Strong Sorrows?

Making up words is totally a worthwhile thing – a worthing.  So, should these be strorrows?

I haven’t used a Magic article as inspiration for a post in quite some time.  Booyang!

In Magic‘s ancient past, removal, counterspells, and card draw were constantly made very strong because of the belief that that is what competitive players liked. Well, to an extent, that was true, but I think in general most competitive players liked them because they were the strong cards. When looking at competitive play, it is dangerous to overlap “cards people played” with “cards people liked playing.” Players make (mostly) rational decisions in deck building and playing the strong cards, so simply seeing what decks look like won’t tell you what people really want to do. I think people are generally more happy with the cards that are more flat in overall power level, and the fun and interesting decks have a little more room to compete, as opposed to when the range of decks that can be played is incredibly narrow and focused on a few pillars of the format.

From “Playtesting Constructed” on

This is so true.  This is something I see creep into CCG discussions all of the time.  Powerful cards are desirable to play with not because they are necessarily “fun” cards but because it’s fun to crush your foes and hear the lamentations of their offspring.  Or, whatever.

So, you try to argue about how a powerful card is bad for the environment and the reaction becomes one of “I have fun playing this card.”, “The game will be boring if you take away all of the good cards.”, or whatever.

For every CCG I’ve played, I’m sure, I’ve played with cards that were strong that I didn’t think were fun cards.  Let me pull out my Babylon 5 decks’ box.  Hmmm … a number of decks have playtest slips for a CCG a couple of us were designing.

Secret Strike; Support of the Mighty; Not Meant to Be; Aggressive Action; Liberating Resources; Cosmopolis; Meditation; Exploration; Commerce Raiding; Hidden Treasury …

Okay, should I bother going through a second deck?!?

B5 certainly was full of antifun plays, though I’ve got my Wheel of Time decks’ box handy and my main V:TES boxes, so maybe not the only CCG with this problem.

Secret Strike

Cheese or obnoxious.  Secret Strike was the way to nuke We Are Not Impressed, the most important card in the game during stretches for its ability to prevent people from winning.  Prior to WANI, Secret Strike was all about what obnoxious conflict you could fire off when people’s shields were down to screw with somebody, like Forced Impairment on somebody with a good special.

Support of the Mighty

I put cards in play.  Eventually, I win.

Not Meant to Be

“Counterspell.”  Rare counterspell.  I played this card a ton, often maxed out to three copies, though sometimes I only ran two copies because, you know, genius.

Aggressive Action

Built in recursion.  Oh, joy.  Ability to spite someone when you can’t win.  Oh, joy.  Ability to win off of causing someone else to lose by doing the same thing every round.

Liberating Resources

Because B5 was always about the cheese, countercheese was all of the rage for a while.  Not that this card was anywhere near as commonly used as Not Meant to Be, Carpe Diem, Meditation, You Are Not Ready, and the like, but it had its day in our local metagame, at least.


Because B5 was always about the noninteractive cheese …  Actually, the original homeworlds never bothered me anywhere near as much as so many other plays did.  At least, you had to gain influence from winning a conflict with them, unlike so many of the original gangster decks that just put cards in play or played events and won.  While this is a crappy card, that’s the point – it’s a hoser.  I take away your good homeworld and drop this worst of the homeworlds on you, though it still has enough positive uses to actually play myself.


It was amazing that I ever had to argue that this is a three copy in every deck card.  Sure, when I built “no events” decks for my own perverse amusement, there was a reason not to play this.  Other scenarios for not maxing out on this … shrug.  So, besides being the best card in the game, what’s so unfun about such a low key effect?

Any time you have a card that you play in every single deck, there’s seriously something wrong with the design of the card.  When you further always maximize the number of copies of the card …  CCGs are about deckbuilding – one of the various reasons the Tomb Raider CCG wasn’t a good CCG (though not a terrible boardgame).  Diversity in deckbuilding is fundamental.



Commerce Raiding

Cheese and countercheese.

Hidden Treasury


Wheel of Time

As much fun as it might be for me to continue to rip on all of the design problems in B5, a game I like by the way and … um … did design work for, I doubt my loyal (and no doubt cute) readers will put up with such a diatribe.  No, let’s pick another dead CCG with design problems (that I’m in the game credits for as of the second expansion) and see what I can extract.

Starting with my Heron-Mark Blade Rand, Wolves Deck.  And, if you think that description is long, for a game where you can start with two cards in play and have an opening hand of three cards, the effective opening for this deck involves nine cards.

Decisive Tactics; Blood and Ashes; The Pattern Decrees; Moment of Transition; Lucky Find; Overrun; Invasion

Decisive Tactics

A common “I play this in the Last Battle to win … unless you play one as well” play.  Maybe certain events should have been restricted from being used in the Last Battle.  Maybe not, though, as decks like this one that actually play challenges are far more interesting than the “I sit and recruit my 200 dice of permanents” decks.  Not a major offender.

Blood and Ashes

Unlike this pure hoser.  At the point where you are designing cards that say “Name a card.  That card cannot be played.”, you have a cardpool problem.

The Pattern Decrees

You may not recall this blog post, but I’m pretty, pretty sure that we were playtesting this card when I repeatedly mention how broken Decrees was.  As this deck only runs one copy, it must have been a finisher, like Decisive Tactics.  I’ll keep a look out for whether it pops its head up more often in other decks.  Of course, the good point of this card is that some decks just didn’t give a crap about Pattern, which was a bad thing and a core design issue.  Oh, if you look up the card on, note that it has errata to limit it to once a turn – have I mentioned lately how frustrating playtesting is?

Moment of Transition

Is this the most offensive card ever printed for any CCG that has ever existed to one such as myself, one who had a hand in its development?  Let’s make the best card drawing card in a game where card drawing is only behind card searching in terms of the broken (after some of the early card drawing engine cards got nerfed) a promo card.  Yes, B5 wasn’t the only CCG that caused me to hate promo cards.

Lucky Find

… card searching.  Rare.  Not always a three-copier in my decks.  Not always.


This kind of card was necessary.  But, it wasn’t fun.  Given that characters and troops could just ignore each other without this and the character damage becomes troop damage card and given that optimization in the game was often mass recruiting either all characters or all troops or close to all of one or the other, this card gets quite the pass.  It was certainly not that hard to metagame against it.  Actually, metagaming was reasonably interesting, possibly even very interesting (I haven’t played in a long, long time) in the game, so points for that.  But, this card sure ended a lot of games.


Unless you played the WoT CCG, you will have no idea how crazy broken this card is.  One effect is draw three cards … in a game where card drawing was only less broken than card searching.  Oh, wait, another effect was take two cards of your choice from your discard pile and put them into your hand.  The third effect even saw use, more use than the third effect of Dreams of the Sphinx by the way.

Dark Wise One Deck:  Lucky Find; Sabotage; Connections; A Murder of Ravens; Invasion; Assassination Attempt; Couladin; Lord Argirin Darelos; Tion.

Not going to break all of these out into individual unfunness.  Sabotage (random discard) and A Murder of Ravens (name a card and discard) are hand destruction, and we all know how much people love hand destruction.  Connections is not as much of a nobrainer as Meditation in B5, but it’s almost the same card.  Assassination Attempt is only unfun in that certain characters are crucial to being able to play certain decks; otherwise, it’s kind of a good thing that you can go after characters in the game and this card being a challenge means that there’s theoretical interaction in a game that could easily be noninteractive.  Couladin is quite fun but suffers from one key problem – he’s incredibly important to too many opening hands, which isn’t an issue for this deck but makes Light Maidens vs. Dark Maidens pain.  Lord Argirin Darelos – kind of an Icy Manipulator if you happen to know Magic cards.  Tion openended buff.

For a game I keep saying has as its most broken feature being card searching, I didn’t mention a lot of card searchers.  There’s a reason for that.  There’s too many to list.  Holy Yu-Gi-Oh!, Batman!!  There are so many search effects.  The Wolves deck above puts a Wolves searcher in play on turn one as a key play.  Wise Ones just keep searching more Wise Ones.  Special set, alternate starting cards and ultrarares search out rares and ultrarares.  And, so it goes.

This was immensely fun.  As much as I may rag on these games, they were hugely important to me back in the day and I had lots of fun with them.  While I could go into V:TES cards in this post, it’s late and I think that makes for a reasonable follow up post to this one.  It’s also cool that Sam’s site is still available to get info on these two CCGs.

Oh, and why wouldn’t I do some Ultimate Combat! commentary in another post, as well?


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