Feature or Flaw?

#1 Booster Deck

I just opened 15 boosters of Third Edition V:TES to see what sort of deck I could build. As a limited deck, it’s fine, better than most draft decks using 8 or so boosters (a lesson?). But, it’s not remotely competitive, and there’s no real way to make a competitive deck using any sort of plausible number of boosters from the set. It’s only really with precons that someone these days could make any sort of normal deck through buying a modest amount of cards.

Feature or flaw?

Forcing people to buy starters has a couple of problems. The first is simply that margins are better on boosters, so if given a choice, want to sell boosters. Second is that preconstructed starters lack the gambling element of boosters and, while boosters are often disappointing, starters foist cards on you you will know you won’t want. It’s not sexy to crack a starter beyond a certain point, which may be the first.

V:TES is hardly the only CCG with this problem. I could never build a real L5R deck as I never had a non-promo stronghold. Babylon 5 and Wheel of Time needed starting characters and were heavily allegiance based. With a box of Magic or Ultimate Combat!, I think I could build a constructed deck, though certainly not a tournament deck for the former. But, even though it’s not really likely that V:TES precons won’t become available, there is the question as to what people would do if sufficient quantities of precons with particular cards ceased being available.

If a feature, the argument would be that it’s normal in the CCG world. If a flaw, the argument would be that there should be a better model where people can get into a game without buying multiple parts.

But, is there really any model for a game like V:TES with 30+ clans and 30+ disciplines where you wouldn’t need to buy a number of parts? It worked to the extent that if you bought several boxes of boosters when the game was Jyhad, where starters were random and enough boosters produced enough Blood Dolls and Wakes eventually, but that was a 7 clan, 10 discipline world. Okay, several boxes to get enough staples to build one deck is not what I’m envisioning as working.

#2 Fourth Edition “Pithiness”

Here, there’s a more direct comparison between. It’s very, very noticeable how much less descriptive 4e Legend of the Five Rings RPG is in comparison to 3e. The book is just dry. It’s not especially crunchy – there are still disadvantages that don’t have any mechanics, e.g. Fascination. And, yes, removing a lot of complexity with things like kata made sense when the weirder something works the more likely it can be abused. But, given that I’ve experienced 3e, going to 4e is like picking up a RPG out of the 70’s or some ripoff of D&D or … D&D. The kata section may be the worst, where before clans had their own kata and they did interesting things. Now, it’s just generic kata with simple effects and no actual descriptions of the various kata. Advantages and disadvantages are explained in less verbiage.

I feel like the desire to fix balance problems in 3e were so overwhelming that the game was mechanized, with simpler mechanics, to enable playtesters to balance the game. “L5R Your Way” – the philosophy of 4e also lends itself to a lot of (dry) options that take the place of institutionalized, quirky mechanics that were often desirable in 3e. It’s easy enough to use the 4e Honor Roll mechanics, and the distinction in 3e between Tests of Honor and Honor Rolls was pretty awkward. But, Honor just seems so dull, now, with so much focus on Intimidation and Temptation where I’ve never found either to matter in my L5R play.

Then, wow, the changes in dueling from an often exciting build toward a climax to “roll 3 times” and “oh, look, you both hit at the same time” is Blah. Or, take how weapons now have no special abilities. Or, how equipment no longer has quality levels. Or, how much less interesting skill mastery is than 3e, which, by the way, I think is a step backwards in terms of game balance as characters are likely to just go for the “3 [points] for 3 [insight]” skill ranks and Heavy Weapons or Kenjutsu 7 for the massive damage increase, having little reason to hit rank 5 in side skills since there’s no general insight bonus and no free raise. I’d certainly much rather have interesting things going on with these written into the game rather than the absurd Spider Clan written into the game.

Feature or flaw?

There’s never a perfect world. Sacrifices in flavor helped tighten up a lot of broken/vague mechanics and meant more room for additional mechanics. (Though, the 3e book is just smaller to begin with by a lot.)

Does 4e’s lack of flavor get a pass because every edition was benefited from the history of products in earlier versions or does it docked more because it didn’t need to give up a bunch of the flavor of 3e?

I’m quite curious to see how 4e is supplemented. I’m hoping the supplements make things more interesting and less “+1k0”. Not to say I’m hoping they unbalance a game that they worked so hard to balance, but I’m looking for quirkier things to do.

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One Response to Feature or Flaw?

  1. Andy says:

    Well the first supplement for 4e is already out, “Enemies of the Empire”, I think they have a copy at ye olde Games Fortress.

    While I don’t have the background you do in L5R I’ll agree that some things in this edition are oddly simplified, notably dueling. Its odd to have an activity that could be so central to the game be so uninspired. I still need to read the book some more and find figure out what is my best default strategy in most situations (Stance, spells, when to spend void points etc).

    I know what you mean about D&D though, my one experience was rather bland. It felt like someone had gone to great lengths to translate a computer game to and RPG.

    I’m also still a little lost on the cosmology for Rokugan, then again I’ve rarely been good with eastern religions.

    See you tomorrow.

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