Pisces II – Zodiac I

March 30, 2010

“I believe” in psychicosity.

So, you’re psychic … or not.  Is it better to be not psychic, little bit psychic, or very psychic?  And, what does this have to do with gaming, gaming analysis, or whatever?

What is the attraction of gaming?  There’s a contest, a challenge, obstacles to overcome.  Doesn’t being psychic take away from the challenge?

“You aren’t psychic.” – David Cherryholmes (possibly a paraphrase, I don’t remember).  The idea is that a game like V:TES cannot be predicted accurately at early stages.  Not that this necessarily has anything to do with being psychic, but let’s say psychicness substitutes for superior analysis and you do know how things are going to turn out.  Is the game worth playing at that point?  Is it worth knowing whether you were right?  Does the game change because you predict the outcome in a certain way to where the results don’t match expectations?  Let’s ignore situations where you just observe (and ignore that observing something affects it).

Which is more fun?  Less?  Not being psychic seems reasonable in that the result is unknown.  Even analysis that suggests an outcome is different from knowing an outcome.  But, is there something lacking when the psychic sensitivity is lacking?  A connection that transcends just doing?

Being very psychic seems terrible.  Really, who actually wants to know the future?  For me, a sign of a bad game is one in which it’s easy to work out who is going to win long before the game ends.  Magic has this problem (much of the time).  As great as it is in so many ways, it falls down as a game because it’s not fluid enough often enough.

So, what about a little bit psychic?  How many times have you seen someone playing the Bene Gesserit in the Dune boardgame (probably more than one but gamers probably have an idea which I’m referring to) predict the winner?  For me, every single time.  But, then, I had logic behind my guess.

Does having special insight into what’s going to go on have any benefit?  If you aren’t consistently psychic than you probably don’t know when you are being psychic which means you can’t be sure of outcomes.  Is the game of seeing whether the game turns out the way you expect a fun one?

Which is more valid:  The horror RPG philosophy that it’s better to know the truth even if the truth is awful?  Or, ignorance is bliss-ish?

One may wonder why I’m rambling on about psychic ability.  The connection with Pisces is obvious, but why does it matter?  From a game player’s standpoint, there’s a question as to how much you want to be able to predict outcomes seeing as how playing games is kind of/sort of supposed to be recreational, though I suppose there are quite a few out there who care far more about the results than people such as myself.  Is it ironic that I don’t get the sense that those people who care about results predict results or is it appropriate that the doing and the thinking are two different ways to approach games?

Then, on a very separate note, from a character standpoint, because how can I not talk about RPGs in one of my astrology posts, what does it really mean to be psychic, i.e. what are the implications for different levels of psychic awareness?  Frequently, in entertainment, there are extremes – either it’s wonderful to be able to pick winning lottery numbers or it’s horrible to know the terrible ways people will die.  Many RPGs have some sort of (vague) mechanic for prophetic dreams/insights.  L5R and Conan both have Divination, in the former as a skill, in the latter as a sorcery style.  How does a GM handle these abilities?  Does it benefit the player (not the character) to have these abilities?  I usually see people, myself included, eschew these abilities, though, I did enjoy the Serenade in Immortal: The Invisible War that allowed one to see the future.  So, maybe being psychic gets a bad rap.

And, so I come to the end of my series.  I predict not starting up Zodiac II any time soon.  As much as anything can inspire ideas, forced inspiration isn’t all that inspiring.


Pisces I – Zodiac I

March 30, 2010

Late as usual, but I get to the end of the series, finally.

Pisces
“I believe”
positive qualities:  humility, compassion, sensitivity, spiritual awareness, psychic comprehension, philosophic insight, healing potential
negative:  timidity, apprehension, masochism, idleness, lying, weakness of will
– Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”

Masochism & Idleness …

Or, more accurately, masochism or idleness.  One or the other seems to be where I go with deckbuilding these days.  When I generate the energy to build decks, I seem to end up with exercises in masochism while on some bizarre search for something different.

Pisces is the last sign of the Zodiac, the symbolic old soul who has been through all of the other signs.  I don’t know that that quite applies to me when it comes to deckbuilding – there are plenty of concepts and metaconcepts I haven’t tried.  But, the driver behind so much of what I do is to see something different.  Well, there’s also trying to be humorous, but telling the same joke over and over doesn’t exactly produce much of a payoff.

Timidity, apprehension, lying – too timid to really do different things, too apprehensive about the possibility of finding nothing there, lying about the idea that doing something different would be any less fun than masochistically trying the same old, same old or not trying at all.

Well, anyway, what do you do when you always want to do something different?  No, that’s not quite right.  What do you do when you want to do something different from what you’ve done recently?  Is that right?

I look back with fondness on what I did long ago.  Is there a point to revisiting old ideas?  Would an updated “I block crosstable superior Night Moves” deck really be all that compelling?  How compelling is revisiting vampires from Jyhad?  Library cards from that set that I’ve hardly considered in the last 8 or so years?

I played a new deck recently that was an all Jyhad library and it was far more interesting than most of my recent decks.  But, it falls into the same masochism trap when played in my usual environment.  I’ve been thinking about how little I’ve used the traditions in forever.  In particular, why not 1st, 3rd, 5th?  There’s always revisiting group 1 vampires, but eh, not a lot changes for them.

What of Dark Sovereigns and Ancient Hearts?  Why not Vial of Elder Vitae?  So many more disciplines to fiddle around with.

When’s the last time I built a Dauntain, The Black Magician deck?  Actually, I don’t think I ever built a deck around the card.  I have Mind Rapes – why be so timid about playing with them?  Sure, I have *a* Shotgun Ritual in a deck, but why not more?  With Eldritch Glimmers?

Free States Rant is reasonable for a new Trujah deck.

Improvised Flamethrower … oh, that was an Imbued idea.

Aren’t I the one who keeps saying Baltimore Purge is underplayed?

When’s the last time I did anything with Black Hand?  Was it really that 4cl Tzimisce bleed deck?  Surely, finally getting around to some sort of Thuggee deck can’t be that bad.

So, I built that Camarilla PRE deck when Gehenna came out.  What happened to trying some other Gehenna-y crypts?  What’s keeping me from pulling the cards for that Una deck I wrote out last(?) year?

I think it was Kindred Most Wanted when I really started losing enthusiasm for novel ideas.  Trophies never did it for me.  Good stuff was too good.  Bad stuff was too bad.

The Tupdog set …

The …

I keep thinking of doing 3rd only decks since, then, all of the cards will be marked and all of the backs will go the same direction.  And, there are those cards I haven’t really examined, too.

Dum de dum dum.  Black Hand.

Sheepdog, Zurich, hello cards I’ve done nothing with (well, with Zurich, in constructed play).

There was something about Twilight Rebellion, but I don’t recall what it was.

Must kill retainers.

Why is it so hard to build a Tunnel Runner deck?  Just because it’s strictly better than Ananasi Vampirephile?  Just because Akunanse are so dull?

Everything old is new again.  Except for maybe my stretching out a simple concept – that astrology makes for easy personalities for RPG characters – into a year long series of posts that actually don’t have a whole lot to do with the theme.


March 6th, D[r]aft

March 7, 2010

So, we did something of a postrelease event for Heirs to the Blood by doing an Elder Draft where nearly 90% of the boosters were Httb.

I was confused, thinking that we would Rochester draft the vampires, but that’s another format.  One I think is worthwhile and that I’ve done a couple of times but not pertinent to yesterday.

Anyway, I’m less concerned with the mechanics and results and more with the lessons learned.

#1

Draft pods of 4 are too small.  Maybe 5 is too small, too.  But, you just see too few cards.  That might be okay with another game, but this game has so many different clans and disciplines that you want to see a lot of variety of cards.  I think I realized this in the past and forgot it.  We had 13 players, so we could have done 6 and 7.

#2

If you see every pack, realize when you are not going to get what you want.  As soon as I saw the fourth pack, I should have switched drafting strategies both with the vampires and, later, with the library cards.

#3

Think more about vampires.  One of my big areas of weakness is that I don’t really think about what vampires are viable when drafting particular sets.  I knew pool gain was easy and offense was slight, so I should have thought more strongly about fatties and Baali.  I actually had The unnamed but didn’t draft library cards to go with it.  With other sets, I don’t go weenie as much as I should.

#4

Envision how the games will go.  I thought I had a reasonable crypt of 4 vampires with varying capacities to use Tend the Flock, only to discover that my bleed reduction and pool gain meant I always wanted a fifth crypt member.  I tended to have plenty of pool but not enough force to push through players or enough blood.

#5

Don’t fixate on a strategy.  My plan was to force !Salubri for the bleed reduction off of Auspex outferiors and for the combat ends of Valeren to counter other people drafting heavy combat.  That might have worked better with larger pods as I might have gotten at least one Tinglestripe or something that might hurt someone.  Much like I overly focused in the vampire draft, I should have switched out when I wasn’t seeing enough Valeren and no Tinglestripes, nevermind that I should have read Hide the Heart more carefully and picked it higher when I actually saw one.

Sticking to a strategy doesn’t tend to be a problem with V:TES because people who don’t know how to draft or who are rare drafting will pass you absurdly good cards, e.g. On the Qui Vive, Off Kilter multiple times (including being the final card in a pack), Public Trust (in a low offense environment), Tend the Flock.  It’s not like Magic where fighting over something is clear and costs valuable picks.  But, the real problem with my drafting was when I wasn’t seeing Tinglestripe – having no bleed, no vote (not that voting was all that plausible), and no combat meant no way to overcome someone.

#6

20 card libraries are tiny.  One third of your deck is in your opening hand.  I should have managed my card plays better to my deck size.  While I don’t mind one recursion, I actually like bigger limited decks because I’m more used to conserving resources and playing to single copies of cards.  I probably should have played a larger deck since I had a number of about equally marginal “20th” cards.  I didn’t have any particular power play I was going for and I had two searching masters.

#7

Grasp the rules better.  I forgot we weren’t contesting vampires owned by other players.  That likely cost me my first round game when I didn’t bring out my fourth vampire until I wanted to contest.  While it’s not a problem understanding the rules, I forgot to recurse one turn, which screwed me up for the next turn.

#8

Think about card combos more.  There was one game where I had As the Crow and Off Kilter in my opening hand and didn’t play As the Crow after bleeding my minionless prey.  I made other dumb mistakes like that with not playing my cards in productive combinations.  I tend to think of cards too much in isolation, which is reflected in my deckbuilding practices where my plays are often 1 or 2 card combos rather than the long strings that other players seem to enjoy.

#9

Draft cool stuff.  Because I used to actually be good at limited play, I feel like I should uphold some sort of standard.  But, the reality is that I tend to find limited play rather dull and the number of events I’ll play will be few.  Having seen HttB in bulk in action, I would have done things quite differently, but I don’t foresee us doing another limited event any time soon and certainly not with so much HttB, so I might as well have taken the Maleficia/Striga risk since I saw so many of those cards passed rather than the boring “please don’t oust me” strategy I went with.


Reading of the Will

March 7, 2010

So many things that can be looked at with a new set, let’s start with which bloodlines are winners and losers out of Heirs to the Blood.

Abominations

Losers.  But, then, they are always losers – the TWDA may recognize a deck with just five plus copies of a single vampire as a deck of that clan, but I don’t.

Ahrimanes

Referring back to this post for all of the bloodlines – https://iclee.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/inheritance/ – let’s see what happened.  Got stealth, got intercept – two wasted cards that could have been something interesting and provide some additional functionality to the clan.  Charge of the Buffalo is just awful, New Moon Sigil has uses but doesn’t justify The Path of Harmony, and Spirit Claws is effort overkill.

I’m confused by why Visionquest has a drawback when it should have an advantage, like being a +3 stealth action or something.  I’m all for leveling up bloodline disciplines, but I don’t understand why it’s so often so inefficient.  The Path of Harmony does make sense for an evasive Ahrimanes deck; how many people out there do the evasive Ahrimanes archetype?  Blessing of the Beast, besides having artwork I like (a rarity with this game, but there are a number of cards in this set), has a game effect with serious potential.  Yet, how often does Mokole Blood, a better card since it can search or recurse cards, see play?

Sahana furthers the idea that group 4 is about Ani/Spi and Darlene even fits that build out of group 5.  From that standpoint, I guess she rises above filler, though Darlene is questionable help depending upon how often you see Scourge of the Enochians in your metagame.  Nor does Darlene help group 6 much presently as it looks like 6 is going back to being more of a Pre/Spi group.  I really don’t understand Spirit Claws when group 2 is the only group with more than one member with Protean.  Could have been an Ani/Pre, Ani/Spi, Pre/Spi, or any of a number of other possibilities instead.

No non-unique ally, but then, I don’t expect cards to be made that fulfill my idea of CCG logic.

Two questions:  Will the Ahrimanes win more because of the set?  Will they be more interesting?  I don’t see significant impact in either.  Losers.

Baali

Oh my.  To rant or not to rant?  That is the question.  If there were like a dozen fewer disciplines and clans in the game and if infernal was a more widespread trait and if infernal wasn’t such a drawback, I might find the idea of introducing two new, non-discipline disciplines to an already overly complex game to be expanding it rather than convoluting it.  If this sort of thing had been done maybe four or more years ago, I’d go off on how insipid it is to create overly narrow mechanics that only serve to take the game down a limited path.

Instead, I find the effects, even if they are rather similar to Daimoinon, for Maleficia to be amusing.  Striga, I don’t so much get.  Yes, I’ve played blocky infernal decks (yes, multiple ones).  While intercept combat is a robust archetype, there’s something odd about making it more challenging with infernality.

I’m no Baali lover, there must be quite a few out there considering how often the Baali get love, maybe there’s just some sort of infernal contract at work with White Wolf/CCP, but I like them more than most(?) other clans.  Daimoinon gets some interesting stuff.  There are those who care about I Am Legion, a card I consider something that just breaks you even.  I care way more about Infernal Servitor, not just because I like me my allies, but because I envision some swingy plays with immediate 3 bleeders and they don’t hurt that much at 1 pool.

Looking back at what I hoped for, I don’t see the combat defense, just more combat offense.  You would think combat defense of the non-strike kind would be a bit easier to find in the game after all of these years as it’s generally pretty weak.  While there’s pool gain, it’s coming at the cost of blood, where I was looking for more blood gain that could be used for combat or for converting into pool to offset infernality.

Tend the Flock does quite significantly by all appearances address the pool problems that come with general Baali decks (rather than combo decks).  Veneficti is, of all things, prima facie, hard for me to believe, undercosted.  I have unbad feelings towards both cards.  Shatter the Gate is for those people who care more about living the dream, which is fine.

I do like what was done with the vampires.  Presence and voting leads to pool gain.  Condemnation: Mute doesn’t annoy me like other permanent, “screw with vampires” cards (like the other Condemnations).  Synergy.  Variety.  The Protean angle with group 6 means access to Flesh of Marble to go with all of the combat options.  I play cards like The Horde.

Do they win more?  Eh, possibly just based on increased play, though there are so many toys here that they probably should win more.  Do they get more interesting?  Hell, yeah.  Winners.

Blood Brothers

The Protean circle.  This helps how?  Sure, Protean has stealth and intercept and combat ends and other.  But, what problem specific to the BB does it solve?  BB are easy to oust.  Protean doesn’t help that.  Meanwhile, the new circle is essentially missing two of its clan disciplines.  Pro/San for the win?  Let’s say that’s better than San/(clan disciplines).  How many variations are there on it?  BB badly need diversity of options, not just one more option.

The Sanguinus cards strike me as more of the same.  More of the same isn’t necessarily bad from a competitive standpoint, but I’m not seeing the vast weaknesses of the clan being addressed.  An additional problem I see is that doing productive things becomes too card intensive.  Sure, you can Unwholesome Bond engine into Hive Mind and/or Slake the Thirst off of an inferior UB, while Clockwerxing your Kevlar Vest or whatever around, but it strikes me as playing lots of cards to achieve little that is any better than what was already possible.  Either you can take actions to get blood counters fast enough to survive or you can’t.

Thicker Than Blood is interesting in concept.  Acceleration is always good with engines.  But, is this really any better than an Effective Management or an Information Highway?  The timing on it is rough where those two cards are always going to help.  With the right draw, I see it being saucy.  I’m not so sure with a less exciting draw.  It might move the clan away from uncontrolled blood to a controlled region blood engine.

I see incremental gains when something more was needed, and I don’t see them being any less tedious after everyone does their Protean deck.  Losers.

Daughters of Cacophony

Starting with clan cards, I’m most interested in Member of the Entourage as it addresses the need for Tourette’s Voice to be more playable.  Benefit Performance strikes me as unnecessary – Con Boon is just better.  Command Performance is okay.  There are a variety of things a DoC deck might want to do in one turn.  I’m just not enamored with cards like this for clans that already can Freak.  I have no greater appreciation of Harmony than I did on October 25th.

Fanfare for Elysium and Shattering Crescendo interest me.  Lily Prelude just depresses me.  I’m really surprised at how big the effects are on SC and LP.  In the former case, it’s justified as creating a weak, new effect wouldn’t get someone that excited to try new decks.  In the latter case, I’m already getting tired of voting.  It’s just too swingy and voting is really far less interactive than other aspects of the game for all that it seemed to be something that was intended to be more interactive – the proliferation of clans with few to no titles made it less likely to have casual titles than in the all Camarilla days.  Virtuosa can be added to the list of various “you can’t touch this [action]” cards, though it does synergize better since Voter Cap can recoup the cost.

Cryptwise, Scout is sexy.  The increased use of decent looking backgrounds is a big plus, artworkwise.  The only DoC with permanent votes out of the gate.  Size to get more out of Concert Tour and the goofy Melpominee, “younger” cards.  I’m not terribly fond of Evil [Jensen].  Filler.  Hillanvale expands the DoC with Obfuscate motif, though evasion was never a problem I had with DoC.  Hidden Lurker + Death of the Drum … still no competitive reason to play Death of the Drum.

Winners.  Powerful cards weren’t really things I was looking for, I was hoping more for some sort of combatty strategy to emerge, but maybe those people who play boring crap like Ventrue might get pulled away, and who knows what chaos Shattering Crescendo might cause.

Gargoyles

Voices of the Castle offers something valuable to fill a need.  I can’t say as much about the other cards.  As the Crow will often be better than Freak Drive, which suggests some goodness.  Dive Bomb just feeds the idea of rushing, which just makes for bad decks.

Some of the cards are just amazingly bad and/or require playing master/slave decks, which might be what is intended with Gargoyles but has the established problem of really playing two different decks at once.  The Path of Service, I see, for instance, being pretty much just worth the slots when doing a Create Gargoyle horde.

Grotesque is awful.  As for the rest, it’s interesting, now that we have more !Trem slaves, to see a !Gangrel style problem arise.  Slaves get split between two clans.  While both of the clans have the same disciplines, it’s still complicating things.  I’d like to see more free Gargoyles since slavery doesn’t interest me.  But, the greater problem is always likely to be just how badass Tupdogs are when it comes to doing things to make Gargoyles more productive.

As it’s mostly more of the same and the good stuff is slight, losers.

Harbingers of Skulls

Pretty sad clan cards.  Din of the Damned is evasion not available to Giovanni, though whether that helps address the HoS lack of offense problem is hard to say.  I do like the idea of rebuilding an exploding Skull deck and using Blessed Resilience to supplement Possession.

Nicodemes is underpowered.  Mordechai’s Animalism doesn’t synergize with the rest of the clan.  Obfuscate addresses a HoS problem and all of the 5/6 can bounce, a huge weakness of 2/3.

In general, I see more of a push towards Force of Will decks but not a whole lot actually going on.  There’s just so little new for these guys.  Losers.

Kiasyd

Group 4 got a lot of help with Isanwayen’s efficiency.  The Arcadian is solid (kind of gross in our recent draft, but then, offense was highly prized and intercept and bounce were scarce) and Wider View reduces the awesomeness of playing with group 3 for Tupdog.

The clan cards don’t do much for me.  Great Symposium is a staple play, of course.  Draeven has synergy with combatty decks, even Tinglestripe.  Ravager is a waste of a master slot.

Mytherceria gets playable stuff, as usual; actually, nothing unplayable which is impressive.  Still not really enough to want to have Myt cost reduction, but at least there’s some possible benefit to having that special addressing one of my hopes.  Gremlins increases flexibility even more.  How to abuse Scarlet Lore? 

A clan with Dominate and stealth doesn’t need help, it needs variety.  I see a decent amount of variety.  Winners.

Nagaraja

Wow, the vampires are bad.  Of course, the intent isn’t to play Nagaraja decks, so each dork missing two clan disciplines is only really relevant to how they filler in weenie decks.  Jozz still ends up being a coaster until the day when weenie Nec rises again.  Anu is strong, of course, but that’s so boring.  Can’t wait until the Cel/Nec combo has a reason to be played and Asguresh finds a home.

Ritual Scalpel, yawn.  Losers.

Salubri

Where are the allies?!?  That’s all Timmy wanted for Christmas.

Oh look, evasion.

All of the group 6 vampires are studly, but then, Salubri tend to get studs and studesses.  Can play four Salubri together.

As little as there is, with great help from the vampires, winners.

Salubri antitribu

Combat ends for the win!  Expensive combat ends, but … there’s a path.  And, now, there’s Code of Samiel, too.  One of the bloodlines that it makes a lot of sense to have a “hunting ground” for.

I asked for vampires with disciplines and they appeared.  Kind of liked the Laibon angle that group 4 could work with, but whatever.

New stuff that opens up possibilities and helps, viable vampires, winners.

Samedi

While I wouldn’t say the library cards did anything crazy, amazingly, there’s no unplayable card for a change and there’s some interesting things going on.

Morlock has an unfortunate group number, in that it would have been better to just write off group 4 as useless and put him in 5 or 6, well, 6 to get away from Toy.  I’m curious as to what Angel will be capable of when 6 fills out.  I’m pretty sure most folks have little idea just how good the group 2 crypt is (relative to what it could be, little to nothing is as bad as the Legacies of Blood Samedi collectively); it’s pretty sad that the standard can’t be maintained for this clan that is saddled with four disciplines, none of which are Auspex, Dominate, or Presence.

While there are some interesting things going on, how is Off Kilter better than Little Mountain Cemetery, how does Groaning Corpse change the combat equation meaningfully, why is it necessary to give a clan with Obfuscate a stealth card?  I don’t hate what was done with this set, again, it’s stunning that there aren’t cards as bad as Putrefaction and Rigor Mortis, though Olid Loa is not far, but where are the difference makers to move away from overly focused Reanimated Corpse and/or Little Mountain Cemetery decks?  Losers.

True Brujah

Winners.

Why is that easy?  As little as there is, that little includes stealth, a crazy search *and play* card, and perfectly reasonable vampires.  I didn’t realize just how good Shalmath was until yesterday’s draft saw his player win off of his annoying as hell special’s back.

No, there’s still no free or 1 blood cost bounce card for these dudes, but bloat was always an option, one made much better by casual stealth to go with whatever other evasion was already out there.

Will they win a tournament (rather than five copies of Synesios winning a tournament)?  Maybe they (and not just some five copy Shalmath deck) will.

Cause Be

Don’t expect to be bored … at least for a while.