Tournament Report – RotES

July 26, 2009

And, lo, we had a tournament.  A tournament that was not a storyline tournament.  A tournament that was not a release tournament.  A tournament that was not a qualifier tournament.  Just a tournament.

With some coaxing, we ended up with 12 rather than 11 upon that day.  That day being yesterday – the day before today.  Many were the cards I dispensed to my opponents.  Three Telepathic Tracking and a Target Vitals here, three Ashur Tablets and six Villein and Monastery of Shadows and Scourge of the Enochians there, Torn Signpost and Pushing the Limit and Disarm and Powerbase: Tshwane and The Bitter and Sweet Story somewhere.

Round 1, in which all is fair as long as we get our 2 VPs:

Ian (Summon the Abyss) -> Dave (FoS SB) -> Henri (!Ventrue toolbox) -> Jeff (Multitaskmites)

Dave removes most of Henri’s pool.  Jeff Reckless Agitations Dave for 5 when he’s at 11.  I oust two people and don’t have enough going on to stop a 2/2 split.  I think Jeff could have played for the 2/1/1, but it was iffy with Dave having possibly too much pool to oust before he’d rain bleed death upon us all.

Round 2, in which bleeding at stealth is nowhere near as good as bleeding without:

Alex (something with Alastor, Celerity, and guys with THA) -> Ian -> Eric (Dom/Obf SB) -> Dave

I Vessel my own guy and I Vessel my predator’s Anastaszdi because he has two stealth bleed decks behind him and should blow up in no time.  Dave gets a horrible crypt draw and bring out two junk bleeders.  Eric brings out Goulet first and then Ormonde and Badr.  Anastaszdi gets an Assault Rifle via Alastor and starts backwards, quickly followed by going crosstable as Dave looks to be toast.  The second crosstable rush takes out Eric’s untapped dude and I bleed him out and Dave in the same turn.  For some reason, Alex can’t find a wake as I just keep bleeding him until he dies.  His Anastaszdi was down to 1 blood, Oriundus 2, Franckel 1 when Summon the Abyss plus Shadow Twin would have been awesome.  Had to settle for the sweep without getting off a useful Summon the Abyss.

Finals, in which the usual happened as the multiverse was saved from Summon the Abyss decks getting into the TWDA:

Ira had 2 GWs even though I had more VPs, so I was screwed no matter where I decided to seat myself.  The desired place was in front of Andy since his deck was least dangerous, but if I went between Andy and Jeff, Ira would be my predator and having a deck with much better cards behind me would be bad.  I could have put myself in front of Ky, but I figured being in front of the aggressive vote deck when I had no vote defense was questionable, and it wouldn’t have changed that Ira wasn’t likely to have any pressure on him all game.  Bit of a shrug.  With no good spot, it likely didn’t matter.

Ian -> Ky (Toreador vote) -> Andy (Guruhi w/ stealth) -> Ira (Nos P/J w/ Dominate) -> Jeff

Ky KRCs Andy and me twice early which since I’m psychic meant the game was over and Ira won unless I intentionally threw the game to Jeff.  We continued to play for some reason.  Well, not Andy.  But, Jeff did some pool damage to me which I soaked better than I expected because of Montreal and Jeff sort of realizing that Ira was going to win, leading to him going after The Rack.  Actually, it might have been a case where Jeff should have just gone all out on me rather than try to keep Ira in some sort of check as I wasn’t playing one of my normal decks, i.e. a deck that stubbornly refuses to die.  I had places to be and a quick game would have been useful, but the idea of quick games in our area is laughable.  Sure, I ended both of my prelims in less than an hour each time, but that meant nothing going into the finals.

I hung out.  Ky stopped calling votes which meant he didn’t have anything useful to do.  Ira slowplayed to get everyone else to do his work for him – SOP.  Jeff actually got up to 20 pool with Ira trying to Parity Shift him from 18 pool, which led to discussion, followed by bleed of … 2, followed by taking Parity Shift back in hand.  With not much to do, I ousted Ky to improve my pool buffer and tried to figure out how to keep Jeff and myself alive for the timeout win.  Jeff brought out a fourth vampire, which may have seemed good but was questionable when your predator has four blood happy dudes, a bunch of Dominate, vote lock, and hasn’t played anything aggressive yet.  Jeff gets Parity Shifted twice with Andy getting a bunch of pool to make sure I don’t get 2 VPs and is ousted by Dominate bleed.  Certainly an incomprehensible way to go. 

Again, we continue playing for some reason.  Temptation of Greater Power is revealed off the top of Ira’s deck.  Again, we continue playing for some reason.  With about 2.5 minutes left, I mention the possibility of Andy playing kingmaker by self ousting.  With about 1.5 minutes left, he does.  With 18 seconds left, Ira bleeds me out, having done about 13 pool damage of bleed in the final turn.

A well deserved victory for Ira.  Who, as usual, played better than the rest of us.  But, I don’t understand the reason for belaboring a game that’s over.  As soon as Jeff was ousted, we could have just played cards and ended the game earlier.

The concept of playing a deck that would be quick either way, a concept shared by both decks I was considering playing if we had 10+ players, had some merit, but I think there is a flaw.  The deck has to be bad, really bad, not get into the finals of a local tournament bad.  Otherwise, ending games quickly is meaningless as we go into the usual tedious final where the game gets talked to death rather than played.

The concept of playing decks so bad that I can’t possibly screw them up and get VPs is looking to have more merit.  My will to compete is just shot.  I play this game for the humor, for card interactions, and for trying to play a better technical game.  It’s really a game, at the competitive level, meant for table managers.  Been there, done that, have more fun playing Bonecraft and Fleshcraft out of my three card limit, “the bad Vicissitude cards” deck.


Cancer II – Zodiac I

July 19, 2009

the adolescent
“I feel”
positive: imagination, tenacity, tenderness, sensitivity, care, caution
negative: stinginess, irritability, melancholy, clinging, cowardice, possessiveness, moodiness
– from Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”

I’m requoting from Linda’s book because I need the reinforcement.  My father is a Cancer and I have several planets in Cancer, but I just don’t feel the sign in relation to gaming.  I considered a variety of possibilities of things I could write about without anything really calling out to me.

Until I thought of the crab symbolism.  I have a Heroes of Rokugan mod today and a HoR event at Gen Con this year is Doom of the Crab, so Crabs are not far from my thoughts.  Thinking about whether Legend of the Five Rings Crabs have any connection to Cancer, I got to thinking about associating Western astrological signs to all of the L5R clans.  I can see changing my mind as I think through the analysis, but here’s what I gots rights nows.

Crab – Cancer is possible, I’ll talk more about Crab below since the spotlight is on them this month.

Crane – An air sign seems obvious.  The question is which one.  My first thought was Aquarius, but, I think I’ll settle on Libra.  Charm, pleasure-seeking sound more like Crane traits than vision and detachment.

Dragon – Tough.  Aquarius isn’t bad here.  Pisces’ negative trait of deceptive seems inappropriate.  Capricorn and Virgo are others I’d consider.

Lion – Easy?  Easy.

Mantis – Can I find a water sign that suits this collection of clans?  I don’t see Cancer in these pragmatic individualists, though the Yoritomo are descended from a Crab.  Scorpio?  Uh, no, for obvious reasons.  Pisces?  Nope.  Aquarius rears its head again.  Obviously, I don’t have the solid feel for Aquarius, which could come from not having any planets in it to my recollection.  Sagittarius?  Gemini?  Why not settle on Gemini for this multinatured “clan” for the moment in typical Geminian fashion and have the Geminian perogative to change my mind?

Phoenix – Capricorn or Pisces?  An earth sign or a water sign for the bird of fire?  Pisces, the sign of spiritual awareness, seems to have the edge.

Scorpion – Ho hum.  What could the argument be for not going with the obvious?

Unicorn – Sagittarius, the half horse for the horsefolk.

I’m not going to bother to try to find matches for signs to other clans in the game.  It’s Cancer’s time and the Crab are waiting.  Neither imagination nor cowardice sound right for the Defenders of the Wall.  But, then, it’s easy to pigeonhole people.  It’s done all of the time with astrology.  What’s your Sun sign?  Oh, then, this.  Of course, there are astrologers who believe Sun signs are way overrated and other planets should be given more credit.

Whatever.  I can give a pass on imagination to a clan that finds imaginative ways to battle the Shadowlands and a pass on cowardice to a clan that hides behind the shells that are heavy armor.  But, what of the earth signs?  The clan is associated strongly with the Earth Ring.  Taurus conviction/steadfastness, Virgo service/practicality, Capricorn determination/stability?  Those all sound good.  A deeper analysis is called for.  But, not today.

My last thought for today is how the Cancer traits above are not at all how I see players play Crab samurai.  I see an overemphasis on crudeness.  If I decide to play a Crab some day, as unlikely as that is as other clans call to me so much stronger, it would be very interesting to try to conform to a “Love Signs” Cancer, being at odds with the stereotypical Crab while still capturing some of the traits I could easily imagine a Crab having of tenacity, care, and irritability.

Cancer I – Zodiac I

July 17, 2009

the adolescent
“I feel”
positive: imagination, tenacity, tenderness, sensitivity, care, caution
negative: stinginess, irritability, melancholy, clinging, cowardice, possessiveness, moodiness
– from Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”

I must admit that I don’t have a solid grasp on how to relate Cancer to gaming at the moment.  When reading through the traits listed above, the main thought that came to me was that those traits sound a lot like what the deckbuilding process is like for me.

It’s possible to build decks for CCGs without imagination.  I don’t mean copying a decklist from somewhere.  I can throw together a decklist for a CCG in 5 minutes if I don’t think too much about it.  I’ve explained to people that even V:TES isn’t difficult for me to come up with a decklist for as I apply cookie cutter deck construction theory.  Five Blood Dolls?  Check.  Six wakes?  Check.  Six bounce?  Check.  Info Highway, The Barrens, Dreams, DI?  Check.  Ten to fifteen bleed pump?  Check.  Twelve to eighteen stealth?  Check.  One .44 Magnum?  …

But, the whole point of deckbuilding is to be creative.  And, the whole point to thinking about deckbuilding is to imagine what the most absurd deck that you can possibly build to a given format is … right?

Tenacity is an obviously important trait to actually having new decks.  I have in the old ELDB 125 new decks built in 2004.  The actual number played was more like 122 as I sometimes write out decks I never pull the cards for or never end up playing/giving to others to play.  Too often I find V:TES players not actually building decks they think of.  It’s tenacity that will see them realized.

Caution is interesting.  I’m risk averse.  That typically translates into my deckbuilding as I’d rather play more and win less than win more and play less.  On the other hand, one of the main attractions to gaming is being able to be reckless without meaningful consequences.

Nothing says irritability like going to pull the cards for a deck out of one of my CCG collections and then not being able to find them.  I’m still peeved that I can’t find any of the Carver’s Meat Packing and Storages that I should own.

Melancholy, cowardice, possessiveness, moodiness – heh.  When you do something a lot, all kinds of feelings enter in.  Alas.  I have built so many decks that all that comes hence is trite.  Alas.  There are so many decks on my to do list that I will never play them all.  Alas.  No one appreciates the genius behind my Jackal decks.

Moving on.  I could try to think up some in theme deck for this sign.  Ravnos come to mind.  Chimerstry (in the RPG) is all about what imaginative uses you put to it.  In the CCG, it’s stronger defensively than about anything else in the game with Illusions of the Kindred being one of the strongest defensive combat trumps, nevermind the stealth that’s a dodge, the stealth that’s a combat ends, or the rest of combat damage prevent.  That covers caution.  But, eh, drank from that well.

There’s rebuilding Malk/! with Chimerstry to run Nightmare Curse and Illusions defense.  That would qualify as imaginative, if I hadn’t done it before.  There are new cards – Touch of Clarity, Wrong and Crosswise, maybe Will-o’-the-Wisp – that could make it in for extra sensitivity and care.

I can’t see doing another Imbued deck in this series even though I see tenderness and caution there.  Salubri would be the other way to go to try to capture those traits.

This line of thinking is getting me nowhere fast.  Cancer is the moon’s sign and what says “moon” more than werewolves?  And, what says random werewolves more than Mata Hari, Jacob Fermor, a bunch of stealth and Freak Drives?

Demo Decks For V:TES

July 17, 2009

I’ve built my share of demo decks for CCGs.  The difficulty with doing such varied quite a bit.  With Ultimate Combat!, it was easy.  With Babylon 5, more complexity than I liked tended to creep into decks because so many of the commonly played conflict cards had way too much text. 

My concern these days runs towards Vampire: The Eternal Struggle for the obvious reason that it’s the only CCG I regularly play anymore.  This Saturday, I’m going to support a demo in Santa Cruz.  I’ve been writing out some decklists, but I’m not thrilled.

I understand the demo decks (the “pawn” expansion) that White Wolf put out, though I thought they were too simplistic, not showing off cards you would see in every game you ever played such as Blood Doll and Deflection.  For a game with such a high learning curve, starting off with very basic stuff is reasonable.

Which brings up the question of whether it’s better to teach people with decks that fight or just kind of ignore combat since it brings up a ton of additional considerations.  The classic stealth bleed deck that relies on dodge for defense is the best real deck for players to understand, but there are only so many decks that ignore combat that are worth doing before having to introduce combat decks to show the full game.  Also, it’s kind of hard to get the right stealth-intercept balance without combat as many decks that block want to fight.

Besides Dom/Obf (or Aus/Dom/Obf) and Dem/Obf  (or Aus/Dem/Obf), decks that can minimize combat would include weenie Obfuscate, weenie Auspex, weenie vote, weenie Presence, Dom/Obt, Obf/Pre, Aus/Pre, Ventrue Law Firm, Toreador vote, Dom/Nec (which I don’t like for teaching as much as other Dom variations), weenie Hack.  That’s kind of a messed up metagame to spring on newbs, especially when the decks eschew more complex cards.

So, add combat decks into the environment and what?  Aus/Dom/Tha intercept Theft is not too crazy as long as it’s almost entirely maneuver + Theft for combat.  Tzimisce intercept combat tends to get esoteric, though I think my new “I want to play with bad Vicissitude cards” deck could be pruned a bit and made not too complex.  Guns aren’t inherently difficult to play with, so I like Aus + guns.  The problem with Celerity guns, Potence, et al is how swingy games can be with other decks that just try to dodge or combat ends to prevent annihilation.

Certainly, it’s hard to demo the game with normal constructed decks and my typical decks are completely awful for teaching purposes (because being jaded means trying to do weird or ironic stuff all of the time).

The below is an exerpt from a post I made to the UK forum about how I would train someone on being a knowledgeable player of V:TES.  Besides the obvious comment that this progression will never happen in the real world, I can’t see this having a lot to do with demoing to random people who show up.  This would be for the unusual player who wanted to go from knowing nothing to being able to compete at the major level in the minimal amount of time.


For a player new to the game, I would do a progression something like:

a. Dom/Obf Brinksmansh- … obvious. Not only does this give the player an understanding of how straightforward stealth bleed w/ bounce works, but it also shows off many of the most commonly played cards in the game.

b. 1 cap Hack. Highlights speed and how much can be done without disciplines.

c. Weenie Presence bleed. Introducing … combat ends.

d. Ventrue or Toreador vote. An uncomplicated version that focuses on abusing Majesty and making use of clanness.

e. Weenie Presence vote. Mix c. and d. and see how annoying the game gets.

f. Kindred Spirits. The long separation between this and a. is mainly due to the similarities. Now, it’s time to understand the differences.

g. !Tor guns. Yes, !Tor. It should be less complicated than Tor with no worrying about whether to play traditions and with less complicated specials.

h. EuroBrujah, low/no rush version.

i. Nephandus horde. Brings in the idea of ally hordes. Shambling Hordes is the more common deck (and much easier for people to find the cards for) but has more things going on much of the time – blood control, self-mill, etc.

… Various weenie decks, starting with bleed variations, moving on to the likes of Ani, Aus, Pot, Cel; Tzimisce intercept combat; non-Pre vote; P/J; babymakers; and, so on and so forth in no particular order. Of course, interlaced with suffering … I mean … learning would be building one’s own, more quirky decks.

Probability that the above will ever occur – not significantly different from 0%. Stealth bleed, weenie, pure vote, bleed/vote, intercept combat, bruise and bleed, traditions, allies, etc. – something like that order of importance – seems quite daunting. On top of all of the other items which make it difficult to understand the game – difficult rules, lots of deck factors (disciplines, clans), lots of cards, length of games, political elements – there’s the variety of deck archetypes that veteran players just take for granted.

Forgotten Sets – Anarchs

July 4, 2009

I was helping a friend build decks a couple of days ago when she mentioned a card I never think about.  The anarch mechanic has gotten massive help from Twilight Rebellion.  So, there are some old cards from Anarchs that people suddenly became much more interested in, such as Fee Stakes.

But, what about the Anarchs set’s other cards?  I feel like there’s gold to be mined in terms of decks I’ve never built by going back and looking at the forgotten cards from that set.  Well, maybe a copper mine.  Here are a few cards that I’d consider doing something with:


Cards that require a lot of setup almost always suck.  They also tend to not be fun since you either never get off your trick or when you do you realize nobody cares about all of the effort you put in.  I remember arguing about the merits of Bear-Baiting on the newsgroup. 

The concept is still the same:  make some tiny doofus while playing humongousaurs in your crypt.  What’s different today is how many doofi exist.  Web of Knives Recruit, Waters of Duat, Tumnimos, The Becoming, whatever.  It’s still a horrible card, but it’s an amusing surprise to throw at one of my groups … assuming I can ever get it into play.


Always sounded reasonable.  Why not?  Especially when you consider Anson and the magic of wanting to have lots of masters in a deck.  The problem was that it’s very minor in its effect, one.  Two, there’s a principle that often applies in CCGs that people seem to subconsciously get with a lot of cards but don’t realize when actively analyzing certain cards.  Some things aren’t good because the alternatives are better.  Yes, this is just opportunity cost, again, but it’s amazing how little CCGers think of opportunity cost.

There’s two types of alternatives.  The first is playing other cards.  Conditioning is better than Threats in ~95% of the decks out there.  The second alternative is strategy.  There are the obvious differences in strategies, like playing bleed rather than combat.  There are also subtle differences in strategies. 

Suppose the basic concept of a deck involves an inability to generate more than one stealth on actions.  That’s not so great when people play with intercept.  So, what’s the answer?  One answer may be to add combat.  Another might be to overwhelm someone with actions by using Freak Drives and Majestys to untap.  Another might be to graft a stealth discipline.  Another might be to find some unblockability or other alternative evasion to stealth.  And, there’s always just ignoring the deck flaw and hoping for the best or to use elite talking skills.

Except for the last two, what we are talking about is having some sort of consistent approach to addressing a potentially consistent problem.  Adding a little bit of stealth isn’t likely to provide that sort of consistency that makes it compare with the alternative strategies available.

But, there are more ways to get a little bit of stealth these days.  Resist Earth’s Grasp supplements a Carnivale strategy.  Perfect Paragon is like stealth.  Anarch Toreador have Gear Up, Undue Influence, Power of One.  Carnivale is still minor and inflexible (would be better if it was put into play and burned to give any Toreador stealth or put on a Toreador but burned to give anyone stealth) and still eats up master slots, but it may be worth revisiting as a throw in.

Mob Rule

I don’t see this card changing in any way.  It’s only use is still to get people to burn blood off of their vampires for no real benefit.  I don’t believe blood denial has gotten any better, but that just means it comes as more of a surprise.  Well, no, not really.  I’m more interested in casual blood loss than in building a blood denial deck, though I probably should build such decks just to do something different.

Petra Resonance

I’ve always wanted to play the deck, but it’s just so stupid.  I play in a metagame where cards like Crocodile’s Tongue are virtually unplayable because people like to block with their 10 caps.  Still, some day, I should get around to doing a Petra Resonance deck just because I own some.

Sword of Nuln

I have done something with it, I just don’t remember what.  Natural combo with Biothaumaturgical Experiment, assuming you think that a combo exists with the Sword since it does hardly anything.  Troius means a second Tremere in the game with + Strength … wow, that’s fairly amazing.  I should look through clans to see how many others are so “weak”***.

Unlicensed Taxicab

I’m not mentioning a number of cards that haven’t been forgotten.  This hasn’t been forgotten by others, but damn if I can remember to include it.  I don’t need to build around it, but I should remember it exists.

The rest are either still not worth thinking about (Holds, et al), not forgotten (Repo Man, et al), or have been tried before and aren’t looking any better (Nosferatu Bestial, et al).


***  Wow!  It is really crazy how few vampires for certain clans get + Strength.  I tend to think of it as one of those random specials that shows up in more places than you think.  But, it’s just extremely uneven and really quite nonsensical. 

One would assume that clans with Potence would get more +Str, which is born out with a number of clans, but then, the Lasombra only have one and it’s not even real +Str!  !Ventrue have 5!!!  Gangrel get a lot, which makes some sense and helps with burning vampires with aggravated hands, but !Gangrel only have 2!!  The Laibon clans have virtually no +Str.  It was far more common in Jyhad than in more recent groups for Camarilla vampires.

Dead CCGs – Ultimate Combat!

July 4, 2009

By dead CCG, I mean one that doesn’t see any new cards printed.

What is it?

Released in 1995, Ultimate Combat! was a shameless mechanical ripoff of Magic: The Gathering. The theme was wild martial arts with a core of real world martial arts. Intentional humor is obvious with cards like Bad Sushi and Body Odor.

What was wrong with it?

Most of the art (all of the technique that I can recall) was of real people.  Little of the rest of the art was appealing.  UC! came out about the same time as Shadowfist, which also had a wild martial arts theme (among others).  The two games were often confused even though they are completely different mechanically and have significant differences thematically.

But, the biggest problem was being a Magic clone without a hook that could compete with Magic.  If it survived longer, it would have fallen under Magic’s patent.  Nevermind that the designers couldn’t think of what else to design after the first expansion.  Should have asked me.

So, what was it good for?

I have tremendous respect for Magic.  I realize it’s human nature, but all of the haters who are playing some other CCG should realize that Magic is why other CCGs exist.  I have even more respect for Magic’s management, design, and development.  I have only one major problem with Magic – I don’t enjoy playing it.

Ultimate Combat! is missing many of the good things about Magic – great art, clever mechanics, variety.  Where UC! wins is that it’s fun to play.  Sure, I’ve had good games of Magic – I figure about 20% of the time.  And, I’ve had bad games of UC! – harder to get a sense of a number.  But, my sense is that more than half of my games of UC! were fun.  That may sound like a low number, but actually, that’s quite high with CCGs in my experience.  I estimate that a typical CCG one enjoys has about a one-third fun to two-thirds not fun rate for games. 

People who think the number is higher, in my view, are just forgetting the many, many bad games they play.  That bad games are more likely to get ended prematurely certainly has a factor in that.  To throw other “who knows?” numbers out there, I’ve explained the difference in playing Magic to UC! as:  in Magic, if I’m losing, I’ll end up conceding 90% of the time; in UC!, if I’m losing, I’ll end up conceding 10% of the time.

Given that UC! rips off most of its mechanics from Magic – I tell people that UC! is 75% Magic – how does UC! end up being more fun?  The core interaction in Magic is creature combat.  The core interaction in UC! is using techniques to attack and block with.  In Magic, creatures are permanents, may have wildly differing abilities, and creature removal is rampant.  In UC!, techniques are one shot, didn’t do anything special until the expansion, and technique removal is scarce. 

It’s very easy for Magic to get away from its core mechanic in constructed play.  Combo decks are common.  Creatureless decks are easy and sometimes highly effective.  Creature combat is rare in constructed play.  UC! has a harder time getting away from the basics of bashing people with technique.  There are so many more angles of attack in Magic, that it’s not difficult to have poor interaction.  Rarely in UC!, do I find poor interaction.  For all that technique are usually just an attack number and a defense number, it’s very important to know how to play and use technique.

In Magic, single cards and card combos are often heinously powerful.  UC! has powercards.  Shake Up can devastate a board.  Mental Domination existed long before Magic’s Mindslaver and Mental Dom is far more brutal in certain ways.  But, as an example, in Magic, if you can get one card to stick, say an early Hypnotic Specter, you can ride that to victory.  In UC!, there are very swingy cards but there’s little of the inevitability that one feels in Magic, whether because one card can’t be dealt with or because some combo locks you out of the game.

Both games have similar issues with resources.  In Magic, it’s called lands/mana, in UC!, it’s called foundation/power, but they work the same – even more so now that Magic is eliminating mana burn.  Mana screw is a huge feature to Magic.  It’s not all bad for reasons that would take too long to explain in this post, but it’s the number one complaint heard.  Power screw exists in UC!, too.  But, where Magic has no built in mechanism for getting a player out of mana screw once the game begins, UC! took Magic’s “lay one land a turn” rule and changed it to “play one foundation or discard any number of cards and draw that many cards” which enables someone to find foundation when needed but also has tremendous tactical importance later in games when you don’t need foundation or when you need a specific card.

It’s a good time to mention that Magic’s card drawing mechanic is one a turn where UC!’s is to refill the hand to 10 every turn (or draw 1 if at 10 or more).  I’m not bothered by the importance of card advantage in Magic.  I’m bothered by how often you can’t recover or have to play off the top of your deck in Magic where UC! has a good balance of what you do mattering while having strong recovery potential.  By the way, my problem with Shadowfist and similar games is that I don’t see where what you do matters a whole lot because removal and recovery is too easy.

War stories.

UC! is the first CCG I ever played.  Really.  I don’t think many people in the world can say that.  I was in a game convention volunteer phase of my life when I heard about a convention I had never been to before and decided to sign on as a volunteer.  I didn’t realize until later it was a CCG only convention, a type of gaming I avoided as it sounded faddish and too popular for the likes of me.  It didn’t take too long for me to break down and actually try a CCG, so I played in an UC! sealed deck tournament.

UC! plays just fine starter vs. starter.  Every limited event I ever played of it was just starter vs. starter.  I do so want to draft one of these days.

I learned several things.  I learned why CCGs are awesome.  I thought it was kind of weird when the judge went over to his buds and talked about how I did 19 damage in my (first) attack, leaving my opponent at 1.  I learned that strategy and tactics matter in good games … my opponent ended up winning that game.  I learned the addictive nature of CCGs when I went on to play in a constructed event with my virtually nonexistent collection and got annihilated by real decks but wanted to buy/play more anyway.

I could talk about my other CCG experiences at that con, but I think I’ll save those.

I went on to become a sanctioned UC! referee.  That’s not too exciting – somebody had to given that the game survived long enough to have an expansion.  It’s still the only CCG where I had to take an oral exam to be a judge.  I so wish that I had e-mails and documents from those days like I do with other CCGs as I can’t remotely remember the rules questions I asked and the answers I got.

The only tournament I ever won was sealed deck.  I had a strong defensive deck.  I was a much, much smarter player by then, so I knew how to play the deck properly.  My biggest scare was an opponent who had Speed X, a disgustingly powerful card in limited play.  How did I deal with one of the game’s equivalents to Fireball?  How did I deal with it when he got it back with another powercard? 

Banana Peel.  May not come as a shock that Banana Peel’s effect is to turn a Speed bonus into a penalty, so that +12 or whatever becomes a -12.  Also, conservative play.  I decked three opponents on my way to tournament victory.  I got three of the best prizes I’ve ever received for a CCG event:  pewter damage tracker that eventually broke; playmat which I still use; real black belt which I still have.

The biggest event I ever played was a San Jose one where the game company’s president was my first opponent.  He wrecked me.  My second game is one I often use as an example of what UC! is often like.  My deck was too slow.  I learned that in my first game.  My opponent came out and kept beating me down.  I had no recourse but to throw any technique I put out in front of his attacks.  I built up my power generation and put some power talismans into play, but it looked like I was toast before I could ever get an attack off.  I had to blow my Bear’s Jaw – one of the most sought after cards in the game – for hit points just to keep playing.  I finally got an attack off … and won.  My one and only attack was for 26 damage, even with a bit of defense, it did the necessary 20 to knock my opponent out.

There was the tournament that my father drove me to New Jersey (from Virginia) to play in.  I played a techniqueless deck designed to deck my opponents with Bad Sushi, Mental Domination, and support.  I had to dig deep to get my Mental Dom off before my opponent got his off and I ended up decking first.  I played another game with a more standard Adrenaline, Dragon’s Fire deck and crushed my opponent.  I traded for Amulet of Kwai Chang, the Speed counterpart to Dragon Fire’s Strength doubling ability.

I still have decks built.  In fact, they are decks I made pretty much after I stopped playing.  I tried running some events at local cons in recent years because I badly miss playing a two-player CCG.  I think the game is not as balanced as I used to think it was, but I still haven’t found a CCG as balanced.  Of course, given how unbalanced the popular two-player CCGs are, being balanced probably only hurts the game’s appeal.

I’ve been thinking about the game recently because the next local convention has the game’s top player running CCG events and we always talk about bringing cards.  I still have a ton of unopened product, including the much more important starters, that I can try to infect some people as a nonserious side activity.  It would be the giant pineapple in the sky if I played enough to rebuild my Earthquake deck or to find the next “Ax Kick” deck.