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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

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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Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #6: The Heir 02/03/2018

20180203_205836-1-1The game-changing cards in Knightmare Chess come with maximum card values of 10. I have a feeling Heir* from the Knightmare 2 set is worth more than 10.

The defensive power of Heir is incalculable, because an heir’s presence allows you to ignore check

If I played a game of Knightmare Chess with a deck limit of n*10 points, I’d consider a deck of n Heirs, and perhaps expect to be accused of exploiting overpowered cards.

The offensive power of Heir is excellent. We generally consider the king’s mobility equal to a knight’s mobility — both pieces move in straight lines (if you don’t see knight moves as straight lines, learn that) of eight directions, but the king is limited to one square, while the knight  moves two squares distant but only to opposite-colored squares (twice the range, half the square color).

However, the heir’s compact movement improves on both the knight and the bishop for close fighting. The knight can be attacked from any square around it, while the bishop can be biffed from the adjacent opposite-colored squares.
In other words, the standard minor pieces are vulnerable at closest range, but the heir is rock solid. In fact, the heir’s mobility makes it possible to checkmate the enemy king with king plus heir. Usually, the minimum amount of force needed to checkmate the king is knight-plus-bishop (they cover each other’s weakness):


But the heir  is as good as a queen for checkmate.
The checkmating procedure is ridiculously simple: Draw a five-square corner around the enemy king, and every time the enemy king moves, redraw the cornering pattern accordingly.
I don’t have to find another symbol to stand for the heir, since their abilities are exactly the same — they are both kings, and are  both heirs.
1. Kee2 Kd5 2. Kc2 Ke5 3. Kc3 Kd5 4. Kf3 Ke5 5. Kc4 Kf5 6. Kd5 Kf6  7. Kf4 Kg6 8. Ke6  Kg7 9. Kg5 Kf8 10. Kg6 Kg8  11. Kef7+ Kh8 12. Kfg7#

Relative power of the pieces
Queen: 9 pawns
Royal knight: 7
Amazon: 7
Princess: 6
Paladin: 6
Rook: 5
Bishop: 3
Knight: usually a little less than the bishop
Heir: Mobility equal to the knight, but its real value— like the king — can’t be numbered.
Central pawns: maybe a bit more than 1
Wing pawns: about 1
*Card text: Play this card when your king’s starting square is unoccupied. Place another king on that square. You can now leave one of your kings in check, or even let your opponent capture it You lose the game only when your last king is checkmate.

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Categories: Knightmare Chess

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.
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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Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #5: The Amazon 01/30/2018


Amazon* is the last of the Knightmare Chess v. 1.0 cards that modify an existing piece to form a new one. Transforming an enemy queen into an amazon at the cost of card value 5 is supposed to be a demotion, but look at how smoothly the amazon (played by Lynda Carter) coordinates with the king to checkmate:

1. Ae7+ Kb8 2. Kb6 Ka8 3. Ac8! Kb8 4. Aa7+ Ka8 5. Ac6#

From the center of the board:

1. Af3+ Kf5 2. Ad4+

The beauty of this piece is that since it combines the power of bishop and knight, it performs exactly like a knight plus a bishop of the same-colored square, which is exactly what you want in the knight-plus-bishop mate!

2. … Kg4 3. Ae6+ Kg3 4. Af5+! Kg2 5. Ke2 Kh2 6. Kf2 Kh1 7. Ag3#

One thing the queen can do that the amazon cannot is push the enemy king to the edge of the board on her own. There’s always a hole in front of (or beside) her, so when she cuts off as much of the king’s mobility as possible — four squares — the king steps into that hole, attacking the amazon.:

The amazon’s piece value is obviously 7. The queen (9) equals rook plus bishop (5 + 3 + 1 for compactness). The amazon (7) equals knight plus bishop (3 + 3 + 1).

Why would you ever play with this card? At the card cost of 5, it casts the same spell over your queen as well as your opponent’s. and it does not change its ability to checkmate with the king.

If Knightmare Chess were a game that anyone was actually playing, that’s what this writing is for — like my writings about NetRunner, which cards are worth a fig, and which aren’t?

*Card text: All queens become amazons for the rest of the game, which move as a knight or a bishop. Continuing effect until all amazons are removed from play.

Relative power of the pieces
Queen: 9 pawns
Royal knight: 7
Amazon: 7
Princess: 6
Paladin: 6
Rook: 5
Bishop: 3
Knight: usually a little less than the bishop
Central pawns: maybe a bit more than 1
Wing pawns: about 1

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Categories: Knightmare Chess

Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #4: The Paladin


The paladin* holds this potential. On an empty chessboard, a paladin hits these squares (marked by the South Park Phone Destroyer character Paladin Butters):
That’s 26 squares. A queen hits 27 squares from the center of an empty board, the paladin hits 26, and keeps the knight’s ability to leap over other pieces. Only the requirement that its first hop land on a vacant square prevent Paladin from a higher card value than 7.

Isn’t the first question that comes to mind about Paladin whether the modified piece can checkmate with a bishop?

The first adjustment is that the paladin — because it influences squares of its own color — should work opposite the bishop (whereas the knight operates best on same-colored squares as the bishop because it influences the opposite color).  Then we find that the paladin doesn’t work as well in the corner as the knight:
With Black to move (1. Pb4+ was White’s move), 1…Ka8 2. Nc7# is mate, but White can’t keep the net closed after 1…Kc8. 2. Kc6? is stalemate. 2. Pd5+ checks, and covers d7, but 2…Kb8 3. Pb4+ is perpetual.

The weird problem with the paladin-plus-bishop operation is illustrated by shifting the white king to c6 (covering d7):


Then 1…Ka8 2. Nc7+ isn’t checkmate because the king blocks the paladin’s influence over a7 (and you can’t remove the white king from the neighborhood because someone has to watch b7).

Still, the paladin can be an awesome piece. Paladin-plus-paladin by themselves can checkmate in the center of the board:

Yes, that’s checkmate.

Figuring the paladin’s pawn value: On an empty board, let’s say 26 (paladin squares) divided by 8 (knight squares) equals 3.25. Times 3 (knight value) equals 9.75, which is in the queen’s ballpark, so that works. Say on the average, half of the paladin’s first-hop squares are blocked, so call it 9.75 divided by 2 equals 4.875. Then round up to account for its leaping ability to make 5, and give it a bonus point because you can play Paladin pn an opponent’s knight — if an opponent is checkmating with bishop and knight; turn it into a paladin, and the game is drawn.

Call it 6, which is twice the value of a knight (duh), and the same value as the princess (whose card value is one less than the paladin).

Relative power of the pieces
Queen: 9 pawns
Royal knight: 7
Princess: 6
Paladin: 6
Rook: 5
Bishop: 3
Knight: usually a little less than the bishop
Central pawns: maybe a bit more than 1
Wing pawns: about 1

*Card text: One of your knights, or an opponent’s knight, becomes a paladin. It now moves by making two knight jumps in a row, and the first jump must be to an unoccupied square. Play immediately after your move, effect continues until paladin is lost.

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Categories: Knightmare Chess

Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #3: Annexation 01/25/2018

20180125_210525-1When I thought Knightmare Chess could be a successful, popular game, I imagined tournaments would be stratified like Magic: The Gathering events: superpowered Type I cards allowed in some tournaments, barred from others.

Chessplayers who wanted to rely on superior ches ability at Knightmare Chess would favor events permitting the least card value. If a tournament allowed the 10-point Knightmare Chess cards — total game-changers — the chessplayers would avoid those.

The chessplayers would want to limit the points allowed in decks, or ban cards with game-changer values.

At Knightmare Chess, the chessplayers are hoping to make better use of cards like Annexation*. Valued at just three points, Annexation is a game-changer after the chess game is reduced to its simplest form: the pawn endgame.
Without Annexation, this position is a draw. On the other hand, playing Annexation to enable 1. g6! is a win for White.
Without Annexation, it’s a draw. Annexation followed by 1. g6 plus 1. h6! is a win.

Say two players agreedto play Knightmare Chess with no card valued greater than 3. It’s the better chessplayers who take advantage of cards like Annexation.

*Card text: Move one or two of your pawns forward, two squares each.

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Categories: Knightmare Chess