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.
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.”
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.