Ultraworld

October 30, 2011

I continue to think about superhero role-playing.  Superworld, by the way, is an old RPG, which is why I avoided using it as the title of this post.  My current thought is, should a superhero campaign be created (which it won’t), to borrow extensively rather than reinvent the wheel.

In other words, my currently envisioned superhero campaign universe has DC and Marvel supers as NPCs.  See, I have a lot of Champions products and one of the things that comes through with Champions or with other non-licensed supers games is that they take the iconic concepts that DC and Marvel have done and create their own versions because they can’t just use the ones we know.  For instance, the “paragon super” is best exemplified with Superman.  In Marvel, the paragon is split up, with the personality and history (fighting Nazis) found in Captain America and the powers found in Thor (also Silver Surfer but Thor is more the man – interesting that both have silly ways of flying).

The knock-offs are only likely to remind everyone of the originals.  Now, these games can’t use the originals but GMs can.  Since I don’t want to play either the DC universe or the Marvel universe, by stealing characters from both, we don’t capture too much of the feel of either one.  This does create problems.  The various characters typically have highly developed backstories and may have abilities that make less sense outside of worlds built around them.  Again, using the obvious example, Superman’s ubiquitous weakness is Kryptonite, which means that the merge world has to have Kryptonite.

So, I started thinking of characters that I view as being iconic.  I’m not looking for the most popular characters or my favorite characters or whatever.  I’m looking for those who best represent concepts essential to the genre but also those that don’t necessarily make for good PCs, as the PCs can fill in essential roles rather than just being random supers.

Superman.  He’s a terrible PC – he can’t lose without creating a mess, he’s so absurdly powerful (especially the original) that challenges have to be ludicrous to be challenging.  There’s what?  A hundred types of Kryptonite?  Bad guys run around with Kryptonite hearts.  Etc.  It’s lame.  He does have other weaknesses, like his weakness to magic, but that’s not something you want as a challenge month after month, either.  He’s the best symbol of what it is to be a superhero, if not necessarily the most heroic hero (a moot argument).  He’s a problem because of his power level, but actually, I see the PCs not being cosmic level supers, which means NPCs will cover the cosmic level of super, which means … why not Superman?

Then, I ran into an issue right away which I’m going to talk a lot about below.  Before getting into that, Doctor Strange beats Doctor Fate for me as I’m much more familiar with the former.  No Batman as I’m a hater.  No Spiderman because Spiderman is the sort of character that a PC should be.  Spiderman has a wide range of activities, often fighting street thugs but also, infamously, beating Firelord (Herald of Galactus) in a one-on-one.  His Spidey Sense is a trump.

Trumps.  I’m a big fan of trumps.  Maybe they don’t work as well in gaming as in fiction, but I think they can.  The idea of a trump is that, no matter what your power level is, your ability trumps everything else.  Who is the odd man out of:  Silver Surfer, Thor, Daredevil?  It’s not meant to be a trick question.  Daredevil can’t normally hang with the other two.  Yet, if you read the Fear-Eater stories in Marvel Comic Presents(?), you would know that a Fear-Eater can defeat Silver Surfer, can defeat Thor, but flat out dies to Daredevil.  Not fails.  Dies.  The Man Without Fear has a trump in that he’s immune to … wait for it … fear.  Danger sense is easily findable with others, especially cosmic beings like The Watcher, but Spiderman’s is typically a trump – he senses danger as well or better than any other entity in the universe (even if it doesn’t always work).

No street level supers, in general.  I’m not into street supers as my recent post mentioned.  They are also easily replaceable.  I’m looking for concepts.  Dr. Strange satisfies the “I’m the ultimate magic guy who defends the universe from other universes with magic entities”.  Iron Man takes the powerarmored super role.  Flash (Barry Allen or Jay Garrick, I’m sure) takes the speedster role.  I’m not sure I want a water super role as Aquaman gets a ridiculous amount of grief and I actually find Namor sillier.

I didn’t get much further than this.  One reason I didn’t get further is that I started thinking about Wonder Woman.  No female super is remotely as iconic as Wonder Woman.  But, what is she iconic for?  Sure, her powers are different from Superman’s and she has her own stories and backstory and whatnot, but I see her being defined primarily by the fact that she is THE super heroine.  I’ve been doing research to try to recall other female superheroes who have enough cache to be iconic.  It’s actually fairly amazing the lack.

From DC, besides Wonder Woman, the most commonly named super heroines from best of or popular of lists, rather than sexiest lists (though they make those, too), are Power Girl, Supergirl, Black Canary, Huntress, Raven, Starfire, Hawkgirl, Batgirl, Zatanna(!).  Here we see an obvious problem with being derivative of a male super.  Power Girl and Supergirl are both Superman knock-offs.  Hawkgirl is related to Hawkman.  Batgirl, Batman.  Not that this is unique to DC, but I’m looking for characters to fill roles, so why not just use the better known male super that these relate to?  Raven and Zatanna are mystical, which might be worth something, though there’s only so much mystic supers you want in a generic supers world.  Huntress has something of her own identity, but I think she’s street.  Black Canary might have her distinct identity, but she lacks resonance [ha!] and notoriety.  While a much more independent super, I always think of her in conjunction with Green Arrow.

From Marvel, we get Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey, Emma Frost, Shadowcat as mutants.  Which brings up something.  Female supers rarely have their own comic.  Even if they are notable within a team, even an insanely popular team like the X-Men, the iconicness of the characters ends up being limited because they don’t have a distinct identity from the team.  Black Widow, She-Hulk, Invisible Woman, Spiderwoman, Scarlet Witch (yes, she’s a mutant but she’s more of an Avenger), Elektra, Ms. Marvel generally show up on lists.  Interestingly, Wasp doesn’t show up on many lists.  It’s fairly interesting who the original Avengers were.  Not Captain America, except in reboots.  Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Wasp, Ant-Man.  We get some of the same problems with characters being defined by their relationships to male characters.  She-Hulk is defined in contrast to the Hulk.  He’s a berserker.  She’s a lawyer.  And, they are related.  Storm and Elektra (even if she’s street) are the only two out of these that I can see being all that enthused by as icons.

It’s also interesting to think about how many supers could have been women or still could be.  While there are plenty of female Green Lanterns, why did it go Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner?  There’s nothing particularly male about a “willpower hero”.  On the other hand, I can see why there isn’t a (major?) female speedster taking the Flash name – superspeed is just not a power I associate with a female.  Captain America could be a woman.  Punisher.  Green Arrow.  Iron Man, not so much, not just because of his name, but also for an obvious element to females in superhero worlds.

Comic books are obvious geared toward male-centric wish fulfillment.  All of the women should be sexy from this point of view.  I personally don’t have a problem with this point of view, of course.  But, it limits character types.  Monstrous heroes, like The Hulk, The Thing, and many others are rarely going to be female (how popular was the female Thing?).  She-Hulk, for instance, is tall and green.  She’s often drawn absurdly hot, as long as tall and green and muscular aren’t major turn-offs.  She can’t keep a secret identity, but she’s not monstrous.  Similarly, energy beings, supers with no physical body, etc. (e.g. Wildfire) are rarely going to be female because lack of body is less sexy than having a (comic book) body.  Supers known for gritty violence are less likely to be female – Wolverine and Punisher could have been female characters, though Huntress is fairly violent as I understand things.  That’s kind of threatening.  Powerarmored supers could be women, but powerarmoredness doesn’t lend itself as well to women because female shaped armor can look silly, armor that disguises a great body is not sexy, and there’s an additional barrier to the female super’s flesh (note how many skin happy costumes female supers wear for how important flesh is).

I was amazed how few indie female supers showed up on people’s lists.  Witchblade was huge for a while.  I looked into Dark Horse, Image, out of business publishers to try to find notable female supers, but there’s actually not much that I have any recognition of.  One would think that this would be a niche that would work for the indie publishers.

Obviously, many iconic supers have been around for ages, from times when views on gender roles were different.  And, there are more and more female supers and some of them aren’t strippers, some occasionally even don’t dress like strippers.  Team compositions are increasingly better balanced.  More established teams often seem like 25% or less female in their more common configurations, while younger teams and teams that have less iconic characters seem more likely to be close to 50%.  Still, that there seem to be so few stories of a single, female super that is not related to a much better known male super is surprising.  Of course, I’m not up to date on the comic book industry by any stretch of the imagination, so there might be greater change than I’m aware of.

Anyway, this gender gap for a world I will likely never bother developing has been the subject of a number of discussions (now that I think about it, all with women) I’ve had recently.

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Old Sometimes Is Just Old

October 28, 2011

I’ve been looking around at old RPG products I have for reasons I’m not entirely clear on.  I guess it’s the usual looking for ideas for how to do something I won’t ever do.

I started looking at Best of Dragon compilations.  Yes, the first ones.  It’s pretty funny reading about Gygax’s view of how D&D should be played.  Some things are easy to agree with – a game is not fiction.  You can’t simulate a fantasy novel well by playing a game.  Players should have control over what happens and, sometimes, what happens doesn’t make for the expected story.  Creating lots of classes is dumb – okay.  But, the fierce interest in the “videogame” role-playing style just indicates to me a shortcoming with D&D style RPGs, not something to be proud of.

On a more general level, I’ve increasingly wanted to mine my own RPG book collection for material.  I’ve mentioned this in the past, and I’ve also mentioned my typical finding.  Very little material is actually useful.  It’s not just D&D/AD&D modules that are incredibly mechanics focused.  Adventures for Stormbringer/Elric, adventures really for everything are so concerned with treasure and combat statistics.  At the time I bought many books, I was like many a D&D style player, jumping to the back to see what new monsters, magic items, and whatnot were included.

But, I never got tied into the hack and slash play style.  Now, when I look through an adventure, all I see are descriptions of treasure and stats for … does it even matter what the stats are for?  Just some random stat block that could be zombies, demons, wolves, fimirs, or whatever.  Here, have 8 gems, two are worth 50gp, 2x 75gp, 2x 200gp, 1x 500gp, 1x 1500gp … oh, and if you break open the handle of the hammer, there’s a magic ring.  Room descriptions are frequently sparse, with maybe a line or so with what you see.

But, even other products, which have more value, still leave me wanting.  I was looking at Dark Champions recently and, sure, it had stuff on the justice system and talks about criminal organizations, which are utterly frightening.  But, it’s one style of superhero play where I feel like there’s a gap.  I’m just not into street supers.  Dealing with mundane crime doesn’t float my boat.

What interests me is dark supernatural which has some of the same feel but is completely different in what you actually deal with.  Mystic Masters covers supernatural but more of the Dr. Strange rather than the Strange style.  While it could have been a lot better, I loved the Midnight Sons concept.  Dark Champions sounds like a book that would cover street supernatural, but it doesn’t.

Anyway, and so it goes.  A topic is appealing, and the execution is narrow and mechanical.  There’s very little sense of how to feel the world.  I know that I keep saying that GURPS supplements do a much better job with this, as they provide more mundane details, but it’s true.  I don’t know if it’s a matter of when they were written or in reaction to the other products of the day.  The reason for the title of this post is because it’s so often older materials where you can go through the entire product and have no more sense of the flavor than by reading the title.

Now, there is something that the old products can offer – maps.  As much as I’m not into using figures and don’t need to have a scene clearly defined, I do find that maps are quite helpful when dealing with things like buildings and similar (ship layouts).

Speaking of old, I own Chainmail.  You totally see the influence of it on D&D.  D&D is a wargame.  It has always been pitched as a wargame.  It’s not that I have a problem with adventures being built with that in mind, it’s that it’s so interesting how much variety was added to a game that has no real impact on play.  Desert adventures, frozen lands, jungle, other dimensions, rigid societies, underwater – answer to the variety is pretty much just memorize different spells.

There are products (besides GURPS) that give me that feel of the world.  Kingdom of Champions gives a lot of info on the UK.  The Canada supplement has a harder time differentiating Canada from the US, but it tries.  I just wonder how much of this I can actually find looking through what I own.

Meanwhile, when I flip through new products, the one thing I’m always looking for is flavor.  What’s the world actually about?  What are the mundane details that make the world distinct?  So many products are lacking, but, then, it seems like mechanics have always driven sales.

Not that other people’s interests are necessarily my own, but I’d be happy to look into suggestions for RPG supplements that do a good job of capturing the feel of a world rather than just its numbers.


Supermotivated

October 25, 2011

I’ve been thinking about superhero role-playing recently.  It could be due to a reaction to the usual style of play of my Friday night campaigns or it could just be because I haven’t thought about it much in quite a while.

I don’t expect to play such until February or so, and I don’t have any interest in taking on more GMing duties, so the logistics of play, such as game system, are not that great a concern to me.  Though, I do have trouble thinking of what game system I’d even want for a superhero game.  Champions is probably okay, though the reason I think of it all of the time is due to character creation.  Silver Age Sentinels might be worth taking another look at.  If it mattered …

I got to thinking last night about motivation, especially supervillain.  Sure, it’s easy enough to find a list of motivations.  Many of the crazy motivations are fine – with great power comes great madness makes perfect sense.  I’m more interested in believable, relatable motivations.

It’s also easy to find a list of human needs, but the most basic are food, shelter, and security, with the latter two being something that can be considered together or separately – doesn’t really matter to me.  Taking a normal person and giving them superpowers, none of these are much of a concern.  Sure, there are parts of the world and parts of affluent countries where it would be more so, but I’m just thinking of some random middle class suburbanite, such as myself.

So, if not those as motivations, then what?  Well, um, there’s an obvious motivation, but I’ll ignore it.

I’ve gotten ahead of my self.  I can’t think of any good supervillains in the Marvel Universe off the top of my head.  Sure, I could probably be easily reminded of good ones.  And, there are ones that interest me.  But, if I were to port over the character type to a personal RPG campaign, I don’t know that I’d be happy.  Doctor Doom?  Silly.  Sabertooth?  Personal enemy.  Magneto?  Magneto actually would be good, but this makes sense after reading below.  Kingpin?  Too street.  Dracula?  Too supernatural.  Loki?  Too supernatural and too otherworldly.  And, so on.  You get supervillains that are too oriented to a particular hero, which doesn’t work with a large enough RPG group, supervillains that are silly (even for powerful groups like The Fantastic Four or The Avengers), ones that are too narrow (e.g. Mr. Sinister), etc.  On the DC side, I’m less familiar and the supervillains, like the superheroes, tend to be absurdly powerful.

From a villain side, if you had superstrength, the ability to fly, were invulnerable to bullets, and/or could blast people with some sort of energy attack (in other words, were a brick or energy projector), what would you be doing as a villain if you weren’t just insane? 

Mercenary is easy.  I can totally see ruthless mercenaries of the likes of Bloodscream and Roughhouse, which is perhaps part of the reason why I thought they made decent members of Wolverine’s rogue’s gallery.  Speaking of mercenary, I can see it on the superhero side as well.  The supervillain merc sets up someone as a warlord, probably in Africa or some made up nation.  The “superhero” merc acts as a bodyguard for traveling dignitaries.

World changer.  Magneto falls into this when it’s more about mutant respect and safety and less about how humans should worship the almighty mutant.  Terrorism is a touchy topic, but it’s prevalent and reasonable in comics as a supervillain activity; one could even say that the default supervillain activity is terrorism.  Besides, comics try to use real world issues.  Magneto has often been a terrorist.  Extreme environmentalism drives various supervillains.  Superheroes get in the act by eventually deciding to take over government.  Often, the supervillain has noble intent but an extreme view that overlooks practical considerations.  While this can be to the point of insanity, there’s enough sane part of the spectrum where this still works as a good motivation/activity.

Wealth accumulation.  Seems a reasonable motivation.  We all like having more dollar dollar bills (or Euros or Baht or whatever).  But, when you can fire lightning bolts, rip tanks open with your bare hands, etc., why in the world would you ever be so stupid as to rob banks or do all of the typical things that get superheroes to show up and beat you down?  I was thinking about the most useful superpowers to commit crimes in a realistic world and it was all invisibility, teleportation, and mental powers.  Actually, just the mental powers would do it.  Cracked.com had an article not long ago about major crimes committed just with a phone, including stealing $30,000,000 (over a bunch of years).  It can just take saying the right thing to deprive people of money. 

Anyway, back to superpowers.  The ability of a single person to fly at will at high speeds is an amazingly useful ability.  Military would love it, though I already mentioned being a merc.  Superstrength, especially at higher levels, has numerous applications that can be turned into money without resorting to robbery.  Sure, sportfighting, which any doofus super could get into, is not heroic in any way, so even though it would be an easy way to make money, it’s lame.  There are occasionally jokes about supers using their powers for mundane activities – Storm making wedding weather perfect or whatever.  But, look around at what people get paid for.  If not a purely mundane job, with virtually any superpower, there’s some sort of specialized job that no one else can accomplish.

Stealing makes a bit more sense in cases where the villain needs something to live.  Here, though, we aren’t usually talking about stealing money, unless it’s money to pay for rare drugs or as a barter with someone who can provide some rare resource.  Vampires stealing life through blood drain, irradiated supers (or robots) stealing radioactive materials to live, aliens stealing resources from Earth – all makes sense.  But, as a motivation, it gets tiresome.  You feel bad for some of these villains.  Maybe not vampires.  But, Radioactive Dude needing plutonium to live is sympathetic.  Sympathetic is okay sometimes, like when being sympathetic to world changers with noble intent, but you really want to beat the tar out of supercriminals most of the time.

Revenge and/or hatred of something makes some sense.  A lot of supervillains are disfigured in accidents and hate normal looking people.  A lot are striking back at somebody who has wronged them.  Street gang gets shot by cops, weird doctor takes one of them and does experiments, new supervillain takes revenge on cops – okay, reasonable.

Part of the concern is looking at it from the superhero or superneither perspectives.  If I were to acquire superpowers in a world where it wouldn’t be awful (government test subject not being the logical life path), what would I do with them?  Would I just try to use them for my personal benefit?  What is a world like with superheroes and no supervillains?  Does such a world make any sense at all, ignoring that it would be boring as a RPG?  If it’s not clear what the superhero or superneither is going to do with superpowers, why would it be clear what a supervillain would do?

Comic book worlds rely on the superhero vs. supervillain dynamic.  Of course, because a primary reason to read comic books is for epic fights.  But, what is the logic behind the fights?  Fighting for the sake of fighting is ultimately hollow.  Superheroes can’t just exist to counter supervillains.  Supervillains can’t just arise to give superheroes something to do.  There’s only so many alien invasions that give a simple enemy to deal with.  I think my basic problem is that so much of the crime that supervillains engage in is insipid while the dealing with that crime often ends up being just as bad in terms of things like collateral damage.

Revenge, needing to steal to survive, trying to change the world, dirty missions outside of the eye of those who can do anything about it, insanity, aliens – that’s probably enough sources of supervillainy.  It’s the mundane stuff of blatant robbery of highly visible targets like banks or train shipments or whatever that I don’t buy, even street criminals with no superpowers blatantly robbing stuff in a world with superheroes stretches credulity.  Keep in mind that the Mona Lisa was stolen just because some guy stuffed it in his clothes and walked out.  The amazingly lack of subtlety in comic book worlds is, uh, amazing.  Mental powers, for instance, should pretty much get you anything you want, which is, actually, really scary when you think about it.


Interaction

October 24, 2011

If you’ve read Rosewater’s article today about the needs of a game, you have similar interests.  Anyway, interaction.  There are plenty of solitaire games that involve one challenging oneself against something.  For me, it’s a variety of single 52-card deck games.

But, such are of little concern to others.  What is of much greater concern to me is quality interaction in CCGs.  Any sort of interaction is easy – enjoyable interaction more difficult.  Since I played V:TES for the first time in a while yesterday, it’s not a bad time to take a look at examples of interaction.

Game 1:

Andy (Ass BH) -> Jeff (The Slaughterhouse of Judas) -> Ian (Gargoyles) -> Brandon (Imbued)

Andy’s game was easy to describe.  He brought out a guy slowly.  Then, he got ousted.  Truth in Ink was a dead draw.  His interaction in the game was virtually nonexistent.

For the rest of us, it was much more involved.  I was playing a rather straightforward Gargoyles deck with a number of Heirs to the Blood cards that I had rarely played with.  So, I could beat people up.  I just sucked at it.  Raking Talons was a dead draw since fighting my predator served little purpose.  I did get a Preternatural Strength and a Razor Bat out, so I could inflict, but the Imbued got out a number of combat ending effects, so I rarely smashed.  Scry the Hearthstone was actually hard to get rid of due to lack of directed actions.  I really needed more generic intercept to interact with the Imbued.

Though, I did interact with them.  Not a lot.  With my predator being mostly about either bleed for 1 or Trochomancy, I didn’t really care on that side, so I was often free to take at least one bleed action a turn.  My predator interacted with the Imbued by blocking low stealth actions.  He milled me with Slaughterhouses, successfully played Masque of Judas at times, used Tapestry of Blood.  He wanted to Trochomancy the Imbued, but it took a while for me to have a Deflection and an untapped minion with Dominate.  When I did have one ready, my predator thought I’d block his bleed.  So, we missed a couple of turns where we could have coordinated to rip out many of the Imbued’s Conviction.

The end of the game saw the Imbued at 4 pool with 6 Imbued, my predator with 3 tapped vampires after I encouraged him to bleed to see if I could topdeck a bounce card, and me with Forestal, Ferox, and Erinyi.  I had a Camera Phone on Erinyi and Heidelberg.  Imbued were out of deck.  I Dive Bombed the only untapped Imbued, incapacitated him.  I bled for two, succeed.  Heidelberg, bleed for two, Determine.  Imbued survive to oust second prey.  I’m pretty sure that if I oust, my predator kills me as I’m at 8 pool after ousting and he has double Trochomancy while I’m tapped out.

I was fine with the interaction in the game, except for one thing – trying to get my predator to bleed me at the right time so that we could purge the Imbued’s ash heap.  While correct to do and ganging up is the nature of the game, it was still uninteresting to be so blatant about it, which is why I wasn’t blatant enough.  The table would have been very different if I was the prey of the Imbued with the mill deck as the predator of it.  Would have had to build up stealth to make sure a Trochomancy went off, but it was likely to eventually.  Meanwhile, I would have held out far longer than the Black Hand deck.

Do Imbued get away with tons of tooling up when not seated next to a deck with real intercept?  Sure.  “Look, another Power.”  The Church of Vindicated Faith will trigger every turn.  I just don’t see them being invulnerable, if people are willing to work together.  Then, kind of the whole point of Imbued in the game is that you must have a plan for them or you will suffer.  We had a Trochomancy deck at the table, which was enough.  There are other decks that get as out of control when not specifically countered.

Game 2:

Jeff (as above) -> Andy (Dem SB) -> Ian (It Is Personal) -> Brandon (Dom/For/Pre)

I play The Parthenon and Ashur Tablets on turn one.  I follow with double Storage Annex.  A few turns down the line, I start doing what my deck does with double Personal Involvement.  For some reason, the Malks have no stealth.  So, I keep blocking with Tim Crowley and Anson the likes of Hagar and Bloody Mary.  I do a Personal Involvement to go down to 2 pool, call Parity Shift, it gets blocked.  I survive to my next turn due to the lack of stealth, and I Liquidation and play a third Ashur Tablets, pulling back every Deflection, both Parity Shifts, Failsafe, etc.  I take Deflection into hand.  I play Failsafe on my next turn – the one I already have in hand.  It never triggers.  I think my tombstone could read “Failsafe didn’t trigger.” as an accurate assessment of my fate when playing with the card.

Meanwhile, Brandon is free to Govern out an army of Dominators.  Jeff’s Byzar is Pentexed.  Even if Andy did bleed me at the right time, my Deflections would have likely just cycled Brandon’s.  Jeff gets ousted.  Andy’s first Madman’s Quill was burned right away, his second sticks, so my playing the game at 2 pool means having to deal with every bleed, which I do for quite a while due to that whole lack of stealth and Majesty enabling me to untap.  I run out of blood, though, from all of that Majestying and Deflectioning, so I get ousted.  Andy draws stealth and quickly bleeds Brandon out.

Interaction?  It was hilarious.  There was lots of epic failure with Andy not getting bleeds past zero intercept and Brandon not being able to get Jeff earlier than he did.  Funny is good, in my mind.  But, was it a good game?  It was an interesting one, and I think that’s good enough.

Personal Involvement didn’t end up being terribly psychological – no one was willing to cancel one.  But, it was a lot less suicidal than I expected.  Sure, I’d get down to 2 pool, but I could recover.  What I couldn’t do was anything productive with my minions, except defend (and they shouldn’t have been nearly that good for defending).  Also, Distant Friend is a lot more interesting than I thought.

Game 3:

Andy (Baali bloat) -> Jeff (still same) -> Brandon (!Tor anarch) -> Ian (Shatter the Gates)

This was epic failure on my part.  All I got were The Hordes and Anarch Converts, neither of which are relevant to the function of the deck.  I knew that The Hordes should be dropped since they failed as chumps, but the other deck I had some interest in trying had been an even worse failure in the past.

I did nothing of consequence.  Because of that, it’s easy to say that there was an interaction problem with this game.  Now, I did have an implausible shot at ousting my prey, but my predator kept costing me pool, so I had no flexibility for doing things like contesting Unleash Hell’s Fury.

Then, Jeff had little impact on Brandon, but Brandon found being Slaughtered annoying, so he Pentexed backwards.  Which brings up something.  Pentex Subversion doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it does others, possibly because I’m no fan of superstar decks.  But, in terms of interaction, it’s a major interaction reducing play.  With some patience, it will kill someone by making it challenging for someone to defend.  In this regard, it should offend me far more than it does.  Removing someone’s ability to defend makes for a boring game.  Just as rush decks removing the ability of people to act makes for a boring game.

It’s actually not clear what would have happened in the endgame between the infernal and the anarchs, but it was going to be such a grind and the game was getting late, to where Brandon just let it go.

In general, over the course of the day, I’d say I was entertained by two of the three games with the minion interaction not being great – little fighting when playing a fight deck, too much bizarre blocking when playing an interceptless deck – but with the deck interaction being quality.  The final game was why people should avoid playing decks they know are bad.  The deck isn’t as bad as it played in that game, but there’s no reason the deck should be as badly designed as it when I learned how useless The Horde was as a support minion.

Now, we just need to get to playing more regularly, so that there’s more opportunities for quality interaction.


Study In Strength

October 22, 2011

One of the most striking differences between Magic and various other CCGs, including V:TES, is the difference in philosophy when it comes to mechanical flavor.  Magic has block mechanics, set mechanics, cycles, subtle and not so subtle themes, mechanics that synergize with each other or work against each other, and so forth.

I’ve been thinking of taking a look at a particular V:TES set and seeing one sort of internal mechanical coherency it achieves, but then, I remembered thinking about how odd + Strength is in V:TES and wanted to take a deeper look at it.

Since V:TES draws from the RPG for flavor, it’s easy to understand what + Strength represents.  V:TM characters have attributes and disciplines.  A high Strength character may have no Potence dots or a low Strength character may have many.  Dots in Potence is handled by level of the Potence discipline for a given crypt card, with the level varying by relative number of dots – a 12th Generation with 3 dots in Potence and no more than 1 in anything else might very well have POT where a 5th Gen with 4 dots in Potence and 5+ dots in 5 other disciplines may have no Potence in the card game.  So, a crypt card with + Strength very feasibly can have no Potence, inferior, or superior.

Conditional + Strength, I see, as being different.  Where a straight Strength bonus represents a character with a lot of dots in Strength or, possibly, superior unarmed/melee combat skills, conditional Strength along the lines of “+1 Strength in combat with a Follower of Set” or “+1 Strength in combat with a Camarilla vampire” represents to me a character who has a hate on for these sorts of opponents – a rage that causes the character to expend extra effort, for instance.

By my count, there are 69 crypt cards with unconditional + Strength.  Five have +2 Strength.

Group Total
1 10
2 24
3 9
4 18
5 8
Grand Total 69

I tend to think of group 1 being the place where + Strength is relatively common.  In reality, group 2 is where there’s more variety.  But, that makes plenty of sense.  Group 2 has vastly more clans than group 1.  By percentage:

Group STR+ Total Per%
1 10 116 8.6%
2 24 392 6.1%
3 9 237 3.8%
4 18 427 4.2%
5 8 163 4.9%
6 0 33 0.0%
Any 0 1 0.0%
Grand Total 69 1369 5.0%

More what is expected.  Interesting that with how massive group 2 was that group 4 (with Imbued, with Laibon) exceeds it.  Of course, what we really want to know is how it breaks out by clan, since how prevalent it is overall is fairly arbitrary.

Clan Total
!Brujah 2
!Gangrel 2
!Malkavian 1
!Nosferatu 5
!Salubri 2
!Toreador 2
!Ventrue 5
Abomination 2
Ahrimanes 2
Akunanse 1
Assamite 5
Baali 2
Blood Brother 1
Brujah 5
Follower of Set 2
Gangrel 7
Giovanni 4
Imbued 1
Kiasyd 1
Malkavian 1
Nosferatu 3
Osebo 1
Ravnos 2
Salubri 1
Samedi 1
Toreador 2
Tremere 2
Tzimisce 2
Ventrue 2
Grand Total 69

Kind of a long list to make heads or tails of what the numbers mean.  How about how non-bloodline Sabbat clans have 19?  Sabbat have two of the five clans with 5 or more +STRs.  That’s not that interesting.  What is interesting is that it’s !Nos and !Ventrue and not !Brujah and !Nos.  Then, Lasombra have zilch, nada, none.  This is criminal even if Strength and Potence are two different things.  There’s still an affinity for each other.

Meanwhile, in the Camarilla, 22 total, owing no doubt to the group 1 bias.  Though, I include all Gangrel in Camarilla even if it isn’t a Cammie clan anymore.  Speaking of which, Gangrel take top honors with 7 +STRs.  Brujah are a respectable second, Nos third, rest behind.  Putting aside the Gangrel for the moment, we see an affinity between Strength and Potence.  Then, there’s the Gangrel.  I have a sense that Gangrel get + Strength more often in order to be able to burn vampires with agghands.  Or, maybe, it’s because in the source material, the outdoorsy clan would be the one that has the most physically capable vampires.

Of the independents, Assamites are crazy high, with 5 +STRs.  Certainly a much more effective combat strategy than Quietus to pair + Strength with Celerity.  Are the Giovanni really that much more musclebound than the Lasombra (4 – 0)?

One would think that living in the wilds of Africa would lend to greater strength than the cities of Europe and the US, but no.  One Akunanse, one Osebo.  Guruhi, anyone?  Interesting that two leader clans with Potence as an inclan – Lasombra and Guruhi – only get conditional +STRs, which really don’t count IMO.

Can ignore the one Imbued with + Strength and talk a bit about bloodlines.  First, they are respectable given how few bloodline vampires actually exist.  Ahrimanes do rather well, though you can’t play them together.  I guess you can argue the outdoorsy theme, again.  While True Brujah having none doesn’t bother me a whole lot, Gargoyles having none just seems absurd.

Potence Level Total
inferior 9
none 35
superior 25
Grand Total 69

Finally, tablewise, taking a look at how + Strength and Potence correlate interests me.  This table doesn’t manage that since it doesn’t compare correlation to other disciplines, but I think it’s interesting, anyway.  There are a lot of +STRs with no Potence.  We know that when we think about examples, but it says something about the game.  Also, 21 of the 69 are from clans that have Potence as an inclan discipline.  So, while about 50% have Potence, only about 30% are from Potence clans.

This is great and all, but it’s just numbers.  What does + Strength buy you in terms of competitive edge?

It’s often useful, as we see with how annoying Weighted Walking Sticks are.  Weenie Potence, blood intensive combat decks, and a bunch of other decks are not excited by being hit back for two just because of some random special ability.  Not 1.5/2 points good like it was valued when designing group 1 vampires.  Better in some cases than others.  With Potence, need only Immortal Grapple to be beat-y; Disarm becomes easy.  With Celerity, very beat-y.  With Protean or Vicissitude, burn-y.  With Fortitude, grind-y.  With Thaumaturgy, Blood(Rage/Fury)-y if not all that efficient.

Doesn’t help as much if you don’t control when you get into combat, of course.  Also, less relevant to deck design when you can’t put various vampires together because of grouping.  Tremere are a perfect example of vampires with great discipline crossover – neither with Potence but both with Celerity! – that will not play together.  Group 4/5 does have a THA +STR crypt, if a hideously expensive one, but Cassandra has little to do.  There’s quite the group 1/2 capacity 6 or less crypt for +STRs, though it’s not terribly focused disciplinewise … Anarchdom?

I don’t rate + Strength as being all that, unless you get into superstar decks, like Laz, or incredibly efficient combat monsters, like Lambach.  But, even with my lesser interest in combat, I find it amusing to have native beats.  Effective or not, it can be endearing, shall I even say, “cute”?


Enjoy?

October 15, 2011

So, I was reading Starcitygames.com’s front page, free section.  (All the articles in this section are Magic related.)  One person’s post talked about what he enjoyed in Magic.  What prompted the thought for him, Matt Elias, is interesting in other ways since it was a game Matt played where his opponent played a land and a one-drop, Matt won on turn two, and his opponent asked him if he enjoyed playing decks like the one he was playing.  Matt goes on to explain that the answer was “yes” because he enjoys drawing lots of cards and not, assumedly, because he likes having games that don’t qualify as being an actual game.

When it comes to Magic, I also like drawing cards, though it’s probably not as important to me.  The reason why card drawing is important to me has more to do with how I believe Magic’s greatest problem is the draw one card a turn mechanic.

Anyway, I want to talk about more than Magic.  I want to think about what I enjoy most in the CCGs I have played or have been most invested in.  I’m going to try to go in order of what I’ve played the most.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

I’m sure I’ve spent more time playing this than anything else, perhaps as much time playing this as all other CCGs combined due to longevity of play and relative  consistency of play.  It’s also my largest CCG collection from a straight card quantity metric.

What do I enjoy most about V:TES?

Not deck construction.  I may be prolific, but I dislike many of my decks, certainly don’t have the same attachments as I’ve had with decks for other CCGs.  I don’t even consider deck construction all that important.

Not the source material.  I was once fond of Vampire: The Masquerade, back before I played much of it.  I have some connection to the source material, I guess.  Though, I’ve always had separate interests.  For instance, I actually enjoyed playing cards that require Dominate for many years whereas … to give an idea how little interest I had in Dominate in the RPG, my two main characters were a Tremere and a Ventrue – neither had any dots in Dominate.  I could go on about the differences, but there are so many examples that it would likely just be tedious.

Not the politics.  Funny thing is that politics was far less important in my early years of play – 1996 (when I started) to maybe 2002.  People were much more focused on either the player to the left or the right and doing what their decks did, which was often lots of bleeding.  My style of play, which is far more concerned with what the crazy people across the table are doing than with my natural partners to the left and right, developed in reaction to that.  Now, of course, I often lament how much table management is a consideration over having people get ousted.  I have a basic view that any table can be talked to victory, and that’s just annoying.  What interests me the most seems to be …

Card interactions?  I stress context.  For everything.  There is no meaning without context, an argument I remember making in a college philosophy course.  Card interactions, in and of themselves, probably don’t do it for me.  I think it’s because games, more so with some CCGs than with other CCGs or other games, have a feature to them besides just the numerical values of the components.  I’ll come back to this when I get to Babylon 5.  But, as a V:TES example, I find it hilarious to Shattering Blow someone’s Assault Rifle in constructed play.  It’s not so much the flavor, it’s that there’s a game context that Shattering Blow is a bad card and that the odds of being at close range against someone with an Assault Rifle are negligible, after all, the odds of even playing against someone with an Assault Rifle while running Shattering Blow are minute.  It’s these sorts of odd/surprising card interactions, where odd/surprising is determined within the context of how a game plays, that floats my boat.  Because they are so much more varied in CCGs than in other games is likely why I value CCGs so highly.

What about on a more tree level than forest level?

I enjoy having lots of minions, though I seem to forget this a lot.  I enjoy being successful at actions.  I enjoy surviving when survival seems implausible.  I enjoy guessing at what is in my opponents’ hands at any given time.  I enjoy discarding master cards to Pariah.  I enjoy lots of sound and fury signifying nothing – lots of cards played with little of consequence occurring, to an extent, anyway.  Far more than other CCGs, V:TES is the game where I can accomplish the least in results and still be enjoying playing.

Babylon 5

For a game that I didn’t start playing until the year after it came out (1997) and which I haven’t played in nearly a decade(?) at this point, I sure did play a lot once upon a time.  Once our group started playtesting, it was crazy how much we had to switch between living in the future and going back to what was already in print.

Far more so than V:TES for me, Babylon 5 was about the connection to the source material.  I didn’t start out a B5 fan.  I was far more interested in Deep Space 9 as the look of season one and the terrible acting of Sinclair were so offputting.  I only saw a couple of season one episodes and gave up on the show.  Then, I saw season two, and I became a fan.

Where V:TES is much more a “game” CCG, B5 was definitely a “genre” CCG.  You were required to play with main characters and numerous cards were recognizable, obviously virtually all of the character cards.  For me, this was an opportunity to mess with people’s expectations, a common theme throughout my gaming.  I think the first tournament I ever won was with a Centauri Diplomacy deck, pumping B5 influence.  That would have been the Fall of 1998, just a tad (3 sets) before Centauri Diplomacy was legit.  I played Minbari Intrigue before Shadows.  Londo got Vorlon Marks.  Sheridan, Shadow Marks.  I often played Centauri Military, in part to counteract obnoxious Narn war decks, but also because … well, there were a number of reasons, so maybe not a great example.

Some characters I liked better than others.  I kept trying to get a Walker Smith card created, including when I was working on the Anla’shok design team.  Again, the point is that B5 was a CCG that lived within the context of the flavor of the show.

Other things I enjoyed:  Non-player influence, especially B5 influence – Shadow and Vorlon influence could get annoying due to the major agenda, but even so, to me, the best part of the show was the Shadow War.  Marks – I loved me my marks, even Conspiracy Marks, even Doom Marks after they became far harder to convert to Destiny Marks and Seizing Advantage got rewritten.  I loved me my hyperspeed, especially hyperspeed military – unlike the V:TES players who virtually always see me screw around, my Spike-ness came through with trying to win major victories in 20 minutes with Conscription openings, even though it was incredibly unfun to play against.

Which brings up something deserving of its own paragraph.  Precedence CCGs allowed you to choose your opening hands.  This was huge, potentially large.  Choosing optimal opening hands was its own subgame.  I agonized about it more with Wheel of Time, but I spent more time (because I played more) on it with B5.  The Great Machine openings, Military Build-Up openings, Gambling Londo being all about not having an opening hand – I think it was a major fun factor to these games that one had so much control *and* so much variety with how to play the early game.  Of course, as B5’s early game was often anti-fun to play, it was likely essential to have something fun about it.  Also, this would be why any sort of aggro opening, like Conscription, was so much more fun – avoid the tedious building actions and taking entire turns just sponsoring or promoting someone.

Magic: The Gathering

I’m not so clear what the order should be after B5.  I think this is where Magic falls in how much I played a particular CCG, though with all of the playtesting we used to do for Precedence games, it’s hard to be sure how much Wheel of Time I actually played.

What do I enjoy about Magic?  This would seem to be yet another opening for me to rant about how frustrating it is that I don’t enjoy the game more, but that’s not the spirit of this post.

I enjoy building limited decks.  I hate building constructed decks for Magic as there are simply too many options.  Yes, the complaint that I’ve seen by others for various CCGs I’ve played where I built tons of decks of it being too hard to complete one deck without thinking of a bunch of others is exactly the problem I have with Magic constructed.  But, limited doesn’t have that issue.

Similarly, I enjoy drafting.  I don’t love it.  But, having a plan for what sort of limited deck to build is interesting.  Drafting Magic is a lot more interesting than drafting V:TES since Magic is designed to be drafted and may be the only good CCG for drafting.

I like burn.  I especially like burn that can go to the dome or nuke critters.  I very quickly developed a distaste for creatures given how easy it was for one to die to Terror, Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, or whatever.  On the other hand, Spitting Earth doesn’t kill your opponent.

I like multicolor cards and non-basic lands.  A lot of this might just be aesthetic appeal due to coloration and layout, but for some reason, I’ve always been attracted to lands that didn’t just tap for mana or that tapped for multiple colors of mana.  I think it’s because basic land is the most boring part of Magic.  Similarly, multicolor cards are rarer, thus more exotic.

I enjoy the ability to come out of nowhere for unexpected victory.  Pretty much the only thing I ever enjoy about a game of chess is when I make some unexpected sudden win move.  It’s a bit more likely in Magic.  I was playing Zak Dolan, that would be Magic’s first world champion, with sealed Tempest product when I had him shut down offensively with Humility, but I had to jump through a bunch of hoops with Capsize with buyback and pinging until I could get enough land in play with the last card in my deck to burn him out with Rolling Thunder for exactly how many life points he had left.  The game was dumb for him for quite a while as it looked like I’d just deck with the board choked with creatures, but I knew that the game was winnable for me.

I enjoy thinking about all of the various card combos.  Well, not all, I’m not that Johnny.  Some, with cards I think are cool.  And, that’s the thing.  Magic has so many cool cards.  In a more general sense, I enjoy thinking about deck archetypes and how to win the metagame.  I hate how Magic relies on hosers and I’m no fan of sideboards, but sideboards do enable vastly more metagame choices.

Magic, more than V:TES, where I don’t think it matters, more than Babylon 5, which is more about doing “what if” riffs on the show, is a CCG that appeals to my sense of efficiency and effectiveness.  Now, for two others.

Ultimate Combat!

I’ve probably played more Wheel of Time than Ultimate Combat!, but UC! is more important to me, and it makes sense to put it next to Magic, considering that it’s basically Magic, with the awesome flavor and variety of Magic replaced with fun game play.

I feel compelled to mention, yet again, that UC! was the first CCG I ever played.  My first game turned out to be frustrating after the fact, but it’s quite possible that failing to win that game after taking away 19 of my opponent’s 20 hit points in one turn motivated me to learn more about the game.

It’s an impossible sell.  For those who like UC!, it’s preaching to the converted.  For everyone else, can’t get past the art, the theme, and/or the card names.  Nevertheless, UC! is the most fun CCG to play.

Why?

Well, what makes games fun to play?

I’m fairly sure that the single most important thing to a game being enjoyable is closeness of result.  In other words, that every player had a good chance at winning the game.  A huge turnoff to me is when I feel like a game is unwinnable, including for an opponent.  Similarly, the sporting events I find most compelling are the ones where the winner barely wins.

This is why Magic is a vastly inferior game to UC!.  Sure, there are blowouts in UC!.  There are games where you can get a lock.  They are rare.  Or, at least, they are so much rarer than other games that I always think of UC! as the game where “if I don’t get you this turn, you win next turn”.

UC! is the CCG where games play fast, players get beat down hard, and both players are always in danger of losing.  It’s also a game where tight play and subtle moves matter.  Deciding whether to throw a Speed/Strength in defense may determine the game.  May deck one turn before putting an opponent away (decking is easy and has the same result as it does in Magic).

As for the limited variety that comes with only having two sets, I still believe that there are plenty of decks for me to build.  Sure, some day, the variety won’t be there not just because of the small card pool but because so many cards are functionally the same, but it’s sad that the game was never given a chance to be played out to that level.

Wheel of Time

A strange entry in that it was never particularly popular, I only had two regular opponents, and it didn’t last that long, but I was incredibly invested in the game.  Can I call myself a designer?  Maybe not.  I’m in the game credits as of the second expansion, but whether that’s because I helped enough with design or whether it was because I was doing things like art requests, I’m not so sure.

B5 introduced me to the awesomeness of choosing an opening hand for a CCG.  Wheel of Time was where I spent hours deciding on an opening hand for one deck.  While the dice mechanic was full of problems, some of which were fixed with the expansions, the probability calculations and permutations of results meant that a tremendous amount of analysis could be built just around the first few turns of the game.  This for a two-player game that often took us two hours.

I enjoyed the brokenness.  Typically, I get tired of brokenness quickly, but WoT was different in that it embraced brokenness to where it was the norm rather than the exception.  Okay, admittedly, a couple of card drawing cards got fixed as they were absurd, but the game was always a battle of broken card drawing, searching, and discard.  I really liked the different starting character possibilities.  Yes, this is just a subset of opening hand, but I became highly knowledgeable about the source material and the Forsaken options were particularly flavorful.

On a more general level, I can probably say that Wheel of Time was the one CCG I took seriously (most of the time) and really put my analytical skills and interest in efficiency/value to the test.  I can’t say I was a great player.  The one major I played in, I was screwed in the one game I lost because I was playing with a proxy, but I also didn’t feel like a great player during the event.  I was never top 10 in the world like I was with three other CCGs.  But, our playtesting was by far the best playtesting I’ve ever seen.  I still can picture sitting in Dave’s apartment, proving to ourselves that Forsaken.dec had no game against Maidens.  The level of analysis I read about with Magic is the level of analysis we were doing for WoT.

Tomb Raider

Yes, Tomb Raider.  What’s interesting here is that almost all of my Tomb Raider play was playtesting or demos.  I just really wasn’t that into the game.  So, why bother bringing it up?

I’ve defended Tomb Raider a lot.  I’m not an art guy when it comes to CCGs.  I appreciate great art, but it doesn’t determine whether I enjoy playing a game or not.  So, it’s hard for me to relate to people who will only get into a game that appeals visually, even if I did pass on checking out Magi-Nation because of aesthetics.  In terms of game play, Tomb Raider is not a strong CCG.  It’s not even that much of a CCG.  It’s really more of a boardgame with CCG elements.

Sure, I thought about opening hands with Tomb Raider.  My best recollection of one was running two copies of the “draw two cards” card.  And, I’m sure the CCG elements were important to having the game be something more than just a boardgame.  But, I think the main takeaway from my experiences with the CCG is that it could be a fun boardgame that could handle a range of players that, with a different genre (or much hotter Lara Croft art), could have been something as appealing as the HeroQuest boardgame, which I see similarities between.

Other?

I had a Netrunner collection once upon a time.  I could include Dragon Dice.  And, so forth.  But, really, this has gone on long enough and none of these were comparable to the above (except, maybe, Tomb Raider).


Miscellaneous Articles

October 9, 2011

A variety of thoughts have come to mind recently.  One was even based off of comparing the NFL vs. MLB to one CCG vs. another.  But, then, I realized that there were too many sources.  I thought I’d just list some articles I’ve read recently and what sort of thoughts they inspired.

The Play’s the Thing

Ah, daily Magic articles.  The best are Mark Rosewater’s Monday ones.  The “nice, relaxing” reads are Friday’s Tom LaPille’s (a V:TES player, btw).  My third favorite are Mike Flores’s as, while possibly hard to see by my opponents in games, I am more of a Spike than anything else.  I should just have a permanent link somewhere – Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.

Two things that came to mind.  One is obviously that playtesting requires PLAYtestING.  People pontificate endlessly about (in CCGs) cards, decks, strategies without actually knowing what is true.  This is theoretically important should V:TES actually see new cards.  Though, if the cards aren’t going to be manufactured as real cards but simply be electronic, hardly matters as they become easy to change after being provided to the playerbase.

Of more interest is Tom’s comment about how playing a CCG is not the primary activity with it.  Maybe having a professional make this remark will help people understand this.  Why is it important?  Because it goes back to investment of thought, which I’ve harped on before when talking about how investment of dollar, dollar bills is not really the significant cost to enjoying CCGs.  I don’t understand people who enjoy playing CCGs but don’t spend time thinking about them.  Might as well play a boardgame, and I think it’s just that – I differentiate the experience between boardgames and CCGs precisely because the former doesn’t necessitate the thought investment of the latter.

Sure, I think about boardgames.  I think the Game of Thrones boardgame is an awful game, even with errata, but because it was so limited, it was interesting to consider optimal moves, basically it was chess to me.  I read boardgamegeek.com sometimes and like the analytical forum posts.  But, I mostly don’t care – I don’t care what’s good, I don’t care what’s bad, I don’t care to know how to win.  In comparison, even with CCGs I don’t play, I’m interested in what’s good, what’s bad, and how to win (even if I don’t make use of the knowledge).

Getting back to thinking about CCGs.  As Tom says, designing cards that create interesting choices is more fun.  If I had to say what the greatest failing of V:TES has been since White Wolf brought it out of torpor, it would be the lack of interesting choices.  Not as much with individual cards but with the metagame of what the best strategies are.

Dominate’s failing isn’t that it’s awesome, it’s that it squeezes out a lot of interesting choices because it’s so much more effective.  In comparison, something like Una doesn’t do that.  Combat ends has always been a problematic mechanic because it forced combat into much narrower paths as too many rush strategies just lose to combat ends.  Looking around today, I’d say Crows/Bats has taken over from combat ends as a tactic that makes other tactics so ineffective as to be frequently ignored.  If V:TES weren’t a game of small effects and weren’t multiplayer, it would never have survived developing as it did.  Relative to other CCGs, the metagame of superior deck archetypes for V:TES has just been amazingly stale.

I do go back and forth.  Sometimes, I feel the “I might be playing different cards, but I’m not doing anything novel” problem that others feel with V:TES.  Sometimes, I’m of the view “And?  It’s not the cards that really matter, it’s how interesting deck interactions occur regardless as to what the decks are made of.”

RPG.net

I’ve been reading more and more columns, reviews, and forum posts on RPG.net.  Some of it is fascinating.

Lloyd Brown’s Business of Gaming Retail column is my favorite.  I realized quite a few years ago that the gamer dream of having a game store wasn’t a very enthralling dream.  Unless you don’t care about losing money, you have to run a business like a business, which takes a lot of the joy out, nevermind that you aren’t going to be playing while you are running, though I suppose you could just be an owner who has others run the store.  Nothing about his articles makes me want to change my view, if anything, it’s somewhat more discouraging, but it is fascinating.  It does give hope to those who feel the desire more strongly that staying in business is plausible.

I read the Naked Steel column, of course, though it doesn’t get me that juiced for upcoming L5R products.  There’s finally going to be new tattoos, but I see a lot written about kihos, which are meaningless to me.  And, overall, I still feel like 4th Edition is too mechanical, too low power, too dry.  It’s funny because some of the things that bother me – the focus on weird schools – is precisely intended to not be dry and to show off the variety and depth of the world but only bores me because I wouldn’t want to play such a character.  Sure, it was absurd that 3rd Edition gave every clan dueling techniques, but so many techs at least seemed cool, which is probably more about the powering down of 4e (and increased focus on tactical movement) than anything else.

The animal column is … well, I preferred the article way back when in Dragon about how real world animals are badass or, at least, annoying as hell.  Not that I’ve read more than a couple of the articles.  I find it less interesting for gaming and more interesting for science!  That hot climates encourage larger surface areas is not something I recall reading about elsewhere, for instance.

This interview with Reiner Knizia is a recent read.  I actually find that cooperative boardgames are fundamentally flawed, so I focused on what he had to say about replay value.  In the forums, commenting on an earlier article in the column, someone said that cooperative boardgames owe a nod to RPGs.  Perhaps, but I find that they are completely different when it comes to the fundamental flaw of cooperative boardgames.  Cooperative boardgames are only penalized by having multiple players.  Perfect cooperation is superior to achievement than lesser cooperation, so you are always better having one player do everything.  What about traitor games (Shadows Over Camelot, Battlestar Galactica, etc.)?  I don’t find that they work or are enjoyable.  Having one person singled out to oppose the others randomly does not interest me.  Shadows Over Camelot is so hard by itself that a traitor should cause losses almost all of the time, which is neither interesting for the larger group or for the traitor.  Speaking of difficulty, I also see that the games must be exceedingly difficult in board mechanics (i.e. putting the traitor element to the side) to have any replay value.  While difficulty is hardly a major turnoff to gamers.  What the difficulty encourages is people playing more efficiently, moving towards the “why don’t you just play everyone’s position since that’s more effective?” problem.

Meanwhile, yes, with RPGs, having the best tactician tell everyone how to handle combat is going to make the party more effective, at least, at combat.  I don’t know if this element is one reason I’m not as excited by combat as others or not.  What I do know is that good RPG sessions have personal decisions that matter.  I like to get along with NPCs or obliterate them.  I like exploring, whether actually wandering around some place or reading through the castle’s library.  Cooperative boardgames lack the personal element as do all boardgames.

I’m a huge fan of HeroQuest (the old boardgame), but I clearly see that it has the cooperative boardgame problem that each adventure should be optimized.  You don’t even need one player as the game is sufficiently limited that all decisions can be figured out easily enough.  And, this is where I see the most value in cooperative boardgames – as solo gaming experiences.  Play against the board mechanics and see how well you do.  That might have been something I’d be more into before I got to know a lot of other gamers.  Nowadays, I can’t imagine the Pool of Radiance grinding that I used to do.  Probably why I don’t play videogames anymore.

Since new articles don’t come out that fast, I’m catching up on archived columns.  This post is long enough, maybe I’ll come back to some old articles in another post.  Or, people can just read articles themselves and let me know what they think are interesting articles.