The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Summerly Linkity

  • I fondly remember Cyberpunk and Deus Ex, so a Cyberpunk 2077 video game is radar-worthy…. but 2020 is rapidly approaching and yet another date in Sci Fi (literature and movies) that I’ve now come up and through….. we were promised Dragons at the end of the Mayan Cycle …. (Here’s the trailer).
  • JL8 finally updated after what feels like a year (new comic), here’s hoping for more.
  • After decades of using this quote, I finally discovered its originator. (“Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” — Schopenhauer). Whew, that’s a load off.
  • A quote from a debate (on Space Policy) — “It is very easy to say that there are more important things to spend money on, and I do not dispute this. No one is claiming that this is the only item on our expense list. But that is beside the point. As subsidizing space exploration would clearly benefit society, I maintain that this is something the government should pursue.” But the debater was Watson …. and the topic was not announced ahead of time. The debate was verbal, not typed, so speech recognition also played a part.
  •  In the realm of “How did I not know that?” Advanced Civ was designed by Jennifer Schlickbernd. (I discovered this in a thread on Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea, which I’ve P500ed).
  • TANK — A short animated film reminiscent of Battle Zone, Tron, etc. Also see the making of TANK video. which demonstrated that this was made in arguably the most difficult way possible (short of hand drawing it).
  • On the Factorio Blog they admitted they were proud and a little scared that they have inspired others to enter the genre. And I  admit, the Satisfactory video looks great. Not sure if the gameplay will be any good. I’ve been working on another Megabase. No, you don’t care. May blog about it later, anyway.
  • I have never kickstarted a game, but I must admit, QMG: The Cold War is tempting. Not tempting enough.
  • I never finished reading UNSONG, so I’m going to do that. (I’m also trying to finish Paradise Lost. I read a fair amount of it while in Rome last year, which is inviting kabbalistic disaster).
  • I may have to buy some comics as well….if only game stores sometimes sold comics…


Recent gameplay — Broke 100 games in Jump Drive (the TaoLing and I changed our meta after realizing that Military Convoy is not a one shot). Played a few more games of High Frontier (including a Grand Tour, albeit without Events, Colonists or Bernals, which considerably shortened the game). Played Concordia again, very popular at the local game night and it’s growing on me. Also got in a game of Galaxy Trucker and QMG …

Update — Burglar breaks into escape room, can’t get out, calls 911.


Written by taogaming

July 10, 2018 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Linky Love

Thirty Eight …

and counting

Written by taogaming

June 9, 2018 at 10:17 am

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with

Games without (High) Frontiers, (Cold) Wars without Tears

As a big fan of High Frontier, one of my regrets for this years GoF is that I didn’t get to try Leaving Earth. (And in a teeth-gnashing development, Mrs. Tao played it and liked it!) Well, we had a game day last weekend, and one of our coworkers owns that as one of the games in a tiny collection (he’s more a rocketry history enthusiast). So a copy arrived!

I missed that game, too.

But we borrowed his copy and I read the rules. There’s much to like:

  • The genre feels right. I could do without the entire chance that you get to Phobos and say “That’s no moon!” but hey — the 50s were days of wonder (from a Space Race perspective). And the bureaucratic nature of the space agencies …. lovely. Losing unspent budget is one of the more delicious rules I’ve encountered0.
  • Graphically beautiful. ‘Nuff said.
  • Like High Frontier, Leaving Earth models fighting Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation well. There is math (that’s unavoidable) but its understandable. To run a big mission you have to expend a lot of rockets and you need stages.
  • Fun research rules: For each tech you get you build a deck of three cards (without looking). Whenever you use the tech shuffle up and flip one an get a success or failure (major or minor). Rockets that fail may not fire (minor failure) or have a rapid unscheduled disassembly (major). If you drew a bad card, you can get rid of it for $5 ($25 is your yearly budget). If you drew a good card you can get rid of it for $10! Why do that…. well, if you never get rid of it, can you really be sure your rocket won’t fail when it’s the final stage of a Mars probe … where nobody is around to fix it (or after you’ve spent 5 stages getting it there?) — If your deck only has one success card, you get rid of it for free. Between $10-$25 (plus costs for parts expended in testing) you can prove a technology. Or you can just keep using it and slowly gaining confidence that the deck is all successes (but never knowing for sure). It’s a risk/reward.
  • More risk/reward. Send an astronaut on a mission or not? They aren’t cheap to train (thematically correct that they aren’t free … but let’s be real, it costs millions of dollars to train them, not 20% of NASA’s yearly budget) but they all have benefits (converting specific major failures to minor failures, for example) …. but if they die that’s negative VP.
  • As for the math …. The rules provide good example missions, including one involving leaving stuff behind in orbits and re-joining with it (which requires a technology). Leaving Earth’s (LE) mechanisms differ from High Frontier’s (HF), but like synchronous orbits you arrive in the same place.

So I setup a solo game and worked through an easy mission (winning) then a harder set of missions (failing).

And here’s where I started to feel the big difference. In HF, you can play a variety of missions and rules. The scenario may guide you, but it may not. In LE the missions change the game in the sense of “Well, the superpowers have decided that sending a probe to Mars is more important than a manned lunar mission, so let’s do that, boys!” but you are always working from the same (common) set of parts. Your Juno/Atlas/Soyuz/Saturn rockets stay the same from game to game.

HF forces you down different paths. A game where you build a solar sail driven raygun robonaut will naturally play out differently than your E-M buggy. It drives your mission and paths. More subtly, you can tweak your fueling and time vs fuel costs to  a much greater extent. LE does have this by combining rocket stages, but even by the third game this felt somewhat repetitive and while looking up a rules question  I stumbled on a “Book of Missions” that just laid out “Well for this mission the following stages are optimal.” (I didn’t read it, but just glanced at it).

I then tried two multiplayer games (with the TaoLing). Tense games. But I’m also less enthusiastic than I was pre-rule reading.

Firstly, a minor launch failure on your first rocket is wonderful. You chuck it for $5 and the minor failure (unlike success or major failure) does not use up the rocket. So, you are ahead of someone who has a success but pays $10 to thin out their deck to prove it. (You are up $5 and a rocket). This — coupled with the paranoia of even after 5-7 checks wondering (what if there’s a disaster lurking in the deck) makes proving out nice. I’m not sure how I feel about this. There are some catchup rules, but there’s also some snowballing. I can’t claim this is a dealbreaker (since I play HF).

Secondly, this is much more a push your luck game. Which is fine, but it’s a push your luck brain burner that’s slow. So in my last game I made a relatively low-risk play of sending up a mechanic to orbit with two capsules to earn the “Space station” mission. No, I hadn’t tested life support, but the deck is 4/6th successes, 1/6 minor failures and 1/6 major failures (I didn’t know this at the time, but I knew it was roughly 50+% success). In order to fail I had to draw two major failures (since I had the money to pay to remove the first failure, it would not be redrawn). I rolled snake eyes (1/36…actually slightly less likely because cards not dice) and so my 6 VP for first space station became negative 2VP (death) and  a bunch of time and money lost. On the other hand, I then later did a daring “Don’t test everything, let’s just have a Soviet-style run for the Moon” and risking 3 years budget on unproven rockets and I got a yahtzee. So, it balances.

BUT …. dice versus cards. If I get a bunch of bad cards, that means that other people are getting less. Compare that with HFs hazard dice. A minor point, perhaps (and HF is a longer game where everything can hinge on a roll, so that’s not a downside). You never have to make a roll in HF if you don’t want to, and any events that happen happen to everyone. They may hurt someone much more than another, but it feels linked.

I do have a few nitpicky rules which could be more thematic / better. (Surveying takes no time and is practically automatic. Rockets that fail during a suborbital phase can be recovered. Life Support is assumed for single year missions, it should really be called multi-year life support).

But what keeps coming back to my head is that even after a handful of games the missions felt predictable. “Oh, I’ve seen that before.” There only real combinatorics of the game are weight and mass. Even without the support module (or the other more complex ones) HF had more surprises after a dozen games than LE did after three. I suspect there is an optimal opening, and for the missions nobody says “Well, what patents do you have?”. And there are no faction differences.

It seems unfair to blame LE for not being High Frontier, but the heart wants what the heart wants. I like calculating space missions more than the average gamer, and I’m always on the look for solitaire games, but after 8 hours of this I’m nowhere near the same level of enthusiasm.

I am far from writing LE off — I spent a fair chunk of this weekend playing it — but it does not appear to threaten to displace HF in the long run.

RatingIndifferent plus, I’m willing to explore it a few more times. The rest of my family is looking at acquiring a copy, so I may have an opportunity.

Written by taogaming

June 3, 2018 at 10:43 am

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with ,

Memorial Weekend Gaming

I finally tried Evolution — we played a six player “Quick start” rules (since there were several new players). Apparently — for I did not read the rules — the difference is that all card plays are roughly simultaneous, as compared to around the board each turn. This does speed things up (and may perhaps be worthwhile to play with 3-5 players). Honestly, I like many of the evolution games I’ve tried. (Which reminds me, I need to try the Bios line … isn’t there a 2nd ed of megafauna coming out?) And judging by the umpty-million expansions, this is a popular title.

I’m firmly in the “It’s perfectly fine” camp, but both the TaoLing and the Cute One liked it, so I may pick up a copy.

Also played Songbirds, although I played a Japanese copy that had “Birdie Fight” (much better name).  You take turns playing birds in a grid, and the bird (suit) that wins each row/column scores it, but you score the bird (and value) of the card you kept. More clever than gripping.

And speaking of expansions, played Ticket to Ride: Rails and Snails. Firstly, the possibilities for knicknaming this game overwhelm the senses. (“Trails of Snails” is my favorite so far — and possibly a good band name — but it’s early days).  This is the 8th different version of TtR I’ve played; and its fine although does start to feel like a “too many notes” situation. Fiddly setup (having to count out trains and ships and then select some) and trains and ships in 6 (?) different suits, some ships being double and some cards being harbors and pretty big hands sizes. That being said, it still works. (We got a rule or two wrong, but it’s a resilient design).

I think all the new games were indifferent-ish, but I’d play them all another time or two.

As for old games….

We dusted off BSG, for my first play in years. (Sadly, one player had to leave mid-game, which made it … odd, and a Cylon rout).

Played my 100th game of Coup. Played another game of Food Chain Magnate, Too Many Cinderellas, some Jump Drive …. all told, lots of gaming.

Written by taogaming

May 29, 2018 at 10:10 pm


  • Obviously I’m going to post a link to an article that discusses Fortnite and The Three Body Problem together. I I tried Fortnite for a few games and its OK but I dislike any game where constant hopping is critical to success, and being told to kill myself IRL is a mild dampener.  (This is why I don’t normally play multiplayer computer games). Switching off audio is recommended. After about ten matches I did finally get a kill … probably someone even older than myself …
  • As in many things, its a different game if you play it well.
  • The Long Way Round” — Gripping story of a plane forced to circumnavigate the world due to the outbreak of WWII.
  • I’m not a Super Mario guy, but this dissection of a world record speedrun discussed many technical details of the game acts like catnip.
  • The Opinionated Gamers have a “fifty modern classics” article. As with Snoop’s 100 (remember that) I have some issues with methodology — although this is better — but it’s a reasonable list. (Here it is in Geeklist form). I have played 45/50 of the list, although IMO a classic should be a game I play fairly routinely, and even though I’m not a huge Cult of the New I haven’t played many of those recently. Still, there were worse lists….  (My modern classic list would include Mage Knight, Eclipse, Sentinels, Cash n Guns, perhaps…some others, but I suspect 10 of the games would be the same as the OG list.
  • I wish someone with authority at my job would read Against Metrics.
  • Why ask Neil deGrasse Tyson a question when you can ask a Markov-chain bot based on his prior interviews and writings? Sample: “Q: What’s the difference between an asteroid and a meteorite?” “A: The universe is full of Jupiter’s eggs. Asteroids are eggs that were present for the birth of Seattle. Meteorites are eggs with British friends. I thought that was obvious.”
  • There’s a Combat Robot Hall of Fame. Of course there is. Warning — Link looks like a web page from 20 years ago.
  • It was a very close match to pick the US Bridge team for the next Bermuda Bowl. And the match was decided on the last board, a touchy slam.

Written by taogaming

May 22, 2018 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Linky Love

Thirty-Seven …

Written by taogaming

May 20, 2018 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Hasta Manana, Llama

I played Altiplano yesterday. By about 10 minutes into the rules explanation, I considered gnawing off a forelimb. Sure, it sports llamas (“Llamas, Alpacas … whatever camelid floats your boat, Lana!”), but it sounded like the JASEiest game that ever crossed a trade route. Movement, exchanging bits, point salad scoring, blah. But my rules explanation borrowed heavily from Memento script and went backwards in time. Finally I hear the “hook” — You power your engine with goods and drew them from a bag and planned out your move.

In other words, somewhat like a Mage Knight puzzle — “Here’s your hand, how do you best play it?” With the restriction that each location only had a certain number of actions, and you could only move locations for free once a turn (you can buy extra movements).  (Using chips and a bag instead of cards, but same idea).

So I calmed down a bit and played, and surpriseI loved it.

Just kidding. Meh.

I’m told that Orleans uses the same system, but I’d scrupulously avoided playing that.  In fact, practically all of the review on BGG say “How does this compare to Orleans.” So at least I get to ignore those as well. (Actually, many people say its more cut-throat, so perhaps I’d like it more than this).

Altiplano wasn’t bad … it held my interest for about 30 minutes after the initial few turns where I mentally deciphered the rules, but:

  • Too long. I’m guessing the game was only 2 hours, and that could come down, but that’s at least 45 minutes too long.
  • Point salad. 7 wonders score sheets are ridiculous, but this needed it. Scores ranged from ~90 to ~156 with points all over the place. Most tokens score points. Some cards modify tokens. Some cards give bonus points if fulfilled, but cost you the points of the tokens used. You get points for fulfilling rows in your warehouse. Some cards give a bonus ghost token, which …. counts as points! Plus some base points for the card! Pfft. When the game ended it was 5-10 minutes to find out who won. That’s never good.
  • I’m not at all convinced that the starting roles (bonus actions only you can use) are balanced. The fact that some people literally cannot get and/or use some of the goods in the game at the beginning makes it weird. Yes, Race has New Sparta, but any player can get military. 2/5s of the players could literally not get fish until the endgame. Perhaps I am mistaken about how the world works, but that feels wrong.

Things I liked about the game:

  • The planning puzzle — while not nearly as interesting as Mage Knight — did actually work. I think the combination of movement restricting locations but getting one free movement a turn is clever.
  • The deckbuilding (chit-building) had built in deck-trimming (via warehousing stuff out, which let you keep points and get bonus points) as a built-in rule, not a special feature.
  • Less spitting than usual around those foul creatures
  • I kept all of my limbs

So — Indifferent. I’d likely play again to see if anything improves, but I’m not smitten.

But here’s a nice falindrome — On a lit lap, Altiplano!

Written by taogaming

May 8, 2018 at 9:54 pm

Posted in Reviews

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