The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

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For a family “Get together” last night we played some games at It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that this was by the same people who did You Don’t Know Jack. And there’s still cleverness, but these games are not trivia and firmly in the party genre. (I suspect that’s for economic reasons. Trivia games require scripting and jokes for each question, weighing the potential answers, etc. Party games just require reading the questions and having enough stock reactions to deal with it, while letting the players provide the answers.)

Anyway — well executed (although lag was a real problem in our house, but that may have been bad coverage, as you play using your phones or computers and most used phones). The cleverest little game — which I’m sure is a party game somewhere — is “Split the House” where you want to come up with an answer that evenly divides the audience, but there were others.

Anyway, I suspect that if this would interest you then you already knew about it. But just in case…..

Written by taogaming

July 5, 2020 at 10:04 am

Posted in Session Reports

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Bridge in Corona

I’ve played on BBO (and earlier on OKBridge) for over a quarter century. I finally played a sanctioned tournament online. A few thoughts:

  • From a strictly time/money perspective, a big win. Although the tournament was only 18 boards (boo!) it took 2 hours. A full 24/27 board tournament still keep it ~30 minutes faster than a club game. And there’s no time driving too and from, etc. Cost was several dollars cheaper.
  • This is partially due to the fact that nobody has to get out/sort/put back cards and the clock is 7 minutes a board feels generous (instead of a touch rushed for most people). Also, the enforcement is automatic, after 14 minutes the hand ends. I assume it goes down as an average (unless the director can see timing and adjust).
  • The ACBL/BBO did well to make games sponsored by clubs. So most people go to “their” club and you know everybody. This does help a bit because when Hank and I are playing Polish we still have to alert, but most people aren’t surprised/asking a lot of questions (which takes much longer). So you are still “seeing” your regulars, but only a few sentences of chat between hands means the social aspect is much worse.
  • There is a big discussion about cheating. See Bridgewinners. What needs to happen is an automated way to fill out a recorder form (basically “I smell something funky, please investigate.”) These exist, but are such a pain to fill out nobody every really does. (Actually, I wonder. Jeff G. sits in review for national appeals committees, but maybe they only happen at high level). But by being automated BBO could provide a certified copy of the bidding/play to at least prevent “remembering with advantages” by either party. Right now there were a few questionable things that happened, but honestly in a club game I get a fair number. Most are just mistakes. But the ability to see exactly what happened is enlightening.

Anyway, I wouldn’t normally play a club game online and this doesn’t really change that. But you make do…

Written by taogaming

June 1, 2020 at 10:11 pm

Another Videogame — Monster Train

I stopped playing Darkest Dungeon fairly quickly. It’s overly repetitive. Based on seeing a playthrough with Jorbs I did pick up Monster Train. This comes close to ripping Slay the Spire off, but it has a number of clever twists:

  • Its more a tower defense in each battle. You have three floors and can assign units per floors, play spells, then a round of battle occurs. Surviving enemies then climb up a level. (If they get to the 4th floor, they attack your ‘pyre’ …. if it drops to zero you lose.
  • The game does conveniently explain all the keywords with popups. You do have to grok a few concepts (like stacking) that I’m not sure are defined, but after a battle or two it clicked.
  • Its (normally) Enemy attacks, you attack. This means that you can’t neglect defense. (You do get your action round, which involves placing units and casting any modifier spells).
  • While StS has deckbuilding and upgrading, upgrades are binary. An upgraded card is better, the same each time. Here you can forge cards to upgrade them in different ways, such as either increasing offense or health, or adding special abilities to units, or making a card cheaper or more powerful (or possibly a one-shot).
  • To my delight, Monster Train fully embraces combinatorics: instead of running as one of five clans, your train is an alliance starting with a primary clan and a secondary. So that’s 20 different combinations (because you only have the champion from the primary). Combined with unlocking cards and 25 levels of difficulty, that’s a lot of variety.


  • The big one is that there is not a slot for each person, so we have combined stats and unlocks, etc. If he has a saved game I have to blow it away or wait for him to finish (and vice versa).
  • Some of the random events and artifact events are opaque (despite the helper text).
  • It can be hard to read why a round of combat resolves in such a way. But the game conveniently shows you (at all times) the results of the next round of combat, such as “On Floor 2 you will lose your front guy and the second will be at half health, On the other side Attacker A, B, C will die, and D will be at 6 remaining health.”
  • Update — There are a few places where you have less decision making or uncertainty than Slay the Spire.
    • The path you take to your final destination is a much simpler decision. Between each battle you can go left or right.
    • You don’t have the uncertainty of ? rooms that may be a surprise battle.
    • The first battle is always the same opposition, as is the second. (There are variants in the minor bosses it turns out, and you do have the option of upscaling the opposition for a reward). Ditto the boss fight. (The final boss, at least, rotates special powers).
    • The major relics you get after beating the bosses are always the same choices.
    • Taken together this does risk a much more ‘samey’ game.
  • I don’t particularly have a problem with the fact that you are taking the infernal side against heaven, but I can see where it might grate.

The TaoLing has already declared this superior to Slay the Spire — a game which we have nearly 1,000 hours combined on. My overall thought is that its ripping off a game I really like. I feel like this will easily get to a few dozen hours and probably not have trouble getting to 100 hours.

Rating — Enthusiastic.

Written by taogaming

May 27, 2020 at 10:34 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents

Tagged with

Media Of the Quarantine

What I’ve been reading/watching:

  • I watched the extended version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Maybe its my exposure to rational fiction (which has an explicit rule against deus ex machina), but I swathes of this annoying. Still good, but it grated at parts. And I literally didn’t remember  the middle 90 minutes (even discounting the new scenes).
  • Finally watched Mad Max Fury Road, which is pretty much what I expected: Over the top.
  • Re-reading Steven King’s On Writing. Excellent. I finally bit the bullet and got some writing software (to help organize my writing), but I’m just playing with a few ideas.
  • Finished Metalapocalypse. A great final season with a weak final episode. But I’m a sucker for the “successful idiot” genre.
  • Trying again to read Infinite Jest. Failing again.
  • Finished Mad Men since my last media update. Very good.
  • I’m watching Samurai Jack, which I’d only ever seen the first season of. Gennedy Tartakovsky’s use of silence intrigues me. A Kurosawa-ian take on children’s cartoons. Primal takes that further, eschewing dialogue altogether. I’ll probably finish both.
  • Better Call Saul remains excellent.
  • Last night I saw the first episode of the Midnight Gospel. Strange. Will continue. I’m not deliberately picking animated shows, but they just seem more interesting.
  • Slowly working through the second season of Altered Carbon. It’s OK.


Written by taogaming

May 19, 2020 at 6:32 pm

Posted in TV & Media

Darkest Dungeon

I’m not quite finished with Slay the Spire, but I have certainly put in plenty of time on it, so I decided to get a new game — Darkest Dungeon.

Frankly, the main dungeon crawl aspect has this weird combination of “too many notes” combined with vast repetition. Each character has a wide variety of quirks, modifiers, etc. But it lacks the strategy of StS, the depth and discovery of NetHack. But the game does stand out b/c of its idea of you acting as the guy hiring/training/firing a ton of characters to do dungeon crawl after dungeon crawl, and the idea of the characters gaining “Stress” and afflictions (PTSD) that you have to manage is — if not quite novel, certainly rare.I think there may be some degenerate strategies (you can hire new people, grossly underequip them, send them through a new dungeon, lose half, then take the treasure and fire the shells of the remaining two without reducing the number of new characters who arrive (some of the DLC does appear to address this, but I haven’t enabled it yet. I also haven’t lost anyone yet, but that’s more because I’m treating this as a storytelling game). In many ways this is the old Chaosium’s Call of Cthulu as a dungeon crawler.

The animation and voice work drips with theme. One of the key mechanisms is light — you carry torches and they slowly dim and must be replenished and the light level affects many things. (Oddly, looting is better in low light, but you want bright light for combat and to lower stress). The “preparation” phase where you spend money to equip the next expedition is great, there are so few inventory slots that you want to run out of stuff to free up space for treasure.

My only other comment is that the game seems to hang for a 30s or so after loading, at least on my (new) laptop.

I do not think this will hit nearly as many hours as Slay the Spire for me — but I suspect I’ll at least finish the game (I’m playing on easy) and then try on a harder level or with DLC.

Update — Nope. I got bored with it after about 15 hours. Very repetitive, “too many notes” without much actual variation.

Written by taogaming

April 25, 2020 at 10:26 pm

Some Links — Non-scary edition

A few things I enjoyed from the last few years to offer entré down the binge watching rabbit hole …

Written by taogaming

April 20, 2020 at 11:20 am

Posted in Linky Love

Quarantine Buying suggestions

I think it’s time for a game purchase. I’d buy the Res Arcana expansion (if I could find a copy), since I now have 125 games under my belt. I’m thinking of also getting Quacks of Quaratine’d Quidelenbaiergishmeister (whatever), as a new family-ish/strategy-ish game-ish. Other suggestions?

Written by taogaming

April 12, 2020 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Open Thread

The Colonists Under the Microscope

An anecdote I remember….

Robert Hooke — the inventor of the microscope — once remarked that even the best man-made tools looked crude and jagged under his microscope, while plants, insects and natural objects were smooth and precise.  I believe I read that anecdote in a book of fiction (The Baroque Cycle, probably), but it has a ring of truth.

A few years ago I played The Colonists. It felt familiar: worker placement, but with a geography and only partial blocking; resource management, action management, more than enough chrome, and special powers; but the overall effect overwhelmed the three or four hours we took to get through two eras.  While not smitten I felt intrigued enough to buy a copy. I tried it once with the TaoLing and then … set it aside. Even if it worked it seemed too long.

Enter the Quarantine.

In March most gaming stopped. Most everything stopped. After a few weeks I dug around the closet, pulled out The Colonists, cleared the work desk from my gaming table, set it up and played a solo Era I to relearn the rules. A bored TaoLing walked by and now after three full (four Era) games, I feel qualified to report what I’ve witnessed.

Strikes against The Colonists are obvious from a glance. Long. Fiddly. Limited Interaction (if you view that as a negative, I don’t). Poorly written rules, although I’ve dealt with much worse.

I’ve struggled through rules and games because I find a delight in seeing a system build up. That’s why I’d bought this. None of those are necessarily downsides to me.

I won’t give detailed rules but here’s a peek into the eyepiece.

A significant part of your score involves promoting farmers to citizens to nobles, then employing them in buildings (also worth points). A single employed noble plus the building he works in may be worth 20-30ish points. A good score for our 2p games seems to be north of four hundred. So having a two noble advantage is significant. And when employed your people generate resources that you use to further build up your city. C

Starting with two farmers at the beginning, I employed them as works to get wood and clay, build more farms to attract more workers, who worked. Then I had to (carefully), let some workers away from useful tasks to go back to their farm, because when you upgrade a farm to a flat (for a citizen) you must have a farmer to convert. That was Era’s I and II. Then in III and IV I employed the nobles (for a variety of reasons), but also had to worry about feeding them.

To do this, I spent some of my six actions per year (5 years per era). Each action moved my Stewart one space (until I could upgrade him) around a hex board slowly building up (adding or upgrading 12 hexes per era). So I had to plan my route to get the wood and clay needed to upgrade the houses, tool them into planks and bricks and then go the various sites to build new buildings, including flats and houses, while also managing the timing of the workers so they were available when I needed to remodel.

And by early Era IV I had my first citizen.

The TaoLing got one by playing a card.

And then I realized I’d been playing a hand of Dragon Poker. For eight hours.

After nearly twenty hours, the Colonists repeatedly hits you with these jagged edges. You need to convert Farm to Flat to House. You need to convert Storage Small to Medium to Large. You need to convert Pub to Tavern to Casino. No, wait. You can skip the first two steps on that one. Why? No idea.

You build your colony on a personalized mat (ala Agricola) but your steward walks around a slowly growing landscape. In one game, the wood may be next to the joiner (that turns wood to planks) and Planks will be cheap. The next game, they may be three steps away, and planks will be scarce.

In Era IV, the head official space lets you swap two tiles. “No, no, that Ore Deposit that used to be on the Eastern edge relocated.”

Euros are mostly cube/action management, and thematically somewhat week, but that seriously strained my suspension of disbelief.

After our first game — where I witnessed the TaoLing just play a card to gain what had taken me literally dozens of actions — we discussed it and said “maybe this was just because we had the card drawing space right next to the card playing space.” We deliberately (cooperatively) set up the board making card play as costly as possible.

No matter.

Worse yet, the card deck is highly varied. There’s a deck per era, but some cards are strictly superior to others (in the same dimension). There’s an Era I card (get a free brick). That’s not horrible. That same card (“Free Brick”) is also in the Era IV deck. By this points, getting a brick can often be done freely (at least one/year) by any number of special powers. And even if you have to spend an action getting one, you can often get 2-3 for that action. Another card may give a Citizen. or an improvement worth 5 points.

Every game …. no, every hour revealed another head scratching detail. The more I peered into the microscope, the more blemishes I spotted. Some examples

  • Look at this FAQ! Despite the impressive length, I had about ten questions unanswered.
  • In Era I you can sell wood for 1 point at a market on some turns. Wood at this point is fairly rare, but if that card shows up at the end of Era I and you have wood to spare you could get a few points if you had no better use for your action (meaning the market was in your path and you couldn’t use any of its other actions). In Era IV, one of the market sales lets you sell robes for 1/2 a point. (2:1). You need robes to support nobles, and if you don’t have support them, you can’t employ them. Being a robe short at the end of the game is a sixteen point penalty, and in our three games we’ve never had more than 3-4 saved up. So that’s a pretty insulting offer. In three games I think we saw one sale.
  • But even with sales, never has a players money been the margin of difference. Why not just drop the cash generation system, or at least have some of the special powers give it more oomph.
  • The special powers (“embassies”) do not feel remotely balanced, and some of them bog the game down by introducing “Decide at any time during your turn” mechanisms that do not cleanly mesh with the base game.
  • Apart from the aforementioned “Oh, a card does this”. Many cards that provide a building (or person) do so at a discount and/or provide bonus VPs!
  • Also Agricola has a lot of cards that do weird or fun things. The cards are minor. Here there are only a few cool cards.

I could point out other annoyances, some very nitpicky and some just pet peeves. Why bother?

The sad thing is — if I squint, I see the afterimage of this that works. I wonder what this game would look like with a great developer driving it, stripped of those jagged cutting edges I saw over twenty hours. Streamlined maybe not to two hours, but to four or five. Balanced … maybe not every setup or play. If only, if only, if only…. the card deck balanced, market sales made meaningful (or cut), cleaner embassy powers….

The Colonists could work. And I’m so bored and stir crazy, I’ve spent some time thinking about it….

The TaoLing said “This probably works better with three.” (BGG Disagrees), but even if true this is a fixed fun game that takes 6 hours with only two!

Rating — Indifferent, bordering on avoid.

Quarantine Rating — May try to fix as a side project.

Written by taogaming

April 6, 2020 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Some Bridge Reading for You

Mats Nilsland has made his new book “Competitive Bids the Scanian Way” free to download for your Corona-reading pleasure. I’ve only scanned the first bid, but I have a few other books on Modern Scanian (which means approximately “Scandanavian,” with some differences I may not grok) bidding, and they are full of interesting ideas. Kind of like reading “Better Bidding With Bergen” in the late 80s … his ideas were rarely used in club circles, and are now reasonably common.

Written by taogaming

March 27, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Bridge

Some quarantine sanity tips

Here are a few to start off:

  1. Refer to anyone in your house as a ‘coworker.’ As in (“I have to go, one of my coworkers got out of the bath and is running around naked….”). To add specificity, refer to your spouse as “HR” (“…and HR wants me to deal with.”)
  2. Recreate March Madness by buying doll sized basketball jerseys and putting them on local squirrels.
  3. Take a weekend trip to the most distant parts of your house.

I personally had Chuy’s Tex-Mex yesterday, right before the Mayor’s order shutting down restaurants, which is the Texas equivalent of grabbing the rails of the last helicopter out of Saigon.

Written by taogaming

March 19, 2020 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Non-Gaming, Open Thread

Tagged with