The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

April Links

Apparently someone has made headway deciphering the Voynich manuscript!

No link, but let me just rant that the Southwest Airlines App is terrible. I will make the assumption that the developers are having to work with the crappy airline system that’s older than I am, but still. These are baby mistakes. An example. I try to check in. “Which flight?” Uh, how about the only flight I have that occurs within the next 24 hours? Or maybe the only flight I have, since it’s a return trip? Or even just list me flights and let me pick? No, the app wants me to pick from every flight southwest has. To Check In. But no, I enter my flight number. That isn’t good enough. “Error — Please specify the cities.” Are you shitting me? Southwest knows who I am and which flight I want to check in, and you can’t figure out which cities are involved? You can’t even offer me the “Well, that flight goes from A to B to C, so is this A->B, A->C or B->C, so please pick” but I have to scroll through every destination. Southwest is no longer a scrappy underdog from my youth. Now they are just amateurs.

The list of games that Buddha would not play [H/T Slatestarcodex]

Design a game based on Caro’s bio of Robert Moses and win cash prizes!

Many years ago I had the thought that Cultural Evolution was Lamarkian, which pleased me (more for the ability to pack a lot of information into four words, I doubt the idea is original). But how important are societal norms? The consensus appears to be growing that the answer is: very.

I was reading the latest news from GMT and wondered, why isn’t 1846 on the schedule? Probably very different to print than their normal games, I imagine.

A TED talk a bit too close to home — inside the mind of a master procrastinator.

It was pointed out to me that the problem with BGG Rankings is yet another example of Goodhart’s Law (“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”) although there are other problems with BGG.

I’ve been following the replicability issue in psychology (a little), but in case you haven’t: Everything you think you know may be wrong.

Written by taogaming

April 19, 2016 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Linky Love

Some light dusting

I’m doing some light dusting around the site this week. Fixing up the old blogroll (I need to go actually read those blogs from time to time! I’ve been busy), compressing the archives (now a drop down box instead of a huge list of 10 years, one month at a time), cleaning up the categories, and whatnot. So if you see something that should be fixed, here’s the place to let me know.

Written by taogaming

April 17, 2016 at 8:38 pm

Posted in Administration

Eclipse — Thing of the Other Thing (part 2)

My big games of the Gathering included two games of Eclipse, including the new Shadows of the Rift expansion.

I’m not turning down Eclipse, and right when I got home I ordered this (and the first ship pack) from Amazon, who deliver on Sundays now, so it arrived today. The bad news news is that this is not a varietal expansion. You do get new races and a few new tiles, but (for the most part) every new thing has a new system or rules. The good news is that you don’t have to include them all. If you just add the Octantis race, you do need to add the new rules for mutagens, and if you add the Mumble Mumble I forget their name (EditShapers of Dorado. Dorado? Honestly, the name raises more questions than it answers) then you need to add in time travel.  But you can play the Pyxis straight up. There’s also a rift, which is another Throneworld that may or may not appear, and I haven’t even read the rules for that.

If you want to, you can play a nine player game of Eclipse with 9 unique races, fully qualified player order (not just 1st then clockwise or widdershins), rifts, wormholes, genetic engineering, time travel, developments, discoveries, alliances and the whole meggilah. I do think I should try to do this at least once.

But Eclipse is starting to teeter under its weight. Easy enough, we just removed developments and the rift (and alliances, as we were only playing 4-5 players) from our games. Now (with experienced players), it’s still a pretty fast game although setup and tear-down is a bear and I’ve finally admitted that my box will never close fully and Joe R. clued me in as to where he gets the Velcro stuff he uses to keep his boxes closed. It’s surprisingly cheap.

But let’s break down this expansion. First the rule-free parts (the “variety” stuff)

  • The Pyxis nanobot race are fun. Their actions are all mixed up. They don’t have an “upgrade 2” action, but they have a “Research 1 and upgrade 1” action. The combinations are mainly useful, but sometimes you’d wish you could upgrade multiple things in a single action. Also, their ability to snap their ships together and apart like Lego bricks (spend to turn 2 interceptors into 1 cruiser, or vice versa, all the way up the food chain) works amazingly well to let you move ships. Or if you have radically different build outs you can move in, wait for your opponent to upgrade and then switch ship types! (Good if you have a high computer ship or a “needs to roll sixes” ship with more weapons). I haven’t even used the Death Moons which are super star-bases that can move and score VPs by existing, but can only be built by combining two DNs.
  • The rift cannon rare technology (and rift turret) are stone-cold brilliant additions to the game. Rift cannons add pink dice that don’t roll 1-6, but just roll hits (and self-inflicted hits!) directly. Which means that the player who gets that can ignore computers and shields completely. This is wonderfully unbalancing as one player may be going heavy computers, which makes another go heavy shields, and then the rift cannon shows up and suddenly all those upgrades are pointless. In a large game, this can be huge. Honestly, I want Rift Cannon technology to show up more often, and I may make a second one for my set.
  • The Soliton Cannon rare tech (and turrets) do 3 hits, which isn’t nearly as game changing as rift cannons, but given improved hull a 3 damage cannon is much better than a two (if you can afford the power).
  • The combined 4 power and -1 to hit shield (rare tech) is a nice addition.
  • (The rules suggest that if you combine this expansion you only play with 12 rare techs. Rather than pick them, I just suggested a modification that you roll a die when a rare tech shows up and on a five or six it is discarded).
  • New discoveries, tiles, GCDS (Throneworld defenders) and developments are nice. (The rift tiles add rules, but there are just some new tiles).

So, you could play with no new rules (well, the new rules for the cannons are new, but incredibly minor) and you’d get good value. What about the new systems?

  • The new “bonus VP” counters — These have symbols (not numbers) and are revealed when drawn, and you can keep 1 symbol and 1 number per combat. (Redraw symbols until you get the right number of numbers). This is technically a new rule, but again its very minor (but not minor enough that we got it right the first time). But this rule also means that people who do early combats are likely to get a little boost reward (maybe an extra build or upgrade or move or die re-roll). I approve of this, and it will be in all my games going forward.
  • The mutagen system isn’t bad. It introduces a 4th currency (Green) and the Octantis earn 2 green/turn and have five options of what to buy with it. These typically improve their race (get an extra build, or move, or purchase, or upgrade, or a discount on some object, or improve your trade ratio) or provide bonus VPs. My complaint with this (I’ve now seen three games with Octantis played) is that you really have to watch the opponents player mat to see what they are up to. (Yes, this is true for research and ship designs, but the honestly quite attractive chromosomes used for genetic upgrades are hard to read).
  • The time distortion system (for the other race) again isn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. You can either send things into the future (at which point they re-appear wherever you like), or pull them from the future. If you pull them from the future, you have to buy the thing you get now 1-3 turns later. So, in many ways, Time Distortion is basically like interest rates on credit cards. Get it now, pay later!
  • For both races, my feeling (with new players) would be to discard any discovery (etc) that used that mechanic unless all the players were familiar with the system.
  • I glanced over the Rift system, but honestly I didn’t grok it yet. More later.

Anyway, there’s really no decision or not. If you like Eclipse, you’ll like this. Yes, there are new systems, but you can ignore them to your hearts content. Really the only issue is storage. I’m honestly considering getting an Ox Box to hold my game.

Rating — Pretty much whatever you rate Eclipse as. For me, Enthusiastic. (And I really should buy those cube holders, what’s another $20 to pimp my game?)

I’ll probably update my Eclipse thoughts at some point.

Admin Note — I’ve added an Eclipse category, so now you can just find everything instead of having to type out the word Eclipse in the search bar! I know, progress, right?

Written by taogaming

April 17, 2016 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Eclipse, Reviews

Tagged with

Gathering 2016 AAR (Part 2) — The Old Classics

Note — My rambling Geeklist is up.

I played a fair number of new games at the Gathering this year (despite my general “New games, meh!” comments, 7-9 new games per Gathering seems typical, although that includes card games, ameritrash and wargames most years). I mean, last year QMG and BBH2045 were both new, along with many less memorable games.  So the seven new games I played this year is about right on the money.

While I didn’t play many new Euros this year I hit the classics, hard.

I mean, I got in a game of Settlers, of Euphrat und Tigris, and two games of Lowenherz. I played a brutal (simply brutal) game of Tichu. I played Fast Food Franchise, a game I picked up in ’93-ish (and it wasn’t new then).

Race: Xeno Invasion is new, but Race itself is a classic. I’d write about Xeno, but I still haven’t really grokked it beyond the basics (“When has that stopped you before?” I hear you cry).

Lowenherz is interesting, in that I seemed to recall that Domaine made it worse, but my BGG comments indicated otherwise. So now I want to try Domaine again. But only slightly. Having played Lowenherz twice reminded me that I’m not very good at it, and while it is “old,” it is definitely not a classic (which I would include every other game I played from the ’90s).

[Oh, and today I played Mage Knight twice with the TaoLing. Not quite as old, but a game I’ve played a ton.]

All in all, time well spent.

Written by taogaming

April 16, 2016 at 9:21 pm

Gathering 2016 After Action Report (Part 1)

Last year at the Gathering I thought that perhaps I should only attend part of the week and when push came to shove I stuck with my guns (despite Mrs. Tao’s offer to let me stay longer). I won’t deny that part of me regrets leaving early, but even on Wednesday I struggled (and eventually decamped for several hours). Yesterday I did had renewed energy based on my impending departure.

I am officially old enough that I can’t even handle my favorite convention. Meh.

I did get in a goodly number (and even some variety) of games, as you can see from my list of games played at the Gathering. I may review some in more detail, but for now I’ll give brief thoughts:

New (to me) games [number of plays]:

Ponzi Scheme [3]– “I don’t have to outrun the bear market, I just have to outrun the other players!” Finally, an investment game where the loans (actually, investments by your marks) have even more outrageous conditions than Martin Wallace! Borrow $10 to pay $11 every five turns is one of  the better loans. Borrow $60 to pay $140 every three turns! You take loans to buy industries (VPs), and then make a secret offer to another player, who can either take the money to buy your industry, or sell to you for that amount. When someone goes bankrupt, the survivors compare VPs.  There’s downtime and players who don’t value things properly will lose, but this was my pick for new game of the Gathering. Suggest.

Team Play [3] — Teams of two try to collect sets and can pass cards around.  The basic strategy is to pay attention and avoid having both teammates need the same cards. You only have limited control over that, but then again it’s a 20 minute game. Suggest.

Karuba [2] — “No time to take it easy, Doctor Jones!” Build paths (ala Take it Easy) between archeologists and their destinations, and may scatter some points on the way. But you discard tiles to move your fedora-wearing meeples and get points for being first. A nice, solid, improvement over the predecessors…. Suggest.

Air Alliance [1] — Remember the “Take a bonus turn” cards that proliferated and were (rightly) removed from most games? Well, if you get a really good turn, you get a bonus turn. Your opponents will (naturally) block you from getting a really good turn. But they can’t if your first turn has a random setup that gives it to you. I got a great first turn (the injurty) and then a bonus turn (the added insult). If you fixed that, I’d consider playing again, except the polar view of the world also makes finding places I should be able to find harder than it should be. Avoid. (But with some fixes there is a game, just not to my tastes).

I played two Ameritrash games as well

Cthulu Wars [1] — I’d seen this beautiful game last year (the miniatures look like the plastic melted in horrible ways, which is thematic) and I’m glad I got the chance to try this. Spawn, Spread and Smash, but you only accumulate VPs and the game will end quickly. (Player’s can earn VPs each turn and buy some as a bonus, and once enough “buy VP” actions occurs, the game ends, or if someone breaks a threshold).

Blood Rage [1] — Draft cards to upgrade your viking clan and get specific objectives and combat bonuses, then fight around Yggdrasil. Getting set to Valhalla is a minor setback (or, with the right circumstances, a good way to score points). I worry that suicidal battles are a bit too good (and can feed your slaughterer points, too). Combat is add up values and play a bonus card, with the winner having to discard their card. Elegant. Game ends after three rounds (drafting, board play, upkeep).

Overall both design seem well done. I have some quibbles but if I assume competent development (and the names on the boxes lead me to assume this) I imagine there is some depth of play. Both games are lovely, with good minis and a nice clean design. Blood Rage, with the card based combat (and at half the price, although still not cheap) is more to my tastes. Both are indifferent plus in that I’d like to try them once or twice more, at least.

Finally, I played Triumph and Tragedy once. Played may be a strong term, I didn’t really grok supply or naval operations, but eh, I played the Soviets. We had a brisk game at maybe 4.5 hours (with rules!) but partially that’s because I missed the right time to declare war on the Axis and the game quickly slipped away. I clearly backed the wrong horse by purchasing Churchill instead of this. Will I play T&T often? Of course not. It’s a long wargame with a card-driven diplomacy/tech system. I’ll definitely try it again, hopefully before next year. I know locals who play this …. suggest (if you like long wareuos).

Next up — The classics.

Written by taogaming

April 15, 2016 at 9:48 am

Posted in Convention Reports


Playing a sectional swiss, we blitz our (novice) first round opponents. This naturally leads us to face one of the top teams in the second round. It’s a hard fought affair where I get lucky when I (mis)count a hand to try for a swindle by leading ace and low from AQxx in dummy and catch the stiff King on my right. This irks my (expert) LHO and when I explain my miscount he gruffly corrects me. D’oh. I have gotten lucky.

But (apart from this) I play well. I find a nice line to make a tight 1N and squeeze out an overtrick (and, more importantly, LHO concedes it, complimenting me by assuming I knew what I was doing).

Finally, I’m not declarer and defending.

--- ---
1N  2D*
2H  2N

Partner leads, Dummy hits and LHO looks distracted and says “What am I in?”
Me — “2N”
He then tanks for a moment and says. “On the last hand, you only made two, not three.”
“I had a fifth diamond.”
“Oh. Sorry. Right.”
Dummy now chides declarer for thinking about the last hand.
I win partner’s lead of a diamond (with my stiff king), shift, and then when declarer wins he makes the odd play of attacking partner’s suit, small-jack-ace-ruff.

Declarer starts to lead and I start to lead, at which point declarer reminds me that we’re in 2N. Gah.

When I’m in I now have to go all out to set the hand (having pitched a valuable heart spot with dummy having 5 cards in the suit) and no miracle occurs, so 2N making 4. Declarer apologizes for the question, and I say “Well, it’s just an IMP.”

On the next hand, I’m still somewhat discombobulated, so I compete against RHO’s 1N instead of just passing with my 15 count. I make it for +90 but simply passing will be worth +200. Another three IMP penalty for being distracted.

I finally get back into it and make a nice play to guarantee my 1N contract. I’m feeling good. Sure, one of my plays was lucky, but several of them were solid. Honestly, tossing only four IMPs in a match is a good day for me..

We tie the match at 5-5, which is an insanely low score for an 8 board match.

We had a second tie later in the day. This time 19-19. The opponents won 13 IMPs when one opponent passed out of turn, so his partner just bid 3N. My partner and I — bidding normally — got to a slam that needs one of two finesses, neither working. On the last hand an opponent should invite but forgets and passes, and every card breaks poorly. So it’s 2H making exactly at our table, and 3H off one at the other table. Five Imps.

The last IMP? Needing to play AJxx opposite Kxx for three tricks (exactly) I took a safety play of the ace then king (to guard against doubleton queen offside). My opposite number took the prosaic line of king then finessing, and got four tricks. Lose One.

At least I was concentrating that match.

Written by taogaming

April 4, 2016 at 4:32 pm

Posted in Bridge

Articles about Polish

I’ve decided to post a series of articles describing my partnership’s unique take on Polish Club in more detail on Bridgewinners, in case you are interested.

Written by taogaming

March 27, 2016 at 10:29 am

Posted in Bridge


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