CCG 103

So, there I was, beating up on an eight-year old at Type P Magic.  He had Assassinate, Lightning Axe, and Sulferous Blast in hand at one point and should have played them differently.  I drew a Swamp in time to Cruel Revival his Evil Eye of Urborg.

Curve.  Card advantage.  Card synergy.  Managing cards in play (e.g. blocking sometimes).

There are plenty of things to learn.  I don’t recall picking up a game nearly as complex as Magic is at that age.  I was only playing mahjong, rummy, chess (badly … hasn’t changed), and the like.

So, I wouldn’t put a lot of expectations on my opponent.

But.

I got to thinking about other CCGs I play and how there must be a lot of subtle things about them that it takes people time to learn.  Well, duh.

But.

To make this post useful, what are they?

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

Somehow, I doubt I’ll be able to articulate without having an example situation in front of someone.  I’m certainly not going to build some intricate examples in the next hour and a half.

Pool totals.  For some reason, people don’t seem to pay as much attention to them as I would.  I could very well be wrong.  But, the pool is the Spice, er, …  Then, comparing those totals against stuff, you know, bleed stuff is something to do.

Everyone knows that Samson can bleed for 5.  Do they plan around that?  Do they plan around the likelihood of that?  I’m not talking about HoFers, I’m talking about people developing their winningnesses.

I’m constantly amazed … well, no, I’m not.  Amazed isn’t the right word, nor does constantly come in.  Let’s say I’m occasionally surprised when I assess that someone will win unless something significant happens and others don’t consider the player to be in the penthouse position.  The flip side is that it’s occasionally easy to see how someone dies in one to two turns and yet is considered worthy of added dyingnesses.

Bleed bounce is not given enough respect in terms of how it interacts with pool totals.  Someone without bleed bounce probably has 8-12 less pool than someone who has the greatest thing in the history of cardboard vampire proclivities.  Yes, that means someone sitting on 15 pool very well might be dead before their turn.

Deck focus.  Huh?  Focused decks are more predictable, thus why I try not to play them.  I’ve been stunned by a rush deck pulling out a wake, before, so sometimes you just don’t know.  But, let’s use the example of how lots of decks generate zero intercept.  That’s a big deal.  Whether you are running no stealth boost, some stealth boost, or are nothing but stealth boost, you kind of want to know how much you need to do things so that you can math your way into ousting damage.

Combat survivability.  Combat tends to blow, I mean, suck in V:TES.  It’s not the awesome, “I play six cards and we each lose one blood” mechanic that is should be.  I often get nuked in combats I don’t need to get into, though sometimes that just makes me look weak until my inevitable victory.  Sure, it takes time to learn about all of the combat possibilities as well as the probabilities of them occurring, but it shouldn’t take that much effort to learn to not block when you have a lot to lose and little to gain or don’t take that trivial action that will get you blocked and ‘schrecked.

I guess that gets into a broader concept of what actions matter and which don’t.  I’ve noted on multiple occasions that the reason hunting can be so strong is because it’s an action with little appearance of significance.  In a two-player CCG, “bleed, bleed, bleed, and … bleed” might be constructive, certainly endgame situations see a fair amount of this.  But, optics matter.  Yup, optics.

One can get deep on, say, the value of getting a weenie torped and having it sit in torpor as a sign of how pathetically loserville you are before you oust a couple of players, but let’s not get esoteric.

Babylon 5

I haven’t played B5 in quite the years.  But, a great problem with B5 was predictability of who was where at winning.  Can reasonably count potential influence/power gains.  So, not the most interesting thing to mention.

What about who has Secret Strike in hand?  What about those few aftermaths that actually affect winning, like Rise to Power?  What about someone having a chain of replacements for Londo or whomever in hand?  What about the guarantee that someone will You Are Not Ready you because you actually want to do things?  So, maybe don’t overcommit to your conflict.

Wheel of Time

I can talk about dead CCGs if I want to.

Overrun.  There’s not that many cards that will just rip your characters to shreds.  Play around Overrun.  In fact, many of the Last Battle events were rather predictable.  One Power events were kind of unpredictable because it was such a crapshoot whether you would generate enough OP symbols to play them effectively.

When in doubt, leave all of your characters home and recruit.  After all, that’s what the game was mostly about.

But, actually read what control of contested advantages will do, as that can be a huge headache if you just let your opponent play their game.

Not quite hitting the theme of the post?  Okay, this is a case of bringing up deck construction – every search and card draw and force your opponent to discard effect is worth considering, no matter how tortured it can be to generate politics to play “Draw 2 cards.”

Ultimate Combat!

Speed and Strength.  There are not a ton of things you can do to mess with math.  Power Drain is an interesting one.  But, chipping against attacks is a way to just barely not lose.

There aren’t a ton of rules to UC!.  Actually, some things are just not explained at all.  On the other hand, there are a surprising number of rules written into the double sided foldout sheet that comes in starters.  Like, that defenses higher than attacks reduce attack values for all subsequent attacks.  Making the decision to overload a block when not playing a Counter is … damn, I keep trying to go with simple things for people to be aware of, yet this is techy in a “one more tournament and I hit black belt status” way.

While possibly one of the most challenging aspects of the game, thinking about when and what to discard is a key element of being less outmathed.  How many techniques do you need to win?  How many advantages?  If you draw Adrenaline, what happens?

Shadowfist

Me dumb player.  Me not know how to factor in burn for power.  Me forget Underworld Tracker in smoked pile.  Me hold on to three resource-requiring card until not me wins.

Reset

Okay, this post is all over the place.  Let’s get back to learning principles of such things as curve, card advantage, et al.

Card advantage is not the dominant feature that Magic makes it in many other CCGs, which is actually fairly interesting.  Yes, Shadowfist can see it, once you factor power advantage.  V:TES can only occasionally see it like with minion advantage or permacept.  It’s probably one reason I enjoy UC! more than Magic – so many of the differences between the two mitigate card advantage; then, you have Favorite Technique to remind you of how much it sucks that one card can just own you.  B5 certainly had card advantage, though how much it mattered as a practical matter was hard to say.  I mean, there’s a reason multiplayer CCGs work as well as they do when they often have inferior mechanics and card design to two-player CCGs.

Curve.  I haven’t figured out the curve in Shadowfist, though our numerous house rules mess around with this quite a bit.  UC! has a more severe curve than Magic in some ways, at least with respect to techniques versus creatures.  In UC!, if your technique costs more than one, you may just be screwed (unless it’s your “Favorite”).  I used to think three cost techniques were competitive.  Ha.  Ha ha.  WoT has a goofy curve to it due to Pattern cost reduction, though if you expect Whitecloak play, then you probably need to focus more on being able to get your recruiting infrastructure together ASAP.  B5 often had an anti-curve with characters.  It was really about whether you were (Support of the …) Mighty or not, first, then about how massive you were.  Now, fleets were different.  I hadn’t considered it before, but, maybe, I liked boring old fleets because their costs were more interesting.

Try another angle.  Let’s say I’ve lost a lot of games of every CCG I’ve played.  What caused me to lose?

UC!  Getting behind in power.  Not defending enough.  Not discarding the right number of cards.

Shadowfist.  Not generating enough power reliably to play cards.  Not having enough resources to play cards.  Not discarding aggressively enough.  Not paying attention to effects.  Making a bid for victory when I knew it wouldn’t work.  Not manipulating other players.  Not burning for power often enough.  Not playing more “I win” cards.  Playing Ascended to try to find something about Ascended that was remotely interesting.

WoT.  Playing a proxy in the only major tournament I ever played in.  Not playing more Murder of Crows.  Actually, I don’t really remember losing much at WoT.  I’m sure I did, I just don’t remember it.  I know I didn’t win tournaments, though we had so few of those.  I don’t really recall who won our locals.  So much of our play was playtesting that I can’t recall our real play results hardly at all, and playtesting inferior cards wasn’t my fault.  I did own with Forsaken.dec and Maidens at times in playtesting, but that just got cards changed so that those decks weren’t as degenerate.

B5.  Playing stuff that was less boring.  I’m sure I made play mistakes, but I don’t recall those so much as I recall losing to mindnumbingly straightforward decks.  Also, another case of spending a ton of time playtesting.  Not abusing Crusade Piles, Techno-mages, and whatever.  Not playing more hosers, like ways to stop a Support of the Mighty win.

V:TES.  Playing against better players.  Yup, really.  When I play against better players, my winenergy is reduced dramatically.  So, what’s better?  Knowing cards better.  Yup, I actually sometimes get owned by other people knowing cards better.  Thinking of a possibility, then not playing to it.  Mark Loughman newbed me in one tournament game when I knew he could play Change of Target, but I blocked, anyway, … as his predator.

Also:  not playing more wakes; more bounce; more acceleration; more Blood Dolls/Minion Taps/Villeins; more winnie-kill.  Relying on other players to do sensible things, which is a dumb thing to do as many of my tournament wins have come about because other players didn’t do sensible things.  Losing concentration in endgame situations.  Not willing opponents to do my bidding.

Hey, you didn’t talk about tempo!  Tempo can answer card advantage.  Yeah, whatever.  Other than WoT (and Conscription based B5 decks), I generally avoided tempo – too much multiplayer play.

Okay, I have no idea what I was trying to accomplish.  I started with an idea of learning basics in managing CCGs better both deck constructionwise and playwise, and I just threw out a bunch of observations.

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