Standing In Line

June 30, 2010

Such a long time between posts … due to a rather convenient problem – gaming too much to spend time analyzing gaming.

Battle Lines

It’s the last day of possible events, but really, they likely were all done over the weekend.  Having played in four of them, I have some thoughts.  Being an analyst, aka critic, aka negative nabob, I’ll start with my biggest criticisms.

#1  Lilith’s Blessing

I’m so totally in favor of Lilith that if the mechanics were the other way around I’d still be Bahari.  Yet, either way, it’s not even so much the massive disparity in the usefulness of LB vs. G&M, but just how annoying LB makes games.  The amount of bloat in the format was out of control.  Any deck with any sort of pool defense or other bloat was virtually impossible to oust.  I frustrated one predator in a game where I basically had no chance of ousting my prey because of his bloat by gaining “50” pool. 

Well, what about combat to counteract bloat?  Well, what do we know about the efficacy of combat?

The first stage metagame answer was a swath of Suddens and Washes.  I played a deck with 7 of the former and 1 of the latter (and Ashur Tablets) and couldn’t stop prey from gaining pool to the point of inoustability.

It is, of course, a feature of our meta that ousting is less common than most places in the world, so the effect is more sensitive ’round here, but in minimal paying attention to what others encountered, I found similar issues elsewhere.

#2  Tupdogs

Speaking of combat.  All evidence suggests that I play Tupdogs in decks more than most other playgroups combined, even considering that I don’t actually play Tupdog decks.  I’m not bitter because one of the events saw a Tupdog deck make every game pointless.  Tupdogs begin life broken.  Why make them more broken?  Or, put another way, why force people to metagame against something unfun and something easily played in a non-storyline environment?  Sure, fine, remove negative traits of the slave rule, but be cognizant that there are Gargoyles and then there are Tupdogs.

#3  How I Won With Dominate And Stealth

This is not a rant against Kiasyd.  I actually always liked Kiasyd, more so in the RPG where the real Kiasyd didn’t have Dominate.  It’s a criticism of the banal.  Different players have different interests, and you can’t legislate fun.  Yet, it’s always the warped metagames of the storylines that manage to elicit some smidgen of enthusiasm from me.  Why play something you can play in a non-storyline environment?

Nor am I ranting about stealth bleed.  On mostly a tangent, I am amazed at how much hate there is for stealth bleed.  I actually like playing games when I play games, even if they are short.  Stealth bleed allows that where the rush decks and wall decks of the world must inherently prevent people from playing.

I guess I’m ranting about making the meta far less interesting than it should be.  This is a theme with all of these criticisms – the metagame was blown apart but coalesced too much around “can I deal with Tupdogs?”, “oh, right, Tinker Bell is part of this magical world”, “so, gain another 8 pool?”, etc.

Anyway, win with Kiasyd?  Sure, whatever.  But, let’s do something different.  Kiasyd Dauntain Black Magician bleed/rush should be all the rage, right?


#1  Something Different

Every deck at the table is a bloodlines deck.  People who may have never played a bloodline, certainly haven’t played them to any significant degree, all of the sudden playing an interesting deck.  Far better than any of the other storylines, this storyline forced variation.

#2  Brilliance Is The Absence Of Insipidiosity

We have the grouping rule, long live the grouping rule – don’t care enough to care.  Scarce is already defined by the grouping rule, what exactly is gained by making the game less fun?

Oh, look, that Horde deck works pretty darn respectably.  Eh.  Oh, look, that Great Beast deck can be even more pool-wise.  Eh.  Oh, look, someone might actually play midcap Baali.  Holy … er … Unholy Moley.  Not that I was going to ever play Baali when there was, like, scarce clans to play, but it’s the principle of the thang.

It’s sad that I only played in four events.  I never got around to a Gargoyle deck, you know, with slaves who don’t pay one less for Visceratika cards.

#3  …

There really should be a number three, but I think 1 and 2 pretty well cover the best things about the event.  Maybe 3 can be that the game is still in good enough shape to even have such an event.


June 14, 2010

Childling Muse, Retainer, 1 pool, Malkavian
Changeling with 1 life. The minion with this retainer gets +1 bleed.

What do I care about?  Being a-muse-d.  What a-muse-s me?  Irony, things that people call irony that aren’t – see . 

Bah, while those sorts of things might act as my muse, so does anything I can rant about.  And, so, this time’s muse is that most una-muse-ing muse, the Childling Muse.

Mechanically, this card is junk beyond junk.  Better to come back to mechanics later.

CCGs aren’t just about mechanics.  No game is just about mechanics.  A lot of quite popular games, from family games to CCGs, have terrible mechanics and thrive. 

I could talk about the art on this card, but really, I don’t feel strongly about it.  I, actually, don’t want to talk too much about the card, anyway, since it’s not the card that matters but what the card represents.

What does the card represent?  That bad cards need to exist?  That it’s okay to design bad cards?  That flavor trumps mechanics?  That it serves a purpose?  That it serves no purpose?

Bad cards will always exist because there’s no way to achieve perfect card balance even if that was a goal, which should not be a goal.  On the other hand, my complaint against bad cards is not that they shouldn’t exist but, rather, that every effort should be made into not knowingly making bad cards.  When knowingly making bad cards, rather than having some imbalance, you get gross imbalance.  And, you end up with cards that serve so little purpose that they will virtually never see play, a crime when you consider that it isn’t terribly difficult to make cards that serve some purpose.  Also, bad cards should not always be bad.  One of the goals of any new set should be to shift the metagame so that some good cards aren’t good anymore and some bad cards aren’t bad anymore.  If I had to point to the biggest failing of V:TES beyond lack of comprehendability, it would be how little the metagame shifts at the top from new card influxes.  Malk94, seriously?

V:TES’s attempts to capture flavor often leave me cold, not cold in a good, walking dead kind of way, but in a “have you actually thought about this effect’s place in the game?” way.  See, the thing about top down card design is that you still want mechanics to work.  If you don’t have a good idea of how to do something, you don’t need to do it.  Magic’s lead designer, Mark Rosewater, comments all of the time about how a card design will be cut from a set to be used later, when it fits better.  There are no shortages of ideas for that game.  Are there shortages of ideas for this?

The flavor here is okay.  I thought about what else a Childling Muse would benefit a vampire with.  Hand size increase would make sense, but since I don’t care about hand size, it’s not like that would have been stimulating.  Looking at cards – someone’s hand, someone’s library – would make sense.  I could envision the card saying:  The minion with this retainer looks at a random card from each opponent’s hand.

There is an uptick in changelings in the game.  But, changeling retainers don’t benefit from any of the changeling mechanics.  So, why changeling retainers?  Why not more allies?  Malkavians have been around since 1994.  Without looking, would you know that the clan has only one ally?

Would I find it interesting to have Childling Muse be a 1 pool ally with 1 bleed, 0 strength, 1 life, whenever a minion you control successfully bleeds, you may discard a card at random?  Or, some such?  Maybe, nah, too broken.

Anyway, purpose.  What purpose does the card serve?  Is it a skill tester?  The idea of skill testers is often one I think people don’t use correctly.  Skill testers are really more for limited play.  What do I mean by a skill tester?  A card that you shouldn’t play even if it can provide a useful effect.  Is it cool in its awfulness?  I find it notable only for how awful it is, which is not exactly cool.  “But,” says the designer, “there are people out there who like bad cards, like, um, the person writing this blog post.”  While that’s true, because of the inherent complexity of CCGs and the shifting card pools, there are always plenty of bad cards to choose from.  And, a bad card with no interesting features is an … uninteresting card.

What is the argument for this card serving no purpose?  Well, it gives bleed to the best bleed clan in the history of the game.  In and of itself, that’s not the end of the world.  Costing an action and a pool is the end of this card’s usefulness.  Oh, I can Heidelberg this!  Sure, and I can Heidelberg J.S., Tasha, Robert Carter, Camera Phone, Laptop.  Stackable!  Okay, I can take the best bleed clan in the game and take multiple actions and lose multiple pool so that I can stack these so that I can Heidelberg them around.  Or, I could play other cards.  I can lose pool to play Parity Shifts!  Lose it faster with AK-47s.  I can pretend my deck sucks as I Govern/Conditioning or Kindred Spirits/Eyes of Chaos out my prey!  Consanguineous Condemnation is way better for these sorts of bluffing plays – easier to cycle.  I can build that all changeling, all of the time deck!  Um, yeah, point.

Why do I think the card got made?  Needed a Malk clan card, needed an uncommon, had inspiration from something in the RPG.  Bad cards typically get very little playtesting, so no strong argument was made that the card serves no purpose.  Or, alternatively, the card sucked less and got nerfed at some point, which happens far too often.  Unfortunately, rather than producing something interesting, we get just another card that is quite ignorable.

What would I like to see changed?  I’d like to see at least 10% of the design and development thought that goes into Magic applied to other CCGs.  I’d like to see vastly better playtesting which, in my experience, requires far better guidance and leadership.  I’d like to see more allies in the game for clans that are ally deficient since that tends to be better than more other stuff the clans get that they don’t have use for.  I do like that the effect is straightforward and not a mess of text, but I’d rather see straightforward effects that add variety to the game.  Not going to do it with a card with this title, but a rare retainer that gave an optional press each combat would have been far more interesting (would have to cost no pool to even be considered).

I’d like to make better use of this post’s title by talking about Una, but other than Una ally decks, I’m not all that muse-d by Una.  I should take more looks at Gehenna’s cards, though, especially the crypt cards.