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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

Mr. Hankey knows when you’ve been tanking / he knows when you’re a fake 12/22/2017

I thought today I might’ve earned a South Park: Phone Destroyer PvP pack just for showing up.

Short of spending real money, the PvP packs are the best way to acquire useful cards. Each player vs. player win enables the opening of “loot lockers”, then three wins is rewarded with an additional pack of cards (which are said to include the rarest cards, for which I cannot vouch).
During events like PC Principal Shades Week and Pirate Week, another bonus pack is offered — PvP wins confer points toward earning those special event bonus packs.

The special event bonus packs foment sandbagging like nothing else. Players who don’t want to compete at whichever PvP level they’ve reached dump matches. After they’ve dumped themselves into lower ranks, they more easily win the points needed for PvP and especially special event packs.

This week’s special event revolves around Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo. PvP matches award poo nuggets. Yup, win at SPPD, and receive pieces of shit. Win enough shit, and special event packs plus other prizes come available. Each bonus level is more difficult than the last, so players are sandbagging like crazy in the pursuit of bonus poo nuggets.

For two consecutive matches, my opponents stood there and waited to die. When the third came, I wanted him to tank also, because that would’ve been a better story.

I’ve requested a resignation button. Players who are tanking don’t have to waste time, and players who recognize that they’ve fallen too far behind in a legitimate match resign themselves to motionlessness. There should be an option for shortening this process.

My second tanking opponent died in 58 seconds to a combination of Hookhand Clyde, Dogpoo, Angel Wendy, and Buccaneer Bebe. 58 seconds is a big improvement over the earlier record, which was 1:15.

Playing against tankers is weird. For a few seconds, both players assess their draws, and figure whether they should make the first move. Nothing happens for an awkward number of seconds, until one character ventures into battle. Then there’s a little trepidation over the opponent’s reply, backed by maximum saved energy.

The first character reaches enemy new kid. Pow. Pop. Bang. No response.

Maybe you send another character to fight. Which reaches the new kid. Crash. Boom. When the enemy makes no move until the shockwave at the end of a health bar, then you can think about which of your cards will quickly get this crap over with. It’s then I enjoy  watching Mimsy plus Hyperdrive, which resembles the Hulkbuster Iron Man suit.

You have to wonder: What happens when both players want to tank?

I think that should result in an abbreviated bit of violence. If you’re watching your opponent do nothing while you’re doing nothing, you might think if you can score one energy bar before the time limit, you get something better than tanking, an actual victory. But he’s thinking that, too.

When both players recognize that the other is trying to tank, they might make bad moves on purpose, weakening their position for easier death. Then you’ve got players casting effects like Poison and Freeze Ray with no one on the field.

Bridge tournaments sometimes have flawed seeding mechanisms, putting teams in position where their prospects of winning the tournament improve if they lose a match. Of course, there came the time when both teams wanted to lose, and they had the integrity to insist on reseeding or re-pairing, whatever would prevent a fiasco.

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The smart *and* funny Heidi Turner

During the 20th season of “South Park”, I dread the thought of Heidi Turner girlfriending Eric Cartman. I reckon that was a universal feeling — the students of South Park Elementary plus the viewers beyond the fourth wall know that Cartman is an incredible asshole, particularly when it comes to his mother.
I caught up with season 21, and determined to watch the whole bloody series again — as long as I’m writing about the mobile game South Park: Phone Destroyer, it’s research. (Bebe was a fickle jerk in season 3’s “Clubhouses”, but her pirate card might be my favorite — in a player vs. player game, she needs help staying alive long enough to be useful; but in a player vs. environment game, she grows with each wave of enemies, and when the boss lands, Buccaneer Bebe is one of the most powerful fighters on the stage.)

Season 21 revealed that Heidi has issues, enabling Cartman’s emotional abuse (as the cuts to the blank-faced but understanding witnesses stand for us viewers), and his increasingly elaborate deceit. He set her up to be killed by a witch (who else has Cartman murdered in the first degree — the Scott Tenorman episode, in which he was ground into meat for chili was memorably good) because she delayed his trip to the pumpkin patch?!

The showrunners were playing a long game — Heidi completely turned the tables on Cartman by *becoming* Cartman before finding herself again and leaving Cartman holding a gun to his head with *another* suicide threat if she were to dump him.

I thought the two-season arc was brilliant, the most-deeply-written character development ever for a South Park kid.

In the SPPD game, Heidi is the most limited of the kid cards. The main players and several secondaries are represented in each color, while Nathan, Mimsy, Terrance, Dogpoo, Marcus, others are universally “gray”. Calamity Heidi is only blue (that’ll have to be addressed with future releases, yeah?). Her battle cry is most appropriate: “I’m smart *and* funny!”

Calamity Heidi’s card art is some of the best in the set, when you look behind Heidi.

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The necessity of modifying PvE decks

I read that South Park: Phone Destroyer players manage two decks — one for player vs. player, and another for player vs. environment.layer-21

I wondered if that was some kind of affectation, but I’ve learned that it’s a necessity. While PvP decks are the best one can put together for that  form of the game, PvE must be ever-changing according to the environment.

My pirate band was being slaughtered by Pocahontas Randy (the Randy cards that spawn fighters are most intriguing) and his archers repeatedly, and I thought I might never earn the three arrowheads in that loot locker. I determined that I had to add green healing cards to the blue pirate bunch.

Captain Wendy out, Angel Wendy in. Smuggler Ike out, Friar Jimmy in. Pirate Ship Timmy out, Regeneration in. Barrel Dougie out, Energy Staff in.Assassins didn’t stand a chance against snipers, so it was easy to swap Smuggler Ike and Barrel Dougie.

The result was sort of ridiculous. After new kid has five or six allies on the field — with Buccaneer Bebe and Angel Wendy in the protection pocket — it meant that Regeneration was always in the draw pile. Regenerate repeatedly, while Angel Wendy and Friar Jimmy worked the same magic.

I’ve got a better picture of why the SPPD community wants green cards to be reworked (though as soon as Purity was “fixed”, people complained — it’s a no-win for the developers).

Along with arrowheads in the blue environment. I now have to pluck prayer beads from the green.  The orange I’ve been wanting to buff for weeks is unattended, but I can see myself going full orange when the astronaut helmet reappears in the Butters shop.

I’ve played against one opponent wearing the astronaut suit plus helmet. He looks boss.

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Which character receives the most benefit from Hyperdrive? 12/20/2017

I’ll play cards just for their art. Reconnaissance from the first NetRunner expansion in 1997 showed a clever combination of chess and netspace, so I put that in every deck.layer-49

Hyperdrive from South Park: Phone Destroyer should elicit interest for its Flash-y art, and even for its powerful promise of doubling the allies’ speed for six seconds.

SPPD players suss early the faster, the better — that the producers don’t state a character’s speed on the cards is a disservice. To double the team’s speed is a potentiol game-changer.

107The first thing I tried was to gather the assassins and speedy fighters — in basketball parlance, I tried to run the enemies out of the gym. But that idea died in short time — the delicate assassins can get pounded before they can form a skirmish line, and they’re too easily picked off by rangers.

I reduced the breadth of the search. Instead of plotting for Hyperdrive to power a swarm, which single unit stands to gain the most from a surge of energy?

The answer has to be Mimsy.

Mimsy has one job: to lumber toward the enemy new kid, and survive long enough to slowly land some powerful punches. Barrel Dougie hopes to sneak behind; Mimsy hopes to rumble through.

Against an energy-depleted new kid with troops diverted, Mimsy is a serious threat; but if the enemy kid has the resources to surround Mimsy, the mob soon transitions from defense to offense.

Mimsy on Hyperdrive as an early salvo is a bad idea. Mimsy might strike twice as many blows, but after the enemy gang knocks him down, New Kid hasn’t recharged sufficiently to stand the counterpush.

The usual scene for Mimsy is in a balanced deck, with one or two gangfights going on around him, when he can wobble forward relatively unscathed. That shouldn’t change, seemingly.

In a most recent case in which our Nelly battled their Nelly one step from their New Kid, then Hyperdrive fueled Mimsy *and* the whirling dervish Nelly, the result was devastating.

The successful effect of Hyperdrive plus Mimsy is like Iron Man in the Hulkbuster suit.

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Who’s writing the exceptional South Park: Phone Destroyer community posts, and where are they hiding? 12/19/2017

One relatively bright side to the NetRunner community being so small in the mid-’90s, was that you knew who everyone was and where to find them, because the Wizards of the Coast listserv was the only forum in town.

South Park: Phone Destroyer has been downloaded 8 million times, and there’s be a well-rounded and well-spoken writer somewhere in that global haystack.
There are at least four places to discuss SPPD: Ubisoft’s forum, Reddit, Facebook, and Discord.

Two things they share in common: 1) the  notion that cheating is rampant; and 2) the thought that SPPD is a money sink if one wants to compete. In either case, the discussion attracts dozens who reason that these complainants are using reports of cheating and concerns about “freemium isn’t free”as scapegoats for their incompetent play.

The Ubisoft forum — You’d think because it’s their name on the label that they’d be adequately covered at the complaints window, but community lead Steve Stewart cites his illness and his assistant’s overwork for their inactivity, while reporting that he hired another assistant.

The new hire’s in-game introduction has that inane tone that permeates the Internet, because everything is awesome.

Ubisoft did a crappy job defining their set of forum folders. The “general discussion” folder is run over with guild dinks seeking other guild dinks.

The “strategy and deckbuilding” folder is mostly “rate my deck”. What gives with this insecurity, players asking others to judge their build rather than going out to play with the  thing. Then the answers to these rating requests are asserted without context — “swap this for that”, “that card sucks”, “your deck is not as good as mine”, and so on.

If the community leaders at Ubisoft were smarter, they would’ve banished guild dinks and insecure deckbuilders to their own folders.

Reddit — Reddit did the smart thing to put team requests and deckbuild discussion in separate areas. The smartest SPPD players I’ve read are on Reddit. However, the area includes many kiddie (I’m assuming) users who aim to downvote everything into oblivion as an idle amusement.

Facebook — It’s Facebook, where the dumbest people on the Internet congregate. What FB’s “South Park Phone Destroyer” has going for it is navigation that Facebook users can operate.

Discord — I installed it, but it’s not immediately apparent how to use it, and I’m not certain I want to if vocals are equal to writings.

That might be my generation gap showing. Information sharing by audio and video is as prevalent as prose (for most folks my age, Usenet was the original social network. In fact, the busiest online activity I’ve witnessed about South Park: Phone Destroyer was during a Twitch netcast. Ubisoft lead Stewart and a co-worker shared their screen, and talked about games while in progress.

I think that people are willing to watch other people playing games whie live chatting is odd. It’s one of those cultural things that I encountered first in a “South Park” episode (Minecraft was another — thanks, South Park) in which Cartman takes the identity CartmanBrah to critique online multiplayer events.

Like “Freemium isn’t Free”, I’ll have to watch the CartmanBrah episode again.

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Dropped Manbearpig twice before winning in sudden death 12/17/2017

layer-36My pirate gang took down Manbearpig twice before winning in sudden death

Heavy-underdog teams need almost everything to go right.

Pirate Ship Timmy hit him with one cannonball before Manbearpig crushed him. With three enemies on the field, Hookhand Clyde beat the odds to hit the pig. Bard Jimmy decreased its health once before dying, and respawned to do it again. Nelly did spin damage to the pig plus an enemy I couldn’t even see behind it, then Smuggler Ike charged through to finish it off before reaching the pig. Captain Wendy was 6-for-6 on consecutive triple shots. Buccaneer Bebe stayed out of Manbearpig’s reach and gained strength by killing others before peppering the bacon. Deckhand Butters contributed his deathwish. I was dragging Lightning Bolt toward Nathan when the damn pig showed up — then a combination of angry Sheriff Cartman, arrow shots from Bebe, and a phone zap knocked Nathan out instead.

And after felling Manbearpig two times, there was still the other new kid to kill.

That was fun. A real team win, basketball coaches like to say.

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Here a dink, there a dink, everywhere these guild dinks

When America Online was as ubitquitous and annoying as Facebook, I worked as a room host in a roleplay area.

Forum space was in short supply — how times have changed — and idiots grabbed more newly-opened folders before others, through sheer number. Then they declared that their guild — each with a convoluted set of class attributes from every RPG they knew — was recruiting.layer-85

And that was the end of that guild.

The people who had real ideas hated these idiots. Some of us called them “guild dinks”, and I still use that pejorative, especially in places like Ubisoft’s “South Park: Phone Destroyer” general discussion folder, which — you guessed it — is overrun with idiots recruiting for their teams.

Ubisoft/Redlynx encourages dumb guild dink behavior because they want teammates to share and buy cards. I read that for a player to get all the way through the single-player story, he has to ditch single-playing.

I’ve been going with “no way, fuck that”, but an old NetRunner friend is playing SPPD, which gives me pause for thought.

NetRunner was the best card game at the wrong time. Whereas SPPD has more than 8 million players worldwide, NetRunner had about eight. No one has time for a dead game, so we don’t see each other like 20 years ago.

If we played SPPD as a unit, at least we’d be somewhat together on the phone instead of over the table at the dead game studio. And satisfy that requirement of team play for getting the whole single-player story.

The single-player story is the best reason to play this game if you like “South Park”, because — like Electronic Arts wants its customer to feel — you’re in the game.


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Sorry to have judged a kid by his card art 12/16/2017

I’m binging on the 21st season of “Sputh Park”, and I learned today that the mustache I thought I saw on Marcus is a scowl, making him the opposite of what I sussed from his card.

I thought he looked like an adult drug dealer (and wondered why they’d put such a character in the game), but he’s an anti-opiate kid crusader.

I think Marcus is awesome — about to take on the whole prescription painkiller industry — and his card is back on the table.

Marcus is a pain to play against. I Bolt him if possible, and attempt to swarm him otherwise. I find myself surrounding Marcus with three fighters, and muttering: “C’m*on*, kill that fucker before he throws that shit.”

Players involved in the pirate weekend event surely used Barrel Dougie. Barrel Dougie is a great nuisane — an opposing leader might feel like he’s always got to keep an assassin and 2 or 3 energy in reserve, and then be quick enough to summon the assassin before Barrel Dougie arrives.

A well-placed ranger can pick off BDougie enroute. I watched Buccaneer Bebe stick BDougie while he was at top speed.

Buccaneer Bebe is the most fun to watch. After one or two kills, it looks like she’s shooting ducks in a gallery. I read some mathematical analysis jcdz2wasuggesting that Buccaneer Bebe is no bargain, but I love that card.

Pirate decks have great rangers, but there’s no themed tank to set in front of them. I’m employing Sheriff Cartman because he’s the cheapest tank — what the pirate player wants most is for Pirate Ship Timmy to be a tank instead of kid in a wheelchair.

I acquired Robin Tweek Saturday afternoon, who replaced Calamity Heidi, though it raised the average cost to 3.3, and the assortment felt clunkier. When the battlefield is bare, and your pirate choices are fragile assassin Smuggler Ike, plus back-line fighters Pirate Ship Timmy and Robin Tweek, immediate prospects are faint.

On the other hand, a pirate deck occasionally forms a wave of small fighters backed by a pirate ship and Buccaneer Bebe with a smoking gun.

The pirate event ends in a day, but I’ll continue to wield seafaring criminals.  Though I tossed the captain’s hat aside for the sleeker bandana.

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Powerful cards that are distasteful in the narrative sense 12/15/2017

layer-27Several cards in the ’90s NetRunner game put a bad taste in my mouth, like the Tycho Extension I mentioned a few days ago.

NetRunner was a race to 7 points, and while most players were aiming for three field goals or two safeties plus a field goal, Tycho was less interesting: a 4-point touchdown followed by a 4-point kick-after.

Tycho was boring, and some cards were even less charming, like Corporate War, which too easily afforded one player 3 points plus a pile of cash. Corporate War was tacky. In NetRunner’s narrative sense, Corporate War made it easy to tell who the evil corporations were.

In South Park: Phone Destroyer, it’s Marcus. I don’t remember Marcus’ introduction to the TV series — he’s a drug dealer in the  neighborhood with “friendly faces everywhere, humble folks without temptation”.

Marcus’ weapon of choice is a bag of drugs. He throws bags of drugs, and they very much hurt (if Marcus gets loose, and lets fly with no defenders to meet him, it’s near-fatal).  Marcus is a powerful card, but a South Park drug dealer is distasteful. Say the card wielded the same power, but the character were Towelie, and he was throwing a joint. I’d play with that, for sure.

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It’s like NetRunner’s purple and green, but without the purple 12/14/2017

layer-69As I acquire cards and gain experience by the coffee spoon,  I’m seeing more green.

In almost every deck there’s an Angel Wendy. Gotta appreciate that Testaburger, who was the original significant visible girl at the beginning — is a rarefied and good card in blue and green.

Then there are Regeneration and Hallelujah. Throw in Zen Cartman, and that’ll win many games by attrition without serious handling charges.

I read that at PvP level 45 and higher, green makes up almost every deck, along with the typical arguments about overpower and sheer boredom because the green decks play themselves.

Decks playing themselves is a serious charge. If your card game truly has a build scheme that mostly wins without thinking, you’ve got to start talking about which cards to ban.

NetRunner — when I talk about NetRunner, I refer to the Wizards of the Coast game from the ’90s, which was brilliant and beautiful, not this decade’s NR game from Fantasy Flight, which sells — had such a deck. It was called Psycho Tycho.

The algorithm was simple:

1. Install Tycho Extension behind a Filter in a subsidiary fort. Don’t sweat the central forts. Advance it one time as your last action of your first turn.

2. Advance Tycho three times to score it.

3. Wait to draw another Tycho, ACME Savings and Loan, Project Consultants, Filtering the central forts when it’s convenient.

4. When those three cards are in hand, take these three actions: a) Install ACME, and accept the loan; b) install Tycho, c) Project Consult for the win.

I had a friend — he and his girlfriend were UC Berkeley grad students — who wrote some code to determine the best distribution of cards within that framework, and then he had his girlfriend play it in a tournament because he couldn’t make it that day. With experience limited to pitching batting practice to his decks, by following the script, she won all her Corporate games.

NetRunner gave its best players some meta difficulty that came down to an advanced case of rock-scissors-paper-lizard-Spock. If I know my opponents will play Psycho Tycho, I will build an opposing deck designed to beat it. But if he knows I know, and I know he knows I know, and so on.1405397321966

South Park: Phone Destroyer is still an infant, so while it’s been found what wins, it’s yet to be discovered what beats it. Of course, there are those who say they beat green decks all the time with their good idea that you can’t fathom, stupid newcomer.

The older I get, the more pejorative labels for inexperienced players I see. New players in a gaming community are like logical citizens in the state of Trump.

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