The Tao of Gaming

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Archive for the ‘Artificial Opponents’ Category

Counterfeit Monkey

On a discord, someone asked about “That interactive game where you manipulate words” and someone answered “Oh, it’s ‘Counterfeit Monkey‘ a free-to-play text adventure (like Zork). From the introduction:

Anglophone Atlantis has been an independent nation since an April day in 1822, when a well-aimed shot from their depluralizing cannon reduced the British colonizing fleet to one ship.

— Counterfeit Monkey (by Emily Short)

I don’t love IF (bad memories of the Infocom games) but the newer games are more forgiving. And of course you have the WWW for help (online Invisiclues!). And the game is short enough to be done in a few hours. Counterfeit Monkey has topped some polls for IF games, and the reason it stands out is that it is a frankly brilliant idea. Many RPGs set up a magic system that is a giant box of rules. With the simple idea of linguistic manipulation, CM has built the best magic system I’ve seen. For example, if you have the “p-remover” you can turn a clamp into a clam …. (but can’t do anything to a lamp, because a ‘lam’ is nonsense).

A fireball has one use, but that p-remover opens up a world of imagination. Honestly, it would be impressive in an RPG, but in a programmed computer game (that had to code in all the possible interactions) is just impressive. (And the game keeps adding linguistic tools).

Even with only the barest of interest in IF, this was worth playing. And there are often multiple (multiple) solutions to any puzzle, with only a few things being sort of esoteric “try everything” options. (Often I was clear what I needed to do, but didn’t have the right inventory, so I’d use the invisclue to tell me where I needed to go. I’ve made my peace with easy mode).

Written by taogaming

May 7, 2021 at 6:37 pm

Dorfromantik

Imagine playing Carcassone solitaire on the computer with Bob Ross painting a small Italian landscape with happy little boats, trains and (yes!) trees. Very chill. That’s Dorfromantik, a new game on steam. I felt that some of you may like it.

Written by taogaming

March 27, 2021 at 9:39 am

Spirit Island (& Handelabra Bundle) on Steam

Spirit Island was always one of those solos I wanted to try but never got around to acquiring. It’s now out on steam. I decided to upgrade to buy the full bundle by the developer which includes:

  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • One Deck Dungeon
  • Spirit Island
  • Aeon’s End
  • Bottom of the Ninth

Of which I’ve only played Sentinels. The bundle was $60 but for a number of solo games I’d been tempted to buy. I spent the evening playing One Deck Dungeon, its amusing. (Apparently this bundle is for base games only, which is fine, I may pick up DLC later). I’m reasonably sure I’ll get decent value out of this. Anyway, I figured this may be of general interest for people looking for solo games during the pandemic.

Written by taogaming

March 14, 2021 at 10:13 pm

Too Many Words about Slay the Spire, Pt II — The Characters

This article, yada yada yada. See Part I for disclaimer. This covers the basic thoughts for each character, it is not intended to be “card by card complete” or cover all possibilities. Also, while I discuss strategies and archetypes, these are intended as a “Discussion” or suggestions, not as a crutch or exhaustive list. They are just archetypes. For the most part I am not going to get into too many relics in this discussion.

One more definition — A naked pick is picking a card that doesn’t do anything for you yet. (Like taking a Limit Break which doubles your strength bonus, when you as of yet have no way to get a strength bonus). Since this violates the “focus on the near term,” taking a card that is a dead load for the near future and potentially the game indicates that the card has tremendous upside.

And I realize I didn’t really talk about density as clearly as I could. It hurts that there are interrelated concepts, but one idea that a “dense” deck also has is the ability to dump all of its mana into Attack or Defend (as desired). As I mentioned, if you only have strikes or defends (and a five card hand) you will be able to spend three mana on either, but not both. (You may want to split it up, but if you want to go all the way with either, you can’t). If you have only two cost cards, you can (with three mana) only spend two mana. If you have one “attack two” and one “defend two” then its fine that you can’t necessarily play both, because you’ll play the one that matters (and then a one cost card to round it up). Iron Wave gives you attack and defense, but poor ones. Still, with an Iron Wave and two strikes and defends, you have some flexibility. “X cost” cards also let you dump as much as desired into them (with the caveat that it has to be the last card played, mostly).

Also — Something I didn’t mention in the prior article. Sometimes you pick a card knowing that is often dead-weight, but that really helps out in specific fights. Cards may solve a problem. I’ll try to note problems and the counters.

Ironclad

The basic deck is 5x Strikes and 5x Defends. Barely serviceable cards that you should (in general) despise. Ironclad’s bonus card is Bash, which provides two vulnerable and his artifact (Burning Blood) is your healing (at 6 HP/combat). Combined with a nice maximum health, this makes Ironclad a forgiving character. In the early game you block only insofar as you didn’t get any damage, effectively trading HP for murder. Ironclad’s card pool is loaded with big hits — grabbing a quick two-energy front-loaded damage (ideally Carnage) will get you through early Act I. Vulnerable means your attack this turn (and next turn) do 50% more damage, so even with just the starting deck Ironclad can deal out 44 damage in two turns (Bash+Strike/3x strikes) if you draw Bash in your opening hand.

One of Ironclads early problems is the embarrassment of front-loaded damage riches. There are so many decent 2-energy damage cards, you’ll be tempted to load up. But (with only three energy) they’ll simply block each other. (One reason why Ironclad was such a popular “Swap Boss Relic” option for Neow’s gift … Ironclad can exploit the fourth energy, although now with so many damage interactions the original healing relic is also more valuable).

Back before I started tracking, I would often die in late Act I because I’d rely on the healing, get a bit low, hit a bit of bad variance or a rough hallway fight (Gremlin Gang, Slime Gang), and then either die outright or be poorly placed for the boss fight, missing an upgrade or two, and then poof. The classic death spiral. Ironclad can’t totally ignore defense. The healing is a boon, not a crutch.

Once you get past the early game, Ironclad tropes that often work include:

Strength Scaling — Other classes can do this, but Ironclad has numerous ways. New players are enamored of Demon Form (indeed, at low ascensions its an auto-win for me), but the high cost make that suitable for slow fights only. A simple Spot Weakness or semi-scaling like an Inflame or two) is often good enough to handle scaling in Act II. Card coordination (via Headbutt) to re-use a Spot Weakness (or start this and re-use Limit Breaks) can lead to obscene strength. Any “doubling” card can lead to geometric scaling which is why if I lack any strength, I’m still tempted to take a naked Limit Break at the end of Act I, since a single later pick can turn into tremendous upside. With the recent patch, Rupture could be close to Demon Form, because Ironclad has a number of cards that cause damage (such as Combust), and then you also get strength . (Toss in Self-forming Clay and you have the damage synergy archetype). If you have a strength scaling deck, the typical problem is that is is slow (if you are hunting for a specific card, or draw your Limit Break before you have strength) and — particularly in Act III you can be hit very quickly for 40+ damage. You’ll need defense.

The “Infinite” combo — When the opponent is vulnerable, Drop Kick does damage, recovers the mana played and draws a card. It totally replaces itself (a “cantrip”). With a small enough deck, you can draw your entire deck into your hand, then cycle two drop kicks back and forth forever. Especially for slow fights like Champ that give you time to build up, you can take the time to shrink your deck by exhausting cards with Burning Pact or True Grit over a few turns, and then go infinite. (A Flash of Steel doesn’t hurt here, either). “Infinites” have problems with Time Eater and the Heart (who blocks all damage past a certain point on a turn, and has the Beat of Death for each card play) but often you can fall into a real (or semi-) infinite when using exhaust synergies. Infinite Combos are very vulnerable to status being added to the deck, so Evolve/Firebreathing as a counter is reasonable (especially since they don’t take up any space once played).

Exhaust Synergies — Exhausting bad cards is its own reward. You’d like to totally remove them in the shop, but getting rid of a relatively weak card in combat for a long fight is fine. Even better when exhausting a card provides a tangible reward. Compare uncommon power Feel No Pain to Metalicize. If you exhaust one card a turn, they both provide 3 (4 if upgraded) block. But with Corruption the Ironclad can exhaust all his skills the turn he draws them, for free, and provide bonus block. Even without the ability to retain block (see below), a few FNPs may provide 30+ block a turn (particularly against the heart if you can Sever Soul to exhaust the trash the heart gives you). MVP Relic for this is Dead Branch, exhaust, get replacement cards with some of them free! Corruption + Dead Branch is a meme for a reason.

(Sidebar — For a while I had a fear of Dead Branch giving me random bad cards that would clog my deck. I suggest you ignore it, as I learned to. Because the second time through the deck isn’t nearly as important as the first and even without corruption the weight of the misses is more than compensated by the great cards you’ll get. Paul Graham called the Stock Market “Mr. Market” because it would just say “Would you like to Buy X?” and you can always say no. Often Mr. Market offers you trash. “Would you like to buy Pets.com?” but sometimes he offers gold. “Would you like to buy this grossly underpriced commodity?”

The number of times that Dead Branch has a run into a cakewalk — even lacking Corruption — is high, and I don’t recall many fights where it trashed my deck. Obviously with a Runic Pyramid you have to be careful. I’ve bought Dead Branch as a nearly naked artifact, having only my Ascender’s Bane, and then built around it to good effect with all the characters. (That may be overdoing it, but it shows that its possible, even without corruption. With Corruption its gross).

Exhaust strategies are fairly robust, once they get going. But they are slow. Also, since you exhaust cards their is a psychological temptation to take “so-so” cards (because you can exhaust them) and your variance grows…

Status Synergy Evolve draws extra cards for Status, Fire Breathing does damage per status. and then you load up on Wild Strikes, take Mark of Pain, Reckless Charge, use Second Wind to get rid of them all to block. (Everyone like Immolate already, so that’s just a good pick, but this makes it better). This isn’t great and has the typical variance kills, because your deck might clog before you setup.

Block ScalingBlockade (or the Calipers) let you save block between turns. Feel No Pain can easily net you a metric ton of block. Entrench lets you double it. Headbutt lets you then put Entrench back on the top of the deck. Slay the Spire limits you to 999 block, but that’s good enough. (Body Slam does damage equal to your block, but is often not necessary if you can get to hundreds of block. Normally you need it when you have decent blocking that doesn’t carry over, then you use Body Slam/Juggernaut as extra, necessary, damage). You can also toss in Juggernaut to do damage each time you gained block, but again that is not necessary.

Take it then Dish It — Eat some damage setting up your strength scaling, then Reaper later end to recover your lost health. A Feed early in the run to meta-scale your Max HP helps, because you can’t recover from lethal damage. Duel Wield or Exhaust to play multiple Reapers (or just having multiples). This is the only type of deck you can really buy brimstone with, in my experience. Brimstone gives you and your enemies strength each turn. It took me many tries to beat the heart using Brimstone and this strategy, but it usually makes it fairly easy to get to the heart….

Of course, for any given archetype you may mix and match. If you have great block scaling, you don’t need anything. If you have great strength scaling you won’t need to block for long, etc.

The Silent

Silent adds Survivor and Neutralize to her basic deck and draws two extra cards on the first turn. She is much more into counter-punching than Ironclad. Weak isn’t great at the start, but gets better as the run goes on (as it knocks of 25% of the damage and that will grow. The Neutralize saves you ~30 damage against the heart if you’ve upgraded it and hit on T2, assuming you weren’t intangible). Silent has a number of reasonable zero cost cards (like Backstab for front-loaded damage), but still likely wants at least one early big hit card, like Predator, Riddle with Holes or Skewer, or Dash (which also does significant defense). Jorbs had a discussion where he points out that Dash is much better than two Iron Waves, because its density makes it more efficient). You also will need a heavy hitter card against Lagavulin, because many Silent 0 and 1 cost cards lose significant value with even a single strength loss.

The card that is now a near auto-grab is Blade Dance. 12 damage for 1 mana is already excellent (better than Ironclad common attacks!), but the list of relics that Shiv gets bonuses (or greatly improves) by itself is amazing — Kunai, Shuriken, Pen Nib, Nunchaku, Ink Bottle, Ornamental Fan, Dead Branch. (There are others, any strength bonus is great). There are a fights where the 4 tempo to play it are a penalty (Time Eater, the Heart) but by then you may have gotten an Accuracy (or some of those relics) and /or you may have a backup scaling and simply not play the Blade Dance during those fights. An additional use of Shivs is to draw them and then Calculated Gamble them away, trading a mediocre later draw to speed through your deck the first time.

Silent — having less damage than Ironclad — has to take more damage to beat the first boss and must also worry more about the Goblin Nob fight. Many of Silent’s better cards are skills, which trigger Nob’s rage. Poison scaling and defense will usually make the Guardian the easiest first boss (Silent is well placed to simply defend and not attack on any given turn), although doing enough damage to avoid the eating the first Fierce Bash may be a problem.

Silent also has decent card control with Well-Laid Plans to hold a card for the right moment. While Ironclad does have some touchy scaling (Limit Break wants to be last), the Nightmare card can scale whatever card you want, assuming you get them into the same hand.

Silent has the following Archetypes, and typically mixes one of the offensive types with one of the defensive types.

The Shiv Deck — As mentioned above. Finisher and Accuracy (and Phantasmal Killer to double damage) add punch. Ironically, Infinite Blades (a shiv a turn) isn’t a must add. I used to auto-grab it, but there are enough opponents who have thorns or punish tempo that now I consider it more carefully.

The Poison Deck — An early Poison Stab, Deadly Poison or Bouncing Flask can help against the first boss, because they are decent damage even if you only hit them every four turns or so. If you can hit them every three turns (or get out a Noxious Fume) you are scaling hopefully fast enough for Act I. Two decent poison cards are good scaling for Act II, and once you add in a Catalyst or two you can suddenly kill almost anything (if you draw them in the right order and survive). Typically the easiest wins for Silent are those with solid poison and defense to survive. Double Catalyst+ ends fights. (Catalyst is an acceptable naked draw, given the amount of poison commons and uncommons).

The Dex Deck –Stack a few Footworks (Feetwork?), and even plain old defends are large. Dodge and Roll provides block for multiple turns, Blur to carry over block. Cloak and Dagger for block + some small attack (and Shiv synergy). Escape Plan will hit more often than not (particularly if you remove strikes for Poison or Blade Dance) and is free. Even very slow scaling

The Intangible Deck –Any character can get Apparitions from the Council of Ghosts event in Act II, but with Wraith Form (and Nightmare) Silent can load up on Intangible Turns. Which is not to say that you need more. But a dozen+ turns of intangible are usually enough with even the most limited damage production. But Silent can (more so than other characters) use even the three turns that are more routine. Silent has discard for tossing unimproved Apparitions (which are Ethereal) to save them for a later turn. Silent has Burst to double the value of each Apparition, and Well Laid Plans to get the cards in the same hand. Nightmare copies cards (effectively quadrupling them!). Six intangible is usually enough defense against the Heart, although you’ll need block for the multi-attack turns and if you can’t avoid the Dexterity loss from Wraith Form that will be a problem (along with the beat of death).

The Shuffler — The deck uses Acrobatics, Prepared, Backflips, Tools of the Trade and Calculated Gambles to race the deck (discarding curses and trashes, but sometimes also Reflex and Tactician for extra cards/mana). The Shuffler shrinks the deck by skipping over the parts that don’t matter. After Image can provide solid block and free cards (Slice or Deflect) show great value. Sneaky Strike is free-ish once you get a Tools of the Trade in play. (And is a decent early pick before hand, to provide a decent punch to Nob or Lagavulin).

The Defect

Disclaimer — My win rate with defect is something like 30% of the other two classes. And its not that I’m dying late game. I just don’t have a handle on him.

Other classes have scaling. The Defect is scaling … sometimes. Defect wins fights by pressing the “End Turn” button after getting setup. Adding orb slots and focus (even just a bit of each, say one Capacitor+ and one Defragment+) then splitting slots between Lightning and Frost is 15 damage and 12 block a turn. More focus and slots provides full block every turn.

Defect suffers the problem of scaling — spending time setting up. Taking ~10 a fight getting setup wears you down over the act. I win much less with Defect than Ironclad or Silent, and looking up my notes, I see — “no healing,” “not enough fast defense,” “too aggressive in pathing,” and then there’s the “never saw enough scaling.”

Capacitor deserves mention as the only card that adds orb slots (Inserter — a homage to my beloved Factorio — and Runic Cylinder relics also provide them). If you see a Capacitor, its a near automatic take (even on floor 1). The runs you skip it and then never see it again will haunt you. Orb slots do have a downside if you want to play and evoke orbs quickly, but its fairly limited in application.

As with orb slots, “Too much focus” is a phrase rarely uttered. Consume is a reasonable early card (early Act I is the time when ‘less slots’ is usually a plus). Biased Cognition (with no way to remove the “lose one focus a turn”) is still a great card, and its existence makes Core Surge (one artifact charge, to hopefully counter the downside of Biased Cog) and Orange Pellets strong selections, even if you have no immediate use for the artifact. (Typically you skip the Biased Cog until you are setup and then the fight is over before the downside really kicks in. And if you you eventually get driven to zero focus, you probably were losing the fight earlier without it).

You don’t need orb slots, you can pump focus and that works (but that also takes card draws). Similarly, you don’t need focus if you have plenty of (full slots). But getting both has a multiplicative effect (there’s that “doubling” again!). But there are also some oddball plays, although rare. Hyperbeam is a powerful card that costs focus, and Plasma Orbs provide mana and aren’t affected by focus loss. (Even worried about Focus Loss, Hyperbeam and Biased Cog are still worth taking, as they end fights).

Apart from focus/slot scaling, Defect has still more. Loop triggers your first orb multiple times. A great pick because for one card and one mana you get double or triple value out of one orb for the rest of the fight. Echo Form doubles your first card play (the second one doubles your first two card plays). Creative AI is long fight scaling in a can, because the “one power a turn” you get will (eventually) give you other forms of scaling. Amplify doubles powers. Scaling, Scaling, Scaling.

Which can overwhelm the deck and then you die because of a lack of front loaded block. My last run was an early Runic Pyramid, Consume+, sustain with a Self-Repair (heal 7 at the end of combat), and access to Frost and Darkness orbs. Easy boss at Act I, grab a mana relic, and then boom, dead after the first 4 hallway fights when I drew no block against a 24 point attack on Turn 1. Boot Sequence blocks when you are most likely to need it, even though it slows the time to get to your good cards by a draw. As always, there’s a balance.

In reading the above, I suspect that my problem may be the following — I am too focused on the future and not on the next five floors, so I should focus on that and not scaling. And literally after I wrote that sentence, I won by getting — massive scaling. (I also got healing in an early Bird-Faced Urn (heal 2 HP per power) and a Creative AI (one power a turn), so once I set up my frost orbs and focus, I could fully heal). Even then it was touchy, because I decided (rightly or not) to lose half my maximum HP to take the apparitions, which made fights easy when they appeared early and near lethal when they didn’t. (I actually would have lost to Shield and Spear, but I had gotten the Lizard’s Tail, which saves you from dying once). So the lesson is — I don’t know. Sometimes you just get lucky.

The Defect Archetypes

The Thunderer — Lots of lightning orbs. Electrodynamics to handle multiple enemies. Static Discharge to add or cycle the orbs. A lot of my early (pre-ascension) victories used this, but as I increased the difficulty this was too fragile. (Thunder Strike as scaling isn’t really necessary, either, unless you have no focus). But I’ve found it more reliable to …

Mr. Freeze — … load up on Frost Orbs. Any archetype can suffer a bad hit on the first (few) turns, but frost orbs at least limit the damage to that time. You’ll need a way to damage your opponents, but with enough block, cycling through your front loaded damage may be fine (albeit slow), or you can have a single lightning (or darkness) orb.

The Cheapskate — Lots of free cards, some card draw and an All For One to grab the free cards back. Often you back into this with OK cards that help with the relics you’ve got (FTL with Shuriken, a Recycle to thin out a deck) and then get the offer. Hologram — already a reasonable pick to get back a Boot Sequence you don’t need on T1 or a Go for the Eyes for weakness — can be used to redo the All for One.

All The Powers — As mentioned above, Creative AI gets one power a turn. With Heatsinks, those get you cards. With Storm they get you lightning orbs (with Mummified Hand you get discounts). And the powers will get you more stuff. The obvious downside is Awakened One (who gets stronger with each power you play) but with some careful restraint you can setup and scale faster than she can, then wait for her to die before resuming. (And sometimes your combo just goes off, you play 20+ powers, don’t care that she scales, and wins).

The Multi-Darkness — Usually mixed with Frost orbs, you simply sit and wait for a darkness orb to get big, then dual- or multi-cast it (or even single cast).

I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff, but this is already nearly four-thousand words long.

Advice for Watcher — Take some overly powerful cards, do math, make sure you don’t get stuck in Wrath form on a turn you’ll die, win!

Next Time in Part III — The Many Deaths the Spire has to offer!

Written by taogaming

March 13, 2021 at 10:14 am

Too Many Words About Slay the Spire — Part I Introduction

This article covers my (evolving) thoughts about the Slay the Spire videogame. There are (much) better players than me (many can be found on r/slaythespire or on twitch). I’ve watched hundreds of hours of Jorbs (Youtube, Twitch) who is currently tied for the world championship at A20 heart kills. You could get better advice by watching him for a long time and osmosis. But that requires, you know, hundreds of hours. (While there are other good streamers playing, Jorbs’ entire vibe reminds me of my graduate school boardgaming club, so he’s my personal favorite).

I normally play at Ascension 15, because while I can win at Ascension 20 it’s an admittedly rare event and I like having a win rate in the double digits. (With my recent improvement I may up the level a bit). Also, I don’t normally play Watcher that much, which means that there may be some watcher-specific exceptions I don’t mention (and my watcher advice is less trustworthy). I play with the goal of “Killing the Heart.”

As always, I assume you are familiar with the basic mechanisms, rules, etc. Many of these examples will use numbers appropriate for Ascension 15 (enemies values vary based on Ascension Level).

Definitions and concepts

Deck — Often when I say deck, I mean “All your cards plus all your relics and the current potions.” Just assume the latter part.

Position — Deck plus current state (hit points, number on relics that count, etc). “Positioning” means trying to win the fight and also get all of your relics “set up” for the next fight.

Front-loaded damage — “How much damage can I do without setting up a particular combination?” There’s no exact measure of this, but a decent proxy is “How much damage could I do if I played all of my attack cards once?”. Also called “Fast” damage. Front-Loaded block is similar, but just for blocking. Improving your front loaded damage is generally first thing you want to do at the game. There is also front-loaded block.

Scaling damage — “How much damage can I do once I get my combos set up?” If you only have front loaded damage, when you go through your deck a second time, you can only double how much damage you’ve done. After Act I, this isn’t fast enough (typically) to kill the elites and bosses unless you have great scaling block, which lets you chip away slowly. Front loaded damage grows linearly. You do roughly X damage per unit time (turn or deck cycles). Scaling damage grows faster (sometimes only a little faster, sometimes much). The most obvious form of scaling for each character is Strength (Ironclad), Poison (Silent), Orb Slots/Focus (Defect). Typically to improve your scaling damage you are not playing some fast damage in order to setup your scaling.

Meta-scaling — Something that doesn’t scale in this fight, but makes your position better across multiple fights. Things like Feed (which improves Max HP if it strikes the killing blow).

Semi-scaling — A small one-time bump. Inflame (with +2 strength) is semi-scaling. It makes all of your attacks going forward bigger (which is nice) but it will never scale again. (Again, this is my own coinage, but I wanted to be able to differentiate between cards like Inflame and cards like Spot Weakness, which boosts strength and may do so multiple times.

All Out Attack (AOA) — An attack card that damages all enemies (useful for hallway fights that have multiple enemies, or elites that have minions). For some reason this appears to be called “AOE” often, but my blog, my acronym.

Variance — You could have a “good” draw (all the cards in the right order) or a “bad” one. You will hit some good and bad events, relics, etc. Consider the very first fight you might have versus a cultist as Ironclad. Basically, you need to do 50 damage and he attacks for 0,6,11,16, etc. If you get a good draw, you’ll bash+strike (17 damage on T1), 2x strike and defend (18 damage, take 1) on Turn 2, and then on T3, you can either hit for 18 (and kill) or defend x2, strike (6 damage, take 1) and then kill the next turn. You have ended the fight losing 1-2 damage. The worst possible opening is to draw all of your defends on T1, when they are useless. If you draw only strikes (not even your Bash! Its your bottom card) on T2 you do 18 damage and take 6. You will likely take 15+ damage for this fight.

“High-rolling” — “Getting lucky.” Jorb’s speak (and maybe twitch speak). When someone says “Maybe I just have to high-roll this next encounter” they mean “I need something good to happen, therefore I assume it will happen.” Usually this means hitting a good event, getting a good reward, having a great draw for a combat, etc. Bridge players should be familiar with this. Once your deck gets solid you worry about low-rolling (what if the one key card I need is the bottom card of my deck? what is the worst possible elite fight I can face)) Similar to a bridge “safety play.”

Density — If front loaded damage is “how much damage can I do once through the deck” density is that damage divided by number of cards. A “dense” deck is better because you are reducing variance, and on any given turn you will be more likely to be able to have the right cards for what you want to do.

Efficiency — How much damage can you do per mana spent on damage? (OR how much block do you get per mana spent blocking). Scaling damage is often very mana efficient, but slower than a comparable front-loaded card. If you drop a Noxious Fumes, your opponent will take triangular damage (1+2+3+4+…) with no further expenditure.

Conversion — On some turns you don’t get attacked, so you want to sink as much mana as possible into damage dealing (or setting up scaling, etc). Other turns you’ll want to block for as much as possible. If you have the wrong cards (due to variance) you may not be able to convert any mana to attack or defense. A basic deck (with only strikes and defends) will not be able to convert all three of its mana to attack every turn. If you had a card “2 Mana for 12 Damage” that is two strikes, but its denser and also means that (when you draw it) you are much more likely to be able to convert all your mana to damage that turn (and other turns).

Coordination — Some cards require being in your hand at the right time (or in the right order). I’ll call this “coordination.” (There appears to be no standard phrase for this). Watcher (who holds some cards) starts with a bit of coordination, but most decks don’t start with any.

(Density, Efficiency and Conversion are all related, but slightly different. I’m not sure my thoughts on these are clear, but I wanted to define them in case I use them).

Sustain –Another word for Healing. I’ll try to use Healing, but “sustain” appears to be a common phrase in the community.

Why Slay the Spire is addicting. Its not something you notice at first, but the enemies you face in the Spire challenge your deck in multiple ways. There aren’t nearly as many enemies as in (say) Nethack, but each Elite and Boss comes at you in a different way. (Even the later hallways fights). To take a concrete example from Act III — the Giant Head gives you a few turns of relative peace, then starts hitting hard every turn, starting at over 50% of your base health and ramping up from there. He (?) takes 520 points of damage to kill. You simply can’t defeat him without scaling (counting intangible as scaling block). AOA is no better than regular attack.

Compare to The Reptomancer. Her ~200 HP doesn’t need nearly as much scaling, but her minions are going to hit for significant, life ending damage on Turn 2. ~25 points of AOA by the end of Turn 2 are a god send. If not, you’ll need ~60 points of very fast damage or lots of block. The Nemesis is a coordination problem. Some turns damage is nigh-useless. (You can often beat it with scaling block but if your deck is well coordinated, the Nemesis is easy).

Some deck builds plow through one and die to the other. A good deck can reasonably handle either (and some bad luck, as well). Jorbs (in one of his videos I can’t remember) called these various ways the game challenges the deck “orthogonal.” You don’t just need “more” of one strategy to beat both of them. You need different combinations.

General Guidelines

A good deal of getting better at Slay the Spire is just knowing the game. If you know all the possible enemies (and their attack patterns), rewards, events, then you will do much better. Most of really high level play is thinking “well, what is coming up that I am weak against?” and “what events might I see, and do I want them or hallway fights?”

Take as many elite fights as you think you can. They provide relics (and improved card rewards). Also, hallway fights get harder as you go further in the act, but Elites don’t. They are also more predictable (fewer options you can face and they are generally more scripted than hallway fights).

Hit Points are insurance against bad variance. But like any insurance there are good and bad deals. If you have a rest then a boss, being able to model the fight in your head tells you whether you need to rest. What you have (etc) tells roughly how the fight will go. If you are 99% likely to win the fight, then resting is a waste if you could have upgraded (or grabbed the key). If you are only 10% likely to win the fight (but 60% with more HP), resting is great.

Floors are a finite resource. Don’t waste them. Ideally, every floor makes you stronger:

  • Hallway fights offer card rewards. Don’t automatically take them, but you’ll need to see a good number of cards to get offered those that improve your deck. Hallway fights also offer potions (sometimes). Especially in the first three floors of an Act, the hallway fights are “easier.” (But each Act ramps up the difficulty).
  • Elites provide a relic as well as the same rewards a hallway fight can. (And the card rewards are more likely rare cards). But they are difficult. Particularly in Act I an Elite will average 30+ damage against a deck with just a starting relic and a card or two.
  • Campfires let you heal or upgrade a card. In a perfect world, you’ll not need to heal and will upgrade a great card. But often you need to heal either to survive or to take an extra elite fight.
  • Shops let you buy better stuff and/or remove a card from your deck. If you’ve played Dominion (or any deckbuilder) you’ll know that removing a starting card is incredibly powerful, improving density and reducing variance.
  • Treasures (chests) provide relics.
  • The end of act boss will give you a rare card and a boss relic (although not at Act III).
  • Note that to get to the heart you must sacrifice one chest, one campfire and take a ‘super’ elite (who will get either metalicize, strength or regeneration).

Focus on the near term. Can you handle all the potential next elite fights (or most dangerous next elite?) Make your deck ‘good enough’ to deal with it, then turn your gaze to the next problem (the boss, etc).

Good Enough is good enough. Sometimes a weakness can be fixed with a single card, maybe two. Turning a “Good enough” into a strength often weakens other aspects. Adding a scaling card means you’ll draw one less card of some other category that turn. There are lots of areas you’ll need to improve –front loaded damage, front loaded block, all out attack, scaling damage, scaling block, healing, card draw, and mana to pay for all your new cards (Few decks need all, almost no deck needs all equally). Sometimes what’s “good enough” in one Act needs to be buffed again in further acts.

If you have a weakness, the right potion gives you more time to find a card/relic that fixes it. Before I would use potions whenever they seemed to apply, but now … if a potion fixes a key weakness, I hold it until I’m desperate fight or the end of act boss. If the potion is a strength I already have, I’m willing to let it go depending on how much health it saves me and how likely I am to get another potion soon, especially if I am already full.

Skipping cards is not a bad option! Adding a card necessarily increases variance. Take a deck with a nice balance of front-loaded damage, block, scaling damage & block, healing, card draw, etc, and then double it. Still the same balance, but the variance goes way up. (Any Race for the Galaxy Fans will remember the number of explore powers grows in each expansion in the first arc, to help compensate for the increased variance). Card removal is also very good.

Be flexible! I mention archetypes below but when a reward happens, examine what you have and see if there are good/bad interactions. You can’t force the game to give you what you want, so you’ll have to make do. (This is also the “good enough” mantra).

If you are losing, take risks! Hope to high roll, etc. If you are winning, then solidify your position, consider defending against low-rolling, etc.

Of course much of the above advice depends on being able to evaluate your position. Slay the Spire strategy is an evaluation problem. Being able to model (in an intuitive way) the likely outcomes of a deck versus a specific elite fight (average HP loss, variance, etc) is hard. Better players do this much better, and that is hard to teach. You’ll learn by being wildly over- and under-optimistic. This guide can’t really help with that. Only experience can.

The (Basic) Plan

No Plan survives contact with The Spire. Good cards can be bad in the right situation. Vice versa. There are no hard and fast 100% rules. But there are guidelines. Here’s the basic flowchart, focusing on the early game.

  1. You need more front loaded damage. That’s your first weakness to fix. Even early hallway opponents take 50 damage or so to kill. Act I Elite fights take 90+ damage to kill and will deal real damage. Your starting deck does ~18/turn (if you don’t defend and draw smooth). Not enough. In particular, you need a plan to deal with Gremlin Nob who scales his damage for every skill you play (punishing defensive cards). A potion can be a big part of this, particularly if you need to hit an elite on floor 6.
  2. You’ll want some all out attack, particularly before Act II (where two of the elites and many of the hall way fights have multiple targets). But good AOA should be grabbed as early as it shows up, because its also front-loaded damage and the Sentinels elite fight is possible on Act I.
  3. Don’t just grab every single damage card you see. You want efficient cards. If you take five “slightly better strikes” then your deck will bloat and you’ll need to take more cards to block and scale just to be equal. Your variance will shoot through the roof during Act II, and you will die, and your parents will mourn you.
  4. Campfires — Upgrade key cards as possible. Rest if you are likely to die before the next campfire.
  5. Once you have a steady enough source of damage, start improving defense. Ideally this is after Nob. You can start in the middle of Act I, because the early hallway fights in Act II can hit for 20 points on the first turn. Its common to have enough damage to take out the first Boss, get a mediocre card and relic, and then get slammed right away in the first few floors of Act II and be on the ropes heading into your elite fight — a downward spiral that requires a high-roll or you die.
  6. As soon as you can, start removing cards (unless there are better options of course). As I mentioned in a comment on an earlier thread, when I win it seems like I have (on average) removed at least half of the starting strikes and defends from my deck. This reduces variance and improves density (etc).
  7. You need to be able to deal with the first Boss. Obviously which boss you face will determine how much front loaded damage versus block and scaling.
  8. By the end of Act I you should have a vague idea of what your decks strengths and weakness are, and an idea as to which relics/cards/etc “fill in the gaps.” (Your Boss Relic and Rare Card will further define your deck). By the end of Act II you’ll need almost certainly need scaling (either scaling damage or block) to deal with the Boss (and later enemies). Your deck may have an archetype … you shouldn’t force it into those, but as in Chess (or any game), if you recognize a position you will probably play it better. There are plenty of “weird” wins, but — at least for me personally — being able to say “My deck is an X type” lets me easily make the jump to “And when I’ve played X types before, I need to do A/B/C to win”.
  9. In Act II you must pick up scaling (if you don’t already have it, or have some insane front-loaded damage) and generally improve for the Act II Boss. But other weaknesses will become apparent and must be address. (Defect often needs healing by Act II).
  10. By this point you have probably added enough cards that you’ll need some card draw and/or searching to get to key power(s) or any lynch-pin cards you have. Again, you don’t want to overdo it, like the Dominion Village Idiot (the deck that adds a bunch of cantrip card draws, but has nothing really important to do with any of the cards drawn). In Act I you often play your deck a few times (especially in Elite fights) but now in Act II the second time through your deck isn’t nearly as important as the first time. You might get lucky and get all your setup cards on Turn 1, but if you low roll then being able to cycle through the deck the first time is very important.
  11. Act III is more of the same — now hallway fights can hit for 40 and the Elites are tougher, but you should have powered up to compensate. Scaling block (and being able to draw and play more cards than you could in earlier acts) really come into play.
  12. As you have more combos and items, specific circumstances likely dominate general advice. But you fix weaknesses, try to push strengths. Even by the beginning of Act II you’ll (hopefully) have relic combos, so now you are trying to find things that really work well with multiple cards (or across multiple aspects of your deck). The Elites/Boss can still kill you, but now is also the time to figure out how you are going to deal with Act IV (The Shield and Spear and the Heart). If you are doing well you may have “locked in” your potions for the heart fight. If not, you’ll have to use them to survive.
  13. Also in Act III you’ll need to pick up any keys you’ve missed.
  14. Finally, beat the Act III boss, then go onto Act IV. Last chance store for that key missing item or potion.

Pathing

Here’s an great act one path. Three easy hallway fights (to get damage and a potion), an event or two, a campfire to upgrade (or rest), an elite fight, an event, the chest, a rest, an elite fight, a rest, an elite fight, a store (to spend all that money) a rest and then a boss. I’m always looking for campfires and elites, and sometimes stores.

Upgrades are your friend. Need front loaded damage? Upgrade a damage card. Need block? Upgrade a block card. Your variance is never hurt. And by the late part of the act, Elites are often better than hallway fights. Late Act hallway fights may hit for more than elites. They get tougher as the act goes on (and you see more of them). A floor 6 Nob and a Floor 14 Nob hit for the same. A floor 14 hallway fight is more dangerous than a floor 6 hallway fight (and before you hit it, you are less likely to guess what will be there). And of course you want the Elite rewards.

So I simply look for the most campfires and elites. The hard questions are: should I take the super-elite now? Is your deck ready for it? I try to take the super elite as soon as my deck feels like ahead of average, because leaving the super elite for Act III forces you on pathing that may be terrible. Question marks are more random and could still be fights, but could also be a chest or event or store. Events are generally slightly better for you than not (“Spin the Wheel” is 66% good, 33% bad, strictly by outcomes. That’s typical), but can be bad. Hallway fights are more consistent. A lot of whether you want a late hallway fight is “Is your deck ready for the boss?” If not, a hallway fight is a necessary risk to get a good card reward and/or potion. The “Fight vs Question Mark” is definitely an area where knowing all the possible outcomes (and technical details like which events can show up where) and a good evaluation function help.

Coming In Part II, discussion of the main characters, typical deck strategies, and another few thousand words!

Written by taogaming

March 6, 2021 at 3:01 pm

Results from my Slay-the-Spire/Bridge Training

As you recall (or can read), I was using techniques given by Kim Frazer in her Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge in Slay the Spire. My goal was to win 25% of the games I played, and the results are in: I played the same # of games as my sample size (where I won 12%) and got

IroncladSilentDefectTotal
17W – 33L (34%)11W – 39L (22%)6W – 44L (12%)34W – 116L (22.67%)
Not quite…

So, I missed, but not by much. I won more games with each character from the fifty prior games, nearly doubling my win rate. (I’m still much better at Ironclad than the other two characters, but that’s because its easier to play).

So, did it work? Well, it’s complicated.

(There’s an XKCD for everything)

This shouldn’t be taken as a complaint about the book. The real stumbling block is that it is incredibly difficult to categorize strategic mistakes in Slay the Spire. Bridge is easy by comparison. While it has grey areas, many of the typical mistakes are easy to diagnose by simply replaying the hand. Bidding has borderline cases, but the play and defense can be fairly rigorously analyzed after the hand.

In this respect, bridge is like shooting. You get instant feedback if a shot was good or not. In this comparison, Slay the Spire is … not quite Calvinball, but at least Cricket as understood by Americans. So, to take some notes from a random loss. “I died hitting the worst possible elite at the time, then drawing poorly. Despite that I might have won if I’d not used my potion a turn too early in this case, if I’d saved it for a turn later — with the draw I got then — I would have won”. So, clearly some bad luck, but also a micro-mistake (any mistake inside a single fight I call a “micro” or “tactical” error). But if I hadn’t used my potion and didn’t draw that particular card (about a 50/50) I’d lose in all cases. So, should I have used the potion? Maybe? I could math it out, but that’s just inside one fight. Many of the StS issues are “Should I rest or smith” and you don’t get feedback (dying) until five floors later, but smithng did save some health, and you had a few random events. Feedback is incredibly noisy.

There were some losses that clearly had horrible luck. But how much? Difficult to say. After about 1/3rd of the trial I realized that my guesses as to why I lost were pretty random. Even right after the game I sometimes couldn’t tell. I suspect that (in the future) it might be best to track more specific information.

Another reason for caution is that this last month was fruitful one for my outside learning. In particular, three StS streamers talking shop about their respective recent win streaks for 3 hours was an invaluable resource, and I probably got a few extra victories after watching that (and reading Jorbs debrief after his Slay the Spire Marathon).

But certain aspects did help:

  1. Mindfulness. My checklist wasn’t perfect, but it did catch some common errors I made. I might revise it.
  2. The act of reviewing the notes. I haven’t done a detailed review of the most recent set of 150 games, but I suspect there is data to be mined. (Some StS streamers appear to have all their runs in a DB where they can run queries to answer it. I haven’t gone nearly that far).
  3. Instead of trying to quantify why I lost, I switched at some point to just writing down a one sentence summary. That may help in clarifying thoughts.

Anyway, with all that said, I suspect that the techniques from this book will work quite well to help the intermediate (or better) bridge player, or really any game where you can quantify the mistakes easily. (Perhaps some StS players who are better than me can, so this would help them more than help me).

So — What’s next? Clearly more Slay the Spire … (its pretty much my pandemic relaxation). I’ll try for a 30% winrate for my next 150 games and we’ll see if maybe my last set was just regression to the mean (as I think 12% was low).

Written by taogaming

February 27, 2021 at 2:46 pm

What new computer games are you playing?

I’ve done ~100 runs of Hades and its now where I make a run every other day or so, and slowing down. Polygon named it game of the year, and I can’t argue with that… for my computer game of the decade I think Slay the Spire edges out Factorio, just because its more of a Pringles game (“one more run”) and has a natural stopping point. Factorio needs more flow than I have right now … whenever I stop for a day I don’t really want to reload the factory and continue. Hades could be a third, but its a distant third. (But it edges out games like Civ IV and many others).

So — as I have some vacation — any other games worth trying/playing?

Written by taogaming

December 19, 2020 at 10:01 am

Hades

Based on the recommendation of Iain Cheyne (and others). I picked up Hades on steam last weekend. It’s quite good. Nor Slay the Spire good, but still decent in its own way. (Note — the opening video/anime is not game play, but it gives a good idea of the story).

Both games are basically a “rogue-like” game with a very limited choice of which floor to go to to complete an Act. StS shows you a map so you can plot your path, Hades simply shows you possible rooms after you clear each level. But the big difference is combat. StS uses a dominion-like card game and Hades is (sigh) a button masher. Run around the screen and hit, shoot, ask for help from the Gods, reload (double-sigh), etc.

I’m sure if you are good enough there’s a lot of skill there. I’m not.

But Hades makes up for this with several clever ideas:

  1. When you slay the spire (or not), your game is done. There are some meta-levels (as you learn the game more cards and artifacts will be available for you next run, but its a new game. In Hades, when you die not only do you now know a bit more, you often get a little stronger. You can keep some of the loot you got and spend it to become tougher. If you are a wimp like me, you can play with “God mode” where the mere act of dying also makes you tougher (damage resistance). (I turned on God Mode after 20 runs of not getting through the first act …. it then took me about 20 more runs to actually get through a run).
  2. The story reveals itself across multiple deaths. As you get more into the run you’ll meet new people and slowly discover their stories. Its an admittedly minor part of the game, and the twists are not necessarily huge shocks, but its incredibly well done. There’s lots of voice acting and comments. When you die Hypnos (the “greeter”) will make a relevant comment about the opponent, and you (Zagreus) will often make a snide reply. You bicker with your father (Hades), pet Cerebrus, load up for the next run and go again. The voice acting is good …. Mrs. Tao loves the voice of Zagreus a bit too much
  3. The humor works. There are a lot of jokes so far that made me chuckle and sometimes even laugh.
  4. As I mentioned I ‘beat’ the game after about 40 runs (probably 30-40 hours), but there’s still (judging from what I can see) a ton of content. One nice thing (especially compared to slay the spire) is that as you get further the opening act starts introducing new elements, so it stays fresher than I expected. (Once you beat the game you also have the option of voluntarily upping difficult for faster advancement, which I don’t think I’ll do yet).
  5. There are several nice pieces of music in the game, and I suspect at least some of them matter for the story. (Orpheus is a character).
  6. While it is a button masher, there’s a fair amount of decision making. Often you can pick which reward you want, and many of the big ones are “boons from the gods” and you’ll try to get a good synergy going. In fact, good players can win a fresh game on the first run (on hard mode!) because they know which synergy to pick and mash buttons much better than your humble narrator.
  7. Thematically? Excellent. You are trying to escape Hades, so if you fail, well, back you go to Tartarus and try again. The Greek setting works well (sometimes you are literally forced to pick which God you will side with, angering the other god for a bit). In The House of Hades (between ‘runs’ of trying to escape) you’ll talk to characters, but they also talk to each other realistically …. well, at least not as clunky as most games (and some major movies). For only having a few sentences every few runs, you get a good feeling for who is who. This is a huge game to download, no doubt mostly due to graphics, but I suspect those audio files take up a good chunk.

Anyway, even after having “won” I expect I’ll be playing (on easy mode) for a while, just to see how the story plays out (and yes, unlock achievements). Will I get to 1500 hours like Slay the Spire? Doubtful. But before I started I figured I likely wouldn’t get to 100 and now I think that over the Holidays I may wind up playing a run or two a day. (Even my ‘winning’ run took a touch under an hour. My earlier runs were obviously much faster, as I died in act I).

Other notes:

  • There are a few places where I missed a useful control, but sometimes the characters will point them out in game. The tutorial is nicely integrated (and delivers points in small doses). The game will does define terms (so if a Boon “causes you to Chill after you Cast”, both ‘Chill’ and ‘Cast’ will have small popups as well, showing the relevant controls to mash and effects.
  • There are a lot of options. Six weapons (I think), lots of gods each with their own boons (and punishments!), dozens of monsters. As you defeat more acts, you get more and more stuff to decide how to spend. Which weapon to improve? Where to spend your power accumulated from the run? Damage reduction, or perhaps more money that can be spent during the run? Who will you give the nectar to, in order to befriend them? (Eventually you’ll get enough power/nectar etc, but then you discover more goods you need).

Rating Suggest

Written by taogaming

November 15, 2020 at 12:48 am

Among Us and my Theory on semi-cooperative games

After playing another few hours of Among Us, I remembered that I’d written a theory of semi-cooperative games (12 years ago!) and I wondered how well my theory matched up with Among Us.

Here are the original ‘rules’:

The “Cooperate/Compete” decision should be a spectrum, not just binary.

Parts of the “good” group can win without the full group.

Players must have strong incentives to act differently. These incentives should not be obvious to other players.

Clearly, among us get the last two rules right. Point two is trivial in werewolf games, which start with a good guy death, and point three is handled by the task list. The first point is (I now realize) maddeningly vague, but I think covered because Among Us is a video game and your decisions/strategies are pretty wide ranging.

And here are my ‘suggestions’ for further semi-coops:

Players should not be able to make instant decisions about each other’s play.

However, with the expenditure of resources players should be able to discover past plays. (“Tracking down evidence.”)

Once teams have been ‘proven’, the game resolves quickly.

Simultaneous play and fast turns….

Limited communication during the early part of the game….

Looking good. Obviously the differentiator in Among Us (versus the boardgames I was discussing) is the computer moderator. Play is all simultaneous, the limited resource is time/attention. In theory everyone could all stay together, do their tasks and wins. But (apart form being boring) the game makes that difficult (although not impossible):

  1. Imposters have better eyesight and can see more of the screen at a time. (Vents gives the imposters an improved speed of motion, at the cost of exposing his status if viewed).
  2. Lights sabotage drastically reduces the crewmates eyesight further (sabotaging lights)
  3. Doors sabotage splits the team directly
  4. Other sabotage forces teams to split up — O2, Reactors, etc require at least two groups to resolve.

Even with all of these, Among Us is still fragile. We didn’t have a full group of 10 (with two imposters). Two imposters makes information much fuzzier. If a body was discovered and you were with X and Y the whole time, they are clear if there’s only one imposter (and can vouch for you!). With two, they may have just been waiting for a partner to make a kill.

With 6-8 players and merely a single imposter you have to carefully tinker with settings, particularly the kill cool-down time (unlike in base werewolf a kill does not automatically trigger a meeting …. only the discovery of a body does). Too low then an imposter may able to pick off people relatively quickly. Too long and the crew-mates will often get to a position where 3 people have enough information to clear themselves, at which point the game is a lock.

And of course the settings need to be more ‘imposter friendly’ as the players count goes up. I also think that we’ll need to turn of the ‘visible tasks’ setting, which ‘proves’ that a player is a normal crew-mate with the expenditure of resources (Other people have to watch). For a single imposter, that verification is too much. In a good group, that may be too much information even with two imposters.

Overall I think that my suggestions/rules are nicely followed by Among Us — this isn’t saying that my thoughts were particularly deep, anyone who designs a good semi-coop will converge on this — but its nice to be right.

I wonder if there’s a non-obvious suggestion that would take the game to the next level, but off hand I don’t see it….

Written by taogaming

October 13, 2020 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Game Theory

Tagged with

Among Us, interest?

I’m not a huge social deduction game, but if there are any groups of boardgamers who play Among Us (the video game) I’d be interested in joining….I’ve been watching videos and it seems fun. Let me know….

Written by taogaming

September 27, 2020 at 11:36 am