The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Results from my Slay-the-Spire/Bridge Training

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

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

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

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

(There’s an XKCD for everything)

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

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

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

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

But certain aspects did help:

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

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

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

Written by taogaming

February 27, 2021 at 2:46 pm

If you’ve been desperately wondering what I think of a few dozen bridge books…

Written by taogaming

February 19, 2021 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Bridge, Reviews

Dyson Sphere Program

So, as I mentioned before, I got Dyson Sphere Program. This is the latest in the (growing) line of Automation games, which I guess was started by Minecraft, but as far as I’m concerned, started with Factorio (which I’ve now been playing for 4 years). How much time have I spent playing DSP in the last few days? That depends on how you keep time.

Because it turns out … my computer doesn’t have a powerful enough graphics card to play it. Which is to say … my laptop has no graphics card. Unlike Factorio (which tries to run at a set speed, and sometimes drops frames if the graphics get complicated), if DSP slows down due to graphics issues, the game slows down. I first noticed this when I said “Huh, I’ve only been playing for 40 minutes according to the game, feels longer.” It was closer to two hours. So I’m either four hours into the game, or fifteen hours, or somewhere in between.

Look — this is a game where you start by chopping down some trees and rocks and eventually build a Dyson Sphere, so you have to scale up. If you already know you love/hate that, nothing will change. However, a few thoughts.

At the four hour mark (etc) I have literally just started my first Dyson Swarm and have unlocked (but not yet started) the third “Science” type (which you need to unlock more advanced technologies).

  • Its pretty. If you have a graphics card, its pretty and runs at a normal speed. I stood for a few seconds watching my EM rail guns launching solar sails over the horizon (100m away) into the setting sun. (There’s a reddit thread for prettiest screenshot, and some of the entries are amazing).
  • The twists (from Factorio’s POV) are threefold:
    • The planets are tiny little things (think “The Little Prince”) so the curvature of the planet matters. You literally cannot put more than twenty or so assemblers in a parallel line before one of the lines has to jog. (I don’t know the exact number). And they aren’t perfectly level either (apart from just water and crevasses).
    • You can build UP. Conveyor belts can stack at levels, some buildings can be stacked, etc.
    • You can (fairly quickly) unlock technology to sail between planets. Factorio has “outposts for resources” but here you can’t lay a conveyor belt back to the main base. You either have to literally hand carry everything back and forth, or build an interstellar logistic system. (If you are running at normal speed, a trip might take a minute or two).
  • It’s an early access games, so the controls leave much to be desired. No mappable hotkeys, confusing tutorials, etc. I almost uninstalled it before even landing on the starting planet, because how to navigate to it was not obvious, and I missed and wasn’t clear how to turn around. Right now this game is a dancing bear, because there so much of it works … sort of.
  • There are many … many recipes and ingredients. There are maybe 100 intermediate components (things that don’t do anything, just a step along the path to the next thing). Factorio felt overwhelming the first few times in this, but this is a level above.
  • You start with robots to build stuff, but its much slower than clicking to place (especially in my case). You have to tech up to make them fast. They really need blueprints though, because controlling everything by hand likely won’t scale well. Copy-Paste!

Anyway, I don’t think this will be a thousand hour experience, because I’m not zen enough, but I don’t consider my money wasted. I have little hope that the devs (a five person team) will make it fast enough that my laptop will suddenly be good enough, but I can while away a few hours here and there.

Written by taogaming

February 6, 2021 at 7:27 pm

The Line between Inspiration and Theft

I saw the announcement for Terraforming Mars: Area Expedition(aka TM: The card game) because someone commented something to the effect of “They ripped off Race for the Galaxy.” And — uh, yeah. There are some differences, but the five phases, simultaneous selection, etc. Its all there. (You can’t select the same phase twice in a row).

Last week I tried the Dyson Sphere Program video game and then returned it (because it was somewhat clunky), but after watching some Katherine of Sky videos I re-bought it. (KoS is — to me — the Bob Ross of Twitch. Simply a joy to listen to). Let’s be clear — DSP takes a lot from Factorio. But it adds innovations — you are in a universe where an Astronomical Unit is a 40 km and you can run around a planet’s equator in a minute or two. Factorio meets The Little Prince. The curvature of each planet and its orbital inclination matter! Its three dimensional in a real way, and that’s a huge change. (A beautiful, albeit clunky, game).

I guess the true test is — did you build something new? When you are standing on the shoulders of giants, is it so you can see farther, or are you just pissing on them? Perhaps TM:AE does something new. It’s easy to imagine. Race where you can’t repeat your role selection is a new game (and possibly a great variant). But the fact that this “inspired by” game is tacked onto an established property by an already established company makes it feel a bit dirty. Time will tell.

Full review of DSP later.

(Slay the Spire Update — 7 wins out of 24 games so far, and only two deaths in Act I).

Written by taogaming

February 5, 2021 at 9:59 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Control Data

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

Here are the stats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to track:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts (before starting)

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

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

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

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

Let the games begin.

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

Written by taogaming

January 30, 2021 at 2:59 pm

2020 (Gaming) Year in Review

I didn’t play many board games this year, obviously.

Quarters — Bridge, 1862

Dimes — The Crew, Mottanai, Jump Drive, 1846, Res Arcana

There were no nickels. (Mage Knight got 4 plays, partially due to burnout but mainly because my gaming table is now my work table and its a pain to move everything). All told I played 30 different titles.

Written by taogaming

January 4, 2021 at 12:13 am

Posted in Summary

Tagged with

Another new, yet very old auction

(The second in a not-really-series).

Playing online, I pick up a typical (weak) 1NT opening:

S:xx H:AKx D:Axxx C:xxxx (ish)

So I open 1NT. And partner wheels out an unexpected bid — 3 Hearts.

What is that? In the olden days, that was a five card suit and choice of games or slammish. Nowadays Jacoby transfers handle the choice of games … although I had been thinking that making 3H mean “5 card suit slammish” is likely better than most systems.

In fact, which playing with new partners, I don’t normally bother filling out what 1N-3x means (with the exception that 3C should be Puppet Stayman). I haven’t heard this auction in a while, and I don’t know what it means. If I’ve discussed it, its so long that I can’t remember. Partner is in DC, and so may play some variant of Washington Standard, which I think makes this a 3=1=(54) forcing bid. But since I’m not sure and I don’t think its just hearts, I’m going to punt and bid 3NT. This gets doubled by my LHO.

Partner bids 4 Hearts. If he’s doing that with a stiff heart I think I’m going to make him play it as punishment for torturing me with an undiscussed auction. I pass and LHO doubles again. Partner doesn’t pull, so I guess he really has hearts. I pass and while he plays it he shows up with:

S: Axxxx H: Jxxxxx D: x C: x

I still don’t know what’s going on. Only hours later do I realize …. early on I learned (and still play with most people) that 3 Hearts is 5-5 in the majors, invitational. But its been probably a decade since I’ve seen that, even though I play it with most partners. The good news (from my perspective) is that four hearts doubled is that good place to be.

But A near-year of not even looking at a convention card is showing, I think.

Written by taogaming

December 23, 2020 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Bridge

What new computer games are you playing?

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

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

Written by taogaming

December 19, 2020 at 10:01 am

Goodbye 2020 — Don’t let the links hit you on the way out

I play a fairly complicated bidding system in Bridge, but I’ve never been able to wrap my head around relay systems and control scanning bids, where one hand takes control and asks a question, with the answers encoded into steps. (Control scanning bids have you bid out number of Aces and Kings and then use bids to pinpoint where they are). Even if I understood said systems, I wouldn’t play them. I’ve been known to give the wrong answer to Blackwood (or the simply shortness-encoding splinters I play) more often than I care to admit. But I did like seeing Kit Woolsey and Bart Bramley use relays and scans to get an OK but touchy grand slam and then find a nice line to make it.

Here are 50 written languages. Can you spot the fakes?

The Great (Lego) Wave off Kanagawa (inspired by the famous woodprint).

The go-to guide for not getting murdered in a quaint English village.

When commissioned to paint a Soviet-style Cookie Monster on a building in Peoria, how many questions do you ask? Was one of them “Hey, do you actually own this building?” Me neither.

For your “How its done” pleasure — A video of traditional Japanese Wood Joinery

I’ve seen some strange dance pieces by Yoann Bourgeois, but the fragments of this dance (set to Mozart’s Requiem) astounded me –the set design and lighting made this surreal, as though people were floating from the sky to the ground. I wasn’t sure what was going on until they showed the practice…and here’s his instagram page …. “Sometimes my work consists of catching dancers who want to fall into the orchestra pit.”

(H/T to for several of these)

Written by taogaming

December 16, 2020 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Linky Love

Followups to recent posts

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

Hades further thoughts:

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

Written by taogaming

November 21, 2020 at 9:06 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with ,