to this milestone tonight were:

  • Eclipse w/Rise of the ancients, and we had randomly had two supernovae (which blew up on T4 and T5) and a Nebula (and I randomly rolled my race and got Alpha Centauri, who are terrible, but my opponents hadn’t played much and I got lucky. (See prior note, re: Supernovae), so I ran away with it. I should have been attacked around T5, I had early monster DNs, but nothing else at the time, but by the endgame my research advantage gave me great cruisers as well.
  • The Grizzled.
  • For Sale — which is one of those rare games I seem to be phenomenally bad at.
  • Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition — I think a few more games of this and I might venture to write about strategy. Not too many words though.

Written by taogaming

November 9, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Art, theme, coincidence and cartharsis

Monday I played a rather pedestrian card game, full of workmanlike mechanisms. The players have to collectively (its a coop) deal with a deck of bad cards and empty it. Most of the cards do something horrible, but in a defined way. So it’s got hand management, some cards cause a random card to be added, so it’s got some press your luck. And, of course, it has a bomb (in the technical sense of game design,  as used by Jonathon Degann): If you trigger some card combination, disaster.

At some point, players can pause, which sweeps the board and (possibly) lets them get rid of a few permanent bad things, gain a new positive action, etc. etc. But it’s also the timer, and if you pause too often, you’ll trigger a game ending loss.

In all honesty, it’s been done better so many times, but the game does have an elegant simplicity. In some ways, its like someone took the challenge of trimming Knizia’s Lord of the Rings down to 60-ish cards. A well done minimalist co-op.

Which would not normally intrigue me, except that The Grizzled is one of the most compelling pieces of art in recent memory. On looking at the box and hearing it’s a co-op set in World War I, I asked (semi-jokingly, but also hopefully) “is this about the Christmas Truce?”

I wasn’t far off. The Grizzled sees a bunch of young foolish boys volunteering for glory and country, with the goal of all making it out alive together. Over a deck of cards, you’ll see them age from clean shaven teenagers to scruffy young adults, and they’ll gain neurosis from the stress of war: fear of loud noises, anxiety about being ordered over the top. Some will crack and curl up in a ball when they could make play that could help their team.

He can’t help it anymore, he’s suffering from shell shock.

You could abandon him, of course, but you’ll honor the oath: Everyone goes home together.

At the bottom of one deck is rests the Monument, etched with the names of the six characters.

The Grizzled boasts stunning artwork. The desolate scenes of snow cover- no man’s land. The destroyed buildings, barbed wire in the foreground and birds in the distance mix beauty with implied horror. The cards convey some information via background. You might not notice it’s a game, except for an icon or two. The art’s clean style  reminds me of Sergio Aragonés, although the muted colors create a sombre mood.

Then on Tuesday, I looked up the artist Tignous and discovered that the brilliant artist who drew this inspiring peon to the pointlessness horrors of war was murdered by radicals during the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Such a horrific  coincidence struck me as poetic, a thought instantly followed by self loathing for judging a death aesthetically. (Judging any death based on aesthetics is bad enough, but a terrorist murder?)

I’d already considered The Grizzled haunting in conception and execution before I discovered that the artist was a member of Cartoonists for Peace and literally executed for his associations and beliefs.

Now, I can’t shake the thought that Tignous’ murder is symbolic, he was another idealist who marched off to war and was ground into a mulch, as war all too often does to idealists and realists alike. And I wonder, was Tignous the latest victim of the Great War, or the first victim in a new war, or (sadly and most likely) simply one of all-too-many during the infinite Clash of Cultures.

My only excuse is that these thoughts came unbidden. And I remember a phrase that I’ve heard and don’t think I invented, but I can’t remember the author. The mind can do what it wants, but it can’t want what it wants. I think it’s a german philosopher.

So while I forgive myself for thinking unclean thoughts, now I sit here and look at this post and wonder if I should publish it. Is it right to let others know information that may make them consider a death poetic, instead of tragic? Would they be better off in ignorance? I cannot bring Tignous back, but would he prefer this to be known or unknown? Can I exorcise them by publishing (as I am able to do in other writing)?

I do not want to investigate anymore, and that is a sign of moral weakness.

I doubt I am the only one thinking of this, and for a second I am annoyed at this game for bringing me back into the world, instead of distracting me from it.

I am reminded of that line by Wordsworth, that The World is Too Much With Us.

And then, again, I am not sure.

Written by taogaming

November 7, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Non-Gaming, Rant

Tagged with ,

GMT Fall Sale?

I’m allowed two games at 50% off. Triumph and Tragedy has gotten lots of buzz (although there is at least one local copy). But my gut feeling is that the lure of 50% off is a siren song, meant to dash my dreams against the waves. Sure, I could get Virgin Queen, but I’ll never play it. I don’t love Thunder Alley enough to buy it, I haven’t played Combat Commander in years,

I suppose I could take a chance on Halls of Montezuma (CDG set in the Mexican American war) which would be under $20, but I suspect its on sale for a reason.

Hm. Battle Line, maybe. And I didn’t like No Retreat 2, but maybe 4 is ok.

So, any thoughts? Right now I’m hesitant to pull the trigger, but have I overlooked a gem?

Written by taogaming

October 21, 2015 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Open Thread

Ignoring the Colonies the UK way

Another game of QG last night. And another lopsided game (although it did go to T18). I still think the Allies have an edge, but a game where 2 experienced players are on one side vs 1 experienced player on the other is probably going with experience.

Anyway, as the UK, here’s my rough order of turns:

  1. Fleet in the North Sea, Deploy an AF
  2. Army in North Africa, Deploy other AF (Fixed, as per Fred).
  3. Enigma away the Germans Blitzkrieg
  4. Land Battle Western Europe, (Spending an AF to kill Germany + AF), Deploy AF back to North Sea.
  5. Submarines to cost Italy & Germany 2 cards each.
  6. Land Battle Western Europe, spending AF, then on the Japanese Turn spend a bolster to get an AF in the north sea (costing my hand).
  7. Sea battle the med
  8. Land battle Western Europe, spending AF, redeploy AF from N. Africa to North Sea
  9. Drop responses to make sure the N. Sea wouldn’t fall (and several more over the next turns, also economic warfaring

The net result of all of this was that Germany spent about half his turns re-taking W. Europe (obviously Italy should have gone in there, but he was taking India). The net result was that by around T10 Moscow was attacking Germany (instead of vice versa), and by T15 the Soviets controlled a swath of land from Germany to China. The US was managing 10 points a turn by the end (E+W US, Australia, Szechaun and India).

And I, the poor UK, never scored more than 2 points a turn (excepting a bonus point from EW). But it’s a zero sum game, and denying the enemy points (indirectly, via tempo) is just as good.

The more I think about a balancing variant, the less I like VPs and the more I like bidding, but the side winning the bid has discard a X named cards from their opening hand (redraw, then reshuffle). IE, a team bids 2 for the allies. The axis name “Enigma” and “Rosie the Riveter.” If those cards are drawn, they get replaced and reshuffled. If not, c’est la vie.

(My other idea, the US starts with no unit on the board, probably needs to be balanced by giving the Axis 4 points or so to be started, b/c the US tempo will cost that much if the US opens build/build).

Written by taogaming

October 13, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with

Mottainai Review

At the Gathering, I heard rumblings of a new Carl Chudyk (yes!) game that streamlined Glory to Rome (yes, yes!). Still, I didn’t play it. It was a prototype, and I don’t really do that anymore. And despite my admiration for the designer, I’ve found a fair number of his works to be noble failures. Still, a $15 price point made this an easy purchase.

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

Most of G2R is here. You have sales (the vault), helpers (clients), craft bench (stockpile), buildings, the floor (pool). The deck is only 1/3rd the size, though, but each card is unique. A nice touch. The style on the card is minimalistic, but rather charming. I find that the aesthetic design rather matches the theme of craftsmen at a Buddhist Temple. (I happened to like G2Rs garish colours, but let’s not call it great art).

What is gone? Well, the lead-follow mechanism. If you lead, everyone will get to use that task, on their turn. Having each player’s turn be isolated speeds the game up considerably. The removal of Jacks also speeds things up, because one of the key decisions in G2R is when to spend your Jack following. None of that here. If your opponent leads a Monk, you’ll get a Monk action on your turn. You can use it to either:

  1. Take the Monk action — Equivalent to Patron,
  2. Pray — Draw a card (that you can use next turn),
  3. Craft — Build a building from hand that matches the Monk material (stone) displaying additional materials from hand.

If your opponent played a Smith instead, you could take the Smith action (Architect), Pray, or craft a metal building, since Smiths are on Metal, not stone. Additionally, instead of adding materials one at a time, you need them all at build time, but the building itself counts as 1 material and the other 0-2 must simply be displayed, they aren’t consumed by building.

Buildings are placed in one of two wings, one side makes your clients better, the other side enables some materials in your sales (value) to score. Basically each building in the appropriate wing turns on a number of helpers/sales as its value (but if you have more, then all of them are ‘turned off’). Helpers that are turned on get two actions instead of one. Sales that are not turned on are worthless, except for backorders, which are the equivalent of the 3 point chip for most sales.

The game ends when one player gets five buildings in either wing.

What’s removed? There’s no influence limit or foundations.

A big difference is how passing (praying) works. You no longer draw back up to your hand limit, you just draw a card. So in G2R, spending 4-5 cards and then passing was a great way. Here, if you play down to 0-1 cards, you may spend  a lot of time drawing back up, and the game may be over. To make up for that, the tailor action lets you discard cards and then draw until you have five. But you don’t get the drawn cards until the end of your turn.

This, I should add, is a wonderful mechanism. You have to discard down to hand max at the start of your turn, but by then you should have had time to examine your hand and come up with a plan. A simple rule to speed things up.

Right now my biggest complaint against Mottainai reverses the comment by the Emperor to Mozart in Amadeus:

Too few notes (– Me)

In Glory to Rome, you need to start six buildings (per player) to end it. But you can start a few more (out of town sites) and players naturally want to finish buildings because of the points they give and to increase influence. Because 5 buildings in a wing ends it and players will often want to put them into sales (to increase score) and buildings take no time to complete, the number of turns in Mottainai is lower. A player with a smith client can easily drop two paper buildings (which cost no support) in a single action, and that’s 40% of the way to completion. If you gain a small lead and get the correct hand, you can lock it in. The 15-30 minutes per game listed on the box seems high. I don’t think I’ve had one go past 20. (On the other hand, as I play more often, you begin to recognize these situations and try to make sure that you are ahead if the other player threatens that).

A common complaint against Race for the Galaxy is that it ends just when it’s getting good. I never felt that way then, but I do here. I’ve had games where it felt like whoever went out first wins (as with G2R, the game ends instantly). Perhaps that’s just new-ness talking, but there you have it. We’ll see if the feeling continues.

I’ll also note that I’ve exclusively played the 2 player game. Perhaps I should play the extended game (6th building), but I’ll try a few more of the standard game.

So, right now Mottainai is at least a noble failure and appears great. But just as Civilization does not compress, I suspect that Glory to Rome’s greatness could be stored in that hideous clamshell, but not Mottainai’s smaller box.

Rating — Suggest, but we’ll see.

PS — I am much more pleased that I should be that the I am the first result for googling “Civilization does not compress,” and if this is just the result of local cookies I don’t want to hear about it.

Written by taogaming

October 9, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Reviews


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