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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

South Park Phone Destroyer losing casual players for unfair matches, experienced players for too little variety 04/05/2018


RedLynx is losing 20,000 Galaxy users per month. That’s just the Galaxy users.

You know how I know a game is dying? When I begin running out of things to say. I was NetRunner’s most prolific writer, but by 1998 —  well after Wizards of the Coast abandoned its product — I was writing wretched, bottom-of-the-barrel topics.

I was thinking about Dark Mage Craig. Great character in the cast, great card art, almost useless powers in game. What’s there to write about besides the same decks,  same buggy software, same questionable opponents. When I see positive development, love to write about that.

I thought to make Dark Mage Craig’s NK-reducing warcry helpful by sending fliers out, but my assortment of level 1, 2, and 3 cards didn’t live long enough against the rank 46 opponent to attempt the experiment. What fun.

It’s a primary flaw in the SPPD framework that it costs too much to try anything besides what you’ve locked yourself into. In terms of real cash, in-game currency, and in-game upgrade materials, it’s much too expensive to upgrade a level 1 card to usefulness.

RedLynx listened to users’ requests for unranked matches, so we might try new cards, but then they limited those matches to teammates. For the first three months of my four months in the game, I didn’t even have teammates.

They limited the unranked matches to teammates, but where’s the mechanism for notifying teammates that you desire one of these matches? It seems you’re limited to the team chat, and the communication tools are just crap. The team chat is the only communications outlet I’ve ever used in which I don’t try for correct capitalization and punctuation.

I think South Park Phone Destroyer is dying. It can’t be a good experience for new and casual players because there are sandbaggers at every level, with decks capable of wiping out an honestly-ranked opponent with one push. Experienced players are just bored as hell by facing the same cards again.

I think South Park Phone Destroyer is on its way out, but I’m thinking about putting some time into Hnefatafl. Like, learning to spell it.

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Trenton 5, Richmond 2

The hosting Trenton Thunder beat the Richmond Flying Squirrels 5-2 on Opening Night.

screenshot-from-2018-04-05-07-09-46Trenton scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch to move the runner to third, then a weak throw to the plate by Richmond 3B Jonah Arenado.

Arenado’s first at-bats in Class AA were miserable: three strikeouts, and one GIDP at bat. In the field, his highlight was a 5-3-5 double play.

Trenton reliever Eric Swanson got the win, striking out 6 in 3 2/3.

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Categories: baseball

How often must you get it before you’ve got it?

There’s nothing like a string of losing sessions to push you to change your cards or your tactics.

When things go well, you alter nothing. Like baseball players, maybe you eat the same dinner every night during the trend up.

When things go poorly, it seems your lineup and methods are modified with each loss (when you risk not recognizing when your deck is good, because you’re making changes in a frenzy).

I wrote weeks ago about the importance of the first card played in an SPPD battle. The first rock can run into immediate paper. The first scissors can be crushed by a rock.

layer-40I said it must be a reasonable idea to play a Butters at move one, because if they scarf him with rats, you’re somewhat compensated by the deathwish. Also, it can’t be bad at move one to deploy Nelly, because her area damage prevents them from overwhelming her with a group of small bastards.

Despite the fact that I’ve probably given more thought to this than my opponents, I lost match after match because they were winning the first skirmish, usually resulting in the first bar. First blood counts hugely. I found, by counting wins and losses accordingly.

When I win the first bar: 28-5-0. The freeze cards are built for winning  1-0; win one bar, then freeze the ball. But they’re very bad at coming back from deficits; if the opponents lead and aim to stop counterplay, the freeze kids don’t muster enough brute force to bash in.

When they win the first bar: 6-48-2.

Over 89 matches, that’s -19, a lopsidedness that makes you question everything (and also drops you four ranks), but primarily: “Why the hell am I losing so many first skirmishes and then first bars?!”

I think I’ve got the right idea. 4-1 is an impractically slight sample, but I think I think I might sustain a winning way.

Consider an SPPD match like a chess position. Competent chess players break down a position according to its imbalances. Imbalances in a chess position can hinge on as little as one pawn, or one square, but in the big picture, we consider force, time, and space.

When I say I’ve got a third-rate deck, I mean it. Program Stan pales against Moon Stan and Great Stan, two of the most effective cards in the game. Captain Wendy slays, Angel Wendy heals, and Shield Wendy is invincible — Ice Sniper Wendy ices them for four seconds. AWESOM-O isn’t in Zen Cartman’s league for effect on a battle, and loses to Sheriff Cartman on cost and damage. Powerfist Dougie deals much less damage than Barrel Dougie. Compared to Poison, Mind Control, and Lightning Bolt, Freeze Ray is a giggle.

However, the value of five freeze cards is greater than the sum of its individual cards. When Program, Ice Sniper, AWESOM-O, and Freeze Ray work in succession, enemies can find that their only mobile unit is the one they just spawned (who is about to be frozen). The freeze cards control time, but are helpless against the power cards (force) and vulnerable to fliers (space). Against fliers, the freeze group is often reduced to frosting them in range of NK zaps), and Nathan, who works at a long distance (space).

At the beginning of a match, my deck starts from behind. If the first units clash in the middle, the power cards beat Popsicles, and if there’s a ranger behind their front line, it’s a winning advantage.

The only way to maximize my advantage in time is to sit back and wait. Wait to see which of them to doubleteam, wait to ambush their big charger with Hercules, wait for the Timmys, Bebes, and Nathans to reach the halfline to limit the damage they do while our guys are crossing the field to reach them.

In other words, when I thought my game plan was to go fast, sneak away with one bar, and use ice to hold on, it was plain faulty. The correct early-game scheme is probably like “hypermodern” chess openings: let them take the middle, then counterattack it.

When their Mecha Timmy comes out first and reaches the halfline, before they continue with a powerful group, they crush.

The hypermodern openers accept some brutal losses in which their counterplay never gets started. They understand if you play in that fashion, sometimes you can’t find a seam in their center formation, and they steamroll you. Which is how it looks on the SPPD field when four units trample the dead NK.

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My favorite offbeat Bronstein opening sacrifice 03/27/2018

Grandmaster Bronstein was the best player in the world in the early 1950s. He tied a world championship match in 1954, which he would’ve won if not for pressure he felt away from the board, perhaps unduly.

Bronstein had an artistic bent like no other world championship contender, and the kind of mind that produced stories like this: When it was suggested to Bronstein that he convert a tournament cash prize into goods that couldn’t be taxed upon return to Russia, Bronstein was seen at the airport rolling automobile tires, whereas others might’ve bought, say, a wristwatch.

screenshot-from-2018-03-27-01-23-11Bronstein’s openings ideas have been part of my play for 40 years. I’ll never fall out of love with the King’s Gambit, and in the Two Knights Game, will still employ the bishop sacrifice he sprung against Rojahn (in an Olympics game, no less): 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. d3 (as usual, Morphy’s move is simpler than the ‘standard’ 6. Bb5+) 6…h6 7. Nf3 e4 8. dxe4!?.

Chessplaying software fascinated Bronstein, seemingly more than it did Botvinnik, who was an engineer involved in early Soviet chess programming research. Bronstein was a regular at the man-vs.-machine AEGON tournaments in the ’80s, and in 1992, he visited Palo Alto to help test Deep Thought (the precursor to Deep Blue).

Against Deep Thought, Bronstein uncorked this exchange sacrifice in the Sicilian Wing Gambit: 1. e4 c5 2. b4 cxb4 3. a3 d5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. Nf3 e5 6. axb4 Bxb4 7. Ra3!?.

Against a computer, it seems nuts to try such a thing, and Bronstein didn’t even get to experience a reaction. I’ve played this twice in tournaments, and the looks on their faces when they focus their eyes on what just happened is priceless. I beat a 1900, and lost to a 2200, though I was briefly ahead in that game, so you can’t blame the oddball rook sacrifice for that.

One of the things about this variation is that Black has to play smartly just to get to that position at move 7. 3…d5 is the best move because it equalizes in the center when White can’t play Nb1-c3 to hit the queen. Then 5…e5 wins the center. Most Sicilian players aren’t smart enough to make those moves at 5 and 6. Sicilian players aren’t cagey, they’re just fashion-conscious.





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Categories: chess

Harrström’s gambit strikes again 03/24/2018

My chess teacher would say this is the right kind of bad chess.

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Categories: chess

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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Categories: chess

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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