August 21, 2010

Talked about fear.  Let’s talk about desire.

At the simplest level, what is it I desire out of games?  Ultimately, they are probably the same sort of things, so maybe it’s more interesting to start with specific desires in various genres.

Boardgames/Card Games/Other

I can’t say that there’s much that I desire out of these categories.  My favorite boardgame is HeroQuest, which is my favorite because to me it’s a (very simplistic) RPG.  Actually, in reality, dungeon crawl RPing is really more of a boardgame, but whatever.  I don’t care if Dominion comes out with expansions, I don’t care what the hottest boardgame is, I don’t care if I ever play Power Grid, I don’t care about attempts to continue to make cooperative boardgames.

If I had to put down anything as a desire here, it would be for some nostalgic gaming.  I haven’t played mah-jongg in ages, for instance.  It was amusing that someone in my fitness class asked me if I played.  I wouldn’t mind playing some bridge.  HeroQuest would be great, too.

I can think of one thing that might be interesting – playing some straight BattleTech since our Mechwarrior campaign has reminded me both that the game exists and that I’ve played very little of it.


The easy one.  A desire to play a two-player CCG.  Magic is probably out, which doesn’t leave much in the way of options.  Even though Ultimate Combat! is the best CCG ever, people don’t take it seriously.  Wheel of Time never had much of a player base to begin with.  It would be an amusing time to get into L5R, but why bother playing a game I never thought was worth getting into previously?

Amusingly, I continue to notice Dragon Dice at Gen Con.  I was trying to explain the game recently and remembered that the game does actually work.  It just has the big problem, for me, of being a CDG rather than a CCG.  I like hidden information, and I’m sure there are some other differences that make CCGs better.

What do I desire for V:TES?  I almost don’t care whether more sets come out, which is a very interesting place for me to be.  I’m just not obsessed with newness like I once was with CCGs.  It has increasingly become a house game for me rather than a “public” game.  On the other hand, I desire to build decks, lots of things I haven’t done.  If I were building more decks, I could see caring more about expansions.


I desire a HoR3.  I desire taking a serious look at L5R 4e, which seems likely as I plan to run HoR2 for people not previously exposed to it.  But, why?  I think HoR satisfies a couple of things.  One is the sense of a greater community.  I’m seeing less and less people at cons.  I’m not deeply involved as a volunteer for anything.  I don’t even see much of the V:TES crowd in the area outside of the South Bay group.  The other has to do with my recent philosophies on objectivity in gaming.  I was just talking to various people about how HoR is relatively objective, so you have some sort of context for your character where a house game has no baselines, no common language that has any real meaning.  I can talk about my 15th level Conan character, but it means jack to anyone, where some (few) people will grok what my HoR characters have gone through.

I desire having supplements for games.  More specifically, I’m talking about things like the Solomon Kane supplements or L5R 4e supplements.  I could have bought them at Gen Con, but two things stifle such desires.  The one that probably matters more is realizing how many gaming things I’ve bought in my life that I didn’t get use out of.  Now, admittedly, there are many products I never used directly that I ended up using for fluff or ideas or whatever, but a lot of books I’ve barely looked at.  The second is that I have extremely elastic demand curves, so I wasn’t going to pay full price just because they were in front of me.

I desire to build characters.  At the moment, that’s mostly L5R 4e because that’s where my head has been this year.  But, it could end up being all sorts of things.  Not Mechwarrior where the creation process is incredibly goofy, but if I got into something else.

I desire to write.  To finish my HoR characters’ stories, to write up sessions where major stuff happened in Conan, to write about a minor character in that campaign, to write up what’s going on in SK so that the players feel more immersed.  Unfortunately, as with many desires, the desire to rest and relax when not working typically wins out.

I desire to find sources of inspiration (for RPing).  I’m thinking books – I have some I haven’t read; movies – I never know which to go see; TV – I watch little anymore.

Core Desires

What are the common desires that have nothing to do with the genre of gaming?

Number one may be to have cool stuff happen.  I was talking to my Conan GM today about Conan and SK.  As a player, his primary motivation is survival.  My primary motivation is to experience cool things, not even do cool things though doing is probably better than having been done to.  Run a camel up a ziggurat while fighting a ghoul horde is cool whether it was all that effective or not.  Blowing up an Assault Rifle with Shattering Blow – stunning. 

Which brings up expectations and context.  Cool is unusual.  That means there has to be a usual.

A desire for ideas and scenes.  I put these together because ideas I get so often produce mental scenes.  Even with CCGs, I envision blowing people’s minds by playing horrible cards in high level competition.  Speaking of CCGs, I have the chronic problem of having good enough (fresh enough) ideas for decks to cause me to produce the level of deck-building I desire.  Ideas don’t necessarily have to be cool, but they should be distinctive.

Time and money.  I game a lot.  I’ve gamed a lot in my life.  I can’t really argue for having more time to game.  And, money isn’t really necessary to game, though, as with all things, it helps.  I’d like to be able to just pick up something and not feel guilty about its cost, and I’d like to be able to just pick up something and play it and not have to give up something else to do so.  Kind of dumb desires as I think these things have more to do with regrets than desires and that’s a different topic.

Desire for everyone to have fun.  I’m willing to sacrifice many of my interests if it means everyone else will enjoy playing something.  Similarly, investment.  That is, I desire everyone to be invested in the game.  My greatest enjoyment from games isn’t from playing them, it’s from thinking about them.  Then, there’s talking about them.  I don’t push people on my favorite games, such as UC! or (back in the day) Immortal or whatever, because I desire to see people invested and that comes from their interests.

Fairness, balance.  My frequent rants (in the past) were on issues of game balance.  Much of this desire, however, is really a desire for variety.  Balance in games produces a greater variety of decks, of characters, of strategies.

Health … of the hobby/table top/whatever gaming industry.  I look around and see CCGs dying, RPG companies folding.  Sure, boardgames seem to be doing well, but I care about my top two gaming types far more.  Conventions don’t seem to be doing too well, either, whether small or large.


I’m not going to get into personal uses of people’s desires.  I’m talking about industry uses.  Mark Rosewater often brings up what people desire when talking about what Magic players desire.  While this topic is way too big for me to ramble on about sufficiently, a couple of thoughts come to mind.

The desire for rewards.  I see this being a frequent marketing failure on CCGs’ parts.  Yes, CCGs reward with ratings, promo cards, maybe even money.  But, I don’t think the companies I’ve cared about were aware enough about how to reward the player bases to keep them ardent.  Take V:TES and its system of coming up with your own prizes.  Does that keep costs down for a small company?  Sure, but it also sends a message that the game isn’t important enough and your playing it isn’t important enough for the company to care if you do play it.  There’s a reason companies market.  And, having tournaments and prizes worth mentioning and making players feel like they are getting something they didn’t pay for are ways to do it.  Interestingly, B5 got a bad rap because its promo system was out of control.  But, that has to do with a desire not to have unique promos ;) …

Other gaming types can have rewards, as well.  Living campaigns can do that.  There are boardgame tournaments.  But, I’m mostly concerned with CCG marketing.

Speaking of which.  I’m kind of surprised at how poorly CCGs seem to be faring when you consider what a brilliant money-making model they have.  The desire of people to gamble was satisfied with random packs.

Many of the things that people desire are not satisfied by V:TES and I’m not sure they can be at this point.  Grokability?  Intuitiveness?  Flavor?  Mechanical potential?  Nostalgia?  As unlikely as I think it would be to work, one wonders whether V:TES could be rebooted.

Note that many of the things that “feel right” or inspire for CCGers are the same that you want out of RPGs.  I see many attempts to make weird stuff when I’d be happy if there was some sort of good, basic fantasy game – no generic (aka Tolkien) fantasy races, no overly mathematical mechanics, no “we don’t need mechanics because we aren’t D&D” pretensions.

Some day, I’ll finish this series.  Regrets, the most painful sin of them all.



July 17, 2010

So, I was thinking about post topics.  While there are lots of ideas, it’s hard to pin down something I feel inspired enough to drone on for far too long.

In thinking about one idea – V:TES cards I regret not doing more with, I came up with an idea for a three part series.

Let’s say you Google Fear.  In all likelihood, you end up with the Wikipedia entry at the top of the search like I did.  I started reading through it, and it was quite interesting.  Often what I think of in terms of fears are really anxieties; fear, itself, is pretty rare.  But, I need to get this back to gaming.

What are players of games afraid of?  Losing, maybe?  I think that’s more likely to be the case with people who play in more competitive environments.  I think my greatest fears of losing in games came when playing major CCG tournaments, though I don’t know whether it was really fear of losing.

I tend to not care about losing, often feeling a great deal of relief at losing.  If I were to try to pinpoint fears, they would be more along the lines of fear of being put into a position where I effectively cease playing the game (which is why I so despise prison strategies and whatnot) or a fear of not holding up my end of some sort of social compact.  For example, I have a pretty clear view of my V:TES (tournament) career.  I started off as a goof, a random game element, who wasn’t even that random as I quickly got ousted.  At some point, after having playtested other CCGs for years and otherwise taking other CCGs far more seriously, I decided to prove some points with V:TES, which led to winning more than my share.  After a while, it wasn’t about proving a point, it was about being afraid.  Not afraid of losing, nor afraid of winning, but being afraid of not competing to the level that was expected.  Now, that seems more anxiety than fear in that there’s a nebulous direct threat, but I sort of see the direct threat being during an event when you don’t want to fail to live up to expectations.  Ah, fear of failure.

Anyway, that’s not that interesting since I think I’ve moved on and am kind of back to the halcyon days of “my give a damn is busted”.  Of more interest from an analytical point of view is how to use fear to accomplish one’s gaming goals.

Can quickly dispense with the idea of physical fear.  At the point where someone is actually afraid of another player outside the game, time to find something more fun to do.

But, the fear of what a player will do within a game is extremely common.  A lot of players like to craft a style of play where they intimidate other players in terms of how they can screw up another player’s game if they so choose.  Even more commonly, we see players attempt to redirect attacks (in those games with attacks) by using short term promises of repercussions.  Since these sorts of things are probably covered much better by others and I don’t find them that interesting, I’ll move on.

Again, as I often say about games such as CCGs, the awesome-osity of them is that you get to bring a personal element into the game.  On a more general level, that’s a style of play.  At a more specific level, we can talk about fearing what someone else brings to the table.

I could rattle off a list of decks to fear for various CCGs I no longer play, or I could focus on the CCG I do play.  What is fearsome in V:TES?  Let’s include both what we actually play against and what we might play against even if the latter is questionably something fear-inducing.

Winnies (weenies).  Whether the fear of being ousted quickly, the fear of the game being decided because others are ousted, the fear of having all of one’s minions annihilated by winnie combat, the fear of never being able to do anything against winnie Auspex, or whatever – seems like winnies are at the top of the list.  Can this be used?  Of course, screaming “table threat!” repeatedly is likely to work, but that shouldn’t even be necessary.  I’m more interested in whether the idea of presenting oneself as more fearful than one truly is is worth pursuing.  Anarch, winnie Potence (or whatever) can easily bleed for a bunch, so what about dropping a lot of the combat and going with blood gain, Power of One, and Monkey Wrench?  A less blatant angle could be winnie Animalism with Hell-for-Leather as combat defense!

But, and this is more general, what’s gained?  Seeming to be a greater threat, while I’ve seen situations where it works to one’s advantage though more so in games where people were okay with coming in second, is not that enthralling.  Here, though, we are looking more at presenting a different sort of threat than the norm.  Is that productive?

On the one hand, I made very good use of this exact philosophy when I dominated with winnie Vicissitude.  Back in the day, people just expected combat from the Tzimisce and they got Computer Hacking, Living Manse, Changeling until they died.  On the other, I keep trying to present the threat of bleed with Malks, et al, while actually playing combat and having things fail miserably.  Now, that could be because bleeding is good and combat isn’t, but it’s sad how much more useful it would be to be actually playing bleed.

Back to other feared decks.  As alluded to, bleedy decks, especially stealth bleed are fearsome.  Interestingly, they are actually more fearsome in actual play than they are in anticipation of actual play.  I find that people either don’t metagame against the possibility of them or … they do.  Either way, the fear is much greater than anticipated when it’s shown just how efficiently such decks work.  I find that the strategy that works for me is to run away from this fear by either finding ways to bleed for a bunch without the usual disciplines/vampires/whatever or by not actually having my deck be all that effective.  It’s hilarious how different posted decks with their 10+ Governs and their 8 Conditionings and 8 Bondings/Foreshadowings/whatevers compare to my hoping to draw my one Conditioning in the deck when I’m ready for it.  The absence of fear was good.  Was?  At some point, people who keep seeing lunges work eventually start fearing the potential lunge.  Still, the fear of what is happening (the table threat doing its thing) vs. the fear of what could happen is better than being the table threat.

I don’t really fear either winnies or big bleed as the metagame is short on the former (unless there are storyline rules or known visiting players) and the latter has been so common in the last 14 years that’s just the norm.  Also, the way I build decks works against the latter.

I fear bloat.  I fear rush.  I don’t fear walls much because my style of play is to do nothing until I win, already.  Bloat is terrible for that style.  Rush I fear not because I care whether it ousts me but because I fear that it won’t.  It will just make the game unplayable while one is forced to play it.  In other words, it’s the fear of being unable to win.

Can that be used?  Can making opponents afraid of being put in unwinnable positions rather than lost positions be a strategy?  I’m less concerned with tactics, where it’s rather common to find threats that will cripple one’s games.  Can you motivate other players to do what you want by presenting the possibility of putting them in unwinnable situations?  How subtle should it be in a deck?

Global pool reducers, like Anarch Revolt, are motivations to go forward.  Political Flux (hi Brandon) can be a motivator to step on the petrol (fear of not getting 12 pool) or stall (fear of gaining too little from the oust).

Would bluffing combat in a deck with rush motivate me?  Would bluffing bloat force me to go against type and actually try to go forward?

The thing about V:TES is that you need a stable enough metagame to actually get people to put things in their decks that they don’t want to.  I’ve never seen that.  Where with B5 or WoT or whatever, that was the norm – Tu’Pari is coming, Grey Man.  There’s just too many variables with V:TES.  So, I don’t see any way to instill fear into someone to where they start building decks differently than what they should be doing anyway, e.g. putting in bleed defense, having a thought for winnies.

I don’t feel like I covered what I had in mind.  Maybe the topic is too rich to be covered in so few ;) words.