The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

A Practical Test of ‘Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge’ using … Slay the Spire

One of the most unusual bridge books I’ve read is Kim Frazer’s Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge. Unlike the vast majority of bridge books, there is practically no advice on bridge. This is all about “how to think” (a topic that I love enough to have a category in this blog for). Bridge forms the majority of the examples here, but apart from that these articles would not be out of place in any coaching symposium.

Kim was an international caliber shooter who took up bridge and later represented Australia in International events, so she has definitely “walked the walk” in two separate sports. There are chapters on focus, positive mindsets, mental preparation, rehearsal, match preparation & fitness, relaxation, goal setting and tracking.

The book itself was interesting — I don’t think much of it will come as a surprise but having it all done in a nicely packaged book (and providing references to sports journals, etc for more information) is good. I’ve started to try and build up a routine for the playing of bridge hands (still more forgotten than observed) so as to reduce the number of stupid errors. In fact, the first night (on BBO) I did it, I think I played well and then I went and forgot to look at the checklist this week, didn’t use it, and had a large number of errors. (The checklist is just a routine to do at the start of each hand …. say “Focus” to start the routine, note the board information (dealer,/vulnerability) count the HCP, decide on my opening bid (should it pass to me), and my likely continuations, responses.

I normally do this (in some shape) on most hands, but not in a formalized way. But (as per the book) I wrote out a checklist and used it, to good results (the times I remembered).

While thinking about this training, I realized that I could run a quick experiment on the chapter on goal setting and tracking using … Slay the Spire. I mean, while this book is aimed at Bridge it is not specifically for it, and right now my StS play is much more prevalent. (And is a solitaire game). Consider it a training run.

So — what are my goals? I’d like to improve my win rate (a win defined as “Beating the corrupt heart at ascension 15” (which is what I normally play at). There is a “Victory?” where you win without getting to the heart, but I consider that a loss. It means I’ve forgotten to claim one of the three keys required to unlock the fourth act.

Control Data

Anyway, the first part of goal setting was to set a record keeping standard. I decided to review the last 50 runs I had for each of the three main characters I played (I do not particularly enjoy playing Watcher, so I rarely do). Fortunately StS keeps a record of runs, so I pulled out some basic information (like which floor I died on) and put them into an excel spreadsheet.

Here are the stats:

Died during….Character — IroncladCharacter — SilentCharacter — Defect
Act I (Exordium)1073
First Boss676
Act II (The City)111621
Second Boss335
Act III (The Beyond)335
Third Boss241
Act IV Elites113
The Corrupt Heart344
Victory!1152
Checksum505050
Not a huge sample size….

It struck me as odd that the Second Boss and Act III numbers matched, but I doubled checked and its just a coincidence.

First thought — I won at a 12% rate, which was lower than I thought (I would have guessed I won at a 20% rate overall), but perhaps I am just deluding myself. I do think I had some bad luck (a certainly have a better than 4% win rate as defect!) so I would expect over the next 150 games to improve the rate in any case. The book states that I should set a goal that seems difficult but achievable. Let’s try for a 25% win rate overall (doubling the control).

I also need to build a checklist for the game, so I did. (Commentary in Italics)

  • Start of Act
    • Examine the floor layout, pick likely path and alternates if I get good/back luck.
    • Note who is the end of act Boss!
    • (Act I only) Decide on Neow’s gift (a special bonus you get at game start), re-evaluate
  • Checklist for each fight/event
    • Upon revealing the enemies, decide on how dangerous this fight will be (win easily, win but take significant damage, likely die, etc).
    • Note relics that I have that may have an interaction
    • Set out my goal for the fight is (Not just winning while taking as little damage as possible, do I want to set up relic counts for the next fight, etc).
    • Decide on general fight strategy …. if I will likely be using a potion(s) (In general the fight strategy will be set by how my deck is built and not change much from floor to floor, but I wanted to explicitly call out this step).
    • Per Turn Checklist:
      • Examine hand, enemy action (if varied)
      • Is my luck good/bad enough to change strategy? (Maybe I’m getting killed an need to drink a potion or assume a good draw next turn….or maybe things have gone well so I can shift from “just win the fight” to “win the fight and set up my relics counts”)
      • Determine candidate plays, pick one (may iterate if plays draw cards).
    • (For events this is basically the same, but simplified since the fight is “picking which event outcome to take”)
  • Post fight analysis
    • Did I accurately judge the fight? Did I miss anything that I could have done better?
  • Post-fight rewards
    • Examine offered rewards
    • State how each option affects my deck. Do I need it to cover a weakness (a specific enemy/elite), or to solve a general problem (front loaded damage/scaling damage/blocking).
    • Double check for good/bad interactions. Look at your deck and relics when deciding!
    • Decide which is best and take it (or skip).
    • Determine a rough “State of the game” (my ‘equity’ in the game). (Don’t need an exact number, but has it gone up or down).
    • Adjust strategy based on state of game. Pick next floor.
  • Post-game analysis.
    • Record tracking information
    • Write up a quick summary as to why I think I won/lost
    • Think of at least one positive and one “need to improve”

Again, I probably did a lot of this automatically, but there are a few things I’m calling out to myself — Making sure to double check potions and relics (because forgetting to use them is a big mistake).

Things to track:

I’ll track everything as before, but also keep track of my mistakes and notes. (For the above, I didn’t show it but I also noted which enemy I died to).

“Oops” Mistakes — Playing too quickly (if I make a move I want to “take back” then that’s a mistake. You can quit a fight and restart, but I’ll only do that if I make an actual misclick. I’ve been somewhat casual about that, but the real goal of this is to slow down and think more — which is the one skill that translates directly to bridge). In order to make this more “Apples to Apples” I’ll divide this by # of floors which isn’t an exact measure since not all floors can have them, but is at least reasonable.

Why did I lose — For my losses, I will categorize them as follows. I’ve decided to assign points to each category, with a total of 10 points.

  1. Too Aggressive — Taking an upgrade when I should have rested, and in general not respecting that.
  2. Too Passive — The downside of that is not recognizing when I’m poorly placed and need to be taking more short term risks to be able to face the next boss, etc. Note that I think I can be too passive and aggressive in the same game (obviously at different times).
  3. Gross Oversights — I missed something and it got me (missed a relic interaction, etc). I’d really like this number to be low … that’s the point of the checklist. These are things that get me killed or a huge chunk of HP.
  4. Math mistakes — Sometimes you have to just run the numbers.
  5. Bad micromanagement of fights — Small errors in fights that cost a HP here and there, missing subtle interactions.
  6. Bad Luck — Sometimes you just don’t get offered great cards, you bottom deck the fights, etc. Things that are outside my control. In theory there should only be points in this category on half (or less) of my games, but sometimes you just lose without doing anything wrong. (Negative Points means I had good luck and wasted it), so if I assign less than 10 points, I’ll dump the rest here.

When I win I will assign a “Good luck” score, how much was it just destined (because I got great cards/relics, etc).

As I normally do, I will rotate characters (Ironclad, then Silent, then Defect), just to match the controls.

Final thoughts (before starting)

Just looking at the stats was useful, because I have noticed a few things:

I play Act I too aggressively as Ironclad. Ironclad’s “schtick” is that he does a lot of damage and heals a bit after fights, and I clearly rely on that too much and end up dying in the first act (or at the first boss) much more so than other characters. My Ironclad win rate is higher (caveat for small sample size), but many of the runs are short, quick deaths.

I may be too passive with the other two characters …. For the silent/watcher (who don’t automatically heal) my play gets through Act I but am not well placed and die in Act II. I suspect I am not taking enough fast damage or all out attack.

I need to respect the Second Act more and start looking “past the first boss” when I think I have it beaten.

Let the games begin.

Update — After thinking about it (and playing a round of games while I was editing this), I think that “Bad Luck” should probably average 3. Jorbs only wins 70% of the games, so assuming that 30% are unwinnable at my level of play seems reasonable. (He’s on a higher ascension, but a better player). I’m not going to agonize over it too much (especially since it would lead to negative thinking, a “no-no” in the book.) I had a few games where things just didn’t seem to line up….

Written by taogaming

January 30, 2021 at 2:59 pm

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  1. […] you recall (or can read), I was using techniques given by Kim Frazer in her Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge in Slay the […]


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