What is the nature of a customizable cardgame? Something that has to do with games, cards, and immigration. No? Games, cards, etiquette?
Sure, Customizable Card Game is not what I used to call them. I used to call them Collectible Card Games, and there were many who would use Trading Card Games. Whatever. Magic and its ilk.
My deck. My deck is different from your deck. Your deck is … okay, won’t get into that song. Deck Cheaptastic is full of commons, doesn’t max out card limits, gets crushed by … Deck Suitcasium, the deck full of ultra rare promo signed foil holographic …
I’ve argued I can play this card. I got challenged to explain the Shadow Mark symbol on the card that is hard to make out. After all, it’s not like my name isn’t in the credits of the game.
I’m taking a circuitous route to get to the point. Shocking, I know.
One deck is different from another. That is the nature of a customizable cardgame. I make selections that someone doesn’t make. Decks have authors. The authors might not even be the people who play the decks. It’s like being a songwriter. I’m a deckwriter. I am not alone.
So, I was thinking about design. I was thinking about the problem of staples, no brainers, autoinclusions. I was thinking about the lack of choice. I’m not talking about the true lack of choice, like how Babylon 5, Wheel of Time, Tomb Raider, and other games require you to start with one of a number of starting characters/cards (see L5R Strongholds, etc.). I’m talking about how choosing any other option so adversely affects your competitiveness … these are competitive games, you know, not like the modern boardgame age where everything is coop … that you would never not include them.
There’s a line I use – “If a card goes in every deck, it’s badly designed.”
“Every deck” is a fluid thing. The Wheel of Time CCG is one where you play either Light or Shadow and, outside of craziness, your opponent plays the other. “Every Shadow deck” is sufficiently broad that it is “every deck”.
The Babylon 5 CCG is one where you play one of the five races – Centauri, Human, Minbari, Narn, Non-aligned. I’d like to disbelieve in Drakh, Techno-mages, and whatever, but those are add ons to your race. “Every Narn deck” is “every deck” broad, but I’m willing to let “every Narn military deck” be not broad enough to qualify. Just as “every Vorlon deck” isn’t broad enough to qualify as “every deck”.
I’m not that visual, so rather than throw out some sweet, sweet card displays (or not so pleasing card displays), try this link for Meditation. Besides, Sam’s site deserves more views.
Meditation is an every deck card. It’s nonfaction card draw, if you aren’t going to bother to look at the weirdly colored Deluxe version of the card. After becoming a deck-technomage, I chose not to play Meditation in one deck I can think of – an eventless deck. Oh, wait, there was likely my all rares/all promos deck.
People would argue against including x3 Meditation in every deck. They were wrong. Meditation isn’t always a net gain of one card. The draw mechanic in B5 was to draw one card per turn in the later phases of the turn, and you could apply three unspent influence to draw an additional card, repeatedly. So, at the end of a turn, if you had six influence unspent, you drew one card plus could draw two more. Meditation could throw off your perfect threesie math if you weren’t careful. Plus, many a folk has had problems grasping the idea that “Draw 2 cards.” only nets one card since you had to play a card for the effect, at least until you point it out.
Other generic cards were of a similar level of ubiqcessity. Not Meant to Be, Carpe Diem, and some would argue Level the Playing Field as cards you can go look up on b5ccg.mahasamatman.com.
Suppose I was playing Centauri, then I would always play The Eye. That bothers me. On the other hand, What Do You Want? in every Shadow deck doesn’t. See, playing Centauri is not really a choice, it’s a game requirement that someone play a race and that everyone be different races (not being different races, when that mechanic came about, sucked real hard). Playing a Shadow deck or a Vorlon deck or a Babylon 5 Influence deck were all choices.
Or, maybe it’s better to say that the choices were meaningful enough to lead to deck diversity.
Wheel of Time
Which Rand are you starting with? That was actually a fascinating question to me at one point in my life because I’m the sort of guy who writes a gaming blog and talks about dead CCGs like the Wheel of Time CCG.
WoT actually has fewer autoincludes. Certain card drawing engine cards were autoincludes before things got fixed just because you couldn’t compete without ridiculous card drawing. Thom was deemed by our group the Light’s only hope until the first expansion, but one could argue that you could put a different character in your starting hand and run x3 Thom Merrilin out of the draw deck. Ha. Yes, I just gave evidence that the Premier play environment was horribly unbalanced and bad. Dark Prophecies was some bomby goodness for making the game better.
Lucky Find just shows up every time as there is always at least one bomb advantage to search for (after all, not only was the game all about card drawing in the beginning, search was even better, and the game nerfed card drawing in certain ways to make the game primarily about searching … then Moment of Transition got printed).
When Invasion got printed, OMG. I’ve mentioned this card before when talking about broken beyond broken. That brings up a good aside. I’m not talking about broken cards, though broken cards tend to be autoincludes. Lucky Find isn’t broken and required knowing what was in your deck and how different cards were important at different times. But, anyway, if you want an idea of effects that are insane to build cards around, read the text of Invasion.
Vampire: The Eternal Struggle
Whippersnappers just don’t understand how ubiqcessitous Wake With Evening’s Freshness was. Sure, On the Qui Vive is just better, which is frightening when you think about it, to the point where I often don’t even run a few copies of WWEF. Meanwhile, Minion Tap didn’t crowd out Blood Doll like Villein crowds out Blood Doll. Which goes to how crazy Villein is.
Yeah, I’m not giving links as people still play V:TES.
But, what about clan cards? I’m glad I asked.
Great Symposium hits my bitch and moan threshold. Sure, there are such things as decks with a splash of Kiasyd. But, heavy/all Kiasyd will always play this card except for some turbo Kassiym Malikhair deck I’m forgetting about. Now, you could argue that bloodline decks were not intended to be a defining element to deck creation a la choosing a race in B5 or even choosing a base clan. Except that thinking was always wrong and led to a lot of bad decisions about how to balance bloodlines.
But, would you ever not run Ecoterrorists in a Gangrel deck? Unfortunately, I’m not aware of anyone doing the fine work that Jeff Thompson did of categorizing tournament winning decks by clan (hadn’t thought about how this deprives the world of valuable knowledge), so I’m too lazy to go through and validate my contention of autoincludedness.
Does it bother me if Anarch Convert goes in every Anarch deck? I don’t think so, assuming it was even true that AC goes in every Anarch deck – I can envision a Mesu Bedshet Anarch deck where I wouldn’t bother, for instance. Does it bother me if The Unmasking goes in every ally deck? As much as I hate The Unmasking, it doesn’t actually go in every ally deck. There are Courier flock decks where the metagame is less “throw the Courier in front of the rush” and more “I really don’t want your Shamblers blocking my !Nos”.
Anyway, whether I’ve articulated the point or not, I’ll just assume that I did.
Sesame Street Song
There are those who argue for the value of autoincludes. The Blood Dolls and WWEFes of the world simplify the card pool environment and provide necessary effects to any and all. In fact, I would even offer that the more autoincludes you have in a CCG, the easier deck construction becomes to where someone can get going faster and avoid the deckbuilding paralysis issues that can crop up. In WoT, for instance, once you chose a faction, much of your deck was predetermined. While that’s the opposite direction of my post’s argument, it’s not like these things are Light and Shadow, there are all sorts of benefits to evil.
But, then there are CCGs like Magic. Yeah, certain cards in certain colors had so much power that you would expect them in a format for every deck. Outside of the eternal formats, though, the card pools would change, and the amount of subtlety in deck construction has often been vast enough to make for really interesting decisions.
It’s not that I dislike Blood Doll, it’s that I’d like to see comparable options to where Blood Doll is only one option. Yes, strictly speaking, Minion Tap was always a substitute. Except, across a too broad swath of decks, it wasn’t. WWEF is now just another option where previously it was the king and Forced Awakening was just some seneschal. That’s good. I like how the game has gotten to the point where deciding between Eluding the Arms of Morpheus, Forced Awakening, and WWEF occurs after you put in five On the Qui Vive. Kidding, I know On the Qui Vive doesn’t go in every infernal deck. Why, I even play decks that don’t play any wakes at all!! I know, pure insanity. There can’t be more than a few hundred decks in the TWDA that lack wakes or that play Eyes of Argus. But, I’m getting sidetracked on examples that aren’t so relevant in modern play.
What an autoinclude is in the abstract isn’t all that clear. At the same time, I don’t hold the view that what got printed in a game to begin with is somehow sacred and the game must always build around its roots. Point being that never adding other cards that compete with autoincludes is bothersome in that it just leads to the ubiquity of autoincludes and/or removing autoincludes from a play environment doesn’t strike me as removing the core of a game, necessarily. If the Centauri can’t drop The Eye to get one influence closer to winning, I’m not going to be crushed.
I even ad nauseam argue for everyone (except winnie decks) having inferior Deflection, which would be awfully stapletastic on the level of an On the Qui Vive. But, then, my last TWD didn’t have any wakes. And, Telepathic Misdirection, Deflection, My Enemy’s Enemy, and Redirection would still all see play (the last would see more play if we could just get rid of The Unmasking) because they offer something more. The game has so been distorted by the access to quality bounce … and that’s enough of this rant for today. I need to save up the identical rant for many another day until the promised day.
TL:ROO – Designing for CCGs is hard. It’s easy to be lazy in some areas just to see stuff get made. One area is creating cards that should go into every competitive deck, whether that’s truly every single deck or just every deck in some broad categorization where choice doesn’t really exist, such as faction. It is actually possible to design in such a way that certain cards are usually the best but not always. V:TES is a game, to its credit, that has in more recent years moved away from having the feature of predetermined choices, though I could hunt around for a few more Great Symposium situations.
I didn’t mention Shadowfist. Well, next time, after I beat this dead horse by doing another post just like it, I’m sure I’ll add in Shadowfist and Ultimate Combat!.