End of Time

November 28, 2010

So, I don’t speak much of boardgames even though I do play them on occasion.  I went to a get together Saturday where I failed to complete a single game.

Vinci

We started a game of Vinci, four players. I think I had played it before a long time ago and had a vague idea what it was about. For such a simple game mechanically, we had a lot of questions. We called the game when the other group was done playing something (11 people total for the event) both to mix people up and because one of my friends just didn’t find it interesting, feeling that it had too little going on.

Actually, I just think the game is too subtle for his interest with the game mostly being about planning what to do when you go into decline. That combat never hurts the attacker actually is pleasantly different from the wargames and warboardgames I’ve played where attacks often go horrendously for attackers to where the player is discouraged even if the position isn’t untenable.

I would have been fine playing more, especially with how my second game went. I’m fairly sure I have a strong interest in seeing games to completion, even if only to better understand endgames.

Through The Ages

Today, I looked at its boardgamegeek.com ranking – #4. I’m somewhat surprised, though I think people on BGG suffer from short term memory far too often as newer games get ranked way higher than they should be.

The reason I’m surprised is that I think it’s an awful game. Now, one 5.5 hour learning game called 1.5 hours or so before it would have ended if played out is hardly a depth of experience. I’m sure the game is far more interesting to people who know what the cards do. I’ve read some of the forum threads on it to see if there was something major I was missing. Neither that nor our postmortem on the game leads me to think that it’s a desirable game to play for people of my ilk or for my usual boardgaming crowd.

Why awful? Let’s start with things that others complain about that don’t bother me or bother me trivially.

1. Duration, length of turns – I can be mightily drained by long games and there’s a fundamental problem with games where you can be disenfranchised early that last longer than a couple of hours, but I wasn’t bothered by people (four players, one who knew how to play, one who had some familiarity) taking 5+ minutes since we were learning. For one thing, the game is incredibly nonintuitive in core mechanics.

2. Atrocious rulebook – I don’t really learn games from rulebooks. While it would be nice to be able to find answers to questions, especially for a game with this many parts, I assume people will figure things out with the help of online resources eventually.

Moving on to what does bother me:

1. Complexity, nonintuitiveness – I’m not, in general, a fan of complexity in boardgames. As a CCGer, I can hardly argue against complexity per se. But, CCGs are inherently inelegant and prone to high levels of complexity followed by increasing complexity as more mechanics and cards get added. Boardgames can afford to be more elegant. Actually, the complexity in TTA is not that high, it’s that it’s nonintuitive. How population becomes workers becomes things, by itself, is fine. How resources move back and forth to supply, by itself, is fine. Together, they are awkward (nevermind “happy”), something that we newbs had a hard time managing quickly several hours into the game. Of course, there are many other things going on. That some cards can be played right away and some not, that some actions take one type of action versus another, that there are a number of tracks with actual VPs being disengaged from a lot of what else is going on, that certain cards go away at certain times, etc. are the sort of features I’m talking about. While not unintuitive, the number of cards that you need to know adds dramatically to the complexity for people new to the game. I had absolutely no idea that Napoleon + Air Force + big Tactics card was an important thing to be concerned by. Of course, I didn’t learn that military strength variance gets absurd until late in the game.

2. Variance – Talking both about card strength variance and military strength variance. I have a tendency to ignore military strength in any game where building it is an option (rather than being the primary element of the game, or whatever). Early in the game, military strengths were similar and I knew I was behind in production (due to newb mistakes), so I didn’t bother. Then, others got so far ahead, I continued to not bother. While an apparent problem with the game is that it encourages picking on the weak rather than dragging down leaders, that’s a different issue; we called the game when one person could generate 81 military to someone else’s 68 … when I had zero. Then, there are the key leaders – my two leaders did pretty much nothing for me (Julius Caesar pacifist strategy is not effective, just saying), the openended military cards, the late game VP scores (which I only heard about rather than actually saw, with what I heard sounding a lot like Age of Empires III’s endgame cards which I think contribute a lot to that game being obnoxious).

3. Military – Apparently, the game has a prey on the weak incentive, which is insipid for obvious reasons. Taking variance into account, there was talk of capping the openended military beatdowns, but I actually thought the real problem was how much military strength could vary to where I never played a defense card because they wouldn’t have done anything.

4. Uniqueness – Now, it’s very possible that the game has a lot more variety in how your civilization develops than in similar games, and it could just be that the game is more abstracted in how your civ is represented, but one thing I find kind of dull about all games like this is how you don’t tend to end up with really goofy creations. Yes, I jumped from bronze to coal, with no iron, and Caesar had the Hanging Gardens built, where the Kremlin was built next door centuries later, but I still felt like I had to pursue the same core strategies as everyone else – maximize stone, maximize food, maximize light bulbs (science), get harps (culture – VPs), build a respectable army. As I understand it, there are known strategies that focus; one is Napoleon’s Air Force, another is superscience, another harptastic, Cook’s territories, Michelangelo’s happy, etc. There are certainly plenty of cards to do different combinations. I just felt like I needed to grow a very specific way, much like how Outpost, The Scepter of Zavandor, et al require that you not screw up your engine.

I don’t hate the game. There are some interesting concepts. I very much like the idea of building a civilization, though I find that the boardgames that do it are often much less interesting than the concept and often the end results are wildly unbalanced games. I just don’t really see the point of TTA. The amount of effort required to learn it followed by the effort of playing it does not seem to be justified given how unenthralling the actual play is and with how lopsided I would expect results to be.

Is it fair to pan a game based on a single experience? I’m not actually trying to pan it, even if calling it awful is pretty much doing so. It’s not really the game, but that the game is so newb unfriendly that there are better things to do. But, then, I could see someone saying the same about virtually any CCG, with V:TES being one of the worst offenders. So, to each their own – I was running through a list of boardgames and there are plenty I wouldn’t want to play again.

It was still enjoyable to try the game out, and it’s always interesting to try out games that I won’t know I’ll hate until after I’ve played them.


Lost Crown

November 25, 2010

So, I suppose I should have written something by now about going to the Los Angeles storyline.

As usual, I had factored in plenty of time for our drive, only to be screwed by all of the accidents in the hills above LA.  Losing that hour probably didn’t have a huge impact on how many casual games we played, but losing any playing time for such a short trip where more time was spent traveling than actually being awake in LA was undesirable.  The return trip lacked such annoyances.

Anyway, first casual game:

Shane (anarch Ventrue) -> Ian (16 Daggers) -> Matt (Eze) -> Robert S. (Lambach Hazimel)

Not a bad way to start things out.  I Computer Hacked Matt for a while.  Lambach did little.  I could have probably ousted if I didn’t get hit with both Mind Rape and Banishment right before my turn.  Prey bloated back some.  I got ousted.  Robert got ousted.  Endgame went a while due to bloat.  The main thing about this game was I got to do the stuff I was supposed to do even if I hardly fought with people.

Then:

Robert S. (FoS steal/vote) -> Ian (Perfectly Lucid) -> Jeff (P/J Celerity) -> Aaron (old school midcap Toreador) -> Mike (!Toreador + War Ghouls)

Kind of odd.  As usual, people have the oddest reactions to my bringing out Lucian, The Perfect.  Mike bled Robert a bit, but Robert basically was unmolested.  Lucian got Temptationed, which was kind of annoying, though it mean hunting to stay at 11 blood was something to do.  I didn’t have good targets for Dominate Kine, so Lucian and Elimelech mostly hung out.  Eli got Temptationed as well.  I could have ousted Jeff either by playing The Sleeping Mind on a first bleed or by drawing into something different while bleeding that would have seen me let myself get blocked, but the two Into the Airs in hand tempted me to do crazy things like try to get two bleeds through.  The primary decision for me in the game was to go for the oust on that turn or Golconda Eli and bring up Luna Giovanni.  I could have easily, I think, stalled the game out, but since I hadn’t done virtually anything during the game, I felt a desire to go forward and ended up with both dudes empty in torpor.  I did kill a Parity Shift of my prey since he didn’t offer any pool to me, I guess people don’t realize that my non-threats to disrupt their games aren’t idle.  Not exciting, but it could have been worse.  While Jeff did try to block a hunt, he did only block my attempts to bleed rather than do crazy stuff backwards.

Storyline, round 1:

Brandon (Principia Discordia Edenic Groundskeepers) -> Ian (Laecanus, The Archer) -> Jeff (Nostoket) -> Robert G. (Henry Taylor 10 card deck)

Brandon beat me down early, so I did nothing of consequence in the game.  The Rumor Mill was mostly just a blood loss engine for me.  That left Jeff to do whatever he felt like.  Robert didn’t bring out Henry for a long time so just bled forward for 1 a lot, which almost killed Brandon, but he didn’t finish him off.  A Failsafe kept me around long enough for Jeff to sweep.

Round 2:

Robert G. -> Shane (anarch Ventrue) -> Ian -> Robert S. (Lasombra Corporal Reservoir) -> Conner (Howler wall)

I had a crazy master start with The Parthenon, Dreams.  Followed fairly quickly by Channel 10 and Powerbase: LA(!!).  The interesting thing was how much pool I was losing just bringing up two dudes.  We settled into a long game where little happened.  Going forward was limited because I quickly took the Crown of Angels and whoever got the first VP was not rewarded.  Eventually, with time running down, I went forward, both Roberts ousted, and I stole from Goudie since he was okay with leaving.  I did put out one or two Twilight Camps, use a Failsafe, play Constant Revolution after blocking my predator’s, contest The Parthenon, Dreams, The Rack, The Barrens at some point in the game.  Never did lose or contest the Crown, though I think it would have been easy for someone to do it with my predator’s Ventrue Headquarters help.

Taking from Goudie rather than Scythe meant coming in a guaranteed sixth, so no foreigners at the final table, also no anarchs – they fought amongst themselves quite a bit during the event.  Andy’s Blood Brothers won from holding on to the Crown, though it was finally contested at some point.

Jeff was a gracious host as we crashed at his place.

Not much else to mention, really.  The first game was like the SF storyline all over again where being under constant pressure meant doing nothing and where I couldn’t ever move combat cards because people weren’t into combat.  Overall, though, because I actually did storyline stuff, it was decent.  Laecanus made his bid for Baron of LA, took control of the Crypt’s Sons, had a The Portrait done of himself which looked a lot like Banjoko, bolted to his Failsafe when things turned awkward, and his team was the only one to gain influence in the Powerbase: [that is] LA.  That was really weird when you think about it as it was an obvious inclusion to any anarch deck, though I think the other anarch players having much more limited collections was why it wasn’t more popular.

I suppose some other stuff happened that was notable, though I don’t remember a lot of it.  Andy’s Blood Brothers led by Ilse did a variety of stuff, of course, including actions that required an archbishop that only could be done with the Crown.  Archons Investigated Basir (3 cap, bleeding for 5) and something like three others.  Think there were only two Camarilla decks.  Smiling Jack got up to 2 and 4 in my second round.  Other LA-related cards made appearances.


Clan Marketing

November 22, 2010

While it would likely make more sense to write about our LA storyline experience, I have been thinking for a time about how poorly V:TES has marketed clans.

One reason I’ve been thinking about this is because I’m involved in L5R where clan identity is huge.  The HoR3 campaign not only has polls about what clan one will play but what daimyo one will serve and, of course, what clan you are has mechanical impact in the mods.

Another reason is thinking about V:TES storylines.  V:TES storylines have traditionally encouraged player identifying with clans over and above any internal interest.  However, the obvious problem with emphasizing clan identity is that there are 38 clans in V:TES as compared with about 8 great clans in L5R or 7 clans from V:TM Camarilla or any other sort of reasonable number.  Now, yes, there are a host of minor clans, Imperial families, and whatever in L5R and the 13 bloodlines and 4 Laibon clans are not on par with the other clans in V:TES (nor is Pander).

While events can be run that limit the variety of clans, that’s only likely to annoy people.  Annoyed me when a storyline was Cammie losers only.  Putting aside the problem, and it’s most definitely a problem as supporting more things in game dilutes sets, there’s still the lack of clan identity enforcement.

What are Brujah known for?  Being saddled with the horrible combination of Celerity and Potence, sure, but lots of clans have bad discipline spreads.  Out of Jyhad, they had allies.  Terrible allies in most cases, but allies; yet they haven’t gotten a new ally since set #1.  New Carthage is way better than Carthage Remembered.  As with all clans, they get clan cards.  They get access to Camarilla stuff, though they have far more non-Camarilla vampires than other Cam clans, which shows a bit of clan identity as rebels.  In the end, I see them get played mostly because people like combat overkill.

What distinguishes them from !Brujah?  Mostly that the !Brujah didn’t cheat by getting a bunch of vampires with Dominate and/or the ability to play Second Tradition and Parity Shift.  Still have the terrible ally theme.  Dogs of War and Unexpected Coalition give a bit of much needed identity that they originally lacked.  Still, where’s the “I want to identify with this clan” feature?  Sabbat clans are much worse about this than Cam clans, getting fewer clan cards and more often lacking signature clan cards.

And, so it goes.  Those that strongly identify with particular clans will, but I don’t feel the pull for those that aren’t already inclined.  In my case, sure, I avoid Cammies, but that has something to do with them being overplayed.  My rooting for the underdogs leads to often playing clans I don’t find as interesting from a flavor standpoint.

But, why does any of this matter?  I find the enthusiasm with L5R so much greater because one feels like one can champion a particular faction.  With V:TES needing some enthusiasm, it makes me wonder whether there’s a better way to market the game, and the obvious way to get people to care is to help them care about individual clans.

Well, obvious, if you kind of ignore that there’s 38 clans in the game.  There’s just no getting around this.  Storylines or tournaments with special rules can restrict options, but you can’t take back the existence of the other clans.  When I played official storyline events, I championed underplayed clans, usually bloodlines.  I had plenty of choices.

Maybe there is no meaningful way to tie people into something like clan, any more than discipline or whatever else.  Maybe focusing marketing efforts through this element of the game are impractical.  What’s the alternative?  We don’t expect any new cards any time soon, if ever.  What can events do today that will make people want to feel more strongly about the game?  I may not be the right person since I get so committed to the games I play and putting myself into the shoes of a prospective player is unfathomable.  Still, would be nice if there were some way to sell the game to new players not just initially but once they start playing a bit.


Reach … in V:TES

November 19, 2010

The inspiration for this post comes from this article – http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/mf37

The narrowest concept of reach in Magic is to be able to do the last few points of damage outside of creature combat.  Within Mike’s article, he does talk about reach a bit more broadly than that.

While V:TES has similarities to Magic in terms of putting “actors” into play that deal damage to an opponent, the card pools are quite different and the actors are far more sophisticated in V:TES.  There are some cards that are closer in concept if one were to try to port reach over as closely as possible from the one CCG to another:  Anarch Revolt, Antediluvian Awakening, Dragonbound, (most obviously) Personal Involvement, etc.

While some of those cards are commendable, in particular Antediluvian Awakening is underplayed in speed decks, I’m not all that enthralled by focusing entirely on such a narrow range of cards and such a limited concept.

Rather, I use the philosophy of reach fairly often when determining decklists these days to throw off expectations.  Though, to be fair, the way I use it is as old as people’s decks in 1994 in many ways.  But, let me speak of what I mean.  To me, reach in V:TES is the ability to get an extra few pool of damage out from one’s actions, especially with bleed actions.

Note that it isn’t the same as lunging.  Lunging is about devoting a concentrated effort during a prey’s apparent moment of vulnerability to attempt to put the prey out during the present turn.  Reach makes lunging easier, and the philosophy of doing those few points of extra damage are very much consistent with lunging, but I’m more focused on the details of an individual action.

Hey dude, isn’t Conditioning just a reach card and everyone has been doing this since day one?  The nature of CCGs is that there are expectations.  When you see Dominate, you can calculate fairly easily how many bleed of 5 or 6 will be coming.  The power of CCGs is that there are always unknowns, so it’s not the case that someone will always accurately predict the amount of damage someone will inflict.  What we are looking for with reach in V:TES is increasing that unknown, throwing off the “combat math” so to speak.

More in my mind, for the brokenness that is Dominate, is Command of the Beast.  Sure, if the deck is chock full of them, it tends to be as predictable as the expected Govern/Conditionings.  In truth, Dominate is not really where I’m concerned with the concept as Dominate’s ousting power is so unfair that it hardly matters whether you slip an extra point of damage in from a strategic standpoint (with the fun of Dominate being all about the tactical issues of maximizing damage).

So, what am I talking about when it comes to deckbuilding?  I had lent a Samedi Off Kilter deck for storyline use and a suggestion was taking out the one Computer Hacking and one Leverage, the former to make room for something more important and the latter because it lacked synergy with Off Kilter.  My response was very close if maybe not exactly, “But, that’s how you oust people.”  Or, maybe, it was, “But, how else do you oust people?”

Many of my decks actually have very little ousting power, light years less than the decks that run double digit Governs, et al.  Now, that isn’t just about reach, it’s about conservation of resources, well, and eschewing decks that just blow people off of tables, as that’s dull, especially when I’ve played so many bleed decks in the past.  Early on, after I adopted my more passive play style that relies far too much on lunging, I didn’t really need reach as I could just fire off some Changelings or whatever when someone left an opening; yes, for the day, it was reachy since people weren’t used to lunging.  But, anyway, over time, I see players being more cautious against me, expecting such antics.

The point of the casual (read:  low quantity) bleed pumps is to make the lunges just a bit deeper, to throw off the math a bit further.  Now, I do like tactical Anarch Revolt or whatever for similar reasons, but let’s get back to focusing on Computer Hacking and Leverage.  That these two cards can be played by any minion who can bleed, regardless as to how much bleed the minion has, is of exceeding importance.  In one major tournament, I only ousted one prey because I could Computer Hack with Mylan (aka Crowbait) to set up getting a couple of Conditionings through after expending my prey’s wakes.  That random Carlton, Repo Man, or Jake Washington might be the end of someone who, given another turn, would be able to hold out beyond my decks’ abilities.  Leverage is even more interesting since it starts a bit sneakier and can be followed up with more beats, say, a Monkey Wrench.

Of course, Power of One (Potence) is another way to go if the deck can support it and I contemplate (because I’m just that way) the Power of One into Monkey Wrench off of someone with copious amount of blood to burn.  A very different way to go, and one that has been obvious since its printing, is the reach possibilities with Force of Will.

Note that the concept I’m going for is really much about exceeding expectations.  There’s nothing tricksome about Force of Will when playing a Force of Will deck.  It’s the ones and twos of particular cards to put someone away or, at least, into a deeper hole that may be problematic.  A Force of Will for the kill is not the same as a Force of Will for the “reduce under double digit pool” play.

In one game, against the eventual tournament winner, we were down to the endgame and I had my opponent on the ropes; he survived due to a lot of wakes, some misplay on my part with On the Qui Vive on Carlton, and the fact that I had run out of Leverages in my deck even if Carlton could act on the relevant turns.  What was interesting was that my opponent, a far better player than I, was concerned with the possibility of my drawing Leverage having seen two come out earlier.

One question from this experience was whether the fear factor of reach had any benefits beyond the actual damage output effects.  Probably not, as I typically find that fear makes it harder to oust people not less so.  But, there’s a whole level of gaming where getting people to misplay, no matter the sort of misplay, is of interest.  Actually, I do think I’ve saved a grandprey or two due to representing a much greater threat than in fact was the case, which pales next to how many prey I’ve had wall up for no reason and throw the game to their prey, but whatever.


The Rise Of Barbarism

November 16, 2010

Interesting things are going on in my Conan world.

Forum Death

Mongoose no longer has a separate forum for Conan.  I’m not sure why it’s important to consolidate forums.  As often as the Conan forum was frustrating for how oblivious people seemed to be about game balance, it was still a place that discussion occurred.

Being heavily in favor of house rules, it was a place where house rule discussions were reasonably common.  Perhaps it is a good idea to remove massive damage saves from the game, though I don’t think it changes that more damage output is always better, which still means that two-handed, high Strength fighting and Sneak Attack are grossly more powerful than anything else.

House Rules

I did look back at my posts to our Yahoogroup to see if I had forgotten any major areas of changes I’d like to see when we start anew.  I think I only missed one.

The primary change I’d like to see is to balance the classes.  I harp on this all of the time.  It’s not even terribly difficult.   Why shouldn’t nobles have 8 skill ranks per level?  Why shouldn’t soldiers have more skill ranks than barbarians?  Some argue that soldiers are the idiot grunts of the world, but that’s clearly not true.  Professional soldiers of pre-history are not somehow that removed from modern soldiers in needing to be capable in a variety of areas.

Just as an example, since it blows my mind that people don’t think of it in this way, let’s say you have an average Intelligence soldier.  You can max out two skills – that’s one more than one.  Class skills are:  Climb, Craft, Intimidate, Jump, K: Geography, K: Local, K: Rumors, Perform, Profession, Ride, and Search.  Actually, this is a pretty pathetic list.  What of Listen and Spot?  What of Heal? What of K: Warfare?  Well, the last is probably just because the RAW is kind of poor at covering metaskills like Knowledge.  Anyway, I’d imagine that a flavorful (rather than minmaxy) cavalryman would max out Ride and either Intimidate or Jump, which leads to someone who doesn’t know how to do his job professionally, doesn’t know anything about where he is, can’t take care of his weapons or anything else.  Sure, this list is not a list of the most essential skills in the game (again, would help if Spot were on here).  In our campaigning the only crucial skills on this list are Climb and Search, with K: Geography being the next most useful.  Every other class in the game gets at least twice as many skill ranks.  While it may not seem like that huge a deal to get 2 more skill ranks per level, it’s kind of a huge deal to get 2 less skill ranks per level when the 4/level classes are scraping for ranks, themselves.

If I had to go with what offended me the most when I started playing it was Codes of Honor.  I’ve since lost my deep and abiding hatred of the mechanic, though I’m not sure why.  If you can’t stack Code of Honor’s +3 Will saves with Faith’s +2, then not everybody has to have a CoH.   Still, why not?  It’s money for nothing and chicks for free.  Okay, somebody argued, then just have everyone take a CoH and everybody is equally benefited.  My problem with this is it’s a minmax play that flies in the face of character integrity.  I can’t stand things in games that you are required to have in order to compete; yes, this does apply to CCGs, but it’s not as clearly argued a lot of the time.  The concept of a Code of Honor is quite appropriate, but the benefits are so outlandish – 50% better than Iron Will, which you have to use a feat slot for – that even someone with a lobotomy would always start with one.  Also, as much as the book likes to say that there will be no pirate’s code of honor or thieves’ code of honor or whatever, the fact is that there are exactly such insipid codes.

Racial imbalances are trickier.  I recommended a change in the favored class rules ages ago and my suggestion hasn’t changed, surprisingly.  But, that’s only one feature.   I like Shemites thematically, but they get shafted by something that sounds kind of minor at first, -1 saves.  It’s just a simple bullet point among a host of others that sound pretty decent if unspectacular.  Without any drawback, Shemite would be a stronger race in the game mechanically.  But, that simple line has huge mechanical impact.  Maybe we make more saves than most, especially Reflex saves, but as you progress up in levels, saves become the primary rolls in the game.  Actually, most folks don’t seem to get their Conan characters up above 12th level, so our high level adventures are even more save happy.  Meanwhile, other than all classes favored, the Hyborian benefits don’t sound like that much hotness, but it’s all upside and what may be lost in magnitude of power is made up for in versatility.

Initial skill ranks is an annoyance that only compounds the problem of differing classes getting differing skill ranks per level.  My house rule that I used for NPCs I created was to give everyone 20 + 1 level of class and either 1 level of Int bonus or normal Int bonus.  That Int is strongest in the beginning and gets less and less relevant is a problem, but one I don’t know an easy fix for.

Speaking of attributes, there are, of course, imbalances, with Strength being far too useful of the physical and Int having a strange life cycle.  Where all other attributes add increased value over time, except arguably Charisma for some characters, Int’s increases are nowhere near as important as its starting value.  My personal hierarchy?  Int (starting), Str, Con, Wis, Dex, Cha with the first two being far more important than the others, though there are some differences when playing certain character types, especially a scholar.  Still, Strength is so useful for noncombat effects, like carrying unconscious party members, that it’s always desirable, nevermind that sometimes scholars have to fight physically, too, and doing more damage is always superior.

New

So, why be concerned with house rules now?  We have started a new campaign.  While I don’t see it being necessary to put a lot of thought into how to do things differently now that we have learned so much from our 6 year-old campaign, as the real measure of enjoyment is enjoyment, not doing things “right”, at the same time, I wonder if we will end up regretting not having planned a bit more.

My perception is that the new campaign will function much like the old, mechanics aside.  It doesn’t have to, of course.  Maybe this time around the party will have a reason to adventure together after it gets past initial difficulties.  Maybe this time around the party will be more motivated, make fewer bad decisions, use better tactics, release fewer demons upon the world.  Not that these bother me overmuch, really, the only thing that ever drove me nuts was party motivation.  What are we trying to achieve?  Why?

It would be a good role-playing stretch for me to play a character who cared about material things, but it’s not likely to happen.   I just don’t understand treasurehunting as a goal.  I suppose that intellectual curiosity can work similarly to treasurehunting.  But, I’ve seen in our Conan play how different it can be.  There was the one adventure where we were running for our lives and some of the party stopped to check out a cave.  A cave.   What’s interesting about a cave?  Buried treasure?  Sorry, I’m not playing Terrance or Phillip.   While I could see checking things out if we weren’t fleeing from overwhelming force, the motivation of “there might be treasure” was absurdly flimsy.  To be fair, it’s not so much the fact that it was a cave, even if a cave is intrinsically less interesting than ruins, a temple, green stone city, or whatever.  It was that we had a goal and ignored it.  The two times I got truly pissed at our antics both had to do with the party completely ignoring the obvious goal.  If you don’t care about the story, might as well just spend the time setting up scenarios on the battlemap and doing nothing but fighting.  That’s not without merit, but it’s a different experience.

Old

Our old campaign isn’t done yet.   I keep suggesting that we focus on it as my concern is that the enthusiasm that comes with newness will lead to a dearth of enthusiasm for finishing up the old.  We’ve talked on a number of occasions about rebooting, but in those cases, we weren’t close to the finish line.  We are halfway or so to 18th level and getting close to our archenemy and the end of the world.  I figure about six more sessions and we can resolve things while having played 20th level characters.

It’s so much easier not to have to juggle multiple storylines and an extra set of characters.  We already have problems with people remembering what happened in the previous session.  And, none of us fully utilize our characters’ abilities.  Closure, tis a good thing.


Design Essay, Part II

November 13, 2010

Continuing on from Design Essay, Part I

I adapted the questions asked here – http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/mm/116 – to V:TES.  Some of them obviously don’t adapt well.  Maybe I’ll find time to ask different questions in some other post.

As question two wasn’t really that important, just going to move on to three.

3.  What set did the best job of integrating design with creative and what one thing could have been done better?

Where Magic has blocks, V:TES rotates through the sects.  Going to not even consider some of the oldest sets.  Actually V:TES doesn’t really have coherent creatives.  The obvious set seems to be Kindred Most Wanted, where there’s an actual theme that is outside of clans.  Red List and Trophy are both awkward, which goes a long way towards making them irrelevant.  However, if there were more cards that interacted with the mechanics, maybe that wouldn’t be the case.  I would have rather not seen either as I think they just complicate the game for little gain and encourage terrible combat decks.  Not a good question to adapt to V:TES, moving on …

4.  What rule would you remove for not pulling its weight?

First, scarce.  While withdrawal is dumber than scarce, scarce actually matters.  Scarce only penalizes decks that are already penalized by having few crypt options for obscure disciplines or, in the case of the Nagaraja, that there’s no reason to build Nagaraja decks since they don’t have their own discipline.

Next, withdrawal.  The intention might have made sense originally, but it was abused in tournament play.  Now, it just adds no value.  Happy to eliminate Brinksmanship from the game as I am any narrow, anti-fun strategies.

Note that we aren’t looking for eliminating particular cards, here, but rules.  I’m of the view that events are bad for the game, but it’s an interesting mechanic.  Red List/Trophy, as mentioned, just don’t matter to any significant degree in the game.  Sterile doesn’t pull any weight.  Blood Curse doesn’t pull any weight.  Etc.  The end conclusion is that there are a lot of unnecessary rules in this game that primarily serve just to make it harder to play.

5.  Name a card that shouldn’t have been printed.  Why?

Anthelios.  First, unique promo cards shouldn’t exist in the first place for a few reasons.  They are usually more poorly designed and/or developed, the latter due to often being playtested less.  Next, they are typically distributed in ways inherently less fair than cards in sets.

The problem with Anthelios, specifically, is that extra master phase actions has always been one of the most broken features of the game and that recursion tends to break CCGs.

Other cards, in a general sense, would be hosers, e.g. Mistrust or Villein, and events (nice concept, irritating effects that lead to playing a different game).  Brinksmanship never should have been made as it’s playing a different game as alternate victory conditions often are when added later in a CCG’s life and decking strategies are anti-fun in games where you expect to play most of your deck.

6.  How can design encourage new players?

Stop making the game more complicated for virtually no gain, i.e. create new mechanics only when there’s a compelling reason to do so.  Magic gets grief for its block system and formats that limit sets, but a major benefit of such is that it limits the number of mechanics someone needs to understand and the number of cards someone needs to understand to make games more digestible.  After a certain point, CCGs that just keep adding cards to their card pools become oppressive, even to veteran players or returning players.  I just stopped bothering trying to demo CCGs I played because they suffered so much mechanics bloat.

Then, V:TES cards have gained a lot of text.  I realize draft text was being worked out before it was figured out what a good percentage of cards to put it on was, but there’s way too much draft text in some sets.  There’s way too much overcomplication in top-down card design.  There’s so many different ways flavor can be translated into mechanics that there shouldn’t be a need for so many cards with “7” lines of text.

Coherent timing rules should be created and implemented.  Far too many rulings come down from on high rather than being something that someone can figure out on one’s own.

From a marketing standpoint, make the backstory material more relevant or easier to execute.  For instance, somebody may want to make a deck of all of the Montreal by Night characters, but I’m fairly sure that’s illegal.

7.  How can design encourage experienced players?

Shake up the metagame.  There has never been a time when Dominate hasn’t been at the top of the power curve.  Even more absurd, there has never been a time when Malk94 wasn’t a strong deck archetype.  The management of V:TES has been one of slow evolution.  While the slow evolution has had a number of good points and a high percentage of strategies are viable, it’s easy to fall into a feeling that the game is dulled considerably by how little things change.

All other CCGs (of consequence) that I’ve played have had significant shifts in what was at the top with every set.  Note that the intent isn’t to hose what is good forever but to see what is good rotate so that everything has some time in the Sun and what was good once goes from bad to good again.

8.  Which mechanics are best designed?

Recent mechanics?  I like how more action cards that have more than 1 stealth have appeared.  Sanguine Instruction should have been such, but it was too long ago, when such things were quite rare.  Anarch Convert is great design.  Yes, it’s complicated and it undermines the grouping rule, but it works so well for two uses without being particularly broken.

Go back further, trifle was a great mechanic (made better when the trifle rule changed to its present, more intuitive, form).  Can argue that some cards should or shouldn’t be trifles, but the mechanic is elegant. 

Events have a very interesting mechanic for putting them into play, unfortunately, I think they are the worst sort of thing for the enjoyment of the game.  Not Imbued?

Well, Imbued shouldn’t have been made, more so for the mechanics bloat problem than for balance issues, but how much less annoying would Imbued decks be if events weren’t in the game?  By the way, while I may be firmly in the camp, these days, of not wanting Imbued in the game, the execution of their mechanics was actually quite good.  It’s incredibly hard to bolt something into a CCG that works so completely differently from how the core game works.  Sure, there are tons of clunky interactions, but Convictions and (to a lesser extent) Powers enable the game to function with Imbued at all – a major achievement.

Note that V:TES doesn’t have terribly coherent new mechanics.  There are lots of random cards that could be blown out into full mechanics.

9.  What’s the worst mechanic?

From a fun standpoint, I’d go with events, since the effects of events are not only rather negative (especially towards vampires) but also tend to change the game into something qualitatively different.

From a design quality perspective, I might go with Red List/Trophy as they have virtually no impact on play.  But, what about Aye/Orun, which have even less?  I can see an argument for Aye/Orun – Ebony Kingdoms should have been the much needed Laibon expansion that turned into, instead, the “almost all of these cards are useless” expansion.  However, with the obvious exception of Mundane/Pallid, two of the most opprobrious cards to ever see print, Red List/Trophy is a downer when it matters where Aye/Orun doesn’t tend to randomly screw people over.

But, one argues, what about Maleficia and Striga?  Isn’t that like Aye/Orun?  Um, in practice, no.  Aye and Orun are both incredibly complicated cards by themselves where Maleficia and Striga haven’t proved to be all that hard to grok.  What of Research and Development?  Well, the management of the game has been to preview mechanics that would get developed later.  I find the way that has been done to be quite bad for the game as mechanics come in that are far too weak and hard to fix by the time they are further developed.  Perfect example is how Perfectionist blew away all of the archetypes that came out in the set that introduced archetypes – the previous set.  However, I would imagine that with sufficient long term planning (i.e. designing more than one set out), that there is a way to introduce mechanics slowly into the game.

Focusing back on Research/Development, I fail to see the point.  It’s not like we don’t have Storage Annex or whatever.  Introducing a new zone is often ugly in CCGs.  So, maybe I can be argued into just how bad an idea this was.

10.  Choose a concept that could be returned to with a twist.

Laibon.  Fully developed Laibon Tzimisce, Lasombra, et al groups of vampires.  Antitribu for those clans that should have had antitribu – Ravnos, Serpents of Light, Assamites.  Camarilla “Oh, right, we can do library cards” set; a 60 card set that makes the Primogen title not make vampires worse (rather be titleless to go anarch), cards for Cammies that have nothing to do with Princes, Justicars, Inner Circle.  Set that treats Pander like a real clan since, oddly enough, they are more of a clan in the CCG than Assamite antitribu, in a technical sense.  Imbued expansion where there are good reasons to mix Imbued and vampires. Plenty of things that could be done with the game that aren’t even new. 

Speaking of new, there’s always bringing in such things as Old Clan Tzimisce, the FoS bloodline in South America with Protean, etc.


Design Essay, Part I

November 8, 2010

This is in reference to the essay test for Magic’s latest designer search, commented upon by Mark Rosewater here:  http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/mm/116

I have interest in being a CCG designer … again.  I just don’t have an interest in being one for Magic; I’m not passionate about Magic and have seen an alternative to Magic that just plays so much better.  So, instead of answering the questions for their contest, I thought it would be interesting to spend a bit of time thinking about the questions for a CCG like V:TES.

1.  Introduce yourself

Not really important.  I suppose I could say that I’ve designed for two published CCGs, worked on design for two unpublished CCGs, and playtested another four or so.  But, whatever, it’s not who says something that should matter but what’s said, even if that isn’t how the world works.

2.  Instructed to move one ability from one discipline to another

First, eliminate bleed bounce from consideration as I would move that ability out of disciplines and into cards that could go into any decks.  There’s so much ability bleed [ha] in the game already with intercept being in Celerity, Protean, etc. and whatnot that this just doesn’t mean nearly as much as it does in Magic, where the color pie is the focus of the game.  Probably best to actually take a look at abilities in the disciplines.

Okay, I’m writing this after writing the below, I didn’t think through just how long it would be to go discipline by discipline.  I should have kept comments to just core/common disciplines.  I’m only going to go through the common disciplines in this post as it would just get out of hand to get into even the indie/Sabbat disciplines, nevermind bloodline + Abombwe.  I also got sidetracked into what disciplines should do and not just what could be moved from one to another logically.

Animalism – Animal retainers that usually do damage or give intercept.  Rush (newer).  Controlling animals in play.  Anti-equipment.  Plus punch.  Ranged damage.  Reaction untaps, especially vs. bleed.  Intercept.

Kind of surprising that there aren’t more animal retainers and allies after all this time.  Nothing really cries out for moving, anti-equipment could be moved to Thaumaturgy (which has some), Chimerstry (unique discipline), Vicissitude (look, no hands, torso, …).

Auspex – Intercept.  Looking at hands.  Bleed reduction/bounce.  Bleed.  Untap as an action.

Surprisingly little in the way of core mechanics.  Auspex really should have more things to do, though it does get the most multidiscipline effects.  Strong contender for moving something to, if something that can fit can be found.

Celerity – Combat control:  maneuver, press, dodge, seeing opposing strike, restarting combat.  Additional strikes.  Long range damage.  First strike.  Stealth (expensive).  Hard to block bleeds without bleed bump.  Untap after actions (newer, should have been older).  Combat ends (bad).  Intercept (newer).

The true variety in Celerity is quite small as so many of the effects are combat support effects, though the discipline has been getting much more diverse in recent years.  Interesting amounts of stealth these days, even if it’s costly.  I wouldn’t take anything away, but another contender for being given.  Freak Drive should have been a Celerity card, alternately, Flurry of Action should have been an action modifier, but it’s not like Celerity doesn’t have untap after actions.

Dominate – Bleed.  Bounce.  Stealing permanents.  Getting uncontrolled dudes out.  Evasion (Bonding, The Sleeping Mind, etc.).  Anti-ally (newer).  Anti-frenzy (newer).  Vote manipulation, especially others’.

Written this way, it doesn’t sound like Dominate does much.  We all know, however, that Dominate does too much.  Stealing stuff gets into a bunch of areas.  Graverobbing is not entirely unique in that Serpentis, Obeah, and whatever can take vampires, but it’s just one example of how Dominate does some incredibly interesting things besides ousting people.  The more general area of stealing makes sense in Dominate, though Graverobbing specifically would be logical for Necromancy.  Bounce would make more sense to me in Dementation (after all, manipulation is something lots of disciplines can do), but that does nothing to fix the bounce scarcity problem in the game.  Anti-frenzy could be moved to something like Fortitude, but who cares?

Fortitude – Damage prevention/conversion.  Unblockability/limited blockability.  Agg damage outside of combat (essentially include The Kiss of Ra).  Gaining blood.  Getting out of torpor.  Untap and/or do stuff while tapped (reactively is newer).  Bleed reduction (newer).

Take away Freak Drive and this discipline has severe issues.  I don’t get the flavor of bleed reduction at all, that could easily be moved, but something should replace it.  As to where to move it, Animalism would be having little buddies mitigating getting screwed, Celerity could be yourself mitigating things Flash (the superhero) style though having any physical discipline reduce bleeds is weird, Dominate (yikes), Presence (has some now), Thaumaturgy (see below), Melpominee (good for mechanical reasons).  Physical disciplines are harder to expand into miscellaneous areas, which is why it was interesting what Fortitude did out of the gate.  Actually, thinking more about it, I do kind of get bleed reduction.  Like how damage prevent defends against physical harm, Fortitude can defend against non-physical harm.  Instead of bleed reduction, however, it would make more sense to me that it countered disciplines.  Problem with that mechanically is that listing disciplines means cards that are often useless.  Could have more cards like Resilient Mind that would affect all disciplines in minor ways.  Intercept wouldn’t be crazy – “patrol all night”.  Damage reduction/conversion outside of combat would make sense and be more interesting, if a problem to balance.

Obfuscate – Stealth.  Tap.  Combat avoidance.  Equipment coming and going (Conceal, Disguised Weapon, Hag’s Wrinkles).  Bleed pump (newer).

Another great discipline with a dearth of mechanical variety, a la Auspex.  An obvious area to work with would be stuff protection – cards that prevented retainers, equipment, maybe allies from getting nuked/stolen.  Sleep Unseen does this, but it’s so limited and usually more relevant to protecting the vampire.  I can see “blink” cards that move cards out of play for a while and then back into play, like an action modifier that blinks a piece of equipment out of play until one’s next turn.  Not trivial at all as that would almost assuredly mean it couldn’t be messed with.  However, the question here is about moving abilities not creating them.  One of the abilities that shows up in fiction is kicking ass in combat because the other dude can’t touch you; that obviously fails as combat ends, maneuvers, or dodges as you don’t hit back.  Dodge with an additional strike – yeah, it’s a little goofy, also steals some Obtenebration thunder where it makes more sense.  So, maybe, better would be more cards like Hidden Lurker where you nullify an opposing strike, but who currently has that?  Temporis, where it makes sense.  Stealing is an existing thing, so it can be stolen from Dominate.  Bleed pump doesn’t need to be in Obfuscate and could be moved to something like Potence …

Potence – Smash.  Location smash.  Press to smash more or be smashed less (!).  Smash toys.  Noncombat smash.

Um, yeah.  It’s interesting that a card like Power of One exists because we are talking about the most boring discipline in the game.  Unblockability/limited blockability was something I considered years ago for a new Potence theme – “Hulk smash any puny humans in Hulk’s way” or just intimidation.  Superstrength is actually quite flexible on superheroes (or even in the Conan RPG).  Make impromptu stuff.  Damage prevention would work flavorwise, mechanically it would need to have some sort of drawback, like not being able to smash while defending oneself, to leave some weakness to Potence in combat; obviously wouldn’t steal conceptually from Fortitude but from Protean, which has weird damage prevent.  Could do something like Magic of the Smith.  Bleed is okay as physical manipulation affects resources.

Presence – Bleed.  Combat ends.  Tap/untap dudes.  Vote manipulation.  Uncontrolled.  Evasion (newer).  Bleed reduction (Rewind Time, Scobax).

The vote discipline.  Move combat ends elsewhere and give more evasion or combat avoidance (Obedience, Hard Case, Mental Maze style)?  Take away evasion, which could go to Auspex (bad mechanically, probably)?  Moving bleed reduction isn’t a big deal, but then, it isn’t a major theme with Presence.

Protean – Agg.  Combat ends.  Stealth.  Noncombat damage (newer).  Combat control.  Damage prevention (weird).  Intercept.  Untap at weird times (Homunculus, Carrion Coffin, Movement of the Slow Body).  Unblockability.

Given some of the oddball cards, e.g. Loki’s Gift which does feed into noncombat “damage”, there’s already some things to do that aren’t just 1994 retreads.  The untapping at weird times could be moved, though it would probably be moved into a discipline already with untappiness.  Intercept would make more sense here if Spiritus didn’t exist to provide some thematic redundancy, though one of the outferiors on Spiritus is for thematic consistency.  Why does Protean get Shattering and Shattering Crescendo levels?  That would be an obvious thing to move out, but as to where it goes, Animalism (who doesn’t need it), Potence (who already has it), Thaumaturgy (see below)?

I don’t know about Protean.  It doesn’t have a lot of cards.  But, what the cards do is often unusual, like Dual Form and the evil zen robot that is Loki’s Gift.

Thaumaturgy – Blood denial/steal.  Smash that bypasses Fortitude and/or is slow (second round).  Intercept (newer).  One-off effects.

I wasn’t going to include the one-off effects separately since they were obviously not core, but the idea that Thaum is the one-off effect discipline makes perfect sense.  The discipline is a joke in the RPG, where it can do everything – if it doesn’t do what you want, create a new path and/or ritual.  This is why it’s stunning how limited the discipline is in the CCG.  Now, the philosophy here should be to keep making cards that don’t do the same things as existing cards.  But, where do you steal that from?  Can just steal it from anywhere – Dual Form, Mesmerize, Mask Empathy, etc.  But, that’s not really a coherent answer to this question, so Thaum should really just be more about having more cards.

 

So, to continue on with question 2. or to move on to the other questions?  Guess that will get figured out in Part II.