Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I will Stage no more forever

Quick recap of Monday gaming:

Stage II

I think I'm done with this game, except to write questions & categories.


Had to stop after four hands so that Jeff could leave. I find I get most of the juicy goodness of Barbu in a much shorter game: Too Many Cooks. I wonder if the "everybody calls a game simultaneously" mechanic from that could be adapted to Barbu to shorten its playing time. Obviously the games would have to change -- you couldn't use Fan Tan, and one person playing Trumps while another plays Ravage would kind of cancel each other out. Worth some thought, though.

Gang of Four

I'm not a big fan of "climbing" card games except as a pasttime. In college we used to play this all night while waiting in line for registration (pre-Internet, obviously), using a regular pack of playing cards. I like Great Dalmuti for its interesting deck construction, and Lexio for the nice feel of its tiles, but that's about the end of it.

Gang of Four is vanilla climbing with a scoring system tacked on so that the game ends in a reasonable space of time (or if you are playing with Jon, an unreasonably short amount of time). Which is fine by me, though I think I'd rather play Dalmuti with the same scoring system. In this one Michael snaked me by a point, 14-15-120 (low scores are good).


This one, however, goes straight to the bottom after two plays. Which is disappointing, because I've heard so many good things about it. While the "bidding Tichu" idea is an improvement, the ability to play straights longer than 5 cards destroys the card play for me. In other climbing games, you need at least three plays (5/5/3), and often several more, to denude your entire hand, and a lot of thought can go into the order with which you approach it. In more than half of the 14 hands of Tichu I have now played, someone has layed down 7-12 cards in one play; the decision space then shrinks considerably, and the hand practically plays itself. Also, in most climbing games, if you hang onto a five-card combo long enough, it may become the best one out there, and give you a way to interrupt the other guy. In Tichu, the hand rarely lasts long enough, with the leader going out in 2 plays, so you just have to pray you are dealt/passed a bomb. I have yet to have a tricky card play decision in Tichu, whereas I had several in just five hands of Gang of Four.

Shear Panic

For most of the game, I liked this abstract, as it seemed to have some look-ahead to it rather than just optimizing your points from move to move. But the last move resulted in the most naked kingmaking situation I've every seen -- Michael had a couple of ways to score a maximum four points, but one (shift his sheep one space back) would give me the win, while the other (rotate the flock) would give Sean the win. So we called it a tie and a night.


At 10:09 AM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Dennis Ugolini said...

I forgot one of my favorite climbing card games: Frank's Zoo, which turns the card pass from a punishment to a partnership situation, and puts in the mosquito wraparound so that the hand with the most high cards doesn't simply dominate.

My only complaints about Frank's Zoo are that (a) it typically ends in only 3-4 hands, and (b) because of how the scoring works, the "junior partners" have virtually no chance at winning going into the final hand.

At 10:51 AM, August 07, 2007, Blogger seanp said...

Long straights are the thing you don't like about Tichu. They are deadly, and I don't know how to defend against them. Thinking back, in all the games I've been in that have just been blowouts, the long straights are the culprit.

I shall be thinking of how to deal with them - there's got to be a way to counter-act it. I've learned to not pass 6 or 10, as one of those are REQUIRED to make a straight of longer than 5. If one was dealt the mahjongh, you would wish for a 6 or 10...

I know that when I look at my hand, and I have a lot of singles or a 5-6 card straight, I can assume that there's some other good straight hands out there. What I do with that information, I don't know yet.

Granted - we got crap cards dealt to us all night. But that's inherent in card games, right?

At 1:00 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Schifani said...

Did I read correctly? The Witch-King of Stage II is retiring? Oh happy day! Munchkinland is freeeeeeeee!

The other Witch-King of cards/resources games continues to thrive, however, and ran away with yet another one last night (Caylus Magna Carta?).

At 4:59 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Brian said...

I overheard (and riffed) on your Tichu comments on my blog. We'll see what others say (I'm particularly interested to see what Jeff G says, if anything).

Is Stage II just burnout, or something deeper?

At 5:40 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

Michael and I also played Axis and Allies (Revised), then Jon and I played Zooloretto. Finally, Jon, Brian, Michael, I played Augsburg 1520. Great fun!

I hadn't played A&A using a board in years. Michael gave me quite a schooling, though I had fun running the Japanese all over the place.

At 6:10 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

A&A revised is a game that I'm starting to find plays infinitely better on the computer in a PBEM setting. The board is too small and things get too cluttered. Plus it is very fiddly playing around with all those small pieces and chips.

Zooloretto was fun. I couldn't find enough sexy pandas for my taste though.

Augsburg was interesting. The booby prize sounded good for like the first auction and a half. After that it sounded terrible and I did what I thought I needed to do to stop getting them but to no avail.

I got in two games of tichu and I still don't see that luck is more severe than any of the other games you have mentioned. I understand the complaints that a long straight in a perfect hand is just a free tichu, but in any card game I can give you a hand (or pair of hands if a partnership game) that bid then play themselves to the maximum result in your sleep. So the fact that such hands exist does not surprise me in the least and does not concern me. Even the hand where I had the 12 card straight on the lead, the 2 remaining cards (6 9) were totally uninspiring and it still isn't clear to me that you guys could not have prevented me from going out first with the hands you held.

I think the possibility of 7+ card plays at a time in Tichu creates more interesting decisions in the play because choices about whether to let an opponent get control become more relevant and important than in a game where you can easily judge these things because of tighter restrictions on lead combinations. Decisions about what to actually lead when you obtain the lead perhaps offer fewer relevant choices but in most climbing games I have played, those decisions haven't been the most interesting anyway.

I'm sorry we didn't get to play out Barbu because someone was about to get killed on that Last 2. I don't see how a "everyone calls their own mechanic" variant would work with the Barbu rulesets. At minimum you would have to exclude Barbu, Trumps, Fantan, and Hearts since the card play in all of those is completely different from in the other games. At that point you are down to 5 rule sets so the initial game is severely restricted already. Now what are you going to do about doubles and forced doubles and things of that nature?

Gang of Four felt like a slightly more interesting Great Dalmuti. I played alot of Great Dalmuti in the past mainly because I pretty much am in for any game that I can get people to play and that was the game of choice with most of my friends. I don't think it makes it a good game, although the social part of being around friends made it alright for me. Tichu runs circles around both of these to me in the decision making process especially in the preplay passing department. I just don't see any comparison.

At 6:35 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Dennis Ugolini said...

Stage II: I still like it, I just can't imagine it's much fun with me there, especially since I can't help but be overcompetitive in trivia games.

Tichu: My stance is not that there's more luck in Tichu, just that there are fewer interesting decisions. If I have a 7+ card straight, why wait to play it? If someone can beat it, they are almost certainly going out before me anyway.

At 8:12 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

A&A Revised has a board that is about 20% too small, but I think with an ample supply of chips this problem would decrease dramatically. There aren't many games (well, any other games that I can think of), where you can play the entire global conflict of WW2 in one afternoon. This game will always be one of my favorites, though I fear I'm doomed to suck at it.

At 8:59 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Some random things about improving the A&A play:

1. Fodder is still very important for Russia and Germany. Germany especially starts with a large contingent of tanks but not enough infantry to protect those tanks from counter-assaults. The land units purchased with the first purchase (regardless of any naval or air purchases) should reflect that fact.

2. Outside of calculating out every possible result to the nth decimal place, you can still roughly estimate how a potential fight will go by looking at things like how many units each side has and how much punch each side has (where punch is basically the sum of their powers). If you have a diverse and well foddered attack stack and those numbers are about the same for both attacker and defender, then you probably are a favorite. If you have significantly fewer numbers or significantly less punch, you are probably looking at something much more unlikely. It is usually better to avoid the low odds attack unless desperate or you have a plan to take advantage of the attack even if it fails.

3. The ability of the attacker to withdraw can be very powerful and at times it can be very nice to plan on strafe runs where your goal is to inflict some casualties to the defenders but then withdraw safely before you actually take the province. This can lead to situations where your "lucky" dice rolls can actually screw you over and force you to leave your stack in the province, vulnerable to an overwhelming counterattack. It is much easier to avoid this outcome with low-luck rules.

4. The three naval powers really need to have a coherent plan to build and retain a sufficient transportation fleet to keep the flow of troops into the mainland at a steady pace. Early builds should definitely be primarily naval based to prepare for the long run. The US needs a transport fleet of twice the size to actually keep troops flowing into Europe constantly, one to shuttle from Canada to the UK and another to shuttle from the UK to the mainland.

5. Building factories on the mainland by the naval powers can be a liability as much as an asset. Usually it is more efficient to go the transport fleet route.

Regarding Tichu and the lack of "interesting" decisions. I find the pass to be a critical part that is being overlooked in the analysis here. I very rarely find that the pass is completely trivial while in other such games it is either a forced decision (Peon in Dalmuti or Jon in Gang of Four), or it is a no-brainer (King in Dalmuti or whatever its called in Gang of Four). I guess the merchants have a slightly better thing going on but it still is mostly just get rid of your singles if you can in the trading. I've played hundreds and hundreds of Dalmuti hands in my time and I can honestly say that there were a large multitude of them where my play consisted of very few meaningful decisions. If there ever was a card game where I can put my brain on auto-pilot, that was one.

I believe what the problem is for you is that the interesting decisions have been transferred to different parts of the hand. I've mentioned the pass which can make or break a tichuish looking hand. The decision about whether and when to call tichu is also an interesting decision and I believe as we get better (if we continue to play hopefully), that aspect is the one I think most of us could vastly improve on. Plays early in the hand have more tension to them since allowing an opponent an early entry can be crippling precisely because of the fact that long card combinations and bombs exist. Decisions about when to bomb while somewhat infrequent are interesting and important as well. Decisions about whether to safety play around bombs or other holdings at the expense of paying off to certain holdings are also interesting and can swing hundreds of points.

I dunno, I just am having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that there is a lack of interesting decisions in Tichu since at minimum every hand I have at least one decision that at the time could be critical (the pass), and assuming that I hold any of the power cards A, Dragon or Phoenix, I most likely will have at least some early decision about whether to leave an opponent on lead with a smaller card or to at least attempt to keep control out of their hands. Even choices about when to lead the Dog or when to lead other combinations can be interesting.

At 9:04 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

Thanks for the A&A tips. Very interesting. I'd like to get A&A: Pacific on the table sometime if someone is interested. The designer, Larry Harris, with a lot help from fanatics, has fine tuned the rules to this one recently and the balance is supposed to be very good now.

At 9:41 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Dennis Ugolini said...

Michael, perhaps we're saying the same thing. I find a lack of interesting decisions *in the card play*. Yeah, the passing and bidding are great improvements (though I found my passing decisions to simply be "what doesn't break my hand"), but it's the cardplay that interests me most in climbing games. So it's a personal thing.

At 10:04 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Rob said...

Zooloretto was fun. I couldn't find enough sexy pandas for my taste though.

I knew that playing Zooloretto with Michael would have been fun.

At 10:31 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

I'm definitely interested in A&A:pac. I just don't know when I will ever findhe time.

At 10:51 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

I have to say this day's session report would be remiss without some mention of how the Dragon's Lair socially challenged squad was out in full force on Monday, at least during the daytime. I'll definitely try to stake out a side room next time. Its too bad Rob didn't get to meet the goofball from Puerto Rico.

At 11:49 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

I'm in for Pacific whenever and also in for procuring a side room for gaming in that type of situation.

Rob it isn't too late to play Zooloretto with me.

Dennis, you may be right about the different priorities in judging the qualities of a card game. I really wish I remembered the rules to this Chinese partnership card game we used to play with another couple that involved 2 decks and 4 special cards and if i recall was almost a pure trick taking game except leads could be multiple cards in special groupings like pairs, running pairs, straights, etc except everyone was compelled to "follow" but if you couldn't beat it you just had to match the number of cards I believe. I would love to teach it and try it out with our group except for the major problem that I don't remember the rules at all.

At 12:02 AM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

After a minimum amount of research, I believe this might be the rule set for the game I'm talking about.


At 1:44 AM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Dennis Ugolini said...

I think I've played that game once, Michael, though all I remember is that the rules on what made a legitimate play were so complex, we laughingly accused the guy who taught us the game of making it up as he went along. But I'd try it again, of course.

I've finally fleshed out a concrete example in my head, so here's my last belaboring of the long straight issue:

One of the most interesting decisions in typical climbing games (Capitalism, Lexio, Gang of Four, but not Dalmuti) is when to break up a five-card hand. We've all seen a player pass in agony on a medium-to-low single, because they've made the decision that the best chance of going out involves keeping sets intact and waiting/hoping for someone else to lead a five-carder. Never an easy decision.

Now let's stretch it to the extreme and imagine a hand that includes 6789TJQKA, again in a vanilla climbing game. Clearly you want to play a straight from this (since you absolutely don't want to play nine singles). Most likely you'll take the lead with the A and play the 6-T, leaving JQK. But the first issue is timing. Do you do it early, in which case the 6-T almost certainly loses, and hope to get three rounds of singles? Or do you wait until the first rush of five-card hands has gone by, increasing the chance that the straight carries and you can immediately ditch a single? Then other considerations creep in -- surely you'll want to play the 6 singleton if you get the chance. You may even game and play the 7 or a 6, hoping that the 8-Q straight or the lone K will carry later on, allowing you to lead out the 6. Decisions, decisions.

But put the same hand in a Tichu game, and all of that is out the window. You don't consider trying to ditch the low cards early; in fact, you are disincentived from doing so, because it weakens the straight. You don't worry about which five cards will make up the straight, or what to do with the remaining singles, because there won't be any. The only possible decision is whether to keep the K behind to protect the rest of your hand -- and even that decision is basically risk free, since the 6-Q is nearly as likely to carry as the 6-K. Nothing remains but to decide when to play the Ace-dump.

This isn't even a hypothetical; it's already come up for me, when after the pass I had 233346789TJQKA. Once Sean Dogged the lead to me, the hand was on auto-pilot. I led the 6-Q, then the 333, which lost as expected. But I was left with a safe AK42, with two entries to cover my two low cards. The only possible excitement was when to play the King, and that was rendered moot on the very next trick when a 2 was led into me.

So what I'm looking for is an example of what long straights bring to the table that make them a positive addition to Tichu, something more concrete than "play more and you'll get it" (not that you've said that, but posters on Brian's blog have -- thanks for coming to my defense, Brian). I think Sean's done the best in that regard in pointing out the importance of the 6 and T in the pass; I was passing a lot of 6's last night, and am duly chastised.

At 4:51 AM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

I don't remember the specific hand you are talking about but I do want to point out that AK42 is far from a safe holding to have when it is not your lead and the opponents still have the majority of their hands. This is especially true with the very liberal rules about playing multiple cards at a time that are the source of the discussion here. The king is unlikely to be an entry if the opponents have any sort of hands now that they are alerted to the dangerous nature of your hand, and the ace, even if it is an entry will not be enough to rid yourself of the remaining three singles without some additional help from somewhere.

Whether that means that the 6-Q play is not an autopilot play is debatable, but I would suggest that at least to some degree, retaining the surprise nature of the straight for a later time may have some merit, especially given that the lack of 5s in your hand and lack of higher duplicates in your hand increases the chance that someone else might have a long straight beginning at 4 or 5 at which point you are going to come into a windfall if they get the lead and try to cash their "sure" winner. Innocently leading the 2 and attempting to win the trick later with the king may pay off as the opponents, unaware of the imminent danger, would be more likely to let it hold. At which point, in the very least you can still attempt to cash the straight, and if it holds exit with the triple 3s leaving the significantly stronger A4 (at least compared to AK42) retained.

This is not to mention at least the possibility that you might peel off a couple more of the singles at the top of the straight somewhere in the play to try to gain some more control in the singles department where you are relatively weak. (AK just isn't that controllerific). I think the merit of this is very doubtful, but at least it is an option and perhaps on a different hand might be an option that is necessary to pursue. It is a balancing act between keeping your straight to a length that will be sufficient to be a time walk and retaining sufficient singles in hand to be able to actually go out.

Finally if this hand were slightly better, you might at least try to consider making some plays with the aim of protecting yourself from an untimely bomb. I think this hand is too marginal to worry about such matters since I'm still not convinced that its an overwhelming favorite to be out first even after the dog to you.

The hand that was total autopilot after the pass was the one I had with a 12 card straight to the Q with side 6 and 9. Clearly I had no option but to lead the straight, get rid of the 6 barring a bomb, and to hope that someone would lead a single that I could beat at some point. Still though, I judge that type of hand to be highly unlikely although I haven't actually done the math to prove that it is.

I'm still not convinced that I've really explained what I think long straights bring to the table. It is a non obvious thing, because the interest they are bringing to me isn't when I hold them, but when I fear that an opponent holds one and I have a hand that can (marginally) attempt to play around such a possibility as an option. (Think of my decision choice when I hold a marginal hand with many poor singletons in it in addition to Ace Phoenix and QJT8, and Sean after grabbing an early lead with an Ace, dogs to you at which point you (tichu? I don't remember if you did) lead a 2 and follow with a K when it gets back to you, which is passed around to me. At this point in the hand, releasing the A probably concedes the possibility of me going out early in the hand if at all, but there still is the decision to be made about the play here since there is a possibility that your (tichu and) play reflect a hand similar to the one we are discussing. There is also the possibility that your call and play reflect a very powerful singles hand (AAAK Dragon and other junk) in which case, discretion will probably be the better part of valor since I am very unlikely to be able to prevent your tichu in that case and will be better served retaining cards for later to prevent a 300 point hand for your team. My ultimate decision may be based finally on whether or not tichu was actually called by anyone, what the distribution of my hand is which at least allows me to make some inferences about possible distributions for you, what my pass to you was and what the pass I received from you was.

At 5:09 AM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Yes and I should have proofread my example hand better since obviously you can't have AAA dragon as Sean "grabbed the lead with an ace early". But the point remains. You could have a powerful singles hand that is going to want to continue to play singles frequently (my most likely continuation given the multitude of poor singles in hand) and have the guns to get it done barring a bomb regardless of my choice or you could have the go out in a blaze of glory long straight type of hand.

Also, please note that the fact that I think there are decisions in these situations does not mean that I will actually be able to make the right one :). I think in general I worry too much about bombs (harkening back to my first game of Tichu during which I saw about 6 bombs over the first 3 hands and consequently leave myself open to more likely possibilities when attempting to play around the bomb, or forgo a Tichu that I was a favorite to make.

Another thing that adds interest to me is the following idea: In theory, if 4 of us were to sit down and play a game of Tichu to some inordinately large number, you would basically always want to call Tichu when you judged that you had better than a 50% chance of making it. But given that games are to 1000 (or 500 for us in a couple of instances), other factors such as state of the score begin to creep in. I'm not sure exactly how it should affect scores (obviously when in the lead, your estimated success rate to call Tichu should be higher than when playing from behind, but how far should you take it? Is there ever a score state where it would be right to forgo what you judge to be a 95% Tichu call(I suspect yes and I even suspect the answer could be yes for one you judge to be almost a complete lock)? Similarly, would it ever be right to attempt a Tichu call when you judge it to be less than 25% (again I suspect the answer is yes, and again I'm wondering how bad a hand you might consider calling tichu on if the score state was bad enough)? And how do you actually estimate these mythical percentages to which I keep referring?

The partnership aspect is also interesting. I won't say much about it but I do think plays to hopefully promote (unknown) cards in your partners hand have their place in the decision matrix. (nothing to do with long straights though)

At 7:02 PM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Brian said...

A note on the straights. A straight requires a 5 or 10, not a 6 or 10. (Mahjongg2345, ... 56789, 6789T, ... TJQKA.

Based on our discussions, I've been pondering passing to Partner. Assuming you aren't giving a monstrous card (one of the specials or an Ace) I wonder how important the rank is. Just mulling it over ...

At 9:14 PM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

If you are ranking cards to pass to the opponents based on how likely they are to fill in a (prior to receiving the cards non-straight) straight at all you are going to have the following ranking from most likely to least likely Phoenix (6-10 tie) 5 J 4 Q 3 K 2(A and 1 tie) (Dog and Dragon tie).

Obviously I'm ignoring any other information you might have about the hand from looking at the remainder of your cards. But my conclusions still holds. If you are worried about filling in straights, pass away aces, the 1, the dragon and the dog, especially when you are my opponent.

Jokes aside, I think such considerations are relevant when deciding the pass as long as you take into consideration the other information you have about the hand as well.

Its a shame that the articles I've seen about passing have only been discussions about which direction to pass your cards once you have settled on the actual pass itself. I think this could be a fruitful area to examine at some point.

At 2:41 PM, August 09, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Also, this was just an observation I had, but many many times last night I was passed the Dog when I had a good hand but had not announced any intention of Tichu yet.

I would estimate that I received the Dog about 8 times total from the opponents and almost every time it was on a hand that I was at least considering Tichu pre-pass. It is interesting because apart from the possibility of it being a part of a straight, a Dog is a strictly better card than a low singleton if you are controlling singletons since a thoughtful partner will recognize this and lead a low singleton. Now you get the double bonus of having allowed partner to get rid of a poor holding, only allowed one opponent to do so, and depending on the plays and your holding, will have the ability to get rid of 2 bad cards for the price of one.

Now whether this is advisable strategy is of question because on some of the hands it did not hurt my Tichu, on some it prevented me from Tichuing but allowed us to go out 1-2.

More anecdotal evidence: besides the disastrous must call Grand Tichu on every hand game I blundered into, the results for my team were passable, with a high hand win % and being the first to 1000 in all of those games. The Grand Tichu thing, my team was the first to -300 and by far the last to return to positive numbers (i.e. not at all).


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