The Tao of Gaming

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Too Many Words about Res Arcana

This article covers my evolving thoughts about Res Arcana. (Admin note — I’ve decided to go ahead and make “Too Many Words” a category as well as a tag, I’ll go back and add the category to the older posts soon). Right now the vast majority of my games have been two player, with all that implies. After our opening burst we converted to Tom’s two player “tightening” variant (where three monuments and a place of power are removed at random at the start of the game). Also, this article was peer reviewed by the TaoLing (and sometimes I have noted when a comment is his versus mine). It may be a slight exaggeration to say the the TaoLing is the world’s second best player in the two player, random deal game in the world (behind Tom Lehmann) because I think there are probably play-testers who have more experience and games.

But he usually beats me.

How to Lose Res Arcana in one easy step

Res Arcana (like many of Tom Lehmann’s games) contains depth that I’m still exploring. But the trap so easy to fall into? You look at your opening hand and see “Ah, if I discard X then I can play Y, pass and take some magic item, then play Z and I’ve got a production engine going.” It’s a strategy as old as gaming: “Early on value money & resources, late game focus on victory points.”

The trap? Res Arcana’s (open) secret is that production doesn’t automatically convert to VPs. Compare with Race for the Galaxy. Earning a hand of cards a turn will see you draw a decent or even great scoring card every turn. (Some will be better than others), or a few worlds and trading can (with the right world) morph into a consume x2 engine. In Res, if you built an engine generating a monstrous twenty mana a turn (four in each color) you could — buy the Coral Castle. That’s three points. Next turn, you could buy … nothing. Now this assumes all the other places of power had been bought, but they will be by the time your nitro-burning-funny-car of mana generation gets going. You can buy whatever artifact you drew from your deck, but those are rarely points.

Most Places of Power (PoP) provide a path to convert mana into points (as well as some points). But spend too long setting up a perfect engine and your converter will be snapped up by an opponent’s “good enough” engine. It’s a short game. You can lose by racing for a PoP without adequate support to produce the mana you’ll need for VP, but most players err far too much in the other direction. I’ve been losing to the TaoLing more often than not, but a few recent games against new players showed that even making multiple lapse-of-attention mistakes while I’m explaining options to others, it was nowhere close, and always for that reason.

Res is about converting whatever you have into ten points, and while you might say “Ooh, I spend these three mana to get two a turn!” that also means “you are down three mana this turn from where you started” and “you could have tossed that card to get two mana or a gold.”

The Time value of mana is huge. If the game ends on turn four, then spending three resources on a “two per turn” card only nets you three resources in the entire game! Games probably average five+ turns, although I haven’t kept notes. And strong play will likely lower that by a bit.

So — to summarize — you lose Res Arcana by just focusing on your cards, building an engine, and ignoring the point conversion for a turn or two longer than your rivals.

As Tom notes, Gold is an easily grasped strategy for new players. Gold has — kind of — a pre-built conversion path in the monument deck (with bonus powers). Particularly in a two player (non-variant) game, a Gold engine almost can’t run out of opportunities before the game ends. (In a recent variant game, the TaoLing and I witnessed a massive gold engine lose when the other player scrounged up enough gold to buy two monuments leaving the gold engine only 8 VPs worth of monuments, four gold, and nothing better to do with it than convert it back to regular mana). If that can happen with gold, imagine how easy it is to wind up with a bunch of extra red, or blue.

Concepts

Timing — Winning the Race

When you first play, you’ll stare at your artifacts. You should stare are the places of power. And watch your opponents. If you focus only on your tableau, you’ll be surprised when you converter gets bought and think “Now what.” Determine what each rival is aiming at. If your opponent has any cards in hand and is only two resources or one gold short of your convertor, take an action that puts you in a position to buy what you need on your next action — even if it may not be optimal. You might decide to risk it (if your plans are flexible enough, or you think your opponent isn’t actually trying for the same goal as you are, or you can read that they aren’t discarding their cards but playing them), but that’s a decision.

Ideally you’d buy an artifact, tap it for mana, then buy a PoP with the resources (so you get the mana next turn as well), but that may be one action too slow.  At times like this, Res Arcana is a short sprint, but overall its 1500m race. There’s a pace. (I guess a better analogy would be a bike race with intermediate sprint bonuses…) If you are close to the (intermediate) finish line — being first to pass or buying X first — you go fast. But if you shoot out when everyone is going slow, you’ll run out of resources and get overtaken by better engines.

Time is a resource, just like any other. I’ve focused on Places of Power, but you sometimes race for a specific magic item. Squeezing every single mana you possible can may not be as important as passing first for the right magic artifact to implement your plan (or victory point!). Especially in a two player game, both players may be trying to get Transmutation, Alchemy or Reanimate on the same turn to (respectively) fix a mana-color problem, get gold for a monument, use an important card twice. (In a three or four player game its much more likely that these will be locked up and you’ll have to dance around to wait at the right time).

Flexibility, Drawing things out and timing

Res Arcana also has zugzwang. (In Chess that means you can’t pass. Here it means, if you pass you are done for the round). Sometimes you’ll have an item your rival wants. That means they will try to wait until you pass. Many games revolve around jockeying for the Reanimate item as it lets you use a single “tap and convert X to VPs” power (or mana generation) twice. If you can take more actions (without destroying your position) and force them to pass before you relinquish it, you deny them that artifact again for another turn. And next turn you may be able to pass fast and grab it! (Again, this is often Transmutation, Alchemy or Reanimate, in my experience).

Many moves can’t be undone (the most drastic being discarding a card, which risks never seeing the card again). This has a number of practical (sometimes contradictory) effects:

  • You want to move towards your goal efficiently,
  • You don’t want to commit to one path/PoP unless you are likely to win (or its flexible).
  • You’d like to not make it blindingly obvious what you are doing, particularly if your opponent(s) can thwart you. If your opponent is convinced you are racing for their goal (when you aren’t) they may forgo some long-term growth to win the race. Particularly if you had no interest in their goal, that’s great.

Cards in hand are amazingly powerful

A thought experiment. You have a starting mage who collects a resource of your choice (but no other power) and three cards, all blank. But you can also can select a magic item. What can you do?

  1. You can discard all three cards for a gold a buy a monument. If you take Alchemy you can also turn four of your resources into two gold. If you bought Solomon’s Mines as the monument, you can then gain a gold this turn and next turn and buy a second monument (and you’ll also have drawn another card!).
  2. Dragon’s Lair costs twelve resources and provides two gold a turn. You can buy it on first turn by chucking cards — assuming your mage generates a mana and you got a mana via a magic item — then buy a monument on second turn (having used it on T1 and T2). If that gives you a few resources you may be able to play a cheap dragon (assuming you drew one) and now start banking two points a turn.
  3. Catacombs of the Dead costs nine black, which is a bit of a stretch …. you’ll need Transmutation to convert some of your other resources (or get the last black from a magic item). But its one point a turn (plus you can buy a few more, but lacking an engine that may be tough).
  4. Alchemist’s tower only costs three gold and provides three resources a turn. Now, it’s not worth any points, but if you can get a fourth resource you can buy them. You start turn two with four resources a blank card, and your next card.

You get the idea. Even with nothing but a single magic item and three blank cards you can get an admittedly ugly engine going on turn one. Cards are powerful. Flexible.

Why are all of those engines ugly? Because they are a single card engine. Imagine that you could pick the card you drew on the second turn (which, with Divination as your magic item, is highly likely). Imagine getting the Alchemist’s Tower and putting down the Elemental Stream on T2. Now you practically generate two points a turn, unless you have something better. Many two-card combos are ridiculously good, and getting them out can mean a fast route to ten points.

(Opening with a first turn Dragon’s Lair has a reasonable amount of success, especially with a Dragon or two waiting to be drawn and the right monument, because the engine isn’t really mana based.  Opening with the Catacombs can work, particularly with the Witch, but takes a bit more. The others need more oomph to accelerate, and are probably better suited to a turn or two later.)

The point is with an opening hand that doesn’t work together, you don’t want to just play random cards. Two (or three) cards that mesh well (one being a place of power) can generate points, while eight random cards often can’t. That’s the first reason you shouldn’t necessarily play many cards.

The other reason slapping down your opening hand isn’t necessarily a great idea? You’ve lost time and your starting supply of resources. Suddenly your opponent can see “Oh, it takes him X moves to be in a position to buy what I want. I’m in no rush, I can do it optimally.” Your opening hand and mana represents about three turns of reserves. (3 cards and 2 mana/turn). You only get to blow them once.

So, using this idea to continue on our list above:

  • Recognize when you are in a race and when you aren’t.
  • When you look at your eight cards, look for a combo. When you draw your opening hand, if you got a card that combines with many other cards (even ones you don’t have yet), its likely the one you want to play (particularly if it provides income while you are digging for the other card). Sometimes you are better off having only one card you want to play early. If you drew all three, what would you chuck to pay for the others.
  • Early gold is reasonable, but not for its own sake. If the monument you buy provides some income (either cards, gold, or resources), that’s at least starting an engine. If its just points, you’ll stall out.
  • If you have an artifact that gives you two or three mana while giving one to each of your rivals, hold off on it as long as you can. Perhaps they will run out of actions and decide to chuck a card for that mana. (“As long as you can” depends on other considerations, of course).
  • The Research magic item (spend a mana for a card draw) can be used to hunt for a card, or to turn one item into two mana or a gold.

Putting it all together — Pressure and Release

So, you want to build an engine fast enough to let you get a place of power (or gold to buy monuments). As Tom L. notes in a question on “changing strategy” experienced players buy places of power on rounds two or three, instead of rounds three through five. He attributes this to “pressuring,” which is a better term than I had. Let me provide an example from last night. I had decided to grab an early monument and leverage its ability into my engine (and gain a point). The TaoLing saw what I was doing and then waited until I’d used alchemy to convert all but one of my resources to three gold (I was planning on tossing a card for the final gold).

He then played an attack card.  (Elvish Bow — which can attack for a single life but has no built in reaction power to defend). I now had a problem. If I discarded a card for one gold, he’d attack and I’d lose my (non-green) resource and a gold. If I discarded the card for a life  plus another, he could make me lose my life or just tap the Bow to draw a card (its other power). The attack wasn’t really that damaging … but the threat was devastating. (“The threat is mightier than the execution” — Grand Master A. Nimzovich).

If the TaoLing had revealed the bow earlier or later, it would be no problem. Earlier, I’d have responded. Later, I’d have spent the gold and simply eaten the other resource loss.  But the pressure of having something big to lose at that time hurt. (As a comment on my play, I was trying to be flexible by not pitching a card until the last minute, since I hadn’t decided what card to keep. Now I know that my flexibility should have been on the side of “which single resource do I want to keep in case I’m attacked” in that situation).

At some point you may have the bright idea of putting down a very early Dragon via the Dragon’s Egg …  and if you do it at a random time you’ll discover its not nearly as good as you’d hoped. You hurt your opponent maybe as much as the time you lose by putting down an attack card. (And if you are really unlucky, they drop something with an ‘ignore’ power). If you could somehow magically start with it (paying all resources) it would only minorly inconvenience your opponent. Drop it at the critical time, when resources are tight? That’s good. An attack for a resource or two isn’t much compared to a threatened attack that delays your opponent by a turn.

A few miscellaneous thoughts before discussing specific cards

  • Collect powers are slightly weaker (in terms of mana) than cards that tap to generate them. You can use the tap cards the turn you drop them, and can re-animate them to use them twice.
  • Against that collect powers don’t take actions and are therefore faster. Faster can be better or worse (on the last turn, usually better….) (The tap cards sometimes give your rivals mana. If you give it to them at the wrong time, that’s not a huge deal).
  • “Check Victory” powers do several things. The biggest is when you can eke out ten points but — were you to wait until the end of the turn — they could get more. Of more interest you can also get a decent victory by passing early the prior turn to grab a point, earn your ninth (permanent) point and then win. (If your opponent recognizes this and passes to grab that, you can probably use the rest of the turn better to out-earn them next turn). Finally, sometimes you just want to wait without passing and that’s a valid “non-move-move.”
  • One gold a turn (starting at turn two or earlier) may not sound like much but its a monument unless someone gold rushes (and by chucking a card at the right time, may be a great monument). Repeatable two gold a turn is good and if your opponent starts doing more than that, grab monuments while you can to deny them. But if you have four gold and no way of generating more wait for the ‘right’ monument (or buy blind) instead of taking the first thing you can.
  • Because you can discard a card for gold, a “Draw a card” power should be considered slower, but otherwise superior, to getting a gold.
  • Cards that give you ‘wild’ (non-gold) mana or let you convert a large quantity of mana can surprise the unwary as to what you are actually doing (or flexibility to shift goals). And lest you say your opponents are always wary — sometimes that flexibility makes them nervous and under-optimize.
  • Having extra card draw (even at the cost of a mana) gives you an advantage at gold rushing, but repeated card draw also lets you be a bit cavalier in your discards and chuck a card you’ll definitely want to play, because the Divination magic item isn’t often contested mid-game in my experience.
  • I’m not sure how to value “ignoring attacks” as the player count increases. My theory is that the value of attacking goes down (as its harder to time a threat against both opponents), but you have more rivals and they may just attack on general principles or they may just attack you because you are a threat or attack your opponent when they are winning and so you get splashed. So my suspicion is that attacking is more often, and therefore the value of ignoring attacks goes up.

Finally, Res Arcana is a card game. You can get bad hands (non-drafting), and there are cards that are much more flexible. If that bothers you, play the drafting variant. Right now I suspect that 10-20% of our games have pretty lopsided battles (good hand versus bad hand). That doesn’t really bother me much, although I’ll likely try drafting at some point.

The Places of Power

Although I do have a mental ranking of these, the fact that they are setup means you have to deal with you see. Often your mage and hand will point to where you’d like to go….

Dragon’s Lair — Two points a turn with a Dragon, which is also a point. And it doesn’t require spending a mana. The big downside is that if you don’t have a Dragon you can never get one. Before you score you get gold, which means this can go pretty fast. Not worth buying if you lack dragons (or Mermaid), excepting perhaps a two player game where you strongly suspect your opponent has no backup plan and hasn’t started anything else. (The TaoLing points out that if you have Witch the lair is a monument a turn for two mana, and better with Reanimate). The lair being makes defense a bit less necessary …. someone with Dragons will likely be using them to power this at least part of the time. (A hit to you would have to be pretty big to be worth more than two points, and even someone with two dragons may be able to untap the lair to use both dragons).

Sorcerer’s Bestiary — The flip side of the Lair gives you one point per creature and two per dragon, which doesn’t require any tapping. Against that, this means that a single Dragon is two points, not two per turn. The ability to take cards out of other people’s discard? I’ve played nearly seventy five games and I’ve never seen it used. That may be due to the (mainly two player nature of my games). The four cost penalty for theft is large.

Alchemist’s Tower — Three gold for three resources a turn is an interesting choice. There’s a monument that does that (but costs four gold). Of course it provides VP without further cost. I’ve seen this bought first turn and I think that is usually a mistake, but an intriguing one. The power (convert one of each non-gold mana to a VP without tapping) gives you a final turn dump but requires more production (4 per point) than most of the PoPs except for Catacombs (which also gets a point per turn by tapping).

Sacred Groove –A point per turn (for turning an animal), but with a kicker of two base points no matter what. The cost at twelve is steeper than the Lair because it’s eight life. I underrated the ability to turn a blue into five green. It has some powerful combos with Ring of Midas, Alchemy, Philospher’s Stone, Athanor, etc. or buying the Coral Castle…)

Coral Castle — Fifteen mana for three VP, period (with a check victory power) makes this a late purchase, but anyone can use it for the final oomph if their engine is running. The ignore power can be worth a little income.

Sunken Reef — Relatively cheap at nine mana, collect a gold a turn, and buy VPs (repeatedly) for two blue and a green makes this an attractive buy. However, I always think I’m going to get one or two VP more than I actually get. Also, this (and the Tower) takes more actions to load the points onto it.

Cursed Forge — This costs a black or turns itself (“Cursed” you say?) but lets you spend two red plus a gold for a point. This isn’t a bargain at nine mana (six red / three black) and you are paying a chunk of what you need. It is worth a base point, though.

Dwarven Mines — A cheap place (four red, two green and a gold) and a gold provider. This lets you convert five red into three gold (and taps) and converts at six mana for two points (but taps). This makes for an intriguing (and likely wrong) rush buy.. With the right mage + starting magic item this could be a “single discard” purchase, but usually you’ll want a red production card or two and buy this on the second or third turn.

Catacombs of the Dead — Nine death/black for one point per turn (via tapping), the ability to buy points at five black per, and one black a turn. There are several “gain death” artifacts including two that give rivals (so that your opponents may get it). Buying this too early means you earn at a steady rate but likely have no growth, but its a solid earner. But we’ve seen multiple games where the turn one Catacombs won.

Sacrificial Pit — You need a big stack of eight red and four black to get this, and then gain points at a three (green) to one, but you have to tap it. To counter that, you get two base points.  One nice thing about this (as compared to the Sunken Reef) is that the mana you use to buy it isn’t the same as the mana you use to power it. So you don’t need a constant red/black engine. The ability to sacrifice a Dragon or Creature gives you a burst of 1-8 gold. (The TaoLing considers this the primary ability, particularly if you have a dragon discount card like the Bridle or Tooth). You buy the dragon cheap, sacrifice it for gold, and try to race an do it again. (This also works with the Crypt to recycle the dead). Eight gold means two monuments (even if you have to scrounge one or two) and that’s points and monument denial (albeit often at the cost of a VP for the poor dragon).

The Monuments

The monuments average 1.6 VP, with three bonus VP available the owner has three spare gold on the relevant turn. (This fact may be useful on a blind draw). Also — unlike the places of power — you don’t know which ones are in the game (if you remove some) or when they’ll be available. Often the two that are visible on setup may determine which mage you select and if you are going to try for a T1 or T2 monument.

Golden Statue (1VP) — Three extra VP for three gold makes this a dense chunk of VPs and a great midgame purchase. Early game you may get as much bang for you buck by getting an ability that you can use right away (‘time value of mana’), late game it depends entirely on if you’ll have the gold available.

Obelisk (1VP) — Six wild mana now can put you back into the race for a place of power or be worth 1-2 VPs by itself.

Hanging Gardens (1VP) — Three mana a turn is great on T2, and on the final turn this is likely the most useless monument. But you knew that.

Library (1VP) — A card is worth at least a gold, and maybe more (albeit slower than the mines)

Solomon’s Mines (1VP) — A gold a turn. Either this or the Library in the opening will start to entice me to a gold rush strategy. With Alchemy you can buy a “tap for mana” card (to also start an engine), tap it, alchemy (to get to three gold) and then discard to four gold and then use this/Library to get a gold on T1 and T2.  Without the mana engine its riskier, but still possible.

Colossus (2VP) — For the extra VP your gold is slower, but still an enticing early monument.

Oracle (2VP) — The ability to look and reorder the monument deck is reasonable. If everyone else is threatening to buy, you can put dreck on top until you have four gold and either time your buy or rearrange again. Looking at your own deck is also fine. (The TaoLing thinks that its only useful if you are gold rushing).

Temple (2VP) — One green a turn and a free “ignore attack” makes this situational.

The Mausoleum (2VP) — Obviously a player gunning for the Catacombs will love the free “convert everything to black” (at a delay). But this is also useful for other players. First, you could be missing black. Second, if you run out of actions and just want to wait to pass, you can slowly convert things to black (and there’s nothing stopping you from converting your existing black first).

The Great Pyramids (3VP) — Points! Is this worth buying as an early monument? As I mentioned in the thesis, there’s not always a path to convert to points, and the calculation for how much your forgone resources (for the other monument) are likely worth. That’s a hard calculation in the best of times

The Mages

You make your decision on mage after you see the Places of Power and two starting monuments (and after you know if you are going first, selecting magic items first, or somewhere in the middle). Of general note the mages that collect an income (most of them) need on less tempo than those that tap to generate it (the Alchemist, Transmuter and Scholar, assuming he just tosses the card). I am roughly ranking these from worst to best, but this order depends so greatly on the other starting conditions that it doesn’t matter much.

Druid — OK, untapping an animal isn’t great, so unless I have the Mermaid in my deck I’m probably starting my other card unless the Sacred Grove is in play (and an animal or two). She may eke out an extra point or two (the turns you can untap the grove) or give you a big mana boost (the turns you can’t). But even then I’d give a hard look at my other mage. Now, with drafting this doesn’t apply, but I’m prefer the “make soup out of lemons” deal and go. Also, you always collect green so no flexibility. (TaoLing sez –the Treant can get you huge amounts of mana and is a creature)

Healer — Ignoring an attack and collect a blue or green. Ignoring an attack has very diminishing returns (because if there are multiple attacks out there you can likely eat most of them or just pass, as long as you can ignore the wrong item/wrong time one). But some flexibility in mana collection and no ability makes him fast, so you can often pass early in the penultimate or final turn.

Seer — Collect blue and reorder a deck. The Seer means that if you are didn’t get it on your opening hand you have a sixty percent shot to get it on turn two (or plan accordingly). Manipulating the monument deck is nice (as discussed under the Library) but if you got the library you likely had a gold engine….

Necromancer — Nekki can net you two mana a turn, but very specifically. (Gain a black and convert two green to a black, delayed a turn). Obviously with the Catacombs, that’s a big deal. With an excess green production that’s also nice. Lacking that, you are better placed for Alchemy, mainly.

Transmuter — Tap to turn two mana into three is flexible, but the price you play is slowness. Still, she’s rarely a bad selection.

Artificer — “Speed is life.” With the right opening hand, this guy is brutal. With the wrong opening hand, he’s pointless. The ability to drop three generators early easily overcomes his lack of income. (I mean, mages that naturally collect one income a turn are likely earning only six over the course of the game, so giving up three income to frontload it is fine). Ideally you’d like to go last on the first turn to pick up a magic item you are short may need two of. But even if you can’t drop your full opening hand, the ability to get two (say) and save your third card for next turn (or just until you need it) may still be worthwhile.

Duelist — Turning a black into a (delayed) gold while still earning a (red) mana is solid. One gold a turn is a monument, and he’s got enough that  you should likely get two (with a few discards) during an average game and the Dwarven Axe in your opening hand gets you to T2 monument without breaking a sweat (since you already have the spare red).

Scholar — At worst, his ability is “Turn a mana into a gold or gain a mana,” because of the value of cards in hand. Since you shouldn’t be playing all your cards anyway, digging through your deck quickly for the cards you want and spending the rest is great. A built in research means you’ll see your entire deck by T3 (and you can still take research). Scholar can turn anything into a slow gold engine (and you can take research as well to speed it up).

Witch — If the Artificer is an early game mage, the Witch is the ultimate end-game specialist. I’ve mentioned that many games are fights for Reanimate, she has it built at (at one greater cost). She likely makes any tapping place of power worth an extra point or two, and spending two to untap an artifact may let you move mana around in the right colors, or build up an artifact that “explodes” (like the Athanor) a turn early. Honestly, if you wanted to rank her highest you might be right, but just for some reason I never seem to get dealt her and I’ve played her much less than the ones I rank higher.

Alchemist — Insanely flexible at tapping for a mana of your choice (when you are short) or converting mana to gold (when you are flush). As mentioned above, he can easily go for a first turn monument (or Alchemist’s Tower) without slowing down, and gold has a path to points (until the monuments run out).

The Magic Items

Reanimate —The king of magic items. Usually this provides a point (at least) in late game each turn you have it, and early game it can often net you two additional mana (with the right artifact) or one mana but moving colors around similar to Transumutation. It may convert a mana into a gold with other artifacts (Vault, etc), or ‘load’ an artifact that takes two or three taps before it becomes effective a turn earlier (Windup Man or Athanor). Sometimes its worth it just to deny your opponent (especially in two player). Early game you are less likely to be able to use it.

Alchemy — Gold usually has a path.

Transmutation — Converting three for three is often enough to get a place of power. Taking this the turn you plan on having enough for one, but may not get it first lets you survive if you miss.

Life/Death and Calm/Elan — extra mana (at no tempo cost) is fine, but these are mainly used early to make sure you can play what you need (particularly if you don’t want to discard a needed card). But often Research provides the same benefit (spend one to gain a card that you chuck for two, or vice versa) and lets you run through your deck a bit faster, or turn that spare card into a gold.  The decision depends on how you want your tempo.

Divination — Dig for a card you need or with a bad opening you take this and mulligan for something better. (A three creature opening, or similar late game cards). I’ve also seen this used to force a reshuffle after the Sorcerer’s Bestiary gets bought, or just recover an early discarded Dragon.

Protection — There’s diminishing returns, but sometimes you just have to take this. Particularly if your rival dropped his attack, hit you and passed. Part of the “pressure”/Nimzovichian element of dropping an attack is to force your opponent to grab protection and effectively denying them the mana gain (etc) from some other magic item. In a three-four player game, this is probably a much better “insurance” play. You have your mana in the right color, aren’t going for gold, Reanimate is gone and just want to make sure you can’t be disrupted. (But I’d still glance at the board again). Also, grabbing a Dragon’s own “ignore” mana via Life/Death or Calm/Elan (instead of protection) has the same effect and the bonus that you get to keep the mana if the attack doesn’t happen.

The Artifacts

Rather than go into each artifact, I’m going to categorize them (with a few exceptions). Some cards fall into two categories because of multiple powers. I don’t think there’s much point in doing a cost/benefit for each one, since the benefit will depend on your conversion plan.

“The Dragons” — Ranging from five to nine mana, the Dragons are mostly late game cards, especially with the Lair. But all of that changes if you have the Dragon Teeth (or Egg, to a lesser extent). Now all of them are potential early cards. Even so you’ll probably need to time it to really cause any pain, excepting if you have a sacrificial card that lets you then get rid of the dragon for mana. The tooth lets you hopefully convert two red to three, then buy a dragon on turn two, attack, then into seven to eleven wild mana. Granted, that’s a three card combo (but one that shows up fairly often, given the number of dragons) and you’ll likely be executing it over two turns, but it overcomes the weakness of the early dragon. As mid- to late- game cards they are worth a point. Their attack will likely be blunted, but an untapped dragon can force your opponent to always keep an extra resource or two, which is pressure.

Dragon support cards have some value even by themselves. The Dragon Egg converts a gold to a point, the Dragon Bridle converts four mana to a point and lets you ignore one attack. The Dragon Teeth let you turn two red into three (next turn). So even without a Dragon all are worth playing (the Teeth likely less so unless you are aiming for the Dwarven Mines or some other card that will consume lots of red.

The Elvish Bow is the other attack card, so it gets lumped in with the Dragons. It’s not worth a point and “only” attacks for one life instead of two, but its power of drawing a card makes it the premier attack card in the deck, and a great turn one buy. Since the threat of attack is often more valuable, dropping the bow may force a change of plans (see above) and then if your opponent defends, you have a great use for the bow …. drawing a card. This effectively puts the Bow as “Threaten an attack, then gain a gold or two resources or flexibility.” Quite the bargain at three mana.

“Tap for Mana. but share the wealth” — Interestingly, there are four of these but two for black (the Hand of Glory and Maltese Falcon Jeweled Statuette) one for green and red (the Tree of Life and Fiery Whip, respectively) and none for blue. I should probably look more into the asymmetries between mana colors, perhaps another time. All but the Hand of Glory gain three mana and give your rivals one (each), and all but the Hand have a secondary power. As mentioned elsewhere, much like attacking the timing of giving out free mana is important. If  you give it out and allow your rival to keep a card or grab a place of power first, that’s no good. But giving it to them after they’ve done it isn’t horrible. The Hand is really an odd card. You break even on your first turn and your rivals gain a black. On the second turn you are now even with them (up two black) and only really start to gain after that. However, with the existence of the the Catacombs and other cards that require a hefty supply of death, there’s always a time for it.

“Tap for Mana, based on a rival’s stash” — The Treant and Hypnotic Basin both collect two mana and can tap to gain mana equal to a rival’s color. (The Treant is also a creature). Sort of an anti-hoarding measure. If you drop this early enough, your rival may decide to change their plan to eliminate/minimize that color. (How quickly they can do that depends on the mage. The Alchemist or Transmuter can shift on a dime). However, in the mid-late game it will often be impossible to switch. The Treant, in particular, keys off black and if the Catacombs are being targetted it will be worth it. In those cases you want to get it out ASAP for the bit of extra mana it will pay back. The Basin keys off of red, which shows up in smaller quantities for the Dwarven Mines or Cursed Forge and a number of high-value artifacts that generate or really want you to have some elan in your pool. And it provides blue (both in collection and copying), which is a somewhat shorter supply than red. In a multiplayer game, these are probably going to be worth dropping quickly. Someone will give you a few mana.

“Convert some mana and gain, possibly delaying a turn” –These are true engine cards, particularly if they don’t tap and you can gain multiple times. The Chalice of Life turns two blue into a blue and a green (and lets you collect a green). Very nice for whoever owns the Sacred Grove (although since you don’t get any blue out of it doesn’t provide compound interest). Often there’s a bit of work involved in managing the colors (such as the Cursed Skull’s green to three non-green or the Fountain of Youth’s two death into two blue and a green), but often they are minimal. The Transmuter, in particular, won’t have much issue with that. A put the Magical Shard in this category, but it really just gives you a wild mana.

“Just collect some mana” — These get a bit less over the course of the game, but they are stable. The often have another power as well (or insane flexibility in the case of the Celestial Horse)

“The Creatures” — these will more matter for the Grove / Bestiary / Druid as they can trigger the effects. If you don’t have those, they are a mixed lot. The Guard Dog has an ignore power, so you’d like to hold it (and some red in reserve) just in case. The Hawk provides a blue and lets you arrange your deck (or the monument) and buys a card at the not-discount price of two blue.  The Nightingale is the cheapest point in the game.

“Slow Gold” — Card like the Vault or Dwarven Axe or Midas Ring get a gold per turn (roughly). (The Ring can speed up). Slow gold heads you down the monument path, but these are all cheap enough that you’ll likely earn two monuments (maybe with a bit of scrounging) over the game. The Vault also generates resources if you don’t take the gold from it every turn (which you likely wont collect until you need it). The Horn of Plenty is sort of an odd card out as it costs you two gold to get, so its one gold a turn isn’t great, but the ability to switch to three resources makes it a great card (and Reanimate target).

“Burst Gold” — The Philosopher’s Stone or Athanor (much like the Sacrificial Pit) can get you a burst of gold. With either one I’ve seen ten+ gold several times (depending on how early you get them set up). The Athanor needs to be played reasonably early, along with a card like Tree of Life to build a stack of Mana. Philosopher’s Stone is a late game pivot (I think it’s produced sixteen gold on turn five or six in one of our games). Burst gold is particularly good when your opponent’s slow gold is at three and you run through the good monuments (or exhaust the deck) the turn before he earns his fourth gold.

“Mana switching” — The Prism lets you move as many items as you want from one color to another. Usually this is done to prepare an Athanor or to buy/load a place of power or to change some or all of the mana you got from a Treant or Hypnotic Basin’s or Sacred Grove’s bounty as a super-transmute.

“Sacrificial Cards” — The Sacrificial Dagger, Corrupt Alter and Fiery Whip all let you destroy/discard a card to gain its cost in wild mana (plus two for all but the Dagger). These are big pressure card (pointed out by the TaoLing, but I knew it) in that you can suddenly burst the last five or more mana for a place of power. (You can sacrifice tapped cards).  As mentioned before with the Sacrificial Altar (which provides gold) you may be able to perform the sacrifices multiple times if you have the Crypt. The Dagger (which gets rid of a card from hand and itself) is a powerful opener if you have a Dragon or Philosopher’s Stone, although you are spending a gold and a black for eight(items) and you could just discard the two cards for four mana and keep the gold. But breakpoints matter.

Great opening cards

Some cards are just better than others. Here are cards the TaoLing and I like to play early. I won’t go and say these are always right (particularly the Athanor), but they often are.

  • Elvish Bow (pressure and then slow gold)
  • Vault or Dwarven Axe (slow gold)
  • Chalice of Fire (two mana and a built in Reanimate!)
  • Celestial Horse
  • Tree of Life (tap mana and repeatable protection)
  • Sacrifical Dagger (assuming you have an expensive card to throw, but it has to be something like Fire Dragon or Philosopher’s Stone).
  • Athanor (burst gold)
  • Horn of Plenty (slow gold or resources. Expensive but flexible)

Summary

You win Res Arcana by building a tight, fast combo. Good cards are certainly better than bad cards, but you need a plan as well as good execution!

Update

Update (5/5) — After proofing and publishing this the TaoLing and I have played another dozen or so games, and we’ve been much more specifically discussing the strategy behind monument rush. And our thoughts are that the first turn Dragon’s Lair is completely viable on T1 even without a Dragon!  Look at it this way, Alchemy converts four mana to two gold. Dragon’s Lair converts twelve mana to four gold by the turn after you buy it — already a better ratio —  which buys a monument that provides gold or cards or resources, and then you will get at least four more gold from the Lair. Plus you deny points (and a discount to Dragon owners).  Frankly we’re beginning to feel that the Lair is under-costed compared to most of the other Places of Power (or rather, the tap for two gold is too good).

T1 Catacombs is viable with a Witch.

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Written by taogaming

May 4, 2019 at 1:01 pm

More Shards of Infinity Thoughts

I’ve played 50 more games of Shards since my earlier strategy guide, so more thoughts.

Bloating

If it takes your deck 1-2 more turns to cycle than your opponent, you are losing (ceteris parabus). There are a few reasons.

  1. If you have a great card, you get it less often.
  2. If you have the same number of undergrowth cards, they’ll unify less often.
  3. If you have a dominion effect, it will happen less often and you’ll have a greater variability of draws (assuming you have the same percentage of each of the three clans).
  4. Once you get to 30 mastery, you are waiting for your shard. This is a subset of #1, but it happens surprisingly often.

Note that bigger decks may not cycle slower, due to cantrips, Data Heretics, and what not.

Mastery Explosion

Our games have gotten faster, but the mastery wins have leveled off because we often explode faster. We don’t value Shard Abstractor as much, but Fungal Hermit has grown (because of the healing, a Fungal Hermit will often save you from dying) but also because we build decks that are capable of snapping up any mercenary that gains it and using Omnius, The Architect, Giga Source, etc will be able to grow very quickly. Once you get to 10 mastery, your cache wardens now become cantrips, so they hit more often. Also, at this point you likely know who is goign to win the master race, and it devolved to the “I must win fast” vs “I must survive”. The survivor will often stop purchasing non defense and will get mastery every turn. In fact, when you get to 15 mastery, you can often gain 2-4 a turn. (It’s certainly possible to get 10+ mastery a turn, we’ve done it a few times).

Portal Monk (vs Reactor Drone)

Portal Monk is fine, but I’m definitely on the “it’s OK, don’t need to ban” side. While Portal Monk is fine, earlier on I’d rather take Reactor Drone (which is just $3) because you can burn a mercenary. Portal Monk can grab great cards (Zara Ra, Furrowing Elemental, Venator of the Wastes, Optio Crusher, Crypto Fist, Zeta, Omnius) for less than Reactor Drone, but the mercenary thingis a big deal.

I did mention that purchasing power is great, and bloat) dilutes it. Reactor Drone gives a big boost to power. Sometimes there’s a great $4-7 card and it sits for a few turns until someone can muster it up. Sure, portal monk would grab that card (assuming its not $7), but Reactor Drone also tends to get a decent payoff when it hits.  I do think that this and Kiln Drone are good purchases.

Other Minor Thoughts

  • T1-2 banishing your blaster via one shot instead of buying the banish card seems like a reasonable play.
  • Wraethe Skirmisher ($1 for 2 or 6 damage) is actually a really good early purchase. Undergrowth Aspirant ($1, heal 3 damage 5 with unify) is also good. The TaoLing got 2 each on T1-2 and only a few other cards and that damage (min 7 each time through the deck, but the potential for 21). Even though I got 2 early banish cards I was killed pretty fast.

 

 

Written by taogaming

November 29, 2018 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Strategy

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Too Many Words about Shards of Infinity

This article covers my evolving thoughts about Shards of Infinity. No doubt there are better players, but they appear to not be writing, so it falls to me.

Caveats

  1. I have only played two player, and only with the TaoLing. Group think is possible.
  2. This strategy applies primarily tor duels. I suppose for 3 player I’d play the variant where you damage all opponents (to prevent kingmaking) and with four player you could do teams. I have no specific insight into those games.

Definitions

  • Early Game — Until someone has approximately 10 Mastery.
  • Mastery Victory — Winning by doing infinite damage (requires thirty master).
  • The Offering — The cards available to buy.
  • Recover — Put a card from discard into play
  • Unify — An ability that only triggers if you’ve already played another card from the same faction (or can reveal one from your hand). I sometimes refer to this a double-teaming or doubling up.
  • Dominion — A power that can only trigger if you’ve already played (or can reveal) at least one green, brown and purple card. (Only Blue cards have Dominion powers).
  • One-shot — to buy a mercenary for a single immediate use instead of putting it into your deck. (Also “Burned”)
  • Cantrips — Cards that draw a replacement card after playing.
  • The Bonus — A cards secondary ability that only triggers at a certain mastery level.

Healing vs Damage, and the ‘tone’ of the early game

As we’ve gotten better, the game ends earlier. Fewer mastery victories, many more victories when both players were around 10-15 mastery. Initially I felt guided by the Star Realm inspired “Wheel of Dominance,” (healing beats damage, damage beats deck thinning, thinning beats healing), but Shards modifies this in subtle ways.

Healing and Mastery gain beats damage in the long run … negate your opponents attacks and win the race to 30 mastery, then you’ll win. But ….

There’s more damage available than healing. You start with 3 damage per deck cycle, and no healing. Most Wraethe (Purple) cards damage, none heal. Some Homo Deus (Brown) champions damage, none heal. Order (Blue) cards neither damage nor heal. Only Undergrowth (Green) provides healing, but also a fair amount of damage + heal.

Star Realm’s “Wheel” is an unbalanced tire. You do have ‘indirect’ healing. Shields (which Order does provide) block damage, unless you draw them at the wrong time.

Champions also absorb damage, getting killed. (Usually this is the attacker’s choice). There’s a mild negative synergy between them. Shields + Champions can work, but I can track a few shield cards (or the recover a Champion cards) and decide where to assign damage accordingly. (Although sometimes its just a guess).  But the cost is mild. Mostly I try to buy good cards, and ignore the implications.

Given two types of “pseudo-healing” cards you might say healing balances damage, but I just don’t believe it. We’re now quite keen on buying a Nil Assassin (a two cost, five damage Wraethe Mercenary). On the first two turns, that means your deck is now doing 8 damage/cycle and cycling every 2-3 turns. If you just stopped buying cards (and used your money for one-shotting mercenaries), you’d kill your opponent around T13-15. Assuming you didn’t get a second damage card.

Obviously your opponent will try to stop you (or damage faster) but this means that if you see lots of damage on the opening board, you’ll be hard pressed to get to thirty mastery.

If the initial offering shows healing and mastery and banish (and no damage), then you are likely to see a Mastery Victory.

If your opponent ignores damage for healing, try to buy mastery gaining cards (and healing) and only get enough damage to smoke enemy champions. But in general, kill kill!

Some cards swing both ways  (Healing yourself and damaging your opponent). If you are both in the 30-40 range then healing 3 and damage 3 is better than just damaging 4 or 5, and roughly equivalent to damaging six. There are breakpoints, of course. In the very early game healing can be wasted.

Mastery

Apart from mastery victory, bumping up in mastery has a nice bonus in that there a good number of bonuses you can earn. In particular, a fifth point earns another $1 each time through the deck. At ten points there are a fair number of cards that trigger bonus effects. Cards that trigger at higher levels have increasingly good bonuses, such that for many decks getting to 20 mastery is practically as good as 30.

But Mastery isn’t actually required to win. (In particular if your opponent opens with Venator of the Wastes (the only card that “drains” mastery) you can just ignore mastery and try for a fast win. (This happened in my last game. I won with 3 mastery, only because of turns where I had nothing else to do with my spare $1, so I’d buy it every now and then in case I could get to 5 Mastery to earn the extra $ for the Shard Reactor). If you are sure you won’t get to 30 Mastery, it could even be right to banish your Infinity Shard (for a more damaging card, of course).

Take advantage of the free form turn order

One fun aspect of the game is that the turn order is free form. You can sometimes gain a small advantage by buying a card before playing actions (to get it in before the reshuffle, or use a recovery card on it, or to trigger a Unify or Dominion power). Don’t just blindly follow the ABC’s of Dominion. The ability to buy cards before actions means that cards that recover are quite reasonable purchases (if they have OK other powers) even if you don’t currently have any cards worth recovering. On the next time through the deck maybe there will be a card you can buy.

One Shots

The tension of one-shotting is between a single benefit right now and getting that card in your deck forever. Sometimes its obvious because its a break point — you need two mastery now (to trigger a bonus) or a few extra points of damage to nuke an enemy champion or just a bit more life to survive until you draw your shard.

But often there’s no tension because you really don’t want that card in your deck. If your opponent has bought heavy damage to win before your Healing +Mastery Victory, adding damage to your deck is counter productive. It slows down your healing and mastery cards. You want some damage (maybe to kill a champion) and you’d like to deny it to your opponent, so you one-shot it. But you’d buy healing cards.

Similarly, your opponent may one-shot healing cards (to deny you and get a bump without slowing down his faster pussycat strategy).

Deck Size

There’s not much banishing (trashing, etc) in Shards, but plenty of pseudo-banish. Over ten percent of the cards are cantrips, and a quarter to a third are mercenaries (which can be one-shot). You can  power for a mastery (once per turn). Which means that decks can grow slower. Unlike Dominion’s Chapel, most banish cards trash only a single card (in hand or discard pile), but its reasonable (particularly with some offerings) to decline a purchase, because:

  1. It slows your deck down
  2. You risk revealing a great card you can’t afford. Many strong cards cost $3 and if you buy a mediocre card the next player may win the jackpot. (This is my problem with Ascension style games in general, and it bothers me a little in Shards. Since Shards plays much faster, I just label it as ‘strategy’ and move on).
  3. You don’t want to dilute your purchasing power.

Cantrips

Cantrips are almost always worth getting. They don’t take up hand size (since they draw a card afterwards), so they don’t dilute your deck. They make it easier to Unify and reach Dominion. If you always bought available cantrips, you wouldn’t be going far wrong. But there is a downside: Shields. Shields you draw in the middle of your turn are worthless. (However, since most shield cards have another effect or are themselves cantrips, its not a huge loss). If you purchase many shields, its possible that a mining crystal (etc) will hurt your overall chances and cost you 8 points of shield each time through the deck.

But that’s a rare thing. In general, buy them.

Purchasing Power

Your starting cards are the 7 Crystals ($1), The Shard Reactor ($2, increasing to $3/$4 at 5/15 Mastery), the Blaster (1 damage) and the Infinity Shard (2/3/5/∞ damage at 0/10/20/30 Mastery). This means that you have $9 at the start, split 5/4 or 6/3. You’ll probably want to get a little bit more money. If you just buy 4 damage/healing cards (not cantrips) your deck quickly drops from $4.5/turn to  $3.2/ Cards cost 1-7, with a big ‘bulge’ of three cost cards (just under 1/3rd of the cards cost 3). Average $4 a turn, you can get a three cost card and a mastery. With $3, it’s either/or.

Every non-money card cantrip lowers you density. You’ll naturally have variance … the Shard Reactor will be worth $3 pretty fast. And a $1 turn is just a mastery (or one of the rare $1 cards).

It’s possible to go full damage and banish out all your money (possibly keeping the shard reactor) and hope to win by KO. Once your deck falls under the $3 average, that’s not a horrible idea (assuming your opponent isn’t out healing you). Big Money can also work. The $7 cards are a mixed bag, but $7 is also two $3 card plus a mastery.

Unify & Dominion

Technically only the Undergrowth has Unify (as a power that triggers if you’ve played or can reveal an undergrowth card), but the Wraethe and Homo Deus also have some bonuses for other cards.  But the Wraethe/Homo Deus bonuses turn out to be pretty spotty. And the Undergrowth not only has many more Unify cards, but a large percentage of Cantrips. Its much easier to get 2+ undergrowth cards when your hand size is effectively 6 instead of 5. As a practical matter this means that a “mono-green” deck (as much as you are able to purchase) can roughly go up against a mono-purple. Purple has more damage but Green has a high swing.

The Order’s Dominion strategy doesn’t require as much as you might expect. You can easily get a few green cantrips (never bad cards) and pick up some purple for damage and/or banish. a Korvus Legionnaire is Homo Deus card and can recover a champion (which may or may not be H.D.). So you can naturally have a deck with 2-3 good cards of each faction and then possibly get Dominion bonus.

Now — it does require effectively 4 cards (assuming your Dominion card is not a champion), so its going to be tough to do, even with a cantrip or recovery. To really trigger a Dominion effect you are likely going to need to get about 7 cards. That’s not a huge barrier (given cantrips), but its not something to really expect. But, typically you get 2-5 mastery for Dominion, so if you can setup a deck that can reliably hit that (maybe once per cycle) it will speed you towards a mastery victory. But in general I evaluate cards assuming that I won’t earn dominion often. It’s a fluke-y bonus in most decks.

Champions, damage breakpoints, and who to damage

Champions have a lot going for them. If they never die, then they don’t count against your deck size, and they increase your effective hand size (except that previously played champions don’t count for Unify &/or Dominion). All of which means ….

You need to produce enough damage to kill a champion or two every now and then. Three damage is enough to get rid of nuisance champions, but that means getting a bit lucky with your starting cards, so reasonably you’ll want at least one more damage card.

Letting champions live gives your opponent a long term advantage.  Whether to damage your opponents champions or just go for the kill depends on your long term strategy (healing+mastery kills champions). Also consider if your opponent can recover champions, how soon it will be towards the reshuffle, and how many shield cards your opponent has (that you haven’t seen). Sometimes its totally a crapshoot — kill the champion and you’ll find your opponent sitting on his recovery. Don’t kill it? That’s the turn he had a big shield. It’s a card game, but you can play the odds.

Champions defense number is a psuedo-swing value (like a shield that will usually work). Damage they eat is damage you don’t. BUT … if you also have shields then that somewhat cancels out. This is definitely an area that’s fuzzy.

Card by Card

Format: Name ($Cost, #in deck, Ally or Champion (defense)  or Mercenary, which is a one-shottable of ally)  [Effect. #M is a bonus that triggers at a mastery level] — Commentary

The Wraethe

Almost every wraethe card packs a punch, and they also have a monopoly on banishing effects, with a splash of mastery gain.

Wraethe Skirmisher ($1, 3x, Ally)  [Gain 2 damage, or 6 if there is a Wraethe in your discard pile.] — Two damage isn’t great but six is good. This card can often take advantage of turn order to buy a Wraethe card, then hit for six. Will be good in a focused Wraethe deck, obviously, but often a decent finisher card. Buy it, and then buy another wraethe when you use it. If these come up together, purchasing two (or all three) is brutal.

Nil Assassin ($2, 3x, Ally) [5 damage]. — Often burned as a one-shot, but a solid addition to any deck. This is 10% of a KO!

Shadow Apostle ($3, 3x, Ally) [2 damage and banish a card]. — A solid addition to any deck, assuming its early game. Banish and a spot of damage to help with champion-control.

Shadebound Sentry ($3, 2x, Ally) [3 damage and recover a mercenary]. — As mentioned in Recovery, buying this card on T1/T2 is fine, even if there aren’t any mercenaries. Often on a later turn you can buy a good mercenary, then play the Sentry to recover it. There are some great mercenaries in the deck, the ability to use them twice per deck cycle (if a bit lucky) is nice. If you have a really heavy card-throughput deck this won’t be useful (since you don’t discard played cards until the end of the turn) but overall this is usually worth buying.

Umbral Scourage ($3, 3x, Ally) [+1 Mastery and banish a card]. — Did I mention that the 3 cost cards are good? Assuming you don’t suffer an early KO, this will do wonders for your deck, but you’ll have to survive to mid-game.

Li Hin, The Shattered ($3, 1x, Champion(1*))  [Tap for 1 Damage, Li Hin can’t be attacked with damage]. — While not really a cantrip, he effectively doesn’t take much deck space since he’s nigh invulnerable. So you’ll only need to pay him once. Yes, only one damage, but over the course of the game it adds up. And if you get any cards that combo with a champion in play (like a Kiln Drone) it will always trigger.

Aetherbreaker ($4, 2x, Merc)  [4 Damage, 10M: 4 additional]. — Lots of cheaper cards are better (more damage or banish effects), but once you get out of the early game 8 damage is significant.

Fao Cu’tul, The Formless ($4, 1x, Champion (4)) [Tap for 2 Damage, 20M: Double all damage]. — In many decks, Fao makes it possible to KO even a high health opponent at 20 mastery. It’s relatively simple to get 10-15 damage, then double it, which is often a finishing move (or enough damage to get close). (In particular, if your opponent is going heavy healing and mastery, you may be able to drop one or two other damaging champions and have them survive a turn). Two damage a turn isn’t bad, but if its early he’s a six-swing play (assuming your opponent won’t want you pinging him for 2 a turn), so reasonable. And as the game goes on …

Scion of Nothingness ($5, 2x, Merc) [3 Damage + 2 for each Wraethe in your discard pile] — Very underwhelming, even in a focused deck. After a reshuffle this is worse than a Nil Assassin. Often one-shotted at the right time (or to deny an opponent in a big-purple deck).

Zara Ra, Soulflayer ($5, 1x, Merc) [4 damage and 1 mastery, 10M: Banish two cards] — A great card, solid damage, mastery gain and the ability to banish two cards will kick in pretty fast. This hits pretty much everything in the wheel of dominance except healing, so it works in most strategies. Even if you aren’t going pure beatdown, you’ll need some damage to clear out champions.

Zen Chi Set, Godkiller ($7, 1x, Champion(5)) [Tap for 3 damage and recover a Wraethe card] — Expensive but good. Eight swing, and if he stays alive you can recover a card every non-reshuffle turn (and even then you may be able to buy, recover).

The Undergrowth

The Undergrowth have the most unify powers. Sure, some of the Wraethe cards give bonuses for having a wraethe in a discard pile, or recover them, but the undergrowth and chock-a-block with it. They are also helped because they have a fair number of cantrips, which means a mostly-green deck can often play 3-4 greens in a turn. While they don’t have as much damage as the Wraethe, they do have a fair chunk of healing, so are a decent match for an all purple deck. They have good swing,

Undergrowth Aspirant ($1, 3x, Ally) [Heal 3, Unify for 5 damage] — Seriously good for a single dollar. Heal 3 isn’t great, but that stops the starting damage of your opponent once through, but if you unify you also do five points. Not to say this is a great card, but since so many undergrowth cards have unify, this is often worth picking up just to trigger their unify ability …. which means its also an eight point swing for this! Compare it to….

Spore Cleric ($2, 3x, Merc) [Heal 4] — For one more point of healing you lose the possibility of five points of damage. This is often one-shotted. (Sometimes just to trigger a unify/dominion card, with the healing incidental)

Le’shai Knight ($3, 3x, Ally) [3 Damage, Unify for +3 damage] — A solid damage card, but again the Aspirant is any 8 points swing if unified, and this is only 6. Again, often one-shotted.

Thorn Zealot  ($3, 2x, Ally) [3 Shield, Draw a card, unify to destroy an enemy champion] — Three shield is solid, not as good as three healing. This is a decent enough card to get just for the shield, since it’s a cantrip. It effectively means you get an extra chance for the unify power to trigger (for this or another undergrowth). Destroying a champion is a nice unify power.  Which means that even if its very early and the opponent has no champions, its not bad, and it can be monstrously good in a mostly undergrowth deck.

Fungal Hermit ($3, 2x, Merc) [+1 Master, 10M: Heal 5] — If you can survive the early game (and a heavy-green deck has a bit of healing) this can help power you towards a mastery victory.

Shardwood Guardian ($4, 3x, Ally) [2 Damage, draw a card, unify to heal 6] — “Sherwood Forest” is a cantrip for damage, but a swing of 8 (assuming you unify). Great card.

Ojas, Genesis Druid ($4, 1x, Ally) [Copy a non-champion card, 20M: Copy it again] — This can get gross. There are plenty of great cards, and this can be a game breaker. But in a non-banish deck we’ve seen it forced to copy Crystals. A very swingy card but if you have any banish this will likely be great, even before you get to 20 mastery.

Ghostwillow Avenger ($4, 1x, Merc) [4 Damage, 15M: Destroy all enemy champions] — Situational, obviously. A player with lots of champions will likely burn it (if possible).

Additri, Gaiamancer ($5, 1x, Champion(5)) [Tap for 2 Damage + 2 for each other Undergrowth ally played this turn] — Decent. He can have some big turns, which means he’ll get killed fairly often. Since 7 of the 22 undergrowth cards are cantrips, he gets into double digits from time to time. Also, the only undergrowth champion, so if you are looking to go Dominion, snap this up (along with Korvus Legoinnaire) even though he’s low damage.

Furrowing Elemental  ($5, 2x, Ally) [Heal 4, Draw a card, and if you are at 50 life gain six damage] — Basically a 4 healing cantrip. It’s rare that the damage kicks in. This card can be gross if you get it first turn, since you may draw it before an opponent is capable of doing four damage. Unless your opponent has forgone damage, a four healing cantrip. It’s always better than not buying it (actually, that’s not true if you have shields, but usually) but there are often better cards to buy (and gain a mastery with your leftover money).

Root of the Forest, ($7, 1x, Merc) [Heal 10, Unify for 10 damage] — Look, a twenty point swing is big and even if you don’t unify, heal ten! Also, this is one of the reasons that the Shadebound Sentry speculative opening is good.

Homo Deus

Most factions have a champion or three. Homo Deus has nine. For reference, there are 88 cards in the deck, 22 of each faction. They are also the “big money” faction, with over half their cards (12/22) providing money. They have no unify powers, but they do have a few champions that get more valuable with other Homo Deus champions in play.

Kiln Drone ($1, 3x, Ally) [$2, or $4 if you have a champion in play] — $4 is big. With that one card its easy to luck into a $7 card (if one is available) or a solid card + a mastery. If you have a few champions (or Li Hin, or Korvus Legionnaire) you’ll often get the full value for this. But $2 isn’t bad, and this is a $1 card.

Mining Drones ($2, 3x, Ally) [$1 and draw a card] — A cantrip crystal, see above.

Primus Pilus ($2, 1x, Champion(6)) [Tap to draw 2 cards if you have 3+ Homo Deus champions on play] — When he’s big he’s great, but there are only nine H.D. Champions. Often this is just a dead card. But if your opponent has many H.D. champions, you may have to buy this and then hope to banish it.

Korvus Legionnaire ($3, 3x, Ally) [2 Shield, 2 Damage, Recover a champion] — Like Shadebound Sentry, worth getting early because it may let you recover a champion later on. Even if you don’t, two damage and two shield is OK (not great). A swing of four if you didn’t have any other shields. If you happen to get a Wraethe/Undergrowth champion, this card is 2/3rds of the way to Dominion by itself! When your opponent has Legionnaire you should (as a general rule) stop trying to kill champions and just focus on killing them. There’s nothing more annoying than doing 8 damage, using five of it to kill their champion, and then see them flash this to shield two of the remaining three and then return the champion into play. Far better to have just pounded them for six. The Legionnaire is enough of a game changer to make it a decent speculative purchase….

Reactor Drone ($3, 3x, Ally) [$3] — Basically your big money strategy. More stable than a Kiln Drone.

Numeri Drones ($3, 2x, Champion (5)) [Tap for $1 and put the next Homodeus Champion you buy into play] — These are … interesting. They are crystals ($1) …. but they stick around. If your opponent kills them they’ve basically shielded you five damage. And if not, then you get the money multiple turns. The putting a Homodeus champion into play … well, 10% of the deck is H.D. Champions. If your opponent is trying heal/mastery these guys can be amazing, which is why you always want to have at least a little damage.

Venator of the Wastes ($4, 1x, Merc) [4 Damage and your opponent loses 2 mastery if you have a champion in play] — The only card that can reduce mastery in the game. Often this isn’t about the final race, but keeping someone below 10 or 15 for an extra turn, and four damage is a big enough burst to be worthwhile in most cases. Expect this to go pretty fast, or get burned. Ironically if you buy this early your opponent can often recover by just going for a fast beat down and ignoring mastery. A very swingy card who can change the game by appearing at the right/wrong time.

Evokatus ($4, 2x, Champion (2)) [Draw a card when you play this, Tap for 1 Damage per H.D. champion] — He’s fragile, sure, and he doesn’t do much damage or take much to kill. But he’s a cantrip so who cares if he dies? Absolutely don’t target this guy if your opponent has a Korvus Legionnaire….

Optio Crusher ($5, 2x, Champion (4)) [3 Damage, 10M: +2 Damage] — A solid brawler. Usually he’ll eat a Wraethe card for you, so this effectively makes him a seven point swing, nine once you are 10M.  But if you get a lucky turn or two where your opponent only does a few points of damage, he adds up.  And 10 mastery can happen pretty fast. Again, a Korvus helps you out. Your opponent will anguish over killing this or eating 5/turn.

Drakonarius ($6, 1x, Champion (2)) [Tap for 6 damage, cannot be attacked if you have General Decurion in play] — Uh, OK. Six damage is nice, but this guy is a creampuff. (On the other hand, eight swing). Sure if you get another single card in play he’s immune, but that is specific. If you already have Decurion, then he’s an easy purchase (or if you have a Numeri Drone, sure.)

General Decurion ($7, 1x, Champion (7)) [Tap for $3, 20M: Copy the effects of all Homodeus Allies you play or have played this turn] — Look, this guy is $3 that will often attract 7 damage right away. If you get to 20 mastery and can then copy a few Drones for extra money, cards great! The rule for all the $7 cards is “If you can get them, its probably not a bad idea” but this guy is glorified reactor drone. But still, you may get multiple turns, he has synergy with cards, etc. He’s good.

The Order

Look, there’s a reason the Order cards are blue. They are Dominion cards. Metagaming effects. Mastery. They aren’t damage or healing. I keep seeing that they are ‘broken’ but you can load up on too many of them and lose easily enough.

Order Initiate ($2, 3x, Ally) [Gain $2 and 2 mastery if you’ve made Dominion] — These can be great, if you started early banish you’ll want to get these to replace some crystals at extra money. Grab a few cantrips from undergrowth and dominion isn’t that hard. But you have to have it when you play them, which means you can’t use their $2 to one-shot the last thing you need. If you aren’t really threatening Dominion, you’d prefer kiln drones for the shot at $2 extra or the Mining Drones. I do buy these if I have banish effects, because a) I’ll be banishing crystals and need the money b) my deck will be much closer to dominion-density.

Cache Warden ($2, 2x, Merc) [Gain 1 Mastery, 10M: Draw a card] — These get snapped up (or burned, if its early or the buyer is desperate right now) right away. Cantrips starting in the mid game, so good if its a low-damage start. A trap in a high-damage game.

Giga, Source Adept ($2, 1x, Champion (4))  [Draw a card when you play this, Tap for 3 mastery, but you must have dominion to use it.] — (aka “Gigasaurus”) A two cost cantrip that may get you 3 mastery? His only downside is to make your shields slightly worse. This card feels undercosted, and I can see why people complain about the Order. But there’s the opportunity cost of buying him. If you get this and your opponent gets an Umbral Scourge (for example) by the time you are threatening to score a dominion he’s banished 2-3 cards and gotten that much mastery. But if the offering is weak and there’s no opportunity cost, snap him up.

Shard Abstractor ($3, 3x, Mercenary) [+2 Mastery] — This is burned surprisingly often. 2 Mastery is fine, but you won’t get it until your next time through the deck, and banishes or cantrips are fighting for position. But this is a solid opening card, aiming not necessarily for a mastery victory, because even 10M gives you lots of options for cards.

Data Heretic ($3, 3x, Mercenary) [Draw two cards] — A thread on BGG calls this the best card in the game. That may be an overbid, but not a gross one. A six card hand makes unify and mastery easier. It makes a big money turn easier to snatch up a great card. It helps your damage get towards a breakpoint. One standard deck archetype is the small deck that cycle most every turn. Of course it can be wrong to buy it if the game is close to the endgame when you might want to boost your mastery that final oomph or burn that last damage, but as an opener or mid-game card? Great.

Systema A.I. ($3, 1x, Champion (4)) [Tap for 1 Mastery, 20M: Draw two cards] — Certainly great if are at 20+M. Early on. Well, this is basically a half shard abstractor that will soak some damage. Fine. (And yet another reason why Korvus is a great speculative card).

Portal Monk ($3, 2x, Ally) [Recruit a card of cost 1-6 for free, 15M: Put it into hand instead of your discard pile.] — Another card that I see in ‘best card’ lists … but I’m not sure. Deck bloat is a real game killer. Even if you already have 15M, there are times when you just wont want to put a card into your hand. (i.e. The offering doesn’t have a cantrip or anything you like). In those cases, your hand size is negative one. And early on the opportunity cost of getting this, waiting for it to cycle, then getting a card, then waiting for it to cycle … ugh. Sure, this can be great, you could luck into a great draw, and if you got early mastery bonus, it may definitely pay off. But unlike Data Heretic, this is a high variance card.

Command Seer ($4, 2x, Ally) [5 Shield, $2] — Perhaps I’m overly down on this, but we almost never buy it. I think that is wrong. $2 isn’t horrible, and 5 shield is great. But in practice I always want to buy something else, like

Cryptofist Monk ($5, 2x, Ally) [8 Shield, Draw a card] — Now that I think about, the card you will draw will often be a crystal, which means that perhaps I should take the Command Seer more often.

Zetta, The Encryptor ($5, 1x, Champion (5)) [5 Shield, Must be attacked before you and the other champions] — A pure damage sponge. Against a heavy attack deck, he’ll stop 10 damage (five as a shield, and five since he must be attacked first). Against lighter decks that can’t always muster 5 damage, he may keep some of your other wimpy champions alive an extra turn or two. If you are both forgoing damage and are in straight race for a mastery victory, he’ll slow you down. (Cards like this are part of why Thorn Zealot is an OK purchase. A 3 shield cantrip could blossom into a “Oh, let’s kill Zetta” moment … even if you aren’t going to kill your opponent, you slow his deck down].

Omnius, the All-Knowing ($6, 1x, Merc) [Draw two cards, Dominion for 5 mastery] — A Data Heretic that may explode for five mastery. Very good card, but very expensive. (If this is on the board then getting a Portal Monk or a Reactor Drone to try and snag this after your reshuffle is worth contemplating). If you already have a few cantrips and/or banished a few cards this isn’t that difficult to hit Dominion with.

The Grand Architect ($7, 1x, Merc) [Gain 5 Mastery] — Surprisingly, this is often burned, because five mastery now usually trumps 10 mastery later.

Written by taogaming

October 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with ,

Thinking about Imperfect Thinking

Author’s Note — This is long and very self-absorbed, but has been weighing on me for a while.

I’ve wanted to be a Bridge expert since college. Not ‘expert’ in the sense of Life Master or one of the better club players, but “threatening to win a national event” expert. Or better.

In High School I’d expected to conquer chess, but achieved only tournament mediocrity after five years. Possibly — if I’d kept trying — I’d have pulled myself up into barely expert rank through sheer perseverance and the slow accumulation of knowledge. But I felt immensely frustrated, I wanted the fast accumulation of knowledge I’d encountered in so many fields. I can’t ‘see’ positions in my mind. I studied openings and would sometimes remember them, but often not. I studied endgames. I studied and studied but during games minutes would tick by. I would be “thinking,” but haphazardly. Loose thoughts, jumbled together in a tangled mass.

So I read and studied more.

One book gripped my psyche and captivated my thoughts. Kotov’s “Think Like a Grandmaster”. In the introduction Kotov tells about visiting a distant chess club andbeing asked to give an impromptu lecture. The crowd shouted requests, that Kotov review a master game or some new opening theory.

He demurs. “There’s no point in learning details if you can’t learn how to think. Let’s discuss thinking

Kotov sets up a position and turns to his audience, “Let’s imagine you’ve been asked to take over for a player who has fallen ill. It is our move, what shall we do?” The story — omitting much chess analysis — continues:

“There are two obvious moves (a kingside and a queenside move). Let’s try the a kingside attack. Does it work? Hm. …Kotov runs through a few moves… no, that last move seems to stop me. OK. What about a queenside pawn push? Hm … runs a few moves … no, that seems to be losing. It’s too slow. Back to the kingside. What if I prepare the sacrifice with this move? No. Hm. Still doesn’t work. Maybe if I do adjust my queenside pawn push.”

Kotov alternates between the two lines then exclaims Then you look at your clock and think “Oh my god, ten minutes have gone by! How could I have only analyzed two lines in ten minutes? I’m going to lose on time!”

And then Kotov grabs his king and castles, saying “So you just castle, without even thinking about it. Its probably safe enough.”

Kotov’s audience roars with laughter, and applauds. They recognize themselves. And I (a young teenager) recognized myself. Kotov then explained that Grandmasters think through a line only once, because they are sure their analysis is right and if they missed something, they are likely to miss it again. The rest of the book is his instruction on how to think. But I could never absorb the lessons, at least not to the level that satisfied me, and at some point I stopped playing Chess.


As this is ostensibly a blog about games, let me present a hand from a Bracketed Swiss (top bracket). (Skip ahead to the Post Hand Analysis, if you don’t care about the details).

Dummy S:QJx H:AJxxx D:Q98 C:Q9

My Hand S:Tx H:KTx D:KJxx C:K8xx

My RHO opened 1 Club, I passed, LHO responded 1 Spade and my partner doubled. RHO raised to two spades, and I bid 3 Diamonds, ending the auction.

I thought partner’s red suits would be equal (or diamonds longer), and could have bid 2N to let partner pick the suit, and I thought that when dummy came down, but I recognized that I could no longer do anything about that. Partner didn’t expect me to have the World’s Fair and compete to the three level, no doubt. Here’s the auction again:


RHO  Me LHO CHO
--------------
1C   P  1S   X
2S  3D  All Pass

LHO led the club Ten.

After some thought I covered the queen and RHO won the ace. RHO then shifted to a diamond, ducked around to dummy’s nine.

My opponents have a Flight B national championship (I believe); they aren’t bad. Steady players. They make mistakes, but play steadily enough to win a long multi-day event against other Flight Bs.

What play should I make? Here’s my internal monologue:

First things first — Count! Spades are presumably 4-4. With 5-3 I’d have heard a support redouble.The opponents only have 18 points — RHO opened and LHO responded, so it could be 6 (on my left)-12 or 5-13 or 7-11 or maybe something like 4-14. Either opponent could be light. The latter is most likely if LHO has a stiff club, but RHO didn’t return a club.

LHO likely doesn’t have AK of spades, that would be an almost automatic lead.

[Not terribly extensive, but at least I did note those things and counted. That’s better than too many hands. Back to my thoughts…]

I see three options —

  • I could continue with diamonds. This will work spectacularly well if I pick up hearts. But RHO thought pulling trumps was OK. If I lead a trump I risk it going diamond ace and another
  • Or I could lead the 9 of clubs and win the king then ruff, then cross in hearts and ruff another club.
  • Or I could float the 9 of clubs. That 8 of clubs is taunting me.

If LHO led the T of clubs from JT tight (which is the standard lead) the last would be phenomenally bad. Can I tell? I don’t think I can. Restricted choice says its likely Jx, but I don’t know.

I considered the pros and cons of each, but I also spent a fair amount of the time wishing I hadn’t been dealt the 8 of clubs. And considering if I could make inferences from their defense.

In the end, I decided to play the diamond queen (ducked all around), then a diamond to the king (RHO showing out and LHO winning the ace). The opponents cashed their spades (honors split) and put me on the board with a spade (I pitched a club). Thinking again, I decided that

  1. If LHO had the heart queen then he’d be stronger than opener, and
  2. If LHO had the heart queen then from RHO’s point of view hearts were potentially running so a trump shift would be ludicrous.

Given these two data points I finessed against RHO’s heart queen with the ten (winning), pulled LHO’s remaining trump and claimed the rest.

+110, score it up. LHO hissed “Anything but a trump switch” and I looked like a competent bridge player.

I can, in hindsight, say that LHO had 4=3=4=2 shape, but I never found out what LHO’s other club was.

Post Hand Analysis

After the entire hand, I still wasn’t sure whether my play at trick 3 was right. Even analyzing it here, it feels close. Also, I may have played wrong at trick one (although I think I didn’t).

But when I wrote “I decided to play the diamond queen,” I lied.

A more precise description of my mental state: “Being frustrated by not being able to see the correct answer, I eventually just called for the diamond queen to end my indecision.”

Even though it worked, my thinking had stopped. I didn’t call the diamond queen because I knew it to be right (or even right on probability). I didn’t choose it after deciding that my options were too close to call, or a coin flip. I called it out of frustration, before I had finished my analysis.

After the hand I remembered Kotov’s story.


I console myself by remembering that everyone makes mistakes. Here are some I witnessed (or made) in that single day. These players are the best teams of the field. (I am perhaps median in the bracket for strength a few strong players are much stronger than me, but its mostly a bunch of us weak experts).

… Playing in NT with AKQ8x opposite a stiff 9 an expert cashed AKQ and failed to note that the JTx fell on her right, so she called for the low three instead of the high eight.

… Amusingly enough on that hand I (holding 7652) played the 76 on the first two cards and then the 5, because I noted fall of the JTx, so of course assumed the expert would. Given that, I wanted to continue to play my cards top-to-bottom as an unmistakeable signal that I was guarding the upper suit.

After I played the five, I thought “Maybe I should have saved my five because declarer might not have be paying attention.” I decided I was silly, declarer was a solid expert.

When she called for the three I had to sheepishly follow with the deuce. The two of us started laughing and apologizing to our partners.

… I saw an expert make a no hope play that cost a contract. That time I did think “What the hell, its IMPs” and baited her (risking overtricks to offer the failing option). She took it. Dummy instantly noted her mistake.

…(They were also in the wrong contract because she didn’t bid correctly).

… Prosaically — A revoke.

… A few days earlier partner opened 1NT with a singleton because “he had a club mixed in with spades.” We were playing online, the computer sorts the hands. He literally mis-saw a pre-sorted hand.

I’m no better. I chronicled a near-national qualification for Flight A North American Open Pairs and disasters include a hand where I literally could not remember the most basic part of my system. Not obscure, rarely used parts of Polish, mind you. (We all forget the rare stuff from time to time). Bread and butter bidding, in this case — splinters. They show up once a session. (Technically my problem was remembering multiple systems and not being sure which one I played. I was playing standard splinters, and had been for several years at that point).

One partner calls it “Chicken Braining” when you suddenly don’t know things. Where a song name suddenly is gone, or where you can’t remember something until you stop trying. That happens to everyone, I think, but for things like “songs you haven’t heard in a decade,” not “bridge conventions you’ve used for two decades on a weekly basis.”

I remember in college (when I’d been playing for 3 years) making a boneheaded play and my mentor saying “You know better than that.” I remember the shame, because even at that point, I did. I couldn’t explain why I’d done the stupid thing.

I constantly bid or make plays I instantly recognize as mistakes; plays that make me mentally smack my head. I fail to count. I miscount. I can’t tell you the card partner played after the trick is over.

What’s so much worse, is that every once in a while, when I pay attention, I literally mis-see the cards played when I know exactly what I’m looking for.

The funny thing? I’m still a good player. Dangerous … but I rarely win. Too much chicken brain. I can remember the exact details of many of the hands I’ve played in the most recent session. People present me problem hands and I usually get them right. I really am an expert, albeit a weak one.

Kind of where I’d have ended up in Chess. My thinking is just as haphazard as before, but my study of Bridge put my chess study to shame. With so much study I can often recognize the critical point of a position, so I don’t have to think as deeply. It’s like hearing a very complex math puzzle and knowing the answer because I’ve already seen the puzzle solved. Sometimes I just do the obvious things instead of think. But other times hands I’d get right in a puzzle, I miss because I play automatically. Over a full session I’m likely to flub something stupid once or twice (if I’m lucky). Stronger experts don’t flub the easy stuff. And there’s luck … sometimes I can recover or the cards just don’t lie wrong to punish my mistake. (Sometimes my mistake gets lucky and does better than the right play).

At the club I win because the game is loaded with patzers. I won the last club game I played at. But Flight-A events?

I’m too erratic. I can’t really think.


One recent morning I woke up physical refreshed but mentally ambivalent and decided to write the day off. I went back to sleep.

Eventually I got out of bed at a time and sent a note to the office formalizing my status as absent-with-leave. Still feeling a bit groggy and meh, I decided to watch something uplifting and cheery and bright, with songs. (Moana). I felt a bit better, so I grabbed some lunch. Rather, I tried. But my favorite restaurant near my house has a “closed one day a month” policy (and two weeks once a year) that is eminently sensible if you are a restauranteur wishing to retain his sanity, but struck me as a gross injustice when staring at the locked door, craving Thai and only just then remembering their reasonable/infuriating “First Tuesday of the Month” policy.

I’ve had this restaurant be closed a few times in the last year, and each time I thought “Oh, right.”

After a pedestrian, non-Thai lunch I still felt tired, so I napped, and then finally I felt refreshed and OK. I decided to watch a movie that I’d had in my queue — The End of the Tour.

This movie recounts David Lipsky’s interview/road-trip with David Foster Wallace. I haven’t read any of DFW’s fiction, but I enjoy his essays. He writes well (of course), but also takes mundane topics in unexpected directions. And it stars Jason Segel. Now streaming on Netflix. Perfect for a lazy day.

But, much like the green printout sign on the Thai restaurant’s door, I had momentarily forgotten a fact.  David Foster Wallace committed suicide.  (On checking, nearly a decade ago).

The movie is not typical Hollywood. Two hours of writers talking about life, pets, writing, snack food, movies, fame, tobacco, addiction, and writing. It makes me wonder “Who thought this would make a good movie?” But, catnip to me. I routinely turn off movies after a few minutes, but I found this compelling even though nothing much happens.

Good movie. Uplifting it is not. And I had many strange thoughts that tie in with this essay.

(Don’t take this story to mean that I have severe depression. I don’t. But neither do I have the “can-do, turn that frown upside down, let’s face the world with gusty” spirit some people possess. Some days the thought of going out to meet the world fills me with dread. And I have enough resources to simply choose not to face the world, so I sit at home and watch TV, eat Thai food (or not), possibly play computer games or go to the bridge club or write about board games. I relax for one revolution of life’s game clock. This isn’t an “I hate my job” thing, either. I no longer go to the Gathering for ten days because even at five (sometimes less) the noise seems too loud, the colors too bright, and the crowd too maddening. I don’t have depression, so much as a preference for introversion. Perhaps they are related, but depression isn’t a problem for me).

Anyway, the movie is mildly depressing, but also intriguing because DFW spends an equal time contemplating important issues and a similar amount of time caught up with trivia. He describes Infinite Jest as about addiction and the question of “Why do we have so much more than prior generations, but are so much less happy?” (Which makes me want to read that, now). He deals with ethics and philosophy, and comes across as manic-depressive-ish. Not regarding energy, but on the politeness-axis. He is remarkably open in the interview, even dangerously unguarded despite knowing full well that the interviewer can crucify him, then suddenly acts paranoid and terse about letting Lipsky interview others. Wallace freezes up for hours, then suddenly is open and warm beyond measure.

And while I’m not depressed, over the last few years I’ve wondered if I’m losing my mind. Not just normal lapses due to age, or minor facts like the First Tuesday Thai Shortage, or which celebrities are dead. Driving home from a tournament I decided to stop by Trader Joe’s to pick up some things. I’ve been there 50-100 times. I could not remember if it was before or after the highway exit I took. I knew where it was, in the relation to the buildings around it. But not in relation to the exit ramp. Could I get there without turning around?

Didn’t remember.

This is literally two miles from my house, a road I have driven for a decade. A store I’ve been to maybe a few times a month in the years its been open. The exit I take to my house.

Couldn’t remember.

I’m in a meeting meeting where a person says “We’ll agree to do A.” And so I say “OK, we’re doing A.” and the entire meeting says “No, we just agreed to not do A.” I don’t think I mis-heard. These things don’t happen often.

Just enough to make me wonder what’s wrong. I would think it’s normal age related issues, but then I look back on my chess career (as it were) and realize that I’ve always had some problems like this, but I’d just said I’m absent-minded.


Last season of BoJack Horsman featured two episodes (and a few scenes) inside a character’s head, instead of the typical third person POV. One shows Beatrice Horseman (BoJack’s mom) reliving her childhood memories, and also seeing scenes as she seems them now — with dementia.

The people have no faces. She can’t tell them apart.

The other episode was called “Stupid piece of Sh*t” and voices BoJack’s internal monologue: telling himself what to do, to be nice, to not eat food he doesn’t want, to limit himself to one drink.

For all the terrible things he does, he knows better. But he ignores his good intentions. Then he berates himself. (The episode title refers to BoJack calling himself a stupid piece of shit over and over).

It sounded like my internal bridge monologue when I just make a decision without thinking. “Why did I do that? I know better! You stupid *(#&.” Then, in the closing scene, BoJack’s daughter Hollyhock confesses that she has the same internal voice and asks “But, that’s just a stupid teenage girl thing? It will go away, right?”

BoJack assures her it does.

I forced my wife to watch the episode (she hates the show), because I felt like “Finally, someone gets it.” At the time, I felt such elation that one other person …. the writer of some TV show … had the same voice nagging them, berating them.

Thankfully– for me its mostly about being good at games. I’m not driving a Tesla into a swimming pool or getting blackout drunk or driving people away. I’m not suicidal. I’m just annoyed and insulting myself due to avoidable Bridge mistakes. Hooray for the relative unimportance of my terrible decision making!

Every time I sit down to play I tell myself, “this time, I’m going to pay attention, and I’m not going to make a bid or card play and just instantly recognize it as wrong. I’m going to think it through, I’m going to pay attention.”

Sometimes I don’t make it through the first hand.


The End of the Tour conveyed that DFW was self-aware, but not able to improve despite his awareness. (The movie does not touch on his abuse of women). As I said, not uplifting. BoJack suffers the same way.

After my day off I returned to work. Afterwards I swung by the used book store to see what they had and bought several Wallace books. One of them was “This is Water“, a college commencement speech presented in a nice little format and — as such — a ridiculous thing to buy, even used for five dollars.

Wallace talks about compassion, perseverance, and overcoming the problems of mundane existence. It has the following

Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” … It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

(DFW hung himself).

A few days before seeing The End of the Tour I was tinkering with this article (even then several thousand words), struggling to describe my thoughts about being not-as-clever as I wish, feeling stupid about bridge, my patterns of thought. Parts of this essay are nearly a year old. (The parts with DFW are new). Trying to determine how much of this is just:

  • narcissism — I face problems that everyone faces
  • laziness — I don’t work hard enough, and could overcome these issues more effort
  • improper strategy — I have to accept my problems, but find superior work-around to solve them
  • Impossible to fix

I scheduled it to post (again) then pulled it (again) a week before I saw The End of the Tour and picked up the books.

So you’ll understand why another line from This is Water hit so hard.

Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up
feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.


I want to re-iterate, I don’t feel depressed. Maudlin, perhaps. One reason I write about games is that it feels easy. Writing about other issues — I could stare at a blank page for hours and never put words down. I have. Writing on a deadline is one of the most terrifying things I’ve done.

And there is nothing inherently wrong about writing about games, or Baseball, or Harry Potter Fan Fiction, or Movies. Good writing is good writing. I don’t pretend all, or even the majority of my writing, is good. But I’m proud of this blog despite wishing I could get better (and spending some time on the mechanics of the craft). But (unlike Bridge or Chess) I never thought “Well, I will become recognized for being a good writer.” So there’s no pressure. My inner voice has sometimes chided me about writing, but infrequently.  In the movie David Foster Wallace (the character) says something like (Paraphrasing) — “it’s fine, even great that Infinite Jest has become so popular and talked about, but even if it were read by only a handful of people I wouldn’t feel like I’ve wasted years of my life writing it.” I assume that David Foster Wallace (the person) said something similar. That struck me as a remarkably healthy attitude, one I wish to have.

Much of what I’ve written here is ephemeral, but I feel the same way about writing and want to feel the same way about the things my inner critic does nag me about.

I’ve long known about my mental quirks — just as many people take Psychology to try to solve their problems, my interest in Cognitive Science is trying to figure out my patterns of thought. (My interest in Cognitive Biases, Less Wrong, HPMOR are likely influenced the same way). For example, after quitting Chess I discovered studies that some people just don’t have as powerful of “a mind’s eye,” and adjusted my bridge strategy to use more literary memory techniques. I don’t exactly burn the midnight oil keeping up with latest science, but I do pay attention. After all, I’ve been calling myself a stupid piece of shit since I failed to master Chess. I’d like to get over it.

Last year Scott Alexander posted a book review that contains

Unbeknownst to me, over the past decade or so neuroscientists have come up with a real theory of how the brain works – a real unifying framework theory like Darwin’s or Einstein’s – and it’s beautiful and it makes complete sense.

I eagerly read Scott’s post, which is difficult to summarize but says your mind is tries to reconcile top-down predictions against with bottom up sensory data (in a Bayesian framework). It will focus attention, discard data, and modify beliefs to get the best fit. It’s a compelling story (although there are problems).

It felt right (especially the attention focusing and data-ignoring) and explains quite a bit. It provided a framework to handle some (possibly most) of my mental lapses. If you expect to see something, you may see it if the data is only off a bit. (Who hasn’t mistaken a heart for a spade at some point? Just not at the most important tournament of their life….) It’s somewhat comforting.

Sadly, it doesn’t give me any practical advice about my problems, other than not to take bridge too seriously (and general mindfulness).

For all my complaining, my mind is phenomenally sharp. (Another of the reasons I’ve unscheduled versions of this post several times is fear that it reads as a humble-brag). I’ve taken pride over my quick thinking, but then feel ashamed because that’s like taking pride for being tall. Nobody picks their height, and nobody ever said “I thought being dumb seemed like the better choice.”

I can’t say I worked hard at it. It just happened. (I am firmly in the camp that you should praise children for effort, not brains, because people can improve their effort). I’ve developed strategies for maximizing my abilities and hiding my limitations from everyone.

Everyone does. We spend our entire lives working on them.

In terms of raw processing power I was dealt a great hand. I just have trouble focusing it. So, I put myself into projects where my strengths are obvious and my weaknesses are minimized. I spend time “thinking about thinking” because I’ve recognized that I’m good when I can enumerate options and rely on prior analysis, and not nearly so good when I have to do the work ‘at the table.’ (That is true for everyone, of course, but since I have real issues focusing at the table, especially true for me).

For some reason, I don’t mind working through a problem by writing. (Hence this post).

I’m not bad at it, even if I still mumble “Stupid” to myself a few times a session.


One of my bridge partners had a stroke last year.

It affected his game (especially in the first few months of his recovery). His concentration drifted. He got tired quickly. Things you’d expect. Textbook symptoms.

But surprises, too. His bidding became wildly aggressive (he even noted it), and he was not exactly on the low end of the aggression spectrum before. He’d quickly claim the contract when there were obvious plays for overtricks (at matchpoints as well as IMPs).  He’d sometimes notice after the hand (or session). Sometimes not. After a few months of recovery, he’s pretty much back to normal, but I sometimes spot a mistake I think he wouldn’t have made, pre-stroke.

And I have absolutely no problem with that. He’s had a stroke, why would I be annoyed at a lapse? I’m not a monster.

Here’s the first point to this long winded essay: its abundantly clear to me that the stroke is responsible for many of my partner’s mental errors.

I’ve spent 25+ years telling myself “concentrate,” “think clearly,” or “visualize the position in your head,” and not being able to. Telling myself to watch the opening lead and remember it, then forgetting. Falling into the rhythm of the game instead of counting. I spent decades berating myself, and just the last few years wondering … am I just not wired up in a way that lets me get this consistently right?

Is this just the intellectual equivalent of color blindness? There are people with aphasia, autism, who can’t read faces. Am I just missing some component?

I’m beginning to think so.

Sherlock Holmes couldn’t be Sherlock Holmes if he were a friendly guy interested in talking to other people. That’s the literary conceit, anyway … but isn’t it true? I see plenty of people trying to will themselves to be good at something, dedicating years of study to it, and being … mediocre, or worse. They can almost improve, but there are hard limits in many cases. I can’t taste what a super-taster does. That’s just a physical difference.

Ever since grad school I’m haunted, feeling that I’m an intellectual Moses, able to see the promised land but never destined to set foot in it. A lack of focus is fine in High School or College, but in Grad School everyone had my mental power and my inability to focus cost. Hard. I can’t make the cut to true expert…. in pretty much anything. I can get close. I’m not asking to hit the home run in the bottom of the ninth in game seven. I’m the guy toiling in the triple AAA league just hoping to make the big leagues. Crash Davis who hasn’t even achieved 18 days in the show.

“What if I’ve always been wired wrong?” That thought takes the wind out of me. Because if I’m wired wrong it sure looks great from the outside world. If I’m missing one component, I have several others most people lack.

But if I’m missing some block, can’t I just be kinder to myself?

Then I think “That’s an arrogant self-pitying thought, you asshole. You’ve heard lots of praise from people who’ve wished they could trade places with you. Just be better.” And I worry that this feeling (“It’s like colorblindness — unsolvable”) is just wishful thinking. An excuse to not get things right.

If I lost my legs I wouldn’t be surprised that I couldn’t walk (even if I still regretted not being able to). But I want to be able to solve my problem, and if I can I definitely should.

I remember an aphorism that “Sometimes there isn’t a problem to be solved, just facts you have to understand.” But now I’m thinking “Worship your intellect and you will end up feeling stupid” and it’s clearly true. I have. I could have used that advice decades ago. I should be kinder to myself.

Maybe I can find a better strategy to compensate. Perhaps I should meditate. Who knows.

I hope I’d have conquered this one after so many years of trying, across so many domains (not just games), but even trying to not worship my intellect I still naturally want to maximize it.

And now — after spending hours on this essay another quote from This is Water literally woke me up a few mornings ago:

Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the
absolute center of the universe

I’ve seen others’ struggle. Watching BoJack my thought was “Ah, one guy gets it.” Reading HPMOR and the fundamental attribution error and knowing all of this about Cognitive Science and thinking about this since the stroke, and I’m just now entertaining the thought that “Everyone gets it.” (Or, if not everyone, a huge section of the population). And I’m looking back on my essay and re-reading my line about how David Foster Wallace seems self-aware and how that struck me.

Everyone else is self-aware. I’ve known that, of course. (I’m not a monster). But I don’t experience it. It’s the water I swim in. I’ve been struggling with this for decades, and now I wonder just how many people are.

I only noticed that David Foster Wallace was self aware because I can heard it in his voice (technically Jason Segel’s). Even then I had to literally have it spelled out for me in an essay. I hear Wallace … and BoJack  and all of Kotov’s audience and so many other characters who seem more alive than people I deal with because I got a glimpse of their point of view…. struggle with problems they intellectually know how to solve and can’t overcome.

And I see them fail. Kotov didn’t produce a room full of Grandmasters, but his book may have helped us all a bit.

I read David Foster Wallace’s speech about how to live a good life and avoid dying inside before you kill yourself.

But David Foster Wallace killed himself. With all his awareness, his depression wasn’t a problem he could solve.

Before I knew — intellectually — that I wasn’t alone. I’d struggled trying to get my inner critic to quiet down, while still trying to improve, but now I don’t feel alone. That won’t solve my problems, but it makes me feel like I should be kinder to everyone, including myself.

And that’s something.

PS — One of the final reasons I didn’t post this last year is that I felt it would be of no interest to anyone else, which I now see as the exact same lack of empathy as before. You can read This is Water, online.

Written by taogaming

August 12, 2018 at 11:30 am

Too Many Final Words about Mage Knight (Part VII — Miscellania)

This is blah blah blah. You know the drill.

So, random miscellaneous thoughts that I’ve had when playing way too much solitaire MK. First of all, I’ve been upping the power level a bit. I can now somewhat routinely win at 11/11 cities, and I’ve had a few wins at 11/16, but have not (yet) won at 11/22. Still, some things jump out at me.

Games where I load up on followers go much better. I think this may be unique at high levels, because you can so rarely keep your hand against a huge city. An army lets you block (and a few ranged/seige) and then still do great damage. At typical levels, you don’t need as much, but at higher levels you want Altem Mages (to make everything siege) or Disease or some combination of great spells, and you still want followers.

Don’t sit around. I’m guilty of this, mainly on the second night when my usual plan is to wait and build up Sparing Power (one card a turn) and then attack on the last turn. That’s not a bad plan, but it’s still better if you can sit on a glade or mine, and I suspect that taking a detour and killing a spare Mage Tower (etc) would be better, even if I had slightly fewer cards. You can take out an 11 city in one swoop, but its tough. For a bigger city you really need to attack it twice (towards the end of the final day, and then in the final evening).

Some open questions I’ve been mulling

How many wounds is too many for your first combat? You go to a nearby hidden target, reveal it, and have your choice, take X wounds and win, or throw everything and block. Where’s the breakpoint? I suppose it matters on what you were attacking on how likely your remaining hands will be useful. Sometimes you don’t have a choice (I’m looking at you, Werewolf … stupid swift attack seven) but even four wounds seems … feasible. You can take six from sorcerers (which don’t KO, since three are poisoned wounds) but that’s difficult to recover from. At that point, unless you are getting Cure / Disease (which I’m liking more and more) and you go sit on a glade for a turn, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Three wounds is totally acceptable.

Is motivation really a top skill? I find myself passing on this more often than my earlier strategy guides would imply. Its still good, but I think I may have over-rated it.

I’ve also been playing co-op with the TaoLing, and he seems obsessed with finding cards that give him more advanced actions (or spells). Training, Learning, Blood of the Ancients, Book of Wisdom. That kind of thing. Its not bad, but at some point it felt like a waste of time. But I noticed that he’s routinely outscoring me in many categories while doing it. As a counter-balance, he’s also much faster to pick up cards that discard cards permanently from his deck.

And he loves Time Bending and will go well out of his way to grab it whenever it shows up. Which — given that there are only something like 24 spells, is often.

Anyway, I think I’ll leave it here. 20k words seems like enough, for now.

The full “Too Many Words about Mage Knight” series:

  1. Introduction — General Concepts
  2. Part II — Followers and Enemies
  3. Spells
  4. Artifacts
  5. Advanced Actions
  6. Characters
  7. Miscellenia (this post)

Written by taogaming

October 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part VI — Characters)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. The first article enumerates my typical caveats. This section covers character skills and improved starting cards. I’m not going to talk about competitive (“hose your neighbor”) skills; I play solo/co-op, but as of this writing I have gone 1/3rd of the way to a thousand games. I doubt I’ll ever make it, but 500 may still be in the cards….

General Notes

Mage Knight is a deck builder, But you cycle your deck ~5 times. Given a vast, random array of options you rarely build the same deck twice. Of small differences do histories diverge. A deck with spells and Crystal Mastery should not be played the same way as a deck with Into the Heat and Banners.

Character doesn’t control destiny, but affects it significantly. Your character provides two upgraded cards and the vast majority of your skills. You could choose to take another character’s skill when you level up, at the cost of having no choice of advanced action cards. If you were selecting the bottom Advanced Action card in any case, then there’s no cost to selecting another player’s discarded skill. In solo or two player game, that’s usually not great. But with 4 players, which the TaoLing and I sometimes do, then you’ll likely have an excellent skill choice from another player, unless this is your first level up.

The interesting decision is when the lowest AA card isn’t your preferred choice. In that case, I’ll still consider taking it for the skill under several circumstances:

  • If the skill reduces multiple rest turns into one, take it. The only exception? If the round is going to end anyway. But even then, consider it (because at that point you’re carrying enough wounds to need this again). If you are playing cooperative, sometimes the right play is to accept way too many wounds in order to kill some units to soften up a city / Volkare. In solo you can’t do that (well, perhaps once).
  • Ask the standard economics question — as opposed to what? Sure, the bottom AA may be your least favorite, but how big is the difference between it and your favorite option? Similarly, how big is the gap between one of your skills and the best opponent’s skill? Mind the gap. If it’s close, prefer your own skill because next time the gap may be bigger. (If you take an opponents skill now, that’s one less potential option for next time).

The skill common to all base characters is Motivation, and so deserves extra talk. Motivation lets you draw two cards (once per round) and gives you a mana token if you are at the lowest fame. Good news: in solo you are! Motivation offers two standard uses — bulking up your hand (and mana!) for a key turn and recovering from a big battle. Usually, the better choice is to take the big turn and use it to avoid suffering a loss big enough that you can only discard one wound. But (particularly against cities) that isn’t an option. In that case, use motivation the turn after you get knocked out to draw two cards and pitch one plus all the wounds you’ve got.

Motivation probably isn’t good enough to getting a second copy (the rare times that’s possible). You can’t use them on the same turn. You have to wait until the end of your next turn to do a second. Sometimes motivation doesn’t help in a round, but it often does. It lets you take risky plays like entering a dungeon when you can handle most things. If you get a reasonable draw, fine. If not, you can gamble that the next two cards may help you enough. Good early. Good late. If you already have massive hand size improvement you may consider passing on it, but you’d have reasonable games just selecting it all the time. A solid B, at least. But sometimes motivation fails you. You pays your money and takes your chances. That makes a reasonable choice, but not necessarily the best one. I think it falls in above average for all characters, and if you run a really heavy wound style, that may make it better.

Skills that provide attack (ranged or not) are good, although I’m more fond of attack two than siege one, because seige one only matters if its a break point, and if it isn’t you just have less attack later one.

For each character I’ll put their skills in rough order for the first level up choice. Late game will be more specific to your current needs.

Arythea

Arythea has good cards. Battle Versitility — which replaces Rage — gives you 1 ranged attack as an option, and if you power it, you can choose from (ahem!) attack 4, block 4, fire attack 3, fire block 3, ranged attack 3 or siege attack 2. Versatile. With Lost Legion blocking with a powered Rage becomes useful; converting this to fire or a ranged attack is the typical usage. In any case, great.

Mana Pull’s basic ability to use a second die and to treat a black as any color (during the day) unlocks a stuck source die. The advanced ability to set two dice and get two different crystals is a nice boost past basic mana draw; but the basic version is quite good. As for the skills:

The Power of Pain — Play a wound sideways for 2 points? Yes, please. Your score goes down with wounds, but your ability goes up, way up. You may take the final city a turn or two faster, and that’s good. You have the option of not blocking a token to get a wound or two to finish it off. Then you worry about the wounds later. (Use a wound to get +2 to walk into a magical glade… done and done).

Dark Fire Magic — A red crystal and a red or black token is good. “Black on demand” is always welcome; this skill singlehandedly powers Fire Storm or Sacrifice or Flame Wave. Using the black for non-red spells is just as good. Even if there is black in the pool, sometimes you have two spells. And (during the day) you can get a red crystal while still powering something. Poor Goldyx, he got three Crystal + Token skills, none this good. If you don’t have any spells, then yes, this becomes mediocre, but red+red is still ok.

Hot Swordsmanship — Attack two or fire attack two is Ron Swanson. Kind of a big deal.

I won’t say the above skills are better that Motivation, but …. they are are great skills. And yes, probably better.

Dark Invocation — First of all, another way to get rid of wounds? Delightful. And it gives black mana!? Great. But the ability to chuck a card for green or white is also good (usually better than playing a card sideways).

Cooperative Skill — Healing two is good, and then the ability (on the next turn) to use a wound sideways for 3 points is also good. (And, if you have Power of Pain you can use two wounds sideways).  If you are playing an actual co-operative game (as compared to solo) this may be good to let go, just because other people will probably need more help dealing with wounds than you will.

Dark Paths — Movement is always fine.

Polarization — I rarely take this, although the ability to use gold as black (at night) and black as gold (during the day) means you’ll rarely got a locked source. In solo (three dice pool) that’s a big deal. But Athyrea already has two other ways to get black mana and Mana Pull to clean up the source during the day. This isn’t bad, just overkill.

Burning Power — Siege one is a weak skill, and Arythea has so many better combat skills (counting Power of Pain and black mana gaining as combat).

Dark Negotiations — Influence 2 (three at night) is good, not great. See Norowas’s Bright Negotiation for more details.

More than any other character, Arythea’s skills shine. Even the bad ones are solid. You can play it totally safe, but that’s not winning Mage Knight. You shouldn’t let your skills goad you into accepting excess wounds; but a few ar fine. Athyrea turns that negative around. Multiple skills that directly boost combat, excellent access to black mana, the ability to shrug off wounds, mana source unlocking, and versatility. When I increased the city levels to (11/16), I struggled mightily with Goldyx  game after game, then cruised with Arythea. Perhaps I got lucky. It may be she is suited to my style of play. But one character has to be best — I think it is her.

Goldyx

Goldyx two cards are the whelming Crystal Joy and the excellent Will Focus. Will Focus improves Concentration — already great — by having the powered version pump up the follow-on card by three points instead of two. Given the nature of breakpoints, that means you have six ranged attack (instead of five), or whatnot. The unpowered version can get a green crystal (concentration can get tokens of any non-green color), which means on the off chance you don’t find anything to do with your Will Focus, you get a crystal for next round.

By contrast, Crystal Joy is fine. The ability to crystalize over and over sounds great, but typically is only useful if you were already planning on spending a turn or two at a crystal mine (or magical glade) for other reasons. Crystal Joy makes some bad turns suck less, although the ability to chuck a wound with the advanced power is good. Sometimes its worth it to power it with a blue from your own crystals, just to toss a wound and get it back. Doing this when you attack a city and expect to get knocked out is great. Like a mini-motivation recovery.

Universal Power lets you use spend mana from the source for plus two (or maybe three) even when you don’t have a card that gives you what you need. Red mana turns attack two to attack four … if you hold rage. Universal Power turns <something> 1 to <something> 3 or 4, pretty much no matter what. The worst case is you play your rage sideways and a non-red mana for 3 attack instead of 2. For a long time I consider this wasteful, but Universal Power combines flexibility with might. If you already have the right mana and cards, this isn’t great but you don’t always have the right mana.

Flight is Goldyx’s signature skill. Bounce a space for free or two spaces for two points, and ignore rampaging. Simply great. Either this or Universal Power are worth considering instead of motivation, although your needs may very.

Cooperative Skill — Re-rolling a die in the source is ok. The cooperative part of crystalizing a second die is pretty good. So this is OK in solo, so-so in co-cop.

Glittering Fortune — 1-4 influence during interaction is fine (although you can’t use it during peaceful moment, etc).

Freezing Power — Siege 1 or Ice Siege 1 isn’t great. This would be the worst skill for many other characters (like Tovak), but Goldyx has a distinct lack of firepower, which turns this into a reasonable choice for him.

Colour* Crystal Craft — Gain a blue crystal and a token of the (non-blue) colour. [*Goldyx is British, obviously]. In general, the colour of the token matters more to me than how many blue cards I have, because you can save the crystal from turn to turn. It’s worth remembering that there are three of these, because its quite possible to get two of these the same level up.

Potion Making — Healing two is useful, see comments on Golden Grail. That being said, this isn’t a great skill to take. Crystal Joy already provides some wound amelioration, but if you find yourself wound heavy it’s reasonable. Still — I’d rather get something that helps me in the end game, and that is probably anything else.

Putting it all together, Goldyx has lots of ways of gaining mana and crystals, some movement, some healing, some influence. He lacks punch. Ironically, that kind of means that Freezing Power should be taken more than I suspect, because one (reusable) attack is better than nothing. You need to go out of your way to some attack as Goldyx, as a string of recent losses re-iterated.  Whereas the other three characters have a sharp glittering arsenal, Goldyx basically builds up a bankroll of extra movement, influence and mana. You need to turn that into something useful.

Norowas

Norowas’s cards are Noble Manners and Rejuvenate. Noble Manners replaces influence and gives you a bonus to rep and fame. OK, not great. Rejuvenate (improved tranquility) adds the options to get you some green mana or  ready a unit (instead of just drawing cards or healing). Again, nice not great. Actually, the improved Rejuvenate’s ability to ready a level 3 unit is fairly powerful, but obviously a late game card.

Bonds of Loyalty — Arguably Norowas’s signature skill, and truly great. This gets you an extra follower slot and more choices (which could be picked off, but in a solo game not an issue) and a five discount. Yes, you can’t fire that person, but you can have them step in front of a paralyzing unit.

Inspiration — Heal or Ready a unit is big. Units are nice because they are always “in your hand,” even a lowly peasant is pretty good if you can use them twice. Yes, you can’t do this in combat, but taking an Utem Guardsman and having them block four, eat up to five points of attack, then heal them and have them eat another attack. That’s up to 14 points of attack you just ignored. Then you toss the unit away and repeat next round.

Those are the two that are better than Motivation.

Day Sharpshooting — 2 ranged during the day (1 at night) is pretty good. But it’s more often night than day (for final battles, underground, etc).

Foward March — Movement is nice, but this is variable (You get 0-3, based on readied units). This may let you fly across the board by midgame, but is highly conditional on your opening. If you can’t get an early peasant (etc), pass on this.

Cooperative skill — Lowering movement costs by two (to a minimum of one) can let you get through some nasty forests or swamps, and the secondary effect only lowers by one, but again to a minimum of one, so its always useful.

Leaves on the Wind / Whispers in the Treetops — Green Crystal + White token (or vice versa). OK, not great, typically taken if you are short on mana.

Bright Negotiation — 3 or 2 influence is again OK. You could get lucky and camp out in the green city and just take a free advanced action every turn, but honestly that’s not great unless you are tuning your hand anyway. If you really get lucky you’ll camp in the red city and get 2 Influence + 3 or 4 for city tokens + 3-4 for rep + a few a turn and get an artifact every turn. But for every game that happens Bright Negotiation turns out to be ok not great. Now, if you have heroes and have to pay to use them in an assault (a rule I just now realized I forget in my last game) then this comes in pretty hand. And influence does equal healing. So, a highly variable power one that can shine with the right setup but is mediocre otherwise.

Leadership — +1 Ranged or + 2 attack or +3 block each combat, with a follower. Awesome in theory, but in practice you only get to use this once or twice a round (even if you have 3-4 followers, because you often spend them all during a big attack in the endgame.

Norowas’s style of play is pretty obvious — followers. Some games he raises an army that makes the world tremble, but it does leave yourself open to getting a bad draw (especially in Solo Conquest where there are only 3 followers/round). He — more than other characters — suffers from feast or famine.

Tovak

Tovak’s two cards are Cold Toughness and Instinct. Cold Toughness is improved Determination, and is a big deal. Ice Block 3 instead of Block 2 is nice, a point better block and against some opponents four points better. But the powered version of Ice Block 5, plus one per ability or color of attack allows Tovak to block damn near anything with one card and one mana, unless they have magic resistance (which turns off the +1/per) or swiftness. In the late game, this + a blue mana typically blocks the most annoying thing you face.

Instinct improves Improvisation by giving you the option of not discarding a second card (at the cost of that cards +1). Since you can always discard the card anyway, that’s nice. Sometimes you only need two or four points instead of three or five, or you don’t have a card, or you don’t want to waste a card. Early on, its not much of an improvement, but again in the late game you’ll appreciate the option of not discarding. As for Tovak’s skills:

Cold Swordsmanship — Attack 2 or Ice Attack 2, once per combat. Excellent. The problem with blocking is it doesn’t kill stuff. You don’t win wars by not dying, you win them by killin’. This or Motivation is Tovak’s best skill.

Double Time — Move 2 (1 at night). Remember, this list is for your first skill. On Day one, great, but this drops quickly.

Night Sharpshooting — Range 1 (2 at night).  In Solo Conquest, ranged isn’t great, but you’ll often want to take cities at night, so its still attack two then. Ranged 2 underground is useful. This is at least a half grade better than Norowas’s Day Sharpshooting.

Cooperative Skill — This gains black mana, or gains you a token and then later (in solo) a bonus.

Shield Mastery — A great early skill that commands some value in the late game. Block 3 (or Fire/Ice 2) lets you gamble a lot more on dungeons/tombs and multi-chit draws like Spawning ground.

I Feel No Pain — Turning a wound into a card will let you recover much faster (mostly). This can be a game saver, if you had to attack and got a bad draw or are just playing at insane levels of difficult. Even without that, it may improve your hand a little bit each turn.

I Don’t Give a Damn! — Once a turn play a card sideways for +2 instead of +1 (or +3 if its a non-basic card).  I have mixed feelings. A nice boost, but using a card sideways is not great. This goes up with hand size boosts and late game (where typically you’ll have extra movement and be short on block or attack, or even just spend a round at your city and turning cards into influence).

Resistance Break — Late game, this moves up. Early game, its not as worth it (remember, its only once per combat). Reducing fire/ice resistance is minor, since odds are you’ll have physical attack. Reducing physical resistance is great. For the end game this can effectively give you six attack, but in the early game its often zero or one.

Who Needs Magic? — Inferior to IDGaD, because want to use the source. Not using it is gaining +1 by giving up +2 (or a spell!)

Tovak’s many good battle skills dish out or block damage. Complement that with movement to reach the scenes of carnage you’re trying to cause (one reason I rate double time so highly for him. By comparison Wolfhawk already has movement …. so it would be marginal for her).

Wolfhawk

Swift Reflexes improves swiftness, and lets you play it (without mana) for ranged attack one, or reduces an enemy attack by 1 (2 if powered). Reducing an attack can function is slightly better block, since you can reduce a swift or ice attack. It can make the Storm Dragon’s 4 Ice/Swift attack blockable with a mere 8 regular block instead of 16. Tirelessness improves Stamina, but not by much. Adding one to your next move isn’t nearly as good as move 3, since to get any benefit you must spend another card. The advanced power adds one to every other card, so its possible to make it move 8. Wolfhawk likes Mazes, Tirelessness + any card is 6 movement.

Dueling — +1 Block and +1 attack isn’t bad (though they have to go the same enemy. A bonus fame (if you don’t use a unit against that enemy) is the icing on the cake.

Know Your Prey — I used to pass on this, because its once per round, but what an ability. Removing physical defense can save you 7+ attack. Removing fire or ice can let you target a spell.  Summoning is an ability. Know your prey is 5-6 “I am not left handed” moments. It’s a toss-up between this and dueling for best skill. These are both better than motivation, IMO, but Wolfhawk’s motivation gives some fame, which is intriguing.

Cooperative Skill — A card sidewise for 4 points (not for interaction) is not to be sneezed at. A bonus for each unassigned command token can be gross, but typically you want followers anway. Still, sometimes they get paralyzed away, and 4+ points of block or attack or move is not swiss cheese. The -1 attack and -1 armor secondary ability aint bad either.

Taunt — As discussed on the Swift Reflexes, lowering an attack is sometimes better than block because of swiftness or fire/ice. It also may let you just let it through for one less wound. Taunt also has the option to increase the attack and lower armor (after the ranged attack phase) which turns extra block into attack, or may just save you same attack (at the cost of a wound, or not).

Hawk Eyes — 1 Movement a turn is nice, and the bonus (exploring for one less at night, revealing from two tiles away during the day) are nice kickers.

Deadly Aim — Adding +1 ranged/siege or +2 attack to a card isn’t as good as just providing it — you need a card, but that does mean you can keep any modifiers (fire or ice).

On her Own — Influence 1, 3 if you don’t use it to buy a unit. A decidedly inferior influence skill.

Refreshing Bath / Refreshing Breeze — Get a blue (white) crystal and heal one. I’m not sure how I feel about this instead of a crystal and a token. I guess healing is slightly better on average, but the token can be huge with the right comination.

Wolfhawk has a fun style of play, and her skills provide some compensation if you don’t happen to get followers. Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring followers (they are almost always useful), but Wolfhawk suffers less from their absence. A dueling, prey-knowing Wolfhawk is a force to be reckoned with, but a city is still a city.

Krang

Savage Harvesting is  a march that lets you chuck a card to gain a mana (multiple times, if you pay for it). It is often useful in the first turn to get rid of an unwanted tranquility or influence. Ruthless Coercion ‘improves’ intimidation by adding influence and (when powered) the ability to ready spent units, but costing even more reputation. Krang often falls harder, faster down the reputation track. Note that you can influence away from a village/keep/etc and not deal with the reputation effects, so Krang can still coerce his followers, so long as their are no witnesses to restrain him.

Also note that Krang doesn’t have motivation!

Battle Frenzy — I won’t say I’d always take this and ignore the other skill, but it may be true. +2 attack, and +4 attack on your final battle each round (or if you are desperate) is great.

Master of Chaos — This does great things, but the timing is hard to control. You can get something every turn, and if what you want lines up with what you are doing, its great. Worth taking if you can see the next few turns and line up your starting position, and about once a round you can choose what you want. Not as good as Battle Frenzy, but probably the ‘signature’ of Krang.

Spirit Guides — 1 move and 1 block every turn. Solid.You may not use it either turn, but this is a good amount of both.

Puppet Master — Either take a token each combat or spend a token each combat for half attack or block, keeping the type. So, this is free-ish, attack or block, but only half the time. As apart from that you get some flexibility, assuming you’ve been rampaging properly.

Arcane Disguise — As noted above, 2 influence isn’t huge. But the ability to cancel a -5 (or X) reputation can be a big deal. That means getting a follower in your first city, even after you’ve burned and pillaged your way across the board. It means ruthlessly coercing your followers and still getting more.

Regenerate — Spending mana to heal is ok. It lets you use something from the source each turn, and a red mana may get you a card for a full heal. But this isn’t up to Athyra or Tovak’s skills. Mediocre but sometimes great.

Curse — Reduce an attack or armor by one. You can use this in ranged attack phase against unfortified opponents, which is nice. At worst this acts like attack one.

Cooperative skill (Mana Enhancement) — When you spend a mana (however) gain a crystal. And then someone can get a free token of that color. So this is basically two mana, making it roughly equivalent to all the “Crystal + Token” skills. BUT, you need to have the mana (either source or other means) to get it. On the plus side, you can take whatever color you need.

Shamanic Ritual — A mana token of your choice is good, and giving up an action to reset is OK but will be done rarely. The issue is that with Savage Harvesting Krang usually isn’t desperate for mana, and his other skills are great.

Battle Hardened — This lets you ignore some damage, and may save you a wound (see thread for details). In that sense, its better than block because you can use a bit, but rarely is taking one less wound taking zero. It could really help against paralyzers that you sacrifice a follower to, but that lets a little bit left. I may be undervaluing this, but I hardly ever take it.

Krang is whatever he gets. If you get battle frenzy, he’s a murderchine, if you get master of chaos, he’ll try to tap dance the best he can. Roll with the punches.

Braevalar

The newest mage knight has two movement based improvements. Druidic paths reduces a terrain by one (min of 2). Unpowered, this is better than Tirelessness, assuming you aren’t going only on plains. It lets you get into a hill (or woods/desert at the right time) for one card. If you are only going through plains, useless. The powered version lets you reduce all of one terrain, which is probably only one or two points of movement. One with the Land can be used for heal 1 or block 2 instead of movement (or heal 2, block X, where X is the cost of the land you are one). That’s nice. Towards the end game you often have too much movement and an emergency heal/block is nice. Flexibility is always appreciated.

Braevalar has a few good skills and a lot of OK ones.

Forked Lightning — +1 Ranged Cold Fire attack against up to three separate targets. Yes, you’ll often be saving this to the regular combat phase, but its 1-3 attack, and great against physical resistance.

Shapeshift — Turn movement into block into attack, but for basic cards only! Flexible, flexible, flexible.

Feral Allies — + 1 attack or reduce an attack by one is good, not great. -1 to explore costs provides a little bit extra.

Secret Ways — +1 movement is fine, and the mountain or lake movement can save your bacon, but its tough to tell early.

Cooperative Skill (Nature’s vengeance) — Reducing an attack by one isn’t great, but making it cumbersome (so you can spend movement to reduce it more) is intriguing. This can let you partially block, and sometimes (I’m looking at you, Storm Dragon) its a god-send. And someone else can do it agian.

Thunderstorm / Lightning Storm — Token + Token instead of Crystal + Token, but you get some choice (Green and either blue/white or blue and either green or red). OK.

Regenerate — As with Krang, but made somewhat better by the storms, which may find a use for a ‘wasted’ token.

Beguile — Like most influence items, usually 2 influence, the 4 at a the circle or 3 at a village is a mild kicker.

Elemental Resistance — As with Krang’s Battle Hardened.

Maybe its just lack of experience, but Braevalar appears to be the weakest Mage Knight. Lots of OK, nothing crushing. He can do just fine (Shapeshift and Forked Lightning are quite good), but often has to choose between two mediocre skills.  One may be much better in the current situation, but wouldn’t it have been nice to draw a rock crusher. Also note that Braevalar (like Goldyx) is somewhat short of attack, so grabbing those advanced actions is a priority (although with shapeshift you can grab whatever and then use the basic card you doubled up as attack).

Written by taogaming

July 29, 2017 at 10:40 pm

High Frontier Basic Game Strategy Thoughts

(This was originally published in incomplete form. I hit “publish” instead of “save.” Lots of updates since then).

I remember playing Fugger, Welser, Medici dand realizing the basic game was too … basic. (I later relayed this to Frank and he said “it wasn’t for gamers like us, that’s what the advanced game is for.”)

High Frontier isn’t exactly the same thing. You need at least one basic game to learn the mechanics. (I needed lots). Jumping straight into the advanced game is optimistic. Even adding only the support module ridiculously increases the number of moving parts. But even for slow people such as myself the basic game does seem too basic after a few plays.

It ends just after it gets going. Industrialize a second colony, you are done (or almost). After the first few games,  TaoLing and I played “longer” extended games to seven colonies, where you might get something like a claim on Sycorax, but our most recent 7 colony game took …. 40 minutes. We’ve started adding advanced modules.

The basic game is not without interest, so some thoughts.

  • This is a race game. Only one action a turn, but also space travel in addition. If you start your trip a turn or two earlier that can be a big advantage because its hard (but not impossible) to make up time later on.
  • One rule I was taught wrong is that you can’t bid if you have three (non-crew) cards in hand. It turns out you can bid if you have less than four (so, three is OK).
  • My big mistake in my early games: buying random cards, then trying to make something work. Most cards are good for something, but trying to figure out what is hard.
  • In general, Robonauts before Refineries. Makes sense — Robonauts prospect. Yes, you can use your ISRU 4 crew but here’s the list of ISRU 4 sites inside of Jupiter: Mars (10 gravity, ugh), Ceres (a good target, although 6 gravity probably means you’ll need your crew) and eight inconvenient size-one sites (which aren’t near anything). It’s not a great list. Even an ISRU of 3 opens up a lot of options.
  • If you only looked at the asteroid belt for your first mission, you’d probably be right. (For your first game narrowing your decision space is a good idea). If you are playing to seven (or some higher number depending on # of players, which isn’t a variant) you can start looking at Jupiter’s moons or even more distant.
  • Remember — the map represents delta-v. Sites on opposite sides of the board but in the same belt are surprisingly close (in terms of number of burns and turns). You can run from Lutetia (a 3M-3 hydration site) to Hertha (ditto) for two burns in a single turn (via Sol-Jupiter L1 burn). Think of the board as “energy bands.”
  • There is no “C” class refinery, FYI. Type D and S sites are much rare (in the basic games) so those cards are slightly less useful.
  • Weight matters, but less with good fuel efficiency. A nice rule of thumb I found on BGG states “Your wet mass/dry mass ratio will need to be roughly equal to your fuel single-burn fuel consumption (or better).” So if you have the Metastable Helium thruster (5 Mass, 5 Net Thrust * 1 fuel per burn), then your wet mass doesn’t have to much exceed your dry mass, so you can get a heavy robonaut and refinery and still go tooling around for 4 water. But if you get the Mirror Steamer (0 Mass, 3 Net Thrust * 4 Fuel per burn, Solar, Push) you are going to have real trouble if your dry mass gets above three-ish, so you’ll probably need two trips. Bid up the 1 fuel/burn cards.
  • Getting your first factory ASAP is a big deal. It provides:
    • 8 free water for refueling. Even if your robonaut and refinery can’t be built, you can take a turn to refuel and send your (now light) rocket back to LEO to pick them back up instead of having to re-boost and refuel the rocket.
    • ET production. Not only are the black side of cards better (much, much better), you get a card out there a few years in advance, save the cost of re-boosting, etc.  ET producing a robonaut to prospect for your second factory (using your on-site thruster) is a big deal. If you have a robonaut and refinery of the type you just colonized, it’s probably a winner. (With both for Vs, aim for Vesta, which at size six means you can’t fail the prospecting roll, and only has a half landing burn. Getting both Ms aim for Lutetia then Hertha, for a 75% chance of a claim. Ds and Ss

Common planning pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Can you land? Remember, your net thrust must exceed the sites size. Some ways to get around this (if your main thruster isn’t good enough).
    • Afterburning.
    • Size games. Take everything, drop a part in orbit to lower a size class (increasing net thrust). Leave the first part on the site,take off, pick up the last part. (Dropping off and picking up is a free action, but you can’t pick up in the middle of a move).
    • Use your crew to land. It costs no fuel (if there isn’t a lander burn). Vesta and Ceres with their half lander burns are reasonable. (If you have to pay a full lander burn, your main crew’s rocket may be prohibitively expensive).
  2. Will you be able to take off? (This mainly applies to aerobraking). You can easily trap yourself if you use your crew to go someplace like the moon. (If you can’t take off, you can turn your crew into a colonist and get some VP).
  3. Do you have enough fuel? Seems obvious, but don’t forget fuel for afterburns. Size tricks may cost you some fuel as well
    • Consider Demos (or some other high hydration site) for a turn or two of refueling. Particularly if you have a low ISRU, you can get a lot of fuel that way. Seeing a ‘pit stop’ at the (already busted) Demos to refuel was my first “aha” moment.
  4. Do you have the ISRU rating to prospect the site (or refuel)? (Even after ten games I’ve still just said, “Oh, I’ll go there” and then realized my robonaut couldn’t cut it because I was so focused on fuel/thrust/etc.

Sites of Interest

The training book’s guide is good and worth reading for your first few games. Some thoughts:

Planets are Hard. You can go for Mercury (North Pole) or Mars but you’ll need 11 thrust (or aerobraking rolls). But those are basically one way trips unless you can build a factory. For those, you’ll need a crew with a 10 Net thrust and afterburn. You could also just send down a robonaut and refinery, but the advantage of getting your first factory is basically negated because you can’t really ET produce or use the factory to refuel unless you have a powerful crew rocket. On the other hand, these can be a guaranteed second factory.

The moon is easier, but you’ll need a good ISRU.

Ceres is a sure thing with four hydration, requires only 7 thrust (usually within the reach of a basic game crew) and only a half burn. Depending on your thruster you may need to stop at Demos. Vesta is also a sure thing but slightly farther away and requires an ISRU of 2. (To compensate, its a V world, which is likely to score better and will have a few refineries that can be ET produced there).

Thrusters

In the basic game the most important thing is Fuel per burn, because lower means you can go farther. High thrust is nice (because that lets you land on more places, or maybe get there a turn or two earlier) but you often get around that by taking your crew and using it (assuming no lander burns, or maybe a half burn). In the advanced game the worse rockets are balanced by needing more supports, or worse rad-hardness, but in the basic game? Nope.

If you ordered thrusters by FPB in the basic game, you’d be close to right. (Ignoring the solar sails, because 0 net thrust is a problem).

Key is [#Mass, Thrust * Fuel per Burn (After Burn cost, Class), P = Push, S = Solar]. I’m not going to worry too much about the advanced (black) side because you won’t for your first games.

In rough order of worst to best:

Photon Heliogyro / Photon Kite Sail [0M, 0*0 (-,C) Solar] — Basically the same. Not really useful in the basic game (said the guy who almost never goes inside the earth orbit]. You could use these to get maybe a free burn if you are a small light ship, so perhaps I shouldn’t discount this.

Mirror Steamer [0M, 3*4(2,D) SP] — Zero mass, but 4 fpb. Ugh. The one thing that’s nice is that you could boost this with a robonaut and leave really early, take a pot shot at Demos and refuel. But the problem is that the mass savings from boosting are (in the basic game) a one time savings. You’ll be paying for fuel the rest of the game. Also, this can’t land too many places.

Ablative Plate [4M, 2*2(1,V) P] — Two fpb isn’t bad, but nothing else is great. High mass, low thrust. If you get the black side you get a mass reduction and a thrust increase, but its nothing to write home about. You’ll almost certainly need to take your crew to land anywhere. The rare case where low fpb isn’t great.

Cermet NERVA [2M, 7*4(1,S)] — OK, terrible Fuel per Burn (fpb), but the 7 thrust means you can land on Ceres or Vesta (which are sure things], but you are likely making two trips. If you can flip this you lose one thrust (but can afterburn) but your fpb drops to 2, which makes this pretty good.

Hall Effect [2M, 3*2(-,C)P] — No afterburn and a low thrust means you’ll need your crew, but otherwise good.

Mass Driver [5M, 4*3(-,M)P, Dirt] –This is heavy, 3 fpb isn’t great, but being a dirt thruster compensates. You can always grab 10 fuel anywhere (dirt rockets refuel at ten and ignores ISRU rating!) so you really only need to pay to get to Demos and then jaunt out. If you flip this over you go to 3M 2*0.5, which basically means you never run out of fuel, but you’ll need another rocket to land most places.

De Laval Nozzle [4M, 5*2(2,M)P] — Decent thrust, decent fpb. Can even land on Ceres or Vesta (often taking two trips).

Ponderomotive VASIMR [3M, 3*1(1,V)P] — Compare with the mirror steamer. You pay 3 more mass, but you save so much fpb.

Metastable Helium [5M, 5*1(1,V)] — The king of rockets. Yes, its heavy. But 1 fpb rules. If you flip it over you’ll drop some mass and your fpb goes to a ridiculous 1/3rd, but even unflipped its a workhorse in the asteroid belt. With 5 thrust (maybe 4 or 3 due to weight) you can often make a hohmann pivot every turn and gain a lot of time. And you save time by taking your robo+refinery in one trip. Letting this go cheaply is a mistake.

Robonauts

Buggys let you get a re-roll or multiple sites (on a planet), so that’s nice. Missiles have a built in thruster (Uusually with terrible fpb, but in this case you save an auction and a part, so you could buy this and start scooting around early to make a bunch of pot shot claims and then buy/send a refinery later). And Rayguns let you go for multiple sites from orbit. Unlike thrusters (in the basic game) there’s lots of differences between robonauts.

There are a few different ‘classses’ of robonauts:

  • The 4 fpb missile. These are good to grab as a first card if you can launch and run to Demos (etc) to refuel and go get a claim, planning on getting a thruster and refinery later.
  • The rayguns. These let you hit a bunch of asteroids at once.
  • The oddballs (including buggies).

A quick note of sites: C are common, M aren’t common, but there are a few good targets. There are many S targets but they tend to have lower hydration (often zero). V and

[#Mass, type-ISRU (Type) ]

In alphabetical order:

Cat Fusion Z-pinch Torch — 3M, Buggy-2 (D).  Decent mass, decent ISRU.  Turns into a higher mass ISRU 0 Missile.

Explosive Gas Dynamic Laser — 3M, Raygun-2 (S). Improves to 2M Ray-0

Flywheel Tractor — 2M, Buggy-3 (S).  Improves to 1M Buggy-1.

Free Electron Laser — 5M Raygun-1 (S). Don’t let the 5 mass worry you (I mean, unless you have a 3-4 fpb thruster). If you get the Free Electron Laser you may want to go to the Karin cluster and hope to get one of Karin-a, b or c. That’s a 50/50 shot in one turn (you can raygun produce without going onto the hazard roll). If you get the claim you can ET produce this (as the Wakefield E-beam Missile with a quite decent 4*2(2) dirt rocket, but it becomes a Missile-1.

Kuck Mosquito — 1M Missile-3, 10 * 8(2) (V). The Mosquito pairs nicely with Ablative Plate or other low net thrust thruster, in that you only use this for the landing. You save weight on crew, its mass is low. If you happen to build it on a V planet, you can ET produce the Ablative Laser, which is a 3 * 1(3, push) Missile 2 with no mass. No raygun, but it can hop around quickly.

MET Steamer — 3M Missile-2 5*4(1) Push (C). This guy is a reasonable first buy. Buy, boost, fuel, go to Demos to potshot and/or refuel. By itself it can make a run at Ceres (small size for +1 thrust, afterburn for another). You’ll need another rocket to bring the refinery, but then you can ET produce the Nanobot, a zero mass Buggy-1.

Neutral Beam — 5M Raygun-2 (S). Slightly inferior to the Free Electron Laser, but this does flip over to the a 3*1/2(1) Missile.

Nuclear Drill — 2M Missile-3 5*4(1, Push) (M). Like the MET Steamer, this can be used as an early scout, planning on bring a rocket+ refinery later. This is an odd card in that the black side has a much higher mass (5), but it does become a Raygun-0 (while still having a thruster), which means you can scout a bunch of small asteroids (like the Koronis group) in one go.

Phase-Locked Diode Laser — 3M Raygun-3 (C). A very good robonaut, because there are lots of C targets, and it flips over to 0M.

Rock Splitter — 3M Buggy-4 (V). Buggy is good, but ‘4’ is bad. You could claim 2 Mars sites, I suppose. But there has to be a worst robonaut.

Solar-pumped MHD Exciplex Laser — 5M Raygun-2 (C). Doesn’t the name just roll off the tongue and fall like lead to the floor? This is another one of the 5M rayguns, and this one flips over (Quantum Cascade Laser) to a 3 mass ray-0. Ray-0 is great, and as a ‘c’ type card, this is the easiest to get.

Tungsten Resistojet — 2M 5*4(1) Missile-3 (M). Another decent “early thruster explorer.”. This flips over to a decent 4*2(1) Push missile-1.

Refineries

In the basic game, basically you just want to get one. If it matches your target, that’s nice. Mass 3 is nicer than mass four, but unless you have a bad fpb its not a huge deal.

Written by taogaming

May 28, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Strategy

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