Fan-tizzy

January 29, 2012

I’ve been thinking about fantasy RPG systems.  In particular, it’s the age old question of what FRPG system I would want to use.  Hardly exciting.  Can already predict talking about L5R’s sweet spot with mechanics and flawed world.  But, I started thinking about some specifics.

First of all, what games are FRPGs?  I don’t mean so much whether Shadowrun counts as fantasy or whether mixed genre games should go in their own, though this is relevant.  I mean more that there’s a particular subtype of fantasy role-playing that I have in mind.

Conan d20 is certainly a FRPG, but it isn’t what I’m concerned with at the moment.  Conan simulates swords and sorcery, a genre with limited magic and where supernatural elements are typically rooted in the “bad”, the enemy.  Or, if “good”, only show up to counter evil.

What I’m wondering about these days is what system would I play something like Wheel of Time in or Spellsinger or Young Kingdoms – worlds where magic is in the hands of the heroes.  There is a Wheel of Time d20 supplement, yet there’s no way I would want to use d20 as a base.  Young Kingdoms is covered by the Chaosium model, which I have no interest in either.

Why not these systems, though?

d20

Too mechanical.  Too much accounting.  I feel like I’m playing a MMORPG, which should give an idea of how pointless I view 4e D&D, which is an obvious MMO ripoff.

Starting characters are too weak.  Experience benefits are too slow and awkward.  Feats are boring.  The only thing I actually like about d20 is the skill system and “improvements” on d20 keep trying to “fix” the skill system.  I don’t even like how d20 or any D&D version does attributes, even though it’s the 3-18 system that I was first introduced to and has been used extensively in RPGs.  I hate using a d20 for resolution as to me it produces far too much variance and too many dull rolls.

I can’t speak to how well the magic system works for D&D d20, too little experience too long ago.

Chaosium

RuneQuest, Stormbringer/Elric, Call of Cthulhu, Basic Role-Playing, etc.  d100 resolution has the same problem as d20 resolution, only providing more “empty” values – rolls that don’t interest me in any way.

All of these games are far too crippling to PCs in my experience.  In our RuneQuest play, I just figure that a limb will be lost every fight, that death is two or three hits, that combat doesn’t really work unless you are superior to the enemy, have a bunch of potions (mainly Heal 6’s to restore limbs), and enough PCs know Healing 2 or Xenohealing 2 for recovery and stopping bleeding.

It’s RQ that inspired me to about a few things.  The first is the usual problem I have with features such as hit location, bleeding, fumble charts that screw over PCs.  Other than building the “there’s no symmetry between PCs and what they fight” arguments for why these things suck, which is kind of interesting when you think about just how much difference there is and how that impacts game design, there’s not much gained from this line of thinking.

The more interesting line of thinking for me that got me on this kick was two-fold:  what sort of magic system I want to see when the PCs are expected to be spellcasters; how games should handle recovery.

The more I’ve come to participate in RQ’s magic system, the less it makes sense to me from a marketing standpoint.  Much like Vampire: The Masquerade made a mistake by having variety of abilities at discipline dot levels PCs wouldn’t have and not at the levels that players care about, RQ is all about having this giant world of magic that PCs barely touch.

Even Battle Magic, which is readily attainable, depletes power points in a death spiral way and the costs of learning it are absurd relative to our income.  My recollection is that, in fact, the intention is to limit each PC to a few spells.  Unfortunately, that rules out the focused spellcaster and just causes everyone to look the same, which is the number one thing that I complain about.

Then, there’s Rune Magic, which seems like it would be important.  It’s laughable how poor the incentives are.  Sure, we are dumb and don’t sacrifice to learn Rune Magic every chance we get, which seems to be the way the game is supposed to be played.  But, even so, when I knew a Rune Spell, I never wanted to cast it, just like any one-shot effect that seems good is something no one wants to ever use.  Even at Rune Lord, every spell is a one-shot.  To actually play the game they talk about requires a bunch of Rune Priests, which I’ve been told shouldn’t be adventuring, anyway.

So, what should a “PC magic” system look like?  Daily spell slots?  It might get tiresome to hear, but I do think it works with L5R, though maybe only because the need to cast is relatively rare.  I actually have found, in my not so recent experiences, that D&D spell slots work okay.

Power points?  I don’t find this to work.  It’s all about replenishment rate.  In games with this mechanic, I find someone blows their wad out in a fight and, then, can’t do anything forever.  In Conan, sorcery is better suited to bad guys as they can replenish with human sacrifices.  But, then, Conan isn’t a “PC magic” system.

Fantasy Hero

Which brings us to Fantasy Hero.  The Hero engine was intended for Champions, and it often shows in how the system often doesn’t capture the flavor of genres without a lot of work under the hood.  On the plus side, the engine is so customizable from a power standpoint (the skill system blows), that you can eventually find a particular flavor.

Anyway, if you play it without a bunch of limitations, casting a spell is pretty much just a factor of making a skill roll (which blows) and spending END.  Rechargability is easy, so you can produce consistent effects (depending upon making skill rolls) each and every fight.  This is more what I’ve been thinking of when it comes to recovery.

I find that recovery can be a huge problem.  In Conan, sure, you will get your hit points back after three days of rest, but fighting back to back major fights is crippling.  L5R is not remotely designed for multiple battles in a row – shugenja will run out of Water slots for healing fast and possibly all slots; Void Points will be gone by the second fight.  Another case of how D&D does things better, as the whole engine was built around the idea of multiple fights.

Take an extreme example.  You fight a major battle with everyone a mess and half your offensive spells gone.  Clerics replace enough hit points and the other half of the offensive spells enable a second engagement of the same level.  When tapped out (spellwise), you are done for the day.  Now, of course, D&D’s dungeon crawling philosophy is predicated upon the idea that you can secure a part of the dungeon long enough to refresh, which is not different from other situations where you know when you have to stop and you stop.

With Fantasy Hero, if you want to enable an easily recharged battery, it’s simple to have that recharged battery.  Can take five phases, or whatever, to replenish END every fight.  I think a lot of people are opposed to this.  I’m not sure if they’ve thought it through or not, but I can see how it sounds wrong.

If you can instantly recover (heal, have full spell options, etc.) after every fight, then what’s the real cost of a fight?  Preventing death could be, though death is not a viable option in some worlds, like worlds that make any sense.  A lot of adventures don’t have a viable alternative to winning a fight.  In fiction, you would just get captured or you would fail some mission critical objective, like preventing the damsel from being whisked away or a village being burned to the ground.

Being captured has often been considered worse than death in the hack and slash world.  After all, can get resurrected, but being captured means losing stuff, and stuff is the game’s god.

Precious

Okay, I forgot to mention earlier another thing that always bothers me in FRPGs that I’m choosing to dredge up.  I hate stuff.  I hate external power.  To me, characters and not just fantasy characters should be defined by what makes the character special and not how special their stuff is.

Admittedly, in certain cases, a character is tied to stuff.  Elric is tied to Stormbringer, even if he is special without it.  There’s a certain allowance that can be given to a character, though only when the stuff is unique.

I particularly hate armor.  I quickly got tired of AD&D’s armor system where you always chose the heaviest armor you could.  RuneQuest is exactly the same way.  I don’t care if it’s realistic or not.  It has terrible flavor, and again, it makes everyone the same.  I find that in RQ, every single one of my characters gets exactly the same armor because any other choice is moronic.  For a variety of reasons, Conan has grown in my esteem, but one thing I always credited it with was that armor was something to be minimized.  Sure, it’s hecka useful to have some, more so than I thought for quite a long time, but in a world where the outdoors matter, anything above light armor is suicidal.

So, what system succeeds in the stuff department?  Conan does a very good job, even though some weapons are much better.  L5R does well enough, though 4e is a step back with how powerful armor turns out to be.

None Of The Above

And, so it goes.  I may really like L5R at the moment, but I have major questions as to how adaptable it is to more generic fantasy with even just the system.  I suppose anything can be house ruled, with house ruling the closest system being more sensible than another.  I could change basic healing in L5R to something where you pretty much restore all your wounds after every fight without Path to Inner Peace.

But, I wonder.  I wonder if I’m overcomplicating things and missing an obvious choice if all I wanted to do was dungeon crawl or reflect a specific fantasy genre where magic resided heavily in the party.  AD&D or oD&D would probably be fine for dungeon crawling.  As for high fantasy, I’ve already argued that the nature of it is antithetical to mechanics.  Medium fantasy, for lack of a better term, is not even something I have a clear grasp on.  Maybe Spellsinger would fall into it.  Maybe when you cross swords and sorcery with high fantasy, as Moorcock does, you get a balance rather than two different genres.

Maybe if I understood Ars Magica better.  Maybe if I went to the trouble of playing around with Fantasy Hero (and just ignore how much I hate skills in Hero).  Savage Worlds isn’t going to do it – I never developed a good sense of the mechanics.  RQ, in theory, could be made more palatable to me, but it would completely change the nature of the game, and it would likely be less palatable to others.

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You There, In The Woods

January 28, 2012

Perhaps a better title for a different sort of post.  If you’ve never seen the comic strip in Scrye Magazine about Dragonball Z where this comes from, well, missed out on hilarity.

Interaction.  Is a game a game if you don’t interact with anything?  Solitaire?  Interacting with random draws or layouts.  Too esoteric, maybe.  Interaction with opponents in a game with multiple people is a necessary element to a game.

As I often say, I once thought interaction was the key to making a CCG good.  Then, I realized just how much interaction in multiplayer CCGs is crap.  Player A trashes player B and either C or D wins, just because A’s deck only does the one thing of trashing another player.  If you did a cost/benefit table of two-player CCGs vs. multiplayer CCGs, I’d put something down on the two-player side about how two-player CCGs don’t have to worry about the kingmaking effects of negative interactions.

Which led to the idea of “quality interaction”, however subjective that is.

But, this isn’t a post about quality interaction.  This is a post about something I more clearly realized due to helping design a CCG/LCG style game.

You want to minimize m-… self-play.  The more time you spend dealing with your own “board” is that much less time you are spending engaging your opponent(s).  Seems obvious, but it also seems like designers forget about this when trying to come up with mechanics, especially when doing top-down mechanics, i.e. simulating the flavor of whatever the game is based on.

At least, if you are looking for enjoyable play.  For effectiveness, it’s something of a truism that the less you interact with your opponents, the better off you are.

I’ll run through the CCGs I know best.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

I hadn’t thought about this until yesterday.  The increased number of effects that happen during untap always struck me as being off, but it was only yesterday that I realized that at least part of this was because it was purely administrative functions that had no interactions with other players’ boards and card play.  (Burn option is not remotely interactive, just in case it bothers anyone I don’t mention this.)

To get kind of sidetracked already, people bitch a lot about Imbued, and a lot of the carping has to do with how long they take.  Then, you get counterarguments that people who know what they are doing don’t take very long.  It’s clearer to me now that it isn’t the actual time spent, but that the Imbued deck is doing lots of things that don’t involve other players.  Much like Freak Drive decks play with themselves for far too long.

There are some benefits to expanding the untap phase, such as helping people remember optional untap effects like taking pool for the Edge or using a hunting ground.  But, overall, it’s just more doing stuff that isn’t “playing a game” (interacting with people).  Similarly, expanding the master phase, the influence phase, and the discard phase all involve expanding phases where you aren’t playing with other people.

Which obviously brings up the minion phase.  The minion phase is the heart of the game.  A lot of people like combat because they see it being the primary interactive element to the game.  I see stealth versus intercept, bleed mods vs. bounce, actions vs. wakes being the primary interactive elements of the game.  But, I can see how some wouldn’t find those quite as compelling as the subgame that is combat as they like the feeling of more directly interacting.

Either way.  The point is that actions are where we engage other players.  Of course, it’s not just actions but the possibility of interference with actions.  Unblockability, such as from excessive amounts of stealth, is obviously less engaging.  I hate playing decks that don’t wake because being tapped out means not being involved in the game, even if all I’m doing is waking and bouncing – bounce is actually a pretty good form of interaction in the game, which is yet another reason I don’t see why people hate it so much.

Where Imbued are masters of the untap, Girls …, et al, are annoying for their abuse of the master phase.  No wonder people can find them more obnoxious than decks that do things I find far worse, like minion destruction.

Babylon 5

A lot of my observations about interaction have come from B5.  There’s no requirement that you interact with opponents, like there essentially is in V:TES.  B5 is a race game, so you can sit back and gain your influence/power as efficiently as possible and hope you outspeed everyone else.  This was one of the great criticisms of the game – that everyone could play multiplayer solitaire.

The whole beginning of the game, outside of some speed/hyperspeed openings was predicated on doing infrastructure work … which is why people so often hated the beginning of B5 games.  Sponsor, build, promote, build, build, build, build, okay … now we start interacting.

Then, as the card pool got bigger, it became easier and easier to spend more and more actions.  It wasn’t like those actions were increased participation in conflicts.  Those actions were often more infrastructure building.  It’s hard to choose one card as the worst card ever printed for B5 – too many options, but in terms of making action rounds as dumb as possible, Bogged Down has to rank up there.  The intention might have been noble – to force people to do important things, but the real result was to encourage people to do numerous trivial actions to prevent the inevitable Secret Strike that would guarantee a successful conflict if everyone else had passed.

Did B5 have a problem with too much administrative stuff outside of the action round?  I wouldn’t say so.  The game emphasized the action round as it should.  Possibly too easy to have a full hand of cards (20, 30), which slowed things down.  Probably too many ways to dick around for a while before doing important things.  And, often, lots of problems with conflicts being the focus of the game.

Wheel of Time

I enjoyed WoT a lot, so why don’t I ever try to argue for its greatness?  Because hardly any of the game involved interacting with your opponent.  Not to say that interaction never mattered.  Challenges could easily decide games depending upon deck matchups.  A basic Pattern Challenge contested might nuke enough resources to decide a game long before the Last Battle.  But, usually, the game was heavily oriented towards recruit, recruit, recruit, Last Battle.

It was particularly bad before the expansions added more brutal challenge cards.  Outrecruiting almost always won games.  The primary form of interaction was actually forced, random discard with Thom Merrilin, Liandrin Sedai, Sabotage (which I underplayed).  That’s not terribly fun, though Thom was the Light’s only hope.

Even after Invasion, Genocide, and the like got published, there were still many games where it was just recruit, recruit, recruit, Guarded by Fate not to die, see what happens in the Last Battle.

There wasn’t a lot of administrative nonsense.  However, there was a lot of time spent just on recruiting.  There was way, way too much time spent counting up symbols – an argument for turning WoT into an awesome electronic CCG.  Lots of card drawing and card searching.

Then, even if you did actually contest challenges, the system for determining who went to which challenges or wussed out was horribly clunky.  Possibly exciting in the rare cases it mattered, but just so clunky that playing with people you trusted was completely different from playing with strangers.

Magic: The Gathering

I think Magic “wins” this category in a couple of ways.  First, while there are ways to do things during upkeep or draw or end of turn, the game is focused heavily on the main phases and the combat subphase.  Second, Magic has lots of ability to interfere with what opponents are doing.  Counterspells might annoy me and be a general source of unfunnity … people like to have their cards do something … but they and things like instant speed creature elimination or responding to effects with card play or board effects all mean that the game has lots of ability to require players to be paying attention to what is going on.  Third, while I consider Magic’s draw one card a turn the primary reason it’s not as fun as it should be, limiting cards in hand does mean that each individual play has more relevance – compare and contrast with games where playing several cards might have no greater game meaning.

On the other hand, Magic does have interaction issues.  Creature combat may be far more important these days, but it’s historically been a minor part of constructed play.  My swarm of 2/2’s beat, your 5/5 flyer swings back, Bolt/Terror/Swords is more of an answer than Giant Growth.  Magic’s more open nature when it comes to card interactions also means far more combo decks than other CCGs, decks that just want to go off and you either can interfere or you can’t.  Can also be ground out by graveyard decks recursing creatures.  Can be hard locked or soft locked out of games a host of ways.  Armageddon or targeted land destruction to prevent being able to play cards, discard to destroy the hand, counterspell everything, whatever – all means games that suck.

In fact, as much as Magic should have better interaction due to its structure, it often has worse than other CCGs due to card effects.  Creature removal is far too easy, making any given creature unreliable.  Planeswalkers, which are awful for the game, become cardless ways that are hard to get rid (to the extent that anything in Magic is hard to get rid of) of that produce obnoxious, repeatable effects.  Equipment tries to solve the problem of creature enchantments being the suck, but they are a much more difficult way to interact with an opponent outside of environments where artifact removal is prevalent.

Ultimate Combat!

Why talk about Magic first?  Well, UC! is Magic.  UC! also has much less relevance to others.

UC! had far fewer effects to interfere with opponent card play, but it did have a lot of lockdown effects.  It had Time Walk.  It had a Time Walk variant.  It had Mindslaver.  It had Winter Orb (as a “sorcery”).  It had Armageddon.  It had lots of scary, scary things it could do to you and very little ability to stop those, mostly “Memory Lapse”, … in theory.

In practice, aggro plays are so strong that a lot of the control mechanisms just aren’t reliable enough.  One wonders whether it would be fair to compare UC! to a Magic format more like Legacy, even given the differences in curve and options, just because of the brutal nature of how decks won.

One thing I vastly prefer about UC! is that “creatures” are one-shots.  It may seem odd that I hate creatures in Magic as much as I do because of how easy they are to remove, but an undealt with creature just wins, often in a tedious fashion.  At least with UC!, you feel like you can recover permanentwise.  Though, I do find that Favorite Technique undermines this immensely.

UC! has about as many administrative needs as Magic, so nothing much there.  The combat subphase is far more important in UC! due to how few other ways there are to win and technique interaction is the norm rather than an accident.  Giant Growths are ubiquitous, which is a lot more interesting to me than Swords to Plowshares effects.

While I concede that proper Magic play requires a lot of thinking and that my numerous bad experiences often come down to poor planning (deck construction metagaming) or huge discrepancies in player skill, I’m quite the believer that proper play in UC! is a massive factor.  So, while the interaction may seem more limited and just generally less present, I find that I have to pay a lot of attention to the game state and making good decisions does get rewarded.

Tomb Raider

Sure, why not?  So, I didn’t play a lot of this game.  Who has?  I probably played my share through playtesting.

Two-player Tomb Raider never felt all that interactive.  Well, maybe starter versus starter was okay, though it wasn’t that hard for one player to get locked on one side of the board.  Multiplayer had a very different problem.

We often playtested multiplayer scenarios where you had to return home with your prize.  Not unexpectedly, it ran into the problem of people behind just waiting for someone to return and ambushing, much like you might see in RoboRally.

In addition, much of Tomb Raider had nothing to do with your opponent.  Getting stuff, overcoming board effects, deciding where to explore – the game was probably much better suited to solitaire play since decks designed to nuke your opposing adventurer(s) weren’t exactly fun for people who wanted to do things like tool up.  The balance of adventurer destruction just wasn’t really there.

Even worse was the intended interaction of card play obstacles.  A core mechanic of the game was supposed to be to throw obstacles in front of your opponent(s).  But, as with other games that had similar mechanics, like Shadowrun, obstacles didn’t do anything to help you and may just end up helping an opponent.  Nevermind that it was a major hassle to even be able to play an obstacle.  Again, I can think of how the game could work better as a solitaire game with there being an obstacle deck that randomly spit out additional obstacles to add to inherent ones on locations.

Just a strange entry in the history of CCGs.  I’m sure a far better game with much more appeal could have been created stealing a lot of elements from Tomb Raider.  Even reasonably likely such a game already exists as TR always reminded me of random dungeon games.

The Next Big Thing

So, if going to try to make some money off a new CCG/LCG or any sort of game, it may not seem like a key concern, but I would pay attention to just how much of the game is not designed around doing things that opponents are involved in.  Bookkeeping – bad.  Lots of plays that can’t be affected – bad.  Lots of phases to a turn where things must be addressed that don’t really engage the players – bad.

“Liveliness” in a game is tied to enjoyment.  I can think of boardgames that have similar problems, in fact very possibly a greater issue with boardgames, where there is lots of dead time for other players, but I think I’ve hit a reasonable word count limit.


Eloquent

January 16, 2012

It’s easy to complain.

I complain a lot about CCG cards.  I complain about their power levels.  I complain about their ambiguity.  I complain about their prolixity.

But, to say something is bad requires that there be context for what bad or good means.  I want to take a moment to identify and applaud good cards.  Not cards that are good strengthwise but in design.

I speak of good card design, but it’s important to remember that the final product is a combination of conceptual design, the province of designers, and mechanical implementation, the province of developers.  A great concept can be a mess if it is implemented (executed) poorly.  A dull concept might produce an elegant card.

What goes into good design?

Understandability.  Concise text is preferred.  Note that I don’t hate every verbose card, but every verbose card adds to an ever growing card pool full of verbose cards, which makes the game harder and harder to grasp.  Intuitiveness is part of understandability.  A card can be more complicated if it plays the way someone expects it to, a card that doesn’t play like expected is a poorly implemented card.  Consistency relates to intuitiveness.  V:TES is so inconsistent in its effects – “burn a blood if attempt to block”, “burn a blood if successfully block”, etc.

Interesting decisions, both at the deck construction level (the reason we play CCGs) and the play level.  A card that you put in every deck is a badly designed card.  A card that you put in no decks is even worse.  Cards that play differently depending upon the situation add to the richness of CCGs.

Flavor.  Flavor matters.  Not so much to me, so I’m not a great person to comment upon it.  I don’t really care that Hellhounds can shoot guns or that Walls can be made to Fear attacking creatures or that Morden can be Rescued by Vorlons.  Actually, the last is an example of my taking advantage of flavor, so it does fall into the camp of supporting the importance of flavor.

To limit this endeavor, I’ll take one library card from each of the last five sets.

Lords of the Night

Leverage
Action Modifier
Burn the Edge to get +1 bleed for this action. You cannot gain the Edge this action. If you would get the Edge, it is burned instead.

One could argue that there’s a bit of clunkiness to the card with the added text for not getting the Edge from this action.  Sure, a bit.  The effect of the card is so simple and the intuitiveness of not being able to just play one every action gives me sufficient reason to put up with the wordiness of making sure that it has its limitation.

Why is this a well designed card?

The Edge has always been an underused part of the game.  There have always been cards that reference it, if not so many that you would expect them to see play.  But, where the game kept adding mechanics, too many of which added little value to the game, developing mechanics around the Edge has been restrained.

Leverage is a solid card, possibly even underplayed.  It suits weenie bleed decks, of course.  It makes allies more threatening, including ones with zero bleed.  Its ability to be stacked with other modifiers makes it more lungerrific and reach-y.

The card is intuitive, except, perhaps, for its stackability with other bleed mods.

I find its power level appropriate.  How many to play a deck is a meaningful deck building decision as I’ve often found myself either being stuck with the card in hand or wishing I had it in hand.

Twilight Rebellion

Zip Line
Action
+2 stealth action.
Put this card on the acting minion. This minion may burn this card to get +1 stealth.

Twilight Rebellion has a modest power level.  I find it an interesting set and easily the best designed small V:TES set.  There are some other cards I might consider, but I see this being the most elegant.

Is it an amusing concept?  Sure.  But, I actually don’t think much about such things, so whether someone wants to question the flavor or not is outside of my concern.  I can certainly see people thinking it’s kind of silly in flavor, so perhaps there’s a better title for this effect.

The effect is straightforward.  It’s theoretically useful, if kind of hard to take advantage of in constructed play – I see it played a lot in limited.  It’s very important that the action be at greater than one stealth.  There’s resonance to the idea that your investment of an action, which is a major cost given how easy stealth is to find in the game, is rewarded by the action being likely to go through.  On the other hand, if it were a three stealth action, it might be a bit too easily put into play, too noninteractive even though anyone who can block the two stealth action to get it can probably block the action taken later given the same hand.

It certainly benefits multiacting minions much more, as do many, many cards.  That’s not so bad in and of itself.  Because so many other cards benefit multiacting decks, like Perfectionist, there’s competition for deck slots for cards like these, and it makes for interesting deck building decisions.

I still have questions as to what decks take advantage of this card the most.  I don’t think it’s all that powerful, and I wouldn’t likely consider it in any deck that has native stealth, which is a lot of decks.  However, it’s subtle, and I believe that I’ve underplayed a lot of subtle cards in this game.  It reminds me of Zillah’s Tears.  Also, I like allies, and this card is an interesting card for decks that run allies that have the time to take such actions.

Keepers of Tradition

Rego Motus
Combat
Thaumaturgy
1 blood
[tha]    Prevent 2 damage from the opposing minion’s strike. A vampire may play only one Rego Motus each round.
[THA]    As above, but for 4 damage.

There are cleaner cards.  Horseshoes is a much cleaner card, especially when you consider that the limitation of one per round is unnecessary.  Perfect Paragon is fairly clean, though it uses a nonintuitive mechanic (negative intercept), and is another card I’d consider.

The reason I pick Rego Motus over those is that Thaumaturgy really needed something like this.  It has always been a combat card heavy discipline that wasn’t all that functional in combat.  Theft of Vitae provides some defense from hitback, but what about when you don’t want to play Theft?  What about Blood Rage and Blood Fury that encourage a close range combat deck but offer little in the way of efficiency against even someone who just hand strikes?

Sure, it starts getting into Fortitude’s realm, and Fortitude and Thaumaturgy have had various synergies, but being forced to run Fortitude or Leather Jacket or Guardian Angels or whatever has largely meant little competitive impact of combat strategies outside of Theft.  Nor does Rego Motus replace Fortitude completely as Fortitude is still much better with Burst of Sunlight and better in many other instances at damage prevention due to the limitations of the card.

It doesn’t help against Carrion Crows.  It costs a blood, so it’s not all that much better than being hit by hands each round, barring cost reduction.  It’s not the greatest thing ever.  It’s not better than a lot of Fortitude cards.  But, it does open up possibilities for Thaumaturgy that … again … make for interesting deck building decisions.

I also considered Dark Mirror of the Mind.  I don’t get the flavor – it should really have flavor text.  I don’t actually think the way the game makes a distinction at eight capacity (Golconda, Political Stranglehold, etc.) is to the game’s benefit as a more obvious breakpoint is nine capacity, though admittedly, there weren’t nearly as many 9’s, 10’s, and 11’s when a lot of the cards were made.  But, it’s more that it’s not all that clear what role the card has in the game that made me choose something else.  So many fatties can do actions worth as much as two pool or that are more potent that it’s hard to see just why I would use up actions for this rather than something else.  I bring this card up because, like Horseshoes, it’s a very simple mechanic and the game could certainly use more cards with simple mechanics, but it’s also an example of how a card should serve a purpose in a CCG and I’m not all that clear on what purpose this card serves.

Ebony Kingdom

Well, okay, four of the last five sets.  This set is just awful, and I don’t see any library card I would want to set forth as good design.  There are so many cards in this set that should never have been made, the most contemptible being Mundane and Pallid.

Heirs to the Blood

Off Kilter
Action
Samedi
+1 stealth action.
Gain 1 pool. If you do not have the Edge, you get the Edge. Otherwise, you may burn the Edge to gain 1 additional pool.

Heirs proved harder than I expected to find a card I wanted to single out.  For similar reasons to Leverage, this card develops an underdeveloped part of the game.  It’s a bit clunky in text, though maybe just better wording would help.  It addresses a specific need in the game, that Samedi have problems with pool maintenance.  Sure, Samedi have Little Mountain Cemetery, but this provides a different option.  It’s not obvious whether to play both in the same deck or just one, though I would say that one or the other is the right call.

Some words about Wider View.  I love Wider View, for the same reason that I put Tupdogs and Anarch Converts in so many decks.  And, that’s the problem with the card.  The intent of the grouping rule is to prevent dial-a-crypt, but these three cards all work heavily against that for many decks.  Sure, the grouping rule still does something, preventing all of the bonus master phase action vampires in the same deck and so forth; it also prevents tons of deck possibilities that aren’t abusive.  But, plenty of decks, now, for all intents and purposes have whatever crypt they want.  Crypt control is not bad by itself, it’s the ubiquity of play that the card sees that concerns me.  Much like how I think Tupdog and Anarch Convert are really cool and interesting in how they work, with the latter being great for the game, but I think both have design issues.

Besides the crypt thinning aspect of Wider View, I believe there’s a subtle impact of so much Wider View play.  Ascendance is rarely worth the card slot, but Wider View means that there’s a bunch of Ascendances in people’s decks, adding a bit more pool to decks, which I believe contributes to making it harder to oust people.

I considered looking at crypt cards, but really, that’s an exercise so much more difficult to fathom that I’m not interested.  Going back to Anarch Convert.  Anarch Convert very well may be great design in that it solved such a huge problem in the game in a way that is kind of odd but works.  It would have been nice if it wasn’t necessary to fix the problem in this way, though.


Deceptively Disinterested

January 12, 2012

I like words.  I like them so much I make up ones rather regularly as one hopes is noticed when I write such things as “paralysistic” in my posts.  While I’m all in favor of making up words, I’m not terribly fond of changing the meaning of words.  Sure, it happens all of the time.  It’s the nature of language that words come to mean very different things, often enough the opposite of what they once meant.  Slang becomes mainstream, mainstream falls out of favor.  Whatever.

I want to point out two words, though, whose use continues to be notably annoying.  I’m not on some crusade to restore proper use of these words, I just feel like venting a bit and thought it might be interesting for those who don’t notice how they are used.  At some point, it will hardly matter – language evolves.

I’ll even try to tie this into gaming, somehow, since the point of the blog is not to muse upon random things in life.

Enormity

I heard this misused on a radio show this morning.  Yes, I listen to radio.  I know.  Bazaar [just seeing if you are paying attention].  I knew that our current President, Barack Obama, misused the word in his State of the Union Address; it is the only thing I recall of his speech.  I hadn’t realized Bill Clinton had also done so.  And, of course, these aren’t the only two presidents to misuse the word.  One would think their speech writers would work a bit harder or pay more attention to history.

Someday, it will likely have a primary meaning of vastness or enormousness.  Meanwhile, it should be used to mean gross wickedness, ghastliness, etc.  The enormity of a crime isn’t scale in and of itself but the notable wickedness of the crime.

So, that the enormity of the lack of rarity indicators on V:TES cards is ignored by the playerbase to such a degree is surprising to me and others I play with who are familiar with multiple CCGs.  If everyone else [it’s possible that someone else hasn’t in the last 10 years] can indicate rarity on the cards, V:TES can do it, too.  “But, rarities change.  Cards become fixed.”  Um, yeah, that happens in other CCGs, too – somehow, they manage to indicate rarity on the cards, anyway.

I could bring up other problems with V:TES – lack of keywords, lack of clear timing rules, inconsistent wording – that would fall under an area of management of the game that was not card design, but really, these aren’t nearly as surprising, so I kind of find them lacking in the enormity department.  I don’t really have much else to use as examples, mostly because there aren’t other games I care enough about to disparage to such a degree.

Moot

Increasingly, moot has come to mean settled.  This is because proper use of the word had the equivalent result to a matter being settled and people hearing its use didn’t realize the distinction.

What does it mean?  Debatable.  More specifically, it’s a matter in doubt because it’s debatable on an academic level.  You don’t argue about moot things in the course of your normal day because there is no known way to come to a conclusion as to what the answer is, not because the answer is known already or because there is no answer since the question is faulty.

I’ve gotten really tired of people answering rules questions with “Moot.” when what they meant was irrelevant or that the answer was obvious from information available.

What is the best vampire in V:TES?  Moot.  I claim Tupdog.  At virtually no point in the game’s history would I have said Arika as Anson was clearly superior up until at least the change in wording to Anarch Revolt.  Or, was he?  Who is up for some academic debate?

What is the best deck in V:TES?  For any given tournament?  Moot.  What’s the metagame going to be like for a given event?  I don’t know.  I can try to theorize.  So can everyone else.  The metagame isn’t the end all and be all of making a deck decision, anyway.  A common comment with Magic players, a game where metagames are much more important, is that you still have to be comfortable with the deck you play.  If you are comfortable with aggro and suck at playing control, doesn’t matter that control will be advantaged in the metagame.

Is Dominate overpowered?  … I don’t see this being moot, more being obvious.  I stated that I’d like to see movement in what the best clans/disciplines/whatever are in V:TES.  The sort of reply that I recall from my statement was along the lines of “You can’t make Quietus the best in the game as it would cause too much of a power increase or would require bannings/card rotations.”  Well, if Dominate weren’t so overpowered, it would be that much easier to elevate other disciplines.

What is the best RPG?  Moot.  What sort of experience are you looking for?  I hate d20 mechanics because I find them fiddly and flavorless, but I like Conan d20 because the world is a great world for swords and sorcery style role-playing and the mechanics aren’t as overbearing to the experience as in D&D 3.0 or 3.5.  I also hated FATE as being too vague, too confusing, counterintuitive, and forcing players to do things they should have the choice to do on their own.  Are we talking one shot or campaign?  Campaign play should see a good experience system where characters evolve mechanically if not always becoming clearly more powerful.  One shots don’t need an experience system at all.

Unfortunately, many more interesting RPG systems (to me) are tied into a specific world, a world that I may not care that much about.  My favorite system today is Legend of the Five Rings Third Edition Revised; it has been my favorite system for years.  But, I only like part of the world of Rokugan.  I would much rather see the system applied to other genres, assuming, of course, one can find enough players.

If you can’t find enough players to play a RPG, the value of that RPG is none.  It’s not moot, not debatable.  But, you can always find players if you try hard enough, so we move back into the world of moot-osity.  Course, can come from the other direction.  If a play group enjoys a RPG, it has sufficient value.  It’s not debatable what its value is – its value is “This is fun.”

Pedantic?  Sure.  That’s the way I roll.  Can someone find some grammar error, spelling error, misuse of a word (probably a use of “ironic”, which I don’t want to get into, though it could have been mentioned) on my part?  Sure.  It’s not like language is static or easily mastered.  I just prefer people to use enormiosity when they mean vast and unregardable when they mean irrelephant.


Antediluvian

January 8, 2012

As I mentioned, sort of, I got some V:TES in while visiting family.  Where our general area is doing fairly well (again), the D.C. area has lost critical mass with the core group.  Tis a shame in many ways.  We are talking about the hood of the reigning NA Champion, after all.

Anyway, with my presence, four old timers got together.  I made the conscious decision not to take decks, as I wasn’t checking any bags and I wasn’t that interested in my decks, though I would have been a bit more interested in lending out than playing any of them.

So, I borrowed three decks.

Game 1:

Colin (Dom/For) -> Pete (Shattering Crescendo 5/6) -> Ian (Stanislava Great Beast) -> Matt (Death Star)

I had almost forgotten what Colin’s deck did as it had so little game against predator and prey.  He did bring out a Prince and some weenie bleeders.  Pete took a while before starting to shatter them into oblivion.  Matt worked on creating dudes.

I.  I had problems assembling my pieces.  Pete dropping Anarch Troublemaker early meant I wanted to time getting Soul Gem out on the turn I nuked for the Great Beast.  Also, I had little incentive to Clan Impersonate to Baali as my 4 votes slowed Matt down, forcing him to build Alamut counters to ensure passage of votes.

So, I wasn’t bothered by Vast Wealth getting Suddened.  I drew Soul Gem and Vast Wealth.  I discarded Clan Impersonations as I always had plenty.  I kept bleeding for three rather than doing my combo.  The only cards I was really missing were Freaks/Marches to do all my thang in the same turn.  I did play a Soul Gem, which got nuked by Troublemaker, but it hardly mattered as I dropped Vast Wealth shortly afterwards and promptly drew another Soul Gem.  The Parthenon let me flow my Abombwes, Villeins, Vast Wealths, and whatever.

Colin fell without seriously damaging Pete.  The game was surprisingly balanced.  Matt had more pool than I cared for, but Pete’s Crescendos were going to rip up his dudes.  I did Beast.  Colin played Matt’s position for a bit while Matt got pizza.  This may have had some impact on the result due to difference in experience with the deck.  My 6 bleed a turn booted Ass.  Pete shattered the Great Beast into torpor.  Diablerize my own Beast, vote to live (with Soul Gem), Force of Will bleed, Dare the Dawn to explode, Bleed with new Stanislava and Foreshadowing Destruction for the kill.

Game 2:

Pete (Grinder) -> Matt (Reanimated Corpse/Shambling Hordes) -> Colin (Trem) -> Ian (Demdemeh)

Not sure what the preferred name for the RC/SH deck is.  Anyway, part of the point of borrowing decks was to play things I don’t end up playing.  In the case of the first game, I just don’t like superstar vampire decks, so I avoid things like the all Stanislava crypt.  In the case of this game, I had actually meant to build, for quite a while, a serious Demdemeh deck.  I might have built one at some point, but obviously, it didn’t mean much to me.

At first, I overlooked the Smiling Jack in my opening hand.  I dropped it first turn, the way it was meant to be played.  I brought out Bobby Lemon to hold the fort while I worked on Demdemeh.  I put out FBI Special Affairs Division which ended up being more of a threat to me than a benefit.

Colin had a reasonable game for a while.  I blocked somebody with Demdemeh and ended up in torpor, being rescued by Lithrac as Matt struggled to find The Baron.  What he didn’t do, what nobody did for a while, was seriously try to remove Smiling Jack.  By the time people started getting serious about it, I could block and it got up to 5 counters, which was ripping up the table.  I eventually let it go as I could see how easy it would be for Colin to get ousted if it hung around another turn.  Matt had finally gotten The Baron out and seemed to be able to easily bleed Colin.

Pete had no game.  I wasn’t sure how I could bleed with my deck, but Elephant Guardian elephanted before becoming an ally.  Dragonbound was also out, which was creating hurt.  Colin couldn’t survive bleeds and didn’t bounce and Pete couldn’t do anything, so we went to the endgame.

I kept putting out more allies, but then, so did Matt.  I wasn’t clear how I was supposed to get bleeds through, and I didn’t have nearly enough intercept to block stealthy bleeds.  Matt had been away from the table when I played Ancestor Spirit on Demdemeh – a card I would not have in the deck due to the general inability to get zero stealth actions through.  Matt bled me a lot for two, so I made my lunge.  With Carlton on his side, he could have chumped Demdemeh but blocked an Elephant, and I Changelinged for the kill.  I was dead next turn, so this was a faux victory.  Mainly, we wanted to get on to game three.

Game 3:

Matt (Kenny 419) -> Pete (Saulot & Friend) -> Colin (!Nos) -> Ian (Blood Brother Shock Troops)

I got a really … really … good draw.  I put out The Parthenon.  I put two Menor in play.  I had Fabrizia ready to Troops up and Jaggedy Andy for added humor.  Colin Famed one of my Menor and promptly got Backstepped, Thrown Sewer Lidded, Target Vitalsed into not wanting to block future actions by my empty vampires.

Matt made Kennies and Bennies, which I quickly grew weary of as they could chump.  Colin was wallish all game until his demise.  Neighbor John supported Saulot, getting the Ivory Bow, though it meant nothing to at least two of us.  I Shocked 2 Troops in play and plinked Matt’s guys with Horseshoes to prevent more Embraces.  Eventually, I tap out bled/hunted every turn, with my two Troops running out of Horseshoes, never having my Famous Menor who was often empty go down, even though it likely would have helped me.  Matt got out a bunch of 419s, but Pete had good pool.  I torped Saulot.  When he Sensed my Death, I Backstepped twice, Lid-Vitals.  At some point, I Backstep-Lid-Vitals, press, Backstep-Lid-Vitals, press, Backstep-Lid Saulot.

In the end, I had two Troops with superior Potence, Jaggedy with superior Potence, Fabrizia with superior Potence, and four Menor (the two new ones didn’t have superior Potence) with some deck left, and Pete conceded.

We talked some about the problems with getting enough people together.  I totally understand the difficulties, though, again, it’s challenging for me to relate to others who aren’t as invested in CCGs as I get.

BONUS

I was a bit surprised to get an e-mail towards the end of last week about playing in Livermore last night.  More V:TES – 4CL and house rule style.

Game 1:

Al (Aus/Cel guns) -> Bruce (Malk toolbox) -> Cort (Gangrel) -> Ian (1/2 Presence/Protean) -> Rich (Cel/Obf/Pre)

I Effectively Manage, put 1 on Bear Paw, 2 on Don Cruez, and 1 on Mirembe.  Bear Paw comes out and learns to master Protean.  Wynn pops up behind me.  Prey brings out Renenet.  Felicia, Victor Revell, and Lynn Thompson (no grouping rule for this group) for Al.  Bruce gets Zebulon, Dancin’ Dana, and Brazil.  Later he adds Dre, who should never have been in that crypt.

After Wynn is Raven and, eventually, Gitane.  It was funny.  I wanted to make Bear Paw Gangrel Justicar, but I had to wait until Don Cruez came out and to get the edge to do it.  Wynn only rushed at the end of Cort’s game, when it didn’t matter.

I was never seriously threatened.  The Malks were not pleased by the quicks behind them, Felicia got a Desert Eagle because Cort Suddened Bruce’s Special Report.  Not that Al was in a good position.  Between combat ends and stealth, Rich could pretty much do anything he wanted forward.

On the other hand, he couldn’t do anything to affect me.  Nobody could.  Bear Paw mastered Presence.  I could have bled Rich out with Bear Paw, Daliyah, Don Cruez, and Kallista but thought he wouldn’t be able to lunge Al away and figured giving him another turn would only help me.  Bruce dropped Anarch Revolt.  I ousted Rich.  Al could only survive a bit longer.  Cort didn’t do anything to defend himself.

In the endgame, Dre’s Ivory Bow, which for some reason he got from Zebulon, aka a dude who actually has Auspex, did torp one of my guys.  I started drawing a ton of masters late in the game.  I had a reasonable amount of Earth Meld, Form of Mist, Majesty, and a Flesh of Marble to kill Muddled.  What I didn’t have late in the game was bleed mods.  I did take some pressure off by Clawing, Amaranthing, Ritual of the Bitter Rose-ing Dancin’ Dana, but Zebulon did this weird thing of bleeding for more than one at stealth.  I drop The Parthenon to help clear cards, taking me to 1 pool, Blood Doll 2 back, fail to draw kill – only needed one boost, get ousted by Cloaked bleeds.

My deck was precisely the amusing sort of awesome that I would have built in 1997 (sans the Dark Sovereigns and Ancient Hearts cards since my group back then didn’t allow them).  I didn’t play Shackles of Enkidu or Blood Tears of Kephran.  I did run out of bleed, not having any in the top 10 of my library when I fell.  But, the rampant combat defense was metagame win.

Game 2:

Ian (Tremere) -> Cort (Dom/Obf weenies) -> Bruce (Anson/Ozmo master) -> Rich (!Trem) -> Al (Gangrel in torpor)

Cort pounded his father.  If he would have played it right, he would have gotten him, too.  This with Samson who learned Obfuscate, bought a Camera Phone, Watenda, Zoe, and Aleph.  Yes, this was a horrible, horrible crypt for what his deck does.

Rich brought out Paul Cordwood.  He eventually got Ash Harrison, Sengir Dagger, and did basically nothing in the game.  Al got out Badger, Camille, Raven (yup, this is legal), and Roman.

I was never seriously threatened.  I could have been hammered by Force of Will, but in a 4CL environment, that wasn’t terribly likely.  What hurt Al was not drawing permableed earlier.  Also, that I twice ‘schrecked him when he played Form of Mist.

I brought out Magdelena Schaefer, who got the Ivory Bow on turn three.  Muaziz popped.  Chantry, which I never used.  Astrid and, later, Sarah Cobbler.  I couldn’t do much to Cort as he had a Hunting Ground to defeat my Cryptic Mission (I drew only one), I had no rush, and I was even worried about bleeding.  Bruce KRCed him for 6 to put him in ousting range.  Cort sort of lunged, starting the turn with Dramatic Upheaval (legal!!), which got shot down by the table, using up the action which would have ousted his father.  Bruce brought out Anson, Minion Tapped him when Cort’s lunge failed.  Bruce had a new lease on life and ousted Rich with 7 bleed after Rich had to block a 5 bleed bounced from Cort on a following turn.

When his second lunge failed, I took him out with Threats and Bonding.  I wasn’t terribly worried about combat, in part due to a Flak Jacket on Muaziz and a Leather Jacket on Magdelena, though I kept combat heavy hands just in case I could Blood Fury or Walk of Flame someone.  I did try Blood Fury on Bruce’s Hadrian Garrick, but it missed.  I caught Anson with some of my negligible intercept and put him in torpor.

Al’s deck finally started doing what it was supposed to with a Force of Will bleed and a KRC, but it was too little, too late.  With an Anarch Revolt on the table and my prey at one pool, I decided to just bleed him out and bled Al out in the same turn as he was at two pool.

I’m not as interested in the second deck.  It has some interesting interactions, but it’s so boringly old school.  It was amusing that three of the decks in the game ran Rotschreck.

Well, all in all, quite enjoyable V:TES so far in the new year.  I think I’ll be making more decks like the Pro-sense deck.


Old Time Fan

January 5, 2012

I’m not going to do another “here’s what the new year will look like” post as last year’s was boring and I couldn’t validate predictions in a number of cases, anyway.

I was visiting family recently.  An interesting thing about visiting family is that the region where they live is one where I know a decent number of people who play games.  I can play V:TES (which I’ll get to in a subsequent post).  I almost got in a table of Heroes of Rokugan.  A friend of mine here grew up there, and I’ve gamed with his friends, playing Magic and boardgames.  I have in the past played the Babylon 5 CCG out there.

Then, there’s the actual possibility of gaming with family.  A recent present for one of my brothers was a Kinect.  I only tried two of the games, but one of them was a winner.  We played a lot of Kung Fu High Impact.  By we, I mean every sibling but one, a girlfriend, a family friend, and maybe others when I wasn’t around.  The room set up wasn’t great, so we were too close to the camera by a bit, which may or may not have mattered for game play – did cut our legs off at around the knees.  I know that it was exhausting to the point where I’d lose my ability to make the requisite motions for Power Punch, one of two key maneuvers in the game.  The other being backflip somersaults where I never did learn how to do multiflips.

Then, because one of my brothers and his girlfriend had a Nintendo, the name of the one that allows you to play two different generations of games escapes me, and because another brother mentioned how good River City Ransom is, a third brother and I played a bunch of River City Ransom.  Apparently, the twins had never won at the game.  After doing some online research on how to play the game better, mainly intended to find out what stuff to shop for since there are a ridiculous number of options, we found out about the cheaty “take me out and run off the screen fast” system in two-player play that allows you to recharge your stamina while not losing any money.  After doing more research and finally realizing we weren’t facing a boss because we kept not clearing the warehouse, we conquered the game … on novice level … without even stopping to find Ryan’s girlfriend before punking the end boss.  While the fighting is only okay, the shopping and attribute manipulation in the game is crazy.  I certainly would play it again on normal mode to see how efficiently it can be beaten once you know what you are doing.

“Ah, but videogames are totally not your thing.” – Random person talking to me (probably myself).

As with many things, movies for instance, I make no effort, but I’ll partake.  In fact, I only play Wii at my grandparents’ old place.  Only played old school Zelda, Megaman, et al when visiting relatives.  Etc.

Of far more interest was getting some Mahjong* in.  One brother always talks about playing when I visit, but it’s rarely the case that it happens.  I don’t recall the last time I played.  I did show the old South Bay V:TES group that morphed into a boardgame group how to play years ago.  I played while living in Shanghai in 2007 a funky variant with a coworker’s family.  I played a bit at an old company’s holiday party, which might have been later in 2007.

*  Because it can be spelled so many ways and I have little idea what the preferred spelling is, I’m going to go with the simplest spelling going forward, even though I find it silly that it’s capitalized and even though I’ve spelled it differently in other posts.

One wonders why we don’t play more.  If one were to wonder how I got started in gaming, it wouldn’t be hard to explain.  At around 8 years old, I was playing Mahjong with my grandparents, their siblings, my parents, and other family and family friends in Hawai’i.  These days, I like to identify younger folks who have played so I can tell them I’ve been playing longer than they’ve been alive.  Meanwhile, on the mainland, my mother and I frequently played rummy when we went out to eat.  I learned poker, chess, and I’m not sure what else back in those days, as well.

I loved playing so much when growing up that I would do all of the set up of the table, the tablecloth, the chips, the walls long before people arrived.  At some point, it lost some luster.  I believe it had to do with changes in getting together with family.  By far the people I most commonly played with were my grandparents and my grandmother’s siblings (and their spouses).  By high school, that generation was slowing down.  By college, not only that but I far less frequently visited my grandparents.

Its importance as a group activity declined and I developed other interests.  But, perhaps contrary to perception, I never lost interest.  We played a few rounds, not bothering to keep score, and I was reminded how interesting the game remains for me.  At its heart, it’s a simple rummy game.  Actually, the complexity in the game and much of the depth comes from playing to a scoring system.  We have a family system of scoring that is old style Chinese with all of the peculiarities that come with a regional system of scoring.  And, we aren’t even consistent with that – sometimes a hand qualifies for additional fans and sometimes not, for instance.  Or, how to score Seven Sisters will vary.

Even without the depth from how to play to a scoring system, I was engaged by the flow of probability calculations that comprise the decisions in the game.  There’s even a psychological element to what to discard, if a subtle one that only occasionally comes up.  The level of complexity is where it should be with the basics being easy enough and the analysis not being overly paralysistic.

An advantage to not playing for money was that I could screw around, like one hand going for 13 Orphans, which I think I’ve done once or twice ever, possibly never.  On the other hand, I do see money being essential to getting the most out of the game.  It’s not so much to make it more competitive as it is to make it more strategic how to play.  Well, then why not just track points?  Can do that, but actually, yeah, making the points turn into dollar dollar bills does make it more competitive.  I was certainly gambling by the age of 9, which I think helped immensely for making me a better player.

Our family style is very aggressive with no reward for playing defensively and giving up on hands except in the most extreme endgame situations.  I would rather see the rule used by the Japanese and common in Chinese play that discarder pays for everyone.  I would rather eliminate flowers as they just add a massive randomness element to the value of hands.  The wildness that I found attractive when young is less interesting to me than proper strategic/tactical play that possibly playing other games has instilled within me.  On the other hand, it’s also fine the way it is.  It’s a good style for learning how to win.  And, there is a tactical element to changing posture based on the visible value provided by relevant flowers.

Once upon a time, I would say that there were only two things I believed I was good at.  Mahjong being the other one.  At least in the last 20 years, I have found I could hang with anyone I played with.  Unlike other games, like V:TES where I’m not ruthless enough, I think I can hold up as a player, at least as long as my mood doesn’t veer towards recklessness as it so often does when gaming/gambling (there’s a reason I don’t gamble virtually at all anymore).

I do think it’s unlikely I will see much play outside of family get togethers as there are so many other things to play – many boardgames have way less investment of time.  I certainly have no interest in playing online where the pageantry gets taken out of the game, making the game an overly mechanical exercise, much like online poker or even JOL.