The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Screwtape discusses voting

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My Dearest Wormwood,

After receiving your most recent letter, on your advice I watched the video on quick and easy voting for normal people. I am surprised that this comes as a revelation to you, since We who are down below routinely allow our charges to vote for a wide variety of things using what our patients semi-jokingly refer to as the Chicago Method (“Vote early and often”) and what your video refers to as Approval Voting.

And, as befitting our station, we scrupulously respect their votes whenever suits our mood. Which is more often than not, because all voting methods have flaws. Surely Our Father has taught you all the details of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which has dozens of applications to suffering and gaming. I myself learned it at an early age.

(A more pedantic member of our kind – although I doubt you will ever encounter one – may state that Arrow’s formal proof  does not  strictly apply here. Math is a realm of The Enemy – and as such I have no done no more than dabble, lest I be accused of heresy again –  but I believe the idea generalizes. I will check with several experts I am dining on tonight).

Whenever a vote is proposed, you should of course make sure the outcome is as you desire. The stakes are high!

The video numbers make for a poor example for more interesting applications, so let us juggle them a bit. Surely even a youngster such as yourself is familiar with creative accounting?

  • The five vegetarians prefer: Veggies, Burgers (w/Veggie option), Steak (in that order)
  • The three carnivores prefer: Steak, Burger, Veggie
  • The lone Burger guy prefers: Burger, Steak, Veggie

In all cases the 1st two are “acceptable,” so burgers get nine votes, and is an acceptable compromise.

First of all, note the obvious flaw with the system. It punishes excellence. This means that, despite all of its problems, you should suggest Approval Voting whenever possible. Your goal should be to promote mediocrity and lazy thinking in all aspects. Do this consistently and your patients will always dine out on the most milquetoast and bland meals possible, never taking chances, never risking sublime beauty!

Do not mistake my critique of this system – which is done as a general exercise to instruct my favorite nephew – for a serious criticism!

Now, let us make a small change.

If, on the final restaurant named, people don’t vote on something acceptable because they prefer the currently winning option. Now, so long as Burgers are listed last, Veggies will win, because the Vegetarians, being more delighted with the currently winning option (named first or second), decline to raise their hands for Burgers. Which will now lose 5-4, despite being a unanimous winner before!

Then simply force those shuffling carnivores towards their tofu. Demand their happiness while they respect the group’s decision. Be sure to smile broadly as you choke down your okra. Sing praises towards democracy, which levels all of our patients in the same way that water always strives for the lowest resting place.

(As to my prior criticism, I simply state that while Vegetarian restaurants can be excellent in theory, much like excellent non-alcoholic beer it does not occur in practice).

As always, he who sets the vote order (and he who votes slowest, deciding after others who have raised their hands) has an immense amount of control, particularly if they well judge the preferences of others.

These tricks (along with a few more which I dare not reveal, lest this letter is intercepted) will let you control the outcome with ease, which is why we are serving a slightly maggoty meatloaf for the thousandth night in a row instead of the exquisite venison or lovely pouched trout, both clearly visible in the cafeteria.

Your affectionate uncle,


[H/T to Chris Farrell’s twitter feed]

My first (semi-joking) comment was that the Tao of Gaming method was to have everyone list all their options, then reject them all and walk away. This prevents mediocre games, although I admit that also has problems. I had thought I tweeted a joke about that but, much like Screwtape, I prefer the old method and send my messages encoded in the pitches and volumes of screams, although I do keep up with the times and try to limit my conversation to at most 140 screams.

An amusing coincidence — I was already thinking about the Impossibility Theorem earlier today, since my side project incorporates a quote by Kenneth Arrow in the next chapter.

Written by taogaming

June 28, 2015 at 2:59 am

Mage Knight

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Played my first game of MK in two months today. (Solo Conquest, cities of level 8 and a megalopolis of 16. Tremor is a very useful spell in this case, as I took both cities by walking in, casting Tremor and using Agility to convert my hand to move points, getting knocked out, but having 12-15 attack against lowered armor.

I’ll have to keep my set out, because the new expansion should be out in a month or two. Mmm. Death Dragons.

Written by taogaming

June 27, 2015 at 9:56 pm

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Speaking of the ST:TNG cliffhanger

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Written by taogaming

June 21, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Posted in TV & Media


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Right now is that dangerous moment when I could just decide to let myself go, and admit that while I haven’t done great in life, I’m still 30 pounds lighter than I was fifteen years ago and what’s five more?

But I probably shouldn’t have eaten all that food.

In other news, I’m still fairly burned out of gaming, although I’ve been tinkering around with Dominion: Dark Ages. It does slow the game down, but I think I may pick up Guilds or Adventures anyway. Man I miss Isotropic.

I’m watching (with the boy) Agents of Shield, 2nd season, and I remembered something. After ST:TNG had the Best of Both Worlds cliffhanger, some writer friends of mine hashed out a Bible for the next season, and the points that I remember were:

  • The Enterprise should spend a half season – or more – fighting behind enemy lines.
  • The loss should shake up the team, force promotions/demotions, etc.
  • There should be real risks, probably even kill a major character.
  • It should be a serialized story

And it occurs to me that AoS is doing this (although I’m only halfway done with the season). And whereas all those ideas were ludicrous for 1990, now it’s just enough to keep my interest, but not surprising that a show does this.

Go Manny Machado! He’s on the Orioles and my fantasy team, and have a monster day (2 more HR, bringing him to 11 on the season). My team has finally pulled back up to .500, after a disastrous first month, but I’ve finally got a mostly healthy team.

Written by taogaming

June 16, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Posted in TV & Media

A semi-actual gaming cafe

The TaoLing is out of school and asked to head out to a gaming cafe (apparently he’d gone there one weekend for a magic tournament while I was playing bridge). Magic Beans actually comes fairly close to a gaming cafe, which was a model that (AFAIK) exists mainly in Korea and not in the US. They have a coffee shop (coffee, pastries, sandwiches, drinks), candies sodas and chips, and open gaming. Spacious, nice. And, according to the owner, adding ice cream and some other goodies later on. If the games available to borrow aren’t quite to my tastes, I’m perfectly willing to admit that they do have a range. Mostly people bring their own games. I’m sure they make 90%+ of their gaming money via Magic cards, but hey, that’s where the money is. Their boardgaming inventory was practically non-existant, and put to shame by your average Barnes and Nobles.

But my son picked up a few singles. Since we were there for several hours that seems like a reasonable deal to me. It was a small crowd, but it was early.

Just because I think it’s an interesting business model doesn’t mean I think it will succeed, but I hope they do. I may see if I can get my board game group interested in playing there, since it’s convenient to me.

Written by taogaming

June 12, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Misc


I’d never heard of Euphoria, until I played it today. Then I saw that Alex Rockwell had a review, and I read it and felt bewildered that someone could accurately note all the points of the game and still rate it a 7.5. As he says (emphasis mine)

Loved: Components!
Liked: Theme of the market buildings (funny + mechanically cool). Character cards with wide varieties of powers. Factions and hidden characters. Replayability. Humor.
Disliked: Low player interaction. Die rolling knowledge mechanic wasn’t very interesting and mostly just provided variance.
Hated: Doubles free move mechanic giving out random free turns in a racing game.

He also pointed out (correctly) that it’s a “Worker Placement” game where you can bump someone for free (well, you give them a tempo where they don’t have to return workers). And you can bump yourself to gain a tempo! I did like the dystopian theme and the idea that buildings you build hurt those that didn’t help.

I must weigh the dislike / hated more than the positives. (Agree on the components. A beautiful game, although the graphic design could be improved. The humor worked well, but apart from the characters you probably only get the effect once).

Minor Nit #1 — The game was anti-climatic, I could see a player was going to win. If I had rolled doubles the turn before, I would have won, because I would get two actions. If I had draw a matching card symbol earlier, I could have won (because the you can spend 3 cards or two of a kind to activate certain spaces, so I’d have one more card left over, also one space would let me spend a single card of the right type). So I had to use an ability to draw a 3rd character card, hope that it would be one of the two (at that point) useful factions and provide me an ability. This did not leave a good taste in my mouth.

Minor Nit #2 — You pick 2 characters at start from a hand of 4 (from four possible factions). Each faction has a different trigger for when you can reveal characters. In our (four player game) the “E” faction raced early, hit their reveal, and three people flipped up….both of their characters. Obviously wildly rare and horribly unlucky for the 4th player, who now spent half the game having no special abilities.

Rating — Avoid. A race game with extra turns given out randomly, and where you can randomly lose workers by bad rolls. (I lost a worker a few turns from the end as well, which cost me a tempo). Really, do I have to say any more?

But many of the people who played in our first game played again, and it’s ranked in the Top 250? So make of that what you will. Me? I weep for humanity. In general, though. Not specifically about this game.

Written by taogaming

May 25, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Posted in Reviews

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New Scouting Report — Rally Cap Expansion

Looking over my scouting report for the free agents a few things jump out at me:

  • More hits are certainly better. They are vulnerable to cyborg pitchers, of course, but gloves are much more common. And the do load up the bases. I don’t think I’m wrong to devalue home runs. The comment that you only need to clear the bases at the end of the game is somewhat wrong. Certainly I expect a single glove on my opponents last play (particularly if I’m a home team) so you need HR+HR. But also pickoffs and double plays mean that leaving people on bases has some issues.
  • I concede I over-valued PH but as I play more games I’m starting to find more uses for conditional players and trying to top deck a good player (or even just to move towards a reshuffle). A highly situational player with a PH gives you some variance. That being said, PH itself is conditional. If you go for a lot of “Glove + Hit” guys, you typically won’t mind top decking your conditional players (like, walks, double plays, etc) and try to get something better. If you try to get the perfect cyborg combination, you are playing for luck. It can work. I just had a game where we had something like 4-5 blind PH, and they all were reasonable, in hindsight. That being said, you rarely need PH on solid always good players.
  • I probably overvalued revenue. The data seems to say that. Of course, it depends on the format. Best of seven you are probably only seeing your guy 2-3 times for revenue if you buy him on game one.

The Rally Cap expansion adds a few new skills:

  • Rally:X gives you X, but only if you are losing.
  • Hold cancels all threatened hits (against any type of player), but only if you are losing.
  • Closer cancels all threatened hits (against any type of player), but only if you are winning.

In general, you probably won’t be losing or winning until your third card (since you don’t resolve threatened hits until after you take the immediate effect). So if your opponent opens with, say a slow-bot (single+single) and then a double, you could play a rally on your third card. Personally, I’d rather not be losing and focus on getting a card that prevents scoring, which is generally useful. But, sometimes you fall behind. It happens. Hold is like a pitching rally, but it has a great effect, cancelling all hits. Unfortunately that (alone) won’t help you win.

Closer is better than hold, because if you are winning then cancelling hits is great, but you actually have to get ahead. Because of timing effects, visitors will tend to get better value from Closers (since you have tempo in resolving runs) and Home teams will get better value from Hold. The problem is that you don’t really control when they come up (except the turn you buy them).

So, these are (IMO) situational cards. Because adding the expansion adds variance, a lot of situational cards, and a fair number of double-digit cost cards, I think it’s reasonable to expand the free agent market by a card or two (as an agreed upon variant).  All of these are conditional skills, which means if you only have one, and it isn’t useful, then you can top deck that card away for another. But as soon as you get lots of them, top decking becomes much more of a crap shoot. This may be why I like Glove so much. Glove+Hit rarely sucks, even if it is perfect. (But Multi-hit guys do crunch it).

No discussion of the new skills is complete without mentioning Start-Up, the homerun hitting leadoff batter. If your opponent has that, all Rally/Hold cards become much better. If you have Mr. Start-up, then all closer cards become huge. (He’s in a different expansion, but in the deluxe game you get them all).

Format is Name (Type)  $ cost/revenue, hits, skill, speed (average if not shown), PH (if applicable).

Franchise Players:


The Goods:

Pete Biggio (N) — $12/2, Single + Single + Single, Rally:HR, Slow — A Rally HR is good, a hit that can’t be cancelled. And then he loads the bases and threatens to clear them on the next hitter.

Chance Evers (N) $8/2, Single + Single, Teamwork (If the next player is a natural, add a triple to their hit box) — The one thing that adding a hit does is prevents gloves. So, assuming you have another natural (a fair assumption), this is a single+single+triple who spreads the wealth. 3 hits for fives bases that can’t all be blown away by a fastball is fine. A touch pricey, but decent revenue.

RallyBot (R) $10/0, Single + Double, Rally:HR, Fast — OK. Rallybot is good. Fast single+double is a run, and if one gets gloved your single can’t get double played. A Rally HomeRun is a big deal. The downsides are all minor, but add up. RallyBot hits enough you won’t mind lacking PH, but no revenue also hurts. At the price point you can probably do better.

John Clayton (C) $9/2, Single + Double, Hold — Hitting + Hold is good. Situational, but useful. OK, Clayton has enough hitting to be a generally playable card, and hold as mentioned, can be huge.

Rollie Quisenberry (C), $5/2, No Hits, Closer, PH — A closer can win you the game. A vicious last card as the home team that lets you put in a decent power hitter on deck. If you are winning, you shut them down. If not, you swing. (But probably not as the last card, since the visitor’s on deck works). This is honestly borderline meh.

Sparky Rivera (C) $6/2 Single, Closer, Slow, PH — Another closer, and with a hit and some revenue.

Bruce Smith (C) $12/0, HR + HR, Hold — OK, two home runs is no trifling matter. Even if you don’t wind up cancelling the hits you threat two runs (plus any base clearing) and are really only vulnerable to Walk, Spitball (or Magna Glove if you have the full set of expansion). The only real issue is, can you get two good players.

Animator (R) $8/2, Double, Rally:Add a single to each remaining player, PH — OK, realistically you are going to be able to maybe play this as a rally on the third card. (Maybe 2nd as home team, if you your opponent doubles and clutches or some such. (Ignoring Start-up).  So call it three more singles. That’s a lot of hits, unless your opponent has a lot of knuckleballers that’s pretty good.

Wilbur Wagner (C), $11/2, Single + Double, Closer, Fast — Can’t PH. A good player, but for $11 you should get good value, and can probably take two decent players. I’m not sure I love closer enough to spend $11 on this, but he will undoubtedly be a good purchase some times.

The Meh:

Trevor Wilson (C), $3/0, No Hits, Closer, PH — As Rollie Quisenberry, but cheaper and no revenue. When you use him, you really will probably want some money. Almost certainly part of a multi-buy turn, so I can’t rate him terrible.

Trail Blazer (R) $4/2, Single, Rally:Single, Slow, PH — An inferior slow bot, but PH and revenue. Not a fan.

Pioneer (R), $6/1, Double, Rally:Double — Double is solid, if unspectacular. Two doubles is good, but Rally is somewhat tricky.

Sammy Sandberg (N) $4/1, Single, Teamwork (If your next player is a natural, add a single to their hit box), PH — Underwhelming. Effectively a Single + Single with a condition of tipping your hand. But maybe you can use this to get someone to hold off on a fastball from this guy. If you are buying this guy it’s hopefully because you are getting a second player. I’d probably prefer one great player, but this isn’t horrible.

Early Sutter (C) $5/1, Single, Hold, PH — An interesting card. PH makes this workable, if you get down, being able to cancel everything is huge. He doesn’t do much to get you back in, but a single may be enough. Still, preventing a blowout has a purpose. I’m torn.

Contracts to Avoid:

Richie Appling (N) $5/1, No Hits, Rally:Single, Fast, PH. — Did I type this right? If you are losing this guy gives you an unblockable fast single?

Some more thoughts about PH and Anti-Combos

One thing I haven’t explored is effectively deck trimming by getting either solid people who will almost always be worthwhile (big hitters or Glove + Hit) guys and/or a few PH people and chucking all your non-PH rookies, and then effectively trimming the deck size by using all your rookies/vets to top deck. But to do this you don’t want a lot of conditionally useful cards, because the variance will kill you.

But conditionally useful cards are also anti-combo anyway. Having 6 Quick Eyes + Sliders (both of which trigger vs Cyborgs) is overkill, most decks field ~3. Having 3+ Leadoffs are useless. (Even two is somewhat risky). Too much hold/rally/closer is risky. So ideally you’d want to have variety, but that means sometimes you draw cards and never get to use their special abilities. Still trying to figure out the balance on that. (Rally, in that sense, isn’t so bad  because if you are never behind it’s not terrible, unless of course you fall behind in the bottom of the sixth).

How much would I want of any skill?

Glove — Lots is OK. Multi-hit cards become better because it’s hard to overkill glove. Magna Glove (2x glove) cards are useful, but tend to not hit.

Fast/Curve/Slider: I’d be happy to have 2 of the fast/curve (naturals/robots) and 1 slider (vs cyborgs), unless I knew my opponent was highly lopsided in a game, having double that in a deck tends to get me the average right amount, but risks a bad split. Of course, there aren’t too many in the game, so it’s hard to get too much of this.

Double Play — These can actually count as a double glove, with the limitation that you can’t hit fast people, and you risk a clutch (or stolen base) happening, but these have their place, as they tangle with multi-hit cards. (Which makes me believe that multi-hit fast cards I need to value more).

Pickoff — A slightly inferior glove (assuming you pickoff only one person. One natural in the magna-glove expansion picks off all, including fast, which is huge). But also stops leadoff, etc.

Walk — Too many of these are anti-combo, but a hypothetical “All walk” team would effectively let your opponent score # hits – 3.  Walk does combo with Double Play, Pickoff. (Stop Barry Sosas HRs, double play them next batter).

Clutch — Anti-combos with itself, somewhat, and also with home runs. But clutch itself reduces the values of gloves (which are good) and good.

Still enjoying this, and teaching it whenever I get the chance.

Written by taogaming

May 25, 2015 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

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