October 26, 2013

While I’ve hardly been low on the gaming recently, even teaching some mahjong and getting caught up on HoR, I just haven’t been feeling a specific topic.  So, when I went to play Shadowfist last night and Miguel, the host, mentioned reading this blog and finding it interesting to see the game through the eyes of a newb, it seemed obvious to me to write about Shadowfist after those infrequent times I play it.

In particular, I bring an unusual perspective.  To a large degree, it’s that of the newb.  But, it’s also the perspective of someone who has done a significant amount of CCGing and who is probably approaching ramping up in knowledge in a “r1” way.  I mine Chimpshack for card knowledge even for cards that aren’t in Modern.  I have researched articles, which doesn’t sound that odd, but I’ve been looking for certain, specific information rather than general advice.

Anyway, we played three games last night.  I’m not going to include card texts, and I’m not sure where to link to individual cards, if such a site exists.

Game 1:

Miguel (Hand), Ian (Hand), Anna (Monarchs), Michael (Architects)

Started playing a three, but Michael showed up before Anna finished her first turn.  I chose one of the decks I was less interested in playing as it isn’t clear to me whether the three-player or the four-player is going to be the norm, so I was saving other decks for four-player games.

This was not an interesting game.  Miguel got a Proving Ground going with Virtuous Hoods and Exiled Monks and the rest of us had virtually no action.  This game brought up something I wasn’t expecting – multiple players not getting characters in play.  Sure, I focus on as many ways to generate power as possible so that I don’t get into the dreaded situation of not being able to do anything and still brought up little, but I wasn’t expecting both Anna and Michael to have no meaningful board positions.

Game 2:

Anna (as above), Michael (borrowed Ascended junk), Miguel (Eunuchs), Ian (Big Bruiser Parade)

While slow, newbieness slows things down for reading cards and making decisions, this was much more of a game.  Anna put out Summer Fire Palace and it was annoying.  Michael’s deck was full of annoyance plays, including The Fox Outfoxed on Imperial Boon to blunt Miguel’s game.

Meanwhile, Miguel got Eunuch action going with both Xin Ji Yang and Gao Zhang.  The former got to 20 Fighting but kept running across Big Bruisers and Anna’s Fire Cadets bravely exploded against Gao Zhang when he had eight damage, taking him and the shrunken Xin Ji Yang out.  This left me with the Fightiness as I got a couple Bruisers and could keep one in play through removal with “Is That All You Got?”.

Back for Seconds, Fortune Favors the Bold, and a fortunate Fighting Spirit to get back two events when I had one of one event and three of another in my smoked pile kept the pressure up with no one else having much of a board presence.  Michael did get some Tail [of the Lizard] action going.

Why mention that?  I’m not a fan of the Ascended in Modern and maybe never really all that much of a fan of them in pre-Modern days.  They generate power and Killdeer was how Michael put it, and I can’t recall anything else interesting that they do besides steal effects.  My view is that Shadowy Mentor is not a good card at 4 power.  It’s just hideously slow compared to 3 power.  Maybe that’s only building decks with Modern, maybe that’s my aversion to running Bull Market, or maybe I’m wrong.  But, the cost change seems mighty, where plenty of other power cards didn’t get any nerfing.  So, getting back to the question, Tail of the Lizard is one of the few Ascended characters I like in Modern.

To maintain the digression, somewhat because of Modern but also because of some personal choices, I actually find that the Ascended have a hard time generating enough power to play anything besides the midrange characters.  I really want to mix Ascended with somebody, but too many combinations either don’t use the same talent or require multiple resources of one type or another.

Anyway, Big Bruisers lead to victory.  While not a terribly interesting deck, especially I imagine for veterans, I do want to get another game in with this tight deck in before moving on to other Dragony or halfbreed strategies.

Game 3:

Ian (Lotus Snakes), Michael (Purists), Miguel (Purists)

Rather than describe action, I’m just going to list some funny things that happened.

I Death of 1,000 Cuts True Believer … Crisis.  Yes, I Crisis a card to smoke a 1 Fighting character.  It gets Delay the Inevitabled.  Temple of the Celestial Mercy had one left and we were both trying to get it, as I had an Imp in play.  Endless Corridor stops the True Believer.  True Believer goes for it again, and I’m reminded that I have Do1000C on Delay, so I smoke him the second time around.

There were many DtIs, of course.  One stopped my Underworld Coronation.  Who on?  Why, Evil Twin of Prudence Nightingale, of course.  I Evil Twinned her twice.  I also Die!!!-ed her twice, controlled by two different opponents.  At one point, I had Feng Kan, two Hungry Ghosts, two Exorcists, Evil Twin Prudence, and an Abysmal Wyrm in play and was in last place.  At the end of the game, everyone had two sites burned for victory.  I got Green Snake and White Snake in play and assassinated a Morse Code Poet (I think), but Michael Discerning Fired away my GSaWS and an Abysmal Wyrm.  I Discerning Fired away two of his state-pumped dudes on the same turn.

I tried to explain that the one copy of Feeding the Hungry in my deck was not so good for my specific deck as I lacked reliable Tortured Memories or character recursion tech in my build, but, because it allowed me to push through with the reTwinned Prudence for the win, nuking an Abysmal on the way to smokey land, it was considered strong.  I was surprised to find out it wasn’t a reprint as it seems like such an obvious Lotus card.  On the other hand, based on Michael’s comments about cards, I get the sense that there are more zero cost events with strong effects that have come with Modern.


The first deck never had a chance to do its thing and the other two are decks I have interest in, so I plan on playing them all again before going back to the blackboard … blackboards are a real thing, still, right?

I mentioned to Miguel that I could post decklists and thoughts on the builds and the card choices, but that seems to make more sense when I go to break them down.  The two decks I liked more both did what they were supposed to, so things seem to be working out fine on the deckbuilding front.  I have thoughts on what Modern could use, but that seems like a good post for another time.

In general, I was expecting more sites to see play – often people were on one Feng Shui Site – and more hitters/midrangers on the table.  Also, there was less removal than I expected.  I have no ability to play Imprisoned or Neutron Bomb or Nerve Gas, but it seemed like those sorts of things might show up, though only one deck had the right faction for them.


We also played Love Letter, a very light card game of logic.  I thought it was fine.  It certainly had more intrigue when played with four players rather than the five we mistakenly started out with.  It’s not the sort of game I care about as I could just as easily converse on games I do care about rather than play, but I’d have no problem playing it again and think there’s a solid dynamic in the game.



October 18, 2013

I’m still watching Arrow.  After a good season premier, this week’s episode was terrible.  The plot, the subplots, the acting, the action – all bad.  But, when I went to read reviews (because I like reviews), other people thought it was a good episode.  Putting aside their mental deficiencies, what does this have to do with gaming?

Not everybody enjoys the same things.

Some people really enjoy winning.  No matter what else, if they win, the experience is vastly superior to the experience when they don’t win.  Some of the things I look for in games are:  amusing interactions/situations; overcoming challenges (but not overcoming other players); close results; winning the various subgames a game might have or that I create; playing well.

Ultimately, I see games as a form of entertainment, just as books, TV, movies, theater, etc.  A question that I’ve increasingly asked myself over the years is:  how do I make a game I play more entertaining?

Not just for myself, as I may enjoy a game much more than others, but in general.  For BattleTech, we have instituted a number of guidelines for scenarios – lower speeds, lack of jump, lower gunnery skills, modest terrain features – in order to make it more of the slam, bam, thank you LAM game that it should be.  For my RPG campaigns, I often mention ideas to my GMs for how to make things more appealing to me.  I often ask my players what they’d like to see more of when I run RPGs, though that either doesn’t generate much feedback or I fail to act on the feedback.

But, what of V:TES?

I was watching the videos from the EC.  A takeaway I had from Hugh’s and Randal’s presentations was the idea of maintaining the fun of playing the game.  V:TES, like 97% of the CCGs that have come out, has a hard time with maintaining or growing the playerbase.  Veterans move on in their lives or move to places with no players, and existing groups find it harder and harder to get together.  Playing with the same people all of the time might work, though it tends to move a CCG towards being more like a complicated boardgame, but both Hugh and Randal talked about traveling.

In particular, Hugh mentioned how stimulating it has been to travel to places like the US.  CCGs especially, but any game really, are intended to be varied experiences.  Not that Hugh mentioned the Bay Area except to have a marker on his map …

Anyway, I always find it concerning when players find the games I want to play frustrating.  There’s really no reason V:TES should be frustrating.  There are tons of cards, which means variety.  It’s multiplayer, which means the best deck doesn’t matter.  Sure, some aspects of multiplayer CCGs can be frustrating.  I know I’ve gotten tired of table politics at times, looking back fondly on two-player CCGs where it was all about the kill.

But, relating to what I said above, maybe multiplayer CCGs get frustrating because of how often any one person will lose.  After all, if everyone is on a level playing field, a five-player game means having only a 20% chance of winning.  A 20 player tournament means having a 5% chance of winning the tournament.

Just to go off on a tangent, one thing I keep thinking about when it comes to sports is how annoying the phrase “it’s hard to win a championship” is.  Every season, one team will win a championship, so it’s not like it’s that hard.  On the other hand, major professional leagues in the US have about 32 teams.  Everything being equal, that means a 3% chance of winning the championship.

But, maybe the frustration can come from not everything being equal.  Some people like to complain, when it comes to CCGs, of the lack of a level playing field with respect to card collections and, thus, ability to build decks.  I can’t remotely compete at Magic, for instance, well, if I just used my collection.  With certain CCGs, I can see this.  More relevant to me would be Wheel of Time, where decks needed rares, ultrarares, and/or promos in significant quantities to be considered tournament viable.

But, I think collection isn’t that important and too often used as an excuse.  After all, anybody can borrow a deck.  I can see how never experiencing success can be frustrating.  Much better to have players of similar ability and results who elevate each other than to have disparate ability levels that maintain a haves and have-nots paradigm.

But, can’t a game be fun without success?

Why do I get into games?

I got into Ultimate Combat! even after I lost every game I played of it.  I got into Jyhad with no aspirations of success.  I got into Babylon 5 because I thought it was fun to play with the main characters, where CCGs to that point that I played were not tied into properties where that mattered.  I’ve never had much success at Dragon Dice.  I played one major tournament of Wheel of Time and didn’t place.  I got into Shadowfist because I “feel” the genre now, where I didn’t back in 1995.

Okay, those were reasons mostly why I not-not got into a game.  I suppose I could be more specific as to why I did get into those games, just not today.

There’s an essential question as to what makes a game appealing that is too big a topic to cover except maybe over the entire course of life of this blog.  But, looking around, I think it’s worth stepping back and asking the question “What am I looking to get out of this game?” not just to decide whether to play it but to decide what to bring to the table to make the experiences better.

Historically, as an example, I’ve often brought funny stuff to the table because I’m looking for amusement and not just results.

Card Actions

October 15, 2013

First up, Shadowfist and how V:TES and other CCGs have influenced my deckbuilding.

One of the features of playing my own decks for the first time was that I believe I brought a completely different approach to deckbuilding.  It’s the nature of those who play a CCG a long time to get into more and more esoteric decks in an effort to see variety.  As with most of the CCGs I’ve gotten into, the playerbase for Shadowfist tends to be longtime players.

Meanwhile, with a tiny collection size, I had to play a variety of cards and I was focused on having a minimum threshold of functionality.  I didn’t want to lose to combo decks or goofy vehicle decks, so I tried to get in cards that could handle edges and states.  I don’t think this was expected as I nearly wiped someone’s board with Realpolitik.

In other words, I built toolbox decks in a world of focused decks.

It’s an interesting question as to whether there’s advantage to building more toolboxy decks in a game as swingy as Shadowfist, where one’s board position can be completely nuked.

I’ve since acquired more cards, so I am now able to build more focused decks.  I had some ideas for what I wanted to build around – a good thing, as it displays that the CCG is doing its job of having different cards appeal to different people.  I was building mostly 50 or 55 card decks, embracing the ability to build decks smaller than 60 cards.  Before getting a chance to play them, though, I’ve already started tuning them.  Repeated goldfishing the decks showed that I was constantly drawing cards I didn’t want.

So, I made the decks smaller.  One deck is now 40 cards.  It has a problem with reliably getting a second faction resource, but that’s because I only own so many Dockyards.  At first, I didn’t think much about Dockyard because you “had” to run a bunch of foundation characters, anyway.  Then, I started thinking about how to make multifaction decks reliable and Dockyard became crucial.  Then, I realized that some of my decks only ever wanted to play one of the foundation characters.  By cutting the chaff foundations and running Dockyards, I could shrink my decks and have resource reliability.

Obvious?  Maybe.  But, I think experience with other CCGs has provided me with some feel for the flow of a deck for a game in which I’ve played rarely.

Just as how I tend to prune V:TES decks for tournaments down by removing extra “answers”, I’m making these decks tighter and tighter by removing the “But, what if someone plays _?”  Ultimately, the game is about the ability to take sites.  To achieve that requires power to pay for cards that deal damage.  The rest is control.  Now, I tend to like control effects, so 30-35 card decks don’t seem to make much sense, nevermind that multiplayer games lead to needing more resources and exhaustion in Shadowfist equals elimination.


Well, not really.  More, Ragnarök storyline.  What I enjoy most about storylines is discovery when it comes to metagaming for unknown metagames.  While limited in options for Gargoyles if you want to Gargoyle for the event, Erinyi strikes me as bad not just because she can be tapped by one of the adversaries’ specials but because Sebastian Goulet is an obvious play for bringing out cheaper werewolves and for stealing everyone else’s, which is exactly what happened.  Now, -1 STR is not much of a thing, but it’s randomly something.

As a longtime V:TES player, I’m jaded.  I have to come up with my own person restrictions to create alternative metagames.  Even then, other than when I played in Pleasanton under house rules, no one else is playing under the restrictions I am, so it’s not like the metagaming is different, just the way I address other decks through restricted card choices.  So, having a true alternate metagame is quite welcome.

Of course, Danse Macabre is available and I would expect that I’d see some players try those cards, though I don’t know how metagame shifting they are.  Instantaneous Transformation may not be the sexiest new library card, but it’s a natural for various vampires.  I wouldn’t expect Enkidu so much as The unnamed and Stanislava superstar action.  I, personally, see little value in printing the cards out and using them, as I would never expect to use them in tournament play, but it gives other people more variety.

I’ve been lazy about building V:TES decks – the not knowing when we are playing impacts things, as does having gaming going on before V:TES removing my morning window to put decks together at the last minute.  I need to get back to executing on ideas that come up as well as just generally play with some cards I haven’t gotten to.  I think there are some Heirs to the Blood commons I haven’t actually ever played, for instance.

Deconstruction 02

October 1, 2013

Deconstruction is too good a word not to use, but I would like to point out that there was no intent to mimic other people’s series, such as ones from The VTES Wall.

So, as promised from Deconstruction 01, a non-tournament deck and one without Auspex.  Also, tried to pick out a deck that wasn’t successful, as I have plenty of those and it’s worth showing how my deckbuilding style can make decks overly challenging.  Basically, the question is:  what about this deck has my fingerprints all over it?

Deck Name:   081202  Loki

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 19, Max: 27, Avg: 5.83)
1  Celeste Lamontagne                 for ANI PRO    5  Gangrel Antitribu
1  Danielle Diron                     chi for ANI PRO7  Gangrel
1  Dr. Allan Woodstock                PRO ani aus for5  Gangrel
1  Frere Marc                         aus for PRO THA6  Gangrel Antitribu
1  Gunnar                             for PRO        4  Gangrel
1  Harry Reese                        cel obf FOR PRO6  Gangrel Antitribu
1  Horrock                            vic ANI PRO    6  Gangrel
1  Jacob Fermor                       ani tha PRO    5  Gangrel
1  Janey Pickman                      for ANI PRO    6  Gangrel Antitribu
1  Morrow the Sage                    cel vic OBF PRO6  Gangrel Antitribu
1  Ryder                              ani pot FOR PRO7  Gangrel
1  Xendil Charmer                     obf CEL PRO SER7  Gangrel Antitribu

No key minion.  Just a mono-Protean vote deck, you know, like everyone plays all of the time.

Library: (80 cards)
Master (23 cards)
1  Backways
1  Campground Hunting Ground
1  City Gangrel Connections
2  Dark Influences
1  Ecoterrorists
2  Parthenon, The
1  Powerbase: Madrid
2  Powerbase: Rome
1  Twisted Forest
5  Vessel
5  Villein
1  Zoo Hunting Ground

In general, I’ll go 20% or more for masters.  Sometimes, just say “screw it!” and play a bunch and run some Parthenon/Rumors/whatever action.  In this particular case, use the Rome vote lock play that I see people too rarely play, so already have reasons for multiple master phase actions.  Have no idea why I have two Dark Influences, but I’m sure it was some metagame play for the time.  I don’t know if the two times or whatever I played the deck whether they ever saw play.

Due to lack of defense and pool costing cards, more master bloat cards than usual.  I probably chose Vessel at the time due to metagame considerations.  I know having an outlet for Loki’s Gift blood was a consideration.

Action (13 cards)
2  Dual Form
11 Loki`s Gift

Often, I try to leverage the hunting part of Loki’s Gift.  This was an early experiment to focus on voting, which is probably why there isn’t more done with making the crypt Sabbaty and going with Coyote.  Dual Form is just underplayed, so I like to squeeze them in.

Action Modifier (10 cards)
5  Bribes
2  Cryptic Rider
3  Earth Control

One thing that messes me up when I play in crossregional metagames is that the amount of intercept I normally have to deal with in local play is really low.  Lots of decks have essentially none.

Political Action (13 cards)
3  Consanguineous Boon
1  Crusade: Dublin
1  Kine Resources Contested
5  Neonate Breach
2  Rumors of Gehenna
1  Veles` Hunt

I think I was testing Neonate Breach as an anti winnie Auspex, winnie Animalism play.  An obvious case of my lowballing offense and trying to avoid boring plays (e.g. bunch of KRC).  In fact, as a vote deck, there’s hardly any vote action going on.  No wonder this deck sucked.

Combat (17 cards)
1  Claws of the Dead
8  Earth Meld
2  Flesh of Marble
6  Form of Mist

Meanwhile, it’s common for me to overplay combat defense.  I tend to be biased towards not wanting to lose to combat decks, much rather get stealth bled out (though I play lots of bleed defense when the disciplines allow for it) – the honest way to die.  Of course, this was never meant for tournament play.  If I were to change this for tournament play, I’d probably reduce the combat cards but maybe throw in a Body Flare to keep people guessing.

Equipment (2 cards)
2  Agate Talisman

You learn about cards by playing with them.  These were new, at the time.  Besides, I just think they are funny for how bad they seem from reading them.

Event (1 cards)
1  Waiting Game

Tech?  I’m all about trying to find tech.  People don’t metagame nearly enough.  First of all, it can theoretically help success.  But, more importantly, metagame thought is fun.  One of the things that isn’t so great about V:TES is how little metagaming matters vis-a-vis metagaming in other CCGs.

Combo (1 cards)
1  Rapid Change

If I were to change this, though why I would bother is not clear besides that Loki’s Gift is so cool, I’d probably redundify the crypt and run Wider Views, do the Coyote hunt thing, lose the Dark Influences and maybe some other masters, and add more votes, especially bleedy votes.

I don’t know how much more there is to do around how I build V:TES decks.  I’ll obviously comment on decks I post for various reasons, but people may have gotten the gist, at this point.  So, I don’t expect this to be an ongoing series, not that most of my series seem to survive very long.