Well Suit-ed

May 1, 2016

There are a bunch of things I can post about now that I’m back in the US.  I just have been trying to recover from the time difference while a pet is rather sick.

I actually thought about posting from Shanghai this post, but I just didn’t have the infrastructure that I do at home.

So, mahjong.

But, first, go.  I’ve never played go.  In a later post, I’ll talk about the games I played on my trip that I had never played previously.  But, it was funny that I woke up from multiple dreams on the same night dreaming about playing my first go match.  I think reading an article in China Daily about a go player had something to do with that.

I was asked what style we should play.  We had done half my family’s style and half a current popular style in China on one trip, followed by only the latter on another trip.  What I hadn’t played in 9 years was a/the Shanghainese style where you can only win with all one suit or all pungs.

One of our players hadn’t played the style before.  He didn’t do well.  I thought there was an additional rule that I had played under, I think something about declaration of being ready, but I haven’t been able to remember it.  So, it was pretty straightforward.

Cons

I don’t know if there’s an optimal style out there.  By style, talking about a combination of rules for what a legal winning hand is and how hands are scored, with the latter often being the greater variance, though having dragons act as flowers is a pretty big deal when it comes to play.

When I first played the style, the big drawback to me was that you knew what a lot of safe tiles were once a hand developed.  You had an incentive to eliminate suits early and play for rather limiting hands.

I still find it kind of odd to dispense with tiles that I’d normally cultivate in other styles, and I think it can be a bit easy to fall into excessively defensive play.  However, having played more, I do feel there are more things going on than what first appears and that there’s some strategic thinking that one can bring to the table.

I was definitely prone to playing far too defensively at first.  Because I could.  Various styles I’ve played don’t reward you much for defensive play, including the style I’ve played the most – my family’s.

I almost wonder if somewhere between my family’s style, where who discards the winning tile usually doesn’t matter, and a lot of other styles, where only the person who discards the winning tile pays exclusive of self-picked victories, there is an optimal middle path.  I kind of like the symmetry of discarder pays full and the other two players pay half, but that’s bad math, so discarder pays double would make more sense.

One thing about self-picked wins is that the local styles make these rather valuable.  If I win off of someone’s discard some 20 point hand, I gain 20 at the cost of someone else.  If I pick the winning tile (ignoring possible concealed bonuses), I gain 60 points.  That’s a huge swing.  When I first played with current coworkers, I won one or two hands by drawing the winning tile early, which gave me such a cushion that I could play defensively the rest of the time and pretty much guarantee coming out ahead.

Pros

I compare and contrast with my family’s style.  In my family’s style, all one suit is rather rare and all pungs is extremely rare.  As one of the reasons to play mahjong over cards is the aesthetic appeal of the tiles, all one suit and all pungs are both prettier winning hands.  While all pungs is still only one fan (i.e. double) in this Shanghainese style, it’s still far more common because of how limited winning hands can be.  All pungs should probably be two fans in my family’s style to compensate for the difficulty, though there’s a counterargument that all pung hands tend to be relatively good scoring hands due to how prevalent winds and dragons show up in them and how random flowers are in our style.

One thing I felt this go around but don’t recall the first go around is how you need to be flexible and committed in different ways than normal.  What the players to your left and right are doing matters a ton.  If the player to your left is in your suit, you are going to see hardly any discards of that suit to chow and one less player to pung off of.  If you are on the other side of this relationship, your right hand player is probably screwed unless they get ready off of draws, then your late game discards are incredibly dangerous.

I was generally playing my hands early on, keeping to my long suits even when nothing was progressing.  Later on, I got more flexible to the idea of either giving up on a stronger suit or just holding off to see what sort of draws I’d get, as drawing lots of tiles in a single suit can radically change the winning potential of a hand, where other styles are more prone to general value add from connected suit tiles.

Dragons and winds.  In my family’s style, unless you are going for a big scoring hand or difficult hands that rarely pay off, you discard winds that aren’t your own right away.  In this style (and others), there’s no concept of “your” wind.  In my family’s style, dragons are common early discards, we really play a lot to all chows (i.e. runs) as an easy way to win with a decent score.  Hoping to draw into pairs of winds or dragons is typically a loser’s path.  Also, you usually establish your “eye” (i.e. required pair) before you become ready or have some multiple way call that creates your eye.

With this style, because you are more limited in what can win and because winds and dragons always go with all one suit or all pungs, they have a lot of late game value.  Actually, a wind or dragon that has been discarded once often makes for a good eye.  That’s usually an awful call in what I’m used to.

Again, aesthetics.  Winds and dragons shouldn’t be automatic discards 90% of the time.  That loses flavor.

As mentioned, you can play this style very defensively, if you want.  I kept losing chips, winning no hands until about half way into our three hour session.  That came from focusing on not discarding winning tiles rather than realizing that it can be really hard for other players to make ready, too, and focusing more on giving myself a chance to gain chips.  In aggro styles, like my family’s, it’s usually a tactical decision to play defensively, with the possible exception of how the North player has added responsibility to “move the bank”.

A pro, in that interesting decisions are interesting, is how pairs of suit tiles have extra value.  Punging in a suit doesn’t commit you to the suit or to all pungs.  A number of styles don’t really encourage pungs because they break connectivity in your hand (and prevent all concealed bonuses).

Kongs are often not that exciting in my family’s style.  “Ten” more points or whatever just doesn’t usually matter and the odds of picking the winning tile from the flower garden for that fan are low.  But, in these styles, it can be rather scary if someone completes a kong and has a chance for the extra fan as even just the base score increase is nontrivial.

Lot more pros listed than cons, but I still wouldn’t say this style is normal.  And, whatever additional rule I played under before or that I think I played under before left me thinking that the format was a bit more luck based than what we were playing this time.

Shifting Winds

One thing I find interesting is how we go to MaiDanLao for dinner before we play because the place we go to is just down a driveway from it.  This would not likely be the case after the office moves, if it moves.

It cost all of 60 RMB for the four of us to play for three hours.  That’s like $2.25 per person for getting to use an automated table, having chips provided, not having to clean up our MaiDanLao waste, having privacy with no real cigarette smell even though there are ash trays.

So, how did I, supergrandmaster (a joke no one will get, let’s just say certain sudoku collections top out at a level higher than grand master), fare?  I lost 20% of my stack.  I was done to like 20% of my stack, maybe 10%, at one point before I shifted to focusing more on trying to win … and finally won a couple of hands.  The last hand, I had three possibilities for winning.  I don’t say chances because that means something a bit different.  I was down to one tile.  I chose to discard North and keep an eight of characters, as I didn’t want to be forced to discard a wind/dragon later in the hand.  Two other players cleared out their single copies of North immediately after my discard.  I agonized over keeping the eight or switching to a one of characters, neither had any copies in play.  I discarded the eight and immediately drew another eight.  I forgot what the other possibility was, maybe just that someone could have discarded a one but didn’t.

If I get a discard for the win, I’m up a bit overall.  If I kept the eight and picked, I’m big time up.  The math on whether to go eight or go one is not the sort of thing I bother with calculating.  I think there were sevens out somewhere, making me believe there was a good chance someone had a pair of eights in hand, but I could be totally not recalling.  I just figured an end tile discard was a bit more likely, though an eight wasn’t an unlikely discard.

It felt like we played for a very long time.  Maybe three hours is a pretty good chunk of time, especially when I’m adjusting to the time difference and would normally go to bed between 6PM and 8PM if I had nothing to do.  It was just really pleasant.  We don’t play for money, so there isn’t much pressure or frustration (at the randomness of higher scoring hands).  It was a good level of randomness.


On Key

February 2, 2016

Not yet time to insert an M.  Not on Fire, either.

January was a time of doing fun things with great people.  But, it wasn’t much of a month for gaming.

While I was flying back to the US recently, I spent a bit of time thinking about gaming.  Sure, RPG thoughts came to mind.  But, unlike the norm of thinking primarily about RPGs, I actually spent some time thinking about CCGs.  In particular, I thought about V:TES.

For quite some time, I haven’t been playing much.  This led, of course, to not spending much time thinking about the game.  But, for some reason, while I haven’t done much to organize cards and haven’t done much deckbuilding, I’ve still found something more enjoyable about thinking about deckbuilding.

We played last Sunday.  I was still jet lagged and didn’t do anything new, so I played Hatchlings, Pre/Vic bruise bleed, and Jyhad Pre bleed.  In other words, my kind of decks.

I often don’t play my kind of decks.  To stretch, I’ll play decks ridiculously bad for me, like the most recent deck I think I made, which is Tzimisce rush.  Sure, without Bill around or people like him to keep coming up with combo deck ideas, I don’t get around to combo decks, but …

What makes those decks my kind of decks?

They bleed.  Yes, I know I hardly ever bleed anymore.  But, I used to.  Two out of the three hunt reasonably well, by which I mean I can afford actions hunting.  The third even hunts because it really can’t do anything besides bleed or hunt.

And, that’s the thing.  They don’t complicate my game.  Hatchlings has, generally, three different actions to take – Hatchling, hunt, bleed.  The other two just two actions.  Two of the decks bounce.  The third plays cards that both reduce bleeds and give intercept.  They don’t obsess over screwing vote decks.  Two of the decks play combat ends.  They don’t obsess over screwing combat decks, though one of them is a combat deck.

Yes, bruise bleed isn’t my thing, which makes the Pre/Vic deck kind of odd.  But, it does its superior three disciplines thing.  The other two have relatively simple discipline needs.

I don’t try to stop stuff crosstable.  I can’t shut down jack.  But, there are silver bullets.  I won one game due to Sudden Reversal on Palla Grande, though I had my Hostile Takeover on Jost with Ivory Bow Washed.

There’s just something pleasant about how all three function, though they are hardly close substitutes for each other.

I was thinking about how I hadn’t blogged in a while.  By the way, way to go WordPress, right up there with Yahoogroups and others on making your own product annoying to use.  I was thinking and started a line of thought that I don’t remember all that clearly, just that it ran through RPG and CCG stuff.

I invented a card when playing Sunday.  “Master.  Put this card in play.  You may burn this card to give a vampire of capacity five or higher +2 bleed for the current action.  This bleed action may not resolve for more than three pool damage.”  No, this paragraph has nothing to do with anything.

I was thinking about events, though I don’t really care about Anthelios, I only see Anthelios matter when I play out of my region.  Even then, it’s not Anthelios I care about.

I haven’t played any HoR: Nightmare War.  I was up at 1AM China time (well, earlier) waiting for my Gen Con housing slot, which was an hour later, which turned out to be a strong slot, where I got a room, though I think I maybe needed to try a bit harder to get a better one.

If I keep throwing out random comments, what will be unlocked?

I played mahjong on my trip, though only one format – the variant popular in China according to my coworkers I mentioned last time.  We didn’t play the Shanghainese style of all one suit or all pungs, but we talked about doing that next time.  Only one player won.  She seems very lucky in my small sample size of playing games with her, but I’d certainly also say she’s a good player.  Could be better than I.

I need to learn a couple of boardgames for the weekend after this, when I’ll be running convention sessions of stuff that isn’t either a RPG or CCG.

I need a new Fading Suns character, as I still haven’t replaced my dead monk.

Thinking.

I was thinking about card limits.  I was thinking about how I may not give other people enough credit for seeing why card limits are so awesome.  As every right-thinking gamer knows, card limits have nothing to do with the playability of a CCG.  It’s all about the collectibility and collection management advantages of needing fewer copies of cards.  Sure, for Wheel of Time, where I may only have 10 decks built at one time, I still need some 15 Lucky Finds and 15 Invasions.  But, I only need six recruitable Rahvins.  With V:TES, I need 60+ On the Qui Vive just to get by.  Anything less than 20 Villeins, which, by the way, I don’t own 20 Villeins, is a struggle.

I gave away extra Jyhad copies of commons.  I only held on to 40 copies of Jyhad Majesty, as that’s enough to scrape by.  Were there Babylon 5 cards I had problems having sufficient quantities of?  Must have been the case, though I don’t really recall it.  Annex Neutral World was something I could probably live on nine copies of.  Not Meant To Be around the same number.  Wasn’t like I had 20 decks at once for the game.  More of a 12 deck kind of game.  I think only V:TES (ignoring such things as Type P Magic) has ever seen me have 20+ decks built at once, and I haven’t done that in ages (ignoring “experiment” decks).

I still haven’t run part two of Against the Dark Yogi.  I’m beat during the week, though inertia helps me with getting out to do Thursday Shadowfist.  Every week in the month of January was consultants in town, coworkers from out of town, or my being in another country.

Carolina 41, Denver 3.  Why not?  I don’t care.  Whenever I’ve had other things to do, I’ve skipped the Big Bowl.  Plus, Seattle produced two awful results in recent years, just making it that much less worth my engagement.

We didn’t play for money.  We did have chips, though, to make it easier to track how people did in our mahjong session.  I still find it interesting.  I also found it interesting how many times I said to myself “yo, dudicle, you aren’t paying that much attention to people’s discards, like is kind of much of the skill in the game”.  I realized later why the format is so fast.  When every dragon is a flower, the tile pool is vastly decreased, which makes connections in hands and from discards form much faster.  There’s a lot of thought I could put into the format, especially around the payoff calculations of declaring ready versus playing not to lose.

I’ve talked about what I enjoy out of RPGs.  I don’t know if I’ve covered what sort of PCs I like playing enough.  Too good a topic not to save for a more laser sharp blog post.

How come in Legends of Tomorrow, the fire gun never causes fires and the cold gun never freezes things?

Merged Ferox with Tremere demo deck as predator.  Grandpredator wins the game.  But, that’s so unmeta.

There are rarity indicators on Shadowfist cards?  According to an article on drafting there are (or were).  Probably should do a Shadowfist draft some day.  I almost miss V:TES drafting, just because everyone should be forced to learn more about limited play with CCGs other than Magic.

There are a lot of things that don’t enthuse me about making RPG characters.  I’ve talked about my disdain for equipment, and I’m sure I mentioned something about not being into playing magic-users.  That kind of covers Theurgy and Psychics.  But, what about Cybernetics?  I think they come across as equipment to me.  I’m also not a tech guy, except when I’m a software consultant, software developer, technical architect, or the like.  So, what sort of Fading Suns character should I play?  I think I should stretch and actually go with one of these things I normally wouldn’t choose because they don’t sound appealing.

Why aren’t games better?  Another great topic for another time.

I still haven’t posted another solitaire variant I created.  One I created years ago as yet another solitaire game to use a small amount of space but to have meaningful decisions.  I’ll have to get around to this some day.

But, today.  Today is just a day to make a mess before getting back on track with geniusness.


Giftable

December 20, 2015

Sure, I played Shadowfist Thursday and even won a game because of the power of Li Po.  Sure, had my PC die Friday night in our online Fading Suns game, so I have to think about what my new character will be.  Kurgan?  Without my dude, there’s no religious character in the party, though I think there was too much pressure on my character to hold up the religious aspects of the world.

Sure, I’m supposed to run a game Wednesday night.  I was thinking it was going to be Champions, but I am back to Against the Dark Yogi because I had a clearer idea of plot in my brainial region.  Either way, mechanics need to be explained.  I just actually know something about Hero mechanics.  I’ll report back, I’m sure.

But, let’s talk about gifts.

Let’s start with the boring but simple.  What would I want as gaming gifts?

An Ultimate Combat! tournament where I get another chance to win a playmat (the greatest gaming accessory I’ve ever acquired).  I think sealed deck would be more fun, actually.  As much as constructed might be fun, I don’t know if it is as fun in tournament play, where it may be too brutal and too repetitive.

For V:TES to go back into business production and for all of the e-sets to either be junked or turned into printed sets.  Actually, it’s not the sets so much as individual cards that I’d like to see some junking or some changing.

For the upcoming V:TES tournaments to be enjoyed by all.

Heroes of Rokugan: Nightmare War to either start or to never have to worry about … for me; I realize others have already started.  I’ve been away for L5R play for some time, now.  I’m perfectly fine with getting back to playing L5R, but I want it to be coherent.

To feel like the last home campaign of L5R is truly complete.  I mentioned posting stuff from the campaign, but I stopped because there was at least one major thing I was waiting on.  I don’t know what the situation is.  It’s been so long since things ended that I don’t know if anyone cares anymore about my providing some insight into what I was doing.

To be inspired to build more decks for V:TES and Shadowfist.

To have the computer room organized so that I don’t have gaming stuff piled up on the floor as I currently do.  In the vein of being more organized, try to find four or so mahjong sets I own that I don’t currently know the location of just so that I can confirm inventory.  Not like I would fly anywhere with one unless I knew I was gifting a set to somebody, but the interest in the game has been renewed.

To feel like I have time to think and create for RPGs.

To get a plan together for Origins, even though no due dates should be any time soon.  To have a Gen Con hotel option when I know the passkey system is going to be a joke again this year.

To find more playmats for CCG play that I have interest in as my current crop is kind of iffy for covering all possibilities.

For someone else to want to run a long term campaign of something I find intriguing.

What about gifts for other people?

While I’m not inclined to get gaming stuff for family, I have looked at fantasy books.  I ended up at a used book store because:  I’m too late to order things from Amazon; local new books book store doesn’t have most of what I want; when it does have something it’s ungodly expensive in a steal your money kind of way.  For example, first trilogy of Corum is something I could find.  It was split up in three, $10 books.  Or, I could find the trilogy in one $3 book because it’s stupid for such short books to be split up into three separate books, and it’s a sad money grab to charge $10 for what’s a reprint of like a 150 page book.

The problem with gifts for friends is then you enter a reciprocity situation that I just don’t want to get into.  I don’t have any great desire for people to get me things (I’ll just buy any things I want, though, sometimes it’s interesting to get things because I wouldn’t have bought them and they open up a new world of things I’m interested in).  Nor do I remotely enjoy shopping for other people, though it’s amusing how sometimes it’s easy to find things for friends.

If consulted, I could give some ideas for things to get other people.  I’ve played a number of boardgames to where I could envision who might like what.  CCGs are hard to spring on people, though it’s easy enough to gift stuff to someone already interested.  RPG books are something that comes to mind much more today than in the past for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.  For instance, L5R 4e books are just really nice looking.  Even if you don’t like the system or the world, might be inspired by the presentation.  Other books that are more about culture and less about mechanics seem like possibilities, though, again, more so possibilities for gamer friends.  Dice can be an accessory I can imagine actually giving to people and not just gamers – non-gamers don’t understand how common polyhedral dice are in the gaming world.  Mahjong dice are something non-mahjong players might find more interesting.  Using weird six-sided dice for mahjong is a possibility.

I’m increasingly looking at non-stuff gifts because I, personally, have way too much stuff and need to reduce those things that aren’t important to me.  Plus, I realized experiences are the best things in life a while back, anyway.  In fact, my anti-present thing comes from getting presents but not getting experiences to go with them when I was young as toys and games and whatever were in a vacuum of lack of people to play things with.  I sort of realized that tickets to events and whatnot are a legit thing to consider, recently.  Of course, travel is a great thing to have, just a messy thing to gift out of the blue.


Dragons, Winds, Water

December 13, 2015

A curious follow up to my last post is that I got invited to play mahjong after I was back in the US.  To play with people I had never played mahjong with.

First time I ever played American Mahjong.  The way I explain it is that you have to win with a special hand.  Other styles have special hands – I certainly spent time studying esoteric special hands from books about Chinese, Japanese, or unaligned mahjong.  The difference is between playing a game where you can win with whatever or whatever that has 1+ fans (or, to be fair, Shanghainese “you can only win with all pungs or all one suit” is incredibly limiting) and have the option of special hands versus only being able to win with special hands.

We only played like six hands.  Two were wall games.  Andy won the first two, which was a good time to retire, and his great aunt won the other two.  I think.

Hard to remember because each hand is so slow.  For me, trying to figure out what legal winning hands overlapped in such a way to move towards multiple hands at once was paralysis by noesis.

Not really my thing.  I have to unlearn how to play normally, then have to work through memorizing a bunch of specific combinations, then calc the probability of being able to form different combinations so that I can focus on what’s viable, meanwhile trying to pay enough attention to realize what someone else can win with.  It strikes me a bit too much like mixing bingo into mahjong.

But, I understand why other forms of mahjong can be less interesting when you don’t play for money or track anything that relates to the type of hand you win with.  If all you do is play to go out as quick as possible, yeah, pretty boring stuff.  It’s like playing poker without playing for money.

So, while Shadowfist has some mahjong related cards, it’s an awkward transition into Shadowfist play.

Thursday

Played two games, no mooks nor Sacred Grounds, pay one less to play a FSS to a new location.

I played the YotG Dragon precon first.  Cut down, of course.

Don (7 Masters) -> Ian (Dragon precon) -> Justin (Martial Focus Hand) -> Joren (Plague of Moths)

I did not have a particularly easy time playing stuff, with Chun Qi Shuan being my main contribution to the game.  One time I got River of Lights, which I couldn’t play.  The other Junkyard Engineer.  The deck seems to either come out strong or not come out at all when I watch it played by others.

Justin got out an occasional character but was really only a factor when he had Joren’s Leashed.  Joren didn’t have removal to stop 7 Masters.  So, 7 Masters won, with a Sky Dragon and an Evil Twin of Sky Dragon among other masters.

Don (Purists) -> Ian (Abomination From The Sky) -> Justin (Cops) -> Joren (Jammers hate their own sites)

We kept murdering Don’s guys, but it wasn’t payback so much as I didn’t want Quantum Sorcery gaining him power.  He kept making us draw cards.  Justin got out some early cops that got murdered by the Jammers.  Joren didn’t make his sleaze bigger by losing sites until late.

I played a bunch of Aerial Bombardments – murdering two Mutators in one turn with the 10 damage I could spread around.  Arcanomoth, fatter Arcanomoth, three Blood Eagles, and an Assassin Bug were my only dudes.  Don made one last bid for victory.  I had open targets in a variety of places, swung with Blood Eagles and Arcanomoth on my own Hot Springs, figuring M.A.D. would get played.  It didn’t.  Victory goes to the noble and virtuous death from above Architects.

Saturday

Five games?

First game was precons.

Cy (Ascended) -> Miguel (Lotus) -> Ian (Hand) -> Earl (Jammers)

Miguel discarded a lot of his good cards, having problems getting stuff out.  I got a strong defensive position after a while with a Buddhist Bellringer, Pacifists (3), Wei Tian, Reformed Bandit, Kitsune.  I had two sites burned for victory and a Garden of Eternal Spring that lasted all game.  So, I was a threat.  I tried some bids for victory, the last one being shot down with Fireworks Display.

Cy put out Campaign Managers, but they just got murdered.  His second Roar of the Lion was much more relevant.

Earl’s A Clockwork Orangutan got put under House Arrest.  He made a dude gigantic with The Blackboard and Personal Assault Vehicle, then made it even bigger with Exo-Skeleton for the win.

Cy won the second game when the only other deck that did anything was mine and my Khofesh died right away.

I played my Abominations From The Sky deck in the third game, and my Helix Mines couldn’t quite stop Cy from winning with Dragons, again.

Miguel had to leave.

I played Syndicate, ambush characters version.  Earl played his Hand Monkey deck.  I don’t get frustrated by a lot with Shadowfist because I don’t care enough most of the time to find plays frustrating, but the “this card doesn’t target”, “my card only stops people’s events that target my guys” stuff is really obnoxious.  Jammers get fantastic counterspells, but I can’t play them because they are monkey cards.  Hand has counterspells, but I don’t want to build a bunch of counterspells + superleap decks.  I think Cy won after my Xu Mei was ganged up on.

I finally played my most recent Insurance Policy deck, with Tears of the Crocodile as the main hitter.  I was a threat.  I had two Tears and Raven Li in play when we had to call the game.  Earl was not winning but had a lot of edges in play to go with his monkey mass.

I keep saying it, but I need to build more decks.  The tools are there to build amusing decks.  I’m sure I can even find something Lotus to do that would be fair and interesting.  I really need things to annihilate weenies and edges.  But, I don’t want to play Dragon all of the time.

A propos of Shadowfist, I decided to watch the first episode of Into the Badlands.  I’ve thought about a list of the movies I’ve never seen that I’d most want to watch.

Much of the list would be like this:  Kill Bill; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; House of Flying Daggers; Chinese Ghost Story; etc.  Yet, the reviews were exceedingly mediocre on ItB, and I’m highly reluctant to watch TV shows after getting burned on shows that I watched lasting only one season.  It was interesting enough for me to record the other episodes.

What do I like about it?

The setup with the Barons.  It’s so suited to RPG play.  The look is nice – vivid.  That I simply don’t watch enough martial arts stuff.

While I really dislike post-apocalyptic settings, I could see a more palatable variation being used as a basis for RPG play.  After all, Naruto isn’t dissimilar.  I’ve had the thought of a school vs. school Ninja Hero game for a long time because Ninja Hero just seems like such a cool take on the Hero System.  I’m just not sure there’s enough “the weakness of the praying desert oyster technique is that you can counterrotate your invisible base” to it, though.


A Mouse’s Donkey

December 5, 2015

While a work trip, I’m hardly going to talk about the work aspects here.  I could rant and rave about shopping, but that seems out of place, as well.

So, after being too tired on Tuesday to go gaming (a last minute decision after I RSVPed the MeetUp) and generally not adjusting to the time difference (trip was to a little hamlet called Shanghai), I was presented with the idea of playing mahjong Thursday night.  We got four players together from work, organized by the BP manager, and hit the second story mahjong parlor, well, room with a mechanized table.

Like this, only not exactly.

Like this, only not exactly.

It was my first time using a mechanized table, and I just find them amazing in how efficiently they work.  It does mean that there’s little reason to own your own sets – sets are damn heavy.  I was gifted one and it made my suitcase noticeably heavier.

I really need to get one of these tables.  Well, in theory, more than one to reside at multiple domiciles.  I’m still unclear on how they precisely work, but I can look that up.

On the walk over to the place, we talked about how there are numerous variants of the game, such that people have to discuss what rules (and scoring) they are playing.  One of my coworkers started describing the Shanghainese style of only winning with all one suit or all pungs, and I mentioned having played that style, before (want to guess where the banner picture for this blog comes from?).

We started with my teaching my family’s style of play, with its rather convoluted scoring system (for modern play).  Note that I speak of similar things in this post – Old Time Fan.

In trying to find someone online explain the rules for the other style we played, I came across this website – http://mahjongbritishrules.com/scoring/overview.html

Ignoring the special hands and some of the special bonus rules, this is basically how my family does scoring (though we do more rounding and are inconsistent about what base we use).  I didn’t see whether the British count nonwinning hands, but my family does.  So, for instance, I won the first hand sitting North and East scored way more points because she had her own flower, dragons, and I think East because I know her score for a nonwinning hand was 480.

http://mahjongbritishrules.com/scoring/examplehands.html has some examples that I can see.

Do I think my family’s style is a better one?

Because we don’t make discarder pay for everyone, except under specific conditions, generally when someone threatens a maximum hand or all one suit pure, our style is very aggressive.  There’s rarely an incentive to reduce your chances of winning to stop someone else from doing so.  And, I’m really not a fan of flowers and their randomizing effect, though this is an issue with a ton of variations.  Also, I think all pungs, which is often really hard (well, more so really randomly based upon having a lot of unrelated pairs in your hand early on), should be worth two fans and not one.

Change to where only the discarder pays, and I’m … not sure.  It might throw things off a bit too much.  I wouldn’t want too defensive a game.

After we played through a full set of prevailing winds, we switched styles.  I did win about 40% of the hands playing the first style.  It’s hard to benchmark anything, but I’ve always held my own playing mahjong, except when I got bored or “gambly” and started not playing optimally to win.

So, the next style.  I haven’t found a description, yet, online.  One of the group said he thought it was the most commonly played variant in China.  Okay, if so, that’s cool.  Definitely not like any Cantonese or Hong Kong style I’ve been around.

Scoring is based upon:  2 points for winning; 2 points for each flower; dragons are flowers, so they are *not* part of your hand; no flowers means 40 or 80 points; kongs are worth 2 points; winds pungs are 2 points, kongs 4; certain things double your score, like not having any melds in play before you win and picking the winning tile from the flower garden; discarder pays; you must signify when you are calling and you cannot change your hand (just play out more flowers) nor decide not to win (though why you would decide not to win is unclear when you can’t change your hand).

What do I think?

I think the scoring system undermines the flavor in mahjong.  It makes suits meaningless.  All one suit is no different than not all one suit.  I think the inability to change your hand has some interesting tactical decisions but is generally suboptimal, as it means you can’t play defensively nor improve your hand.  On the other hand, because discarder pays, you can decide to give up on hands and just not be the one to pay, which I think makes for a more cerebral and less luck-based game.  (I know the Chinese love luck, but there are plenty of gambling games for that.)  Removing dragons from hands loses a bit of flavor, but, actually, there’s a bit too much going on with both dragons and winds in terms of luck based plays.  On the other hand, this style heavily encourages dumping any of the winds, with no wind meaning any more than any other, which makes them less interesting.

It’s fine.  I don’t mind how dragons become flowers at the point where you are playing with flowers at all.  Flowers in my family’s style are way too swingy, being either just 4 points or that plus doubling entire scores (East with a 1 in play “must not win” is rather random).

It’s certainly vastly easier to keep score.  Since we didn’t have chips, I kept point totals, and point totals for the first style were a pain to track and add up, to where I didn’t balance on first pass and just didn’t care enough to resum the numbers.  Definitely a system for using chips.

Without home style advantage, my results were somewhat different.  I won seven hands and only paid out twice.  The final spread was +156, +26, -90, -92.  In both cases, the manager came in second.  Certainly, after winning the first hand by picking the winning tile from the flower garden, I played rather defensively most of the rest of the time to sit on my massive lead.

When she and I were talking the next day, I mentioned that I had an amusing story.  Since I’m going to link this post for her, I might as well tell it here.  I’ve alluded to it, but I don’t think I went into much detail.

I taught some friends how to play (and/or how to play my family’s style).  One of those friends happens to be a former Magic: The Gathering World Champion … because this just makes everything funnier to me.  We were sitting across from each other.  At one point, he agonized what to discard.  I suggested the four of … circles, maybe it was bamboo as I figured he could have either four (he had both).  Not only did that psyche him out, but he discarded something else and would have won the hand (probably, discards might have been different) if he discarded what I suggested.  (Instead, I won that hand.)  So, he pointed out that not only did I know what was in his hand, but I told him how to win the hand without actually seeing any of his tiles (I’m pretty sure he had no exposed melds, and it wasn’t very late in the hand).

So, yes, you can be psychic in every game with hidden information.  You can also study people’s discard patterns in such a way as to craft what they have in hand and what is more likely to be relevant to them.  You can also study people’s tells, but I find that boring and invasive, which is why I will always suck at f2f poker.

Sure, mahjong is better when played for money, even tiny amounts, because you become invested in what happens.  But, this was just immensely enjoyable.  The milieu was somewhat interesting, being not remotely a den of iniquity but also not being three-star hotel.

The BP team has been really nice to me on my three visits this year.  The old teams, from my 2007-2008 trips were also really nice (it was huge that one of them was a gamer).  My coworkers really got me through stays, providing opportunities to do fun and interesting things (there are three places in the world I’ve picked strawberries, outside Shanghai would be one – this is not a euphemism in case it crossed your pervy mind).  I keep wanting to thank the current team, but, especially, the team’s manager, who has really helped me out a lot with logistics and with non-work activities.

As for the title, well, sometimes, I do give a mouse’s donkey about things.


China Game Balance

June 6, 2015

Okay, this has nothing to do with balance within games.

Amount of time I spent actually gaming in my recent trip to China == 0.

I did talk about a game store, about the ability to buy Magic cards, about Yu-Gi-Oh!’s (parody) world and the best episodes of them all – the Dungeon Dice Monsters episodes.  I had a conversation that involved bridge and 7 Wonders.  I did give away four decks of cards – just playing cards.

There were ideas – travel always seems to hit my superhero nerve and my Feng Shui nerve, of course the latter is in mind due to 2e, anything Chinese relating to it, etc.

Sure, I failed the “24 hours” test.  Whenever a “real” gamer goes to another country, failing to find a local game within 24 hours is pathetic.

So, that’s kind of where I’m going.  As it’s highly probable I’ll be going to China 1-2 times more this year, what sort of gaming do I want to get in?  Can play cards, probably, without too much difficulty.  Mahjong is an obvious thing to try to generate because it’s always funny to play with people outside the family.  I don’t really care about getting Magic cards in Chinese as I still have half a box of Invasion I haven’t bothered doing anything with, but it would be interesting to hunt up any game stores.  I wonder if that boardgame store I went to still exists.

I can speak virtually no Mandarin and understand that much less, so RPG play is out with the sort of people I’ve gamed with (and I have little interest in repeating my Werewolf (Mafia) experience).  CCG play would be a thing, but I’d probably have to teach Shadowfist or V:TES to people as Magic is kind of unnecessary to do again.  Shadowfist might be easier to sell, though most of the people I already know aren’t the type I can imagine being that interested.

Boardgame play should be relatively easy.  The question is whether it’s funnier to learn a new game or more productive to play something I don’t need to read the instructions for.  Poker was always highly profitable for me, but I think I’ve done that enough.  Chinese chess would be a checklist item to do, but I’ve never enjoyed the game much.

There is, of course, a Meetup group.  That seems like the easy way to go for playing with expats and others.  That’s even something where RPG play could be possible, though being someone who drops in for one session is likely disruptive, anyway, unless it’s just a hack and slash fest.

The question is whether there’s any point to trying to promote games or just to find the local groups and play something to socialize and for the humor value.  The latter means likely just playing Euroboardgames or regular card games.  Where boardgames are considered acceptable, mahjong has some negative connotations and is far too much of a gambling game to want to play with strangers.

I certainly don’t want to carry much.  I suppose a box of CCG decks is feasible.  I doubt there’s any boardgame I care enough about to actually want to put into my luggage.

And, that’s kind of that for what I can think of in terms of trying to get some gaming in 在上海.

As for using Shanghai as inspiration, such as setting a game there, well, that seems like effort.  Maybe if I keep going back enough, I’ll get more motivated.


Odd Ends – To Rogue Or Not To Rogue

August 31, 2014

Let’s see if some theme can come out of noting some miscellaneous events.

A week ago, we played some five player V:TES.  Nice to have that.  In the first game, I was playing a new Hermana Mayor deck and my predator borrowed my Gangrel bruise bleed deck that put Bernard, the Scourge in play on turn two …

Fidus, across table was a target for being bloodhunted.  Predator’s Lectora, and every one of my crypt members.  My third turn consisted of Perfectionist, bleed, get bounced, Impundulu blocks, Weighted Walking Stick, long.  That Hermana got bloodhunted.  My fourth turn consisted of Perfectionist, bleed, get bounced, Impundulu blocks, Weighted Walking Stick, long.  No more Hermanas got bloodhunted, even though I rushed backwards to try to take out Bernard, Killer of Decks … and failed.  My predator got ousted with me doing pretty much nothing of consequence forward and only torping one Gangrel with WWS Brute Force.

I won the second game with !Nos with Dominate where I could have called Ancilla Empowerment to oust both my predator and prey but just tapped out bled my prey and ousted my predator the next turn.  I figured Delaying Tactics, which got played but got DIed since I was giving my new predator a VP, 4 pool, and costing myself 4 pool.

The third game we were supposed to play fast, so lots of fast decks saw Dementation bleed win.

Yesterday, we played BattleTech for the first time in a month.  The scenario I came up with was for light mechs and I had six points on the edge of the maps as victory point spots to hold for a turn to encourage spreading out.  Worked well.  I played pretty badly, which is funny because I’m the one coming up with the scenarios and I often make terrible decisions in my own scenarios.

Why?

That is, why do I make terrible decisions in BattleTech?

Because I like playing recklessly.

I was telling someone about how I played in the BT scenario and the response was “you must not like chess”, which is absolutely true.  I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m warming up on my theme.  I want to play chess recklessly.  I’m a romantic player (as opposed to technical player).  I want the sudden victory, the massive sacrifice(s) to get some mating combination through.  While some players can do that, they probably also do something I don’t have much interest in doing when I play chess – think.

It’s funny.  There are some games that I think a lot when I play.  V:TES is one of those games.  I weigh the probability of what’s in people’s hands, the probability of my drawing particular cards, run all sorts of potential play scenarios.  Then, there are games I’m not interested in thinking at all.  BattleTech, for me, is more about “close and fire”.

Play.  Think, when I play.  I think about games all of the time when I’m not playing them.  Though, I noticed that I do analyze games in ways that don’t have to do with actually playing those games.

There may be some correlation to how invested I am in the game, but I can think of an example of a game I think a lot about when I play but have minimal investment – Kill Doctor Lucky.  I’m trying to think of an example of a game I’m more invested in but don’t think much about.  BT is something I’m somewhat or middling invested in, and RPGs are a different animal.  HeroQuest was something I could be highly invested in, but I was usually the villain, so I didn’t need to make good decisions.  I’ll play mahjong recklessly, but I know when I’m playing it recklessly.

Magic was something I was partially invested in that I would play recklessly.  Same with Dragon Dice.  What about before I started playtesting the Babylon 5 CCG?  No, it wasn’t really suited to reckless play.  Well, there were hyperspeed openings that I latched on to, but I didn’t find those all that reckless.  Hardly anyone would play the counter to them.  It’s kind of hard to play Ultimate Combat! recklessly since it’s largely a game of massive offense, though I suppose it’s possible – not holding a Speed 1 or Strength 1 and a foundation open to play the advantage on defense.

Suicide Dragon, the only particularly memorable Wheel of Time CCG deck name I came up with (Forsaken.dec was too obvious), was not reckless at all, strategically.  It was the last, best hope for not getting smashed by the vastly superior Shadow side prior to the Light side getting broken to fight broken in Dark Prophecies.  Since you were going to lose, anyway, you might as well throw your characters into challenges and hope Thom takes out key cards through random discard.

Getting back to Magic and Dragon Dice, though, for a moment.  I think I see the pattern.  While both games have a creation element where one’s worth as a human being is judged by how well one can construct a deck/army, I didn’t feel like decks/armies for those games were all that important.  Now, one could say I did just as goofy things with B5 and V:TES as I did with Magic (Essence Vortex creatureless for the win!), so maybe focusing on deck construction is the wrong point.  The right point might be that there are many games where I not only don’t care much about winning but also, importantly, don’t care about not winning.

One thing B5 and V:TES have in common is the multiplayer aspect and the potential for making games suck for other people when you don’t pull your weight.  If I got trounced in Magic, it was 10 minutes or whatever of a game I don’t even enjoy playing that much when I win.  Dragon Dice always had the problem to me that I cared so much less about playing it than about thinking about it.

I have felt a responsibility with B5 and V:TES to try to make the game worthwhile for others.  After all, victories are of the hollowish sort if your opponents are goofing around.  I probably do feel some responsibility to play well in two-player play since the argument is the same.  I just don’t focus as much on it because it’s so much easier to goof off in a multiplayer game to where it’s more of a potential concern.

Consider, for a tangent, how not focusing on results might also impact play style.  I certainly approach the importance of doing stuff versus the importance of results very differently for some games.

WoT was a CCG I didn’t start playing until after I was hardcore playtesting, as evidenced by being one of the few people in the world to playtest the original set (beyond the precons).  I was always in playtest mode, aka results matter mode, where there was a responsibility to show what’s what.  Ultimate Combat! was my favorite CCG.  I really just enjoyed not only building decks but playing the game.  I might have made some goofy decks, like the white belt, techniqueless deck, but, more than possibly any game I’ve ever played, I was probably more into every game I played of it.  I also was outclassed during much of my career, so I probably felt like I had to prove myself as a player.  Yes, I actually was competitive when it came to UC! because, you know, I wanted to gain points [results matter!] to move up in the ranks.  I might qualify as an honorary black belt or something by this point, but I never progressed past brown belt in terms of what plastic ranking card I received.

I know why I like to play games recklessly.  And, I suppose I’m seeing why I don’t with some games.  The other problem with playing V:TES recklessly is that you might spend 30 minutes playing and 90 minutes waiting for everyone else to finish, something that doesn’t happen with two-player games.