The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

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Your Media recommendations for the New Year?

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I did watch a fair amount of Netflix over the holidays, but it was mostly Supernatural (which I’ve been watching in bursts and starts for nearly a decade …. and I’m now to the penultimate season). Truly a popcorn kind of show, almost never surprising, but not necessarily in a bad way. What else did I see?

  • Asakusa Kid (a reasonable if not great biopic on Beat Takeshi’s early days, based on his book of the same name)
  • The new season of Aggretsuko. Good if you like that.
  • Don’t Look Up — A good idea for a satire but the first rule of comedy is be funny and this did have many laughs.
  • I did see Dune in the theaters. I liked it (great visuals).
  • The new Suspira. Not as good as a hoped, but at least not a boilerplate horror movie.
  • I kind of watched Red Notice when the TaoLing was watching it. They cast Deadpool to play Deadpool in a heist movie, so it’s fine and quip-tastic.

So, open thread on Media you liked or disliked. I doubt I’ll watch much, but its nice to know what to keep an eye on. And your bonus debate topic for the evening.

RESOLVED — Superhero movies are not worth supporting anymore.

I’m a fairly firm “pro” … and I suspect I’ve got a reasonable percentage of the public. The audience at Dune groaned when the trailer for “The Batman” became clear what it was …. (I haven’t watched the superhero TV shows, so I restricted the topic to movies).

Written by taogaming

January 2, 2022 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Open Thread, TV & Media

Opponents, Expertise and Enjoyment

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I’ve been thinking about the “Expert” tag again. I’ve always been on the fence about calling myself a bridge expert, but how should one define expert? I thought back to my days playing chess and at a tournament there may be ~3-4 players with the expert title in a field of 40 or so. And you know what, “in the top 10%” feels like a good definition for “expert.” Expert is good, experienced, but not terribly rare. You run into experts fairly often.

After thinking about it, I looked up the USCF ratings graph, and expert is roughly top 3% and Class A is 10%. Perhaps I’m mis-remembering or maybe it was just a tough field, but there’s something nice about round numbers and even measurement systems, so from now on my internal metric is

  • Expert = Top 10%
  • Master = Top 1%
  • Senior Master = Top 0.1%

Grandmaster is another few orders of magnitude … perhaps Top 0.001% or 0.0001%-ish. From the USCF site, these are “close enough if you squint and/or are bad at math” accurate. Good enough for me!

Last week’s Bridge Regional inspired this train of thought. I played team games, partnered mostly with Hank (for the first time in nearly two years) but playing with relatively new players, so we were not in the top bracket. Hank had more master points than the rest of the team. I am definitely under-counted because I rarely travel for tournaments (and don’t even play many club games, as there haven’t been night games in ages).

Apparently there was lots of complaining going on (when we were supposedly out of earshot, although Hank and I did overhear a few). “Why do we have to play against them?” etc. Hank and I sometimes get this because we play an odd system, but I also heard it a few times when I was playing with Tom (and we play something close to expert standard 2/1). Tom was in Flight A when he was partnered with other people, but we were second bracket. Again, all through the normal sorting of teams based on rating.

It was odd to be whispered as some sort of “Bridge Bogeyman” in the bracket.

My favorite was when Hank and I got to a routine 6NT … ice cold for with a two-way finesse or drop of the queen for the overtrick. (ATx opposite KJ9xx or so). As there were 8 cards in the suit (five missing) with no real clues I decided to play for the queen to be under the KJ9xx (as that way I could also pick up a 5=0 break as well as any 4=1 breaks) and slapped down the ace and then finessed. Queen was wrong, making six. I think the hand took under a minute to play. It was just for an overtrick.

The other declarer played for the drop (and it worked) to score the overtrick. It was a close match, we won 6-2, with that overtrick IMP being half of the 2 we lost. But as we going over to compare Hank and I hear “I was sure that they would bid the grand slam for a big loss!”

There was a lot to unpack there:

  • A grand slam should only be bid at teams if its around 70%, which this clearly wasn’t.
  • The play of the drop is inferior to a finesse in that situation (with no relevant information changing the odds).
  • When in doubt, experts should stick with the field and trust on their play to win instead of random bidding differences.

But the fact that I know the above list (and they don’t) is part of why I’m now comfortable calling myself an expert. (At least in that field).

You become an expert by being the small fish in a big pond. (At least, if you are capable of becoming one). IMO one of the reasons bridge is dying is that most people value winning over learning (or a close fought loss). Board-a-match and Long KO matches (which both greatly favor the stronger team) are replaced with IMPs and Swiss (which have more luck). Stratified Swiss (where teams with same records play each other, so the Best Flight B may play a match or two against Flight A) becomes Bracketed Swiss (where all the best teams are Bracket 1, the next best are Bracket 2, and you only play in your bracket).

At a local sectional there was a big brouhaha when the sectional tried to turn a bracketed swiss into a stratified (because brackets need a specific number of teams). Several teams threatened to walk out. There were impassioned speeches! It was vaguely ugly.

Expertise isn’t magical. Mostly its avoiding stupid mistakes. When I was mentoring a newer employee who had just finished a code camp and she was bemoaning how everyone knew so much more than her, I pointed out that most of that was just time. After you make a mistake for the 5th or 10th or 100th time you eventually learn to recognize it before hand and avoid it. But you don’t learn from your mistake if you don’t actually notice that it was a mistake …. like winning an IMP from the wrong play …. or a bug you put into production that someone else fixes two years later after you’ve left the team ….

Anyway, when Hank and I were discussing this (and related themes) we were joined by a local ~Senior Master (by my categorization …. several national championships, pro, and a sometimes board gamer). At some point I noted that “The real difficulty with playing against a strong player is that you can have a situation where you know that a weak player may not find a defense that is too tough, so you don’t have to consider it as an option).

Senior Master then told the following story: (paraphrased)

“I was playing against Bob Hamman” (Grandmaster, arguably the greatest player of all time) “and held AKJ9 of a suit. I played the ace and Bob dropped the queen behind me. As you said, with a novice or even an intermediate player, it would be easy, cross to dummy and finesse the nine against the ‘proven’ ten. But against ‘The Great Bob Hamman’? So I thought. I figured it was a coin flip but even if the finesse of the nine worked I would still have problems [due to the rest of the hand] …. but if Bob had false-carded from Q-T then I could claim, so I played the King. Bob just shook his head, said “too good!” and dropped the ten.”

For the most part, Hank and I didn’t do too well. Partially that’s rust (two years without playing together is tough for our system) but partially that’s just playing with a weaker pair. When we lost and it was my fault, I was annoyed at myself. When it was our team-mates fault, I shrugged and moved on. It’s just a game. I guess I’ve always been an odd duck — I tend to dislike games I win on the first play, unless it’s everyone’s first time. They are usually too simple.

Perhaps bridge players need to hear that Reiner quote.

When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.

Reiner Knizia.

Written by taogaming

December 28, 2021 at 9:44 am

Monopoly:Anti-Monopoly::Settlers:Spirit Island

I first had this thought when Spirit Island was released (“This is Anti-Settlers”), and having played through the Steam tutorial, I see no reason to change my mind. Spirit Island is also tapping into that Jungian “pre-industrial, back to nature, state of grace” current that made Avatar the biggest movie of all time (made solely on computer!)

Anyway, no deep thoughts on this, although I was idly wondering if there were any other game pairs where the second is an ideological reversal of the first. (I’m sure there are, but none jump out at me at this pre-caffeine moment). I “collect” such pairings. (My favorite in pop Music is “Look Back in Anger” by Bowie and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis).

So — Open thread for examples! (I’m sure there are many pedagogical games, but Settlers/Spirit actually work as games…just as Bowie/Oasis produced great songs….)

Written by taogaming

March 16, 2021 at 8:44 am

Followups to recent posts

Played another unexciting game of Beyond the Sun. On the trade pile.

Hades further thoughts:

I “finished” the base game (got the end credits) although there are still many quests to go on. (It took about 60 runs, but again — easy mode was turned on after 20). I did not mention before, excellent music. Eurydice’s song (“Good Riddance”) and the end credit music (“In the Blood“) are haunting. I will be checking out further music by Ashley Barrett. My offhand comment about the economics working does appear to have broken down — at this point some currencies are basically worthless. (Literally the next run after I wrote this, a new way to spend said currency appears).

Written by taogaming

November 21, 2020 at 9:06 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with ,

Easy Mode in Games — Video, Board, and Bored

Iain’s comment on my Hades review had a line that jumped out at me: “I haven’t yet resorted to God mode.” (God mode, in Hades, means “Easy”). I’ve long since made my peace with playing video games on — if not easy mode, then at least a difficulty I enjoy. For Slay the Spire, after beating the maximum difficulty (Ascension 20) on three of the four characters, I decided to just play at Ascension 15. I have a win rate around 15-20%, so its still quite difficult, but whenever I won Asc 20 I felt like I’d lucked into a super combo (and often got the easiest bosses with that combination).

A few days ago I managed to pull off four wins in a row at Asc 15 (one with each character). Exciting!

For me, that’s my level of interest in Slay the Spire. For Hades, Easy mode is my level of interest. (For Iain, it is not). Board games also have this as well. Many people play chess (or bridge, or Scrabble, or Gloomhaven…) well, at vastly different levels. But they still enjoy it. The Golfer fated to never break 100 (or 120) fundamentally enjoys the game, possibly more than the player struggling to break 80. Or they give it up, as I mostly did, although the urge is growing).

I gave up (tournament) Chess after realizing that making expert would take me years of wearisome grinding. I didn’t give up Bridge after making the same realization. In both cases, I made my pick and enjoyed the result.

In board games, I often do play in hard mode. I picked up 18xx after bankrupting my first few games and losing the next dozen or two. That made me want to see what I was doing wrong. It was exciting.

The first difference between a world class musician and the palooka is that the master probably enjoys the thousands of hours practice. It makes putting in the time possible. I enjoy ‘putting in the time’ in games to differing levels. I don’t count my time reading hundreds of bridge books (and magazines) as a waste. Even if I didn’t achieve world class talent.

But the tone-deaf guitarist may still enjoy the instrument, even if his fingers and ears don’t let him play well.

No real point, just reminding myself (one again) that we are here for our shared enjoyment of the game, and for board games we’re likely on the extreme end of spectrum of enjoyment. So let’s not scoff at others who may just play pickup chess games without any study, or who look at us askew if we play the same game 100s of times after they’ve “fully explored it” in two.

And, as you would be kind to others, play on easy mode if you want. Or embrace hard mode. Whatever you enjoy.

Written by taogaming

November 16, 2020 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with ,

Quarantine Buying suggestions

I think it’s time for a game purchase. I’d buy the Res Arcana expansion (if I could find a copy), since I now have 125 games under my belt. I’m thinking of also getting Quacks of Quaratine’d Quidelenbaiergishmeister (whatever), as a new family-ish/strategy-ish game-ish. Other suggestions?

Written by taogaming

April 12, 2020 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Open Thread

Some quarantine sanity tips

Here are a few to start off:

  1. Refer to anyone in your house as a ‘coworker.’ As in (“I have to go, one of my coworkers got out of the bath and is running around naked….”). To add specificity, refer to your spouse as “HR” (“…and HR wants me to deal with.”)
  2. Recreate March Madness by buying doll sized basketball jerseys and putting them on local squirrels.
  3. Take a weekend trip to the most distant parts of your house.

I personally had Chuy’s Tex-Mex yesterday, right before the Mayor’s order shutting down restaurants, which is the Texas equivalent of grabbing the rails of the last helicopter out of Saigon.

Written by taogaming

March 19, 2020 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Non-Gaming, Open Thread

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Gaming in the Time of Corona

Honestly, I haven’t gamed much this year. So much so that — despite being a mere hour or two away from finishing my fifty-by-fifty two months ago, I haven’t made the final push. I’ve had one or two trips to the game store, a bridge tournament, and 1862 with the TaoLing.

Even before these last few weeks, I’m a gaming shut-in.

But I was going to the Gathering next month …. maybe. Literally hours before the announcement shutting down air travel from Europe I started to reconsider. I wasn’t worried about getting sick. I get the flu fairly frequently at conventions, but while I understand exponential growth, I also think the base rate of mortality and symptoms don’t warrant drastic measures. But the question is “as compared to staying at home and working, am I more or less likely to get sick.” I live in a city that released a postive person from quarantine accidentally, and went to the mall. I figured the odds that there was a carrier in my building (admittedly a huge building with more ‘retail square footage’ than the pentagon) was at least 50%, based on this Covid planner and some rough guesses, because I don’t for a second believe that the only people who are postive were identified two weeks ago.

I think the odds that I’m going to be exposed (if not already, in the next few months) is high enough that getting sick is basically a coin flip. (I figured the genie was out of that bottle two weeks ago). So getting sick wasn’t my primary concern.

My primary concern? Being half a continent from home when I got sick and/or the world went crazy. My estimate (prior to the last few days, which undoubtedly will slow the growth) was that the US will hit 100,000 cases mid next month, and I figured it would happen then. The US — in my experience — tends to grossly under-react before over-reacting. You can argue if that happened, but I personally expected more under-reaction first. Ironically the heightened scrutiny means we may hit that number faster as drastically more people test (and the various problems with the initial test kits are solved).

But ignoring my health, I have parents that would be at risk if I exposed them. And even more medically fragile in-laws.

Not that they are taking precautions. But still. And then last week happened, and we’re now in as close to a lock down as the American public is likely to accept without mass casualties. My work told at least 25% of IT to work from home for the near future, but that just happened on Friday, although some departments started a few days prior.

Anyway, I know that gaming conventions are being cancelled, game stores are shutting up their public game rooms, etc.

Bridge will be lucky if it only gets decimated, IMO. Not only is the bridge playing population the most at risk, the handling of cards involves ridiculous cootie potential. NABCs are cancelled. I haven’t paid attention to smaller tournaments (since I rarely attend) but I imagine they are going  away. Some clubs are closed because of government orders, there are efforts to move club games online (where you still only play against your local opponents), but I’m skeptical. I’ve personally played on OK Bridge or BBO since ’92 or ’93, but I think the ACBL membership is fairly luddite, and many are interested in the social aspect as much (or more) than the game aspect.

Again, losing only 10% seems conservative.

My gut feeling is that the amount of death attributed to Corona will be on the order of a bad flu season (the CDC estimate for 2017-18 is 61,000, and that was the worst year in the last decade). A bad flu year kills about 60% more people than car wrecks (there were a touch under 40k in 2019). A good flu year kills less.

But society’s reaction to this does appear to have every indication of a game changer. Nothing was stopping my (or my team) from working at home two months ago, except that my manager gave the stink-eye to anyone who did it more than once a month or so.

I suspect that gaming won’t have too many long term changes. Undoubtedly some stores/cons will go out of business (along with a ton of other struggling businesses that aren’t game related) and VASSAL and other “play board games by computers” will get a big boost in the short term. Videogames are likely to grow even more. If I bought individual stocks I’d be tempted to buy Twitch and streaming stocks.

Bridge certainly has a more dire future than general gaming.

Anyway, how are things — gaming wise — in your various wood-necks?

Update 3/16 — The local bridge clubs closed indefinitely (they had not announced as of yesterday). Also my employer confirmed that someone tested postive ‘on campus’ and likely was there last week. And I should clarify. My gut feeling is simply that, a feeling. The straight numbers indicate somewhere on the order of 2M deaths. (360M people in the US, 25-75% infection rate, 1% fatality rate). Perhaps its the normalcy bias talking, but my gut feeling is my gut feeling.

Written by taogaming

March 15, 2020 at 10:59 am

Posted in Non-Gaming, Open Thread

Tagged with

Trends in Boardgaming 2010-2019

Rather than post it here, I decided to make a geeklist on Trends in Boardgaming.

Written by taogaming

December 18, 2019 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with ,

Happy New Year

It’s a bit early…

Not much new on the gaming front here. The TaoLing has been ill, so its pretty much bridge and TV during the winter break. Just added Versailles 1919 to my P500 orders after seeing it on the January P500 Geeklist. (I didn’t care for Churchill, but the theme is intriguing….). I’m vaguely-but-not-really considering the “No Retreat, but even simpler” game from Carl Paredis. (The actual No Retreat Western Front game is also VBNR, even though I’m sure I’d only play it once, if that).

How’s the gaming where ya’ll are?

Update — I noticed Eric in a QE thread and so I got involved. Did you know I have a chicken that plays QE? (He switched from Boggle, where he earned a minor role in King of the Hill). Anyway, when writing thatI remembered something I read a while ago about Rationality and Newcomb’s Paradox.

First, foremost, fundamentally, above all else:

Rational agents should WIN.

Don’t mistake me, and think that I’m talking about the Hollywood Rationality stereotype that rationalists should be selfish or shortsighted.  If your utility function has a term in it for others, then win their happiness.  If your utility function has a term in it for a million years hence, then win the eon.

But at any rate, WIN.  Don’t lose reasonably, WIN. — Eliezier Yudkowsky

Written by taogaming

December 27, 2018 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Open Thread