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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies



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Learning by losing 03/14/2018

clydemyscardMy third-rate orange-plus-two-green deck helped me today to a personal best rank of 45. I think 45 is pretty good for a deck that doesn’t follow the “meta flavor of the day” approach.

I credit two things:

1) Finding a reasonable assortment of cards to deal with the popular power combinations, and;

2) Getting lots of tactical practice during last week’s team event, after reaching the individual cap of 850 special ribbons but playing on to 1300 to help the team earn another group bonus.

When I set out to play with the freezing sci-fi cards, the deck looked like this:

Five base freezers
Freeze Ray
Program Stan
Ice Sniper Wendy
Powerfist Dougie

According to popular opinion, those are the third-best Cartman, the third- or fourth-best Stan, the worst Wendy, and a Dougie other than the playable Dougie. Like I said, a third-rate deck.

Astro Butters, a requirement in orange, I think.
Enforcer Jimmy. Storyteller Jimmy works against all the enemies, but Enforcer’s anti-charge specialty and lower cost won the coin flip.
Nelly, a neutral necessity.
Calamity Heidi, a blue must-have.
Lightning Bolt, because that’s a ton of damage to one enemy.
Smuggler Ike and Bandita Sally, quick hitters when the idea is to freeze them just long enough to sneak in an assassin.

That was fine for reaching 42, which was higher than I’d gone with the blue pirate crew.

Then the environment changed a month ago. When the development team decided to double the cost and reduce the effect of two vital green defensive spells, its orange enemies — mind control and poison — ran amok because there was nothing left to stop them.

The most-easily-replaced card in that set was Bandita Sally. I replaced Sally with Mind Control to fight fire with fire, but the mind control decks have three mind control cards to my one. I replaced Mind Control with Shaman Token, but learned with dismay that Shaman Token removes effects only to allies, and mind-controlled units are no longer your allies. After I’d lost 10 matches in a row to mind control decks, I quit the game.

With a day on the road to think about it, I decided if I wanted to keep playing, I had to play with the 2-cost Purify. And that meant replacing every blue card, when I’d only ever played with blue cards.

Lightning Bolt out, Purify in.
Smuggler Ike out, Gizmo Ike in (which was OK, since Gizmo is the cutest card in the game, and his charge power is worth the additional energy cost).

Which would substitute for Calamity Heidi and Bandita Sally?

I once read advice that if you think (or know) you’re up against mind control, but you have to play something, play a character that won’t hurt you too much if it turns. Applying that logic, I put in a swarm — if one member of the swarm was mindzapped, the others would take it out, and remain to fight on my side. Rat Swarm is the right group to attack Mecha Timmy, but Pigeon Gang is a more versatile defender.

The last card in was Hercules Clyde, whose warcry ability to rush and bind an enemy makes him helpful against Mecha Timmy and the suddenly-meta Stan of Many Moons. The Power Bind spell was the obvious answer to the Klingon Tokens and Sheriff Cartmans, but when I looked into my hand and saw Freeze Ray, Power Bind, and Purify, when I really needed someone who’d hit the snot out of the other characters, Hercules Clyde seemed an adequate middle measure.

Learning to handle all these cards is a challenge. Blue is easy — you send out blue, and let them clobber people. With green, Hercules Clyde still runs after an unintended enemy if I’m not careful, and applying Purify to two poisoned units takes a deft touch.

There was more to learn about the freeze units. I was limiting AWESOM-O to positions where I had a lead, and AWESOM-O could play “fat goaltender”. When I tried playing AWESOM-O in front, bunches of little assholes surrounded him, and down goes Cartman. To send AWESOM-O out to lead the troops, I found I needed two or more freeze cards behind him — Program and Ice Sniper on the field, and Freeze Ray in my hand. Those could hold off the little assholes while AWESOM-O kicked them away and built his own charge. I’ve learned to hold Program Stan back if possible, because Stan is the only card that does universal damage, so when the enemies come from both wings, it’s good to have Stan in hand. When dealing with an ememy Dougie, Freeze Ray plus Sniper Wendy is as good as having an assassin in hand. Freeze Ray is such a versatile card — during a melee, one Freeze Ray can result in their entire group being wiped out (for two less than Fireball!). If Terrance Mephesto or Cyborg Kenny is loose (and no Wendy for Terrance, and no pigeons for Kenny), Freeze Ray enables me to let them close in, before freezing and NK-zapping them.

I’d like to know why freezing Rogue Token in midair doesn’t cause him to shatter on impact, and why freezing Hookhand Clyde in warcry doesn’t break that stupid string of his.

I’m happy playing this third-rate set of cards, which might soon become the fourth-best sub-theme among orange. With the introduction of Robot Bebe, the Warboy/Astronaut/Hyperdrive speeders get another weapon, and if Robot Bebe’s speed turns out to be as dangerous as Buccaneer Bebe’s sheer power, well, that’s card we’ll each have to try.

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In style 03/05/2018

When I was a boy, my chess teacher used to say some moves were in a natural kind of style. This 30-minute game has that feel from start to finish.

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Against mind control, fight with the smallest minds 03/03/2018

layer-26When the makers of South Park Phone Destroyer nullified the green spell Purify, the orange mind control cards went nuclear.

Blue is the ideal victim of mind control because blue does the most damage in the short time the mind control is in effect (Sally and Heidi have no special power, they just hit hard and fast; a buffed Bucaneer Bebe under mind control is bad news).

Blue has answers to Cyborg Kenny and Mecha Timmy in the direct damage spells, but *not* Shaman Token, who can’t remove effects from traitorous minds.

Advantage: Mind control

Orange can fight mind control with the Mind Control spell, but the dedicated brainwashers play with three mindwarp cards against one.

Advantage: Mind control

Red is slightly less pained than blue by mind control because its fighters’ powers are mostly warcried.

Advantage: Mind control

Green had an instant, lowest-cost solution in Purify, so effective that it acted as a deterrent. But the game makers doubled its cost and narrowed its scope and range.

Advantage: Mind control

Decks with mind control cards outnumber decks without them 3-to-1. Sample size of 80, but I think you should be convinced that there is a ridiculous imbalance.

Sally held my most flexible card slot, where I tried to fight mind control with Arrowstorm (insufficient to knock out level 4 Mecha), Mind Control (outnumbered), and Shaman (designed not to work). For two cycles, I played my blue pirate crew with its Purify, and a 2-cost Purify is overwhelmed by the sudden, much-increased need for it.

My latest attempt is Rat Swarm. When Rat Swarm takes out Cyborg, Kenny’s deathwish affects one rat. When Rat Swarm targets Mecha, Timmy’s mindzap is limited to the nearest enemy: one rat. And in the worst case where mind control steals an assassin, rats are among the best counters to enemy assassins.

This worked so well at first and second that the four-hour PvP refresh cycle becomes annoying, because I want to test it again.

Applying the same logic, I might replace Lightning Bolt with Pigeon Gang, though Lightning is 300 points of prevention before the cure.

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Portmanteau 02/28/2018

layer-15My chess teacher, after reviewing countless amateur games, has observed “the loser gets the last check”.

When a chess game is fairly decided, some losers make one last check  (the old saying goes “always check, it might be mate”, but it never is) to delay the inevitable, or sometimes just for spite. We call those “spite checks”.

South Park Phone Destroyer losers have “spite Lightning Bolts” and “spite Fireballs”, thrown at the winning new kid to say “OK, you win, I’m laying down my arms, so send in your Dougie to finish it” or “screw you and your Pope Manbearpig, you unimaginative cheeseball”.

I said on the PvP Facebook group: “Chessplayers have spite checks. SPPD players have spite lightning bolts”. A guy named Bob Robinson replied: “spitening bolt”.

Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.


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Shaman Token: the “new Purify” 02/25/2018

The South Park Phone Destroyer software update last week caused irreparable harm to the game’s community. Some walked away, some demanded recompense for time and money lost, some will never trust RedLynx/Ubisoft again.

This YouTube video  covers it completely and admirably, with the knowledge of a top player and a community moderator.

layer-8For those who stayed, the immediate impact was that the cards whose enemies were Purify and Power Bind (ruined by the update) came out of hiding.

Purple — the color of poison — is the trendy color for spring. Without a 1-cost antidote in Purify, fighters are collapsing dead in midfield, and it’s shocking for a match to end in defeat when your new kid dies of poisoning while the melee is on the other end of the floor.

Mind control was already a bitch. My last 12 matches against decks with mind control cards went 5-6-1, and that’s improvement.

I think when Cyborg Kenny is coming for new kid, let him come. It’s pointless to kill the fucker, so your own unit can kill you. Save the energy — with luck, you can phone zap Cyborg Kenny to death, and if he takes a health bar, you might have a counterpush in store.

If you can’t nuke Mecha Timmy, I think you have to do nothing until he rolls close enough to meet him in the middle.

The best option is to have the Mind Control spell on hand (though it’s expensive to use, and especially *not* to use), which I might try again if Shaman Token doesn’t work out (in place of Bandita Sally).

Shaman Token rates to be an addition to the “meta deck”, as a substitute for Purify — less reliable than Purify, but can occasionally beat up bad guys.

If Shaman Token were as pokey as AWESOM-O, that would be preferable. As it is, he goes rushing to the front to get killed before he has time to charge. If he is charged, you’re hoping the enemy’s pain comes before the charge dissipates. There’s also the an odd thing to learn: Not firing his charge when it’s unneeded. With the ranged cards, you have some visual reminder to not expend their ability if no one’s in range. With Shaman Token, who’s generally in the middle of a melee, it’s a skill to acquire.

On the plus side, Shaman Token is a common. Moving him from level 1 to level 4 cost about 2500 coins, a bloody bargain compared to the epic Program Stan, for which I just spend 8400 PvP coupons to reach 15/25 — 10 more Program Stans to acquire, and the leveling cost to go.

Since Stan of Many Moons was the only very rare card to improve noticeably from the update, Program Stan gets contempt for being the least-scalable of the Stans. This doesn’t faze me — others already scoff because I leveled Freeze Ray to level 4. They’ll jeer again when I push Ice Sniper Wendy to 4, because she’s the least-desirable Wendy as far as the consensus goes.

Maybe I’m doing opponents a service, by giving them something to fight that isn’t — yawn — Zen Cartman, Mecha Cyborg, Aliens, or Manbearpig.

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On keeping track of the energy balance 02/21/2018

One of the first skills the bridge player must cultivate is counting to 13. Otherwise, declarer won’t know if trumps are drawn or if long cards are winners.

Doing that the right way is important. Counting a suit one at a time as the cards appear isn’t as helpful as counting the suit’s distribution in the enemy hands.screenshot-from-2018-02-21-03-27-23

When declarer leads his nine-card suit, he isn’t counting 1-2-3-4 but 4-0, 3-1, or 2-2.

I wanted to apply that kind of thinking about the division of energy in Phone Destroyer, but there the energy “suit” grows.

The way to do this, I reckon, is to keep a running plus/minus count (like ‘blackjack). Then if you’re +3 when you’re at 3, you might play a Dougie without covering fire.

I’m assuming this is what outstanding players do. SPPD players are pleased when they Fireball a trio of 3-cost enemies, but that +5 is relevant information only when related to the current count.

Then again, it might be almost impossible for anyone to do. Not only do you have to recognize one Kyle from another, you have to memorize each value.

You also have to recognize the visual effect of each spell. If you’re up to that, isn’t there the problem of Power Bind’s effect looking the same as Enforcer Jimmy’s aura? If that’s true, how can you be certain of whether enemy NK threw Power Bind?

And you have to do all this during melees, when characters summoned are often cast behind a cloud of sparks, unseen.

By the way, how do you account for Choirboy Butters, Energy Staff, or Hermes Kenny on either side.

I’ve convinced myself that while counting the energy plus/minus can be useful, it has to abandoned during a large skirmish, or when multiple small skirmishes break out.

Nonetheless, the reddit thread asserts that tracking the energy balance is “easy peasy”.

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tl;dr RedLynx screwed up, many SPPD players are assholes, I don’t know anything 02/20/2018

The dreaded SPPD green-killing software update landed Tuesday. For many reasons, I am unqualified to talk about it knowledgeably (though I’ll go on at length cluelessly):

1) For playing below the legendary rank, I don’t know how it’s directly and indirectly affecting them.

South Park Phone Destroyer — like chess, like NetRunner — doesn’t value the best players’ opinions highly enough, because the best players are a minority group, and it’s the majority that spends the most money at SPPD and chess.

I believe the timing of this upgrade was terrible, where the legendary ranks are concerned. The PvP matchmaking at legendary is flawed, and that should’ve been addressed first. At level 44, should I even care about advancing to 50, where things are more screwed up?

2) I don’t play green.

I play one green card. In my pirate gang, I include Purify, which was essential for dealing with mind control and poison.

I said weeks ago that I’d play with Purify if it cost twice as much. Now it does, and the degrading of its range only matters to me if more than one friendly unit is poisoned.

I don’t play green, but I do play *the game*. If time shows that this really snuffed green as a playable theme, I’d probably drop the game because there would be greater homongeneity among the remaining decks.

In my view, they screwed with the wrong cards. Even now, while Purify and Power Bind are thought dead, I’ll track my win-loss against Zen Cartman, certain that I do poorly against it.

People get rock-scissors-paper-oriented when it comes to single cards or combinations. They say a swarm is the paper to Zen Cartman’s rock, but that doesn’t mean jack if you don’t have a swarm. (Similarly, I’m with the crowd that thinks Mecha Timmy is most unfair, while the same rock-scissors-paper players repeat “duh, counter” refrain.)

There are serious holes in my favorite deck. I lose to Zen Cartman in any configuration, to poison, to fliers, and to higher-powered versions of my cards. When I run into these things, oh darn.

The unhappy green players who decide to stick with the game (forum threads advising that Apple is giving its SPPD players refunds) will find something else to do. I read that the green combination that flummoxes me isn’t even the “meta”. There’s always going to be the crowd that aims to build *that* deck, and when *it* evolves, so will their aim.

I’ve never cared about decks that win with the greatest ease or facility or efficiency. This puts me in a great minority, and for the same reason I can’t understand the plight of the legendaries, I can’t feel the pain of the Zen/Regeneration/Angel people, either.

3) I’m old, brown, and ain’t gud.

I think white boys 18-34 make up the largest segment of the asshole online gamer population. Young white boys make up the largest asshole segment in the country. They’re descended from old white assholes.

I read something very good yesterday: “When your leaders act like children, and your children act like leaders, change is coming.” I expect this means girls, unless boys wise up.

It’s remarkable how many SPPD forum replies are along the lines of “this would not be a problem for you, if you were a better player like me”.

Online gaming feels like computer chess in this regard. When chess computers began emerging in the late ’70s, almost every chessplayer said something akin to “chess computers will get better, but they’ll never be as good as me”.

There’s a real problem with you if you think “get better at the game” addresses every concern, you dumbass Trump state kid. Especially at games where credit cards are the most powerful type of card.

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Will the forthcoming software update kill the most popular and powerful theme? 02/17/2018

A forthcoming SPPD software update is believed by some to disable green to death. This is before the update has actually been rolled out.

The crux of the matter is the increased costs of Purify and Power Bind, which were exceptional defensive spells for the lowest possible cost.

layer-58Purify and Power Bind were part of the reason green was the basis for so many winning decks. If a new kid rolled out Zen Cartman and Angel Wendy at the right times, while keeping everyone healthy with Regeneration, Hallelujah, and Purify, green was almost untouchable, especially when Power Bind prevented enemies from using their full powers.

If you played against green, you hated it Zen Cartman attracted all the attention by force, absorbed 1000 points of damage, and was renewed by one of the healing cards. Meanwhile, whichever offensive cards that NK had in store was usually outnumbering the available defenders.

Even a touch of green made decks better. My blue pirate gang was held in the mid-30s until Purify lifted it to 40 by solving the problems of the poisoners (Poison, Alien Clyde, Marine Craig, Alien Queen Red), and mindbenders (Mecha Timmy, Mind Control, Cyborg Kenny). That’s an inordinate number of strong cards countered by a one-cost spell.

Green’s opponents were a noisy majority, and as far as the green players can see, the developers went too far, and now they feel dead, and unwilling to invest in changing themes or paying to overcome the adjustments.

It seems incredible that game developers would kill one-quarter of their playerbase, but I’ve been in the middle of worse: in 1997, when Wizards of the Coast tried to crush the life that remained in NetRunner.

For a two-player game with different winning conditions, and different gameplay, NetRunner was balanced (genius on the part of designer Richard Garfield). The trouble was that it was much easier to learn to play one side than the other, and almost everyone went running back to Magic: The Gathering before putting in the time to find the balance.

Wizards of the Coast believed the dumb majority’s complaints of imbalance, and, wow, did they fuck it up for their sake.

Maybe RedLynx/Ubisoft has screwed SPPD as badly as Wizards of the Coast screwed NetRunner, but it’ll be easier to undo it with code than to undo it with another set of tangible cards.

You can’t bloody please everyone. When unimaginative dweebs wheel out Pope Timmy to revive Manbearpig, I roll my eyes, and lose more than I win. When Zen Cartman plus Angel Wendy and Regeneration render their side untouchable, I grind my teeth and perhaps lay down arms. I want to believe that there are enough people who want to do things in less-than-optimal ways that the community would sort itself out, and the Pope Timmy/Manbearpig nitwits and dull meta-green proponents would wind up playing only with themselves.

We’ll see what happens at the rollout Tuesday. I can better afford to be blasé than others. I’ve been here before, and I’ve always got chess.

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A pile of dog poop at any other level 02/13/2018

The Cupid Cartman event was free candy for blue players, who invariably play with Calamity Heidi (the best card in the game, in terms of usefulness-to-energy-cost), and partly with Sheriff Cartman. (The conventional wisdom says only Sheriff and Zen are playable Cartmans, and I agree;  Grand Wizard is an icon, but a costly lug of a card.)
The other “couples” were no-brainers: Mimsy is one of my favorites, and Nathan has that insanely-valuable range; Warboy Tweek is one of the most natural card pairings with Mimsy, and Marine Craig has enormous poison potential.
I’m sort of waiting for Tweek and/or Craig to say: “Hey, wait a minute. We’re not really gay, no matter how well our ‘shipping ended the yaoi episode”. I think that ‘ship is not as great as the sum of its caffeinated, anxiety-ridden Tweek and Peruvian legend Craig parts.
Stan the Great and Angel Wendy were excluded by theme color, which left the other two event cards as … Sexy Nun Randy and Choirboy Butters?! I don’t know what they were saying with that.
For playing with six event cards, I was able to earn every event bonus while playing at four-hour intervals. Along the way, I  gathered three Cupids (enough to level up), and more importantly, a 40th Nelly (leveling up to 4). I think leveling Nelly was worth a PvP rank by itself.
I also acquired a 2nd and 3rd Dogpoo, enabling an upgrade to 2.
I figured ‘well, I gotta *try* level 2 Dogpoo’. Dogpoo is a perfectly balanced card: When opponents play him,  I think: Damn, there’s that fucker Dogpoo again, but when I play him myself,  I think: Move faster, shitbrick! I reckon that’s a fairly universal feeling about Dogpoo.
I put the new, improved Dogpoo into my orange/blue deck, and while I was at it,  put in AWESOM-O, too. If strong and slow was a new way to go, go large. That went for about 10 minutes, until their sluggishness soured me again, and Enforcer Jimmy and Rat Swarm were recalled to service.
Enforcer Jimmy finally earned his keep today. While EJ and Heidi were on the other new kid, he cast Hercules Clyde, who ran smack into Jimmy’s no-charge-zone, while Heidi finished the health bar.
The orange/blue assortment is holding at level 40 (up from 36), which I attribute to Nelly’s additional pop, plus my more-practiced use of Freeze Ray. I’ve improved the timing of Powerfist Doogie plus Freeze Ray, and I eventually gleaned that Freeze Ray doesn’t have to be exclusively paired with Dougie, but with any assassin at their door. (It’s especially charming when Freeze Ray gives Gizmo Ike time to split, doubling the damage.)
I pulled four Freeze Rays from the last PvP pack, can hardly wait to make that my first level 5 card.
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Frozen in position 02/05/2018

I just played three consecutive draws at Phone Destroyer, which is a first, and suggests that my orange/blue assortment found its level at 36.

That’s down from 40, where the pirate crew was. I’d speculate that Buccaneer Bebe and Hookhand Clyde make the difference, considering the great damage they inflict.
After two months of fielding Buccaneer Bebe, I can’t see why anyone had a problem with that card at the start — Buccaneer Bebe is a figurative monster (Medusa Bebe is, literally). She wins matches all by herself — since she’s in back, she survives some enemy shockwaves, then walks back to the firing line and takes out the other’s health bar unassisted.

The change to orange cards resulted in losing 10 of 11, many of which weren’t close — some level 40/39/38/37 opponents were just running over my team; there’s a palpable difference between level 2 Ice Sniper Wendy in place of level 4 Captain Wendy. For starters, Ice Sniper Wendy can’t kill three people at once. (The sandbaggers who play arms down should get a hint from this — I lost four ranks in a hurry, while learning something about the cards.)

That single win, though, was encouraging — Program Stan, Ice Sniper Wendy, Freeze Ray held the enemies in place for the assassins to cut them down, which was sort of the plan. The original scheme included AWESOM-O because it, too, is an ice machine, but like the other high-cost tanks, is too clunky to be helpful. So I turned 180 degrees, and put in Bandita Sally, for whom I spent two days gathering materials to bring her to level 4.

I think I was right to think that freezing new kid disables his phone zap. Powerfist Dougie has succeeded in freezing-plus-striking just once, and he’s slow. If he reaches new kid to freeze him, then he winds up to hit him (this makes me wonder about Prophet Dougie’s effect). In that time, Barrel Dougie kills new kids. Powerfist Dougie’s prospects seem to rely heavily on my ability to time Freeze Ray with his arrival.

Until the cards improve — Stan, Wendy and Dougie to 4, when robots are as hard to come by as arrowheads are for blue — I can see many more draws to come, while the ice is just standing them off instead of cracking them down.

A friend reminded me that Program Stan’s charge includes damage with the freeze, which suggests being frozen doesn’t reduce one’s health. Which you could say is a fine argument in favor of poison as the orange sub-theme rather than ice.

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