Design Essay, Part II

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.

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6 Responses to Design Essay, Part II

  1. Brandon says:

    I agree with you on events, they never should have been put in the game. When events hit the table, the game state often changes in a big way that usually involves either enhancing the player playing the card(NRA Pac, Anthelios(they usually get more advantage from it), FBI: Special Affairs, Unmasking, Urban Jungle, Narrow Minds) or punishing everyone else more than you(Dragonbound, The Rising, Torpid Blood, Fall of the X, Recalled to the Founder, etc). Random hosage is really annoying, especially in competitive VTES where your 4 votes for being IC matters a lot and you’re totally hosed by fall of the camarilla, for example.

    Solution: Run more Black Hand Ritual and for locations/equipment, be ready to burn them(not just steal them). POWER OF ALL. POWER OF ALL!

  2. iclee says:

    Global effects tend to not work as planned. Lots of time they are too weak to bother with, see pretty much all of the Limited Edition Environment cards for Ultimate Combat! or most of the Events in V:TES. When they aren’t, they can be too far reaching.

    Take Scourge of the Enochians – okay, weenie decks are a problem and controlling a bunch of 1 and 2 caps makes the game more viable for slower decks. On the other hand, any deck that runs 1 or 2 caps, whether a weenie deck or not is suddenly impacted. In fact, the non-weenie deck with some random Embraces, Progeny, Creation Rites, unique dorks, or whatever is likely just crippled where a true weenie deck would only be slowed or just shift up to 3 caps. Note discipline imbalances – it’s easy to find plenty of 3 caps with common disciplines, but if you wanted to have some dorks with Vicissitude, you are kind of screwed.

    As Ben Peal has stated, the game becomes more about metagame plays that are their own subgame rather than playing the game itself when you have these sorts of cards (global hosers). Want to play dorks, run The Uncoiling to counter Scourge.

    I don’t see Dragonbound, by the way, hurting others more than you. I often see the person playing it taking as much damage or more than anyone else. Reason is obvious – combat decks are the most likely decks to get into combat, which means they are the most likely to suffer from combat even if each individual combat favors them.

  3. finbury says:

    I think that global effects can be interesting in some games; “symmetry breaking” is an interesting deck building challenge. I’m not opposed to symmetrical cards in general, and I think the game actually has some quite interesting symmetrical cards (Anarch Revolt / Reins of Power / Tension in the Ranks).

    That said: symmetric cards can be pretty unpleasant in the hands of a bad player, so they can be a bit of a liability in a game where the minimum time investment is 8 person-hours.

    More than that, I think events leave a lot to be desired. I think the major design mistake is actually the “once per game” clause. This magnifies all of the bad elements of the design.

    With that rule, a deck that wants to reliably use a single event effect has to devote a lot of resources to doing so. This drives event use down two paths:

    1) the “well, if the event shows up, that’s cool, but it’s just a bonus” path. This increases randomness in the game in general.

    2) the “play with a wide selection of interchangeable events” strategy. Which, given the current card pool, is the “play with events that hose vampires in general” strategy. Which means “play Imbued”.

    Having events only playable once also restricts the design space for cards that get rid of events. Removing an event isn’t just removing an event, it is closing off an entire strategy. That makes these cards more powerful than they should be, and makes it hard to make balanced event removal cards that are splashable or easily cycled.

    I don’t know that there is necessarily a fix here. One approach might be:
    – events are playable multiple times, but cannot be played if they are already in play
    – events would have some kind of limited “burn option” if they are already in play.
    – existing problematic events would get errata to have an intrinsic “off” switch. Perhaps there could be rules support for an event being Complete; a Complete event would stays in play but have no effect. For example, many of the vampire-hosing Gehenna events might have “If any Methuselah has no ready vampires in play, Complete this event” text.
    – Scourge and The Uncoiling would just be banned; there should be better ways to fix those problems.

  4. Azel says:

    Totally agree on most of these, especially ideas that can return with a twist. There’s a lot of VTES to be mined, still. But the big problem is, as you say, introducing a mechanic before it’s ready for prime time. What you get is a weak mechanic that needs patchwork solutions before it gets up to speed.

    I do believe that maybe after 1 more expansion of Aye/Orun and 2 more for Trophy/Red List they’d catch up to Anarchs in viability. It took the poor Anarchs at least 2 sets (Anarchs & Gehenna) before they got the goods in the third set, Twilight Rebellion. That said, I wonder about the play testing for VTES. How could no one see the obvious errors in Trophy/Red List (it’s too hard & doesn’t help me win!) — let alone the madness in Aye/Orun (it has 10 lines of text! half the text doesn’t trigger until it combos!).

    … I really wish I could do a rewrite of the Laibon Tenets (a la Camarilla Traditions) and a rewrite of the Aye/Orun cards. And Aye/Orun just needed “text migration” from LoB to EK. But no…

    • Andrew Haas says:

      I like the idea of all events expiring at some time. While it wouldn’t make a ton of sense adding “Remove this event from play when a Methuselah is ousted.” would probably greatly improve the events situation.

      In my experience events tend to show up either a lot, in which case they grind the game to a virtual stop, or not at all.

      Sorry but playing cards that lock-down the entire rest of the table so you can slowly oust everyone in order doesn’t strike me as fun. Especially considering that the counters to events are few, and mostly ineffective.

  5. […] Design Essay, Part I Design Essay, Part II […]

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