The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Entertainment, fast and slow

The final Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality chapter posted today and it’s safe to say that the last month that has been my obsession. It will, inevitably, fade; but it has been a great obsession.

In looking back on my greatest media obsessions, I note one thing. They never end on a binge. I may (often do) start by catching up. Those goes hand in hand with my belief that it’s an efficient use of my time to let others filter out the vast majority of entertainment (unless it’s just clear that it should be in my wheelhouse). But once that filter is hit, then I’m perfectly content to catch up over the space of a weekend/month or whatever.

Part of the enjoyment of truly great writing is letting it roll over you and pondering how the next chapter/episode/book will play out. Rarely does the writer’s answer work as well as all those things you imagined. I’m not just speaking of the final exam, for example many of the writers in the SF club in college debated how to resolve The Best of Both Worlds, part I and I heard several brilliant ideas, the best being totally unfeasible for TV. So, I waited for each month’s Sandman (once I heard about it, roughly halfway through the series). I’m buying each month’s Saga, the same way (having been introduced via the first hardcover). I got up at 5.30 am on Monday mornings to watch the final season of Breaking Bad. The only possible exception to “Don’t finish on a binge” rule I can think of is Patrick O’Brian’s classic series and it’s hard to binge a 20-book 6,000 densely written page series; it took me years to read it (the first time).

Many series I enjoyed do not rise to the label of great art (which I define roughly: something which can be viewed multiple times with increasing pleasure and deeper understanding each time) but even then there’s something to be said for watching at least the final season in real time. (Spoiler prevention being the other great reason). The timing, the shared conversations with other fans, it gives the art a rhythm that even music lacks.

What does this have to do with games? Great long games cannot be shortened, although you can make a similar short game that may also be great. But it’s not the same experience. Duration (itself) is no sign of quality, but the subtle, drawn out drama has greater highs and lows than the binged pleasure.

That, I think, is the same for both genres.

Written by taogaming

March 14, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Sad Pandas — Pandante 2.0

Thanks to A____ R____ (a nobleman of most refined tastes) I have been made aware of the new Pandante rules and Kickstarter for Pandante 2.0 / Expansion. However, having read the proposed updates I must admit I am a sad panda. Presumably 2.0 adds something, but let’s look at the rules changes.

The breakfast step has been removed  – A minor change, but I thought being able to keep your hand, and when to buy was interesting.

The ante is now 3 gold instead of 1 gold (but you can fold on the first betting round) — Already Pandante was somewhat no-fold-em (I tended to fold more than most, in the local game), the bigger pots will make it more so.

Floosh and full house swapped positions in hand rank — Calculating the odds of getting a hand (ignoring snacks) did indicate that they were in the right position before. (And believe me, doing those calculations was tricky). But in my initial notes on Pandante Strategy (unpublished), I note that two pair is the kiss of death. It’s a very inflexible hand. So, I agree with the rationale that a busted Floosh may often salvage something but a busted full house is probably toast, so I do not mind this change (assuming I had corrected mats).

Somewhat streamlined kicker and challenge rules – I am ambivalent.

The Joker wins the full pot, but hands with joker’s lose ties — Strongly against. The joker was a mixed blessing, usually beneficial but also forcing some caution on abilities and sometimes with hand declaration (to try to win without having to reveal the joker). I’ve thrown the joker away and been right. The current joker is still not always better than other cards, but it’s not nearly as interesting.

Abilities can no longer be challenged and are no longer tied to suits — Pandas do drugs? This is simply bad.

Not having read the full list of new abilities, perhaps the new game is amazing. But let me be clear. The abilities (and challenging thereof) are Pandante’s heart. I’m not sure how long my strategy notes would be if I finished them[1], but they would be much, much shorter with 2.0 rules.

  • You can make money by suckering people with abilities, even if you lose the hand.
  • Linking abilities to suits means there are 15 different combinations of the 7-2 offsuit (ignoring which suit is high) (+ six combinations of 7-2 suited). They are all phenomenally different. And the values of suits change based on position. 7-2 Red/Green is good[2] in under the gun, and mediocre on the button. 7-2 Orange/X is terrible early, mediocre in the middle, and reasonable on the button.
  • They are modifying or eliminating Black (Greed). Greed was good. Greed was right. Greed works. Greed makes some borderline hands playable and also induces folding in others. The blue/black interaction is a fascinating subgame, as the distinguished gentleman above noted.
  • On a related note, the Panda Lords are also changed for one ability, which means that the suits are all indistinguishable. Ugh.
  • I fully understand that this is the slow part of the game. That’s because this is the interesting part. The lying and challenging. Snacks selection is basically a mathematical game (with some assumption setting).

Finally, the challenge rules are such that multiple people challenge (simultaneously) only one gets paid. Again, no.

It may very well be that the new game is still interesting, or even more interesting. However, these rules do not inspire confidence.

[1] So far around 8-10k words.

[1] I mean, as 7-2 hands go.

Written by taogaming

March 12, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Celebrities with Celebrities

I had a thought: “Which famous celebrity, living or dead, fictional or real, would you want to play Celebrities with?”


  • The celebrity is your partner. You don’t have to want to win, but if you do, you do.
  • We assume all Celebrities magically speak English and know common celebrities, but also know all the obscure ones in their field.

Ones I thought of:

  • Marcel Marceau — Killer skills in round 3.
  • Christopher Walken — Because it would be funny
  • Abraham Lincoln — History’s straight man
  • Nicollo Machiavelli — Just to see what he does.

The floor is open.

Written by taogaming

March 11, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Open Thread

House rules for SE4X — Alien Power Variant

OK, I’ve played a few AP solo games, and my thoughts so far.

  1. If an AP rolls ECON its much harder. (The game where one AP got 3 ECON rolls was impossible). Give up X CP once t gain X CP/turn starting 3 turns later is great.
  2. Easy isn’t too difficult. Normal difficulty is much harder. So much so that I wonder if difficult can be beaten at all….
  3. The AP sends off too many small fleets.
  4. The AP has poor tech choices.
  5. It’s a bit to easy to see the movement.
  6. The AP launch a fleet that serves no purpose.

Here’s what I”m thinking of doing to modify it to make it a bit more uncertain and harder to predict. To keep it from being uniformly harder, I’m going to make ECON rolls weaker. You may also have to lower the CP a notch. Most of these are sever-able ideas, mix and match to taste. (I suspect at Normal difficulty you wouldn’t need all these rules).

  1. The AP gets instant tech upgrades. (Just to be clear).
  2. The human does his full econ phase before the alien’s roll.
  3. No nuking fleets by flipping unrevealed counters underneath alien fleets. (Too gamey).
  4. If the AP roll’s ECON, you get the die (in 3 turns, as normal) but the AP gets one die of NEGATIVE CP (to Fleet or Tech only, can go negative). So you give up 2 dice of production right now to get a die (forever) in 3 turns. (This maybe should even be 4 turns later).
  5. Decoys — When you first encounter an alien fleet in combat, before you roll for tech/fleet composition, figure out the fleet strength. If the die roll is a 1 (or less), the fleet is a decoy. It disappears and the AP gets the fleet points back on it’s sheet. A fleet that reaches a valuable undefended target (colony, pipeline) is never a decoy. Raider fleets may be decoys.
    • Modifier 1 — Divide your fleet cost (in CP) by the AP fleet cost. If that’s 2 or higher, the modifier is that number -1. Example — the Alien Fleet is 18 CP. If your fleet is 6-35, it’s a decoy on a 1. If it’s 36-53, it’s a decoy on 1-2, etc.
    • Modifier 2 — Subtract 1 from the roll unless the AP can afford to upgraded Size, Attack, Defense or Tactics.  The AP is maxed out or would gain no benefit from upgrading those. This is -1 for all three, not -1 for each.
  6. Move Technology
    • Alien Powers increase their move on 1-4, but if increasing their move technology would not shorten the time (in econ rounds) to reaching any legitimate target (at time of launch) there is a +1 to the roll. (Rationale — Why increase move if it’s not going to help? and this just sucks points from combat techs).
    • Timing — The roll is made the first movement phase the alien would get a bump in movement. (This makes the alien reveal when a human would, not several phases earlier).
  7. Purchasing — When rolling to increase technologies, APs do not roll until they are out of points. If there are 3 rolls in a row that cannot be bought, aliens stop buying and save their money. ([i]Rationale[/i] — Often APs are forced to buy Minesweepers at lower levels, which puts them at a disadvantage).
  8. HW Defense — When you attack a HW seriously, all unrevealed fleets roll a d10. If the roll is greater or equal to their distance from the HW, the fleet is a decoy (put all fleet points back at the HW). Do the same for each ship that was revealed since the last econ phase. (A serious threat is one that could take the HW, not just to figure out if it’s bases or mines. There’s no good definition, use your judgement). Rationale — To prevent the player from just allowing a fleet to launch and then attack a weakened homeworld. Recalling revealed ships prevents gamey tactics, although it’s still useful.
  9. Turn order — Select the turn order you’d prefer (first or last). Roll a d10.
    • 1-3: You get the order you prefer if you spent that many points on turn order bid. Otherwise you get the other one.
    • 4-10: You get the order you wanted.

Written by taogaming

March 10, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Variants

Tagged with

Gaming Heloise Tip #1

Gaming Heloise says go to a teaching store. Those have (had?) tubs of 1000 small plastic cubes in ten colors. Apart from being a wonderful chocking hazard for their target audience, they are useful in plenty of situations. Especially if you are prototyping. But you’ll also help…

…A game with too many counters in small hexes, you have 10 fleet counters and matching off board marker.

I bought one a decade ago for $20, and haven’t run out yet.

Written by taogaming

March 8, 2015 at 11:04 am

Posted in Misc

Tagged with

Played a couple of solo SE4X Games

OK the first solo game (Doomsday Machine) lets you learn the rules, but lacks the oomph that makes the game great. It’s like one of the Star Fleet Battle Monster solos (the Planet Eater, maybe?) where you can plot out what to do because the monster is totally predictable. You know when he’ll arrive, full stats, etc. Given that SE4X is about the fog of war, no big deal.

So I stayed up and tried the Alien solo game. This feels like multiplayer. Each Alien Power [2-3 depending on difficulty] only has one planet and roll dices to allocate points in fleet/tech/homeworld defense and when they launch invasions. The Alien fleet’s composition (and most tech advances) are bought when you reveal the fleet, which maintains fog of war. It’s got some paperwork and two pages of special cases (The Aliens have many “Don’t be stupid” exceptions to randomly buying technologies, like If the Human player has revealed that he has X technology, the Alien purchases Counter-technology first. If the Alien has already bought X technology and the Human has not revealed Y counter technology then the Alien’s fleet will exploit that advantage.)

In my first game (easy level) I played cautiously but repelled incursions with little loss, and I called it a victory (although I was starting to suffer some maintenance costs, I had a heft fleet size and tech leads). But I think it’s a nice challenge, and a good break in solo games

Written by taogaming

March 8, 2015 at 12:09 am

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with

While we’re discussing secret shames

(Wait, were we? I haven’t heard yours. I guess I was just blurting mine out),

LARPing Hamlet at Elsinore. I was never into ‘swishy-boppy,” but I did love interactive fiction (aka “Pretentious LARPing”).

David Brin’s HPMOR Final Exam solution.

Rock Band 4? Yes please. Will I buy a totally new game system (if I can move my DLC over)…. Perhaps.


Written by taogaming

March 6, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Posted in TV & Media


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