Virgo II – Zodiac I

September 30, 2009

So, I kind of fixated on analysis in the other Virgo post.  What, then, can I do to talk about using Virgo for gaming that has a non-analytical element?

I looked up famous Virgos and found lists of people I wouldn’t consider all that famous.  Too many actors and whatnot.  Only one name really stuck out and that was Mother Teresa.

Whatever the reality of history is, I’m pretty sure that Mother Teresa’s name is the one most associated with service to others.  A PC can be complex, but most NPCs really should be focused, I’d even say symbolic.

So, a Virgo PC could try to play up timidity and crankiness or whatever.  The Virgo NPC, however, is likely to add more value by being a “Mother Teresa” sort.

Then, I started looking at famous events during Virgo’s part of the year.  I became less concerned with particulars and started thinking about the actual time of the year.  School years usually start in Virgo’s time.  Weather may get much cooler.  Summer is coming to a close as we feed into Fall.

One of the things about history that I didn’t have taught to me until college was that stuff happens for a reason.  Prior to college, it was all about memorization of names and dates with no context.  In actuality, things are interconnected to where events arise out of what’s going on, whether it’s discovering new lands, technological advancements, or whatever.

Am I getting at something?  Actually, yes.  Suppose you are putting together a RPG campaign.  What might happen this time of year (well, actually a week ago and for a month before that, as now it’s Libra’s part of the year)?  What is important about the end of Summer, about changes in temperature?

People, events, what else?  How about associations and symbols?  Virgo is supposed to be associated with the Sphinx.  Now, I don’t play in any games currently which feature sphinxes, but if I needed a personality for one on the fly, boom shaka laka.  Maybe, I want someone to be sphinxlike in some way.  Corn?  Flowers?  Nations such as Brazil and Switzerland?  Cities such as Boston and Paris?  Hunt around a little online and esoteric connections are everywhere.

But, yeah, if I were going to work on making a Virgo character for a RPG, I’d probably go back to fixating on analytical.

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Virgo I – Zodiac I

September 30, 2009

Really should stop missing my astrological windows.  In some parts of the world, I couldn’t even get these in in September.

Virgo
“I analyze”
positive qualities: clarity of thought, discrimination, courtesy, service to others, practicality, self-honesty
negative: criticism, crankiness, timidity, pessimism, inferiority, hair-splitting

The one thing I can remember about Virgos is being analytical.  I know some quite analytical Virgos.  Ah, analysis – that’s something I can relate to.

What Is Good vs. Why It’s Good

Is it more important to know what is good or why something is good?  Sure, the goal should be to understand both.  It’s interesting how sometimes someone, including myself, can get lost in trying to answer one without taking the bigger picture into account.  Of course, any decent analysis of what is good begs the question as to why and studying why things are good generates a list of what is naturally.

Taking CCGs …  I quite enjoy rating cards.  I don’t do as much of it as I once did, but then, I don’t write articles anymore or playtest anymore.  And, with V:TES being the only CCG I regularly play, it’s hard to care as much about analysis.  Okay, this whole paragraph was an aside.

Why is Govern the Unaligned better than Scouting Mission?

It’s not always the case that more effect for higher cost is better in V:TES.  I don’t rate Pushing the Limit as better than Undead Strength.  Could argue that there’s greater diminishing returns with dealing combat damage than with bleed or “banking”.  Rather than try to get technical when I’m tired, I think there’s an intuitive basis for why the former is better.  Card economy, action economy.  Two Governs do as much as three Scouting Missions.  You pay for it in blood but save it in actions.  Clearly an action isn’t worth just one blood.

Why isn’t an action worth a blood?

Both are finite resources, but I’d put actions as (usually) the greater constraint in a game.  I could talk about hunting.  Some players are aware of how seriously I take hunting.  Probably not the time to go into it, but I’d note that the power in hunting has little to nothing to do with gaining blood.

Why is Enchant Kindred a better card than Scouting Mission?

They have the same text, yet the former is far better.  Sadly, the answer is one that people either get or don’t get and so probably isn’t all that exciting.  Ban Govern and they might end up being equal or SM might end up being better.

Does analysis make players better?

Anecdotally, I, myself, could point out many instances where people who just do and don’t think do better than those who think.  I certainly think far more about the CCGs I play than a lot of better players.  Then, I find that some strong players do analysis and the analysis is wrong.  What’s going on?

Well, obviously, there’s more to success than thinking.  How many sports fans think they know better how to run a team than the professional coaches?  And, we see all of the time in life how some people have better instincts than those who may know more.

On the other hand, there’s the theoretical analysis that I tend to favor versus the practical (ooh, used a Virgo word in this article) analysis that a strong player may do.  No matter how brilliant the former may be, it’s the latter that is likely to pay off.

I can get back to the earlier question.  I’ve known good players who didn’t think about why something was good but just knew what was good based on such things as how often they saw stuff played or the like.

Thinking About Winning

For all that it seems like some people succeed whether they have any analytical sense or not, I’d still put forth that for most of us, the better we understand why things are good or bad, the better we can do (under the grand assumption that someone applies what they know to maximize results … I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be interested in maximizing results, can I?).


2009 NAC, No, But …

September 14, 2009

I can’t imagine going to this year’s V:TES North American Championships.  I used to not care, but after the 2007 experience, I’d really like to go.  Still, I’ve missed every year except when it was in Los Angeles.

But, I’m very interested in a question thrown out to the newsgroup about what to expect.  Hey, metagaming.  It’s part of what makes CCGs fun even if it ends up being counterproductive when you actually play in an event.

So, what do I expect?  Maybe, the better question is:  what concerns me?

Weenie Animalism or Auspex worry me.  Really, weenie Auspex should never get ousted unless it’s next to a weenie combat deck.  Weenie Animalism’s benefit is being a weenie combat deck while still having enough survivability to fend off the brutal pool-removing decks.

Dementation bleed is probably more likely than Dom/Obf or Pre/Obf or, these days, even Ser/Obf.  Doesn’t matter a huge amount, the defenses remain much the same.  A deck that doesn’t have some sort of plan for brutal bleed is a bad deck, so I wouldn’t be specifically worried about these.

Stealth vote can get by walls and can wreck weenie/breed decks (Ancilla Empowerment, Anarchist Uprising) and Imbued.  I wouldn’t expect a lot of Imbued, but I could see about two Imbued players.  The reason for hating on them is less a function of the environment and more because playing against them is so tedious.

I agree with extrala – http://extrala.blogspot.com/ – about Ventrue Law Firm being popular again.  Yet another reason to play weenie intercept.  But, the more interesting thing to me is how many copies of Delaying Tactics to play to fend off voting.  If I really cared enough to metagame, I could see playing something straightforward, like weenie Obfuscate, since that will mean extra deckspace for hosers, and running a boatload of DT.

Fear of Mekhet?  If I were playing a vote deck, probably.  If not, maybe something more flexible.

Anyway, back to expectations rather than answers to those expectations.  Rush?  Somebody, I’m sure.  Deep Song rush is readily available.  But, I just can’t get too excited by the likelihood of having to deal with it.

Midcap or fattie wall?  Entirely likely to see something like Carna wall or maybe David Tatu will trot out Masika wall, so it’s worth considering.  But, since I’m already worried about weenie walls, it shouldn’t significantly affect my metagaming.  Does bring up the question as to how much antigun plays are worthwhile.  Always kind of questionable to get too esoteric with antigun plays.

Breed?  I see Nos breed/boon being highly likely.  Breed has so many dangerous decks whether Palla Grande, Clown Car, Death Star, or whatever that I’d rate breed decks a top level threat.  It’s why I see stealth vote being a desirable metagame choice or, again, weenies.

But, then, there’s Scourge of the Enochians and maybe The Fourth Cycle.  The latter I wouldn’t expect to matter in more than about one game, if at all.  The former seems necessary to me unless it will affect you as well.  Yet, as I’ve seen countless times with hosers, they don’t work as planned.  People will hope that others play them.  They will not show up at the right time.  They will punish the wrong decks.  People will cut deals.  Etc.

Combo?  Eh, I really don’t take combo too seriously.  Yes, there are decks out there that can all but win in one turn, but how often do they fail?

Ebony Kingdoms strategies?  Hardly.  I am all things variety and new and I can barely generate any enthusiasm for EK.  Maybe some will try stuff out just to do something new and different or to see if there’s real potential in Laibon strategies with the new cards, but I’d be utterly unconcerned.  For one thing, what do they do that causes a concern that other decks wouldn’t?

Tap bleed, a la Vignes?  Ruben is probably going, so it will probably show up in an at least one event, but does the possibility really justify something like more wakes or more bounce and justify them more than another deck may justify metagaming?  Then, I don’t like the deck in the metagame I envision.  Not that other people metagame as I expect, but I don’t like it against weenie Animalism and I don’t like it against vote.

Weenie vote?  I don’t see it being in these days, especially with the threat of Scourge of the Enochians.  Of course, breed vote decks have weenies, but I think they are less risky.

Weenie bleed?  Eh, it’s easy enough to get above 2 in capacity to avoid Scourge.  But, does weenie Presence really work differently than Vignes?  Does weenie Dementation, another of Ruben’s favorite decks, really work differently from midcap stealth bleed?  Are people really going to worry about weenie Dom with Target Vitals?

10 caps?  Yes, and 11’s.  People have got to trot out their Enkil Cogs, after all.  So many 11 caps now to choose from that people who like fatties will want to do something with them.

I don’t expect to see unusual amounts of certain disciplines.  Serpentis seems to be the only discipline underplayed where The Eternal Mask decks should probably be more popular than they are (if still not going to be hugely significant in the grand scheme of things).

Will DI2 be noticeable?  Probably not.  It has seemed to finally start leeking into decks.  Will DI’s, Suddens, and Washes fly fast and thick?  I don’t think they will.  I just have this sense that, as usual, the game’s counterspells will be woefully underplayed.

Is it worth olding one’s vampires to dodge Neonate Breach?  I’ve actually done such in a midcap deck and in a deck that ran some cheaper dudes.  But, if you can’t deal with votes in general, it probably doesn’t matter whether it’s Neonate Breach or KRC or Parity Shift or Reckless Agitation.

Mono-Daimoinon?  Sadly, probably not.  As much as some of the old D.C. crew may be getting back into the game, I don’t know if there’s the same temperament for wackiness.

My pick for winning deck?  It’s dumb to try to guess on decks, much more meaningful to try to guess on players since it’s players that win the game and not decks.  But, I’ll guess a wallish Ahrimanes deck.


Ultimate Combat! – Basic Deck Construction

September 12, 2009

As I mentioned in my ConQuest post, I might be playing UC! more regularly in the future.  I’ve never seen any analysis on the game, but there are some principles I have in mind when going to build decks.

Belt Rank

UC! was one of the few CCGs ever to restrict deck construction by rarity.  There are four ranks of decks:  white, brown, black, gold.  I’m not that into building white belt decks anymore as I think I’ve covered enough archetypes.  While some deck concepts can’t feasibly work as white belt decks, I find that the real difference between belt levels is in consistency, in particular consistency of power generation.

Power

I didn’t get the overriding importance of power generation when the game had a playerbase (1995-1997, let’s say).  Now, I try to squeeze almost every bit of extra power generation into any deck.

There are similarities to Magic.  In Magic, you have mana ramp decks.  In UC!, every deck should be.  The difference is due to the importance of card advantage between the two games.  In Magic, it’s vastly important and playing cards to make mana may be direct card disadvantage for improvements in card quality; there are other aspects of mana generators that aren’t direct card disadvantage, but that’s getting off on a tangent.  In UC!, every card played is replaced and there’s typically a small enough window in which the replacement hasn’t occurred yet that really the limitations on card play have to do with limits of power generation.

Almost every deck, very possibly every single deck, needs to run x4 Mantra of Power.  Even if it’s blown on something it didn’t need to be used for, it cycles virtually for free.  Next up is having a minimum of x1 Gi Patch for each foundation type that the deck needs to play.  These days, I try to play all four foundation types as much as possible even if I have no cards that need a foundation type just to have Gi Patches for every foundation type to accelerate and increase power generation.

Then, we run into belt level considerations for other power generation.  A white belt deck can probably run Yamashita’s Belt and every other level should, possibly in multiples even though you can only have one in play at a time.  But, Elixir of the Gods or Bear’s Jaw, being gold belt cards, takes away ultrarare space from decks, crucial to white belt decks, significant to brown belt, and maybe not so important to black.

Speaking of Elixir of the Gods, it was one of the first two gold belt cards I cracked when I began playing UC!.  For a long time, I didn’t think much of it, certainly didn’t like it as much as Bear’s Jaw.  Now, I want it in every deck as it’s just such a hot first turn drop to accelerate into brutality.

On the other hand, for Magic players who are used to needing a significant amount of mana-producing land to hit land drops, I find that UC! decks can get by with lower percentages of foundation.  Besides the ubiquity of Mantra of Power and Gi Patches, there’s the discard rule that, in a pinch, can be used to help smooth out power generation.  On the other hand, that same discard rule means that it’s possible to unload excess foundation to get to kill cards, so the analyses of how much foundation to run is not straightforward at all to me.

Speed & Strength

Overrated?  There was a time when I was thinking that people probably overplayed Speed I and Strength I.  I was becoming more enchanted with control cards like Shake Up and, of course, things like power generators.  I was getting enough offense out of my core strategy, whether it was combinations, Favorite Technique-ing out something monstrous, or whatever.

I’m still not clear whether Speed and Strength are necessary to every deck, but it is extremely hard not to play them.  Not because of their cheap and easy offense – what I like them for is their cheap and easy defense that cycles me into the cards to support my core strategy.  There aren’t many ways besides Speed and Strength to defend oneself besides what’s in play.  UC! is often mathematical to where attacking or card play comes down to having just enough to knockout someone.  Speed and Strength makes the math of the game probability calculations which significantly enhances the skill aspect of the game.  Nevermind that defenses in the game are often poor and/or costly where Speed I and Strength I are absurdly cheap and okay in magnitude of power.

Deck Size

In most CCGs, you want a minimum deck size.  Cards aren’t equal in power, so you want to get to your most powerful ones as quickly and as often as possible.  Card draws become more consistent the fewer cards that could be drawn.

I find that far too often UC! decks are unnecessarily above the 50 card minimum.  While decking is fairly easy, the fat in larger decks only makes the kill less likely, forcing card digs that ironically make decking easier.  The game does have room for undeckable decks that just try to survive until the opponent decks.  I saw one player play a deck that must have been 200+ cards in a tournament with this goal in mind.  That can work in white belt on white belt matchups where control cards are much rarer, but against higher rank decks, it’s not the 26 point attacks that even white belt decks might throw out that will get you but having your board annihilated by Shake Ups and having a 8/4 Favorite Technique beat you down over and over again that makes such a strategy sketchy.

Technique Amount

You have to have enough technique to get attacks in when you want to attack, assuming your deck relies upon technique based offense (as most do).  But, what that means for particular decks is so different.  Combination decks have to get out enough technique to do combinations (I know, shocking).  My Instant Replay deck, I think, only runs x4 Black Belt Shoulder Throw for technique.

Technique Cost

Always go with cheap.  Cheap is way more important than what movement direction(s) the technique has.  The only reason to play the expensive and costly gold belt technique is Favorite Technique where you pay FT’s 5 power cost rather than the 6+ that gold belts cost.  Black belt technique are typically ideal, but brown belt decks may have issues fitting them in and white certainly will.  Black Belt Shoulder Throw is worth it as a 6/5 for 4 and the basis of repeated attempts to abuse Instant Replay.  But, most of the time, going to be looking for the 3/1’s for 1.

Then, there are the two 2/2’s for 1 at brown belt which have to be the most commonly played technique in the game.  Superefficient, obviously so, so not that interesting to talk about.  What is of much more interest is what white belt technique are worth playing.  A lot of the 2 cost technique are 2/1’s, which I used to have little interest in.  But, I’ve changed.  Tempo is too important in the game to be throwing out a 3/3 for 3 when an opponent drops two 2/1’s for 4. 

Three cost technique is often an unfortunate necessity to a particular deck but not something to fall in love with.

Drunken Style technique is one exception.  While cheapest is usually going to be bestest, cheapest for Drunken is 4.  But, the only real reason to play Drunken is in a control deck that needs to shut down brutal advantage based attacks, so you pay what you got to play.  By the way, the rest of the expansion styles suck, having a bunch of overcosted technique with questionable special abilities.

Recovery

Are Oxygen Burst and Healing Mantra worth it?  The latter definitely is to some decks – control decks.  I have a real hard time justifying the former.  It’s fine cost to effect and cost in general, it’s the taking up a deck slot in the deck that usually causes me to leave it out.

Broken Cards

How important is it to play broken cards like Mental Domination, Instant Recall, and (arguably) Focus?  I tend to forget Instant Recall and Focus, which is bad.  I can see an argument for “casual” use of broken cards like Mental Domination.

By the way, the single most important card in the Ancient Fighting Arts of China expansion is Psychic Delay.  It’s so important just for annoying stuff like delaying a Mantra of Power that I can see an argument for x4 in every deck, though I typically don’t even play x4 in some decks.  How often PD shows up may have a metagaming effect on how desirable broken (psychic) action cards are.

Favorite Technique (and Weapons)

Favorite Technique is insanely badass.  It’s much more important in control decks, which I realized when I got off aggro decks and started making more control decks.  The restriction on number of copies by belt rank of the deck is actually quite important.

Weapons are not insanely badass.  I just find them to be too much effort for something I could do without them.  But, they make for interesting challenges.  In limited play (sealed deck anyway as I’ve never drafted the game), they are insanely badass, though.

Movement

I’m fairly neutral on Movement.  Gold belt Movement is almost never worth playing (thus, why I like building Mark of the Cheetah decks to have an excuse).  White belt is key to combination decks, but other decks can fairly often take them or leave them.  Great cycles, cheap offense, but like cards like Oxygen Burst, there’s only so many slots in a 50 card deck.

Tempo

A topic for another post since tempo has to do with play strategy and tactics and not deck construction, except in how cheap cards and mighty power generation should result in having tempo more often.


ConQuest 2009

September 8, 2009

Could call it PacifiCon these days, too, though I was quite fond of PacifiCon back in the ’90’s, where this con to me is just so “ConQuest”.  One of the three gaming conventions I go to locally.  It was the second year of its latest location.  That should have been a plus.

Maybe it was the economy, but it seemed awfully uneventful.  The RPG schedule was sad and CCGs even sadder, though CCGs are just dying at local cons as the major events all happen at stores or hotels or whatever now.

I really enjoyed last year and enjoyed the previous year, too.  Low expectations are a wonder.

Wargaming, boardgaming, and miniatures seemed to be doing okay, but, then, that’s what this con is known for – DunDraCon is RPGs and KublaCon used to be CCGs.  Having limited interest in any of these in general, I almost hoped we’d have a HoR mod during the weekend.

Friday, I blew off the con.  I had an opportunity to play in a HoR mod.  Originally, I figured it was about six of one, half a dozen of the other whether to do that or sign up for a convention RPG event in the evening, but further thought resulted in my realizing that any HoR mods I miss with the online group I’m fairly likely to never get to play as the campaign only has one more year and there aren’t enough people in the group seemingly to rerun mods.  When Gen Con rolls around next year, I’ll probably want to do whatever is new and maybe get in only a couple older mods, yet there are lots of mods I want to do out of the 30 that currently exist that I haven’t done, nevermind new ones that come out before the end of the campaign.

Ignoring the intro mod for the campaign, it was the first mod of the campaign, and it flew by.  We only spent 2 hours on it when I figured 6 was more likely.  It went so quickly that one of the players volunteered to run another mod for us, so we did another early mod and finished about 11PM.  Too late for me to go to the con.

My main character did finally rank up, “only” took 20 modules and 83 XP.  Now, I just need to get that Emerald Magistrate cert from the GM of an earlier mod, and my character will be … uh … different? than what he was just a couple of weeks ago.

Saturday, I headed over in the morning and checked the event schedule.  Nothing I wanted to do in those times when I wasn’t running anything.  Awesome.  Maybe I could get some stuff done at home, like work on the RPG adventure I was running Monday.  I played a bit of Type P Magic and went home.  Built one V:TES deck for my “tournament” that evening and took a nap.

As expected, the tournament never went off, but unlike the norm for the cons, we didn’t even get enough people for a pickup game.  I didn’t see a number of the usual suspects at the con, though hardly being at it didn’t help.

I played some more Type P, we went out for dinner, just missing hitting the local burger grill that has half-priced burgers on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and I was dropped off at home.

Sunday, I built a new Ultimate Combat! deck in the morning as there was a nebulous plan for me to play with the one-time top ranked player in the world (actually, he still would be if there was such a thing as rankings anymore).  I found him, he had some stuff he needed to do in the morning, I played some more Type P, got lunch, we played six games in the afternoon while he was monitoring an Acquire tournament’s finals.

My brown belt, Instant Replay/Shoulder Throw deck traded games with his brown belt Knowledge/Fighting Spirit deck.  In each game, I pulled off 22 pt. attacks, but he had enough defense in the second game to survive and I couldn’t deal with the counterattack.  I pointed out that one of the things that makes the game so great is how you have incredibly swingy plays, but they seem fair and correct play is rewarded.  I probably made a mistake ceding tempo to his deck by not putting out more technique.

I played my brand new black belt, Mark of the Cheetah deck, a rebuild of an archetype I had done long ago (everything with UC! is long ago).  The build was horrid.  That probably had something to do with not being as familiar with all of the cards as I was back when I played the game every once in a while.  He played a white belt, Adrenaline deck.  I sucked first game and decked myself second game trying to dig for a card that wasn’t left in my deck.

We, then, played our gold belt decks against each other.  Mine seemed much better tuned, a straightforward combination deck that tries to KO as quickly as possible.  I swept the two games as my power generation was more consistent.

We talked about playing about once a month.  Huzzah, guess I need to remember how to build decks for the game.

Played some more Type P.  Went home to get my V:TES stuff for my “draft tournament” (aka second excuse to play some pickup games).  Of course, there was no actual tournament, but I did demo to somebody.  Played some more P.  Played a pickup game of V:TES late in the evening, which I totally wasn’t in the mood for as I needed to do a lot of stuff for my game the next day.  Got ousted quickly, waited around for the game’s end as someone was borrowing a deck (Imbued) from me.  Went home about 12:30AM.

Monday, got up at 6:30AM to get stuff prepared for my Solomon Kane game.  Wandered over to the con.  Ran my game, which was okay.  As my Conan GM pointed out afterwards (his being a player for a change being one of the two drivers to my GMing), the intent was for the party to do some investigating (and, well, more generally, interacting with the world), yet there wasn’t a lot of motivation to do so.  One of the ways I figured the party could figure out what to do was used, so things didn’t bog down too much.  A combat ran long – I just have to remember that combats with lots of participants always will, so I stopped things at something like a cliffhanger.

I’m still not strong on the rules, but running twice in a month rather than twice in six months helped immensely with getting some sort of handle on them.  Might actually have a pretty good grasp by next month as it looks like we will do part two of the adventure in October rather than February.

It’s funny.  On the one hand, I want the game to have more of a Solomon Kane feel, where the characters are more down to Earth and the tone more horroresque, but on the other hand, I want the game to be more lively in the flow of events.  There are some things I need to think about, including tone and types of challenges.

And, that was it.  Barely like being at a con at all.  Actually, for comparison, DunDraCon has gotten so terrible that it isn’t like being at a con much anymore either.  I’ve started wondering whether it’s better to skip DDC in the future, though I think I have enough planned for next year’s to justify going to it again.