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

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
+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
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
+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.


3 Responses to Eloquent

  1. @ICLee:
    Are you someone who believes that things like CCGs (and RPGs) should try to use a combination of ‘Plain English’ and Keywords throughout? With the things I’ve tried to write (particularly an RPG system) I’ve deliberately tried to structure things with Keywords (specific meaning that can be applied to more than one situation) and to then use plain English readings of text.
    When I say “Keyword” I also don’t mean the “Glossary Word” situation I find in MtG like “Banding” (then you go look for the definition of banding from the book). I mean things like “Move” and “Steal” and “Transfer” should all be different mechanical things, or some of those words should be replaced. (e.g. if Move and Transfer always work the same way, then replace Move with Transfer or Transfer with Move but if Steal is not Move/Transfer then you should never use Steal instead of Move and Move should not be ruled to be the same as Steal).

    • iclee says:

      I believe keywording can be overdone. Jargon can be overdone. I think Firestorm is an example of this. (I haven’t looked at it in ages.) However, there are “best practices” when it comes to CCGs and Magic makes great use of keywording and consistent wording, at least in comparison to others. By the way, of further evidence of the value of stealing good ideas, Magic stole a number of ideas from other CCGs, including rarity indication.

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