February 2016 Kick

February 28, 2016

Oh, sure, I still play games.

I “ran” the second Arkham Investigator adventure last Saturday, followed by playing Power Grid and Citadels that evening with other gamefolk.

I played V:TES Sunday, where we got in three quick games before lunch, which is so not the Bay Area metagame.  But, when you have four players, games are faster.  When you win a game by playing a Brujah demo deck, rushing your Kiasyd predator and constantly bleeding your prey, how long can that take?

Thursday, Shadowfist, two three player games.  The first was many an attempt to win, with my Ascended/Hand deck not being able to quite get through, even though I kept 4-5 power generating sites in play for ages.  The second saw me be irrelevant, playing Lotus!!

But, I’ve also been doing other things.  Kickstartering things.

Conan Kickstarter

Why?  We had a lot of fun with the d20 version of Conan.  Why care about a new version when, here’s a secret people reading about gaming, RPGs never become obsolete?

Nostalgia?  I don’t have any sense of the mechanics and anything involving multiple d20s sounds terrible to me, but I think that it’s a great world for gaming.  It might be the best world for gaming.  I could imagine just using the new books as reference materials for a game using a different system.  Though, to be fair, it’s not like d20 is that appealing to me.

7th Sea

Bewildering.  What?  It’s crazy that it has taken this long for a second edition.  The pent up demand obviously proves that it could have been making money for years.  Though, I actually see Kickstarter as pretty much the only way to go for RPGs based on the fact that so many far exceed what are probably understated goals.

First edition had some pretty clunky mechanics.  Too many skills.  Swordsman Schools being not all that great.  Dracheneisen being overpowered.  Where you had Roll&Keep, a la L5R, you had trait issues that undermined the awesomeosity.

Yet, you can still see 7th Sea run today.  Hugely popular.  Why?

Fantasy Europe.  No, seriously.  How many RPGs do fantasy Europe?

Hawkmoon, except that’s a future, post apocalyptic, incredibly distorted fantasy Europe.  Sure, I don’t play lots of things.  So, there are likely dozens of games that are close enough on Europe to be recognizable as opposed to “there be orcs” or whatever.

But, as someone who occasionally games and occasionally reads about gaming, I can’t think of notable examples.

It’s rather kitchen sink, plus with more aliens, but you can ignore that and focus on whatever regional stereotypes float your galleon.


Which do you think I supported at a higher level?

So, Kickstarter.  It can be exceedingly silly when people get support for sandwiches, but I love how it allows me to directly support a game’s production.  If I would have known about the John Carter RPG, which I assumed got KSed since it’s also Modiphius, I would have KSed that.

I don’t always like the levels of support.  I get that some people love dice and will throw in $10/$20 more just to get some marginally different dice.  I would generally prefer more hardcopies of the books at a favorable cost, as that’s a way to spread the game to others up front.

I like the idea of vanity stuff.  Actually, on a tangent, the Shadowfist group was talking about how the next Shadowfist KS really needs to do vanity stuff, plus be better at generating enthusiasm, plus actually package the product in a way that people want it.

I don’t care much about .pdfs.  Yeah, I get them when I can’t get hardcopies, but physical books are so, so much easier to read and learn from.  It’s why I still don’t have much sense of Fading Suns, even though I have a bunch of books in .pdf.

I like tailored add-ons.  For Year of the Goat, I got an unbalanced number of precons because Jammers don’t mean that much to me and specific cards do.  Admittedly, I keep forgetting I can just order singles from Daniel, which would have made a lot more sense as it was singles I was identifying to justify my distribution of precons.

There are many things I won’t KS.  It’s not so much because I would never play them, after all, how much am I going to play either of these RPGs?  I’ve barely played Feng Shui 2e.  It’s more because I feel like supporting certain things.  I really love CCGs and RPGs.  Of RPGs, things like Age of Legends, which I probably forgot to mention I backed or Aquelarre, which I also backed and didn’t promote … are things that I just want to see happen so that we get the sort of games in the marketplace I favor, even if I don’t play them.

I might find it interesting to actually have miniatures to use for gaming, but I’m too much a theater of the mind guy to really care.  Boardgames don’t have the depth of appeal to me that CCGs and RPGs have.  Electronic gaming leaves me cold.


[Classic] V:TES Poll Talk [2/27/2016]

February 27, 2016

An instant classic sent to our local V:TES list.  Oh, did I not mention that VEKN.NET has a poll on the future of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle?  I haven’t mentioned a bunch of things, like my Kickstarter backings recently.  Anyway.

**   **  **  **  **

As I said on the forums, I don’t see the point of a VTESlike game that isn’t V:TES.

For all of the grief that CCGs get, including V:TES, V:TES is actually a good game.  CCGs are a bitch to design and to expand and to manage.  Magic may have hit on some cheat codes in that set rotation is a way to deal with mechanics bloat, plus having enough design and development resources to actually make the game work.  But, a lot of CCGs either started off less playable or became less playable when they expanded.

Keep in mind that you can actually change some of the core rules and have the same game.  Transfers can work differently, for instance, without removing the ability to play Undead Strength.  You couldn’t remove the idea of superior disciplines or the idea that you have ranges/strikes.

Is combat a mess?  Sure.  Additional strikes are confusing as hell.  But, remove “as about to enter combat” effects like Obedience and that reduces a step, remove a host of prerange cards and people can probably live with Carrion Crows and Torn Signpost without losing their minds, remove Immortal Grapple timing, Aim cards, first strike, Rotschreck, and this thing we like to call combat ends … and who knows?

I said on the forums that one reason I’d make most of the currently playable card pool unplayable in an overhaul is because I’ve played some games in the last year that had that old, Jyhad feel to them.  People liked playing Jyhad.  A fair number, by anecdotal “evidence”, stopped liking the game when it stopped feeling like Jyhad.

It’s amazing, but I still really enjoy playing V:TES.  But, in numerous ways, I’m an exception as I don’t stop playing the games I play, no matter what I may think of them, until the fellow players are gone.

I can see enjoy playing a Jyhadlike game more than current V:TES, though.  Jyhad was so much faster, so much more straightforward.  I realize it was also much more broken.  Weenies, fewer bleed defense options catering to an even more Dominated environment than currently exists, combat ends being a huge combat problem which was why Potence was so much more common are all elements that just rewinding the clock is not going to fix.

Oliver points out something that came up when we were talking about what to do for Brett’s demo decks at the con.  The discipline mixes in the game are horrendously out of balance.  This means either forcing Dominate on whatever clan that doesn’t have it, playing very very narrow archetypes, relying on P/J cards to not die, or the like.

Speaking of demo decks, other than the Toreador and Tremere, I kind of see problems with all of the Camarilla Clans in a teaching environment.  Brujah – can’t defend pool.  Gangrel – can build toolbox, but there’s no variety to the build.  Malks – too easy to just bleed and ignore everything else.  Nosferatu – midcaps don’t really do anything useful for you without Deep Song.  Ventrue – I bleed, I vote, I bounce, I combat ends, but I don’t intercept because Second Tradition in a demo deck is weird and because I bleed, I vote, I bounce, I combat ends.  Toreador have that mix of bleed, vote, combat, intercept without jumping through a bunch of hoops that shows off a balanced game.  Tremere don’t have the voting prowess, but they bring an interesting combat element to a basic game where people don’t just combat ends or first round murder you.

Anyway, getting back to discipline combinations.  Other than disciplineless Deflection for 5+ caps, just making Celerity and Potence do more out of your early sets would help immensely.  Sure, Celerity now is kind of interesting with Resist Earth’s Grasp, but that’s a recent phenomenon.  Potence still suffers from blah.  Spoils of War is the sort of card that addressed a problem with how some clans just suck because of their disciplines, but it came 15 years later than it should have.

The thing about it is that when you clear out the chaff and the broken stuff (Govern, Conditioning, Voter Cap, Giant’s Blood, etc., etc. etc.), you can rebalance the game to where Malks and !Malks fight without equipment or Protean skill cards.

Will the player base put up with 75% of their collections, their Summon Histories and their Enkil Cogs, being not tournament legal?  Very possibly not.  Can you sell 5000 new players on playing this game about the Camarilla, Sabbat, and a few indie weirdoes that can take more than 75 minutes to play and requires at least three players but is kind of ridiculous with more than five?  I have my doubts.

So, as much as what I want is a better V:TES, I do imagine that the only two things anyone will ever do is continue to bloat the existing game and/or put out “I Paradoxically Rage Your Fae Mummy” as something that hopefully doesn’t even try to pretend it’s related to V:TES.

Cardflopping Like It’s 1999

February 21, 2016

I was going through a box of my stuff in a pathetic attempt to get the house more organized.  Besides some ornamental mementos, there was quite a bit of gaming related stuff from when I was a Precedence Publishing volunteer.

In other words, from 1998 to 2000, the heyday of Babylon 5, Wheel of Time, and Tomb Raider CCGs.

There are so many miscellaneous things in that pile.

gencon ’99 and origins ’99 duty roster [sic]

I’ve only ever been to one Origins in Columbus.  It was because I was so deep in the volunteering thing that I had as my volunteer blocks:  Open Demos, Friday, July 2nd, 12AM-6AM; Open Demos, Saturday, July 3rd, 12AM-6AM; Open Demos, Sunday, July 4th, 12AM-6AM!!

I occasionally need to remind myself just how absurd my life has been, at times.  I worked in San Francisco for a while.  On Van Ness.  Where we had parking!?!  I was doing currency speculation in the ForEx market for a company long gone from that site.  I didn’t have much of a commute when I was getting in at midnight and leaving at 6AM.

Apparently, at some point, the idea of being up in the middle of the night didn’t really bother me.  Oh, how times change.

It doesn’t get any less weird for Gen Con:  Friday, August 6th, 12AM-6AM; Saturday, August 7th, 12AM-6AM; Sunday, August 8th, 12AM-6AM.

While I recognize a bunch of names on the duty roster, there are also a lot of names I don’t recognize.

An email I sent after Origins ’99:

Disgraceful. Sam wins the West Regionals. Mike Calhoon wins the Midwest Regionals. Where were you all at the East and Southeast Regionals?

Origins: the other con. Attendance was probably light due to Dragon Con being the same weekend. I only played in the social tournament. Someone was actually surprised that Adira got up to 11 intrigue. Don’t know much about the constructed. The sealed deck final was one of the longest finals ever. It sounded incredibly amusing with We Can’t Allow Thats flying around. Eventually, the Minbari won?! Just shows you can’t expect everyone to be an expert. Lots more starters given away. Jeff Conaway and Walter Koenig were at the con. Walter was his usual cool self about autographs. The lines were very short because he wasn’t in the booklet. Psi Corps uncut sheets were available for viewing. Nice looking art.

Non-B5, Precedence, Origins stuff: Tomb Raider was on hand for demos. Wheel of Time is still being worked on. The 2nd edition Immortal booklet had suitably eyecatching art on the cover.

Gen Con preview: Walter will be back. He will be joined by Robin Atkin Downes (Byron) and Julie Caitlan Brown (who was born in SF and has been very cool). There will also be the official Lara Croft model. All the Precedence games will get a push, except Gridiron.

Question: Of the B5 stars, who would be most desirable as a Precedence guest at events?

Oh, not much from Gen Con ’99, except one of our local players won US Nationals to qualify to play Worlds in Germany.  I might not crossregionally achieve at my CCGs, but there’s an argument I can make others better.

I found articles written by a couple of Babylon 5 players.  Mike was local.  I have his “The Fine Art of Murder:  Winning With the Narn Seizing Advantage Deck” article.  I have Merric’s “Understanding the Vorlons”, “Delenn Transformed and Ambassador Kosh”, “Winning with Diplomacy”, and other articles.


Well, at some point, I was an editor for a B5 CCG site.  I didn’t try to edit Merric’s content too much, as one of the things with niche CCGs is that metagames are very different, plus he was writing to the beginner player, not for someone like me.  A virtual pro, briefly ranked in the top 10 in the world before being crushed by serious players at the first Worlds.  (Of the three CCGs I have been ranked in the top 10 in the world, … ah, nobody cares.)

Anyway, the main criticism I’d have of Merric’s articles is that his starting hands are so not what the metagame was like at that point.  His starting hand choices were the sort of thing you’d see before Shadows only using cards printed long after.  They would have been like 3 turns too slow, lacking starting agenda and influence gainers (Corporate Connections, Airlock Mishap) to accelerate to “let’s actually play the game” time around turn 5.  What is the point of my bringing this up?  Maybe I should do a post on B5 deck construction that is pretty useless to pritnear everyone.

I have draft versions of the Tomb Raider and Wheel of Time Rulebooks.  I could go into this in more depth some other time, though why anyone would care is a good question.  But, the single most memorable thing to me about the WoT Rulebook is what a total pain in the ass it is to put into writing how damage works at reducing abilities.  It’s just so ambiguous in the English language unless you word it right, yet it’s the easiest thing to show someone.  I could see how Shadowfist words damage and attributes, as it works like that.

I had a bunch of printouts for playtesting B5, TR, WoT.  Was starting to toss them into recycle when I came across some for WoT and realized that they were for the unreleased Aes Sedai set.  I don’t know where the files are for these playtest sheets, but I gots to reveal to the world the ancient mystery foretold by the prophecy and suppressed by the Illuminites.  I mean, has anyone else who knew anything about the unpublished WoT CCG set ever provided any info on it?  I don’t even recall much, as I think we were very early in playtesting for it and/or were playtesting other things at the same time such that it wasn’t as much of a priority.  Well, and I was designing for B5 at that point.

I have a shocking number of tournament forms from B5 tournaments between 1998-2000.  Again, the game wasn’t actually around that long.  The intensity of my engagement made up for the brevity of it all.

I have Zeta Squadron/Legends membership newsletters.  Looks like I only ever was ranked in B5 in one of them.

I tossed some checklists where I noted how many copies of cards I got.  I have promotional brochures.

Just a very different experience than my current one, yet, it’s entirely possible that someone else is currently in that kind of world.

I certainly miss things from those days, though I could be so involved because I wasn’t as employed, so I certainly don’t want to go back to that sort of thing.  Even if CCGs make money, that doesn’t translate into big bucks for people.

Should I rummage through and find my signed, embossed B5 cards and stare wistfully at the stars?  Probably not.  But, maybe, I’ll go hunt down some emails from those days and look to post more antediluvian mysteries.

However, next up in my plans is to talk about NPCs, maybe get into some !Nosferatu decks.  Who knows?  Some day, I might even get back to posting something about the L5R RPG, since that’s mostly what people read about on my blog.  Actually, I tried finding out some info about the Saturday campaign and it doesn’t look like I’ll get anything more, so I have something I’ve been thinking of posting from that campaign, even though it won’t help anyone to build better characters, murder enemies faster, et al.  Does tie into talking about NPCs, though …

DunDraCon 2016

February 18, 2016

Had something to post about before the con … and ran out of time.  In theory, have next few posts planned.

So, the con.


Drove from work.  Had nothing to do once I got to the con.  Tried going to bed early.  Scintillating, I know.

The main thing is to start the whining.  The con schedule was terrible.  There was nothing I could play in I felt strongly about.  Even in those slots where I was running stuff, there wasn’t anything I saw that was, like, “Oh my god, I am so going to bawl.”


I have my first of two boardgame slots to run at 9AM.  I have someone interested in 20th Century Limited, but he can do other things, and I have other people already started in on something.  I run Cardcassonne, Priests of Ra, Loch Ness, Mogul.

Yup, another year of Rio Grande miscellaneous.

Unlike my own group that liked Loch Ness the most of a previous batch, Loch Ness really didn’t appeal much.  Cardcassonne wasn’t that much of a hit, though, of the games I had with me, it’s the one I find most interesting.  Where my learning game of Mogul with three players was rather boring, Mogul ended up being the favorite for this group.  It seemed to play better with four people, even though, ironically, when I was trying to find the five player setup rules which I haven’t been able to find in my effort to quickly scan boardgamegeek, people said the game plays best with three.

Unlike last year, I eschewed playing myself.  That allowed me to run multiple games at once, which didn’t happen.  It prevented my making more informed decisions than the others, which seemed like a problem before.

I really should have scheduled for like 9 players.  I could run two games at once and get through my con responsibilities in half the time.

Meanwhile, Brett was running V:TES demos.  He had seven people signed up.  Not all of them showed.  He did a second demo with three Asian women that looked familiar.  I found out why.  A couple of them were at my event last year because they were friends of an old B5 CCG buddy.  We were talking and he mentioned how his friends ended up doing a V:TES demo, which was the last thing he could imagine them doing.  I was, like, “Oh my god, I so totally now know why I, like, totally thought they looked familiar.”

After my thing, food.  Since I had nothing to do until the V:TES tournament that night, I had a long lunch with one of my roommates.  Then, nap time.

The tournament was four players, not unexpected for a con event.  After the tournament, we played a five.

Brett (!Nos) -> Kevin (weenie Celerity) -> Ian (Little Mountain 4/5) -> Brad (merged Tariq)

Kevin gets Carter on turn one.  Brad gets Lazar.  Brett transfers.  Kevin brings out a second minion.


And, that’s why we play CCGs.

Brett Villeins Parmenides to make him extra valuable.

I don’t transfer much so that I can LMC for as much as possible.  I do bring out Baroque to help Morlock out.

Brett !Noses.  Stealth defeats Kevin’s minions and Kevin discards rush cards in back to back turns.

For a while, Tariq and company fight the !Nos, but, eventually, Brad doesn’t think he can take out Brett or me, so they make a table split deal.  I fend off rushes well enough to get Brad but never bounce a bleed through my skill card on Baroque and have a pretty poor set up in the endgame for surviving KRCs.  Oh, Brett did fail his Political Stranglehold when he realized I’d gain six pool from it.

After that, someone who still has a collection but didn’t bring his stuff showed up and borrowed Brett’s Tremere demo deck.  The rest of us randomized in the same seating order, so …

Brett (Mummies) -> Kevin (Tariq from above) -> Ian (Tzimisce Don’t Block) -> Brad (Cel from above) -> ?? (Trem)

Forget about results.  Here are some highlights from just another, typical, mundane, banal game of V:TES

Seeing Brett get miniony and Kevin be impotent, I decide I must be a balancer of tables.  I choose to reshuffle Aranthebes back into Brett’s deck with Carlton untapped.  Carlton blocks.

Skin Trap.

Lucky Blow.

My next action was to put a Graft Counter on Qetu the Evil Doer.  Yup, that happened.

I burned Halim Bey and Black Lotus to stop bounces.  I burned Brad’s Max Lowell to stop him from having enough actions to tap out oust whatshisname.  I burned Brad’s only .44 with a Canine Horde.

Brett got ousted by Dominate.  In the endgame, I got ousted because Tzimisce Don’t Block.

Not too late, sleep time.


Another four hour block of Rio Grande.  I run Cafe International, a game I just don’t find that compelling, though it might be more interesting if you get the nuances of it.  Loch Ness, Cardcassonne, Mogul.  Never bust out Pantheon, 20th Century Limited.

Yet again, Mogul seems to do okay, though the result being a blowout might have mitigated enthusiasm.  Cardcassonne did a bit better this time around.

Having nothing to … wait, hold on, I do have something to do.  I grab food quickly.  I go to a seminar/workshop on writing RPG adventures.

The primary concept of the workshop is using a two-goal paradigm rather than a single goal paradigm.  It was pointed out that not many movies or whatever actually only have a single goal, especially not among popular movies.  Raiders of the Lost Ark was an example used of a successful movie where the protagonists tried to do the same thing throughout the whole movie.

It was okay.  One of the notable things was how many people’s stories were really similar.  Seems like quite a few GMs are into epic fantasy, which amuses me, though the others were often bringing up Pathfinder or 5e D&D as what they were building off of, where I didn’t bother sharing my nine-act example because it was so similar to someone else’s that was still fantasy, just Against the Dark Yogiish.

I hung around after that to find out who would win the roll off for beds, then who to bribe.  That led to my hanging out and talking with my only current GM for a while about Through the Breach and other things, while he helped run A Game of Thrones Boardgame 1e.  That game only lasted like four turns.  Guess.  Don’t know the game?  Do know the game?  Yes, white won.

Off to bed.


Speaking of Through the Breach, the most appealing thing on the schedule that I could play in was my GM’s con game at 10AM.

I think some of the players were frustrated by how our patron was (secretly) playing us.  I was amazed at how much time people put into talking about what to do, especially such things as writing up a contract over mineral rights.

I played Wild Bill, the robot, uh, construct from some starting adventure.  It worked okay.  If we played out things at the end to actually understand what was happening, might have had a crisis at the betrayal, but, mostly, was just happy with how everyone treated me like a person.  It was amusing how I Black Jokered a lockpicking test, given that it was one of my specialties, which only helped us in the climactic battle to prevent zombies from coming up out of the mines.

Gave me a chance to get more familiar with the world and mechanics.


I keep saying “that I could have played in”.  There were two events I was interested in on the schedule.  Both were during the day Friday.  Both were Feng Shui 2e.  Both were run by the same person.

Maybe just me, but that seems like suboptimal planning.  I could take off Fridays, but that burns my personal time.  I get that I’ll miss stuff that could be interesting.  I fail to see why so many things I would find interesting are just not doable when you have work to do.

The con schedule was awful, like an F.  Of course, if you are into D&D, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Hero Games, you would have been much more jazzed by the schedule.  But, the con was okay.  I didn’t feel bad about it.  I kind of expect to not have much I want to do.  I got to talk to people for a while, including people I rarely see anymore.  That’s as enjoyable as anything else.

I nuked Carlton with an 8-cap Tzimisce playing Lucky Blow.

Food?  Did someone wonder about food?  Three straight days of pastrami sandwiches on dutch crunch from Bagel St. Cafe with a large peach smoothie with whip cream.  My friend Eric drove up Monday morning when I was leaving BSC, and he made some comment about my eating there.  “It’s the only place I’ve eaten at.”

Assuming I get some time soon, I will power up the wayback machine.

Draw, Lose, Win

February 6, 2016

I’ve now forgotten what got me to thinking about this, but I got to thinking about success and failure.  Oh, not in RPGs.  In CCGs, though the principle could apply to boardgames.

Not how to succeed or fail.  Not on the strategic level.  On the transaction level of the game.

I speak of transactions during CCG play because I needed some term to describe the events that happen during play that entertain me the most.  Results don’t generally entertain me.  Of course, a result can come from a transaction.

Anyway, I’m going to do my usual “here are the CCGs I played the most and why Ultimate Combat! is the best CCG ever” breakdown.  The general idea, to reiterate, is … wait, I don’t think I got to what the point of all of this is.  The point of all of this is that I enjoy CCG play when you have interesting, one might say compelling, successes and failures within games.  Probably, I’m also of the bent to be more interested in successes than failures.


I can say that drawing one card a turn is the worst thing about Magic.  But, that’s independent of actually enjoying playing.  I don’t enjoy Magic less because I draw one card a turn.  I enjoy it less because drawing one card a turn reduces how many things I do during a game.

Speaking of doing things during a game, this topic goes to why I enjoy Magic so much less than other CCGs.  I don’t feel like I succeed during play, at least not in any sort of compelling way.

What are points of success/failure in Magic?  My creature deals damage or not.  My spell is countered or not.  My counter counters your spell or not.  My removal removes or not.  I burn your brains or not.  I sac land to create mana to force you to draw your deck or not.

In a lot of ways, in other words, my cards do something meaningful or not.

Turn two, I tap two land and cast a 2/2.  Turn three, it attacks.  That is okay.  But, what if you cast an equivalent 2/2 on your turn before I attack and I decide not to trade?  That’s not succeeding at something.  Maybe that’s not failing, either, but nothing happening* is pretty boring.

*  Which makes one wonder why I spend so much time doing nothing during V:TES games, but I’ll get to that later.

So often, what happens in a game of Magic is something that doesn’t produce any sort of interesting, one might say dramatic, success or failure.  I bring out a 4/4.  It gets bounced, destroyed, even possibly buried since Type P still uses bury, or removed from play.  That’s a “removal success” on my opponent’s part, but it’s rather uninteresting to me.  Of course, the worst situations in Magic tend to be of the “I really need a card to deal with the board position, but I just drew a … land/card I can’t afford/other irrelevant card”.  Yes, mana screw is a variant of this, where I often see games where you don’t get one of your colors or enough mana to keep up.

It could very well be why I gravitate towards to fast decks with low mana curves.  You are more likely to play something early.  That early play may not win you the game, but it’s likely to do something.  Plus, shooting people in the noggin might make up for being in some sort of board position lock.

I’m probably not alone in the idea of wanting to DO THINGS when playing games.  After all, hand destruction, land destruction, and counterspells are three of the things players have expressed the most hate for.

Not to rag much more on Magic, but, even when I’m winning, I’m often bored with what is going on.  Oh, look, my auto creature generator keeps generating another dude my opponent can’t stop.  Or, whatever.  Not always the case, but far too often.

Ultimate Combat!

I don’t recall Mindslaver going off in any game of Magic I’ve played.  The older, yes, printed earlier, Mental Domination has gone off a bunch of times.  It would seem like the ultimate unhappinesser.  It’s weirdly not.

Actually, most of the time, Mental Dom just speeds your opponent towards decking.  The board impact is rather minimal as there’s little ability to prep or follow up with something nasty to an eight-cost play.

Now, Shake Up has to be a better card because it’s far more effective at deciding who wins.  But, I’m getting off topic.  Suppress is more like what Mental Dom would seem to be.  The ability to deprive someone of playing the game is, of course, not terribly enjoyable.

Attacks are far more interesting in UC! than in Magic.  Because techniques are one-shot plays, you lose something by deciding to attack or deciding to defend, unlike some 1/6 wall in Magic just sitting there sucking up damage every round.  Sure, Favorite Technique and weapons break this big time, though weapons are too unreliable or require too much effort in my experience, just leaving the potential for hideous lock situations with Drunken Favorite Techniques.

Yet another reason that UC! might actually be a better game without the expansion – Drunken Style is just way too much of a hose.  Whether it’s combinations, Adrenaline, doubled Speed/Strength, X advantages, or … well, other advantages are kind of too esoteric to worry about, Drunken techniques just fail too many “progress towards winning” plays.

Oddly, perhaps, you can get by with many fewer techniques than Magic decks will creatures.  Though removal barely exists in UC! and every use of a technique means it goes away, a lot of games are won off the back of three or so attacks.  Attack, combination, combination, with some help besides just a movement card can get you there, though probably have to do a bit more than just swing three times.

While Healing Mantra isn’t the best thing ever, it is rather discouraging on how it undoes successes.  It’s not like you really stop it from resolving unless you get into an unexpected Psychic Delay counter war.  On the other hand, for the more controllish player (in practice, but is this true in theory?), the success of getting back some hit points in a game that can often be – beat, beat, beat, over – may very well be an interesting success.  I know I’ve thought about holding off on attacks to choke someone on Healing Mantra until I could go over the top in one round.  That’s possibly interesting.

You rarely fail to play your cards.  They often do something.  Limited play has a strong technique management element to it that shows up very differently in constructed play.  Just putting out some random 3/2 technique may decide the game because so many UC! games come down to “if I don’t win this turn, you win next turn”.  When you do come up short because someone had the Speed/Strength to survive or had some bizarre play, like Banana Peel, to do so, that’s rather interesting.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

Every action is a possible success/failure.  Really, a hunt action can be quite dramatic, though usually just more setting up something down the road.  So much of my enjoyment in the game is seeing whether my bleeds will succeed or fail or seeing whether bleeds against me will succeed or fail.

But, tool up actions can decide games.  Votes are annoyingly swingy much of the time.  Though, to be fair to voting, I often have the view that most KRCs should succeed.  After all, someone invested cards and capacity into doing something, so it feels more failuretastic when a vote fails than when a bleed fails.

Combat is far less interesting to me than to others because I see it falling into a closer to Magic paradigm of success/failure not being all that interesting.  The best combats are the play a bunch of cards but little actually happens sort.  Those are pretty rare.  What’s interesting about “I rush you, Carrion Crows, Bats til you die”?  I still get beaten up by Trap decks, and it’s routinely boring as hell.

If Magic is a game where I feel more like the interesting bit is the result, V:TES falls into the camp, along with most other CCGs, where I’m living in the transactions.  (UC! tends to have fewer transactions and they tend toward being the same sort much of the time.)

Shattering Blow on Assault Rifle – yes, combat can be amusing – is living in the trees.  That should both be an interesting success for one player and an interesting failure for the other.

Masters and events – not really interesting successes and failures except in those rare cases when Sudden on a Villein is indecisive.

So, you may be wondering how all of this is any different from my going on about positive/constructive/quality interaction.  I guess it’s not.  I guess I’m repeating myself.  Well, on with the recursion.

Wheel of Time

Why WoT before B5?  Dice?

So, dice is not something I would go with in a CCG.  Oh, sure, die values on cards, like War Cry or 40k is really interesting and has rather sophisticated design space.  But, actually rolling dice?  That’s pretty ugly.

Made even more so by how important your rolls could be in WoT.  Prior to “Fixed Rand”, Lord Dragon giving you a big dice pool, and other expansion mechanics, WoT was way too dependent upon rolling specific things.  Even after the first couple of turns, after you burned Pattern just to bring out your Thoms or Liandrins, you needed certain symbols to continue your snowball of annihilation, your “I draw my deck” (but later errataed) advantages, etc.

Success.  Challenges didn’t become as important until later in the meta.  Suicide Dragon relied on them.  Maidens (not in playtesting where they were the most broken thing ever) relied on them, though that was long after the game had changed dramatically from Premier’s limited viable options.  So, what was success largely a matter of?

Recruiting, of course.  Card drawing.  Searching.  Yeah, there’s a reason WoT wasn’t one of the best designed games ever.  How about Overrun?  Succeeding at nuking characters or not nuking them with Overrun was a key feature of the game.  Last Battle event play to swing things just enough for victory was a key feature.

A strange game by the way I describe what it was like.  Actually, yes, it was just a strange game.  Recruit, recruit, recruit, draw cards to recruit some more.  Then, roll lots of dice.  Every once in a while play against some goofy kill character deck where you had to have your Guarded by Fates a ready or Healing Herbs.

There was certainly something going on during games.  Well, moving on.

Babylon 5

Expansions may have had a lot of bad ideas, but the most problematic environment (other than the Drakh/Ultimate Hoser environment or the “look at all my technomages environment”) was the Premier environment.  For the simple reason that success barely needed to happen to end games.

Sheridan gets a bunch of Doom that nobody can really interact with, Martyr, win.  Centauri/Narn win two conflicts and cheese to 20 power.  Alliance of Races, Forced Evolution, Order Above All just put a clock on the game.  Shadow Marks make Centauri Border Raids unstoppable … unless you You Are Not Ready something into oblivion.

Not Meant To Be could counter some stuff.  You Are Not Ready didn’t always hit “good” conflicts, it sometimes stopped annoying conflicts.  Level the Playing Field may have been annoying in how swingy it could be, but it did make success and failure more interesting.  There were a lot of events, at different points, that someone could play to suddenly be able to pop out a fattie or to buff someone.

Trade counters may not have made trade cheese all that interesting, but it did produce failures where you could expect only successes.

A lot of games weren’t really that good, certainly when it came to producing results.  But, tooling up certain characters or in certain ways was interesting to me.  “Adira Strikes” might have been intended for social play since the whole idea of Inconclusive Strike on Adira to make her bigger was not terribly productive, but the idea of pumping characters other than ambassadors with enhancements, aftermaths, marks, or whatever was a way to get some transactional success.

Unfortunately, the mechanic most intended for transactional success/failure – aftermaths – was normally a waste of deck space.

There’s a lot of B5 play I forgot.  But, for whatever reason, I tend to remember the positive – my amusement – a lot more than the games that just rather sucked.  Enjoyable card play must have been part of the experience.


To me, Shadowfist is the CCG I’ve played a significant amount of that has the most transactions by far.  I can breakdown the important stuff in B5 games or V:TES games, even with a ton of cards played or in games where stuff happens for two hours.  I can’t ever seem to recall every little notable event in a Shadowfist game, unless the game is horribly unbalanced and over in 20 minutes.

But, are those transactions interesting?

Yes.  Shadowfist also happens to be the game where I have the least feel for what determines the outcome.  Because the outcome is largely removed from my experience, it is precisely the successes and failures in the transactions that I focus on.  Lusignan riding a Fire Horse and wielding the Boundless Heaven Sword is a success right up until he gets shut down by some cheap event, which can be an interesting failure.

Sure, Kinoshita House, Fox Pass, and whatnot make for less interesting failures.  But, there’s often so many things going on, a stack can just get insane, that I’m living in a world of transactional successes and failures.

So, why isn’t Shadowfist the best thing ever?  Because it can be too much to track.  V:TES has a much more manageable amount of effects in play at a time, to where I feel like I have some control over what happens.  I can determine success or, at least, predict it.

Having the player be in control has value.  I notice a lot more the sort of mistakes I make with other CCGs.  With Shadowfist, too often, it’s questionable the extent of a mistake.  I can look back at winning a V:TES tournament after letting Augustus Giovanni get torped right away in a prelim round as a mistake that probably didn’t hurt me any.  It improved the optics on my position of pathetic weakness.  With Shadowfist, I often don’t know whether overlooking something hurt more, hurt less, or didn’t hurt at all.

That lack of knowing does decrease the compellingness of successes and failures.

Maybe I just did rethink the whole concept of quality interaction.  But, I think there’s some point to trying to get at a bit more detail on what’s enjoyable about actually playing CCGs (there’s always deck construction and metagame analysis for other reasons CCG can be enjoyable).  It’s really Magic where I realized that I just don’t feel like success and failure in the transactions engages me that much, and that’s why I would rather play any of the other CCGs I’ve mentioned today.

On Key

February 2, 2016

Not yet time to insert an M.  Not on Fire, either.

January was a time of doing fun things with great people.  But, it wasn’t much of a month for gaming.

While I was flying back to the US recently, I spent a bit of time thinking about gaming.  Sure, RPG thoughts came to mind.  But, unlike the norm of thinking primarily about RPGs, I actually spent some time thinking about CCGs.  In particular, I thought about V:TES.

For quite some time, I haven’t been playing much.  This led, of course, to not spending much time thinking about the game.  But, for some reason, while I haven’t done much to organize cards and haven’t done much deckbuilding, I’ve still found something more enjoyable about thinking about deckbuilding.

We played last Sunday.  I was still jet lagged and didn’t do anything new, so I played Hatchlings, Pre/Vic bruise bleed, and Jyhad Pre bleed.  In other words, my kind of decks.

I often don’t play my kind of decks.  To stretch, I’ll play decks ridiculously bad for me, like the most recent deck I think I made, which is Tzimisce rush.  Sure, without Bill around or people like him to keep coming up with combo deck ideas, I don’t get around to combo decks, but …

What makes those decks my kind of decks?

They bleed.  Yes, I know I hardly ever bleed anymore.  But, I used to.  Two out of the three hunt reasonably well, by which I mean I can afford actions hunting.  The third even hunts because it really can’t do anything besides bleed or hunt.

And, that’s the thing.  They don’t complicate my game.  Hatchlings has, generally, three different actions to take – Hatchling, hunt, bleed.  The other two just two actions.  Two of the decks bounce.  The third plays cards that both reduce bleeds and give intercept.  They don’t obsess over screwing vote decks.  Two of the decks play combat ends.  They don’t obsess over screwing combat decks, though one of them is a combat deck.

Yes, bruise bleed isn’t my thing, which makes the Pre/Vic deck kind of odd.  But, it does its superior three disciplines thing.  The other two have relatively simple discipline needs.

I don’t try to stop stuff crosstable.  I can’t shut down jack.  But, there are silver bullets.  I won one game due to Sudden Reversal on Palla Grande, though I had my Hostile Takeover on Jost with Ivory Bow Washed.

There’s just something pleasant about how all three function, though they are hardly close substitutes for each other.

I was thinking about how I hadn’t blogged in a while.  By the way, way to go WordPress, right up there with Yahoogroups and others on making your own product annoying to use.  I was thinking and started a line of thought that I don’t remember all that clearly, just that it ran through RPG and CCG stuff.

I invented a card when playing Sunday.  “Master.  Put this card in play.  You may burn this card to give a vampire of capacity five or higher +2 bleed for the current action.  This bleed action may not resolve for more than three pool damage.”  No, this paragraph has nothing to do with anything.

I was thinking about events, though I don’t really care about Anthelios, I only see Anthelios matter when I play out of my region.  Even then, it’s not Anthelios I care about.

I haven’t played any HoR: Nightmare War.  I was up at 1AM China time (well, earlier) waiting for my Gen Con housing slot, which was an hour later, which turned out to be a strong slot, where I got a room, though I think I maybe needed to try a bit harder to get a better one.

If I keep throwing out random comments, what will be unlocked?

I played mahjong on my trip, though only one format – the variant popular in China according to my coworkers I mentioned last time.  We didn’t play the Shanghainese style of all one suit or all pungs, but we talked about doing that next time.  Only one player won.  She seems very lucky in my small sample size of playing games with her, but I’d certainly also say she’s a good player.  Could be better than I.

I need to learn a couple of boardgames for the weekend after this, when I’ll be running convention sessions of stuff that isn’t either a RPG or CCG.

I need a new Fading Suns character, as I still haven’t replaced my dead monk.


I was thinking about card limits.  I was thinking about how I may not give other people enough credit for seeing why card limits are so awesome.  As every right-thinking gamer knows, card limits have nothing to do with the playability of a CCG.  It’s all about the collectibility and collection management advantages of needing fewer copies of cards.  Sure, for Wheel of Time, where I may only have 10 decks built at one time, I still need some 15 Lucky Finds and 15 Invasions.  But, I only need six recruitable Rahvins.  With V:TES, I need 60+ On the Qui Vive just to get by.  Anything less than 20 Villeins, which, by the way, I don’t own 20 Villeins, is a struggle.

I gave away extra Jyhad copies of commons.  I only held on to 40 copies of Jyhad Majesty, as that’s enough to scrape by.  Were there Babylon 5 cards I had problems having sufficient quantities of?  Must have been the case, though I don’t really recall it.  Annex Neutral World was something I could probably live on nine copies of.  Not Meant To Be around the same number.  Wasn’t like I had 20 decks at once for the game.  More of a 12 deck kind of game.  I think only V:TES (ignoring such things as Type P Magic) has ever seen me have 20+ decks built at once, and I haven’t done that in ages (ignoring “experiment” decks).

I still haven’t run part two of Against the Dark Yogi.  I’m beat during the week, though inertia helps me with getting out to do Thursday Shadowfist.  Every week in the month of January was consultants in town, coworkers from out of town, or my being in another country.

Carolina 41, Denver 3.  Why not?  I don’t care.  Whenever I’ve had other things to do, I’ve skipped the Big Bowl.  Plus, Seattle produced two awful results in recent years, just making it that much less worth my engagement.

We didn’t play for money.  We did have chips, though, to make it easier to track how people did in our mahjong session.  I still find it interesting.  I also found it interesting how many times I said to myself “yo, dudicle, you aren’t paying that much attention to people’s discards, like is kind of much of the skill in the game”.  I realized later why the format is so fast.  When every dragon is a flower, the tile pool is vastly decreased, which makes connections in hands and from discards form much faster.  There’s a lot of thought I could put into the format, especially around the payoff calculations of declaring ready versus playing not to lose.

I’ve talked about what I enjoy out of RPGs.  I don’t know if I’ve covered what sort of PCs I like playing enough.  Too good a topic not to save for a more laser sharp blog post.

How come in Legends of Tomorrow, the fire gun never causes fires and the cold gun never freezes things?

Merged Ferox with Tremere demo deck as predator.  Grandpredator wins the game.  But, that’s so unmeta.

There are rarity indicators on Shadowfist cards?  According to an article on drafting there are (or were).  Probably should do a Shadowfist draft some day.  I almost miss V:TES drafting, just because everyone should be forced to learn more about limited play with CCGs other than Magic.

There are a lot of things that don’t enthuse me about making RPG characters.  I’ve talked about my disdain for equipment, and I’m sure I mentioned something about not being into playing magic-users.  That kind of covers Theurgy and Psychics.  But, what about Cybernetics?  I think they come across as equipment to me.  I’m also not a tech guy, except when I’m a software consultant, software developer, technical architect, or the like.  So, what sort of Fading Suns character should I play?  I think I should stretch and actually go with one of these things I normally wouldn’t choose because they don’t sound appealing.

Why aren’t games better?  Another great topic for another time.

I still haven’t posted another solitaire variant I created.  One I created years ago as yet another solitaire game to use a small amount of space but to have meaningful decisions.  I’ll have to get around to this some day.

But, today.  Today is just a day to make a mess before getting back on track with geniusness.