EC 2017: Veni. Vidi. Suxisti!

May 24, 2017

So, I went to the 2017 V:TES European Championships.  An obsession with Eyes of Argus (on my banned list), Enkil Cog (banned list), er …, Deep Song (banned list) …  Okay, it was cherry juice.  Cherry juice was the driving force behind going to Berlin.  That and Australian women.

Maybe I should start over.

Before V:TES ceased to be a thing, I wanted to hit a EC and a NAC in Columbus.  I had worked out in my spreadsheet how to have enough hours (stealing from my future accruals) to accomplish both.  Then, I used up more hours than I planned, so I let NAC drop for this year.  Still, with everyone under the Moon, even those who don’t actually play, wanting Anthology Sets and my mother figuring out whether she was going to vacation in Europe, Berlin was booked.

As was London because I didn’t see the point of going for less than two weeks and I didn’t see a point in spending two weeks in Berlin.  My mother had spent a few years going to school in London, so, in theory, we could visit places she knew.  Nigh 60 years absence kind of made that not part of the trip.

We arrive.  In the East End.  To the pub!

See the mustard. Too much mustard.

As is the norm among all middle thinking people, the pub is where you go to drink water and eat.  Yes, every single pub in England I’ve been to I’ve just had water to drink.

My hope was to have localish food in England, pub burger, pub fish and chips, kind of forgot about pub meat pie.  Meat pie.  It was good.  The mustard tray came with dijon, whole grain, and English.  Not liking either of the first two, I figure English would taste … whoa!  Okay, I guess it’s just Statespeople who like sweet mustard that isn’t remotely horseradishy or wasabii.

We only had four days fully open to tourist.  We did not effectively use them all, however I could say we reasonably touristed three days.  We did hit the Childhood Museum a block away from our room.  We did have ice cream at Harrods.  Before getting into other touristing, I should note that my breakfast lasagne at E Pellicci was some of my best food.  Thing about hole in the wall places there – crowded and loud.  I’ll comment more on food hither as I’m sure my insights will sea shanty your world.

Llort! Llort?!?

Yessim.  The key to going to London is to go to Cambridge and do what everyone does in Cambridge – get some Babylon 5 CCG in.  We played two very long games with some cafeteria food lunch and a bit of a crisis averted.

First Game [this is a gaming blog, wrong?]:

I played Ivanova Death Incarnate.  I completely mangled the opening.  I was supposed to Rapid Growth on turn one and sponsor Susan.  I forgot how Rapid Growth/Airlock Mishap openings work.  I set myself probably two turns behind.

Other decks played were home faction Narns, Minbari with intrigue, Non-Aligned.  Narns, for some reason, didn’t develop any infrastructure.  What was interesting was one of the last few groups to play doesn’t use standard openings that get you to 10 influence rapidement.  I didn’t seem terribly threatening, mostly because I couldn’t draw any conflicts and was mostly screwing around with putting things like Spin Doctors out while the Non-Aligned seemed out of control.  I finally started on conflicts.  The Narns Allianced us.  I attacked some with Ivanovas since I could just replace them all.  I brought out Diplomacy characters.  I Rally the People and have enough with A Rising Power to win.

Second Game:

I switch to Llort.  Not Chosen of Llort.  Llort Fast Learner Bodyguard and Non-Aligned Fanatic Llort.  Maybe the spiritual realm was trying to tell me something about playing ineffectual decks as I was ineffectual, actually going back to 10 influence from being above 10 influence.  Home Minbari, Home Centauri Shadows, Bester opposed the righteous Llort.  Centauri should have won.  Then, for some reason, he put Forced Evolution in play to make it harder for him to win and the game times out with a Minbari/Centauri tie.

Crusade cards suck.  I don’t care that they played The Fen constantly and even adapted their play to The Fen.  I care about undercosted or zero costed cards coming into play and dumb turns like making Probes be less huge and just general getting away from what the game was supposed to be about, like Llort.  Oops, argument fail … argument fail!

The highlight of London … em … England was punting on the Cam.  It was relaxing and touristy and our punter was entertaining.

Next day, Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge.  Interesting observation.  No effort to leave time for shopping.  It just felt odd to be rushed about.  Sure, you could shop, but, then, you didn’t spend much time castling or bathing or hengeing.  The guide also didn’t guide much.

Bath was the weakest part of the tour as it was far too museumy for me.  Windsor was wandering around a castle.  Stonehenge was a bright day in the countryside without any interdimensional portals opening up or whatever.  Oh, I should mention that while there was a decent amount of Sun in London, most days it was chilly due to wind.  Sunday, the day when we spent much of the time indoors and on a bus, was warm.  Now, I’m not a warm person, running rather hot [oh nevermind] [see enjoying Scandinavia in January], but we wanted to Thames at some point and warmth on water body not terrible.

As anyone can get pictures of Windsor, Bath, and Stonehenge, here’s (of course) a Bath picture.

Nicer looking than broken stone.

Monday, we did get on a ship cruising the Thames, hit Greenwich just before Royal Observatory closed but didn’t think to go to Average Time until time was annihilated into the past.

So, food.  Food was surprisingly cheap in London.  In that, we ended up eating very oddly and kept missing out on pubbing or tourist-fooding.  We had fast food.  It was bad.  Every single time I’ve had fish and chips in England it has been rather awful.  Speaking of chips.  Every single time I’ve had chips [sic] in England, they have been gross.  Soggy crap like you get from fast food places in the States.  Every single time I’ve been to Greenwich, I’ve gotten a burger and French Fries [sic] and it was good.  Now, I did ask them to crisp up my French Fries [sic], but they were better cooked to begin with (I didn’t notice any difference with my mother’s).  Plus, Peanut Butter Cup milkshake was good.  So, secret to eating in London is pay for the extra privilege (aka quid) of having Americanized food.  Or, seek out your breakfast lasagne, whatever.  To be fair, our only pub food was good.

I need to move on … to Berlin.

We get into Tegel, I stupidly have us use public transportation to get to our service apartment.  Not only did that fail when we got to Alexanderplatz because heaven forbid that you put information counters in major public transportation hubs where tourists can find them, but the trek to Alexanderplatz was pain.  Even the better, less stoppy bus, would have taken you through awful looking town in unenthralling weather.  I like overcast, but going from London’s bright and cheery and woodsyness to drab and boxy and congestedness of our bus trip made me hate having to spend so much time in Berlin.

Then, we settled in and wandered a bit and the city was much more pleasant.  We were a five minute walk from Museum Island.  We had the Magic Museum on our block (I eventually didn’t bother due to its reviews).  Walking to U-Bahn stations not so bad.

Speaking of bad.  I hated public transportation besides U-Bahn.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s underground subways and everything else is misery.  Tube – fine.  Metro – my hood.  U-Bahn – same old, same old.  Buses?  Nein!  Trams, S-Bahn, regional trains, trains to other cities?  Icksome.

Speaking of dumb.  I got us Welcome Cards for Berlin, figuring 8 days was enough to tourist.  I was wrong.  We only used the discounts once on the entire trip.  Either too busy, too tired, or the museum or tour we had to pay for didn’t give discounts.  The only good thing was that we never had to get transportation tickets due to the timing of when we validated the Welcome Cards and when we were leaving.

In the hood.

So, food.  London cheap.  Berlin expensive.  Of course, we did mostly sit down restaurants in Berlin in our hood.  Also, what killed the pocketbook wasn’t food.  It was cherry juice.  Every single time I’ve spent more than a week in Germany I’ve never had a beer.  Oh, I should mention that I had no tea in England, not even in the room.  Drinks aren’t just expensive – $4.50 Cokes, for instance – but the volume is weak sauce.  In the US, you pay $2.50 or possibly more these days in a sit down restaurant for a Coke, but you get free refills.  I had like $3.50 juices of .2 liters.  How can someone eat food with .2 liters of drink?

Now, KiBa was really good both times.  My Coconut Kiss was really good and not horrendously priced at the place near the EC.  But, tea, coffee, water outside of the local places near the EC were just incredibly expensive relative to the volume.

Then, there was the EC’s hood.  Pop out of the Birkenstraße Station and you get a coffee/pastry shop with decent sized cafe au lait.  You get döner kebap sandwiches that are huge, may have amazingly good bread, and cost like $4.  And, there’s markets around to get drinks from if you take your food to go.

Oh yeah, the EC.  I played 8 competitive rounds, a storyline pickup game, and three casual games.  This is my tale.

Because we have a limited tolerance for wandering around, we go by the EC on Thursday to see what’s going on.  I get into a pickup game with Rudolf as my predator, Ali as my prey, Dean as my grandprey, and I can almost remember my grandpredator – Peter, maybe.

I borrow Dean’s !Toreador Embrace deck because I was touristing and didn’t bring decks.  I didn’t draw Embraces until the game was essentially over.  I can try to search my mind for who started my games, but, since I didn’t post this when I got home last Wednesday, I’m just going to rush through by listing myself first in every game.

Pickup 1:

Ian (!Toreador horde) -> Ali (Pot/Pre/Cel vote) -> Dean (Pot/Pre/Cel vote) -> ?? (??) -> Rudolf (Tzimisce high caps)

General observation – Armin, Dmitra, Hektor, Tara, Jan, et al were extremely popular across all of the events.  What was somewhat different was how fighty the versions were I saw.

Dean brings out vampire.  Ali stops transferring to same vampire.  I bring out dorks, I Palla Grande a couple of times, Ali has no game.  Dean ousts his prey somehow, not entirely sure how.  I go ahead and oust Dean.  I concede after a couple of fights in endgame.  If I wanted to play a better game, I would have played differently, letting Dean work on Rudolf harder, but it was not a great game, so might as well end it.

Storyline:

I didn’t build specific storyline decks.  I happened to have a deck that could work for End of the Line, which a lot of people couldn’t play due to the low cap crypt requirement.  I did have leftover decks that were clanny, so I played Samedi, taking out some of the cards that didn’t work when I played my LMC/Groaning Corpse deck prior.

Samedi -> Ravnos Fatuus Mastery -> Ralf playing !Toreador with sticks -> Ben playing Matasuntha -> Tito playing Aabbt Kindred (storyline!)

I had no predator early on, as only Aabbt came out and started Camera Phoning.  My prey tried SensDep forward.  Tito had no predator.  I ended up with three Samedi SensDepped.  Yup, my two times in life having three minions SensDepped were the time I played a Regaining the Upper Hand deck and the time I played Samedi Groaning Corpse in a storyline event.

My prey did get two VPs, so it was the right play.  Tito, of course, won, once he could start bleeding and I had like three Deflections in my hand at the end of the game having played none all game.

Samedi -> Bart playing with an Archbishop of Berlin! -> blanked -> Kari still blanking -> NewJah

This was maybe my most irrelevant game, as NewJah just rolled over me with stealth bleed as is its wont.  This game timed out with only my being ousted.  It shows how weak my frail mind has become that I don’t recall what other people were playing, just that titles mattered across table and I’m pretty sure Kari was Governing.  I think she was playing !Trem because I expected Oriandus to pop, probably a Malgorzata deck, but I could be making things up.  It’s really bad that I can’t even picture anything of my grandprey’s deck anymore.  Tzimisce, I think, as it torped Bart’s dudes reasonably often, maybe advanced Sascha was in play.

I didn’t feel the storyline flavor of this event.  But, then, ever since the first one, I never understood why people play good clans in storylines.  That someone likes a clan is not an argument for seeing Malks, Ventrue, et al.  I like Tzimisce but don’t play them in an event designed to make the world more interesting.

I was surprised that it was just a 2+F event.  Not that I want to play 3+F events, but I was surprised.

Pickup 2:

I hung around to play a rather Americanized pickup game, where James played his Corrupt Construction deck, Kevin played some Ravnos deck that didn’t do much.  Some Swiss guy was my predator.  Phillip was my prey with Tremere.

Yes, I went to Europe and all I got to play against was a Los Angeles/Taiwan Corrupt Construction deck I’ve played like five times against.  What did I play?  Standard Matthias gets Temporis and Summons History.

I got 2 VPs just before time as I beat down Phillip’s board mostly due to Ivory Bow as Ponticulus was in play.  Pickup game 2 VPs – that was towering crescendo of effectiveness.

Day 1:

I thought about metagaming harder against hyperbleed, but I just wanted to play my deck.  I didn’t realize it was a sloppy 90 cards until I counted it up.

Ian (Aus/Dem/Obf/Vic) -> Gines (Giotto, Nos Princes) -> (Grinder) -> Peter (Thucimia) -> (Winnie Dementation)

I should know my predator’s name as I talked to him on Day 2 quite a bit, but I’m actually fading writing this post.

Gines was going to win unless my predator crosstabled him.  I thought about suggesting that and didn’t bother.  I did hang around a little bit longer so that I could play a Madman’s Quill on Giotto with only three Dementation bleed decks at the table.  Gines got rid of it, right away.  My predator ousted me because he didn’t want to be ousted.

Gines got too fast a start for his prey and I didn’t control Gines in any way, though I had the cards in the deck to kill Parity Shifts.  Gines 4.

Ian -> Frank (small cap Tzimisce wall) -> Dean (Gangrel Animalism) -> Michael (Carna and friends) -> Kari (Trem/!)

This was surprisingly NoCalish, in that Dean took three actions to burn the Pentex on my Gravitnir and they all got blocked by my prey.  Kari gave me some rope to push on the wall, but I was largely ineffectual.

How ineffectual?

I bring out Gravitnir.  My prey places The Erciyes Fragments.  I take an action to steal it.  We fight.  I don’t maneuver.  He uses Dean’s Aid from Bats to maneuver.  I Breath of the Dragon.  I continue to try to take Erciyes or play Madman’s Quills on my prey, and every single attempt gets blocked.  Did I do any pool damage?  After the game I thought naught.  But, maybe I did Changeling bleed once.

I played with two vampires (Luc).  I got Pentexed by my prey, my predator’s first Magic of the Smith was for Signet of King Saul when her predator was kind of already strong and the only 8+ cap that hit play was mine, I got ‘schrecked when playing a combat ends.

General observation backed up by some other people agreeing.  People would rather lose to Govern/Conditioning and Kindred/Confusion than face the unknown.  People expect Dementation bleed from Zettler and Gravitnir?  Why would anyone bother?

I pontificated about my lack of success and in what way my beliefs are wrong about the game.  Does deck construction matter more than I think?  Am I suckier than I think?  Is my play style all wrong?

Play style for the moment.  I rely heavily on other players realizing that I’m virtually never a threat and that someone else is.  I rely on people not crippling the weak.  General observation – a lot of players in crossregional metagames don’t go after the strong but cripple the weak and seemingly play for 1 or 2 VPs.  This is interesting because one thing I’m pretty sure about is that I don’t build decks oriented to multiple game wins and you need multiple game wins to win 156 player tournaments or even 88 player tournaments much of the time.

I had my Sanguine Instruction between two !Malks … for Vicissitude … blocked.  My prey feared my !Malky bleed possibilities – my prey had bounce.

Dean, Frank, and I just beating on each other meant Michael had an easy game.  Kari finished me off, I played Extremis Boon, Michael spent some time calculating the amount of pool to give me, Frank Suddened the Extremis Boon.

Ian -> Bart (Winnie Auspex Anarch) -> Jaakko (Kiasyd SB) -> Enrico (Malk94) -> Jan (!Brujah beats)

Jan Havened and IGed backwards but gave up on eviscerating his predator.  Enrico didn’t bounce early but just kept bleeding and being torped.  Jaakko had sporadic bleed.  I kept trying to Madman’s Quill Bart, but it didn’t work.  I tried Concealing his Bowl, that didn’t work.  I lost a variety of cards to Constant Revolution, which didn’t really hurt me, I wanted one more round to discard 3 cards at random.  I lost Extremis Boon and Personal Scourge.  I did Inner Essence/Coma one of Bart’s dudes, but we mostly just handsed each other.  Yet again, someone tried Pentexing me, though I did bring out three vampires for a change.

Enrico ousted Jan.  Jaakko took the rest.

Did two wall decks in front of me hinder my VPing?  I don’t think so.  Walls are to be expected.  You need a game plan for getting through them.

Actually, with The unnamed doing really well (foreshadowing), Auspex is just not as good as it once was.  I would have vastly preferred Deflection as my bounce of choice from a metagame standpoint.

End of the Line

We finally got a four player together for End of the Line.  Petri was my prey with !Gangrel.  My predator played Kiev Circle.  I played Hermana Mayor.  The other deck was Tupdog.  I actually had a plan for dealing with Tupdog.  Everyone failed me, including my predator who didn’t bother blocking a bleed that ousted him, leaving me tapped out with 4 pool and my new prey having a minion with Groundskeepers.

An awful game, and I think the format has some strong potential for awfulness, yet another game going on during ours was like five player and the Corruption deck won at time or something.

Sunday

Obviously not qualifying, I played in the side event, with its 88 players.

Ian (Pre/Vic BB?) -> (Pot/Pre/Cel vote) -> (Forestal anarch) -> (Kiasyd combat?) -> Luis (unnamed bleed focus)

I had no way to defend against my predator.  My bounce got cancelled as predicted.  His predator did nothing.  My grandprey didn’t realize Forestal can only fake one discipline at a time.  My prey was the only one who could stop the Baali but didn’t.  Luis swept.

Ian -> (Pot/Pre/Cel vote) -> (Kiasyd SB) -> (Lutz/Maris) -> (Aus/Tha/Vic)

This was the only talk game I had.  This was what I kind of expect in Day 2 of big tournaments.  There was like a 10 minute discussion that led to not playing a Parity Shift.  Malks Deranged backwards, ended up on Dmitra.  Never left Dmitra as afraid would end up on Hektor.  My prey had to deal constantly with Dmitra’s ability.  I had Velya in play, so I was vote relevant.  I Starvation of Marenaed my predator’s Malgorzata to torpor but didn’t interact much after that.  Kiasyd just kept trying to bleed.

Because Malks were in danger of death, kept dealing to get off Parity Shift.  One Parity Shift was possibly four different targets before eventually going backwards.  My prey asked me afterwards when the game went to my predator.  We agreed it was when he brought out Sha-Ennu after Malgorzata and Mistress Fanchon.  Malks called Reins of Power to bring me to 3 pool, first 3 bleed by predator killed me.  He deemed that his only clear mistake.

It was rough with how to deal the votes.  Yet, it didn’t time out.

Ian -> Kari (Aus/Chi bleed) -> (Shadow Court Satyr w/ Dominate) -> (Winnie Dom/For) -> (Winnie Dom/Pre)

I asked for the time twice.  The other players said something like “with two weenie Dom decks, I don’t think the game is going to time out”.  I considered giving my reason for asking about time.

My first action of the game was Creamy Jade rescues my predator’s Ingrid Russo.

In the first 50 minutes of the game, I played one card – Enchant Kindred (Matteus to Enid Blount).  My predator did 3 pool damage to me all game with his four minions, a bleed I let through hoping he would bleed for more.  I did not Entrancement my grandprey’s SCS.  Misdirection killed me as I was out of wakes for my second predator.

Competitive play was done.  I enjoyed my games, actually, parts of all of my games.  Well, maybe not the second round storyline, thinking about it.  But, I was useless.  I was going to get into why in this post, but I think I need to finish up with the reporting and get into analysis in another post.

Pickup 3:

Ian (!Toreador blocky) -> Peter (Samedi, Genina focus) -> Rudolf (Tupdog) -> ?? (Rudolf’s Montano) -> Ali (Rudolf’s Tzimisce)

Rudolf wasn’t as scary as one expects from Tupdog.  He didn’t draw any Raking Talons for a while.  He didn’t Graverob that much.  I did Soul Painting his Selena, which somehow didn’t instantly burn her, but maybe I’m wrong about Soul Painting as well as many other things.

Peter Nightmare Cursed at double superior my Greta late in the game.  That didn’t hurt too much, as I had Majestys.  Ali didn’t threaten me much.  Montano did one Baltimore Purge and ended up in torpor when it went off.

Rudolf ousted as his prey couldn’t keep minions ready.  Peter ousted.  I should have been able to oust Peter but couldn’t get the right combination of Unholy Penanced, Melanged, Aire of Elationed, Palla Grandeed bleeds lined up before we timed out.

Yes, I was that sad.  Multiple Unholy Penances, a Melange, Palla Grande, like four vampires with Presence, and I couldn’t do like 2 more pool to my prey’s Samedi with Auspex deck when I needed to.

We did talk about teaching English, as the EC was less an opportunity to get VPs and more an opportunity to speak with people who learn multiple languages about how a middle-aged American be less monolingual.  It was kind of funny that Peter mentioned that people count in their own languages, when I find numbers the easiest thing to remember in other languages, though I was in an elevator trying to remember how to count backwards from 100 in French.  Learning a little bit of Mandarin constantly screws up my remembering any French outside of memorized phrases.

My mother and I went out to eat with Hung-ary Peter (you know, it could be that some of these Peters spell their names Pieter or whatever, but I hope I’m getting their names right) and a bunch of Swedes.  Large contingent of Swedes.  They may think I’m a goofball, but I quite enjoy hanging out with them.

Only two people mentioned my blog.  Ralf.  Tomas (sp?).

Rudolf, Ali, my mother, and I arranged to meet Monday for touristing.  We did a hop on, hop off bus trip, finally using a Welcome Card discount (still kind of expensive compared to … foreshadowing).

Speaking of my mother, what was she doing while I was playing cards?  Fortunately, Martin’s mother also wanted to do some sightseeing.  So, his mother who doesn’t speak English and my mother who doesn’t speak German had a good day of sightseeing on the weekend, including a river jaunt.

Martin, his mother, Rudolf, Ali all really helped make the trip better.  As did Michael (B5), organizers, opponents, people I spent some time with outside of play – had lunch with a couple of Italians and Dean, lunch with Kevin who I had never met in the US (to our knowledge), etc.

 

Symbolic.

Tuesday, went to Potsdam on a guided tour.  Interesting thing about this tour.  Unlike the UK tour, where we were just sort of dumped into places to look around at stuff, this tour didn’t have much in the way of going in palaces or churches or whatever but had a lot of history.  Like our punter, the tour guide was entertaining.  We still didn’t have time to shop on the 6 hour tour.  We hit Sanssouci with various pauses along the way.

My phone doesn’t do wide shots all that well, so all of my palace photos show only parts of the palace.

Ironicful.  Best touristy thing in our trip to London was in Cambridge.  Best touristy thing in our trip to Berlin was in Potsdam.

Good size group – 12 + guide.  Guide was Australian.  No, he wasn’t a woman.  But, there were a coincidentally disproportionate number of Australian or Australian-connected women on the tour.  They hung out with cool Spanish/Portuguese guys rather than uncool Statesperson guy.  I can’t blame them.  Who wants to hang out with a guy who talks about logic puzzles and racist pidgin languages?

Foreshadowing1:  unnamed was in EC Day 2 finals, in Shadow Twin finals.

Foreshadowing2:  Tour to Potsdam was 15 euros apiece, 1 more euro than hop on/hop off bus.  Can’t say the latter was bad in any way, just seems like a bus ride with audio guide should be less demanding than live guiding.  Of course, compared to the W/B/S tour in the UK, which was over a 100 sterling apiece, maybe bus rides are superoverheadful.

Well, I think I failed to write in the way I wanted to write, but I have to get this published and get back to Traveller and work and getting on a normal sleep schedule.

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The Draw

October 2, 2016

Other than spending way too much time thinking or transacting for True Dungeon, my focus recently has been on creating a card game.  At some point, I assume I’ll talk about it here, but it’s an actual business venture unlike the solitaire games I’ve written about.

The draw, i.e. the charm.

I’ve written about what I’ve enjoyed about various CCGs.  Maybe I just cover the same ground, maybe not.  The intent is to not get into what makes the game good but what made it charming to me.

Ultimate Combat!

The flow of the game.  I have never cared particularly about the techniques.  I often try to avoid playing with Speed and Strength even though I’m a monstrous fan of how advantages work in the game.  There’s just something about how the cards play out in many a game where the math becomes enjoyable.  You don’t need to think too deeply or track a bunch of text.  Hmmm … you … don’t … need … to … track … a … bunch … of … text.  I hadn’t thought about how different that is, before.  Welp, guess there was value in writing this post, after all.

Magic

Aesthetics.  Not just card art.  Use of components in mechanics.  Color pie.  Multicolor.  Non-basic lands.  Creature types.  I just like looking at Magic cards even for sets that I never want to play with (Innistrad).

That, and potential.  Magic is far more complex than UC!, which isn’t necessarily better, but it does mean that there’s so much more potential for things you can do.  You can build more meaningful theme decks.  You can build all sorts of Johnny decks.  With Magic, much more than other games, you can take one card and consider how you might use it.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

What attracted me early on, the Vampire: The Masquerade stuff of clans and disciplines, isn’t what attracts me to playing these days.  Yet, this post is what charms games have, not how much I can revel in silliness.

Disciplines are all about transient effects.  I like how UC! is mostly about transient effects, latched on to events in Babylon 5, etc., so I’m a transientophile.  But, I knew what the disciplines were about in the RPG.  I had my preferences, sometimes carried over, sometimes didn’t.  Hate Dominate in the RPG to where my Tremere and Ventrue characters had zero dots between them.  I keep saying it because it’s so weird for me to like things that are powerful (well, that’s just reputation and not really true but sorta, kinda), but I like playing Dominate in the CCG.

I was far more into clans back when the cardpool was smaller and there were fewer and before I got fixated on how unbalanced the clans were or how tedious it could be to see people play the same stuff over and over.

I like the five-player game for how I can develop slowly and still be relevant, for how there are no clear ways to play against your opponents until things become distorted.  Three-player can be playable, but I never look forward to it.  Four player really only has going for it that it’s faster than five-player, when you want to get games finished.

Babylon 5

Theme.  I do a lot of mechanical themes, so I’m not talking just about Narn Shadow Intrigue or whatever (even though that’s somewhat of a mechanical theme).

I built virtually no decks that used Refa as my starting character.  I actually don’t really remember one such deck, so it’s possible that I didn’t build any, even while playtesting.  Londo promoting Babylon 5, Londo watching the Centauri Fleets murder everyone (well, not really, my military decks were almost always about racing to victory as fast as possible, so it was more like Fleet Week even before Show the Colors got printed), Chosen of Gaim/Drazi/whatever wasn’t Chosen of Squid cheese – these were things that entertained me.

I’ve mentioned before how I like fleet enhancements.  For some reason, I just really like military decks and fleets, even though the show isn’t that much about such things (and Vorlon/Shadow fleets are dumb in the game).  But, why fleet enhancements, which generally sucked?  I also enjoyed putting stuff on characters, like guns on any character.  There’s something about building up things in B5 that I don’t often enjoy in other CCGs.  I think it’s because I feel more of a connection to cards on a narrative level.

Wheel of Time

Card representation of book elements.  While I argued about stats for B5 cards, I was never as into B5 as other people were.  I wasn’t even particularly into B5 until I got heavily into the card game.  I played B5 because it was put out by Precedence Publishing, which put out my favorite RPG (at the time).

I didn’t know anything about WoT when Precedence decided it was going to publish the CCG.  I got caught up.  Fast.  I had the advantage that the series was some five books in or whatever when I started reading them, which meant I wasn’t waiting years to find out what happened next.

I didn’t just design cards, I designed cards.  I did art requests.  I hunted up flavor text.  Birgitte was awesome at the time before she got relegated to boring background stuff.  I had submitted multiple versions of her card.  I used one or two of her lines from the books as email sigs.  Much like B5, there was a connection between source material and cards, but there was a difference.  With B5, I enjoyed more spoofing on the source material.  With WoT, I was more fanboyish, looking to highlight those things I liked out of the books.  When we were testing Illian decks after Dark Prophecies, I eschewed them, as I just didn’t care anything about the Council of Nine or what sort of military they had.

Precedence may not have been perfect when it came to CCGs, but there was something done right when it came to translating source material into cards, even decks.

Shadowfist

I don’t know that Tomb Raider, Netrunner, Tempest of the Gods, or the likes held my interest enough to point out charms.  Shadowfist I picked up very late because it had negative elements to me.

I’m not a crossgenre fan, in general.  I don’t like games that seem random.  A lot of card effects, like Mole Network, Bite of the Jellyfish, Imprisoned, Nerve Gas, Neutron Bomb, etc. just weren’t fun to me.  Mass destruction was particularly unappealing to me for a long time because of also comparing with Wrath of God and Armageddon in Magic.

I’ve mentioned some of the appeal to me, nowadays.  The RPG made me care about the world, so the crossgenre issue was defeated.

Oddly, V:TES helped defeat my issue with mass destruction.  V:TES is a game where permanents can get overly permanenty.  While plenty of games see things that stick in Shadowfist, plenty of games see nothing safe.

Does UC! appeal to my interest in martial arts?  Maybe?  Once upon a time.  I don’t really consider the martial arts aspects of the game these days.  Shadowfist does a better job of connecting to the sorts of things that cause me to take interest in seeing martial arts shows, presently.

With every CCG, there’s something to dislike.  For some reason, I enjoy characters far more in Shadowfist than the equivalent in other games.  Usually, I’m about events in CCGs, whether they are instants, advantages/actions, reactions, or whatever.  Some of the reason I lowball events in Shadowfist has nothing to do with not wanting decks full of stoppage but just because I find characters more charming than events.  Weird.

I think more than anything else that allowed me to embrace Shadowfist was the contrast with other CCGs.  I wasn’t invested emotionally.  I didn’t care if it was balanced.  I didn’t have any favorites (well, I do like some factions better than others, but didn’t come in with having favorite cards).  I didn’t need to be able to build every deck.  And, so forth.  It was something novel for me as a CCG experience.

Horizon

So, the card game I’m doing design/development for.  Will it charm people?  Will it draw upon the source material enough to create a connection, have a good dynamic, flow well, produce satisfying results?  I think one of the partners sent the playtest materials out, so might be soon to see how other people buy into something rather than my write about what I buy into.


KublaCon 2016

May 30, 2016

I’m not a fan of posting two posts on the same day, so I could have scheduled this to post tomorrow, but I won’t since the UC! post I made earlier today is only relevant to, I’m sure, a very small number of people.

I have become even less invested in local cons.  Because I usually commute back and forth to KublaCon, I don’t have to be there all weekend.  Much of my enthusiasm, actually, is to go to my favorite Chinese restaurant and get my favorites, though it seems to be always really busy these days.

I had work Friday, like a lot of people.  I went home and built some Shadowfist decks and realized I didn’t need to be at the con until noon Saturday to do anything I cared to do.

Saturday

After getting tan tan mian, I get to the con at about the perfect time, finding a close by parking spot on the street.  Why do I mention this?  As far as I’m concerned, the parking situation has been resolved and people should stop complaining about it.

Shadowfist classic.  Top prize – box of 7 Masters versus the Underworld.  How fitting.

Because, I have sucked in Shadowfist tournaments.  I may have won a game or two but was never a credible threat to win a tournament.  I decided to play coherent decks for a change to see if all that really matters is building the best deck possible, like how all other multiplayer CCGs are entirely about building the best deck.

I had won every game I ever played playing a 7 Masters deck (I had Kunlun Clan Assault in one or two other decks that didn’t always win).  That is no longer true.

Game 1:

Miguel (Virtuous Hoods/Proving Ground), Ian (Master of None), Earl (Purists)

I get a terrible start where I can’t really play any cards as I get a lack of 7 Masters resources.  Miguel and Earl fight a lot, balancing the table some.  I eventually can start playing cards, including a free Red Bat and a free Jade Willow.  I win.

Earl’s tiebreakers are crap.

Game 2:

Steve (Monarch Battleground), Miguel, Ian

Steve got lots of battlegrounds in play that I wanted to eliminate, he also got a couple hitters in play.  I kept playing hitter after hitter until I won.

Steve’s tiebreakers are crap.

Finals:

I convinced Earl to have a finals rather than a third round as I didn’t see any way I don’t win if there isn’t a finals.

Earl, Steve (7 Masters, no foundation *characters*), Ian

I get out strong, Monkey Fools the Tiger wrecks me.  Earl has a very weak early game, so it’s just me and Steve trying to cripple each other.  I get out Jade Willow.  She’s gone.  Steve gets out Jade Willow.  She’s gone.  Discerning Fire kept Steve in check by taking out multiple masters.

Steve gets out Ghost Wind.  We don’t have enough left to stop him.

To beat the Master, you have to play the Master.  I have won every game I have ever played with this broken faction except when playing against this broken faction.  And, I’m not that good at Shadowfist.

I pick up promos I didn’t have.  Yeah, promos.  Ian loves promos.  He so loves promos.  Promos are the best thing ever.  Remember, Disarray and Destined to Be is a bombo and should not have won me that Babylon 5 tournament to get me placed into Worlds.  Yesss.  You cannot combo two promo cards and make other people incapable of winning unless you play Dragonball Z or whatever.

Actually, I don’t play promo cards in my Modern decks because I don’t know which are legal.  I also largely don’t play promos at all because they aren’t organized to where I know where they are.

V:TES

So, the tournament ends and I play some Dresden Files Coop Boardgame that I just find really weird because it just seems incredibly limited.  All coop games are somewhat solitaire like, but the randomness in this game is so low, that this game feels like playing extremely fancy solitaire.  Like, you don’t need any of the actual rules and could just get a deck of 52 cards and play solitaire and it would be about as interesting.

Anyway, V:TES.

We had 8 people.  We still couldn’t play a tournament because people won’t commit to playing tournaments at cons in any semblance of making them meaningful.  Some guy left after the first round and we had 7.

We played four games.  Brad swept two.  I got the same number of VPs but didn’t sweep my two, so he won.  Promo cards for everyone and packs for table winners, which is kind of meaningless for me since the prize support is all stuff I own.

I did play my Ani/Nec/Trochomancy deck both games because it’s … fun.

I talked to a few people about the demo that was happening Sunday morning.  None of those people showed up for it.

Sunday

I got into a Slayers d20 game.  I was not all that enthused because I kind of just don’t care about most things, but it was an opportunity to play a RPG at the con.  The GM didn’t show up.

I hung out with Brett for his V:TES demo for hours, he did a demo, we went to have lunch.  I’m just not that enthused by rice cake.  I ordered stir fried rice cakes to try them, even though I know a friend of mine from China had ordered rice cake when we went there and I didn’t care much for that dish, either.  I did get the all important sesame balls rolled in crushed peanuts, which ranks up there with ice cream as an elite dessert.

It was unclear how many we were going to have for the Shadowfist Modern event, so Earl and I played some Star Realms while the others got started.

To be blunt, I hate Dominion.  I find it a bore.  I hate Thunderstone, same reason.  Lots of chrome for virtually no game.  Star Realms is actually a good game.  I’d rather play a CCG than a deckbuilding game, but it’s just what a deckbuilding game should be like.

Earl beat me in the two-player.  I won a three-player off of exactly enough damage.  I left off midgame to play in the Shadowfist event and my sub won the other three-player with a very Blobby deck.

Shadowfist Modern

Ian (Queens of Nu Gua), Drew (Lotus), Andy (Ascended Insurance Policy), Paul (Jammers)

What was funny was that my Daughters of Nu Gua were fairly easily blocked as many of Drew’s characters didn’t have magic.

I got three sites in play with little on the board.  Andy was struggling hard to play anything.  I put out a Daughter and Deadly Fansed her to take Drew’s Emerald Mine.  She didn’t die due to a lot of help from Medicinal Flower Garden.  I played a second Daughter and had event stoppage and Andy’s damaged Dockyard game me the win as Drew had just too little to clear it out earlier.

Same group, same decks.

I didn’t get out to a fast start just an efficient start with a Temple Guards and Butterfly Swords to burn for power.  Andy couldn’t play much besides sites that no one took, so he had lots of power but only foundations in play.  Drew got out three sites.  Paul benefited from no one being concerned about him.  Andy on four sites in play and power was a threat.  He could have made a bid for victory with Tears of the Crocodile but didn’t, knowing Drew had a bunch of character kill.

On the last turn, I pointlessly went for the win, knowing the table would stop it, but I Blade Palmed one of Andy’s sites to put me at 4 and everyone else at 3.

Yup, no character with fighting more than 4 in my deck, and I win my first Shadowfist tournament.  Here’s the lesson, kiddicos – great art trumps great cards.

Thanks to Earl for running events, Andy for playing in one of them, and everyone else who played.  CCGs are the best competitive games anyone has ever come up with – they should be played, even bad ones.

Monday

It’s Monday, and I never left home.  The KublaCon schedule was just bad.  It’s a bit … ironic? … that Kubla used to be ManaFest and CCGs only and the only events I played in were CCG events.

I didn’t hang out much with folks.  I didn’t talk newConan with Brad.  I just thought about how I could hit my dumpling place as often as possible and had ludicrously overpriced and terrible pizza from a place in San Mateo.

I actually like pizza, from chains.  I just don’t get how anyone charges more than the chains when pizza is the cheapest thing you can have someone else make for you that rates as food.

Grade?  I so don’t think grades even matter anymore.  What I want to do is often not available or is dependent upon people wanting to do pickup games at cons.  The schedules are just so not my thing, unlike Gen Con, where I would have played in double the number of events if I could have.  That I didn’t even play a RPG at Kubla was a torn signpost.

While V:TES has sucked more at other cons, that there’s no stability to how many people are around is really frustrating for having people get a chance to just play more.

I did however have some interesting conversations about CCGs because, you know, Kubla is all about the CCGs.

Magic.  I was doing my usual rant about how the draw one card a turn in Magic is what fails it.  I gave the example that paying 3 life to draw an additional card [in draw step, probably only once a turn] would have made it far more interesting, though it could also be argued that it makes it way more snowbally.  Really, even draw 2 cards a turn is a far better game.  Anyway, this would make life gain far more attractive.

I was talking to Brett and explaining some things about Precedence CCGs – B5, WoT, TR.  He thought the Shadow War mechanic was interesting only in reverse for V:TES.  Instead of making it harder to win, something like Antediluvian Awakening coming up to make everyone die.  I put out the idea of having it happen at 10 turns, then a second at 15 turns.  Of course, what makes V:TES slow is players not mechanics.  Either players who don’t take their turns quickly or players who build decks weak in offense or both.  In other words, everyone in our area I can think of.

The far more interesting thing to me is the discussion about redoing V:TES with no ousts.

My concept is that you get VPs for reducing someone’s pool below a certain threshold maybe to zero and you get VPs for torping vampires and maybe burning allies or maybe not.  You lose VPs for diablerie or burning vampires.

So, how does pool work if it can go to zero?  You constantly regenerate pool when below a certain level.  For instance, you gain pool when below 10, gaining like 3 pool a turn or something.  You gain VPs if you can reduce a player’s pool to maybe something like below 5, maybe more if you go to 0.

How do you win?  Most VPs.  Most VPs when?  Thought about time, but I don’t think time works.  Thought about a race game, like Babylon 5 and a bunch of other games, where 20 VPs wins.  But, that doesn’t interest me.  I think turns is interesting, if tricky.  Have a thirteen turn game.  Most VPs after thirteen turns wins.

Of course, the kingmaking in such a situation is rather problematic.  V:TES does a fairly good job of limiting kingmaking through its ousting mechanic.  But, it can really suck to not be playing for an hour while other people are.  Plus, this rewards beating people up.  Plus, this punishes people for burning vampires, which leads to an interesting assessment on the relative merits of permanent removal versus VPs.

Name:  Master of None
Faction:  7 Masters
Size:  40

7 Masters Cards (19)
Characters (12)
1x Ghost Wind
1x Gold Lion
2x Jade Willow
1x Monsoon
2x Mountain Hermit
1x Red Bat
2x Wah-Shan Clan Warriors
1x Wudang Monk
1x Wu Man Kai

Events (6)
3x Kunlun clan Assault
1x Monkey Fools the Tiger
2x Pao Yeh Pao Lo Mi

Sites (1)
1x Wudang Mountain

Monarchs Cards (3)
Characters (3)
3x Auramancer

Generic Cards (18)
Events (7)
1x Discerning Fire
1x Larcenous Mist
1x Pocket Demon
2x Spirit in a Bottle
2x Violet Meditation

Feng Shui Sites (9)
3x Dockyard
1x Martyr’s Tomb
5x Mobius Gardens

States (2)
1x Boundless Heaven Sword
1x Six Demon Bag

I think I could have played Boundless in one game but didn’t need to.  Mobius Gardens has to get changed.  I guess being changed to Limited is the fix, though that just means it’s 1-2 copies in every single deck ever.

Name:  Queens of Nu Gua
Faction:  Guiding Hand
Size:  40

Hand Cards (23)
Characters (12)
3x Chanting Monks
5x Daughter of Nu Gua
4x Temple Guards

Events (9)
3x Confucian Stability
1x Corners of the Mouth
1x Into the Light
1x Iron and Silk
2x Journey’s Reward
1x Rigorous Discipline

Sites (1)
1x Garden of Peaceful Reflection

States (1)
1x Bamboo Cane

Generic Cards (17)
Events (6)
2x Blade Palm
4x Violet Meditation

Feng Shui Sites (9)
1x Medicinal Flower Garden
4x Mobius Gardens
1x Puzzle Garden
1x Quanqiu Wishing Well
1x Temple of Celestial Mercy
1x Temple of the Angry Spirits

States (2)
1x Butterfly Swords
1x Deadly Fans

It’s even a Garden!!  The metagame is just ridiculous where it’s all about how many Mobius Gardens you seize.

By the way, I tried to give a new player a 35 card deck to play in the classic tournament as it was my simplest deck, and someone thought that was ridiculous.  I have run out of cards in games … when I play against my own decks.  Otherwise, may have happened once, but I don’t recall.

I just don’t get why anyone would ever want a deck bigger than 45 cards unless you like not knowing what you are going to draw.  Admittedly, I quite like decks that play randomly in what cards I get, but that just means I take out redundancy in cards.

This build has won every game it has ever played.  I never had a character with fighting greater than 4.


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.

Why?

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 …


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.

Magic

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.

Shadowfist

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.


CCG 103

November 15, 2015

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.


Babylon 5 Request

September 12, 2015

I got a request to do some analysis of the Babylon 5 CCG.

When I think of the game, I mostly think of the things I didn’t like about it.  Whether that says more about how I think of things ***.

Might as well start there.  What bothered me the most about the game?

1. Techno-mages

Really?  Not the ultimate hoser?  Not Drakh?  Not the lack of Walker Smith?

At many points, the CCG would move away from the core elements of the show.  I would include the Psi Corps set, the Non-Aligned faction, and numerous other things.  To varying degrees, they were problematic.  The NA got the best and/or coolest fleets – Combined Fleet, Vree Scouts; they were broken as initially created; rather than encouraging a hodgepodge, encouraged brutal Pak’ma’ra beatdown; threw off how many players are playing at a time.  Psi Corps not only introduced tons of characters for Support of the Mighty but who were contending with each other in some side game, while adding yet more marks to the game (as much as I like marks), and resurrected unrest as something to pay any attention to.

Nightwatch was weird.  Drakh and the ultimate hoser [ISA] caused me to start hating the game, but it is techno-mages where I just felt like the game had no resemblance to anything I watched.

Speaking of watching, one of the things I caught while having some dead time in China was Babylon 5: The Lost Tales.  Maybe it was just catching the end, but it was so shockingly awful that it was hard not to keep watching.  As much as ruminating on exorcising demons is totally what one watches B5 for, it was the extraordinarily stiff … everything … of the final half an hour or whatever that made me feel like I was watching something special.

Crusade Piles are moronic.  Sure, they could be abused.  Sure, they made Gambling Londo less of a gamble.  But, it’s just the idea of adding additional decks to games that should never come to pass.  Either you didn’t have enough decks in your game to begin with or, far more likely, you are just making your game a mechanical disaster.

But, there were some cool things you could do with Crusade Piles, like further abuse Conscription because all right-thinking people love first turn Conscription into 20 minute victories.  Putting techno-mages into play, then using them for anything technomancic was just Drakh levels of pain without having the benefit of Drakh being vaguely something I can see a CCG needing to introduce just to have more things to introduce.

2. The Ultimate Hoser and what it was trying to hose

As horrendous as I thought introducing the Drakh was, they still related to doing things in the game that decks did.  ISA was just “I think that player is winning, let’s form the ISA, Expelled that guy so that he can never win because he’s playing a normal deck, then one of us (three) will win up until the point that we Expelled whoever is next most likely to win.”  Someone dare play military?  Search outside the game for fleets, assuming you don’t just shut them out of the game because they are still running military conflicts that target other players.

Oh, sure, you could be playing Drakh.  You could be playing grossly overpowered individual cards that don’t do anything to help you win against anyone who understands how Drakh decks work (well, they “win” on timeouts because they are ahead on power).

You could also play Alliance of Races because you either have ungodly amounts of power and don’t care that you need an extra amount or you were hosed by something, anyway.  You know, because AoR was such an amazingly fun strategy.

You know what, I was wrong about techno-mages being the worst thing about B5.  The worst thing started from day one:  the hoser mentality.  B5 was just an endless series of trying to hose specific strategies or cards.  Rather than give up on this thinking and move on to trying to enable rather than disable, the game just kept coming up with more hosers until it printed the “we don’t like your deck and, therefore, you lose” card.

3. Unrest??  [Negativity]

Probably not unrest.  Unrest was sort of interesting in the early days, when it pretty much was never going to hurt you and where it enabled one or two plays.  Then, Mass Rioting.  See, it’s not Mass Rioting, just like it’s not lots of other individual cards in every CCG.  It’s what these sorts of cards lead to.  Because of Mass Rioting, people built Mass Rioting decks, which meant that you had to start caring about usually irrelevant stuff except when you didn’t.  Then, even if you did care about terrible mechanics, you still couldn’t stop someone from screwing you over.  In other words, you just randomly lost.

In reality, it was really an incredibly negative attitude B5 had towards things that distracted from enjoying the game.  Not just the hoser mentality.  But, take war.  War wasn’t a legit way to win.  It was only ever a legit way to cause someone to lose, that could produce a win in a very specific situation that I don’t specifically recall ever occurring.

Strife Marks were fun up until the point that someone bombed your characters into hospital come.  The number of times I had to play against Tu’Pari decks was absurd.

The worst thing about Vorlons?  You Are Not Ready.  Little investment – any Delenn deck could do it without caring about Vorlonness.  Absurdly undercosted.  Undermined the core mechanic of the game.

Rather than fix things in a reasonable way, aka banning a bunch of opprobrious cards, just create more hosers.  Vorlons too “good”?  Make Shadows better.  Make power worse.  Make more things that end the Shadow War.  Make Vorlon hosers.  How about just make Vorlons less unfun?  How about You Are Not Ready being once a game (as terrible as once a game is as a mechanic, this card was that bad) and making it cost a reasonable amount, like 7 influence?

4. The race

No, not any of the races.  I loved playing Non-Aligned decks, though didn’t as much love playing against them.  B5 started with a fundamental problem, which such heinous cards as Mass Rioting tried to address.  You didn’t need to interact.

B5, unlike other multiplayer CCGs of the sort that I have played more often, was purely a race game.  Look back, sometime, if you can find old B5 decks, pre-Deluxe decks.  Note how often Defense in Depth showed up.  Why?  Because you sat there and played cards that moved you closer to winning, then you switched to some other card to cause you to win, trying your best to not have anyone else be faster at their multiplayer solitaire (or solitaire plus one targeted conflict).

Before Deluxe, the game was bizarre.  There was the “I accumulate a lot of Doom Marks and win by converting them all to Destiny after one successful conflict” Human strategy, the “I have my homeworld and my racial cheese and factionless cheese, like Commerce Raiding, so I will play one conflict and win off of my 5 power agenda” Centauri or Narn strategy, the “I will play huge characters who will win me a couple of conflicts before the turn I don’t turn them” Minbari strategy, the “I will play lots of Shadow Marks” Centauri strategy, AoR, Vorlon Influence for the win (aka, the predominant strategy of the first worlds championship), Shadow Influence for the win (not so good in an environment heavily oriented towards Vorlon Influence).

Yes, there was tech.  There was Power Politics to win through influence in a game where the power decks all neutralized each other.  There was going to war against cheese decks to bomb them into oblivion (possibly).

But, the tournament game was all about the fastest or most metagame favorable way to cheese to victory.

The “I don’t really interact with you, I just pretend I do with my plays” mentality was so pervasive, I used to use the Destined to Be + Disarray combo (later clarified/ruled bombo) to stop players from winning, so that I could delay the cheese one turn.

This was something I would bring up over and over again.  The game reacted … by printing We Are Not Impressed to hose power out of the game, only the thing that threw off people’s math (for those who didn’t bother learning what the cards in the game did) for determining who would win.  When WANI got printed, someone noticed Conscription.  I noticed that someone’s deck.  After various variations on how to try to win a four-player game in 20 minutes in a game where power was meaningless, we … actually, we eventually got a reasonable game when Severed Dreams was the latest published set.  Power was feasible through Secret Strike.  Influence was doable in a number of ways.  People got away from Psi Corps nonsense to a degree.  Interaction happened, though there was still a lot of mechanically undesirable plays like the Trade cheese war.

So, one might be wondering why I ever kept playing this game (or why I was designing for it).  Let’s get somewhat more positive.

1. Theme

As many cards that existed that went against what the show promoted or that fixated on one, annoying aspect of the show (say, Psi Corps), there were so many plays that had some thematic feel.  I don’t just mean Vorlon Rescue on Sheridan.  I mean Vorlon Rescue on Mr. Morden.  I mean Centauri peace and Non-Aligned/Vorlon B5 vote decks.  I mean preying upon Minbari military weakness with your Centauri or Human deck.

There was thematic resonance to many a play.  I may not get that into a lot of games for their intended thematics – V:TES, to me, for instance, doesn’t really have any sort of theme besides Well-Aimed Cars being tossed by those who hunt.  But, there are times that I spoof hard on the IP.

Londo Vorlon deck?  Sure.

As problematic as Order Above All, Forced Evolution, and Alliance of Races were, that was the show.  As outrageously overpowered as it was to have Non-Aligned Captains recurse Combined Fleets, Brakiri were part of the show.

The reason why the post-Severed Dreams, pre-Wheel of Fire environment was the best ever was because it returned the game to being about Londo, Sheridan, G’Kar, Delenn, Vir, Lennier, Sinclair, Londo’s Wives, Refa, Na’Far, Mister Allan.

Let me call out Londo’s Wives.  This.  This is what makes a B5 CCG cool.  I’m not talking about the group by that name, I mean the three characters, though the group … amusingly … creates a non-Londo deck.

It sucked that we had so few images to work with of aliens so that a lot of Narns were just G’Kar in some shot where it wasn’t obvious that it was G’Kar.  But, somehow, I felt the Centauri and Narns as a thing, in the game.  Human faction suffered from too many humans.  Minbari suffered from a bunch of cards that were just some giant character that was too similar to another character.  Non-Aligned were sometimes a thing I could spoof on, like my (Chosen of) Gaim deck.

If you got away from tournament thinking and just played characters you liked from the show and gave them PPG Rifles so that they could nuke other characters, you could feel something.  When you Shadow Marked Garibaldi, you felt something.

Even such mechanics as Babylon 4, as weird as they were for producing game states and victory possibilities, felt like something show related.

2. Marks

I love me marks.  Destiny Marks, Doom Marks, Shadow/Vorlon Marks, Strife Marks, just so cute.  Besides cute little symbols/chits, why were marks cool?  Because they showed a change in the character that aftermaths tried but failed to do and that was so much what the show was about – character arcs.

Aftermaths were really, really a colossal miss on getting the mechanics to meet thematics, where the best aftermath stuff was that goofy lost aftermath deck.  Marks made you, often, better.  Doom Marks usually came from doing productive things and were original cheese of the highest cheesiness, until Martyr got fixed.  Strife Marks were good stuff, where the others interacted with so many cards.

The factions in B5 were not just Centauri, Narn, Minbari, and the ubiquitous.  They were Shadow, Vorlon, “I’m going to wreck/ignore you both”, and marks went a long way to enforcing that.

3. Agenda

Agenda were a huge problem, in that everyone would know exactly what every relevant agenda did that helped someone win.  But, the idea of agenda, the starting agenda that got added in Shadows, the fight over agenda, and the ability of agenda was an axis the game made use of.

I kept trying to think of ways to expand agenda so that players couldn’t just say “that cheesemeister is one conflict and an agenda drop from winning”.  I don’t think it’s possible.  Any competitive player will memorize.  Instead, what I came up with that the game never made use of even though I was designing for the game was temporary influence/power based on aftermaths.  That would have not only thrown off winmath but would have given aftermath play a bit more interest, not that it would have saved many a coaster.

Starting agenda, especially, changed the game for the better.  One tends to forget how tedious the early B5 game was pre-Shadows.  “Hold on, when turn 5 comes around, I’ll do something someone cares about.  Meanwhile, I build.”

As banal as certain agenda were, you still felt like agenda added personality to what your faction was doing.  I loved me my Centauri B5 Influence decks, just as I loved me all B5 Influence decks, except when I played against AoR cheese.  The first tournament I ever won was off of Centauri Peace In Our Time/The Hope of Peace.  Yeah, I started playing tier 3 decks in tournaments a long time ago in a galaxy far, far … wait, I never played Star Wars, Young Jedi, or their ilk competitively.

4. Opening Hands, 3CL, 3 Influence = a card

I love the game within a game of choosing opening hands.  As much as I spent time and effort doing so for Wheel of Time and Tomb Raider (yes, Tomb Raider), I played way, way more B5.  I built a Gambling Londo deck right away because my love of choosing opening hands includes choosing no cards for my opening hand.

Card limits are great.  Really, they are.  And, what’s better than a 4cl?  Yup, 3cl.  3CL is the optimal card limit for deck construction, being wallet friendly, trade friendly, and still giving a choice between 0, 1, 2, and 3 copies in a deck.

Magic players would walk by our B5 games and be flabbergasted at how many cards were in play.  Um, that wasn’t difficult to process.  What was difficult was holding 30 cards in hand.  Still, the idea that I can pay my money to play stuff or pay my money to draw more cards was fly-attracting.

Some mechanics didn’t work so great.  The supporting row versus the inner circle had some issues.  Fleets never felt like more than numbers.  Leadership was weird and problematic.  Psi didn’t really fit the game.  Events that undid stuff (uh, Not Meant to Be) was just really bad for a game that didn’t have a lot of timing issues.  Conflicts weren’t important enough and aftermaths were almost entirely irrelevant.  But, the game had some strong mechanics.

After all, besides the Precedence CCGs, A Game of Thrones and some later CCGs (Cthulhu LCG?) had incredibly similar structures.

5. Events

Some permanents tickled my fancy.  But, mostly, what I liked to do was play lots of events.  There were so many good events in B5, too many after a certain point, but events were all about the play from hand effects that I enjoy most about CCGs.

What would I change/keep?

1. Characters

The game needs to be character driven.

2. Conflicts

Conflicts can work.

3. Marks

Marks are cute.  Aftermaths need some serious rehabilitation, though, to be strong enough to affect who wins to where someone will actually evolve their characters.

4. Shadow/Vorlon/B5

This is the best part of the show.  I so hated the human internal crap, the psi crap.  The racial animosity was good, so that could be pushed a bit more, where tensions should have been something you did more with.  While the Shadow War mechanic has a lot of problems in the game, once you have the benefit of hindsight, you can maybe get it to work better.  And, Beyond the Rim is funny to pull off no matter how ridiculous it is.

5. War

War cannot function like it functioned (I consider the game dead, so past tense).  Military actually had lots of problems, from either wildly unbalanced forces to such massive fleets in play that everyone was afraid.

6. Unrest

I like the idea.  I didn’t like the cards.  I can see internal animosity being more important than it was because that was a big thing on the show.  That Nightwatch was a strong mechanic and unrest was just misery was not optimal.

7. Drakh

Just go away.  Shadow servants that are far more powerful than any other characters?  Please.  I also hated Londo’s fate because it smacked of character stupidity just to create a nonsensical plot.

8. Techno-mages

Elric, Galen, no way there’s an actual techno-mage deck.

9. Alternate Mains

So, this.  This and more this.  Keep doing alternate versions of the main characters.  Navy Mollari.  Half-Gaim Delenn.  Walker effin’ Smith.

10. Fleet Enhancements

These need to be better.  I don’t know if it’s because they were green or because I embraced military so strongly, but I just loved me my coasterish fleet enhancements.

11. Winning

Winning needs to be more interactive, more surprising, and more fun.  I think the key to this is combo plays.  Rise to Power is an awesome card.  Yeah, it’s clunky.  But, clunky in a thematic driven game can be okay.  Rise to Power is exactly the sort of aftermath that the game needs variations on to cause decks to do multiple different things while also being unpredictable in where they live for winning.

The conflicts that cause one player to get closer to victory at the cost of another player, those largely suck in a multiplayer game.  Even ones that did work as intended some of the time, like Prey on the Weak, often didn’t work.  There needs to be something either tied to conflicts or related to conflicts that affects winning more than just the acquisition of influence/power.

12. Influence

Influence is a big problem in that what makes you stronger makes you win.  Power being distinct from influence is huge, but maybe they need even further separation to where power doesn’t even key off of influence.  So, you start at 10 power and your power rises and falls based on card play/resolution.  Influence, then, becomes just money.

Also, the early game in B5 was crap and still pretty crappy even with starting agenda.  Sure, there were amusing Great Machine openings and numbers manipulations you could do, but those existed because you were so insanely constrained in what you could do in the early game.  I don’t like starting with a bunch of stuff in play, but maybe the costing system needs to be reworked so that you can quickly drop cheap fleets and build some sort of character infrastructure that doesn’t get out of hand.

13. Stealing Characters

A major unfun thing that could happen is someone playing your faction’s characters.  Uniqueness is a constant problem in CCGs, though B5 had less of a problem with it because it was often prohibitively expensive to bother with other factions’ characters.  Much of the flavor in B5 was felt through playing cards on specific named characters.  That kind of doesn’t work if someone can snatch, though your ambassador and assistant were safe, so it wasn’t like there were a ton of characters you were going to build around that you couldn’t have.

14. Hosers

Get rid of them.  Just get rid of them.  If the game is broken, then fix the game.  Make Shadow/Vorlon decks less powerful.  Don’t print Conscription.  Don’t lose your mind and start hosing ambassador assistants because you think they are undercosted when:  1, they are major characters in the show; 2, so I’m safer playing a Centauri Captain than I am Vir??; 3, they weren’t actually that strong and often weren’t played at all.  The amount of stupidity you had to jump into to keep your Ivanova deck safe from “you killed Ivanova, I can’t play a bunch of cards” in terms of timing your actions was unreal.

15. Draal

Don’t give Draal first strike.  If you want to have an enhancement or conflict or aftermath(!) that gives a character some first strike ability, that’s interesting.  Having Draal tool up with a PPG Rifle and start gunning down diplomats because that’s supereasy to do is not the thematic spoofing I’m looking for.

16. Psi

Okay, it can exist, I guess.  Maybe, it’s just a tag.  Maybe you have three levels of the tag to differentiate Bester from random Non-Aligned interpreter.  But, the more it becomes part of the game, the less meaningful ambassadors become.

17. Tags

Use them more.  Warleader.  Senator.  These are interesting, in theory.  Way too few cards key off of them.  B5 could really be a fleetless, all character game, as fleets are pretty flavorless and unrelated to characters in so many ways.  Military action could be handled with some other mechanic.  But, I’m also okay with fleets existing as B5 did actually work.  Mechanically, not an “A” game, but it was a functional game.  But, take advantage of the personality characters have by having their tags actually matter.

After all, we all want Ranger Mollari to team up with Ranger Refa to beat down some Shadow Marked Neroon.

While I could probably go on, I think that’s enough for the moment.

Babylon 5 was probably the CCG I was most invested in!!  Seriously.  Ultimate Combat! is my favorite because it’s the most fun.  V:TES is the one I have played the most and the longest.  Shadowfist is the one I spend the most time thinking about, now, because I’m in a learning mode.  Wheel of Time was the one I did the most designer stuff for.  But, there’s a reason I eventually was doing design for B5.  I complain about it a lot because it had tons of problems.  But, it was a very respectable use of the IP and a completely reasonable CCG.  A lot of terrible cards got made, but there were a bunch of very appealing cards, as well.