Impressionable

Shoot, just remembered that I wanted to post something about boardgames, but as is the case often enough, Mark Rosewater has inspired me to talk about something.

First Impressions

The gist is that cards/mechanics have either good or bad first impressions and last impressions.  And, that each category is important, even bad/bad.  Exalted is used as an example of a mechanic with a bad first impression but good last impression.

Which got me to thinking about what mechanics in V:TES would fit into the different categories based on my opinions.  To limit the scope of the post, I decided to take a look at bloodlines, with Bloodlines being the first impression (maybe throw in a playtesting comment).  I’m not going to focus much on power level but on how fun the bloodlines are for me.

[Bloodline Clan]:  [First]/[Last]
[Clan’s Defining Mechanic]:  [First]/[Last]

Ahrimanes:  Bad/Bad
N/A

It’s been a while, but I think my predominant lines of thinking went something like this:  Spiritus is limited and boring; Ani/Pre has no synergy besides dodge + environmental; the way people play Ahrimanes, why not play Tzimisce and have bounce?; Spiritus is better than it appears, but it’s still dull; even stealth bleed and voting is rather dull.

Now, from a competitive standpoint, for me it would be Bad/Good, Good/Good for those people who started winning with them right away I guess, since Ahrimanes have proved quite competitive.  But, to an extent, I still wonder why people wouldn’t just play Tzimisce, gaining bounce and titles, given how they tend to build Ahrimanes decks as wallish (ignoring that people play suboptimal stuff all of the time).

While sterile, that’s not an important enough mechanic to be defining, nevermind that it’s also a Blood Brothers mechanic.  Better if it just didn’t exist at all for how much it matters.

Baali:  Bad/Bad [changed mind Bad/Good]
Infernal:  Bad/Neutral

Many will question this.  What about Nergal?  What about Cybele?  Sure, Baali have individually “good” vampires.  Baali as a whole, however, are still punished by how the infernal mechanic works, if not to as great a degree, by Daimoinon being a crap discipline, and by many Baali being underpowered for their costs.

Group 5/6 does wonders for the sub-10 caps being worth playing.  That still doesn’t leave me with a good impression.  It comes across to me as an acknowledgement that group 2 and group 4 were poorly designed.  Then, I’m no fan of Cybele because she’s overpowered.

I’d much rather that infernal worked as it did during a phase of our playtesting, where it cost one pool for all of your infernals.  Of course, the game has since evolved to account for the infernal penalty to where, now, it doesn’t feel that biting.  Some decks outbloat it.  Eluding the Arms of Morpheus has helped immensely with mitigating it – my Baali of the Name efforts look kind of lame these days since it’s so much less important to work around infernal with things like Blessing of the Name.  Then, cards have been coming out to try to make infernal a good thing, including Maleficia and Striga, which I enjoy playing with and which are powerful.

Actually, I’m not sure a bad last impression is true.  I do enjoy playing Baali decks.  They made me realize that Failsafe is playable (and fun).  I still find Daimoinon a bore, but I enjoy Maleficia and Striga.  I think The Hordes are cute, even if they don’t produce like I want them to.  The bad impression is more on the principle of the thing and how group 2 and group 4 midcaps are still rather annoying to try to play with.

Blood Brothers:  Bad/Bad
Circle:  Bad/Bad

Most boring bloodline?  Blood Brothers.  Most ineffectual bloodline?  Nag- …  Most ineffectual non-scarce bloodline?  Blood Brothers.

There are some really powerful individual plays for the Blood Brothers.  Unwholesome Bond and newer blood/pool gain is mighty.  But, Pot/For is so not a winning combo, any more than Pot/Cel has been since day one.  Nor are they compelling combos.  Before newer cards, the ideal for a BB deck was to sit around, not interacting with anyone, and gain massive quantities of counters with Unwholesome Bond.  Otherwise, for say a rush deck, might as well just play weenie Potence (or weenie Fortitude).  No defense is an even greater problem for BB than DoC, though I did block some stuff back in the day with Gestalt.  At least DoC could vote bloat.

Putting aside quality, they are just so mindnumbingly boring.  Maybe not to everyone, but I’ve built a lot of decks, including various BB stealth bleed and whatnot, and played such glorious decks as Matt Morgan’s Shock Troops BB deck, and it’s just so unenthralling (well, the Shock Troops deck idea I can kind of see stealing for my own deck).  I keep trying to find a Pot/For deck that would run mostly BB, and they just aren’t that great for such a deck, nevermind how bad such a deck is and how not all that interesting it is.  While I’ve killed people with Walk of Caine, it really shouldn’t ever happen, and the only other interaction is to rush, which has never appealed to me.

The circle requirement is less bothersome to me than the inability to add folks to a circle.  You always know how many dudes you are going to have, if you rely on Sanguinus.  There’s no reason to reach outside of BBdom.  Keep in mind that bloodlines, in general, were intended to be played with non-bloodlines originally.  BB have the least reason to cooperate with other clans, unless you just go Pot/For, which I don’t recall seeing others do.

Daughters of Cacophony:  Good/Good (I guess)
Offense Over Defense:  Good/Bad

I’ve always had Daughters higher in my list of favorite bloodlines.  That they can do voting well opens up deck territory that others eschew.  I even liked the idea that you had to think about how to survive, a la Followers of Set back in the day (see Ethan Burrow’s !Toreador newsletter from December 2001).

While there are other decks, my impression is that the most common deck concepts for them are from these three:  Choir, vote, Shattering Crescendo.  I tried my hand at Choir numerous times and it was always a joke.  Vote gets old for me pretty quickly.  I think the only deck I played with Shattering Crescendo wasn’t a SC deck.  Anyway, regardless, while I’m not as interested as I once was in what to do with DoC, that’s hardly surprising given how infrequent bloodlines get support.  I’m still satisfied that DoC make for an interesting clan, as well as a borderline competitive one.

On the other hand, the offense over defense thing gets old fast.  That is, it gets old when people play to it.  Having a DoC deck that can only go forward is annoying as hell.  Of course, vote doesn’t play that way, and Shattering Crescendo is basically a rush deck that will probably go backwards/sideways a fair amount.  Not that a pseudo-rush strategy is any better for stable table play.  Rather than try to come up with workarounds for a lack of defense, I tend to see people embrace the “Faster Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill!” mentality.  Alternatively, I also don’t find bloating as a defense all that interesting – it’s still noninteractive.

Gargoyles:  Bad/Bad
Slave:  Bad/Bad

A mistake in playtesting Gargoyles was thinking they were better than they were.  As Mark says in his article, people are bad at assessing power levels.  So, we could have done more to make Gargoyles less terrible.  This first impression is based on what got published.

Note that Tupdog is really its own thing, being a horribly broken card.  Real Gargoyles are weak sauce.  Again, Pot/For is not a quality combination for doing productive things and/or interesting things.  What’s amusing, in a painful way, is how Visceratika was originally about as unsynergistic as possible with Pot/For.  Combat ends?  Stealth?  Awesome effects … for vampires with Dominate.  Not so awesome with two combat disciplines.

Then, slave is awful.  There’s pretty much no upside while not only forcing ugly crypts but also leading to having dudes in play who can’t play all of your cards (even with the numerous Tha/Vis cards).  I’ve played independent Gargoyle decks and they are slow, weak (without grafting Dominate), boring, and my crypts are incredibly limited.  I can hardly bring myself to play standard master/slave decks.

Harbingers of Skulls:  Neutral/Neutral
Milling:  Bad/Bad

I discovered that group 3/4 HoS are quite reasonable as a midrange play.  If the ratings were just on group 3/4 HoS, it would be Bad/Good as I originally thought group 3/4 was inferior to 2/3.  But, my ratings aren’t.  Group 2/3 seemed okay but turned out to be awful.  The original theme of HoS was weird specials, not milling, since The Slaughterhouse used to have no meaningful impact on games no matter how often people built horrendously pointless mill decks with them, myself included.  Anyway, the problem with the specials is that they didn’t work together to the point that a clan saddled with Aus/For/Nec had enough to do.

While I like Aus/For/Nec, especially the first and third disciplines (the second more so in the RPG), it’s completely lacking in offense.  Not only ousting offense but lacking in combat prowess as well, really giving HoS nothing aggressive to do, beyond putting out Shamblers, which Giovanni do better.  I tried giving group 2/3 guns, having them vote, make babies – it all sucked.  Laibonism was the key to 3/4, giving them many more bleed options while also bringing the capacities down to speed things up and to achieve quantity over (lack of) quality.

Let me say up front that I’m cool with Trochomancy.  Trochomancy is a very interesting hoser and a nice boost.  I did not like it at first.  I was quite annoyed that there weren’t more Aus/Nec cards in the game given that HoS and Nagaraja both needed (and still need) so much help.  Then, Trochomancy got printed and it was like, “Okay, HoS need bleed, Nagaraja don’t.  How about something more compelling?”

But, milling is moronic.  I’m good with it in Magic, where you weren’t going to play those cards anyway and it ends the game in a way that I find satisfying.  I’m good with it in Ultimate Combat!, where it’s even more important for ending games than Magic and provides a ton of tension when digging for kill cards.  It’s probably okay in something else.  But, I just see it being inherently antifun, in general.  I never liked the CCGs where the only victory mechanic was milling someone out.  I hate milling in games where you would get to play those cards if they weren’t milled away.  People play cards to actually play cards, not to discard them (also why hand destruction is offensive).

Brinksmanship is one of the worst cards to ever come along.  It encouraged people to build really bad decks with terrible table interaction, even ignoring decking one’s prey.  It means getting rid of withdrawal, which should have been eliminated long ago, now is more difficult as people point to this card needing withdrawal to matter.  Sure, the days of Brinksmanship decks seem long in the past, with The Slaughterhouse being more of a Trochomancy enabler than being a tool to deck one’s prey, but milling remains a low yield, low enjoyable strategy.

Kiasyd:  Good/Bad
Flexibility:  Good/Bad

Again, I’m less concerned with power.  For power, Kiasyd would be either Good/Good or, for those who seemed to ignore for many years that Kiasyd had Dominate + stealth, Bad/Good.

Kiasyd were one of my favorite clans in the RPG.  I was terribly disappointed when they got Dominate rather than Necromancy as a clan discipline in the CCG, fourth disciplines aside.  It does make sense, though, for them to have Dom and Obt so that they would work well with a normal clan.  Nec/Obt, though, would have been far more interesting.

So, that aside, why good/bad?  I’m bored with Kiasyd and have been for a long time.  What’s funny is that this seems to be the opposite of what other people have gone through.  I couldn’t figure out why they had so few wins, except to believe that people thought they were boring, especially compared to Lasombra.  Now, they are winning far more often, so someone must find them interesting.

They are superflexible in card plays but that flexibility doesn’t extend to the strategic level.  My most common deck archetype may still be stealth bleed with intercept combat on the side, something Kiasyd seem perfect for, but I’ve yet to find myself in a situation where Kiasyd do the intercept combat angle well.  Dominate plus stealth might be fun to play, but it’s a drag when it comes to interesting deck ideas.  Tinglestripe failed to live up to being playable.  Earth Swords rarely beat people down.  The rise of Bats/Crows means ultrarare weapon hosers are less interesting.  Faerie Wards is just an annoying deck.  Ravager is insipid.  I’ve done Kiasyd without Dominate, and it got old fast.

Just like three-ways, the flexibility suggested doesn’t turn out to be what is delivered in actual play.  Not to say it doesn’t exist at all, maneuvering off of Fae Contortion or nuking stuff with Gremlins is not nothing.  I just don’t find Covincraft providing meaningful vote defense, Aura Absorption leading to blocks, or any reason to equip Tinglestripe.

Nagaraja:  Bad/Bad
Eat Stuff:  Bad/Bad

I’ve played a lot of Nagaraja decks.  There’s still no point to it besides playing bad decks.  I try to play the clan cards since, you know, they don’t even have their own discipline, but they rarely seem to make it off the paper.

Salubri:  Bad/Neutral
Vampire Screw:  Bad/Bad

I’m happy that there are more things to do with Salubri than Renewed Vigor and vampire screw (steal, lockdown).  I’m still questioning of the game value of a refill card.  I still hate Spirit Marionette.

As for power, I think the Salubri story is complicated.  I think they seemed much stronger at first impression, then people built Spirit Marionette decks and found them limited or tried to find other things to do and came up empty, then more Salubri got printed, with Saulot being tantalizing to those who like superstar decks.  Up until group 6, I’d be inclined to believe they were consistently overrated until played.  But, group 6 is buff.

Salubri antitribu:  Bad/Good/Neutral
Melee Weapon Combat:  Bad/Bad

The first thing I discovered with !Salubri is that melee weapon combat didn’t become viable.  Outside of Weighted Walking Stick plays in decks that have good stuff, like Dominate or weenie Auspexness, melee weapon combat remains the worst possible non-esoteric combat strategy.

While Brother in Arms helps viability and some like Death Seeker, I don’t see them having progressed all that much.  Upgrades here and there with Sense Death, Hide the Heart, or whatever still don’t fundamentally change the nature of the clan.  The only reason I don’t find them a bore is because I do weird things with them, something that I can’t even generate interest in doing with Blood Brothers.  At least I enjoy Blissful Agony and guess I do for Blessing of the Name since I’ve played it so often.  I’m still inclined to do odd things with them rather than the fruitless melee combat strategy so many still want to pursue.

As for the tri-rating, first impression/middle impression/last impression.

Samedi:  Bad/Neutral
Stealth?:  Bad/Bad

What is the defining mechanic of Samedi?  Four disciplines (a terrible idea unless you actually give them all those disciplines)?  Equipping?  Which is one card.  Having the most nonsensical discipline in the game?  The worst discipline in the game?

What offended me about Thanatosis to begin with was not how bad it was.  After all, Quietus was pathetic for the longest time.  What offended me about it was that its best plays were completely redundant to what For/Obf offered.  Hag’s Wrinkles – untap … stealth.  Dust to Dust – combat defense for a clan that no one is going to block and that has Fortitude.  Then, you get some of the worst “offensive” combat cards in the game – certainly a top priority to me to stop additional strikes.  Compress would be cool if it cost one less.  Then, what’s the best HttB Thanatosis card?  Right … stealth … because becoming impossible to block is so fascinating.

Then, its expansion has hardly been all that.  Transfusion is only good for Giovanni.  Sure, Reanimated Corpse is a stud and opens up a whole other angle, synergizing with Shamblers as well.  And, Samedi cards got far better.  Little Mountain Cemetery addressed a real weakness of lack of defense (gee, lot of bloodlines seem to be lacking in this regard) with bloat.  Off Kilter does the same.  Each piece of equipment they can play does make Hag’s Wrinkles better.

I’ve always thought Samedi were underrated, once they were published and I played them.  Group 2/3 do stealth bleed just fine, even with their hefty capacities, with a little help from good ole Dominate.  While possibly monotonous, RC and LMC gave quality things to do that could be played with or without Dominate.  Group 4 was the worst set of new vampires for any clan ever, but I’ve found some use for Macoute.  Being underrated, though, isn’t the same as being good or interesting.  By process of elimination, i.e. I played the other bloodlines out, they have become one of my top clans to try things with, but I’m still struggling to find the fun things to do – their best plays are rather monotonous, Samedi vote didn’t end up working out as well as I hoped.

By the way, I’d really like to see a Path style card for Thanatosis to try to make the awful 1 blood cards less awful.  Though, sadly, most folks will just use it for Reanimated Corpse discounts.

True Brujah:  Good/Bad/Good
Untapping:  Good/Bad

All hail learning superior Auspex.  All hail.  Stealth doesn’t hurt, either.

Why did Trujah fail?  Lack of defense (gee …) and lack of stealth.  No bounce plan or intercept plan mixed with scarcity is always a recipe for quick demise.  Lack of stealth hurt their defining mechanic of untappiness.

HttB changed everything.  Now, we have a clan that can get actions through without pretending to play Lapse combat or relying on Majesty, which I hear a few other vampires can also play at superior.  Now, we have bounce and intercept.  Now, I can pay 15 pool for a vampire and still think I won’t be ousted.

On the other hand, while Lapse was kind of interesting for what it couldn’t do, Outside the Hourglass is incredibly annoying, even without Domain of Evernight.  Though, with Pocket Out of Time (and various Trujah having a stealth discipline), OtH+DoE enables getting cool actions through, like Kiss of Lachesis or Summon History.

People play Kiss, don’t they?  No?  OK.  Summon History is broken?  You know, I thought that but wasn’t sure and never got around to it before others showed that.  Broken is bad, right?

Anyway, untappiness, as much as others value it more than I, still doesn’t appear to be as promising as it originally did nor all that important in the grand scheme of things.  Though, some day Shalmath will get his Starshell Grenade Launcher and go to town.  Maybe Dennis Lien has already done that.

And, so …

After all that, I realize my post has little to do with Mark’s article.  Where he is talking about how impressions change immediately, I’m talking about how impressions have changed over a decade in which new cards have been added.  Also, personal views on what is fun are always going to be a problem because I get bored easily.  Everything pales over time for me because of the “been there, done that”, while I may rediscover an interest in something after having ignored it for long enough.  And, fun views are more mercurial than views on power.

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