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.