The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Heat, Formula De and the “Down by a Turn problem.”

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Heat is (IMO) better than Formula De. And I say that as someone who had a dozen tracks, painted cars, had a league that did a race a month, came up with variants to improve the game, etc. But I eventually stopped playing … there are a number of reasons but partially because its brutally hard to come back and the nature of dice makes the game relatively easy to plan out. Even with the “no thinking during your turn rule” people just in general did well and the dice decided the game.

Heat’s card luck is harder to predict (even if you count cards or let people inspect their own discards) and you can have weird things like shuffle timing make or break you, and the slipstreaming rule (and adrenaline for being in last place) helps mitigate being behind (a bit gamey, but — hey! it’s a game!).

But there are still the corners. Those are monster bombs. A space or two is one thing, but if the pack slips through a corner and someone falls a space short …. well, you are in trouble. Because you’ll have to go slow next turn, and so now you are always a turn behind. And the slipstreaming (you don’t get any; the pack does) makes it worse.

(Arguably the strategy in Heat is how much to spend to make that corner, since you could always spend a heat to flip a card, which will presumably cost you more heat as you go through it at top speed).

Rarely you’ll get a break away leader, and those games are tense as the pack gains a few spaces a turn. But a fall away trailer? Sad Trombone. On the one hand, part of my applauds this. I fell two turns behind the pack last night in the opening turn, and yes, that should be a big problem. (I could at least console myself that my problems were self-inflicted, unlike the poor unfortunate soul who drew an eleven on three stress cards to fly into the first corner by one space and spin out). I didn’t love Charioteer, but the “move directly behind the player ahead of you” meant you are always within striking distance. A useful card … for anyone but the leader. Is that more of a hack than the adrenaline rule? Less?

Anyway, I have no real solution, this was just an observation that I had while trying to end the game only one turn behind the pack, instead of two, and to ponder if this flaw will be merely a fact about the game, or fixed (or possibly ‘fixed’) by an expansion.

Written by taogaming

February 1, 2023 at 12:14 pm

Beltex

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Katherine of Sky (a Factorio streamer I watch) did a video (series) on Beltex and it was an easy $5 purchase (in fact, after a few minutes I was “yup” and shut off the stream, so I can experience the game myself). This is a small “cozy” factory (in that there’s no time pressure, no marauding aliens, etc). You have extractors that can “mine” numbers (at the beginning you can only mine 1s), conveyor belts, and a delivery station that wants numbers.

Initially it only demands “1s” but soon it also needs “2s” (and you’ve unlocked the “adder” station). Pretty soon you need 3s, 10s, 32s, 57s and others, and you never really stop needing the earlier numbers. You also unlock bridges (so that belts can cross over), subtractors, priority belts and whatnot.

I liked but didn’t love Shapez, this games predecessor (that involved cutting, rotating, re-assembling and painting shapes) but this is more up my alley… still not in the “going to drop hundreds of hours on this” but that’s fine. “20 minute bursts” is a solid timewaster.

Anyway, you’ll know if its for you after looking at the video on the steam page.

Beltex on Steam.

Update (in response to Jeroen’s comment) — It actually does get a bit samey. I’d written the above at ~2 hours and now (~10h) the last few hours have just been kind of “more”. You never get past multiplication (but do get copy/paste and storage). I maxed out one of the upgrades and haven’t seen anything new in an hour or two. Still, I built some shift multipliers and a few other interesting things. I might get 10 more hours out of it, I might not, but it was better money spent than shapez.

Written by taogaming

January 23, 2023 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Reviews

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Creating A Pointless Business Book(*) with Chat-GPT

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(* But I repeat myself)

At several points during my prior life in a big corporation, we were “encouraged” to read some sappy business book and then have group discussions on it. At some point I had the idea of trying to come up with the worst title/idea that could conceivably sell as a business book, and spent a few hours fleshing out the joke.

The book’s title is “Today, We Are Ducks!”

Recently, a coworker (still at the same company) suggested that I have Chat-GPT write it. And so I give to you the pre-amble and chapters for my magnum opus.


Once upon a time, in a peaceful pond, lived a group of ducks. They spent their days swimming and playing in the water, and their nights huddled together on the shore. They were content with their simple routine and never gave much thought to the world outside of their pond.

One day, a new duck named Drake arrived on the scene. Drake was different from the other ducks. He had a burning desire to explore the world beyond the pond. He would often speak to the other ducks about his dreams of flying over the mountains and seeing new horizons.

The other ducks laughed at Drake, thinking he was foolish for wanting more than what they had in the pond. But Drake was determined and he continued to share his vision with the other ducks.

As time passed, the pond began to dry up and the ducks realized that they needed to adapt to the changing environment or risk losing everything. They looked to Drake for guidance, and he reminded them of his vision for exploring the world beyond the pond. With Drake leading the way, the ducks spread their wings and flew off into the unknown. They discovered new ponds, new friends, and new adventures. They had finally found the courage to leave their comfort zone and embrace the change.

Like the ducks, we must be willing to adapt to change and take risks in order to grow and succeed in the business world. “Today, We are Ducks” will inspire you to embrace change and achieve your full potential.

–Today, We Are Ducks, by ChatGPT (lightly edited)

And the Chapter List:

  1. “Drake’s Vision” – Learn about the power of having a clear vision for your future and how it can guide you towards success.
  2. “Stepping out of the Pond” – Understand the importance of leaving your comfort zone and taking the first step towards growth.
  3. “Adapting to the Drying Pond” – Learn how to be flexible and adapt to new situations in order to thrive in a constantly changing business environment.
  4. “Ducks in Formation” – Understand the importance of teamwork and how it can lead to achieving common goals.
  5. “The Drake’s leadership” – Learn how to become an effective leader and inspire others to reach their full potential.
  6. “Navigating the Unknown” – Discover strategies for overcoming obstacles and challenges on the journey towards success.
  7. “Falling like a Duck” – Learn how to use failure as a learning opportunity and turn it into a stepping stone towards success.
  8. “The Duck’s Journey” – Understand that growth and success is a lifelong journey and that there is always room for improvement.
  9. “Making a Splash” – Learn how to use your success to make a positive impact in the world and leave a legacy.
  10. “Flying to new Horizons” – Take the lessons learned and apply them to your life and business to reach new heights and achieve your wildest dreams.

I never actually got around to writing TWaD (for the obvious reason that how much time do I want to spend on something I think is worthless) but with ChatGPT now you can spam out worthless business books (and political bios, and others) at the cost of only a few hours of your time.

Still not worth it.

But as for ChatGPT — It is impressive, although it does not like to aggregate data (It will tell you the first, second, third, fourth, etc Senator from Maryland, but would not answer “How many Senators has Maryland had?). Also, I didn’t actually tell it to use the name “Drake” for the opening parable. (I did suggest that the chapter titles be “more related to ducks or the parable” after the first attempt. And I have to admit, they are pretty damn good).

Update — The TaoLing asked Dall-E to make a book cover. As he said “Dall-E has some trouble understanding what a book cover is, but I do enjoy how soulless the eyes are….

Written by taogaming

January 19, 2023 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents

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How long have I been tabletop gaming?

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Aldie posted this question on the geek, and I thought I’d answer here. I remember typical kids board games from an early age and playing “Adult” boardgames (which meant Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit at that time) from 10 or so on. I have flashes of memories like standing in the “Asian” store in the mall as a child, looking at a Go set, wondering. (I eventually bought it as a teenager). At some point I discovered Games magazine and got some games I saw in it, including a nearly full set of Supremacy. (One of my high school friends swallowed a pink piece, because he thought they looked like Skittles). During H.S. I also played a lot of tournament Chess, but in college I switched to Bridge and some board games (discovering the classics of Cosmic Encounter, Kremlin, Wiz War and Illuminati), but it was in Grad School and the CMU game club that it really took off. (That the site is still there — despite not having been touched in a decade — is impressive. I learned HTML writing pages for that site).

My introduction to Euros was via R.G.B and an order or two with Adam Spielt (which apparently closed in 2015).

Written by taogaming

January 8, 2023 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Misc, Open Thread

For those who like to improve game component quality

While at a recent gaming session the host got a package of coin collector cases, which he was using to protect tokens from wear and tear and also make it impossible to tell them apart by feel (for bag games like Quacks). (I think he said it was $12 for 100 in the size he got). I must admit they looked very nice. For my mage knight set, I never use the second expansion because the tokens are not matched well in size & color (and also because I think it greatly increases variability), but if I wanted to draw them from a bag this would be a nice solution.

Anyway, it was a new-to-me idea and I figured others may be interested.

Update — I asked and was told this was the set I saw.

Written by taogaming

January 7, 2023 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Misc

Updates on recent games

Maglev Metro — Now that I’ve got a few more plays under my belt, there are some annoyances:

  1. I strongly suspect (and the TaoLing* agrees) that the 2p game is heavily biased towards the first player, for the simple reason that build station action is powerfully efficient (two actions for a robot and control over the board) and the first player can likely build an extra robot station. We’ve played through two full games and discussed the opening in detail. There may be a good counter, but neither of us see it.
  2. The cards are wildly imbalanced. In our game today (4p), I earned 30 VP by two cards without much effort, which was 28 more VP. Some cards are impossible, some are traps, and I agree that the idea of earning VP by “not doing anything” is distasteful.

I will have to look at the card drafting rules (which the game includes), but other possibilities include simply building a better card deck; but a simple idea is to let a player chuck a VP card for an extra action (probably after some trigger to prevent early game shenanigans and probably limiting to 1/turn).

I’m still interested in playing this … the fact that it doesn’t work at 2p is annoying but I have plenty of 2p games. The card issue is more problematic. Not quite willing to drop the rating yet, but a bit more cautious.

Heat — Played a game with garage module (allowing players to draft a few cards to customize the deck) and liked it. Heat plays quickly, vaguely simultaneously (close enough to dodge the ‘fixed fun‘ label) and I think I’ll root out a copy (although a few games are on boats to me right now, so no huge rush). There is definitely luck involved, I had nice draws for most of today’s race through Italy, but then miscalculated a corner when I had a bad hand that cost me the race. That’s how a card game is supposed to work. Luck but skill plays a critical part. I’m much more delighted losing that race in Heat than winning a wire-to-wire game of Charioteer.

Cat in the Box — Rating dropped to indifferent. Too many hands where one player just slaps down the highest cards until someone calls out and then that player often pulls trump to make it an endgame. In the 3p there’s a rush to get off lead because if you win the last trick you must paradox (unless someone gets hit first). In the 4p the player to the left of the player who wins the last trick is hosed, which is even worse. Games are short enough that luck dominates (Getting four ‘1’s when one player gets four ‘6’s) and yet I don’t want to make it longer.

Update — I’ve been informed that we missed the “discard one card at the start of the hand” which prevents the “final trick must paradox” problem. So this is back to unknown and I’ll try it a few more times.

* N.B. — For my readers who may have lost track of time, the TaoLing is now a sophomore studying computational physics and better than me at a number of games. Which is not to say we’re immune to groupthink, but … his opinion carries weight.

Written by taogaming

January 2, 2023 at 11:25 pm

So, what’s new besides the year?

Another year, another open thread on any recent media obsessions you have.

  • Treason (the Netflix miniseries with Charlie Cox). — It’s ok, but ever since Rick and Morty murdered the idea of a prologue where you then go “X days/weeks earlier” I’ve been annoyed with that trope. Which was I think the writer’s point.
  • I did finish Cyberpunk Edgerunners and it was pretty good.
  • I have been obsessed with Dani DaOrtiz ever since his appearance on Penn and Teller’s Fool Us in November. Honestly, if you haven’t seen it and have any interest in magic, its amazing. (See for example, having a spectator find a card in a washed deck). If you want to follow me down the rabbit hole, he’s got a number of videos on his channel (some in Spanish). See also this article (the ‘Cien por Cien’ full show is on youtube).

How about you?

Written by taogaming

January 1, 2023 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Open Thread, TV & Media

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2022 Year in Review

Quarter

Bridge — I played just 40 sessions of bridge this year. The local club lost its lease and now operates out of a Synagogue, so there are no games on Saturdays or Sundays. So I get to play Face to Face bridge maybe once every two months (at a local tournament, which is now Weds – Sat instead of Thu – Sun). (Evening games? Don’t make me laugh, those disappeared a decade ago. Not a big deal for the vast majority of bridge players — who are retired — but another sign of bridge’s slow decline.

Dimes

Innovation — The local game store had a cheap copy, I picked it up, and the TaoLing and I played nearly twenty games.

Dice Realms — I expected I’d play this more, but the TaoLing didn’t care for it, and after a game or two the local gamers didn’t request it much either.

Jump Drive — Still gets some play as a filler. The upcoming expansion should boost its numbers.

Race for the Galaxy — Another tenacious game. Xeno Invasion was a dime by itself, and I played a few games of full first arc (Prestige!)

Nickels

Pastiche: Birth of a Masterpiece — Almost a dime, might still make it.

18Mag & 1862 — I mostly play ’62 2p with the TaoLing, so it was easy to get this long game. We played a few 2p 18Mag, but I got several 3 and 4p games in.

Mage Knight — (Cooperative)

Space Station Phoenix — I was sure this was going to be a dime (if not more) but no store got a copy until the TaoLing was away at college, so just a few games here and there.

It’s a Wonderful World — My wife liked this and so I traded for a copy and have played it a few times. I’m not really enchanted with it, but it’s OK. The local group has several people who suggest it.

Scout — Really enjoying this.

SpaceCorp — Mostly with the new expansion, but one or two base (teaching) games.

Written by taogaming

December 31, 2022 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Session Reports

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A Dozen Mini-Reviews — Dec 2022

I’ve played a small burst of new games over the last two months or so. (Perhaps I’m finally getting over my pandemic grumpiness and reverting to my normal grumpiness level).

1848 Australia (1 play) — I’m not a particularly discriminating 18xx player: I like most of the ones I’ve tried and I liked this. The loan mechanism provided some subtleties and our (3p) game was under 3 hours, which isn’t as fast as some titles, but still means the game zipped along. Suggest.

9 Lives (2 plays) — A trick taking game where you have to make your bid “exactly” (but it wraps around at 4, so 1 and 5 are the same bid) and the winner of a trick must take one card from the trick (not his own). So if you are void and trump a trick, you might not be void anymore. Cute to play a few times (the little cat markers you use to make your bids are nice) but I think I’m done. Indifferent.

Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea (1 play) — I’m told this is improved Snowdonia, which I apparently played once a decade ago and didn’t remember. I suspected this is JASE and apparently I thought the same thing about its predecessor. Indifferent.

Cascadia (1 play) — Place tiles and then place something on the tiles. So, a big Carcassone vibe, but it worked (I also played Carc again this year after a long layoff, and its still good). You pick tile + animal combo and each animal has one of 4-5 possible scoring rules (which vary each game), so there’s combinatorics on this one. I liked this one enough to buy a copy (at 50% off) after one play. Suggest.

Charioteer (2 plays) — A racing/hand management game with a number of good ideas. There is a common card you include in your meld each turn, and you can see the next few turns. In my first play there was basically no passing. The leader (your humble narrator) stayed leader the entire time. (Since attacks are abstract and hit all opponents, it wasn’t that I was clear of the fray). The next game saw more passing and was more of a fray. I would play this again, but this lacks the hooting-hollerin’ fun of Circus Imperium (which probably also lacks it, as well, and is only “remembered with advantages”). Indifferent but will probably give a few more chances.

Downforce (1 play) — Another entry into the Daytona 500 / Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix family. A few improvements on good system that I enjoyed in the 90s and still enjoy now, but never seem to actually suggest. So, a very nice Indifferent-Plus.

Enchanted Plumes (1 play) — Yet another entry in the ever-growing peacock tableau building genre. J.A.S.P.T.B. doesn’t have a great ring to it, though. Taking tongue out of cheek, this was sort of a Lost Cities-esque push your luck game. You put feathers at the base of your pyramid to score negative points. Each row above it scores positive points but can only use colors that appear in the prior row. But I don’t love Lost Cities, so why would I like this? But if you wished Lost Cities played three+ players, here you go. Indifferent.

Heat: Petal to the Medal (2 plays) — The recent hotness is actually good! I only played Flamme Rouge once … didn’t hate it but neither was I aching to play again. The slingshot passing (and blatant catch up mechanisms) mean that once you get the system there’s a decent amount of thought under the hood. Suggest.

Little Factory (2 plays) — A simple trading game where you can either improve one of your cards (clay to brick, wood to timber, etc) to gain value, or use a market to move sideways in value (sell a $5 card for five dollars in other cards). But in either case you can only get cards in the current market. You only have one action a turn, but factory (worth 1-3 points) might give a bonus action, but only of one type (like “clay to brick”) and 10 points of factories wins. I’d never heard of this, but its a lovely little filler. Suggest.

L.L.A.M.A. (1 play) — No. OK, it was fine, but …. no. This felt like a tic-tac-toe-ification of a card game. Avoid.

Maglev Metro (1 play) — I knew this game existed, but only that. A few months ago I saw someone playing this and was frankly amazed by the production value and that it gave off an Age of Steam vibe. I picked up a copy at a 50% off after Christmas sale and I think (after one play) the AoS vibe is real. You don’t have the money issues, but all four of us were constantly adjusting our setup. There are a few things that I didn’t like …. for all the great production the copper and gold robots are very hard to distinguish (and the spots on the player boards that hold them are also hard), and I agree with the complaint about some of the bonus cards, but this strikes me as a solid system, and also reminded me to throw Age of Steam back into the bag. Suggest.

Reality Shift (2 plays) — A 3-D game trying to capture the Tron-light-cycle vibe. Nice production with magnetic bikes moving on the tops and sides of cubes that you can rotate, slide, etc. Smash your opponents against the wall, de-rezzing them to start again. The issue is that if players are good the game can go on forever (as 4 players can rearrange the board to prevent a potential winner from being able to hit the finish spot) or if they are terrible / playing casually then its just “oh, the finish spot is revealed, the next player got it.” In both games I played I got literally half as many turns as the other players, because I went last and the player before me won on his second turn. On the other hand, I wasn’t particularly unhappy about this turn of events. This not quite Avoid but its at the low end of indifferent.

Reminder: Victor Mollo was a hell of a writer.

As on previous occasions, my three principal accomplices have been Ewart Kempson, Nico Gardner and my wife, the Squirrel. They share the blame equally, but Ewart Kempson’s share is the most equal of the three….[he] could have surely done something to stop me. Believe me, he did not lift a finger….

… if you spot any technical flaws, do not hesitate to blame Nico. After all, someone must be responsible, and who else is there to blame?

You may find it irksome to come across so many hands with exactly the same number of cards, always thirteen … the Squirrel wears the pencil, wields the scissors and reads the proofs with a rod of iron … should you happen to catch her out, please let me know.

Finally I come the Griffins [his fictional characters] themselves. For many years they have been searching for an author to do justice to their faults and foibles, their engaging vices and comic virtues. If they have picked the wrong man, the blame is theirs, not mine. I have weighed all the facts carefully and I acquit myself unanimously.

Bridge in the Menagerie, “Acknowledgements”

Written by taogaming

December 12, 2022 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Bridge

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