The Best of … 2010

December 31, 2013

Hopefully, I faithfully do this every year.  Time again to look back three years and pick out what I consider my best blog posts from the long, long ago.

At first, my thinking about 2010 was that I had so much pent up supply of profound, brilliant genius to drop on folks that there wasn’t much good stuff left for year two of this blog.  While that might be the case, I find the ebb and flow of my posts in year two to be rather interesting.  There were some lean months, for sure.  The big thing in the first half of the year was educating people on the best CCG of them all – Ultimate Combat!!

My judgment ability for “best” is something I question.  So, instead, let me go with most important and pretend that means the same thing.

2010 was the year of Ultimate Combat!.  Not playing it, of course.  Analyzing it, as I actually got feedback from this blog!

Ultimate Combat! – Scott’s Analysis, Part I
Ultimate Combat! – Scott’s Analysis, Part II
Ultimate Combat! – Scott’s Analysis, Part III

Why does Ultimate Combat! matter?  Because – and I say this repeatedly but it doesn’t penetrate – it’s the most fun CCG in the history of the human race.  Many CCGs tried to bill themselves as fast.  The problem with fast is that a short game has no actual relationship to how much fun a game provides, just as a longer game isn’t better because you spend more time playing it.  What you want is action and the threat of someone winning at any time.  UC! provided that as well as any other CCG.

Unlike Magic, L5R, Highlander, et al, UC! has great balance and virtually no waiting for the game to end because you get locked out of being able to win.  It’s repetitive, but one of my few stories of tournament play involves having to blow Bear’s Jaw not to get knocked out after using every possible resource on defense, and, then, making my first attack of the game for the win.  These things are possible in other CCGs, they just aren’t nearly as likely.

2010 was a year of V:TES analysis.  I did individual card ratings for Heirs to the Blood, which weren’t all that good in hindsight.  I did a number of posts I probably didn’t tag with “reviews” that I would tag that way today.  Here are my choices of most important V:TES analysis posts:

Reading of the Will

Why is this important?  Because I feel largely the same way after three years.  Because I think that designers should do similar analysis (admittedly, this is a follow up article, itself, to an article that better demonstrates) when planning a set.

Recent Winners

While the layout of this is crap and there’s not a lot of quality or depth in the writing, this sort of analysis is analysis I consider fundamental to examining the game’s needs and trends.  Metagaming is fun.  You can’t metagame if you don’t know what people play.  Now, one interesting thing about my reading old emails to our old V:TES Yahoogroup is that I did a number of posts about what won not just globally or at the EC but what won recently locally, which is far more relevant to locals.

Weak 1 – Laecanus

The Card of the Weak series is a great concept that is full of execution problems for me.  As explained in one of the entries, I think, just looking at a bad card serves no purpose.  The purpose is to look at a card that isn’t considered good and explain what you would do with it to make it better and/or more fun.  While there are plenty of such cards, it’s not necessarily easy to write about them.  Besides being the first entry in this series, this entry had multiple *played* decklists to use as examples.

Rise and Fall

What makes this interesting is that we had our highest tournament attendances two years (and three months) after I posted this.  Clearly, the lack of new cards wasn’t essential “two years down the road”.  However, attendance dropped off dramatically this December from last December and cards only get harder to acquire (outside of the usual method of buying out a former player’s collection, which I have no data on the difficulty of year over year).  My views haven’t changed.  Unfortunately, I have little sense of what other people’s views are.  I don’t mean views on wanting new cards, as it’s unlikely that people would say they don’t want new cards.  I mean whether people are less interested in the game due to a lack of new cards.  Actually, what I would really like to see are less cards.  Ban promo cards, ban events, ban Imbued – that would be great for the game (in theory).

Design Essay, Part I
Design Essay, Part II

I’d say part two is more interesting, but it’s hard to separate these.  More of the actual answers are in part two.  Part one is too much about figuring out how the game could rearrange mechanics.  While the questions don’t align to V:TES as well as Magic (given that they were designed for Magic), very thought provoking questions.

While arguably V:TES analysis, I’d put this post in the camp of tournament report.  With an obvious exception, tournament reports aren’t something I normally rate that highly as they tend to lack profundity, but I’ve reread this one a bunch:

Bay Area Qualifier

Maybe it’s just because it was a hilarious draft event to cap things off, as the constructed bits weren’t all that … except for the “After an hour, I played two cards” bit.

Still in the realm of CCGdom but not specific to V:TES, we have:

1001^n Deck Ideas

Is this all that good advice?  I think there are many things unsaid that I didn’t have on my mind at the time.  Still, CCGs have essentially infinite deck possibilities, even with something as limited as, say, Shadowfist Modern.  Probably a function of age and experience, but I’m increasingly unconcerned with what’s good and increasingly concerned with “let’s just all have fun playing this … game”.

These are arguably more about CCGs than other types of games but encompass a wider gaming experience:

Practical Testing

An interesting concept if not the most interesting piece of writing.  Is the concept clear enough?

Nice Hat

I go to the “elegance” well quite often.  Redundant?  Maybe.  Undepthful?  Perhaps.  But, it’s a key goal to beat people over the head with the idea of elegance in card design.

Capricorn II – Zodiac I

Speaking of beating people over the head.  I had one cogent thing to say about using astrology for gaming and drew it out into what was a nightmare of forced posts.  What was amazing was that anything useful could have come out of the series this late in the game.  This states a lot of obvious stuff, but sometimes you have to fry the bacon.

D-Tales

Really two topics that give me grief.  The first is my not knowing what details to include in running a RPG.  The second is researching those details.  This is not a high quality post, but it brings up a major concept not just for me as a GM but for the industry (not that this post will likely have any influence on the industry, but … OMG, is that a butterfly … coming right for me!).

Then, finally, a pure L5R 4e rant article:

4e Funlessness

I guess I’m used to 4e, at this point.  But, expansion material rants aside (see this year’s Secrets of the Empire review), it’s still amazing how much better 4e could have been if it didn’t try to distance itself so much from 3e.


2013 VTES Qualifier

December 30, 2013

It should be noted that we aren’t very organized about what we call a qualifier in this area.  With the latest qualifying rules, I’m not sure it makes any difference.  Nevertheless, we’ve had crazy high attendance in recent years for these December tournaments.  Not so this year.  Still, got 10+ people for both events and more tournaments is betterish in our tournament starved world.

Before getting to the point, though, I have to comment upon something related to my classic post earlier today.  I was looking for that tournament report because I keep getting grief from a local player about the deck I won with.  In finding that tournament report, I have found a treasure trove of glittery pyrite, a veritable motherload of comedic brilliance and insightful insights.  But, I don’t want to flood the market with classic posts, that will only shift the supply curve and drive the price down.  What to do?  What to do?  Well, fer sure, man, I gotta post “Yu-Gi-Oh! meets V:TES”, not because it shows that I was watching YGO in 2002 but because, every once in a while, I’m less lame.

Due to the end/beginning year timing, I think I’ll save that for this weekend, hoping that no technological failings by my computer, file cabinet, or whatever prevent sharing that bounty with the hoi pol-, I mean, one’s cherished faithful consumers of words.

So, Saturday was dramatic long before getting over to the Haas residence.  Work was such that I felt compelled to bore people with a rant or two.  Note that I am pro work, work is virtue, work advances society for the betterment of all, even the giraffes.

So, I offered to borrow other people’s decks, and two offered to build/lend decks.  First up was borrowing Jeff Kuta’s Dabbler deck.  Jeff may have gained much infamy in the V:TES community, but Jeff is a wonderful person that I’ve been playing in tournaments with for more than a decade.

Morning (12)

Round 1:

Eric S. (Deep Song/Earth Meld) -> Alex (!Salubri) -> Ian (Aus/Cel/Qui and some Obf Dabbler) -> Aaron (Obf/Pre vote)

All foursies, of course.  It became clear very quickly that I would have built the Dabbler deck differently.  Like, for instance, as an example, I would have had wakes that didn’t require Quietus since the chances of bringing out more than one dude with Quietus were slimmish.  Neighbor John looked defense scary, but I could never tap him until I got more minions out.  Nor was blocking Uriel all that fun as Uriel Walking Sticked to the Vitals Neighbor John and the deck actually has no combat cards playable by the support vampires.  On the other hand, I had Giant’s Blood and could get rid of that early before someone did something silly.  On the other other hand, I probably should have played it on Eric’s biggest dude because Neighbor John could just hunt back up once I had Dmitri Borodin ready to Black Sunrise everything.

To get ahead of myself, Dmitri was actually quite good for me.  He could stealth bleed at will in round one and made Hektor play an extra combat card before Amaranthing him each time they tussled.

So, I can’t really do much with my three Disguised Weapons and no actual weapons and my low pool.  Eric plays Anarch Troublemaker and used it to tap Alex’s Maldavis, which was incomprehensible to me.  Not only did that stop me from bringing out Bowl of Convergence for several turns, which I believe was in my hand when Uriel forced me to play with an open hand, but it just tapped one minion who was no combat threat to do nothing more exciting than get a couple pool worth of bleed damage in.  Nor did it target Uriel’s Weighted Walking Stick, which was far more important than Maldavis, though “far more important” is still “not important at all” as the likelihood of Uriel playing another WWS was high.

Eric does get a couple Raven Spy on one vamp and has his Companion to Owls vamp get Banishmented.  Life is not great far yonder, but it’s not the end of the world.  I pest Aaron by forcing him to Forgotten Labyrinth actions through.  Aaron reduces both of their pools to less than handfuls and eventually decides to simul-kill them to not have to deal with three intercept decks.  This lacks badness for me as it means I can still get the table win, and I’m finally drawing into cards I can play.  Also, Aaron only getting six pool is far less tiresome than gaining 12.  I get an Ivory Bow.  I get the edge.  I start torping dudes as Aaron is low on deck.  I Disguise a .44 to go to one pool to save blood on Dmitri in fights.  I torp all of Aaron’s dudes.  He does not have the stealth to get one killing action through.  My Smiling Jack even does one blood damage to Aaron!  Good ole Jack, slayer of stealth vote decks everywhere.

Aaron regrets not eating Neighbor John when he was momentarily in torpor.  Yup, that would have mattered, as the one thing John could do in the deck was Telepathic Misdirection for two intercept.  But, really, one more major stealth card and I was toasticus.  Instead, this overwhelming victory placed me in the finals while the deck’s builder was weeping uncontrollably in a pickup game or he was playing Derange/Sacrifice, one or the other.

Round 2:

Ian -> Eric H. (Kiasyd SB) -> Brandon (Hektor eats the world) -> Andy (who cares?)

So, our efforts to not get all of our vampires eaten by Hektor and friends were not successful, and Eric and I tried our best to self oust to improve out tournament positions.  Eric succeeded, which was also useful to me.  I miscalculated, having way too much pool and couldn’t self oust before Andy got taken out.  Though, it did give me good tournament points coming in third to last in this game.

Finals:

On the other hand, I didn’t get to get away from Brandon, so it was going to be a pointless game for me.  Kenneth was top seed and spent time considering where to place himself.  My reply to his “I’ll regret my choice.” was “You’ll regret any choice at this table.”

Chris (Aus/Obf/Pre vote/bleed) -> Eric H. -> Ian -> Brandon -> Kenneth (Mary Anne Blaire & Ventrue)

Brandon’s decision was pretty much either to kill my only bouncer first or nuke Eric’s Dominate bleeders first.  He chose the former, so I had nothing to do in this game.  Bertrand d’Anjou could actually play more than one of the deck’s four disciplines, so he did play a few cards.  I even had a path to victory with five pool and just a 4-cap in play.  It was not a reasonable path to victory, so my game was all about impeding Brandon.

Eric helped impede the “I saw him eat seven vampires in one turn!” deck with a couple of crosstable Direct Interventions.  Dogs of War never came out, and Kenneth and Chris were allowed to play their games.  Though, Chris really didn’t like MAB reducing Rafael de Corazon’s bleed to one.

I held out for just the right amount of time to doom Brandon.  Somehow, Eric had enough minions left to get two VPs.  Then, without facing minion destruction, he ousted Kenneth, who somehow didn’t have the Deflections by the time Eric came around to survive, not that I was remotely paying attention by this point.

So, much later, I got to thinking about something.  I got to thinking about why I like intercept and bounce so much for defense, over such things as rush or prison plays.  Intercept and bounce allow people to play the game, both the attacker and the defender.  Walls suck.  Intercept plus mean combat sucks.  Neither of those are oriented to everybody playing the game.  Bloat?  Bloat sucks because it’s noninteractive.  Tactical rush is interesting.  Rush as a strategy is obnoxious as it’s intended to stop people from playing the game.  But, I don’t hate the Hektor deck as much as others do since there are so many hatable things in the game.  I’ve been around long enough to get weenie Potenced out of the game, to have my uncontrolled region annihilated or Brainwashed, to get Sensory Deprivation locked down and Derange locked down, to have my predator steal my vampire and have it bloodhunted away ensuring his predator two VPs.  Not every game is going to be fun.

The Hektor deck is taking advantage of a local metagame with virtually no hitback and limited defense.  In a more “Tzimisce” metagame, I think it becomes not remotely fun to play.

Qualifier

Round 1:

Eric H. (Santaleous and Serenna) -> Alex (as above) -> Eric S. (Trem Burst) -> Ian (Brujah Princes) -> Jeff (Recruitment Wolves)

This time, I was playing a deck Brandon designed.  He made the comment that it was the sort of deck I don’t play.  Sure, I avoid Camarilla titles because I avoid things way overplayed, just like I avoid Malk anything or Giovanni powerbleed or Shamblers.  On the other hand, I was thinking about it and though it was amusing that 36% (4 of 11) of my tournament winning decks play votes and Presence:  Daughters; Honor the Elders; fat Pander; Augustus & friends.

Also, Kenneth had to leave and Brandon graciously bowed out to give us 10 players.

With 12 Second Traditions, I recklessly reined in Jeff’s hordemaking.  This came to be not so fun when Eric S.’s Bursts of Sunlight dropped a couple of my dudes.  I couldn’t recover, not with my prey hoping for my demise.  Eric H. did have a turn where he could have helped me by either diablerizing two of the other Eric’s vamps or by rescuing them both and forcing them to pay (emptying them) or doing a combination of the two.  However, it wouldn’t have saved me as my predator used The Sleeping Mind to stop Second Tradition nonsense (I was tapped and empty, anyway) for his bleed of five.  I would have had more pool, but Jeff played Poison Pill on my only Parity Shift.

Jeff kept making dudes, but he had been relatively stymied.  Eric bled through the table.

My deck’s build was not the way I would have done a similar deck (in fact, have done similar decks), so I needed to get used to it.

Round 2:

David (Shattering Crescendo and bleed) -> Jeff -> Ian -> Andy (Masika’s Ball) -> Eric H.

Andy had sent me an email over a month ago in response to my comment about how people seem to hate borrowing my decks these years and how I could, instead, build decks for people or offer advice.  One of his ideas involved Masika, so I threw together a decklist while I was writing my email, and he said to go ahead and build what I had written.

In this game, I had better reasons to expend resources containing the Recruitment Exercise menace.  Eric bled David too hard for David to get off enough Crescendoes to wreck Jeff’s ready region.  I hung around for quite a while, Powerbase: Montreal helping.  But, my Parity Shifts, that kept looking to impair Eric’s path to victory kept getting Delayed by Jeff.  I had an awkward hand that had enough to oust Andy for a while but no way to deliver the goods.  So, yet again, oustage.  Andy couldn’t hurt Eric, and the game timed out.

Eric went in as not only top seed but the only player in the second tournament with a table win.  Second seed was Aaron (on roll off) with 2 VPs, then Chris with 2 VPs, and both of my predators getting in off of the power of ousting a deck with Parity Shifts and 12 Second Traditions.

Finals:

Eric S. -> Eric H. -> Jeff -> Chris (Khazar’s Diary) -> Aaron (Bear Paw & older friends)

While I hardly need any more cards, first place got a set of Sabbat War rares, which is a lot better prize than usual, thus I wallow in misery behind my placid features.

Chris got the only oust.  Apparently, Eric H. was on the ropes, but I was playing a pickup game, so whatever.  Aaron had a very different description of Eric S.’s deck than what I saw.  I never saw Muaziz where he didn’t see a bunch of Bursts, so sure, Muaziz and Bursty friends.

In our pickup game, it went long.  I did get to have Hardestadt run around and do important stuff, like take The Rack.  I couldn’t deal with Brandon’s Thaumaturgy weenie swarm in the endgame.

That was cool.  More players is always nicer, but I didn’t feel like things were repetitive, like I’ve felt in some smaller tournaments.  That I would have built the Brujah Princes deck differently is a given, but that was some of the value of playing decks designed by others – playing different stuff.  I think I realized what it was about this deck that didn’t suit my style – it was overly reliant upon doing certain things, mostly Second Tradition, Majesty, and Parity Shift.  I got a Preternatural Strength in both games in play, but it didn’t matter because it had no combat support.  Masika with a gun would have owned me if I let him block and I don’t play Majesty.  The blood drain of Second + Majesty was only really compensated by Dmitra, and I never got her vote off in either game.  Esprit de Corps was in the deck, but I’m not clear on why, as it’s not terribly important for fatties or when the only combat support is pretty much Resist Earth’s Grasp, for, yet, more blood loss.

Still, the deck could have done oodles better if I hadn’t played it the way I did.  The card quality was extremely high.  The 4/5 Brujah crypt is just such a monster of efficiency, even though I never had three vampires in play at the same time.

Sunday afternoon, four of us did a two booster draft.  Five recursions available with our minimum 10 library, 2 crypt decks.  Brandon got a sweet crypt, with Porphyrion, Janey “I’m totally broken in limited” Pickman, and Papa Legba.  Andy got pool gain from Swiss Cut and Street Cred (off of the beatdown that was Bundi).  Aaron got Reckless Agitation and vote lock through Jamal, The Black Throne, and Scalpel Tongue.

What did I get?  Win.

Janey rushed the Red List Jamal and got Unholy Penanced for her trouble.  Jamal would eventually go down, but it was due to being worn down by Brandon and Andy using Red List rushes.  Brandon got ousted by a bounced bleed of two from Andy because, while I had two thirds of the bounce, Aaron had one third.  Reckless Agitation, obviously, was the softener uppener.  I was pro Aaron softening uppening first Brandon, then Andy, so my Jericho’s Founding was only ever tossed in favor of Recklessness.

With my three plus bleed cards – Heart’s Desire, Murmur of the False Will, and Leverage – and my Lost in Translation and my two Suppressing Fires, I ousted Aaron, who had used all five of his recursions.  The endgame was just a matter of my killing Andy the turn before he takes me out with our mutual unblockable bleed action (+1 stealth and/or Suppressing Fire).  I only used two recursions.  My lone Beretta made me unstoppable.

Is limited amusing?  Sure.  Do you get ideas based on cards you never see?  Sure.  It’s not that I dislike limited play.  It’s just that there’s a strong been there, done that feel to it for me as well as not having a lot of takeaway, even though I can point to this “event” supporting the idea that I’m a much better limited player than constructed player (because a single game and only four players does not in any way trigger small sample size issues), and there were all sorts of interesting things that happened in the game.

Thanks to Brandon for running, to Andy and Eric for hosting, to those who showed up to play, especially Aaron and Chris coming up from SoCal.  I’ve gotten so many deck ideas from mostly just talking about various cards, mostly cards to mess with Brandon’s Hektor deck.  Playing more makes me (at least) want to play more, though that’s kind of true of all of the games I prefer.

Congratulations to Eric Haas for winning one tournament and being top seed in the other.


[Classic] Boxed In, tournament report, T1 or T5 [May 12th, 2002]

December 30, 2013

Before writing up my report of Saturday’s tournaments, I managed to find this classic tournament report in my email.  By the way, we’ve had three Ian’ses in the area at one time or another.

**Edit for clarity on timing:  The newsgroup report came out June 2nd, which is the date in Secret Library for the deck.  The tournament was May 11th, which I can probably change in Secret Library.  The TWDA has the correct tournament date.

* * *

For all of the bizarreness that I’ve seen in individual games in other tournaments (Game of Malkav anyone?), this should be the strangest result, a 5-way tie in the finals with two of the players subbing for finalists who bailed.

Round, the first:
First up is Jim’s Thalerity, Assamite intercept deck.  Jeff’s big vampire vote deck bleeds Joel’s Ani/Aus/(Vic) intercept combat deck which bleed’s Ian’s (Kemp) Nos stealth bleed, splash combat deck.  My deck is fairly simple Samedi stealth/unblockable bleed.

Jeff Hostiles (Takeover) Jim’s Parnassus and player hatin’ ensues.  Jim keeps him for 5 pool.  I started out ineffectual, with my first guy, Reg I believe, getting torped.  Now, for the single greatest reason to write this tournament report.  MY PREDATOR ATTEMPTS TO RESCUE MY TORPED VAMPIRE … AND IT GETS BLOCKED BY MY GRANDPREDATOR.  Sure, wackiness late in a game can make lots of sense.  Even I, ally to all who don’t wish to cause me problems, was a bit taken aback by the attempt so early in a game.  Reg or whoever does make it out of torpor as my predator (obviously) didn’t care about his existence and my prey saw two things:  Samedi; Samedi getting his ass kicked in like the first two seconds.  Joel establishes a reasonable level of control over his predator and prey which allows me to try and go forward.  I get my ass kicked a bit but end up doing some damage, which combined with the Hostile Takeover brings Jim’s pool low.  I also hold Joel’s Montreal for quite a while.  Jim eventually ousts Jeff.  I get bleed plus unblockability to put Jim out.  I take out Joel with more unblockability, possibly got a great draw when his hand was poor, and take Ian out from a strong position.

Interlude:
I’m jacked.  Table win with Samedi plus being able to play for 1-2 VPs to ensure finalage.

Round, the second:
Andrew dropping made seating a bit more complicated.  But, anyway, I went first.  Chris’s Lazverinus combat deck went second.  Ian’s Nos deck followed.  Then, Joel.  Then, Brandyn’s Ventrue with Obfuscate deck.

Joel shut down his area of the table again, which kept me from exploding under big bleeds and votes.  I did my usual early game hunting.  Put some bleeds through.  Joel put out Smiling Jack, which lasted a bit.  Brandyn was maimed by Joel but was allowed to put some pressure on me when I seemed too strong.  I oust Chris.  I try to suggest that one more VP will sate my lust for getting into the finals, but Joel sends a War Ghoul my way a few times.  One thing about my deck is that I really don’t care a whole lot about War Ghouls – cycled my Dust to Dusts.  Eventually, Ian was so crippled that Joel decided 1VP was better than nothing.  I ousted Ian, Joel ousted Brandyn, I Compressed Anton to leave Joel with no vamps and ousting was pretty easy after that.

Round, the sleepy:
With two TWs in the bag, I have like no motivation to do much of anything except manipulate who else makes the finals.  Jason’s Tzimisce intercept/combat goes first.  Chris is second.  Gary’s HoS deck is third.  Jeff fourth.  I’m fifth.

I do next to nothing.  Sure, I test the waters a bit to draw out some Tzimisce wakes, but I really just want to survive Jeff’s deck, a horrible match up for me.  Chris blocks Lambach with Lazverinus, both see torpor.  Gary eats Laz when he tries to come out, crippling Chris for the game; he spent most of the game with just Emerson.  Gary Egothhas and Agaitases Jeff.  Ridiculous amounts of votes on the table keep Jeff from seizing the mantle of heaven.  Nevertheless, Jeff eventually gets quite strong with massive bloat.  Not strong enough to oust me as I’ve been jacking off all game as I’m wont to do when I don’t see a way to kill my prey, have two TWs and 8 VPs in hand, and am not quite sure who else I want in the finals.  The game drags with the few threats of oustings being countered by table bloat, Political Stranglehold and Ancient Influence.  Chris does make an amazing comeback by torping Lambach (with Raven Spy) and Graverobbing him.  This kills Jason’s game.  I bounce a couple plus bleeds and cut a deal with him where he gets one last War Ghoul attack in if he kills himself, as opposed to my just bleeding him out when he’s defenseless.  This deal is of no consequence as there’s no time left for anyone else to oust.  But, the oust does mean I have more VPs than anyone else at my table for the third straight round.

Finals:
I wanted Jim in the finals.  While his Thalerity combat beats my combat, he himself would acknowledge that his deck wasn’t that dangerous, and it had no bounce, so unblockability worked perfectly well against it.  But, he bailed.  Gary, who I was set to have as my grandpredator assuming he didn’t bail, bailed.

So, Joel is opposite Jeff.  Ian inserts himself in front of Joel.  Chris inserts himself between Ian and Jeff.  This leaves me with one of the better set ups as I put myself between Ian and Chris.  I may not be able to ever block Ian’s bleeds, but they aren’t prolific enough or big enough that I’m a quick kill.  Better for me would have been Ian and Chris switched as Ian wouldn’t be able to deal with my bleeds and Chris’s deck has problems with forward pressure … and I really wasn’t scared of Chris’s combat.

Chris went first.

Ian got down to 2 pool with an Army of Rats and a Smiling Jack hanging over him.  I got Chris down to 4 and bled him for 4, but it got bounced.  Other than that, table bloat made it highly unlikely anyone was going to do anything in the ousting department before two hours was up.  And, we didn’t.

In general, this tournament saw a lot of vampires with votes but not that much voting.  Intercept combat was common but so were decks with hardly any intercept.  Lots of big vamps making Redirection more effort and table bloat very bloaty.  Had Arika behind me way too often.  Palatial Estate didn’t work too well.  Actually, my equipment overall didn’t work too well.  Joel convinced me to let him have the Bow one round while it got blocked another.  Jackets just didn’t come up that often.

Equal prize split, worked out fairly well with there being 15 boosters left.  Technically, the Samedi win a tournament.  I won my 100th straight game of FreeCell Friday night giving me a perfect record in my latest 100 game set, which might be what I need to achieve redemption and escape FreeCell hell – it’s a good day to be alive, the Sun’s still shining when I close my eyes … or whatever.

Weapon Not Found
Description:  My decks do things besides bleed … at stealth.  They also hunt.  Um, Samedi stealth/unblockable bleed.

Crypt:
x2  Lithrac
x2  George Frederick
x2  Jorge De La Muerte
x2  Jack Dawson
x2  Reg Driscoll
x2  The Baron

x4  Blood Doll
x2  Coroner’s Contact
x1  Direct Intervention
x3  Dominate
x1  Dreams of the Sphinx
x1  Fortitude
x2  Minion Tap
x1  Regenerative Blood
x1  The Barrens

x4  Force of Will
x5  Rapid Healing
x4  Restoration

x3  Daring the Dawn
x1  Day Operation
x3  Elder Impersonation
x3  Faceless Night
x9  Freak Drive
x3  Lost in Crowds

x5  Ashes to Ashes
x1  Compress
x5  Dust to Dust

x1  Ivory Bow
x2  Leather Jacket
x1  Palatial Estate

x1  Deflection
x1  Delaying Tactics
x5  Redirection
x7  WWEF

Regenerative Blood has got to go.  Otherwise, while I still don’t respect this deck, it played well enough.


Let Nothing You Affright

December 25, 2013

While Fear might be an odd topic for Christmas Day – Merry Christmas! – there are certainly carol lyrics that give some good titles.

So, Fear.  Specifically, I’m talking about the Fear mechanic in L5R 4e. 

It’s brutal.  Many don’t seem to realize how brutal.  Members of the design team may hate the term RAW (rules as written), but the RAW for Fear is that failing affects all rolls, not just skill rolls or whatever.  That means Initiative, which is why you need to do Fear before rolling Initiative (yet, this is often forgotten until after), damage rolls, and … something I got to thinking about.

I’m not in favor of 4e’s Fear mechanic.  I think it’s too easy to fail and too harsh when you do.  But, I got to thinking about who is affected more or less by Fear.  Because I don’t play shugenja, something I should address at some point but they are just too powerful to play, I hadn’t thought that much about how Fear is a shugenja hoser.

Where a bushi is likely to be rolling something like 9k4 or 10k5 or whatever on attacks after advancing some, a shugenja is probably more like 7k3 for a middling element at rank 3.  Hit with Fear 3, the bushi still attacks at 6k4 or whatever while the shugenja is trying to get off Path to Inner Peace (or whatever) at, like, 4k3.

Then, I thought about how bushi are so often running around with that crap weapon, the katana.  Sure, PCs will often have a real weapon, like a no-dachi, but some schools just tempt you into katana awfulness.  But, when you are running around with an 8k2 damage roll or whatever, going down to 5k2 isn’t that harsh.  The ono-meister, who is used to 5k4 damage, with calling raises for damage which so won’t happen when Feared, is in the 2k2 land of impotence.  Not that no-dachi or tetsubo users suffer much, since they roll as many dice as katanafolk, so it wasn’t so much bushi versus bushi.

It was the damage output of bushi versus shugenja.  I debated (with myself) whether a spell’s effect should be affected by Fear, as it’s the kami doing the work, not the shugenja.  But, I draw enough of a parallel between how weapon damage is reduced and “spell weapon damage” that I don’t see a reason to let kami of the hook.  Thematically, the scared shugenja isn’t summoning as many kami, as powerful kami, or giving them as clear direction, which makes tons of sense when you consider how many magic systems in fiction rely upon confidence.

So, not only does my Jade Strike go off at 4k3 or something, but, now, without raises, it does 3k3 – 3k0 = 0k0 damage.  Some like to say that you always roll at least 1k1 when dice pools are reduced, but I’ve never seen such a rule in 4e and am not sure whether it existed in 3e, though I think that’s where the idea came from.  Fires from Within, the vastly better Tail of the Fire Dragon, Tempest of Air, et al, similarly become embarrassingly ineffectual.  I like that, conceptually.  Not so much for my parties as the shugenja are on my side, but it provides an interesting game balance feature for reining in the brokenness of shugenja.

In particular, Jade Strike is the most ridiculous death ray in the game, so the risk of having Jade Caresses means that the shugenja better do something about making their Fear rolls.  Though, it’s sort of irrelevant when you get Earthy shugenja, who roll 5k5+Honor or whatever to resist Fear and turn around and unleash Jade Kamehameha Waves on Fearsome foes.

Note that not all spells require rolls, so another benefit is encouraging combat spells that aren’t the ubiquitous ones.  I mean, sure, nobody ever expects to fail Fear, as failing Fear is so utterly crippling, but in a game with much Fear, like our Gaki Mura campaign (there should be more) or a Shadowlands campaign, maybe someone does pick up a combat spell that doesn’t need effect rolls.  Earth’s Stagnation is already good, but it becomes that much better.  The biggest impact is probably on Air and Fire spells, though the alternatives to Tempest of Air are kind of sparse.  Having someone take a defensive Fire spell (yes, these exist) would be quite interesting.

Bottom line, while I don’t like how easy it is to fail Fear (Fear 4 is so much worse than Fear 3, yet the latter is still failable), I am kind of turning my opinion around on the effects of Fear.


The Tao Of Cooperation

December 23, 2013

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not a fan of cooperative boardgames, which seems contrary to my personality, but what they so often suffer from is the lack of need of players.  The effect of having more players is simply to have less efficient information, which is defeated if everyone plays like a hive mind.

Then, you get games with traitors.  That has ended up being anti-fun in my experience.  I don’t like games where you know people are on the other side but don’t know who they are, nevermind games where you don’t know if someone is on the other side.  I’d much rather play a team* game.

*  I should try to look around for good team games that aren’t, obviously, computer games.  Computer games are often fantastic for team play, but it’s a separate post for why computer games leave me cold.

So, I bring this up because I played Ghost Stories, recently – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/37046/ghost-stories.

I liked it well enough.  Why?

Aesthetics

Stuff looked good.  The haunters and Buddhas were really nice, especially the latter.  The dice were “eh”, but the art was good.  This is another contrary-seeming thing, as I’m not really strong in the caring about aesthetics, though, I suppose, when I talk about art in L5R 4e books, it shows some interest.  I like Ultimate Combat!, and its art is awful.  I think V:TES has bad art.  Magic has a lot of amazing art, yet it doesn’t make me want to play the game.

Character Abilities

I think this is what really set the game apart from other cooperative boardgames I’ve played.  Component quality for boardgames has gotten crazy good.  But, compare Shadows over Camelot’s “oh, I got the guy whose ability is meaningless” to Ghost Stories’ “even though your guy gets two actions a turn, I still like my guy better” badassery.

Theme?

While I dig the theme – I’ve much more wanted to play an Asian fantasy Ghostbusters style game, kind of like Inuyasha, than play in Rokugan – I like Knights of the Round Table, yet find Shadows over Camelot to pretty much just be a grind.  That I don’t like new Battlestar Galactica may influence my lack of interest in that game.

It’s probably because you actually get to do things you want to do in Ghost Stories rather than just being some cog in SoC or Lords of the Ring that the theme actually matters.  I felt like there was a bit of a story, even though the layout of the game really, really doesn’t give you an evocative sense of what’s going on.

Shadowfist?!?

Totally off topic, I taught some Shadowfist, recently, as well.  Why not theme the post on recent gaming?  Because I don’t know that I have a ton to say on this topic.  Sure, I could do game reports, but some of the games were over quickly as people got problematic draws and couldn’t dig out of holes.  That was the main observation of the new players – the game is enjoyable, except for how you can be completely screwed in the beginning even with a bunch of discarding.

An observation of mine was how different the games were when only my decks were being played, when someone didn’t get an awful draw.  Now, it could be that the sample size of playing in Oakland is so small that bad draws are much of the reason for the impressions I get, but it just seemed like my decks were more consistent but also more consistently slow.  I’m risk averse, so I put the consistency down to wanting to be able to function even when things are going poorly.  Speed, in CCGs, can actually be the risk averse way to go, but I think V:TES has inured me to long, slow games.  None of my decks are large, and they are shrinking, which is another element to consistency.  I see 50 card decks as being wastefully bloated with worthless foundation characters.

On the other hand, the most epic game saw both of my opponents get decked.  I only had two FS Sites at the end of the game, playing all out defense, at the end.  I got close to decking, myself.  The one other thing, maybe just because of increased number of games played, was that I saw my decks do things they’ve never done, like the Hand deck actually have a horde in play.


Conception

December 21, 2013

I was going through archived V:TES decklists to see if there were any particular decks I wanted to have built in time for next week’s tournaments.  Besides the fact that I have way too many decks written out that I’ve never built, I got to thinking about a particular type of deck.

Concept Decks.

A Concept Deck, for my use of the term, is a deck designed to highlight something specific that could be done but probably shouldn’t be done, i.e. played.  The concept in the Concept Deck is one that will be annoying, tedious, noninteractive, have awful interactions, etc.  I’d put pretty much any V:TES deck that wants to play Brainwash in this camp.

For me, a relatively common example is a “4cl” [note quotation marks to differentiate from 4cl] deck – a deck that only plays four different cards.  While I’ve played a “2cl” deck before, twice I think, they lack any concept of producing a fun game.

Concept Decks are decks I have virtually no chance of ever actually playing, yet they live on as deckbuilder constructs, as theoretical constructs, to point out a feature about the game.

Well, that’s the case with V:TES.  With two-player CCGs, where I’m not concerned about ruining games for a group of people and am much more inclined to ruin games for a single opponent, I’m much more inclined to play Concept Decks.  Hyperspeed decks in B5 were born of the concept of how much can Conscription be abused.  Oh, wait, B5 was a multiplayer CCG.  Okay, let’s say I’ve learned something over the years about the idea that games are supposed to be fun and not just exercises in personal satisfaction.

What’s bothersome is just how many of these sorts of decks I have written.  It distracts from my figuring out legitimate tournament decks (legitimate being used rather loosely, in my case).  I started a file to rate decks I had notated as tournament decks – yes, it took me forever, but I started putting a notation in deck names to notate decks I’d consider for tournament play versus ones I wouldn’t.  I’d check each decklist for various pro/con features to give a rating.  It was easy to skip Concept Decks once I opened them, but I didn’t necessarily know what a deck was until I opened it, wasting precious clicks.

Admittedly, though, not every Concept Deck is off the table.  My “I play no cards” deck concept, which I’ve yet to build the deck for, might still be on the table.  Probably not but maybe.  My “No Decisions” deck totally needs to see play, if I ever figure out whether I have enough copies of cards to play it.

Or, does it?

I’m increasingly ruling out decks that make a good faith effort to do something not moronic from ever seeing play, just because they seem boring.  Boring, to me, is possibly different, since I’ve played hundreds of different decks – I’d guess 600 by multiplying 50 different decks in a year by 10 years of regular play and topping off with 100 decks to cover years of less regular play, borrowing decks for different things, and whatnot.  Going through some of these decks, I see decks that don’t have enough interesting features.

What are some interesting features I look for?

Crypt cards I have never played, very rarely played, played less than I should, or have never played in combination.

Library cards I’ve never played that are important to the deck.  Library cards I’ve never played in large volume or as key plays in a deck.  For instance of a hypothetical deck, a Car Bomb deck would be something I’ve never done.

Increasingly, I’m looking for strategies that are more enjoyable for myself or less unenjoyable for my opponents.  I’m becoming less enthralled with the idea of intercept decks, for instance.  While, unfortunately, the metagame seems inclined to uberstealth when a deck is stealthy and uberintercept is needed to stop such annoyances, being able to stop everything is dull.  Then, vote decks are annoying, so, while I have plenty of vote ideas as vote bloat is the only way certain decks are likely to survive, I’m increasingly skipping over various vote builds.

Nope, it’s all about stealth bleed.  Stealth bleed is fun for everyone.

Problem here, though, is I don’t have that many stealth bleed decks written that aren’t Concept Decks.  Sure, there are the various Celerity stealth bleed deck builds waiting to see play.  But, Obfuscate and bleed is pretty “been there, done that”, Obtenebration too, Vicissitude as well.  Necromancy and Thaumaturgy suffer from the paired with Dominate affliction.  Actually, looking at how many TWDs I have with Presence, Presence plus stealth is also something to eschew.  Dementation, in a stealth bleed deck anyway, is exceedingly dull, but it’s been so long since I’ve done that, it’s maybe worth it.  Certainly, limiting myself to Dive into Madness for bleed adds legitimacy.

Force of Will is kinda cute, kinda not.  Potence bleed is just so blood intensive, though, actually, the real problem is that it’s a deck that likely produces poor table interaction.  Serpentis is actually not something I’ve done in tournaments, so there is that.  Quietus bleed is dumb, rather go with Assamite bleed and save the Quietus for blowing up Jars of Skin Eaters.  Daimoinon bleed doubles as intercept, which is more interesting to me.  Melpominee bleed is far too common in our meta right now.  Sanguinus and Valeren, bah humbug.  And, so it goes.

While likely of very little use to anyone else, maybe this post will cause readers to think about their criteria for what makes a good deck to play versus just what comes to mind.


Open Season

December 14, 2013

Sometimes, and I’m sure it shows, I start a post with an idea and then just ramble for a while.  In this case, I started mentally writing this post, and I realized something funny.  The inspiration for this post was something very positive, but as I worked through how I could develop the idea into an article, I realized I was being incredibly negative.  Oh well.  Maybe, I’ll think of something positive to say in the end.

The inspiration for this post is also probably a double to the gap between left and center.  I was watching Open Court.  Open Court is a show on the NBA Channel.  In recent years, I’ve been much more into the NBA than I was since around the time Jordan retired.  LeBron going to Miami was overblown controversy, but the impact competitively was fascinating.  Oklahoma City as the young lions to the, outside of LeBron, aged Miami Heat.  Etc.  Then, Lin-sanity.  I still don’t think people realize how unreal Lin-sanity was.  A game of the Knicks against the Lakers was billed as “Jeremy Lin versus the Los Angeles Lakers … and Kobe Bryant” (also Lin vs. Bryant).

Getting totally sidetracked.  Open Court is probably my favorite show on television.  Would it be so if there were more episodes?  Maybe not.  Maybe it would get repetitive.  And, there was at least one episode that was pretty tiresome.

To get to how this has anything to do with gaming, I started thinking about why I enjoy the show so much.

Experts

To begin the process of getting this to gaming, where many sports talk shows have sportswriters or radio personalities or whatever who certainly know far more about sports than I do, the style is all about generating controversy.  First Take is so painful I can hardly stand it, at least unless they have a guest replacement to stop the incessant hot air of the two stars.  Mike & Mike is sometimes fine and often irritating.  SVP & Russillo is so, so much better than either of those.  And, as some are aware, I quite like Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption.

But, it’s all about meaningless stories that often have nothing to do with sports and tons to do with celebrity.  Baseball Tonight is the sort of sports show that should exist, as it gets into things that actually matter in sports, like statistics.  Diva wide receiver doing situps in a driveway or someone saying something stupid is not relevant to the play of the games, except for how the media badgers everyone on teams about a single player until it becomes a “major distraction” that wouldn’t have existed if not for the media who is theoretically tasked with “reporting the news, not making the news”.

The Open Court crew, outside of Ernie Johnson, are former professional players.  In a number of cases, very recent former players.  They all hail from the Jordan forward era of NBA, so I (at least) know much of what they are talking about when they talk about players and teams from when they played.  Not just former players, but you get Hall of Famers, guys with a bunch of championship rings, guys who will be in the Hall of Fame, players who were the best on their teams.

In the world of gaming, though, you get people who think they know what they are talking about and don’t.  Maybe that’s me at times.  I’ve been on a lot of forums for a good variety of CCGs and a few RPGs.

The Conan d20 forum, after the game was no longer being produced, got hijacked by someone who couldn’t even do basic math.  Those who have been on that forum in recent years know precisely who I’m talking about as, at a certain point, he became the uberposter.  He didn’t just chime in on threads, he had to start thread after thread displaying a lack of knowledge about the game and a desire to play a different game.  His analysis involved such brilliance as thinking the average on a d6 is 3.  The idea that the average of a d10 + a d8 did not add up to 9, like he thought, seemed to escape him.  I had been on the forum for years before him, within like a year, he had blown by me in posts.  Now, maybe that’s just enthusiasm for some people.  I usually find the people who post a ton in a short amount of time are less interested in meaningful discussion and more interested in hearing themselves talk.  Hopefully, this gets me some street cred for crotchety old man-ness.

Congenial

The format of the show is congenial.  It’s part analysis and part slice of life.  It’s not about hyping some idiotic controversy or nontroversy.  It’s not arguing for the sake of arguing.  Sometimes, the guys take shots at each other, but it’s making fun of each other in fairly harmless ways.  And, while plenty of talking heads make fun of themselves, the stories of these guys are real, not faked up “look at how Felix I am” or whatever (the Odd Couple reference very well may have flown over a number of readers, certainly not expecting foreign readers to get this).

Much like the radio shows and other talk shows, gaming discussion tends towards disagreement for the sake of disagreement, rather than getting to actual issues.  Sure, it varies immensely.  But, people love to miss the point or flat out ignore what someone else has said.  Now, I do jump the gun, myself, at times, and fail to read what someone else wrote carefully – something that annoys me immensely when others do it to me.  I really like the forums that make it easy to preview what you are going to post.  I’m not at all clear why vekn.net lacks preview functionality (as far as I can tell).

Real

It’s real.  When it comes to basketball, it’s behind the scenes.  They talk about what a party-goer Dennis Scott was or how much people overate.  They talk about flaws in players’ games because they aren’t playing against those players anymore.  They offer up stories from their playing days, from their college days, and sometimes some stories from growing up.  The “first date” segment on one episode might not have been my cup of tea, as I’m not into people being embarrassed, but it was actually interesting from a societal standpoint, as you have a bunch of rich athletes talking about when they were not rich or when they were tall athletes in high school and how that was different from what viewers likely go through.

While some of the adoration of other players may be hyperbole, you get the sense that they really do see Jordan as a god, LeBron and Shaq as unstoppable freaks.  You get interesting comments about how badass some players who aren’t as famous as those were, especially at certain skills, like “handles”.  I keep thinking of a segment when Isiah Thomas, new to the NBA Channel crew, called out Steve Kerr, when Steve was talking about Jordan.  Steve was talking about Jordan after he came back from retirement number one.  He was talking about how Jordan was struggling and trying to get back into play shape after his baseball vacation and said something like “one night he’d give you 50 and the next night …” and Isiah was like “Wait, one night he’d give you 50!  So his bad night was less than 50 …”  That was hilarious to the guys because 30 is considered a big deal, and everyone was laughing at how Steve’s teammate’s bad night was not giving you 50.

Gaming discussions are often lacking in real.  Yes, plenty of times you get anecdotes or IME posts.  You also get tons of supposition, conjecture, guessing.  Like many people, I think I know it all.  At some point, I did take a step back and realize that I don’t have the credentials of CCG world champions, the games’ designers, and the like.  While it’s possible I know more about a game than those folks, it’s very possible I don’t, at least not for a given topic.  Sure, there are plenty of people who know more about a CCG than a world champion, but how do you know they know more?  What evidence supports the idea that random poster knows more than top player?  What they say, especially factoring in track record, of course.  But, who tracks those sorts of things?

Very, very often, one sees game discussions around theory, rather than supportable facts or even just experience.

Experience

Uh, I guess this is really the same idea as “Experts” above.  Sue my lack of coherency.

Local play experiences may very well mean diddly-squat.  Even just players who play in crossregional metagames, which is a term I’ve only used for CCGs but could also apply to RPGs, know far more about how a game really works than those who play in their little small pond.  This was frustrating to me, especially with Babylon 5.  I traveled some for the B5 CCG, far more than for V:TES.  But, many players didn’t travel much.  The metagames were very different, with only certain events seeing a crossregional metagame that spoke to what really worked.  I even introduced the half-joking, half-awesome TH Rating (Turku-Helsinki Rating for how those two regional metagames differed so much) for B5, to point out that people were talking about different games.

The worst offender in my mind if maybe not in reality was the Wheel of Time forums.  I don’t even remember where I used to post for the WoT CCG – I think they are gone, but maybe they still exist.  I’m not talking about Precedence Publishing Yahoogroups but actual website forums.  I have my emails to Yahoogroups (as long as my AOL file cabinet survives).  WoT had a big problem when it came to analysis in that hardly anyone actually played the game.  B5, V:TES, L5R RPG, even Conan RPG saw experienced players among the posters.  With WoT, you had a number of useless posters simply because they always played against the same people (actually, probably in a number of cases, replace people with person – not many WoT players) with the same decks.  Hell, I almost always played against just two other players, with the rare tournament seeing one to three more.

So, maybe I was full of it, too, though I could point out the game’s timing rules came from our playtest group and we had created the last World Championship deck long before it became that and wrote it off as crap because we knew how to beat it, where people unfamiliar with it didn’t and, um, lost.  But, there was a second major problem with WoT.  Unlike B5, V:TES, even probably Tomb Raider, and certainly CCGs like Magic, few people (players) actually had Mr. Suitcase collections for WoT.  My lasting memory of the WoT forums was someone posting something about how “Who even has 3 copies of recruitable Rahvin [ultrarare]?” and my thinking “This guy is a moron.  Hey, moron.  I have three copies in both my Light and Dark decks.”  Thinking, not writing, for the obvious reason that being a dick in forums does not help the analytical discussion I crave.  But, then, posting from ignorance, such as not having enough copies of a card to play a particular deck, is also not helpful.

Sure, everyone is going to post on a subject in which they lack the experience.  Niche CCG playtesting is full of people spouting off without actually playing the cards or the decks that use the playtest cards.  Then, not every RPG character build is possible for someone to have experienced, nor every monster/enemy fought, or whatever.  I’ve tried to rein in my spouting off on CCGs, I should probably learn and cut down on it with RPGs.  It’s not that no one should ever post on things they are unfamiliar with.  It’s more that the attitude should be more about learning and questioning, rather than stating.

Another fascinating thing in Open Court is when the players turn to other players and ask them questions, like what it was like to play with someone not there or play against someone not there.  Talking heads get paid for opinions, but that’s the difference – this show isn’t just about opinions, it’s about talking about the game.

I tune out a lot of people’s gaming anecdotes, well, actually, I should say I tune out a lot of their RPG anecdotes.  CCG anecdotes, because CCGs are far more objective and CCGs are competitive, are vastly more interesting to read.  Then, there’s the aspect of respecting the speaker.  I respect the Open Court crew.  When I know a poster on a forum, I might respect him or her.  Most posters I don’t know, so I just dismiss them, unless they have cred in the game – see comments about World Champions and designers having more inherent cred.

So, what’s a positive takeaway from my ripping on game forum posters?  Maybe that the style of threads I should involve myself in should be less confrontational and more just talking about the game.  Maybe realizing that every poster is an actual person and not just a crackpot who doesn’t know how to do math and might have something useful to contribute.  Or, not.  Hard to say.