Capricorn II – Zodiac I

January 23, 2010

Success.  Not to say Capricorns are going to be inherently any more successful, but the path towards success is a driving concept for the sign in my mind.

My thought here is to talk about how to be successful at games like CCGs and boardgames.  This is ironic to a degree since I have no particular desire for success nor have I been particularly successful, but I’ve always been motivated in my analysis of games to try to understand what does produce success.

Know The Rules

I find two things about this interesting.  The first is how often people get rules of boardgames, non-collectible cardgames, and whatnot wrong.  It’s a big advantage of playing with people outside one’s group in that gaps of knowledge are often discovered quicker or, sometimes, at all.

Why not surprise at getting CCG (or CDG or CMG) rules wrong?  Because they change.  Essential to the original concept of CCGs was that most of the “rules” were on the cards.  Sure, there were rules, but cards commonly broke them.  In theory, the complexity of CCGs would come not from the rulebooks but from the card texts and their interactions.

In practice, of course, CCGs are typically highly complex before you ever get to the cards.  Magic’s official rules is something you search on your computer not something you would print out.  Firestorm, if I recall correctly, tried to include a comprehensive rulebook with starters and was just so tedious to read that you didn’t particularly want to play it.  Ultimate Combat!’s rule … thing (foldout sheet) has a lot more rules than you would think would be covered, but I asked tons of rules questions when I was a sanctioned referee and still don’t know how certain things work in a game that’s been dead over a dozen years.

I actually quite dislike teaching CCGs anymore as I’ve seen the ones I played become incomprehensible gibberish with all of the mechanics bloat.  While V:TES always had problems with its complexity and I was never that enthralled with trying to teach it, I had a pretty good script going with Babylon 5 until so much stuff got added to the game that, with my personality of overexplaining things, I just couldn’t take trying to explain how the game worked anymore.  With Wheel of Time, the amusing thing was that the game actually lacked fundamental rules (timing speed on card plays) until our group created them.

I think when I was writing the paragraph above I had something else in mind for the second thing, *sigh*, but I guess a second thing would be how much disdain there is for learning the actual rules of games (as opposed to what you think they are).  I realize it’s a pain in the ass to try to keep up with rulings for games, especially CCGs where particular, unintended card interactions spawn all sorts of rulings, retractions, errata, or whatever.  But, lack of rules knowledge leads to unnecessary losses.

Know The Components

Also much harder with CCGs but not terribly easy with even a game like Agricola (memorizing all of the different decks) or Race for the Galaxy (memorizing the stats and commonality of all of the cards). 

I’m stunned by how many people don’t have a solid idea as to what most of the cards in CCG card pools do.  Do I know what every card does in its entirety?  No.  Do I even know the precise text on every card I play?  No.  Sure, there are plenty of people who don’t care what everything does and may even enjoy the surprise factor.  Certainly, lots of gamers aren’t trying to compete at the highest levels.  What amazes me about the lack of components knowledge when it comes to CCGs, though, is that the whole point of CCGs is to build decks and the only way you can build decks is by learning what cards do.

A good example of how lack of components knowledge (well, also rules knowledge) can screw you is when Nights of Reckoning was released for V:TES.  I recall someone playing a Dawn Op/WC deck at Gen Con right after the Imbued came out, and I just couldn’t believe how far behind the times players can get.

With boardgames and the like, because I’m not particularly invested, I’m fine with not trying to memorize all of the components.  I don’t feel that I actually gain anything from knowing the precise commonalities of tiles in Ra, or whatever.  But, with CCGs, I would think everyone would be enthused about knowing what cards do since you might want to play them.

Of course, a lot of cards in CCG card pools aren’t tournament viable.  I’ve known top level players of CCGs who didn’t know what a lot of cards did because they knew enough to know the cards weren’t good enough to have a significant tournament impact.  So, it’s not like we are looking for perfect knowledge out there, but it’s rather important to know what cards you should/will see played do.


It’s possible for one player or a few players to be big fishes in little ponds and have a lot of local success.  I’ve seen it with B5, V:TES, and possibly other CCGs.  But, it’s unusual for one’s local group to have the player quality that crossregional play will see.  So, if the goal is success on a national or international level, then it behooves people to mix with other groups.

I’d like to think that it’s obvious to most people that playing against better players is important, but I find from reading many e-mail groups, forums, or whatever that lots of folks seem to have grossly overinflated opinions of their abilities or their groups’ abilities.  Playing outside of one’s local group does quite a bit to help dispel such views. 

There are local/regional metagames, even for boardgames.  So, there are differences in the efficacy of various strategies to where someone may know more and have a better strategy in the abstract but less success in a particular environment.  Yet, one can’t distinguish between metagaming and true strategic knowledge unless one does face a variety of/top level challenges.

Play To Win

For some of us, there’s nothing particularly fun about winning, so we play games in such a way that winning is of lesser importance.  While games are supposed to be fun, playing to win has obvious correlation to success.  So obvious, you wouldn’t think it needs to be mentioned.

But, the concept has a certain level of purity to it.  Removing distractions is not always easy.  One of the tactics in games (and gambling) is to put another player on tilt to where the focus is on proving something rather than just the purity of striving for success.

I probably should have mentioned this earlier in this post, but I’m not going to help much, if at all, someone who is more successful than I am, which is quite a few folks.  To some extent, stressing playing to win is aimed at those players of games who get frustrated by lack of success and don’t realize that it may arise from not really trying to be successful.  Sure, I’m a player who sabotages himself by not trying to be successful, but, then, I don’t care about being more successful.  Some people do, even if it’s on a local level.

The purity of the concept can also be seen when it comes to playing to win at all times.  I have had some minor success in my gaming, was an original V:TES Hall of Fame member after all and ranked in the top 10 in the world in three different CCGs at one time or another, anyway, one area in which I’ve noticed that I seem to have a comparative advantage is that I don’t give up anywhere near as quickly as people I’ve played against.  Wins and losses are tallied when the games are over.  Losing isn’t the same as lost.  … And, other good sounding aphorisms.


Touched on this in “Travel” – the concept is that we all have things we can learn.  Playing with other groups is the best way to do that, but there are others.  As painful as it often is to read forums, there are things to absorb or, at least, consider and try.  Strategic knowledge is something that should be confirmed.  With CCGs, where the components keep changing and, so, the game keeps changing, it’s important to constantly confirm one’s strategic knowledge.


There’s far more that could be said on this topic.  I just wanted to hit a few things that resonate with me from my observations.  And, it was Capricorn’s time, you know, several days ago, when I should have written this.