December 23, 2009

For all of those last minute Christmas shoppers (I finished yesterday), here’s a possibility for a family game.

MagnetX is a game of placing magnets on a board.  The stones have varying magnetic fields and no two sets are alike.  Variations on the game are entirely possible, but the basic idea is to place more and more magnets on the board without having them touch or leave the board.

Additional information is available from:

I was introduced to the game by the designers, whom I play V:TES and RPGs with.  They have also held tournaments at local conventions.

I see the nature of the game being two-fold.  Part of the game is strategy.  The Wiki article does a pretty good job of explaining some of this.  There’s a lot that can be learned about the different properties of different shaped pieces.  The other part is physical somewhat along the lines of Operation or Jenga where body (finger/hand) control helps immensely as you can start to feel the pull of the magnetic fields, can also see the other magnets start moving/spinning as you get closer to them.

While it helps to have some basis for your plan, some people just have a better feel for the game. 

For someone like me used to German style boardgames of resource management which often only appeal to gamer families, MagnetX is a game that should be just as accessible to kids as adults or is it adults as kids?


Sagittarius II – Zodiac I

December 21, 2009

Centaur deck.  As everyone knows, vampires and centaurs totally hang out all of the time.  Actually, given the way vampires are going in pop culture, vampires riding on unicorns is bound to happen soon to cover marketing to girls from younger ages to not as young ages.

Seriously, I should talk about half and half decks in V:TES given that Sag is the most half and half sign (the other dual signs like Gemini and Pisces have their own aspects of multiple natures going on).

I’m pretty sure it was a deck Ben Peal made – a Gangrel/Ravnos deck – that got me thinking consistently about decks predicated upon the idea that half of the crypt serves one function and the other half another.  Usually, one half provides the offense and the other half the defense, but it doesn’t need to be that.

Can build a deck where half of the crypt does the vote angle and half does the combat angle, or whatever. 

The problem I always have, though, is that’s it’s making things needlessly complex for questionable payoff.  Many times, one can find a single clan or set of 2-3 disciplines to handle enough of what a deck wants to do.  Anathema + stealth + beatdown – Nosferatu can do that … and have Second Traditions and Animalism for intercept.  As much as I’m into trying out questionable things*, I’m really about efficiency more than anything else (which is why my blog tries to focus on analysis).  I get annoyed by weenies who don’t have all of my disciplines, by anyone who doesn’t have my disciplines at superior, and the like, so the idea of devoting half of my minions to something that the other half might not be able to do is a personal struggle.

*  We just had a tournament, one in which I did hardly anything so I don’t see a lot of point to doing a tournament report even though we have tournaments so infrequently.  I play Soul Painting for, to my recollection, the only time in my life, and it gets DIed!!  I so got to play this card more since it’s so obviously a threat.

I don’t mind awkward decks per se.  I have played decks where not everyone can play all of my cards.  Why, just yesterday, I forgot J. Oswald “Ozzy” Hyde-White didn’t have Dementation for a couple of turns.  I just have a hard time mentally processing how to not make one cohesive deck.

So, first thing that pops into my mind when writing this is Daughters and !Tremere as one can do offense, the other defense, and they actually both rank high in my favorite clans in the game.  My inclination is to bleed with evasion with my DoC, but that’s kind of pointless.  !Trem can bleed with evasion by themselves, more so with Obfuscate or Obtenebration splashes.  Since Choir is silly (humorous in this case, maybe run 2 in the deck), it’s got to be vote from the DoC.

Sure, I could just build a !Trem vote deck, which works pretty damn well with Oriundus around, but let’s pretend I haven’t already won a tournament with DoC and really want to get a TWDA notch.  Or, let’s pretend I feel a compulsion to make use out of Tourette’s Voice.  So, I trot out Bastille Opera House, Conductor, Paris Opera House, some Madrigals to pass out some blood to my !Trem who are titled.  !Trem do some intercepting and maybe some fighting.

It could work.  It’s not terribly exciting since the combat would be kind of questionable.  Could do something with !Trem allies, which are cool, use Daughters for Siren’s Lure.  But, actually, I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of getting more use out of Spirit Summoning Chamber by running Concert Tours and/or Restorations out of DoC and Heidelberging or whatever blood over.  Of course, that would be way too much for the vote deck, so that’s a different possibility.

Is it the optimist in Sag that makes one think any of this will actually work?  The recklessness?  There has to be some effort to actually have something work.  Let me go on to some other ideas.

Who needs equipment the most?  Some people might say !Salubri, but really, they gain relatively little.  I find that Harbingers are a lot better off with guns and whatnot.  Why does this matter?  Because the game has an equipping specialist clan in Samedi.  HoS can be the defense that Samedi don’t need because they can graft Dominate or bloat with Little Mountain Cemetery, but we can pretend they need while the HoS can get tooled up from their stealthier and more Wrinkly friends.  Can even pretend that there’s a reason to play more than just Reg in the deck; play group 3/4 and can’t even play Reg, thus justifying playing half Samedi.  And, the beauty of all this is that it’s all bloodlinesy just in time for a new bloodlines set.

Sagittarius I – Zodiac I

December 21, 2009

“I see”
positive: optimism, candor, cheerfulness, logic, honesty, daring, enthusiasm
negative: recklessness, emotional confusion, carelessness, lack of tact, rudeness, fickleness
– from Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”

Sag is a natural personality for a role-playing game character.  Frequently, what RPGers want out of a game is positive adventure.  Why bring the negativity that everyone experiences in life into one’s fantasies (whether they be in a fantasy world or not)?  People are fairly risk averse and those that aren’t likely have on average shorter lifespans.  With someone else’s life, we can afford to be more daring and more reckless.

It should be obvious that sometimes I’m forcing the theme with this series.  In Sag’s case, though, I have what seems like a reasonably appropriate situation.  I have two characters in Heroes of Rokugan.  My main character has had to take a back seat since before Gen Con as I first needed to rank up my backup character for the Doom of the Crab event and, then, later he got involved in our (now quite extended) group’s storyline in ways I didn’t expect.

That’s likely to change after January 2nd.  The upcoming mod, Essence of Toshigoku, is one of the few mods that is consistently deadly to PCs.  And, I don’t really have any problems with my character dying in it.  His retirement goal makes more sense if he’s dead.  I need to get back to playing my main character as there’s less than a year left in the campaign.  It’s very appropriate to end things in a mod that is the sequel to the first mod I played him in.

Being described someone’s RPG character is often excruciatingly painful, so I’m not going to go into that.  But, suffice to say, he’s no Sag.  Optimistic?  Cheerful?  Enthusiastic?  Um, no.  Pessimistic, bitter, and disinterested certainly applied for most of his history.

Don’t fight human nature.  That’s something Magic’s lead designer has brought up reasonably often in the last year when talking about designing mechanics.  Don’t fight what people want.  Well, there’s also not fighting genre conventions, in this case, I’m thinking of conventions of fiction.  Extremes, in particular extremes within a family, make for more accessible stories than subtle contrasts.

So, an extreme.  Where one brother was a sad, bitter man who eventually found what he needed to get over that, the other brother is a cheerful contrast.  The other brother? 

Well, I likely need a backup character as something could always happen to my main.  I have a lot of options from character ideas I’ve already thought of, but they tend more towards trying to do wacky things mechanically.  A younger brother is far more meaningful from a story standpoint … and he’s wacky mechanically, too … of course.

While I think Sag is a personality type I can play better than most others, I still need a lot of help with fully realizing the entire personality and not just pulling out one aspect (bluntness would be the one most people would probably think of) and trying to hang a hat on that.  So, as per the mission statement of this series, I can study multiple dimensions of the character to really try to bring something authentic to the table (well, computer, since that’s where I play most these days).

Previews – Heirs To The Blood

December 17, 2009

December has come and I’ve been derelict in writing.  So many things I should be writing.  In addition to my appearing in December, so have V:TES previews of the Heirs To The Blood set.

Additional information is available at [edited to] but I just wanted to do what everyone likes to do – comment on the new cards spoiled.  Card images are from White Wolf’s web site.

The most common reaction to a new card is to overrate it.  There were people arguing that Tortured Confession had uses when it was first spoiled.  I easily fall into the trap as well.  The trap comes from thinking about all of the possibilities and consider the best uses of the card.  The reality, though, is often that a card’s best uses aren’t any better than what already exists.

I’d play with this card.  It has three different uses, after all.  But, I’m not into playing Baali rockstar decks.  In those decks, cancelling Auspex becomes far more important while blood costs are more complex costs when doing Soul Gem tricks.  Makes The Textbook Damnation more useful.  Still, I’m not impressed.

Stars:  **

Then, anything to do with combat seems to enthrall a large segment of the player population.  Here we have someone who can easily Grapple + Disarm someone, Freak, and stealth through a built in Graverobbing.

Unfortunately, even with Presence – the second most useful out of clan discipline in general, I don’t see much use in anything like a good deck.

However, the second most common reaction is to underrate a new card.  This comes from not having full information on sets.  If Thanatosis stops being pathetic as a discipline, then maybe there’s some additional synergy in the disciplines that I don’t see.  If not, I see people trying to build really bad combat decks.

Stars:  ** (questionably, but Samedi seem to be underrated in general)

Combat … and combo.  There’s a reason that Magic categorizes players into Timmy, Johnny, and Spike psychographic profiles.  Johnny is the combo player, and while I tend to hate combo decks, I can appreciate the appeal of them (up to a point).

Choir is far too many players’ dream.  It’s a linear mechanic in a game without a lot of clearly linear mechanics.  It’s also boring as hell and completely awful as a strategy.  On the other hand, Choir doesn’t need to be boring or awful.  In my post about what I think Heirs should give, I consider developing the Choir mechanic by having cards key off of Choir.

As for this card, it’s a fascinating card for people who want to get deeply into probability in deck construction no matter how terrible a deck you may end up with.  While it has been pointed out on the newsgroup that it not being a Choir has advantages with Freak Drive (Change of Target would work, too).  It’s not itself a Choir and does absolutely nothing without Choirs.  Cards like that tend to be truly awful.  I don’t see how this makes Choir any better.  Three actions to do 6 pool damage is just not that impressive.  Sure, it can oust people.  But, then, so does bleeding or voting.  For all that decks prepare for bleed and don’t prepare much for these sorts of actions, relying entirely upon the combo is fragile where bleeding is not, and not relying entirely upon the combo means having to deal with one of the deck’s strategies being very awkward.

Stars:  *

Nine capacity is far too often where we find horrendously designed vampires.  This design is pretty bad.  Great, Kiasyd with Animalism.  That’s fine if there are at least two others with good enough discipline crossover.  +1 bleed, blah.  Look at top three cards, marginal.  The history of the game has been to play high caps for their titles, their superior Presence, and their specials.

Stars:  ** (Might be a weak Kiasyd, but Kiasyd have Dominate + stealth)

There so needs to be some cost reduction for Temporis.  It would be amusing if Temporis got stealth or other evasion out of this set as that would make this card even worse.  As it is, it’s an expensive comboish card that doesn’t do anything that wouldn’t be far easier to do with Obfuscate without paying any blood.  Now, if it weren’t a bleed action but an action modifier (just like Flurry of Action should have been an action modifier), it would be hawt with voting (Voter Cap your other votes to refill the engine).

Stars: *

Lot of folks are commenting on the combo potential.  It’s value add, sure, but if I squint at this card, I can ignore the completely unnecessary Necromancy and focus on a vampire who only has all of the best common disciplines in the game and the Freak Drive discipline.  Sure, inferior Dom and Pre are not the hotness, but you are getting all sorts of overlap possibilities with other vampires, and there’s that +1 stealth thing.  Presence (if loser Presence), Freak, quality specials, every bounce discipline – that seems more like a reasonable high cap.

Stars:  *** (especially if I factor in having a terrible group number, so want to do half stars in these ratings)

It’s interesting how much the value of paths vary.  The Path of Paradox is obscenely powerful.  The Path of Typhon not so much.  While Squirrel Balance is a strong card, and I’m sure there will be blood costing Spiritus cards in the set, this card is currently a waste of space.  To change that will necessitate seriously good, blood costing cards.

Stars:  * (in reality, it would be zero stars with what currently exists, but one must assume there’s a reason for this card)

Gargoyle cards just don’t make sense to me.  Visceratika gets stuff you don’t care about mixing with Fortitude and Potence, Tupdog is ludicrous, etc.  I’m struggling to see how this isn’t the anti-Tupdog – an awful card that has hardly any uses.  It’s similar to Aabbt Kindred only somehow actually worse.  The card would be properly designed by eliminating the (additional) drawback.  Still, as a challenge it will peak the interest of people … like me.

Stars:  * (it’s hard to give anything zero stars)

Wow, this is bad design.  Openended effects are just conceptually bad as they may be open to breakage.  If they aren’t open to breakage, it’s probably because what they do is weak.  This isn’t weak.  Yes, there’s a practical limit to how often you’ll untap even playing actions that untap you, a boatload of Freak Drives, and whatever.  But, it’s a big limit.  I actually don’t see it being so difficult to generate 20 pool off of this card.  Now, whether the deck that does that is any good is a completely separate issue.  The key with this card is either running a bunch of copies or searching it out.  Any of Magic of the Smith, Vast Wealth, Sibyl’s Tongue, Inconnu Tutelage, Drop Point Network, etc. come to mind.

Stars:  ** (building around it is questionable)

Bleeding successfully is easy, so that special will kick in most turns.  The combat special is a reasonable deterrent.  Whether it’s Flurry of Action, Dual Form, or any of the other ideas someone has mentioned on the newsgroup, it’s still playing a big vampire that isn’t game changing.  No bounce discipline, no Freak Drive discipline, no Rutor’s Hand discipline, too many combat disciplines leaves me to wonder whether there’s significant help for Baali in the set or whether there is some sort of Protean theme to pursue with them.

Stars:  ** (it could be so much worse)

What commenting on previews makes me want to do is go back and look at how I rated cards in the past and see how well my predictions for them turned out.  Maybe a return to the Ebony Kingdoms post, though I still haven’t seen enough people play with EK to clearly determine what is what.