Cleanse The Slate

April 9, 2016

I might post next week but won’t be posting for a couple of weeks after.

I don’t have anything on mind that is philosophical.  I just have on mind miscellany.

Shadowfist

We played two games Saturday after I got out of a meeting.

Chi Bomb is really annoying, much more so than I expected.  It’s easy enough to work around once I remember that Jammers are being played, but I’ve gotten annihilated by it, like Thursday, when I played Crown of Thorns and lost three dudes and had sites take four damage just because I didn’t bother revealing all of my sites first.

Jenny Zheng multiattacked for the win.

In the second game, I played Purists and had three Quantum Sorcery in play at the end.  I had two revealed Great Walls, an unrevealed site, played Kisa Serkov, and she got Killdeered.  Then, someone ran into her until she died.  We were supposed to play a quick game so that we didn’t have to move tables when the store section closed, but we can’t seem to choose to play a quick game.

Which brings me to my thought on Shadowfist.  How to speed up games without making them boring?  More power is not the way.  Our house rule of playing sites to new columns for one less power is good for this sort of thing – opens up a lot more targets of attack.  Obviously, people could play decks with less stoppage.  People could play more superleap.  Both of those sound not that great, in that, for the former, the average amount of stoppage isn’t that high.

I don’t know.  We tend to like the amount of stuff that happens in our games, we just don’t want to play for more than 3 hours, so we rarely start a third game.  Superleap does a good job of ending games, but it can often end them in not very satisfying ways.

I was mentioning how the fastest games I tend to play in are ones where one or two players get rolled over by someone, which is like the opposite of fun.

V:TES

Stick with CCGs for the moment.  The tournament got me thinking more about V:TES.  There’s something of a discussion on vekn.net about tier one decks, which I don’t really have anything to say about since I’ve never played in an environment where you could define best decks nor am I even sure such a thing as best decks exists.  Better decks, yes.  My Ass SB deck is not as good as stealth plus Govern plus Conditioning.  Whether that makes Malk94 more likely to win a tournament or less is not as clear, but, if Kate and I had switched decks, she would have likely had no VPs where I could have ended up with the same or more without that much difficulty.  But, best?  I much rather prefer playing against decks like Malk94 or Dembleed because I actually bother to put bleed defense in most of my tournament decks.  They win the argument of “if a newb can win with this deck, then that makes it better than …”, but they lose often.  Lot of time they lose because I think newer players are more likely to be the pilots.

Anyway, what always comes up when I play is just how many decks I’ve yet to play.  It’s not always cards I haven’t played, sometimes it’s combinations of cards I haven’t played to a significant level.  I still haven’t gone hardcore Preternatural Strength plus Spike-Throwers, for instance.  Nor have I done casual Clan Impersonation.

I haven’t embraced my suggested variants, whether Ancilla Antics or Distinct Directive.

Magic

Type P for me is not the same thing as it is for most of the people who play it.  I’ve got some new “wizards” together, and I become reminded of what actually interests me and what doesn’t.

What I’m most enthused by is a deck that has clear and limited goals.  A card pool that is too strong and/or that has little you would want to change just doesn’t have much long term appeal.  I have an all Journey Into Nyx wizard that looks like a lot of fun to play, but it may get boring fast because there might not be enough interesting ways to evolve it.

Meanwhile, a wizard that has good enough cards to function but no hook is forgettable.  Type P wizards are a bit like RPG characters in that they have successes and failures and should have character development.  Just getting your 2/2 for 2 that can’t block upgraded to a 2/2 for 1 or a 2/2 for 2 that can block just isn’t compelling character development.  My Nightstalker deck can be hilarious, which makes it structurally interesting.

It’s not that I hate all of my good decks.  I have a blue/red deck that is extremely oriented to how I like to play, that also comes across as quite the beating (I haven’t played it anywhere near as much as 30 or so other decks).  It doesn’t have any coherent evolution plan.  If anything, its distinctive cards actually run counter to what makes it good.

I’m increasingly cognizant that any new wizard needs to build around the cards I’ll enjoy building around and not just trying to be good … since I don’t aim for just being good … trying to be good at whatever falls into some middle ground of balancing being good at something specific.  I really need to just pick those cards that are the most fun and really ignore whether the deck is remotely functional playing them.  Well, I might play a build that can win some useful cards to make it more functional at playing them.

Of my new wizards, one has an obvious, interesting goal – become mono-red.  It has some awful creatures in it even in a more viable R/U/w configuration just because I needed more creatures.  It would love 2/2s for 2 that can’t block, as a huge upgrade.  I know what packs I’d pity pack it with.  Winning something interesting might alter its path.  My dragon-collecting deck didn’t have a dragon-collecting plan until someone was fine with losing a dragon to it.

But, it’s these sorts of “this deck will be known as the deck that does …” things that makes me keep playing so many of my wizards.  With everything from Alpha to Shadows Over Innistrad available as potential antes to win, can end up with creations that no one would ever see, whether it’s because constructed play would weed out to many weaker cards or any popular format of limited Magic wouldn’t have the ability to end up with cards from any set.

Heroes of Rokugan

I still have yet to play any Nightmare War module.  I no longer really have any interest in trying.  If people I game with want me to play, sure, whatever.  But, I just don’t have enough interest to justify putting a bunch of effort into getting tables together.  Then, so much time has passed at this point, that I would rather just find out what the plan is for HoR4.

I wonder if Gen Con will have any HoR event that isn’t NW.  If it’s only NW, I very well may not end up doing anything L5R at Gen Con for the first time in a long time.

A format that opened up ancestors, not having to ask about kata, playing any minor or imp you wanted, any path or advanced school.  That format holds some interest to me.  Nonhuman PCs and guns really don’t.  That’s not L5R, anymore.

I do have interest in playing L5R characters.  I suppose if I were playing I’d have that much more interest.  As should be obvious in my pattern of posts, whatever I’m playing at the time is what I spend most of my time thinking about.

I have my HoR4 characters planned, I just have no sense of what’s going to happen.  I assume 4e will continue to be the mechanics – the buyout by FFG probably simplifies timing, though knowing that 5e isn’t around the corner in advance may have seen HoR4 follow right after HoR3.

Since L5R RPG posts are far more popular than my other posts, I could try to figure out what else I think about 4e.  I’m just not sure there’s that much more to say.  Do people have things they want me to opine about?  They sure seem to keep looking at the same posts over and over, so I don’t know if I’ve said everything I could usefully say or not.

Things I haven’t written much or anything about:  supplement mechanics – schools, paths, advantages/disads; advanced schools, in general; much about paths, in general; ancestors; kiho (because these don’t actually exist in my play); ninja stuff (might as well ask someone else who actually finds these sorts of characters interesting); and whatever.

BattleTech

I played a week ago as a demo on mechanics.  BattleTech, in the absence of narrative, is actually a pretty not good boardgame.  It really needs the story.  Whether you care about your pilot who got an Awesome shot out from underneath her, so she’s stuck with a Charger or you care about your Charger that went XL with double heat sinks and Gauss (or, even dumber, stole clan tech to effectively just be a clan mech) or you care about the scenario you are playing with its ice floes and explosive decompression rules while every third round someone bombs you, the resolution system is actually kind of a weak point in that it’s rather random for attacks while movement/terrain rules kind of suck.

I kept hitting the same left arm with a single large laser against a heavier mech, taking out half the AC/10s on my opponent early on, and our one on one was just kind of dumb after that.  That would make for good fiction, but it makes for a crap competitive game.  Sure, with experienced players, much like a two-player CCG, just call it and start up something new, but BT requires far more setup IME than shuffling up another deck.

TV

I read a lot of reviews of the shows I watch, most of which are superhero shows.  I find criticism interesting, but I also find myself thinking “okay, it’s not perfect, maybe not even well acted, well plotted, well staged, but … did you find it entertaining?”

A big difference between young me and old me is that young me watched a lot of TV and only really cared whether he enjoyed it or didn’t, where old me thinks about wasted opportunities, plot logic, acting, dialogue, fight choreography, special effects quality, etc.  On the other eye, I still decide to watch flawed shows just because they are entertaining.

I don’t know if I’d enjoy a high quality show, but, then, I don’t watch any high quality fiction.

Since pretty much all of the fiction I watch are DC superhero shows, one thing does come to mind.  Look.  The things that happen are often because the producers are trying to emulate comicbook logic.  Sure, it’s dumb the sort of things characters decide to do or the situations they may find themselves in.  Sure, a guy who can run fast enough to travel through time should never be threatened by anyone who can’t move that fast.

Yes, plenty of people will post comments along the lines of “The reason this happened this way in this show is because it’s a trope/genre feature/CW show.”  So, I’m really just adding support to them rather than being all uniquely special.

Where I can see it being frustrating that time travelers with a variety of superpowers can’t take out some guy who lives a long time and has nebulous street level superpowers, I do respect that Berlanti and crew are not giving me Smallville, Lois & Clark, or whatever that felt more like a TV show with superheroes rather than a comics style superhero story on TV.

May

What should I write about in May?


Incarnatable

October 4, 2015

I’m sure everyone basically has a progression of:

Thursday – Shadowfist with random FSSs in the middle of the table and only one from your deck that starts in your opening hand.

Friday – Fading Suns where ambushes kept almost happening.

Saturday – Read Against the Dark Yogi only skimming over some geography sections.  Designing a BattleTech scenario based on reading AtDY.

Sunday – Instead of BT, play three player Magic with my friend’s decks as he is trying to teach his son how to play.

Yup, pseudo-Indian fantasy inspiring BattleTech play that leads to playing Magic.

Let’s be a bit more specific.

Shadowfist

The goal of our numerous house rule tries is to make the game smoother but endier after a certain point.  The “Mooks” rule and the Sacred Ground rule are designed to allow someone to always have the resources and FSSs they need.  These have worked fairly well.

Actually, stepping back, the “take one non-unique foundation character and one FSS into your opening hand and draw 4” rule was intended to prevent crippled starts.  This has worked fine, possibly well.

The intent with the “here is a pile of face down, random FSSs that you must use instead of any from your deck except for your opening hand one” rule was to create an inevitability to someone winning.  For, you see, Shadowfist is one of the few games that doesn’t build towards a higher probability of winning in the way that most games do.  It was also to see some FSSs you would never see.

The first game was awful.  It was five player team, one of the players used the “if you don’t have a FSS in play at the end of your turn, you are eliminated” rule and left, leaving the game a four-player free for all.  Not much longer later, it ended.

The second game was an entirely reasonable four-player game where if I only had Mountain Retreat in front instead of whatever, the game would have lasted slightly longer with a funny event.  Actually, the game ended at a good time.  The player to my right was too strong, the player to my left swooped in for the win.

We are thinking of a mechanic where you look at the top two cards in the stack, put one into play and put the other on the bottom of the stack.

Two things about this format.  One, if you build decks to use certain sites, you will not be happy with your random “this may do nothing” FSS.  Two, not having any FSSs in your deck means you draw way more action.

I really don’t care about it one way or the other.

The prior session had cards in play that gave you some additional effect, like the starting card that gives you an additional power each turn.  I think we are overcomplicating things.  Why don’t we just have everyone generate a free power every turn, like we’ve talked about?  Probably because it sounds kind of stale.

I’m a bit worried about a too quick jump on turn two or three, which is why I wonder about something based around turns in the game.  For example, at the end of the last player’s turn on round three, everyone gains a power.  Could then have this keep happening or could have it kick in every three times around the table or whatever.

The reality is that we aren’t trying to be competitive, we are trying to play a game where lots of wacky stuff happens, so people just aren’t abusing these various variants, so simpler might just be best to identify whether it’s a more fun way to play.

Fading Suns

If you read RPG.net, you will find comments about how bad FS is mechanically.  Quite true.  It’s rather absurd, a game of failure with a bunch of unnecessary attributes and a nonsensical skill list (though, natural skills is a good idea).

Friday’s session was one of a few where I didn’t feel like it was just a string of accomplishing nothing rolls.  There was the ladling soup at a soup kitchen opportunity to fan the Inner Flame of some bread thief.  Oh, maybe I should mention that my PC is an Eskatonic who knows no theurgy, is no longer trying to be an alchemist because I could never figure out what alchemy actually did, and whose contribution in combat is absorbing hits to the jaw.

I’m beginning to see things that PCs can do, where before I just had no sense of what PCs were supposed to do.  Some investigation.  Some dealing with a murderer.  Some hearing confession.  Other PCs get to smuggle, an activity that seems incredibly weird for the primary aspects of the setting, but whatever.

Against the Dark Yogi

It uses cards from hand.  Great.  It only gives you two to choose, possibly more if you are Karmarrific.  What?

I’m not sure why it’s a good idea to be a total badass but still have a bunch of levels of far more badder assness that you could achieve through your reincarnations.  Why start at Enlightenment 2 other than it gives room for you to die into higher power levels?  Or, become Elderly into higher power levels, which is rather bizarre since spending 5 years meditating upon how to achieve Super Saiyan isn’t exactly a long period of time.  Sure, it’s more like spend 18 years as that’s how long it might take for someone to reincarnate into an adult, but it still seems odd to me that you are supposed to be the chosen ones and only hit your peak after you bite it several times.

I suppose I can do this myself or hope that a GURPS India is available some day, but I’d rather just use a fantasy version of India rather than have everything renamed, including the gods.  I know L5R doesn’t take that approach, but, somehow, I’m not expecting 20 years of material for AtDY.

Still, I can imagine adventures.  I even find the story behind the Dark Yogi to be quite reasonable.  I might imagine sessions being more like one-shots in that momentous things happen often.

BattleTech

It’s funny how much story I can produce for scenarios.  But, maybe, that’s why BT works as well as it does.  For all of the silliness of how mechs work/are built, how completely ridiculous the setting is when you spend any time thinking about it or considering various possibilities of characters, or really how not fantastic the actual resolution of mech combat is, the setting did something to take soldiering into a place where narratives occur.

Of course, I also have an interest in war stories, so maybe it’s just that I’m overstating BT’s contribution to the idea of war stories.

Mechwarrior is still painful, though, methinks.  Every attempt to get characters to do things outside of mechs just seems to completely defeat the setting.

Magic

Not particularly great games of Magic, which is normal, and, thus, why I don’t play more Magic.  First game saw child basically play nothing as the deck needed at least four mana to ramp to fatties.  Second game saw elf deck roll over everybody.  Third game was more interesting, could have been even better if Wildfire would have gone off to clear all creatures in play.

But, putting aside how easy it is to have a bad game of Magic, it was different from my multiplayer CCG experiences of late in that how a deck was built mattered, a lot.  Magic hits that analytical bone on what the current card choices are, what your curve needs to look like, how to maximize the value of everything, what cards are making your ability to function worse by their inclusion.

Next time, we might use my Type P decks for games.  Whether those are any better is hard to say, especially since the decks we were using were intended more for multiplayer play and my P decks so aren’t.

The other takeaway is that there’s so much to learn about Magic that isn’t just learning what cards do.  With other CCGs, I think a relatively large amount of understanding how to play better is knowing what cards do and what may see play.  Now, sure, timing is important to everything, but timing seems a more subtle thing in V:TES or Shadowfist or B5 or whatever.  With Magic, timing is crucial constantly.

Epic Combat!

What?!?  More Ultimate Combat!??  So, Thursday, I was watching a game of Epic.  I’m really not a fan of how it forces a “this is s-o-o-o broken” battle, but I looked at the rulebook.  The mulligan rule caught my eye.  I think it should be used with Ultimate Combat!.  Basically, you shuffle back in (not discard) any number of cards from your opening hand, draw up to hand size, and take damage equal to the number of cards you shuffled back in.

So, of course, when I went to goldfish this rule, I kept getting amazing opening hands – play 5-6 cards in turn one sort of hands.

Using the idea of not starting from nothing, another possibility for how UC! should start is something like everybody starts with two foundation of their choice and a gi patch playable off of one of those foundation.  I’m not sure that’s a good idea, in that it gets everyone to swingy cards that much faster.  But, it’s the possibility of incredibly unbalanced starts that worries me about the game.  Foundation, gi patch, Mantra of Power, Bear’s Jaw, gi patch, Elixir of the Gods, Mantra of Power, Yamashita’s Belt, Gi Patch: Rat, Mantra of Power, Dragon’s Fire is a theoretically possible first turn play.  Just getting up two power on an opponent is probably game after players have a first turn.

Meditations

No, not talking about a B5 card.  One of the effects of not doing much gaming at the moment is that I have time to consider ideas.  Too many ideas.  But, who knows?  Maybe one of the ideas becomes doing something.  I might even have some interest in running a one-shot of something, which, normally, I eschew as I like long stories or, at least, recurring characters from my short stories.


Allergic VTES

September 29, 2014

Really, I had allergy issues all day yesterday, whether morning BattleTech or afternoon V:TES.  Don’t like inflicting my sneezing on folks, but the gaming must go on.

BattleTech went well, a draw as the scenario was all about testing LosTech weapon systems.  The most famous Cataphract in all of our campaign fell down needing a four to make a piloting roll, preventing a kick, and leading to next round’s crit to the cockpit (before about 15 other weapon systems were going to blow the mech apart).  Merc Dervish and Trebuchet retreated, evening up the victory point totals our sides had.

I feel like every time I play V:TES I should say “I still do play V:TES” even though, in a given year, I probably play more V:TES than any other game besides the L5R RPG.  From a duration standpoint, V:TES probably comes out ahead as V:TES sessions are often 6+ hours long.

I showed up towards the end of game one.  Sergio from Portugal is in town for a while, so they have four players without me.  We get ‘merican food:  sandwich, hot dog, burger, falafel, gyro.  Then, I proceed to bring one of my more unstoppable decks to my first game.

Sergio (Giovanni powerbleed) -> Andy (Malk My Kin Against the World) -> Brandon (Aus/Cel/Pro vote) -> Eric (EuroBrujah) -> Ian (Incriminating Videotape)

I bring out Quira.  She bleeds at zero stealth a couple of times before Etrius comes out.  And, that’s game.

I could have really used Marie Faucigny, did finally cycle enough to draw Wider View, and inefficiently brought her out after Etrius crushed all before him.  See, what makes Parity Shift so annoying is that it so often goes in some direction besides forward, though it’s pretty annoying forward to.  Malks did 3 pool damage backward with KRC due to vote situation.  Protean voters were fine seeing powerbleeders lose 5 pool crosstable as it looked like two VPs for Giovanni if they got more turns.

Eric did try to rush me, but Etrius blocked and Swallowed by the Night to avoid punchface.  With Sergio at 5 pool because Etrius commanded it be so with the power of his sitting around not doing anything, I bled with Quira at stealth, then bled with Etrius at stealth, somehow not finding a Deflection.  With Andy low on pool and contesting the title of Prince of Rome all game between Tryphosa and Constanza, he transferred out feeling impotent before the ferocity of Etrius.  Eric got ousted, which made me sad both for the pool gain and because I was hoping he would knock down some of Brandon’s five dudes.  While Marie Faucigny was acquiring some sweet Videotapes for Etrius to watch, Pentex came a knocking and it was all about “home” movies.  Time ran out before Etrius needed to raze his enemies (or start in on Sorority Vampire Vixens 41, Part IV).

And, thus, the deck has proved that it cannot ever lose and, in fact, must always win, when piloted by someone who is a VCR expert.  If only the deck didn’t run Eyes of Argus, I could play it in a tournament, but, alas, it shall have to be someone else’s crushing victory to take the greatest crypt ever (in the last few months, maybe a year) and show that the truth is victory and victory is inevitable.  Remember.  It’s not the Videotape, it’s the minute possibility that an Incriminating Videotape might get put into play before time is called that is utterly devastating to your opponents.

 

Deck Name:   140731t  Incriminating Queens
Created By:  Marie Faucigny
Description: Has Eyes of Argus, so can`t be played in a tournament.

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 24, Max: 44, Avg: 8)
——————————————-
4  Etrius                             AUS DOM OBF pro THA11 Tremere
4  Marie Faucigny                     dem tha AUS OBF7  Malkavian Antitribu
4  Quira                              AUS OBF obt tha6  Malkavian Antitribu

Library: (80 cards)
——————-
Master (19 cards)
1  Barrens, The
5  Blood Doll
2  Direct Intervention
2  Heidelberg Castle, Germany
4  Storage Annex
5  Wider View

Action (6 cards)
3  Magic of the Smith
1  Rave
1  Rutor`s Hand
1  Sibyl`s Tongue

Action Modifier (12 cards)
3  Cloak the Gathering
1  Elder Impersonation
1  Faceless Night
2  Lost in Crowds
1  Mirror Walk
4  Spying Mission

Reaction (21 cards)
3  Confusion of the Eye
1  Delaying Tactics
4  Eyes of Argus
2  My Enemy`s Enemy
5  On the Qui Vive
6  Telepathic Misdirection

Combat (2 cards)
1  Flames of the Netherworld
1  No Trace

Equipment (16 cards)
1  .44 Magnum
3  Cooler
6  Incriminating Videotape
2  Leather Jacket
2  Pier 13, Port of Baltimore
1  Sargon Fragment, The
1  Veneficorum Artum Sanguis

Combo (4 cards)
4  Swallowed by the Night

 

Needing to play quick, I have this not serious Daughters deck built that I pulled out to die fast and live hard, raarrr.

Sergio (borrowed Bay and Howl) -> Andy (DEM bleed) -> Eric (Santa & Serenna) -> Ian (G-6 DoC) -> Brandon (winnie Pre vote)

I started with two Shattering Crescendoes in my hand.  I thought I’d need to go after Andy, but he seemed to be only mostly deadifying Eric.  Andy and Sergio contested Dreams until Andy was at one pool, so the contest probably was a mistake.  Sergio got to one pool, but he had Under Siege and, thus, was immune to having a predator.  Well, a couple of Crescendoes forward had something to do with limiting Brandon’s numbers (I drew a third quickly).

Eric did Santalize my Paris Opera House, which seemed not to be terribly important, didn’t Santalize a Vessel, which I rated a coin flip of a decision.  Before I could offer a deal to Giant’s Blood Santa, Eric played Giant’s Blood.

Arguably, I could have let Brandon oust Sergio, but Sergio had put Andy into a position where it probably would have been two VPs with vote lock, which would have been annoying, so I ousted Brandon.  Eric didn’t last that long before the power of Embraces and Conditionings.  I had to face Caitlin with Mr. Winthrop and Abbot and an Under Siege in play and had a theoretical path to victory but was not going to win, even if time hadn’t run out.

Lesson kiddies – play in NoCal, expect long games where Daughters decks hold the edge multiple rounds against 7+ minions.

Deck Name:   140607  DoC Group 6 Only
Created By:  Hillanvale

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 4, Max: 26, Avg: 3.66)
———————————————
4  Anarch Convert                     none           1  Caitiff
2  Harlan Graves                      FOR mel pre    4  Daughters of Cacophony
2  Hillanvale                         FOR MEL obf    5  Daughters of Cacophony
2  Janet Langer                       MEL pre        3  Daughters of Cacophony
2  Scout Youngwood                    MEL OBF PRE for qui8  Daughters of

Cacophony

Library: (70 cards)
——————-
Master (19 cards)
3  Blood Doll
1  Command Performance
1  Giant`s Blood
2  Obfuscate
1  Paris Opera House
3  Perfectionist
3  Storage Annex
3  Vessel
2  Wider View

Action (12 cards)
1  Art`s Traumatic Essence
4  Concert Tour
1  Persistent Echo
6  Shattering Crescendo

Action Modifier (22 cards)
2  Cloak the Gathering
1  Faceless Night
6  Freak Drive
5  Missing Voice, The
1  Phantom Speaker
2  Siren`s Lure
1  True Love`s Face
4  Virtuosa

Reaction (5 cards)
4  On the Qui Vive
1  Tourette`s Voice

Combat (8 cards)
1  Death of the Drum
2  Dodge
2  Majesty
2  Soak
1  Toreador`s Bane

Ally (2 cards)
2  Member of the Entourage

Combo (2 cards)
1  Madrigal
1  Swallowed by the Night

By the way, if wondering how I survived two hours with this deck, first turn Anarch Convert, second turn Blood Doll hunt, third turn hunt, fourth …

I got to play True Love’s Face at double superior.  … and, yes, there really are only six Shattering Crescendoes in this deck.  Possibly something to consider if you’ve ever seen me play it.


Second Impressions

September 19, 2014

Much is made of first impressions.  For good reason.

It’s an area of life in general I could work a lot on.  So, forget them.

Second impressions.  Not everything is good.  Not everything can get better.  But, a lot of things can get better.

Feng Shui 2e is Kickstartering at the moment – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/atlasgames/feng-shui-2-action-movie-roleplaying-game-by-robin

This relates somewhat to my theme.  First edition has a lot of style and some pretty awful mechanics.  There are way too many attributes.  AV is almost the end all and be all of effectiveness.  In those cases that it isn’t, like weapon stat differences, the game becomes silly with everyone running around with AK-47s because they are just strictly better.  Costs of schticks to use just seem haphazard, nevermind how expensive certain paths become to do the thing you want to do.

From what I could gather at Gen Con, sounds like Robin and team did a massive clean up to get the mechanics closer to the fluidity level that the game should have.

Stone Age seemed like an awful boardgame the first time I played it, though it seemed to get better towards the end.  Realized it’s a perfectly decent game once everyone became more familiar with the mechanics.

It occurred to me recently that I experienced Shadowfist before I saw my first Jyhad card!  I vaguely recall a demo of the game at Manafest 1995.  Well, I vaguely recall participating in a demo rather than just watching a demo.  Of course, I also experienced Highlander, Rage, Duel for the Stars (Race for the Galaxy in an earlier form), and one or two other CCGs besides Ultimate Combat! before I saw a Jyhad card.

I think Shadowfist has some issues, but so does everything else.  I didn’t get it in 1995, but I’m perfectly happy to play it now.  In fact, looks like we might have a regular Thursday game going at Game Kastle Santa Clara.

But, what got me thinking about second impressions was actually BattleTech.  No, I didn’t like the game more after my first experience.  But, I like our play a lot more after we have fixed various things.  We even fixed a scenario midstream last session because it was being annoying the way I devised things.  After the abort, the second try played out reasonably well.

One thing I’ve thought about is how our boardgame group has house ruled boardgames to try to make them better.  While house rules are omnipresent with RPGs and talked about quite a bit with CCGs, especially those that don’t have much of a tournament scene, I don’t get the sense that house ruling boardgames is all that common.

But, sometimes games get a lot better when you fix them.

Sometimes, it’s having different components.  Sometimes, it’s different players.

I’m not really sure how someone makes a decision to give something a second try.  Seems like a variety of factors.  I guess my point is that sometimes a second try leads to discovery that something is not as bad as it seemed at first.  There are so many alternatives in life, a nice problem to have compared to those who don’t have them, that it can be easy to try something once and eschew it for ever after.

But, then, how would one ever be able to be given credit for being like the only person ever to actually build Hyborian Gates decks?

Wandering off topic, I have played games of V:TES and Shadowfist recently.  I do not think I have the enthusiasm to do reports on the actual play.  Well, whatever.  I did show how to win with Incriminating Videotape.  I think I discarded the copy I drew some hour into the game or so.  I did win the last Shadowfist game I played by putting an Urban Monk into play on the same turn I played my fourth FSS, after my “predator” Neutron Bombed and couldn’t quite get through my Catacombs for the win.

I was thinking that there are so many experiences I’ve enjoyed from gaming that I can’t specifically recall because of volume and because things just run together.  It may seem rather minor to record miscellaneous games, but maybe having some sort of record of those games is better than just forgetting them.

Occasionally, like when I’ve been lazy, I’ll modify my V:TES decks.  I find that I modify existing Shadowfist decks a lot.  I don’t know if that’s because there are more cards that I always want to play or because I constantly want to change decks rather than play them more than once.  While I have yet to get enthusiastic about new Ascended options, the faction that has had the least appeal to me, there’s a surprising amount of Hand stuff I like playing from the latest three sets.

I suppose there’s one other thing that has made me consider second impressions, though it’s outside the realm of gaming.  The new Doctor has generated much the same extremes in remarks that other Doctors have, possibly more as some folks have never experienced an old Doctor.  I like the idea of a Doctor more similar to the original run ones rather than the boyfriend ones of the reboot.  But, I also realize that the show is quite flawed and often less satisfying than I think it should be.  Anyway, regardless, rather than go off the deep end or gush uncontrollably about a new Doctor, I’m amazed that people can’t just give it some time to settle in.

 


Odd Ends – To Rogue Or Not To Rogue

August 31, 2014

Let’s see if some theme can come out of noting some miscellaneous events.

A week ago, we played some five player V:TES.  Nice to have that.  In the first game, I was playing a new Hermana Mayor deck and my predator borrowed my Gangrel bruise bleed deck that put Bernard, the Scourge in play on turn two …

Fidus, across table was a target for being bloodhunted.  Predator’s Lectora, and every one of my crypt members.  My third turn consisted of Perfectionist, bleed, get bounced, Impundulu blocks, Weighted Walking Stick, long.  That Hermana got bloodhunted.  My fourth turn consisted of Perfectionist, bleed, get bounced, Impundulu blocks, Weighted Walking Stick, long.  No more Hermanas got bloodhunted, even though I rushed backwards to try to take out Bernard, Killer of Decks … and failed.  My predator got ousted with me doing pretty much nothing of consequence forward and only torping one Gangrel with WWS Brute Force.

I won the second game with !Nos with Dominate where I could have called Ancilla Empowerment to oust both my predator and prey but just tapped out bled my prey and ousted my predator the next turn.  I figured Delaying Tactics, which got played but got DIed since I was giving my new predator a VP, 4 pool, and costing myself 4 pool.

The third game we were supposed to play fast, so lots of fast decks saw Dementation bleed win.

Yesterday, we played BattleTech for the first time in a month.  The scenario I came up with was for light mechs and I had six points on the edge of the maps as victory point spots to hold for a turn to encourage spreading out.  Worked well.  I played pretty badly, which is funny because I’m the one coming up with the scenarios and I often make terrible decisions in my own scenarios.

Why?

That is, why do I make terrible decisions in BattleTech?

Because I like playing recklessly.

I was telling someone about how I played in the BT scenario and the response was “you must not like chess”, which is absolutely true.  I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m warming up on my theme.  I want to play chess recklessly.  I’m a romantic player (as opposed to technical player).  I want the sudden victory, the massive sacrifice(s) to get some mating combination through.  While some players can do that, they probably also do something I don’t have much interest in doing when I play chess – think.

It’s funny.  There are some games that I think a lot when I play.  V:TES is one of those games.  I weigh the probability of what’s in people’s hands, the probability of my drawing particular cards, run all sorts of potential play scenarios.  Then, there are games I’m not interested in thinking at all.  BattleTech, for me, is more about “close and fire”.

Play.  Think, when I play.  I think about games all of the time when I’m not playing them.  Though, I noticed that I do analyze games in ways that don’t have to do with actually playing those games.

There may be some correlation to how invested I am in the game, but I can think of an example of a game I think a lot about when I play but have minimal investment – Kill Doctor Lucky.  I’m trying to think of an example of a game I’m more invested in but don’t think much about.  BT is something I’m somewhat or middling invested in, and RPGs are a different animal.  HeroQuest was something I could be highly invested in, but I was usually the villain, so I didn’t need to make good decisions.  I’ll play mahjong recklessly, but I know when I’m playing it recklessly.

Magic was something I was partially invested in that I would play recklessly.  Same with Dragon Dice.  What about before I started playtesting the Babylon 5 CCG?  No, it wasn’t really suited to reckless play.  Well, there were hyperspeed openings that I latched on to, but I didn’t find those all that reckless.  Hardly anyone would play the counter to them.  It’s kind of hard to play Ultimate Combat! recklessly since it’s largely a game of massive offense, though I suppose it’s possible – not holding a Speed 1 or Strength 1 and a foundation open to play the advantage on defense.

Suicide Dragon, the only particularly memorable Wheel of Time CCG deck name I came up with (Forsaken.dec was too obvious), was not reckless at all, strategically.  It was the last, best hope for not getting smashed by the vastly superior Shadow side prior to the Light side getting broken to fight broken in Dark Prophecies.  Since you were going to lose, anyway, you might as well throw your characters into challenges and hope Thom takes out key cards through random discard.

Getting back to Magic and Dragon Dice, though, for a moment.  I think I see the pattern.  While both games have a creation element where one’s worth as a human being is judged by how well one can construct a deck/army, I didn’t feel like decks/armies for those games were all that important.  Now, one could say I did just as goofy things with B5 and V:TES as I did with Magic (Essence Vortex creatureless for the win!), so maybe focusing on deck construction is the wrong point.  The right point might be that there are many games where I not only don’t care much about winning but also, importantly, don’t care about not winning.

One thing B5 and V:TES have in common is the multiplayer aspect and the potential for making games suck for other people when you don’t pull your weight.  If I got trounced in Magic, it was 10 minutes or whatever of a game I don’t even enjoy playing that much when I win.  Dragon Dice always had the problem to me that I cared so much less about playing it than about thinking about it.

I have felt a responsibility with B5 and V:TES to try to make the game worthwhile for others.  After all, victories are of the hollowish sort if your opponents are goofing around.  I probably do feel some responsibility to play well in two-player play since the argument is the same.  I just don’t focus as much on it because it’s so much easier to goof off in a multiplayer game to where it’s more of a potential concern.

Consider, for a tangent, how not focusing on results might also impact play style.  I certainly approach the importance of doing stuff versus the importance of results very differently for some games.

WoT was a CCG I didn’t start playing until after I was hardcore playtesting, as evidenced by being one of the few people in the world to playtest the original set (beyond the precons).  I was always in playtest mode, aka results matter mode, where there was a responsibility to show what’s what.  Ultimate Combat! was my favorite CCG.  I really just enjoyed not only building decks but playing the game.  I might have made some goofy decks, like the white belt, techniqueless deck, but, more than possibly any game I’ve ever played, I was probably more into every game I played of it.  I also was outclassed during much of my career, so I probably felt like I had to prove myself as a player.  Yes, I actually was competitive when it came to UC! because, you know, I wanted to gain points [results matter!] to move up in the ranks.  I might qualify as an honorary black belt or something by this point, but I never progressed past brown belt in terms of what plastic ranking card I received.

I know why I like to play games recklessly.  And, I suppose I’m seeing why I don’t with some games.  The other problem with playing V:TES recklessly is that you might spend 30 minutes playing and 90 minutes waiting for everyone else to finish, something that doesn’t happen with two-player games.

 


BattleTech Scenario Building

July 19, 2014

No pretentious title.

I have been creating BattleTech scenarios for months.  I had a Davion/Kurita campaign where I was tracking results but didn’t really do much with those results.  The current campaign we are playing is called “Arms Race”, as it’s about the hunt for Lostech in the 3025-3040 period, where I think around 3033 makes sense for the actual year, though it may not matter a lot.

My faction is Warrior House Kamata.  Gary’s is a merc unit with mysterious backing.  Andy’s is the Atrean Hussars unless he tells me differently (he has only played one scenario so far).  I like the idea of the crap Houses getting advanced tech and changing the course of history, especially Liao not being the whipping boy for those periods I know anything about (which is about to 3057).

Anyway, scenarios.  By anecdotal measure, I’ve gotten a lot better at them.  Some of the Davion/Kurita ones didn’t go over well, though that had something to do with not planning to maps and mechs, not knowing LOS, movement, and water rules all that well, and whatever.  I’m actually quite surprised by how many of the Arms Race scenarios have worked out well.

Experimenting may have paid off.  Of course, the next experiment may end up a failure, but it’s heartening that so many experiments haven’t failed.

Such as?

The only real exploration scenario for Arms Race involved building ruins and random mines and exploration results.  It was quite funny how often Gary failed to find any Lostech early on and got hammered by mines but managed to acquire the almighty Gauss Rifle in the end.  Liao still hasn’t gotten their hands on a Gauss.

That might not be a great technology to introduce since it’s so good compared to 3025 tech and makes for a high percentage of one-shot kills to the head.  Other tech recovered has been Ultra 5, LB 10-x, Artemis IV, Small Pulse, Medium Pulse.  There will never be double heat sinks or XL engines, as those completely change the game.  LB 10-x is the autocannon that should have existed in 3025 play.  Streak SRM-2 and CASE are two clearly acceptable things to add.  Maybe Large Pulse, though I want to encourage ammo using weapons since they are so awful, which, by the way, means that Anti-Missile Systems will never appear.

Getting back to scenarios that worked, I had a three faction scenario that was 2 v. 1, two Liao mechs, two merc mechs, four Marik mechs.  It got defensive towards the end, after a Gauss Rifle shot decapitated a fresh Archer.  So, it wasn’t perfect.  But, it had a number of interesting things going on and allowed three players to play, where our previous attempts at three player play where everyone was on their own side I found to be incredibly tedious.  I’m writing a scenario that’s a treasure hunt where everyone is on their own side, to see if it’s possible to have a three-sided game actually work.

Gary and I have built out our companies to where we have defined pilots (mine have names, including the one who got killed last session).  Our last session saw interesting negotiation over salvage and not just murdering each other’s mechs/pilots, which is how things would have gone in earlier play before we defined pilots.

That’s probably the hardest thing about putting together scenarios.  Almost all of the ones in scenario supplements I’ve bought in the last 20 years or whatever involve destroying the other side or gaining VPs for destroyed mechs.  That’s really not all that fun when you bother to personalize your mechs/pilots.  Mech destruction should happen.  Pilots getting taken out by Gauss to the brain will happen.  But, it shouldn’t be 50% turnover every week.  For one thing, the harsher combats are, the less incentive to put at risk your forces, which leads to boring defensive struggles.  Thematically, House forces can easily replace but mercs shouldn’t be able to easily replace mechs, though I’m fine with handwaving a lot of this to not produce faction death spirals.

So, as this campaign has gone on, I’ve added more and more thematic content.  I have in mind who the mysterious backer of Gary’s merc unit is, after considering and discarding a number of possibilities the other players guessed.  I see the Free Worlds League/Capellan Confederation alliance breaking down during this campaign.

I’ve also added mechanical content, in that I often didn’t previously specify how maps were going to be set up before play, what happens when you retreat, whether units deploy on to a map or start on a map, etc.  I always had VP conditions, but I introduced a round-by-round score card system, a la boxing, to have more VP possibilities and to encourage aggression.  It has worked really well, so far, flattening out VP acquisition and encouraging me to get aggressive when “behind on the card”.  Gary put together an experience point system for pilot improvement that uses margin of victory.  I think adding unit special abilities would be another good way to use XP.  Individual pilot abilities might make sense, but I don’t know about getting too far into accounting and increasing detail too much.

In the Davion/Kurita campaign, I was seeing a lot of the problems in BattleTech.  Fights could often be unfun due to randomness, rules, movement issues, mech stupidity (even though one of my main goals was to play with mechs right out of TRO3025 to see how they really play, before you fix them).  Player style led to one side being very aggressive and the other side defensive.  Fights were often one-sided as pretty much everything came down to taking out mechs.  How salvage was ever supposed to happen except in one-sided beatdowns was unclear.

In this campaign, I’m seeing a lot of what BT should be.  While I don’t expect to get into Mechwarrior, I feel a narrative in this campaign, even before pilots got defined.  I have to be creative, but I’m finding ways to not have scenarios devolve into total annihilation.  Mech vs. nature effects are interesting to me.  We are probably going to introduce strafing and other pseudo-environmental effects soon.  Mech design/refit is under way, with the group trying to keep reasonable on modifications and with no new design yet being introduced.  I’m taking map configuration more and more into play.  We tend to do three mechs on three mechs as a sweet spot on volume of decisions and volume of firepower.  We tend to play slower, less maneuverable mechs to reduce analysis paralysis.  We avoid light mechs not just because of maneuverability issues but to have more of a slugfest.  We minimize elevation, and I think avoiding woodriffic maps makes for better play.  I hate water, but I’m going to try a scenario with frozen rivers just to use water maps without having to put up with water nonsense.  There’s even some hope for salvage without the result being brutally one-sided.

Due to limiting space taken and to encourage faster engagement, we have been using mostly one map, sometimes two or even 1.5.  I’m thinking two (or 1.5) makes more sense to have the longer range weapons have more play and to create more variety in maneuvering, but we can’t feasibly do more than that and we have only limited time much of the time, so smaller engagements that resolve faster are better.

I usually do a 10 round limit on the scenario to prevent drawn out endgame situations and because I may have to do other gaming after BT.  This has been in use for a lot of scenarios at this point, but it was a huge improvement when it got introduced.  Again, the more we make BT like boxing – win by decision, TKO, rather than requiring a knockout – the better it seems to get.


Exitainment

October 18, 2013

I’m still watching Arrow.  After a good season premier, this week’s episode was terrible.  The plot, the subplots, the acting, the action – all bad.  But, when I went to read reviews (because I like reviews), other people thought it was a good episode.  Putting aside their mental deficiencies, what does this have to do with gaming?

Not everybody enjoys the same things.

Some people really enjoy winning.  No matter what else, if they win, the experience is vastly superior to the experience when they don’t win.  Some of the things I look for in games are:  amusing interactions/situations; overcoming challenges (but not overcoming other players); close results; winning the various subgames a game might have or that I create; playing well.

Ultimately, I see games as a form of entertainment, just as books, TV, movies, theater, etc.  A question that I’ve increasingly asked myself over the years is:  how do I make a game I play more entertaining?

Not just for myself, as I may enjoy a game much more than others, but in general.  For BattleTech, we have instituted a number of guidelines for scenarios – lower speeds, lack of jump, lower gunnery skills, modest terrain features – in order to make it more of the slam, bam, thank you LAM game that it should be.  For my RPG campaigns, I often mention ideas to my GMs for how to make things more appealing to me.  I often ask my players what they’d like to see more of when I run RPGs, though that either doesn’t generate much feedback or I fail to act on the feedback.

But, what of V:TES?

I was watching the videos from the EC.  A takeaway I had from Hugh’s and Randal’s presentations was the idea of maintaining the fun of playing the game.  V:TES, like 97% of the CCGs that have come out, has a hard time with maintaining or growing the playerbase.  Veterans move on in their lives or move to places with no players, and existing groups find it harder and harder to get together.  Playing with the same people all of the time might work, though it tends to move a CCG towards being more like a complicated boardgame, but both Hugh and Randal talked about traveling.

In particular, Hugh mentioned how stimulating it has been to travel to places like the US.  CCGs especially, but any game really, are intended to be varied experiences.  Not that Hugh mentioned the Bay Area except to have a marker on his map …

Anyway, I always find it concerning when players find the games I want to play frustrating.  There’s really no reason V:TES should be frustrating.  There are tons of cards, which means variety.  It’s multiplayer, which means the best deck doesn’t matter.  Sure, some aspects of multiplayer CCGs can be frustrating.  I know I’ve gotten tired of table politics at times, looking back fondly on two-player CCGs where it was all about the kill.

But, relating to what I said above, maybe multiplayer CCGs get frustrating because of how often any one person will lose.  After all, if everyone is on a level playing field, a five-player game means having only a 20% chance of winning.  A 20 player tournament means having a 5% chance of winning the tournament.

Just to go off on a tangent, one thing I keep thinking about when it comes to sports is how annoying the phrase “it’s hard to win a championship” is.  Every season, one team will win a championship, so it’s not like it’s that hard.  On the other hand, major professional leagues in the US have about 32 teams.  Everything being equal, that means a 3% chance of winning the championship.

But, maybe the frustration can come from not everything being equal.  Some people like to complain, when it comes to CCGs, of the lack of a level playing field with respect to card collections and, thus, ability to build decks.  I can’t remotely compete at Magic, for instance, well, if I just used my collection.  With certain CCGs, I can see this.  More relevant to me would be Wheel of Time, where decks needed rares, ultrarares, and/or promos in significant quantities to be considered tournament viable.

But, I think collection isn’t that important and too often used as an excuse.  After all, anybody can borrow a deck.  I can see how never experiencing success can be frustrating.  Much better to have players of similar ability and results who elevate each other than to have disparate ability levels that maintain a haves and have-nots paradigm.

But, can’t a game be fun without success?

Why do I get into games?

I got into Ultimate Combat! even after I lost every game I played of it.  I got into Jyhad with no aspirations of success.  I got into Babylon 5 because I thought it was fun to play with the main characters, where CCGs to that point that I played were not tied into properties where that mattered.  I’ve never had much success at Dragon Dice.  I played one major tournament of Wheel of Time and didn’t place.  I got into Shadowfist because I “feel” the genre now, where I didn’t back in 1995.

Okay, those were reasons mostly why I not-not got into a game.  I suppose I could be more specific as to why I did get into those games, just not today.

There’s an essential question as to what makes a game appealing that is too big a topic to cover except maybe over the entire course of life of this blog.  But, looking around, I think it’s worth stepping back and asking the question “What am I looking to get out of this game?” not just to decide whether to play it but to decide what to bring to the table to make the experiences better.

Historically, as an example, I’ve often brought funny stuff to the table because I’m looking for amusement and not just results.