Dur-ration

July 31, 2013

I think the main takeaway from my recent gaming has to do with the concept of how long a game should be.

Thursday night, I played an HoR3 mod, and it was the normal amount of time.  … boring.

Friday night, I played Shadowfist and a game of Hanabi.  The latter was fine, though I could see it having more value the more varied your group.  For those that don’t know, has nothing to do with fireworks.  It’s a groupthink game, where you get to see everyone else’s hands and try to give information in prescribed ways for the group to score as highly as possible building up stacks of colored number cards.  The most interesting part is what information is conveyed by what you don’t choose to do.

But, Hanabi has nothing to do with today’s theme.  No, what was most notable was one of the Shadowfist games, where an oldtimer was lamenting how long the game took.  His comment was how games used to take 30 minutes and be better.  He hadn’t played V:TES but heard at least some good things about it, but I think my comment that tournament rounds were 2 hours and that games may time out wasn’t much of a sales pitch.

Anyway, 30 minutes for a multiplayer CCG is, to me, too short.  At first, I was thinking 1 hour was about the right length of time, but, then, I recalled that Babylon 5 felt long when it got close to tournament time limits, and tournament time limits tended to be 75 minutes.  So, I suppose I’d revise the theoretical optimal time to more like 45 minutes.  But, is that 45 minutes for a four-player CCG or 45 minutes for any multiplayer CCG?

And, is it really time that’s the issue or how much that happens in that time?

What’s wrong with a 30 minute, multiplayer game if fun stuff happens in that 30 minutes?  Maybe 15 more minutes is not any more fun.

For instance, the Wheel of Time CCG routinely took us 2 hours as a two-player CCG.  And, we were experts and we used lots of shortcuts!  I didn’t feel like the length was a problem when playtesting or playing casual games.  Tournaments, though, … 2 hours is harsh.  Demos of CCGs to folks should be more like 15 minutes, which is not likely to capture the nature of this game, though I’m the type who would rather play a game through then just see part of it, so for those people who make quick decisions on games, something far less than 2 hours would work.

Two hour games of V:TES don’t bother me.  What bothers me are games where little interesting happens.  We played that three-player Shadowfist game for something like 2.5 hours, with two other guys playing 5 duels in the same period.

One of the primary problems the Babylon 5 CCG had out of the original set was that the build up phase of the game was such a bore.  Players built up their infrastructure for five or more rounds, then, two rounds later, someone might win.  The starting agenda that either radically accelerated the opening or had more things going on sooner were a huge boon to the game.  Of course, various antiwin cards, especially We Are Not Impressed, prevented the “I play two real turns and win” scenarios in most cases.  Original Non-aligned faction rules and Conscription did allow for especially quick wins, but people adapted.

For me, in my limited Shadowfist experience, a quick win is often a not very interesting one.  But, that could be because I’m used to longer games, like V:TES.  I’m used to defensive play.  I’m used to a narrative being developed around multiplayer games that I don’t suppose I worry about in two-player games.

Are my expectations simply different?

Getting back to RPGs, Saturday, I ran my FSTH campaign for the first time in 3 months.  While there wasn’t much action at the beginning of the session, I thought it had less awkward pacing than other sessions.  It fit the window we planned well.  Okay, also boring.  Why do I keep coming back to RPGs?

Maybe I just find it notable that I gamed Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, Monday night, and Tuesday night within the last seven days, with four different games being the focus of events.

Sunday morning was Mechwarrior.  We needed to finish up a Battletech fight of lance against lance.  It ran way over planned time.  I always forget how long Battletech can take.  But, the GM had a good point – low firepower, maneuverable mechs make combat take much longer.  I have a Valkyrie, not because I think it’s a good mech – it’s a horribly designed light mech in that it’s just a medium mech scaled down to be worse in every way than what you would do with a 55 tonner – but because there are various 3025 mechs I’ve never seen in action, and I’m curious as to how they actually function, rather than how poorly they are designed.  We also had a Jenner on our side, which hits like a heavy (at shorter ranges) and defends like a light.  We also had a Griffin and a 3025 Black Knight.  Other side had a Trebuchet, Cicada, Assassin, Javelin.  In effect, while the middle two are technically mediums, they are really just lights that aren’t as pathetic as a lot of lights are – Cicada being a better Locust, Assassin being correctly engined but with insipid weapons.

With the higher movement rates, jump ability, and little in the way of firepower of many of the mechs, other than a headshot on the Javelin and the Jenner getting ripped up some, it took forever to down anything.  My Valkyrie never took internal damage.  The Cicada could have run away, we think, and only got stopped by leg damage.  The Assassin also got stopped by leg damage.

But, getting back to duration, did this take too long?  Maybe.  We don’t allot a lot of time for Mechwarrior.  If every Battletech resolution in the campaign is going to take 4+ hours, we are going to have a lot of problems finishing fights within a single session.  We could try to allot more time, but that means scheduling issues.

How long should Battletech take?  I think for a Mechwarrior campaign, we want to look at 2 hours or less.  If we were just playing Battletech scenarios, I would look to book 6 hours or so and try to get around two fights done in that time.  Does this mean that I have to give up my “precious” Valkyrie to play a mech with more firepower (slower, in the case of a Valkyrie, wouldn’t be needed)?  Heavy vs. heavy or adding in assaults will make for more slugfests where they just pound on each other for a couple of turns and somebody is in bad shape.  Even just having everyone be limited to 5/8/5 in MPs would keep maneuvering under much greater control.

Monday night was HoR3.  Okay, not notable, right?  Actually, Monday’s result was one of the drivers for my thinking about how long games should take.  We basically started on time.  We were done with the mod 3 hours later.  We had a break and some “technical time”, so we played for more like 2.5 hours.

If you are used to HoR in person, especially at major cons, you may be thinking “Well, I’ve played a mod in 1.5 hours, even 1 hour, we are often done in 3 hours or less.”  Others, more familiar with online play, will think about how online play tends to add considerable amounts of time.  But, it wasn’t so much the time as it was how suddenly over it felt.  I was strongly concerned that we blew it and missed something important, and I’m sure others felt that way, too, based upon our trying to continue to investigate after we solved the crime.  We did straightforward things which led to direct resolution of the plot.  After we were done, the GM said that we avoided a bunch of stuff written into the mod because we didn’t bother chatting with a bunch of NPCs but just did legwork.  That makes sense, I guess.  And, again, HoR mods are supposed to take less than 4 hours when played f2f to fit into major convention time slots, which means they could very well take more like 2 hours or less of quick play.

I just felt like I missed out on story development.  It wasn’t a bad experience – I got to role-play a bit and make such amusing rolls as my Honor 8 character rolling Stealth to avoid waking a samurai sleeping in his quarters!  But, it felt nearly hollow.  I never got to fly kites in the strong wind.  I never played my flute.  I barely interacted with the other PCs.  If we would have known how efficient we were being, we could have padded things out with such thematics, but since we didn’t realize we were on the right track, we stayed focused on our mission.

Given that online play of HoR, in my experience, often has lulls, breaks, distractions, or whatever, I think 2 hours of actually doing stuff is probably plenty for any single PC, with the actual amount of time spent by any set of PCs being more like 3 or 3.5 hours if I’m on stage for 2.  Take 3 hours of meaningful stuff going on and add in the breaks and technical issues with Skype, Ventrilo, IRC, or whatever, and you are looking at 4.5 or 5 hours being more like the standard window for playing an HoR mod.

Of course, quality is, again, a consideration as opposed to focusing only on quantity.  Many of my more fun HoR moments involved private conversations with another PC.  Those didn’t necessarily take that much time nor take time away from the group’s activities.

Finally, there was Tuesday night, where I was running our local L5R campaign.  It was all combat, well, with running towards and away from fights.  A tedious pursuit skirmish was followed quickly by a fight, which was followed by fleeing from another possible fight.  We started late, and we didn’t end unusually late, but because of the amount of time taken up with combat, especially 2 hours of trying to chase guys down who started far away, I don’t know how satisfying it was.  It wasn’t terribly L5Rish, for one thing, to be so combat oriented, especially without a solid reason for it being so combat oriented.

On a tangent, pursuit in L5R 4e (and seemingly other editions that were less tactical) is messed up.  You need the GM to allow for Athletics rolls or some such, otherwise, you know exactly how far everyone can move and there are no AoO rules.  Did people already know all of this?  Probably, it wasn’t news to me, being in some pursuit situations myself.  But, this session was a good example of not setting up tactical fights where much of the party is irrelevant for long stretches, even if it made sense to take advantage of the party’s weaknesses.

I would much rather use time effectively for fun stuff, given that our Tuesday night sessions only have around 4 hours in which to complete things.

So, it’s obvious to everyone that how long something takes depends upon the nature of the experience and expectations for the activity (game).  I just thought some actual examples would highlight different aspects of this.  Where I could see playing 2 hour Shadowfist games because I’ve played 2 hour V:TES games and 2 hour B5 games and think 2 hours is okay for a boardgame, maybe 1 hour is on the outside of how long that game should last (for four players).  A RPG session, all inclusive with eating and technical problems and looking stuff up and whatever, that runs 3 hours or less just seems crazy short.  On the other hand, that’s what we’ve booked for Mechwarrior, so we can’t be having a lot of 3+ hour Battletech fights to resolve mech combat.

Ultimately, want to have fun.  Fun isn’t so much tied to time as it is to quality.  But, to some extent, time factors in, especially when a game takes too long to resolve the activity.  For instance, I don’t see why a EuroBoardgame should take more than 2 hours, except when learning/teaching the game.  And, 2+ hour RPG combats usually meant things dragged a lot, unless it was some epic “us against the horde” survival scenario.


HoR3 Rankings – Updated

July 24, 2013

See Samurai Squad for previous rankings of HoR3 mods.

Scenario Stars Rank – Quality Fun Rank – Fun
SOB07 3.5 1 4 2
SOB00 3.5 2 3.5 4
SOB18 3 3 3.5 6
SOB15 3 4 4 1
SOB06 3 5 3.5 5
SOB09 3 6 3.5 8
SOB22 3 7 3 17
SOB29 3 8 3.5 7
SOB32 3 9 3.5 9
SOB13 3 10 3 14
SOB36 3 11 1.5 30
SOB31 3 12 3 15
SOB12 2.5 13 3.5 9
SOB24 2.5 14 3 12
SOB20 2.5 15 3 16
SOB11 2.5 16 3.5 3
SOB19 2.5 17 3 19
SOB01 2.5 18 2.5 21
SOB35 2.5 19 2.5 23
SOB08 2.5 20 2.5 24
SOB14 2.5 21 2.5 20
SOB21 2.5 22 2 26
SOB04 2.5 23 3 11
SOB28 2.5 24 1.5 31
SOB33 2.5 25 3 18
SOB16 2.5 26 2 27
SOB10 2 27 1 34
SOB23 2 28 3 13
SOB17 2 29 2 25
SOB27 2 30 2 29
SOB03 2 31 1.5 32
SOB02 2 32 1.5 33
SOB25 1.5 33 1 35
SOB05 1 34 0.5 36
SOB30 0.5 35 2 28
SOB34 3 n/a 2.5 22
SOB26 n/a n/a n/a n/a

Some thoughts:

The mods with five or more difference in ranking between the two rankings in favor of fun are:  15, 11, 4, 33, 16, 23, 17, 30.  Who you play mods with can have a big difference, and certainly some of this has to do with playing with particular groups or people.  And, of course, playing a character better suited to a mod impacts likely enjoyment.  At the same time, just because something is much more fun than it is “objectively” well designed/written shouldn’t be taken as a pass on a mod.  SoB30 is terrible; I just happened to not hate my experience because I wasn’t that involved in beating my head against a wall to try to move the plot forward.

Mods with five or more difference the other direction, i.e. I rate the mod higher than my experience playing it by a significant amount, are:  22, 36, 28, 10.  This also could have something to do with group, but, as a shorter list, I can address each mod briefly.  SoB22 has a structural confusion aspect to it as well as has a key point that is hard on the GM and players unless the GM understands the situation and communicates clearly enough that players have some idea what is suicidal or not.  SoB36 was a matter of an okay mod where reading the mod backwards would have likely helped my GM a lot with how a party is intended to deal with it.  It’s the only mod in which my table has failed.  SoB28 was a case of most of the party being irrelevant to the meat of the mod, which is not a point in the mod’s favor from a quality standpoint, but I can see different parties having more interesting times with it.  SoB10 wasn’t good – I just happened to end up enjoying other not so good mods more to where it got pushed down in the fun rankings.

Of course, one of the problems with these rankings is that it’s very hard to separate some of them.  I finally started putting in ties, though I only have one at the moment.  There could be a lot of ties if I went through and rethought about all of the mods.

Of course, another problem is remembering details of each mod.  When there were fewer mods, remembering and ranking was easier.  Now, I’m starting to mix mods up in my mind, have forgotten much of what occurred until I check notes, or whatever.

A few miscellaneous notes:

SoB34 – I don’t have a ranking for quality but do have quality stars.  I haven’t read the mod through carefully.  The number of stars really has more to do with how a cool an idea it is and how it seems to hold together a lot better than SoB28.  It could very well be rated higher but less likely lower.  I mentioned to staff that I believe I would have had a lot more fun with this mod if my expectations were different or even if it just came out at a different time.  It was a favorite of two of our players.

SoB35 – Why rate SoB7 so high and this mod so much lower when they have such similarities?  SoB7 certainly gets credit for coming first; SoB35 comes across as a “people thought this was cool, let’s do it again” situation where the doing it again was horribly confusing.  I played the mod, read the mod repeatedly, and only hours into running it did I think I finally understand how the mechanics of it were supposed to work.

I had the impression that the recent crop of mods 32-36 were a step up funwise, but that was really more 31-33.  In actuality, there are winners and losers and neithers throughout, without any clear period of strength or weakness.

In a number of cases, I’ve given good fun ratings to mods that were openended.  On the other hand, I’m finding that some of the openended mods don’t really require doing much or acting like a party.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Also, some openended mods very much lend themselves to running very long … if people get to do the things they want to do (and often can’t do in other mods).

Another comment I made to staff was that the structure of the campaign really doesn’t incentivize alt characters.  Could say HoR2 didn’t do that, either, but I found that having a sailor character worked for the Shipping Lanes mods, where I’ve had a hard time with the supposed series in HoR3, especially the Thwarted Destiny series.  True encouragement for alts would come from having more clarity on which NPCs are going to show up in which mods, which mods have follow ups to other mods, series being tighter, more low rank mods at this stage of the campaign where many players have rank 3 PCs …

… including myself.  I waited to play SoB36 before ranking up my main to rank 3, which wasn’t all that when the mod didn’t involve anything suited to my main and it was the only mod my tables failed.  Though, I didn’t really need XP from the mod, so only getting 3XP was fine.

Now, I should have more clarity on which character to play in which mod.  Previously, it was one character for any combat mod and the other for most non-combat mods.  That didn’t always work as the tags for the mods don’t always make sense.  And, that would still be irksome when my other character would have been suited to a particular challenge in a mod that was unusual, like Games: Sadane being a skill one of my characters has but the other couldn’t care less about.  Now, any low mod is an alt play.  If he bites it in some combat mod because he can’t fight worth crap, that’s fine.  I have back ups already built for both my main and alt.  The back up for my main is quite amusing but needs a lot of XP to be remotely functional.  The back up for my alt is not amusing, but it’s a far, far better conceived character – I actually have zero incentive to rank my alt up as I hate the rank 2 of his school and the chances of doing the one thing I want to do, Multiple Schools into Kakita Artisan, is so unlikely to happen.


Batch

July 23, 2013

Time for a buffet of thoughts.

Winning

I can’t help but revisit this topic.  I prefer success as long as success involves some sort of challenge.  Winning, in and of itself, is just not meaningful.  But, others value results more than I do.  And, it produces some unfortunate situations.

I value doing things well; I certainly don’t like playing poorly, which means I have success at some things at times.  So, one situation that isn’t all that appealing to me is when I’m unusually successful and others aren’t and the experience is lessened for them because of it.  My focus is on the play and how the play leads to results, not just the results themselves.

But, that by itself is not why I’m revisiting the topic.  Instead, a different spin on this same difference in “utility” gains is that my viewing situations along a different axis can lead to very different approaches in the moment.  For instance, it’s hard for me to empathize when someone else is having a challenging time, even when it may seem unfair, when I’m barred from participating in their efforts all together.  I would rather have the challenge and fail than not be able to do anything at all.  After all, the point of playing games is to play games.  Just winning is easily achieved by doing anything that’s easy.

On a more constructive level, I see value in failure.  Failure is so much better for learning than success.  But, I’m thinking about something more specific – failure in RPGs.

RPGs are about stories.  In the moment, it can be frustrating, irritating, or otherwise unpleasant to fail.  I particularly get frustrated by failing at things my characters are supposed to be good at … probably because my characters tend not to be as good at things in general as other characters.  But, constant success is not a very compelling story.  If one is writing a novel (or producing anime or whatever), then failure builds up the value of later success.  In theory, RPGs should work the same way.

In practice, failure has problems.  First of all, too often with RPGs, failure means death, which should actually, arguably never be the case.  Death as failure is a competitive game view.  Stories are rife with heroic sacrifices, heinous betrayals, and whatnot.  RPGs are about telling stories.  Otherwise, can just go play an MMO or something.  Even putting aside deaths, too many RPG plots are reliant upon success.  I ran into this rather painfully with an HoR2 mod.  Players didn’t try some obvious things, and they weren’t well designed for how to move forward in the plot, and the party was small.  Yet, giving up in HoR mods is never satisfying.

In some post in the last year or so, I noted my epiphany that I wasn’t actually looking for difficult challenges in RPGs but, rather, looking to succeed at challenges that seemed difficult, regardless as to whether they were or not.  Perception was more important than technicalities.  That probably applies to competitive games, as well, since perception = reality and all.

So, it’s tricky.  On the one hand, I should want failure at times to make for more compelling stories.  On the other, I’d rather feel like failure was likely but succeed anyway.  I do believe that RPGs lack the subtlety of experience in most cases where you can see how failure leads to something more interesting down the line.  Plus, there’s so much “in the moment” when it comes to RPGs, even when a campaign lasts a while.  Looking back, the failures in our Conan play were interesting, but they were oh so frustrating at the time.

Heroic Combat

The above went on longer than I expected.  I got to thinking about how to enforce more heroic combat, i.e. combat where you have a specific enemy that you fight one on one rather than the party ganking dudes.

Something that’s funny about this is that facing off against your specific opponent is a comic book convention, but another comic book convention is to switch opponents for devastating attacks that your normal opponent isn’t prepared for.

Anyway, I got to thinking that having penalties to switching off could be a way to encourage focusing on your personal foe.  In L5R, a mechanic would be something like doing -1k1 on attacks and damage against everyone besides your designated opponent (however that’s figured out).  Time of War, which we are using for our Mechwarrior campaign, has a special piloting ability that works like this, where you get a bonus against one opponent and a penalty to everyone else while that opponent is fighting.  Somewhere in L5R 4e’s mechanics, there may be something like this, as well.

Obviously, not every fight should be one on one.  The big bad or big bads fights can be cool.  As a GM, I’m also prone to not having specific foes for PCs because that’s too many elite participants in fights.

CCG Play Style

Playing Shadowfist recently had an interesting effect on my recent V:TES play.  I was thinking about how to build Shadowfist decks once I have cards (again).  The thought processes weren’t about what was effective … because I don’t know enough to know what’s effective.  They were the sort of thoughts people have when they are learning about a CCG (and not focused on what is effective), which is to say that these thoughts ran to the idea of finding cards I wanted to play together and playing them together.

Not whether they would be strong or weak or different together.  Just picking cards that read/look interesting and putting them in a deck and playing.

Now, Johnnies (CCGers who are more into combos) and Timmies (CCGers into playing cool cards) are already bent this way, the former for trying to find a way to creatively use a card, the latter for the feelings that happen when playing a card.  As amusing as it is to consider at times, I’m a Spike.  Spikes are about winning.  In my particular case, as written about above, it’s not about my winning, it’s about knowing how to win, which I find fascinating even if I never end up applying such knowledge to my own play.  Sure, I have Johnny and Timmy elements, as most do, but underlying the “I want to play this silly card/deck/whatever” is not so much an interest in being creative or an interest in the coolness of the play but how “silly” (“funny”, etc.) only has meaning within a context of what is not silly, aka what is effective.

Anyway, so I built one new deck for Sunday’s V:TES session, and it was very much outside of my current norm.  It was a comboish deck that really just tried to do its thing, regardless as to how productive that thing was.  For giggles, it was a Spiridonas + Renewed Vigor deck that bled once with Spiridonas … for one … before it got ousted by my “axe” not paying attention to my situation and having his 5 bleed get bounced into me when I was at 7 pool.  One funny thing about the deck is that I’m pretty sure it’s better without Spiridonas and Renewed Vigor.

But, as pathetic as it performed, there’s something about just playing cards for the sake of playing cards.  After all, I tend to play games just for the sake of playing games.  Why should it be bothersome to run out some mess of a deck that I have little hope of winning with when, one, I’m not trying to play the best decks possible anyway and, two, I play decks all of the time that aren’t good for other reasons?

Note that much of the time the reason I play so many sketchy decks is either because I’m trying to learn something about cards or strategies or because I’m playing decks in opposition to goodness, e.g. Dominateless decks for clans with inclan Dominate.  What I’m talking about today is not about learning or about making a political statement but simply about playing cards that sound like they would be fun to play.

Which may sound weird to some folks that I don’t play cards that I just think are fun.  But, that comes about when I’ve played a CCG so much that I’ve played those cards at some point in the past just because it seemed fun or interesting.  There’s a strong element of becoming jaded.  Which, again, is why I like restrictions on deck construction that other people don’t embrace.  As much as I know about a CCG, I know so much less about an environment where I can’t play what I’d normally play or can’t play what other people can play or whatever.  This not knowing the metagame leads to making unusual choices.

Other

Soon, I plan on doing a review of Book of Fire for L5R 4e.  It won’t be a terribly useful review as my intent is more “Here’s what I would have done, instead.”  Also pending is my updating my HoR3 mod rankings.  I’ve let things slide as I’ve played so irregularly in 2013.  I’ve also thought about how Time of War and other Mechwarrior products historically have gone in a particular direction that I think suits a different type of gamer.

Though, as I may be playing Shadowfist Friday night and running my FSTH campaign Saturday and playing more games Sunday, I may get distracted and think of something else to write about.


Mechfist

July 15, 2013

Yesterday was unusual.

We talked about starting up another Mechwarrior campaign, only with a different GM, based upon talk from last year.  Was looking at 2 players, then 3 players, but, with one of the players away for the Summer, we are down to 2 players, looking at the year or two before the original idea will begin.  I believe we decided that the campaign would start 3026, somewhere around there.  So, the two of us will be building backstory from, I guess, 3024.

In the morning we had our first prequel session.  Mechwarrior is always strange because even though it’s supposed to be about the pilots, the people, the/their world revolves around ‘mechs.  I thought things went well and the situations made sense.  Because I had to run, we saved our first ‘mech engagement for the beginning of next week’s session.

What did I have to run to?

Shadowfist.

I got together with three of the local oldtimers at Earl’s place and we played 3 games of Shadowfist, followed by dinner, followed by … 3 more games.  Yeah, don’t think 6 pickup games of V:TES would happen in one day, certainly not with a start time after 1PM.

I borrowed decks for every game.  We didn’t play Modern, in fact, few Modern only cards were used.  In theory, in August or September, I’ll have a collection again.

First game, I played a Dragon Hero deck, with Reluctant Heroes and Wandering Heroes.  Having no idea how to properly use Independent and Tactics, I didn’t do hardly anything.  Hard to remember too many details of six games in which I’m largely unfamiliar with the cards.  I recall Gangsters and Everything Falls Apart to my left.

Second game, I played an Ascended and CHAR deck.  I got out Shinobu Yashida and CHARs, made a bid for victory, got stopped, sat around for a bit, then made another bid for victory with a Tunneler Drone and won.  Power was gained because Ascended do that.  CHAR was resourced by Arcanomoths.

Third game, I played a Hand + Monkey deck.  I had a bunch of Edges:  Shield of Pure Soul, Mo’ Monkeys, Mo’ Problems, Payback Time, Stand Together (Monkey).  I got out Iron Monkey and a bunch of Big Macaque Attacks.  Players to my left and across were having problems.  So, why did this go badly?  Player to my right was also playing a monkey deck, so all of our Big Macaque Attacks were huge but cancelled each other out.  He played Ba-BOOM!, which I agonized over whether to block.  I smoked everything in play as his deck seemed way out of control.  That let the other players into the game, and I never recovered enough fighting to be relevant.  Even losing lots of sites which gained me a lot of power didn’t rebuild my forces.  Before massive monkey murder, I could have Iron Monkey attacked to the right, the one guy with power at the time, but didn’t.  That and smoking Ba-BOOM! were considered mistakes.

Fourth game, I played the Dragon deck from above, again.  Everyone else played Lotus decks.  Demon Whiskey on my left and Underworld Trackers and Palace Guards meant everyone recovered better than I did.  I did amass a big army of Reluctant Heroes and Wandering Heroes, but I couldn’t punch through Demon Whiskey + Devil’s Rope + Cave Network on my left, and he nuked the world.  I did make a bid for victory but should have seized instead of burned a site as that brought back a bunch of blockers for going after a weakly defended Dockyard for the win.  I made two mistakes.  One was not going for play + seize + win.  Another was not trying to hit for 7 on an undefended, blind Feng Shui Site, which wouldn’t have worked, anyway.

Fifth game was three-player, player to my right was playing 36 card deck for the quick game.  He got out Queen of the Ice Pagoda fast and King of the Fire Pagoda.  I played big power, big dudes Ascended.  I couldn’t Shadowy Mentor with any of the four I ended the game with.  I was totally screwed on power.  Other player was screwed on resources.

So, we played a sixth game.  Two of us played the same decks.  My opponents got screwed on stuff, and I generated obscene amounts of power with Secret Headquarters, Family Estate, FS Sites I played and stuff I took.  My deck was mostly about Ascended Stealth, so El Tigre superleaped to seize two sites, which I’m sure happens all of the time, and I plowed through a space deck’s lack of defenses for the win.

In both the fifth and sixth games, I had to discard like mad to get playable cards.  The hitters were just ridiculously prolific in the deck.  In the little I’ve played Shadowfist, Draco has never done me any favors.

What was interesting was that I had so much more of an idea what was going on in these games than I ever had before.  I had little idea what the abilities of cards in play were, but I think I finally got the rhythm of playing cards, if still not how to decide when to attack.

There are certainly similarities to V:TES as well as the significant differences.  I think V:TES is more forgiving.  Decisions are also less difficult.  Shadowfist is very much about the potential for wild swings but also has grindy elements more akin to V:TES.  I’m pretty sure I know which factions I’ll prefer.  As much as I like the idea of Dragons, they always suck for me, not being controllish enough.

Anyway, I expect to play quite a bit more of both games.  It’s nice to do something different.


All The Win – Part II

July 11, 2013

Following up from https://iclee.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/all-the-win/, here are library cards from N-Z that appeal to me for trying to make use of in tournament decks.

Nightstick is a card I keep thinking about because it’s really not bad by various measurements, yet is a terrible card.  It’s a really good card in a very bad environment, like pseudo-limited (this is not a recognized format, just constructed that looks a lot like limited).  Anyone could just drop it into a deck, but why would they?  Not a card that calls that strongly for this exercise, but a card I just find sort of passable for seeing more play.

Personal Scourge makes the top echelons of my list.  It’s just funny and harmless, and I’m not inclined to win with standard Dementation stealth bleed, in part because there’s nothing notable about doing so, in part because I already have, if only in a nine-player tournament.

Polaris Coach seems an entirely forgotten card.  It’s quite interesting.  Not good.  But interesting.  There is a deck archetype it could go into, but it’s a rather specific archetype – low native stealth, forward-only looking.  Natural fit with Daughters, in theory.  In practice, I never got blocked playing DoC, so adding more stealth just wastes card slots – should take out evasion.

“Just wait until I Precision you to death” is a line that could have been heard for many a year.  Except, who cares?  I find Victim of Habit to be less good than it used to be, and I wonder if it’s because there’s more bloat in the metagame, to where a prick here or there isn’t all that.

Maybe I should rebuild my Regaining the Upper Hand deck to prove how devastating it is.  It’s not like I played that deck in a tournament.  Maybe I won’t have three of my vampires Sensory Deprivationed.

I had to look up Rubicon.  I actually had forgotten completely what the card did.  Just a note, certainly no contender.

Nobody expects Shadow Parasite!  Key to all of my OBT intercept combat decks … that never win.

Shock Troops is a card I built around for a tournament deck.  Unlike most of the cards I mention, it’s an actual build around type card, giving it gravitas when it comes to this exercise.  On the other hand, I lost interest a long time ago, even Matt Morgan’s Blood Brother deck that I’m undefeated playing didn’t renew my interest.

Soul Painting is such an overlooked card.  It’s annoying as hell, very possibly kills a vampire as much as Sens. Dep. does, when used correctly.  Kind of weird that it doesn’t seem to exist for other folks, though maybe that Aus/Pre has plenty of good things to do is the reason.

Ah, Summon the Abyss.  I tried.  I failed.  Why bother going to the same well?  It’s not like the card has any flexibility where I’d build the deck differently.

Sunrise Service is a card I keep forgetting about that there are a variety of ways to go and where the card doesn’t have to take up much space, if a deck is already messing around with getting out of torpor or wanting to live in torpor.  It’s got a cool name, too.

The Becoming just has so many possibilities.  Bad ones, in my experience.  And, that’s the key.  I’ve actually played with this card in multiple decks – it’s about as bad as people seem to think it is.

The Portrait.  Number #1, still?  Or, has it lost its place as best card to win a tournament with, e-e-e-v-e-r?  Probably not #1, anymore, as I kind of got tired of playing it.

Thrones Crumble – I understand why this card gets ignored as it’s both narrow and doesn’t involve stealth bleeding.  But, I think it’s techy.

Veneficorum Artum Sanguis has not been in a tournament winning deck?  This I find weird.  Can just Magic it out and hand it off to a THA-less dude to THA ’em up.  That takes like one card slot in some decks.

I’ve forgotten how much Vial of Elder Vitae suits me.  Vial of Garou Blood was in one of my more memorable Prophecies League decks.  And, it even factored into a RPG session I had at a con, one time, while playing my Project Twilight character.  Gives it some list cred.

Zip Line is a card that I think has some use.  I just can’t figure out where I’d want to play it.  My Dom/For Zip Line deck was boring as hell.  Maybe ally stealth bleed.  Polaris Coaches to stealth allies into play and Zip Lines to stealth them by the nonexistent intercept that so many decks have.  Tutu, being Doubly Evil, can certainly amass a bunch of Zip Lines without wasting a ton of actions, so maybe a new mummy deck.

Only one person chimed in with what card that person wanted to win with.  Guess this was less interesting of a subject than I thought.  I’ll have to find more compelling topics.

Thanks, Matt.


Special Report – Cauchemars attack!

July 8, 2013

Played some foursies yesterday.

Game 1:

Andy (borrowed The World’s a Canvas) -> Ian (Helena defends sleaze) -> David (Petaniqua Madness) -> Brandon (anarch Auspex)

This was amusing for how painful it was for all involved, probably even Brandon.  Andy asked me for my worst deck as, whenever I’ve given him one of my old tournament winning decks, he can’t believe that such crap ever won.  So, I gave him a The World’s a Canvas deck that tries to play both Dominate and Vicissitude (no “make uncontrolled” tech).  He is a turn too late to screw over my bringing out Helena (adv) as my first minion.  With no titled minion in play at any point in this game, every TWaC is a dead draw.

I proceed to do nothing with Helena until Dr. Douglas Netchurch joins Helena.  David gets blocked trying to get Concordance by weenieish Auspex to his left while trying to pull off his Concordance + Madness Network + As the Crow combo.  Then, Petaniqua gets Pentexed, which Andy’s many dudes had no success in removing until after Brandon gets an Ivory Bow.  Brandon’s Ian Forestal comes out, gets equipped with a .44, and is able to play some random three-ways – Detect Authority for intercept (because it’s well known how bad Auspex intercept is), CrimethInc., which is just salt in the wound …

… to Andy, who bemoans my deck constantly and the inability of 5/6 of my crypt to play the CrimethInc. in his hand, even though he quickly got out four dudes (though the Anarch Convert shouldn’t have been brought out), bleeds past my Helena a few times, and has plenty of pool.  Sure, his hand was useless, but hand shmand.

This was how compelling my game was – Helena (adv), Doug, Tony, and my first three ash heap cards were discarded Kindred Coercions.  My fourth was admittedly Conditioning, but my fifth and sixth were … Special Report and Sins of the Cauchemar, played to stop David from bringing out Ossian, which he thought was a mistake (blocking).  But, I couldn’t deal with Ossian if he ever decided to go backwards.

I could have removed Pentex.  I could have bled harder to oust David.  I could have not bounced to Brandon, who murdered Andy’s dudes with Ivory Bow.  Instead, I just hoped my predator and prey would get stronger.  Pentex finally broken, David started going forward.  I tried to oust him as he was too weak to really do anything to Brandon, and I had Govern/Conditioning and stealth in my hand to try to get Brandon at a crucial juncture.  But, Brandon ousted Andy, and the endgame was lame.

Game 2:

David (DoC beat you down) -> Andy (borrowed Osebo SB) -> Brandon (!Toreador vote) -> Ian (Marijava Thuggee)

Unlike the last borrowed deck, Andy borrowed one of my three most dominant tournament winning decks … and got beaten into the ground by Daughters bleeding and Shattering Crescendos.  Andy could only get Massassi and a 4-cap out all game, strangely rushing with Massassi, hitting for one … that got prevented.  Brandon had a slow start voting.  I got Yazid and Morlock, followed by Teresita and a Thuggee.  I could easily bleed David.  Unfortunately, a crosstable Golconda kept David around longer, so Brandon had enough time to get better cards and the Heart of Nizchetus.  If I had more pool, I would have kept David around, who promised to contest the Heart, Society crosstable, and Shatter crosstable, but I was too low, so I ousted him.  With Guarded Rubrics and Tattoo Signal, my plus bleeders finished off Andy.  I would bleed for 9 or so a turn, but Brandon just kept Tapping and Capping until there was no way I could race his voting me out, and a couple of KRCs finished me off.

Game 3:

Ian (Victor/Victor) -> Brandon (high cap Ani/Aus) -> David (FOR/Dom Force of Will) -> Andy (Al-Muntathir and friends)

Victor Pelletier is a justicar.  VP bleeds for three.  Brandon Fames Truman and brings out Khalid.  VP tries Consanguineous Condemnation to tap Khalid and succeeds, Freaks, and tries to bleed, and fails.  Every other Con Con gets blocked after I show how busted it can be.

VP gets Pentexed for his efforts, and David breaks it with the Famed Truman with Daring the Dawn.  When Karl goes to rescue, Karl also ends up in torpor.  I was tres confused.  Anyway, with VP and Victor Donaldson joining their wonder twin powers and the flunkie Joao Bile around to do dirty work, I bleed Brandon for 11 with Govern and a couple of Conditionings, ousting him.

Andy has had time to tool up as David has no stealth, just Daring the Dawn, which didn’t show up that often in this game.  Andy’s Neighbor John gets a .44 and a Bowl of Convergence, and I need David to moi-der Andy.  I call Con Con with the intention of tapping our Neighbor, but it gets blocked by Nicomedes, who continues to try to block after I play inferior Dawn Operation, and who goes to torpor from the dread pirate Victor Pelletier.  Emily Carson goes to feast, as I have vote lock, and our Neighbor blocks for some reason, which lets David get enough bleed through to oust Andy.  Andy, being tired, was heard to say “I think I chose the only possible way for me to get ousted” in regards to his final plays of the game.

I bleed David’s defenseless deck for a ton.  He can’t oust me on the counterattack, and he concedes while at 1 pool.

I only played one Golconda all game, on Khalid.  Was hoping to hit the Trujah, later, but whatever.  The combined power of two Victors and Con Con is nothing to scoff at.

So, what did we learn?

Never borrow my decks.  Andy has now played two of my three most dominant tournament winning decks and gotten smashed once and couldn’t believe how bad the other one was.

Dr. Douglas Netchurch is an okay blocker, as long as you are running Special Report and Sins of the Cauchemar.

Con Con is pure political action sleaze.

There’s a reason Minion Tap has been considered overpowered.  Good thing there’s a hoser these days to prevent bloat abuse.


All The Win?

July 5, 2013

It actually wasn’t that long ago that I played some V:TES.  I just don’t have a lot to comment upon.  If I were plugged in, I would hope that there would be a bunch of Origins/Week of Nightmares threads about the state of the game, but I would imagine a lot of people needed to get home and/or back to work, and, if you were there, you possibly got plenty of that.

I’m not sure why, maybe looking at one of my old decks, but I got to thinking about this question:

What card would I most want to win a V:TES TWDA-eligible tournament with?

Which, of course, led to the less elegant question of:  What deck would I most want to win with?

The second question should be shelved.  Primarily, I think there are too many roughly equivalent answers in my case.  And, right this moment, it’s not so much any specific deck but just any deck I would find amusing to win with.

So, back to card.

The first criterion would reasonably be a card that does not presently exist in the TWDA.  But, does this hold up?  Wouldn’t it be pleasing to win with Elisabetta Romano?  Yet, there are two TWDs with her, including one from some guy with the initials LSJ.  Both are rather amusing.  So, why go to that same, overplayed well a ridiculous third time?

Bear-Baiting is an example of a card that would be amusing and doesn’t show, but isn’t it just one of many that can be thrown into the pile of “Look at the stupid cards I can play and win with!” coasters.

Certain cards call out to people.  In theory, there’s a card that both calls out and doesn’t show in the TWDA, and that might be the card.

As of 2012-10-26, there were 419 library cards and 140 crypt cards with no representation.  Why that date?  That was the date that I pulled someone’s list of counts of cards from the TWDA.  I haven’t tried to find a more recent list.

Now, I’ve often built tournament decks with an eye towards crypts rather than libraries.  In many cases, it wasn’t about a single crypt card as it was a clan that sucked.  I’m less interested in examining crypt cards today, as I think there are more interesting cards to call out with library cards.

Ahriman’s Demesne is a card I’ve tried in two or more decks and never did anything with, though I do find the idea of a Lasombra intercept combat deck appealing even if they’ve all been awful at ousting people.  Plus, that I’ve personally banned Conditioning and Govern the Unaligned from my tournament decks makes it that much harder to find the ousteriness.

I have generally liked non-unique allies.  Ananasi Vampirephile was a card that I found somewhat charming, but I never did much with it.  Then, the “Tunnel Runner before Tunnel Runner” got coasterized by Tunnel Runner.  Not feeling the OMG moment, but maybe it would make a top 5 list.

There are actually quite a few cards I could comment upon, but we don’t have all day.

Blessed Resilience – this seems like a strong candidate.  I had reasonable chances, maybe even good chances if I played better, to win with a Blessed Resilience deck, and it’s a card I enjoy as I like the idea that my vampires are simply “burn options”.  I want to do some combat thing or whatever rather than the Force of Will deck I played, so it could be a really messed up deck, though probably not a good enough deck to win with if it tries to do combat and burn its own vampires with two superior disciplines.  And, I’m not a superstar deck nor combo player, so hyperfocus on some play wouldn’t make much sense.

I’m all in favor of trying to make unreprinted and/or forgotten cards functional, like Body of Sun, but it’s really not a very interesting card outside of the casual “I turn into a dragon and kill your ass” decks.  Speaking of which, going out of alphabetic order for a moment, Mythic Form used to appeal to me for its ultrarareness and amusing thematics, and it’s not quite as many hoops as BoS, but I think the two cards actually steal each other’s thunders when it comes to winning with them.  Plus, somebody could just drop one of each in a real deck and claim cred, even though I find that an abhorrent practice.  Sure, a one-of that fits organically in a deck is fine, but it should be natural.

Children of Osiris has such a cool name.  But, hosers?  Hosers that are tech are cool.  The one deck in which a bunch of hosers could be thrown into that don’t address any particular metagaming strategy is the Pariah deck.  But, what gain is there really for these random hosers?

Meanwhile, Crimson Fury is another candidate.  It has some hoserish aspects, but it’s mainly for the Force of Will decks of the world, even a Blessed Resilience deck …

So, Drink the Blood of Utter Awfulness, er, Ahriman.  I’m Ahriman’s guy (but not gal, as I’m not that interested in the Ahrimanes) and all, but after playing a DtBoA deck in a major tournament, I went up to The Lasombra and apologized to him for playing such a crappy deck.  I continued to think of ways to improve a strategy around it, but I had to mentally scourge myself repeatedly to never walk down this Ahriful path ever again, no matter how many goofy ways one might want to leverage the card.

Extremis Boon is top 5.  No doubt about that.  However, it would be a hollow victory indeed if it wasn’t actually played in the finals, for the win.  So, um, yeah, until I remember to put a copy in every one of my decks, like I keep thinking to do, the chances of this occurrence are mighty extremis.

Hatch the Viper is another “cool seeming card that I can’t get that excited by the mechanics of” card.  The amount of set up just to make this do anything worthwhile is just so much, even if I’d be okay with some Pro/Ser deck.

I guess Jackal has to make a list but certainly no Extremis Boon.  Had the two Jackal decks, only one of which I ever played.  The problem is that we don’t have a heavy Middle Eastern metagame anymore to where you were reasonably likely to accidentally gain stealth from the Jackalmeister.

Btw, I’m using Secret Library to confirm lack of winnage, which is not as good as doing some direct TWDA searches, which are probably just as easy to do – maybe just in the mood to look at a dark background rather than light at the moment.  Anyway, amazing that Jar the Soul hasn’t accidentally gotten in.  Jar the Soul was the main card in what was nearly my second TWD ever, a deck so vicious and cruel that my prey had to seat switch to be my predator and where Game of Malkav screwed me by ousting my prey.  In theory, Jar should be an easy run in HoS bleed, but does it really do anything that matters?

Off on a tangent, given how many decks I see that run a decent amount of bounce and a dearth of wakes, I’m surprised people don’t metagame more tap and bleed in such environments.  Whether it’s Aksinya only playing so many Rats’ Warnings or Keith Moody not holding down the fort, seems like there are opportunities.

Of Liquefy the Mortal Coil and Machine Blitz, Machine Blitz is much cooler.  That being said … moving on …

Malkavian Time Auction, which I believe ReverandRevolver commented was a surprising omission, is so righteous.  Unfortunately, it means playing with Malks, and Malks are opprobrious.

There’s a card I’m loath to mention, as I’ve built the deck and had the key concept worked out for years, but I just can’t pull the trigger.  Or, alternatively, when tournaments come around, I completely forget some of my goofy ideas.

So, that takes me through the “M’s”, which seems plenty for today.  Sets me up for a part two.

Now, as utterly fascinating as readers might have found this, I’m sure it’s more interesting to those rare specimens to provide their own “I want to win with THIS!!” choices.  So, what do you all say?