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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

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.)
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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.
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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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The very high cost of trying anything new at South Park: Phone Destroyer 02/02/2018

In South Park: Phone Destroyer, bugs abound in gameplay and user experience, and cheaters thrive through hacking or rank manipulation. Among the high-ranking “legendary” players, critics of  Ubisoft/Red Lynx submit that  software solutions are neglected in favor of profit.
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From the middling ranks, I put forth that if the game company was interested primarily in grubbing money, they wouldn’t have trapped players in their decks.

Under the current matchmaking and ranking format, it’s impractical to try a new deck, or even a new card.

To improve your lot at South Park: Phone Destroyer, you must increase the power of your cards. Win a few matches, gain a few ranks, and then to remain competitive at that level, you have to stick to the cards that got you there.

It becomes a losing proposition to play with any but the highest-leveled cards you’ve got. Employing one low-level card risks the loss of melees, then health bars, then matches.

The higher you advance, the worse this trap gets. After investing time and material in building cards to level 3 or 4, experimenting with level 1 or 2 cards is useless — your new idea might be wholly valid, but you’ll never see its fair effect because you’re literally outnumbered.

I lost some matches to opponents wielding Program Stan (and his widely-annoying “Freeze protocal, go!” charge), and it set me wondering if my pirate gang is merely immobile while frozen, or if the freezing cold is lessening their health.

If there were an arena in which rank isn’t at stake, I’d have done the research, counting the hits a character survives while frozen and not frozen. But there’s no playing for science or for fun (and wouldn’t you think the company would encourage as much play as possible, since that’s where the consumer gets the wish to improve unfamiliar cards).

A Reddit inquiry was fruitless, though I became quite intrigued about the theory of chaining freeze cards — that is, playing Freeze Ray, Program Stan, Ice Sniper Wendy, AWESOM-O in succession, immobilizing the enemies for as long as possible.

While exploring freeze cards, it occurred to me that I’ve never seen anyone playing with Powerfist Dougie, because most of the other Dougies do serious  damage to new kid, while Powerfist — if successful, and that’s always the trick with Dougie — merely freezes him. Now I have a powerful curiosity: The value of freezing the enemy new kid is avoiding phone zaps, true? More important, is a frozen new kid incapable of summoning new forces? Most important, what if a frozen new kid can’t shockwave at the end of a health bar?!

I want to find out. So I lost eight matches ina  row before winning one (the gradual improvements came by inserting the cheapest, fastest unit wherever possible, letting the assassins — welcome back, Bandita Sally — chip away at frozen enemies). I still don’t know about a frozen new kid’s liabilities, partly because Powerfist Dougie is so far unsuccessful. The timing of Freeze Ray to enable Dougie to land safely is tricky, and I haven’t mastered it.

Losing repeatedly is a hard way to learn stuff. Will I keep my resolve during this weekend’s Season 21 Celebration event, or will I want to earn a lab coat for new kid’s costume rack?

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In the wake of two special weekend events 01/23/2018

The South Park: Phone Destroyer thematic weekend events award bonus packs for points earned by playing with designated cards.

Players show varying levels of commitment to the event cards.

Some players construct decks with as many event cards they have, but if their main decks are based on a different theme, they risk losses for relatively low-level cards. (The cynics say this is RedLynx’s way of pushing the duplicate cards and upgrade items necessary for players to field competitive decks in every color.)
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Other players play their main decks without regard to the special event. They might even win at a higher rate because the heavily-themed decks can be relatively weak, but they can feel like wallflowers at the party. (Then there are the delighted players whose main decks contain six or seven of the event specials. )

The middle ground is to play one’s main deck, and sprinkle some substitute event cards.

During the magenta fantasy-themed event, I found that I couldn’t wield most of those cards smartly, and settled on two event cards — that meant playing many, many matches to win the bonuses. (I reached the daily locker limit for the first time in this fashion.)

What I learned from my opponents during the fantasy event is that Rogue Token is a son of a bitch. For my pirate gang to succeed, Buccaneer Bebe needs blockers, and Rogue Token damaged the whole unit in seemingly every match.

I took the middle road for the orange sci-fi event (the cynics would note that leveling orange Gizmo Ike up to the same level as  blue Smuggler Ike gobbled up many Cartman coins).

While the event was in progress, I read a comment on reddit that said the event card Warboy Tweek’s warcry that boosts allies renders Hyperdrive worthless — because Warboy Tweek’s burst might be a second or two shorter than Hyperdrive’s, but when the rush is over, Tweek is still out there fighting.

That inspired me to put Mimsy in for Sheriff Cartman (the event card AWESOM-O is a flimsy cardboard box in my hands) and aim for a Warboy Tweeked Mimsy like the great fun I had with Hyperdriven Mimsy.

I was convinced that Warboy Tweek is more useful than Hyperdrive, and now I’m hoping the developers improve Hyperdrive in some way, if only because the art is so good.

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Nothing is so healthy as a thrashing at the proper time 01/11/2018

Following the decisions to:

1) Bench Barrel Dougie for being mostly redundant in an all-blue deck that solely deals damage, and;

2) Try Robin Tweek and Shaman Token in the vacant card slot before settling on Purify:
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I ran from PvP rank 33 to 36 without a loss. It was unnerving.  The PvP matchmaking in South Park: Phone Destroyer provides equal competition so players have to inch their way up through the ranks.

I found myself looking at my phone askance during the four-hour breaks between PvP pack refreshes, and thinking “the natural order is askew, and we’re in for a fall.”

Capablanca, the world chess champion whose games taught me nearly everything I know about chess, was unbeatable for long stretches (one spanned eight years — the guy didn’t lose a tournament game for eight years), had a famous quote about his occasional feelings of invincibility: “There have been times in my life when I came very near thinking that I could not lose even a single game. Then I would be beaten, and the lost game would bring me back from dreamland to earth. Nothing is so healthy as a thrashing at the proper time.”

To reproduce that quote, I could either get up from my chair and fetch a copy of My Chess Career, or  Google “capablanca thrashing”. I took the Google route, and after copying the quote, I caught glimpses of the writer saying things like “I’m on a roll” and “I know a speed bump is coming”.

There was something in those turns of phrase that prompted me to look at the byline: It was me. I wrote an entry on my chess dot com blog just like this one — I was on streaks at chess and chess960, and I had the same uneasy feeling about winning too often too easily, and a crash was coming.

It was a relief to lose an SPPD match a few minutes ago. My pirate gang literally could not get around Zen Cartman, and we lost. Whew.

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Beefcake Cartman is what’s needed here 01/10/2018

Purity, as it turns out, was exactly what my pirate gang needed to reach PvP level 34 with a bullet.

Storyteller Jimmy, we’re not listening. Cyborg Kenny, stay dead. Poseidon Stan, weather’s cool and dry.
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The weak link in the stack now seems to be Sheriff Cartman. Im theory, a tank sounds like a good thing: Put a large, high-health, greatly-distracting thing in the field, and let it draw enemy fire while your tiny rangers Captain Wendy and Buccaneer Bebe get rich.

Sheriff Cartman doesn’t do the best job of holding off the bad guys. He doesn’t do enough damage to kill them, and since they’re swarming, I have to send help to the front line, which wasn’t the plan.

Sometimes the deck operates best when Sheriff Cartman gets snuffed, but we emerge from the skirmish with Buccaneer Bebe intact plus Nelly or Captain Wendy running interference.

I don’t like the other available tanks. Officer Barbrady and PC Principal are adults, which doesn’t fit the game narrative of neighborhood kids play-pretending to kick the shit out of each other.

Mimsy is too active to serve as a blocker — while he’s toddling toward the other new kid, the rangers lose cover. Zen Cartman is solely a defensive piece.

Sheriff Cartman feels like a weak link in my stack, but he’s the tank that got me here. Other than replacing Sheriff Cartman, I could invest all the resources in strengthening him.

This is heavy on my mind today because Sheriff Cartman is available in Butters’ shop. I need 37 additional Sheriff Cartmans (plus a zillion arrowheads, sheriff stars, and feathers) to level him up, and 10 would cost 2750 of my 3300 PvP tickets.

That feels like too great a commitment, though next time Sheriff Cartman is overwhelmed, I’ll probably wish I’d taken the upgrade path.

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Purified 01/08/2018

A vacant card slot appeared in my deck of blue-themed pirates, which was convenient, because the pirate ship had sprung a leak.

Blue is the least-interesting of the four South Park: Phone Destroyer themes. Orange freezes and poisons, green heals and energizes, red powers up and powers down.
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Blue doesn’t do anything but hit hard. The blue assassins, fighters, and rangers do so much damage that a successful headhunter — in the pirate gang, it’s Barrel Dougie — is overkill.

I put Barrel Dougie on the bench, and looked to fill the hole with some card to negate mind control. Cyborg Kenny and Mind Control are a troublesome bit of orange-themed jiu jitsu — for instance, my charged Smuggler Ike killed Cyborg Kenny, then turned around and killed one of my health bars, sufficient to win the match.

Mind Control played on Buccaneer Bebe caused her to shoot down one of her own blockers, leaving her wide open after Mind Control wore off — the effect was two of my most effective units knocked out by one 4-cost spell.

For a while, I employed Robin Tweek in that Barrel Dougie slot, but it appears that Robin Tweek’s health boost is random — maybe a 236-point boost every time was considered fuel for overpowered combinations.

Then I tried Shaman Token to deal with the brainwashing cards, but Shaman Token is a pain in the butt to manage. Play him too soon or too late, and he gets killed before doing any good. And if Program Stan freezes Shaman Token, then Token’s ability is nullified by just the kind of power it’s designed to combat.

I didn’t like Medicine Woman Sharon or Angel Wendy for similar reasons — unless they’re tucked into their own pocket of protection and charged at the right moment, they’re little help.

Then I reviewed each green card, and found Purify, which seems to be ideal — its healing power only needs to last as long as the Cyborg Kenny/Mind Control effect, for the cheapest energy expenditure possible (satisfied with this, I didn’t get around to testing Mind Control on a mind-controlled subject).

I’m winning some of those games where brainwashing might’ve swung the result the other way, which is a relief — sorely needed while nagged by the Reddit thread “Would you still be playing SPPD if it weren’t South Park-themed?”.

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I want Shaman Token in a Roving Submarine 01/02/2018

I never played Magic: The Gathering to win, because doing so would’ve meant lots of time studying. I made decks to amuse myself — I once had a green assortment that didn’t do anything but grow a giant Uktabi Wildcat. I once built it up to 20/20, and my friend Joe, who knew what was coming, played a combination that seized control of the giant cat and turned it against me. I was killed by my own giant cat.
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At South Park: Phone Destroyer, Cyborg Kenny and Mine Control have been most troublesome lately for the same reason. One well-timed Cyborg Kenny swings the match, I think — the character under the enemy’s control and your other characters beat the crap out of each other, and after the Cyborg Kenny effect wears off, the enemy has a line of fresh attackers rushing two or more weakened allies.

My problem is that I have no idea when to play Shaman Token to remove the negative effects (not only the mind control cards, but Program Stan annoys me, too). Play him too soon, and he gets killed before he charges usefully. Play him too late, and he’s a 127-health, weakling fighter.

What I really want is to sink Shaman Token in a Roving Submarine
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There were some cards in the 1990s NetRunner game that said: “Opponent, you have to do something about this immediately, or I will maintain certain advantages for the rest of the game”. One of those cards was Roving Submarine. If Purple played a strong card on the Roving Submarine, Green had to blow the submarine away, else it would submerge and its strong accompanying card was invulnerable as long as it stayed underwater.

If I could submerge Shaman Token — really, almost every card with universal effects when charged — in a Roving Submarine, and call on him when needed, that would be helpful.

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Manbearpig plus Pope Timmy = Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker plus Joan of Arc 12/29/2017

I imagine I’m more pleased with South Park: Phone Destroyer than most players for blissful ignorance. This is the first real-time battle game I’ve ever played, so I’ve got nothing for comparison — unlike the more-experienced players who think some of SPPD’s flaws are dealbreakers.
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The only feature that bothers me is that messages to your opponent are limited to “Good game!”, “You bastard!” (reserved for Kenny deaths, that should be), and a set of Cartman emotes: cackling, crying, farting, others.

“South Park” is noted for fart humor and Cartman’s obnoxiousness, but it’s not what I want to see or hear at the end of a match — win, lose, or draw.

Some players who feel the same way turn off sound effects, which mutes Cartman emotes, but during the game, you can rely on hearing a character enter the game if you can’t see it.

An opponent began the Cartman jeering in the middle of a game. I wondered what he had up his sleeve, and in a few seconds he cast Manbearpig. My gang took Manbearpig down, but then the guy played Pope Timmy, which rejuvenates the character killed last — so here comes Manbearpig the Friendly Ghost.

Manbearpig is SPPD’s equivalent of old NetRunner’s Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker: a powerful card that doesn’t require a whole lot of imagination. (In this instance, an old NetRunner player will recognize Pope Timmy as Joan of Arc.)

A Reddit user pulled Manbearpig in the every-four-hours free pack, which is surprising. I’m accustomed to each free pack including 20-40 coins, 1 or 2 dollars, four or five upgrade items, perhaps one rare card, and a handful of commons. (A card of Legendary rarity in a free pack could be a bug?)

The Reddit thread continued:

“You can be like one of those Manbearpig -> Pope Timmy fags”

“I like those players. They suck hard lol”

“Fucking gay.”

Lack of punctuation, standard misuse of the abbreviation LOL, and “fags” and “gay” as pejoratives kept intact — the joy of interacting with kids, but you get my point: The Manbearpig/Pope Timmy combination fetches derision for unimaginative superpoweredness.

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