The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits


The hardest bridge tournament I play every year is the North American Open Pairs District (regional) final. This is a two day event (assuming you survive the cut) of only Flight A players.  My district is Texas + Mexico.

Ironically, one of the easiest tournaments I play in is the Unit (city) qualifier to get into that final. That’s because there aren’t enough A pairs to play separately, so its a mixed field.

And it’s two sessions, which gives skill time to rise over luck.

And the top 60% make the cut. (Not the top 60% of A pairs, just the top 60%).

So in a field where they are only maybe 20% A players (not counting weak players who have stumbled into A flight due to longevity), we can pound on the weak and comfortably qualify even if the top players crush us. And the “top” players are not much better than me (whereas the regional final will have National and even World Champions in a small field with few weak pairs).

Our biggest enemies this year are the same as prior years. Ourselves.

To compound the matter, we’re both fighting lingering illnesses.

We start off rocky, but then our opponents largesse kicks in.

Just to give one example, at the end the first sessionan opponent with holds S:AQJTx H:8 D:Txx C:AKQx.

Her LHO (Hank) opens 2 spades and it goes pass-pass.

She can’t stand it. She doubles. That is not the right bid.

(To be fair, she has a tough choice. I think 2N is the right bid, ignoring the stiff heart). Yes, she’s missing a heart, but she has an 18 count. That may be too much in balancing seat, but just a little. Double is too likely to invite a heart bid from partner, if she bids clubs partner will expect 5 or six, and will likely not have a way to move towards 3N. She wants to be in NT, so bid it!)

Her partner bids three hearts and I double for business. She runs to 3N and Hank doubles. When the smoke clears we’re +800 when we have maybe a partscore, and this latest gift means that we finish the first session 6th overall.

After lunch we start against a wildly aggressive lady: all acerbic remarks, overbids, and attitude. She nonetheless possesses decent cardplay technique. She can (and does!) count and pays attention, and for that reason alone she’s formidable. (And while she will grouse and make self-serving remarks, she is generally nice away when the cards are away) She bullies people in the bidding, but I do that too.

I glance around the section in it appears she’s going to be our most interesting opponent.  Surprisingly, her partner is somewhat of a little old lady.

I hadn’t realized these two were a partnership.

On the first hand partner opens a minimum and I have a minimum response. We got to two spades which doesn’t have much play. I have to guess trumps and decide that the person with a side six card suit is more likely to be short than the person with the side stiff. (The Principle of Vacant Spaces).

Wrong. The hand with the long side suit had long trumps. Off two, -200, Kiss of death, thanks for playing, there’s no lovely parting gift.

It’s annoying, but my brief thought is “bad luck, neither of us made a gross mistake.” If I’m wrong I’ll figure it out later.

The next hand we play in 3 spades making exactly, and for the final hand I pick up:

S:AJ87x H:A87 D:Q82 C:AT

It goes pass-pass and in 3rd seat I open 1N (which we play as a good 14 to 17 in this situation). It goes all pass.

(Some would open 1 Spade, and claim you should never open No trump with a five card major. Hank and I are not those people. I would say that expert consensus is to open 1NT, but that may vary by region).

My LHO — the wildly aggressive lady — leads the intriguing Spade Queen lead.

          Dummy    S:64 H:KQT9 D:96543 C:Qx

Spade Queen led
          My hand  S:AJ87x H:Axx D:Q8x C:Ax

Since I’m looking at the spade jack, what is the Queen? (The opponents already said they played standard leads). Well, experts tend to agree to lead the queen from KQT9 against No Trump, and I am missing the ten and nine. I play small from dummy and RHO (the LOL) plays the deuce.

If they are leading Queen from KQT9 and RHO could see the jack in her hand, she should throw it underneath the queen. If she can see it in dummy, she would give count. Since I have the jack, neither applies, and the two likely means “I don’t like spades.”

I could duck, perhaps LHO would continue, but right now I think I’m happy to have not gotten a club lead. I’d hate to duck and see a club switch. The club position of Qx opposite Ax has a chapter of sample hands on Mike Lawrence’s book How to Play Card Combinations. Barring the highly improbable stiff king, you pnly get one trick if you lead it yourself, but may be able to endplay the opponents for another. I haven’t read the book in ages, but I remember this and note it.

In any case, I win the ace. I could finesse in hearts. I could try to lead a low club and hope LHO ducks her king. But the first is too committal  right now and the second play will fail (spectacularly) if RHO has the club king. My longest suit is diamonds, so I attack that.

I play a heart to my king, then play a diamond.

RHO-LOL discards the club six.

I goggle at this. LHO has KQT9 (presumably) of spades and AKJT7 of diamonds!

At this point (possibly aided by a faint growl from my left, but I can’t be sure), RHO goes “oops” and plays the diamond seven.

I see no reason to change my play and I play the diamond queen. I didn’t expect it to win before I lead the diamonds (I was just catering to AK(x)(x)(x) on my right) and it doesn’t. LHO wins the diamond king.

Now we have an irregularity … RHO has a penalty card. I call the director because I don’t remember my options and in any case the Laws have just been updated, so they may have changed.

It turns out, I can require or forbid a club lead, in which case RHO can pick the club six. Or I can let my LHO lead freely, but keep the penalty card on the table.

Options. If I think LHO has the club king, I can force her to lead it and endplay her. It’s intriguing. I’ve basically been handed an endplay, if I want it.

LHO could have the club king, but right now she’s shown up with all the point’s I’ve seen so far. That isn’t a big deal, but they balance more often than not. Still, a 12 point hand would keep quiet.

More importantly, I’d welcome a spade lead, a diamond lead, or a heart lead in almost any position. A club lead I’d only welcome if LHO has the king, and if she does, well, maybe I’ll get my endplay later.

I forbid a club lead. The director mumbles that LHO can’t lead a club until she has lost the lead as she wanders off.

LHO cashes the diamond ace (RHO follows with the ten), then asks if she can lead a club now. We tell her no. She grouses at the director for not having been louder and pauses.

Eventually she emerges with the spade king (RHO follows) and then the spade ten … and RHO follows! Huh. She lead Queen from KQT (tight).

Odd, but welcome. I cash two more spades, pitching dummies two diamonds. Now I cash the heart ace. Both opponents play low, and have played low high. I think hearts may be 3-3.

Here is the position

Dummy has King-Ten of Hearts and the Queen small of clubs

I have a heart, the diamond 8 and the Ace small of clubs. (The red jacks are still out).

I lead a heart and when LHO plays low I fly with the king. Wrong. RHO shows out and pitches a club.

Ah well. At this point I am back to the endplay. LHO has the heart jack, but I can hope RHO has the diamond jack. I lead the heart ten and RHO pitches a club. I pitch my diamond threat.

LHO wins and shifts to a small club. At this point I can know that RHO has a singleton club. LHO might not have cashed it earlier, with three diamonds on the table, but she would have cashed it now).

So …. play the queen or hope that RHO has bared the king?

A quick count of the hand shows me that LHO has shown up with KQT of spades and AK of diamonds and the jack of hearts. The king of clubs looks like a double of 1N to me, not a smooth pass. It looks like RHO’s king is stiff.

I call small and RHO follows with …. the jack.

Wah-wah (sad trombone).

I failed to consider two things.

  1. Our opponents may be playing a system that lacks a penalty double of a strong NT opening.
  2. A little old lady almost certainly would have exhibited some anguish baring her king of clubs.

The first is speculative, but the second should have counted for more.

Ah well.

Despite my misplay on this hand and both of us botching a hand in the last set (fatigue, possibly)  we qualify comfortably, if not spectacularly. Off to the district final….


Written by taogaming

October 7, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Bridge

First Impressions of the L5R LCG (based on rules only)

OK, I just read the learn to play book and glanced at the reference book (which does seem exceedingly well organized). Off hand three things jump out at me:

First — There seems no provision or even possibility of multi-player. Now, I played a lot of tournament L5R, and the game was perfectly fine that way, but the ability to play multiplayer was a huge draw. Shadowfist and L5R were the big mutliplayer CCGs (IMO).

Second — L5R had a lot of positive feedback. Take out a province, and you are closer to victory, maybe killed your opponents characters, and reduced their cardflow by 25% (or more). But now — people don’t die in battle (automatically, presumably there are still battle effects that kill people). But people do die/retire. When you buy a character, their base cost only gives you one turn of usage. You have to pay an extra fate (the currency instead of gold) for each extra turn you want them. Decide when you buy.

That change intrigues me. Losing a tightly fought, everyone goes battle and you probably haven’t lost the game. Honestly, unforgiving has a certain charm, (maybe more than one). But they also have some nice positive fixes — mulligans for both decks.

Finally, Simultaneous play  — Each player does upkeep, buys characters (dynasty phase), plays cards, and then each player may attack twice. (But one attack must be political, and one military. Political attacks are the same but each character has two skills). Each attack must also declare a ring type (which can’t be duplicated during the turn) and if the attacker wins he gets the ring effect. This seems like an interesting system.

Also — There’s no ring victory in the rules, but presumably that may be a card effect.

Look, I still have more L5R cards than I could safely lift from the ground (I could deadlift them if they were free weights, but paper takes up so much damn space), so I was always going to try this and reading the rules hasn’t changed my opinion. I’m cautiously optimistic, but in practice I think I’d be better off catching up on my netrunner collection and playing that. But we’ll see.

The differences in more detail (I may have mentioned this above, this was my list of notes as I read the rules).

  • 25 Honor wins, 0 honor is a loss. (This is a narrower range, presumably gaining/losing honor is harder)
  • Each province has a special power from the get go. One of the provinces is the stronghold, which cannot be attacked until 3 non-strongholds are destroyed.
  • When you buy a character, they cost some # fate tokens. You only get them for one turn, but can put additional fate on them when you buy them to increase their duration.
  • Fate tokens are also spent to play cards.
  • Starting player is random. None-starting player gets one bonus fate.
  • You get to mulligan some or all of your starting dynasty cards and fate deck (now called conflict deck).
  • You can reshuffle either deck when needed (must, in fact) but it costs you five honor.
  • Turns are simultaneous:
    1. Reveal Dynasty Cards. I did not see rules for event cards, its mostly characters. Holdings may modify the province, like regions.
    2. Gain Fate (determined by stronghold)
    3. Alternate buying dynasty cards or pass. First passer gains one fate), but is done.
    4. Each player secretly and simultaneously decides on how many cards they want to draw 1-5. The catch is that the low bidder gets the difference in honor from the high bidder.
    5. Next is the conflict phase. A conflict has one of the five (ring) elements and is either military or political. Each player player can only declare two conflicts each turn, and only one of each type. If the attacker wins the conflict, they win the ring effect.
    6. Conflicts (even political ones) work like battles, but you can attach cards as a battle action. Apparently there are also character cards in the conflict deck, as you can play a character from hand into a battle!
    7. Attacker wins ties in conflicts (unless tied at zero). The player who wins the conflict wins the ring of it. Each ring element can only be named once/turn (so 4 out of the 5 elements can appear in conflict each turn).
    8. Losing characters do not automatically die!
    9. A lost province looses its ability and cannot be attacked again, but still can be used to buy cards from!
    10. If the attacker wins a conflict, in addition to the ring token, they get the matching ring effect:
      • Air — Steal one honor from your opponent or gain 2.
      • Earth — Draw a card, opp randomly discards one card.
      • Fire — Dishonor a character.
      • Water — Ready a character or bow a character with no fate.
      • Void — Remove a fate from a character.
    11. You get the favor by comparing the glory (a stat) of your unbowed characters after the conflict phase. The favor is just a +1 political or military bonus (the player getting it must choose) during each conflict in the next turn.
    12. You then remove fate from each character and discard (as above) and add fate to each ring token that was not selected or claimed in the last turn, which goes to the next player to initiate a conflict with that Ring. (Ala Puerto Rico, and others). Ah, then you return all rings to the pool, so I guess there’s only one of each ring.
    13. Dueling works using the 1-5 honor dial. You add your bid to the skill, but the low bidder gets the difference in honor (as with card buying).

Written by taogaming

October 5, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

My media “Diet,” or how I beat anorexia

I’ve been sick the last two weeks. Not at death’s door sick, but not healthy either. In fact, the company doctor today said “Go home, I’ll talk to your manager.” (I took yesterday off, and spent the entire weekend at home. And I took a day off last week).

A persistent nagging crud, now with a few bonus kickers.

So I sit and Veg in front of the TV.

Father Brown — I read the GK Chesterton short stories maybe 20 years ago, and I don’t remember much about them except that I liked them. The newest BBC adaptation moves the time up, but just to post WWII times. Pastoral landscapes, castles, but nice Rolls Royce cars, radios, a phone. I don’t think the mysteries are the ones from the books (although at least once a mystery was kind of an homage to a story), but they are generally clever and not in a “convoluted” clever (sometimes) but in a “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?” lateral way. (Edit — This isn’t to say that some of them have a number of coincidences and blind turns, but that’s somewhat expected).

Maybe if I were healthy I’d figure out more. But maybe not. I’m actually quite bad at these type of things.

Also, since its BBC, they don’t do that “The most famous guest star did it” thing. Or if they do, I have no idea who that would be.

Also refreshing:

  • It’s not a “He’s an X, she’s a Y, they fight crime” show. He’s a priest. It’s not a buddy comedy with some side mysteries. (He has a number of recurring parishoners who do help him, and police detective-inspectors who tolerate him, because he generally takes no credit).
  • He doesn’t fight crime, its merely a side hobby. He’s interested in saving souls.
  • An interesting look at life in a small town circa 1950. I mean, there’s the Jessica Fletcher problem of a murder each week, but other than that? Pretty nice.
  • Father Brown is a great character, and the actor (Mark Williams) is wonderful in his portrayal.

Anyway, I really enjoy it, and I’ve burned through 25 of the 60 episodes in the last few weeks. On Netflix.

I did buy The Good Place S2 and have not regretted it. An audacious show, funny, and each week I wonder how they are going to change things. Also, one of the screen grabs in an early episode of “Things you did that make you a good person,” was something like “Wrote up a eulogy for David Bowie, then realized nobody cared, and deleted it.” Guess I lose points. (I’m saddened by Tom Petty’s death, but have nothing to say about it).

(I’m still slowly reading the Encyclopedia of Bowie, working through the section on TV and films).

Rick and Morty is (sadly) done with S3.

I tried to watch The Lobster, twice. I may try to finish it later. It’s like a Bertolt Brecht play (I imagine), in that it is deliberately off-putting on many levels, but is somewhat compelling.

I’ve also been watching a lot of Factorio on Youtube, streams by Katherine of Sky, Nialus, Xterminator. Obviously this of no interest unless you play the game, but I’ve probably watched 200+ epsiodes (average of 25 minutes) of various series. A comfort food of video. So I haven’t had a lot of variety recently, but much TV nonetheless.

And if you aren’t reading SlateStarCodex, you are missing out on the most interesting thinker online (IMO).

Written by taogaming

October 3, 2017 at 7:52 pm

Posted in TV & Media

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

The increasing velocity of media

When I watched the first season of Arrow, I was pleasantly surprised by the plot velocity. Serialization — actually changing the nature of the show from season to season or episode to episode — has been slowly replacing hard resets since the nineties. No doubt this is due to the advent of DVRs and later streaming. Networks did not need to worry as much about dedicated viewer randomly missing a week and then being confused. It could still happen of course, but serialization allowed a differentiation with the normal “things get back to normal” ending.

But it seemed to me that Arrow took that velocity hyper. “Who ordered the attack on Oliver shortly after his rescue?” looked to be a season long quest …. answered at the end of the first episode. “Will his bodyguard figure out his secret identity?” About two episodes later.

Propulsive forward motion.

That didn’t necessarily make Arrow good (although I enjoyed it for a few season) but it was a nice change. By contrast, Supernatural’s natural formulae is “Introduce a Big Bad …. drop him in for a few minutes here and there while the main characters go vs the monster of the week and work towards some McGuffin to defeat the B.B, then fight the B.B. the last 2-3 episodes.”

Sometimes they’d vary, and the series did change season from season, but they were on the plot-treadmill mostly. (Not nearly as much as pre-nineties shows), but still.

Lots of modern shows — good and bad — still stick with the slowly motion move, things resolve over a season. The end of the season may change things (introduce new cast, remove some, etc). And of course comedies change slower than dramas.

But it feels like that has changed. Maybe its just coincidence, but both Rick and Morty and The Good Place have been …. not criticised, but had reviewers express worry that they are burning through their plot too fast. Both have had recent shows where a single episode is effectively a clip show — of clips never seen! –and  tossing jokes at the viewer wily nily and spending 90 seconds on what could have been a decent premise for a 22 minute show.

(And both series mentioned Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same week, which must surely be the most media coverage he’s had in a while).

I’m all for this change. Of course my first criteria for a comedy is the simple — is it funny? But funny and clever and delivering the “Ow wow!” moments is even nicer. I think that the other structural change (apart from streaming) is that many shows are now picked up for 12 or 10 or fewer episodes per season, which means that writers aren’t worried about some huge “How do we fill these 12 episodes in the middle” gap.

They may not run as long, but they burn so very bright.

Written by taogaming

September 30, 2017 at 9:54 am

Posted in TV & Media

A surprising shout out to my (Graduate) Alma Mater

from Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback

Obscure College Score. Carnegie Mellon 37, Thomas More 17. The Tartans of Carnegie Mellon—arguably America’s most interesting college, as its strengths are engineering and theater, quite the combo…

I honestly did not know they had a football team. I did know about the theater school ….

Written by taogaming

September 28, 2017 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Linky Love

Bad Luck, and Worse

It’s bad luck at bridge when trumps split 5=0.

It’s worse when you had a 9 card trump fit, didn’t notice, and go down in a cold game “because of the 5=0 break.”

Written by taogaming

September 27, 2017 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Bridge