So, unsurprisingly, Mark Rosewater has done another article that can easily be adapted to talking about other CCGs like, yup, V:TES.
While a pitch piece for Duels of the Planeswalkers, the gist has to do with teaching newbs how to play Magic. For quite some time, pretty much since I stopped regularly demoing games a decade or so ago, I’ve struggled with what approach to take when introducing the play of V:TES.
Of course, multiplayer play is far more difficult to teach than two-player play as folks rarely want to have a multiplayer teaching game. Though, this is a problem with pritnear any multiplayer boardgame, so I may overrate the pain that is having a newb play with people trying to play a “real” game.
Magic is actually not a hard game to learn. It’s hard to learn how to play in a varied environment, which is pretty much anything besides precon versus precon or Portal level Magic, due to the wide variety of card effects. It’s hard to learn to be a good player and/or to be good at knowing the precise rules.
Unfortunately for V:TES, given that fresh blood is the most important thing to keeping play active, it’s a much more difficult game to learn the basics of. On the other hand, the number of different effects is not that high and the game doesn’t become vastly more complex like Magic does in terms of rules knowledge.
It’s rather obvious that putting simpler cards in front of players is better for teaching. What is notable in Mark’s advice is to put some exciting/flavorful cards in the mix. That begs the question as to what cards in V:TES qualify as exciting/flavorful cards, which I’ll expand upon in a moment.
The point about not handing a newb a purely “Bland Bloodfeud” deck is because the point of pitching a game is to pitch the funness of it. In theory, splashy cards show off fun elements of the game.
Before getting into the more interesting topic of what non-simple cards are worth including in newb decks, I will note that I have an extremely hard time not overexplaining things. It really does help to have a script, even just a mental one, when teaching.
Okay, you build newb SB. It’s either Dom/Obf with or without Auspex or Dem/Obf with or without Auspex. Just filtering a bit, if I were to include a sexy, unsimple card for Dom/Obf, I’d go with Mind Rape. Now, I wouldn’t include one in a newb deck because I only own so many and wouldn’t want to include anything that is difficult to replace, but for the purposes of our theoretical deck, it works. A comparable card, in that it would be an action, for the Dem/Obf deck would be Lunatic Eruption.
An obvious non-action card for the Dem deck would be Coma. Veteran players get excited by Coma, even though it’s often worse for the person who plays it than the intended victim, but whatever. The concern is less about effectiveness, though crap cards should generally be avoided. Thoughts Betrayed might be interesting for a Dom/Tha deck but useless for a simple stealth bleed deck.
V:TES is a game of mostly small effects. It’s selling point aren’t Magic’s any more than Star Wars’, Star Trek’s, Lord of the Rings’, Babylon 5’s, etc. are. V:TES, in my experience, sells itself on the multiplayer dynamic and the World of Darkness gothpunk genre. Even if a RPG Launcher sucks, people are attracted to its name and effect, though, to be fair, a lot of players, myself included, get attracted to its suckiness. So, when I go to look at master cards that might be sexy, other than Gird Minions, et al, I’m not feeling the excitement. The Rack can be powerful and makes for dynamic play, in theory. Papillon is notable if you can get into play reliably. And, so forth, but so many powerful effect cards in the game are role-players, even the counterspells tend to be role-players and counterspells are never as interesting as splashy positive effects.
Deflection may be exciting to a newb, for instance, because it really is fun to bounce bleeds. And, it does qualify as non-simple. But, I would include bounce in newb decks because of the essential role bounce has in the game, rather than for these other reasons. Though, one problem with teaching bounce is that a newb should quickly realize that not having bounce in a deck sucks.
Moving on to other newb oriented decks. Let’s say an Aus/Cel guns deck. While Blur might be exciting enough and is virtually always better, Lightning Reflexes is the sort of “sounds cool” card that would make sense to toss in. Though, do run into the issue of explaining how you can’t use multiple cards to get additional strikes with this sort of deck, which would be more annoying with a mix of Lightning Reflexes and something else. So, only Lightning Reflexes!! It’s not like it’s a rare I care much about. Sticking with this deck for the moment, could throw in big guns, but I wouldn’t bother. Rather create some Flamethrower deck that could truly justify expensive weapons.
Of course, Ivory Bow goes in every newb deck. Powerful, easy to play, combat effect, unusual in a world full of vamps with guns, only complicated aspect is aggravated damage, which is worth knowing about. May want to avoid Amaranth for a while, on the other hand, as bloodhunt mechanics are among the most difficult mechanics in the game to understand.
At some point, get around to a vote deck. Nothing simple about voting to begin with, but a steady diet of KRCs and Conservative Agitations is not hard to grasp once you understand how political actions work. For more chaos, though requiring decks built to enable them, Anathema or Reckless Agitation come to mind as more exciting plays.
Coming back to the idea of flavor over explosions, can of course focus on cards that are more evocative of the setting and whatnot. Of course, V:TES has a built in deck-building factor for enticing players by focusing on individual clans. Just need to find out what clans someone prefers, though, if they don’t really care about the world of V:TM, may end up liking some clan just because of its perceived effectiveness.
The bottom line is that teaching newbs is about grokability and fun. Fun varies so much that I see difficulty in putting too many guidelines around it beyond trying to figure out what is fun for the newb and going with it, which is something Mark mentions multiple times. Grokability, on the other hand, is much easier to consider.
I’ve built newb decks where I’ve aimed to reduce text, eliminate complicated concepts, and the like. I do strongly recommend building teaching decks rather than trying to use precons as precons are far too weak, have a bunch of weird cards, and omit a lot of important cards. Can use the official demo decks to give the most basic of mechanics, but I don’t see them showing off much in the way of fun. They lack clan identity and interesting cards – I find Magic Portal demo decks far more interesting.