Forgive And Remember

February 6, 2017

This is my 499th blog post.  I think I have an idea about the next one that makes sense as a milestone post.  But, when it comes to real world, this is more important.

My youngest brother is part of a team Kickstartering something that doesn’t have virtually anything to do with gaming.

Direct link to Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/71323644/somaliland-the-abaarso-story

Link to Facebook post (then click to share): https://www.facebook.com/somalilandfilm/posts/1268242429935727

Expanding educational opportunities and developing the international community is something far more noble than anything I spend my time on.


I did have some thoughts on gaming.

I played three games of Second Edition A Game of Thrones LCG yesterday.  It got me thinking.

But, first, some comments on AGoT card games.  I played the CCG when it was new.  I was amazed at how similar it was structurally to Babylon 5 and looked at the designer credits only to not recognize the names.  Not to say it played anything like B5 or Wheel of Time, but it was e-e-rie.

I hardly played in the next 15 years.  I’ve not read any of A Song of Fire and Ice nor have I watched a complete episode.  Nothing I’ve ever heard enthused me (okay, one thing I’ve heard about the TV series might interest a dude …).

These games were far more comprehensible than anything I had played previously.  In part, that is likely due to each time I play I get more familiar with the strategies.  I think it also helped that I wasn’t just suddenly handed a deck for an impromptu beatdown but knew I would be playing and was handed relatively simple decks (limited card pool).

So, I got to thinking.  Not so much about AGoT.  I got to thinking about decisions.  Yup, decisions, again.  I don’t mean deckbuilding decisions, though I whined about a deck I played not having enough economy and cheap characters.

The impact of decisions on play.  Why do I find games like V:TES and Ultimate Combat! more fun than games like AGoT and L5R (card game)?  Why do I kind of hate Outpost, yet find The Scepter of Zavandor to be like my favorite EuroBG?

Probably for multiple reasons, but it occurred to me that a reason could be that mistakes are far more forgiving in the games I prefer.  Outpost is a game, in my experience, where, if you make one mistake, you are waiting for the game to end.  Defend that province?  Oh, sucks to be your lack of any characters.  Don’t defend that province?  Oh, economic shortfall ruins you.

Can put aside some of these games as not being terribly relevant to hardly anyone.  Let’s bring V:TES into the discussion.  You can lose a game by making a bad decision in the beginning.  You definitely lose games by making bad decisions at the end (by you, I mean, a lot of people and me, or I would have had the first Abominations win and couldn’t have put Conditioning on my personal banned list).  However, because there are so many players and the game isn’t a race (like B5), mistakes often not only go unpunished but provide advantages.  Get Kissed by Ra early on?  Hey, hang out in torpor for a bit and have people gang up on the table threat.

AGoT has always felt like a game where decisions mattered too much.  Not that it’s alone.  Magic makes me feel like decisions matter too much, which might not be the case if you drew more than one card a turn.

I don’t just look to be able to play odd decks (aka forgiving deck construction) but also look to be able to enjoy playing without the pressure of always having to make an optimal decision.  Oh, gee, note why I don’t like chess.  The randomness of card draw with hidden information feed the idea that you aren’t always going to make the correct decision.

Note how this angle on game features ties into how I’m not really that into playing Dragon Dice or CMGs, where there’s a lack of hidden information and the randomness is still calculable.

Branching off into RPGs, why I got so annoyed with Conan d20’s lack of viable character builds is that a poor decision just assigning attributes was crippling.  Meanwhile, the much less rigid [sic!!] character building of L5R has always appealed to me.  Yup, L5R less suicidal character creation than Conan – that’s molybdenumic.  Yes, Stamina 4, Willpower 2, with Intelligence 3, and Spears 4 is probably going to feel masochistic, but you can get out from under this awful by leveling off Earth and “remembering” that you are a Boar who Mai Chongs like mad.  Or, if not a bushi, can find some excuse to Multiple Schools into shugenjahood.

Some people are into the intensity that can come with gaming.  I’m not.  I want to be able to guess what to do and, while that may mean I lose, at least I still have a chance to come from 25 points down in the second half while not having shown the ability to stop the run.


Reign Needed

October 8, 2016

I haven’t checked in to Kickstarter for a while.  After backing Age of Legends, Conan, Aquelarre, I could use the break.

I did back Ninja Crusade 2e’s expansion Kickstarter, but it didn’t fund.  It did relaunch.  It’s already funded.  The game sounds like my sort of thing, in that I’ve played 1e and wasn’t that thrilled with the mechanics but like the sound of 2e’s changes.  Where Feng Shui ended up being a huge disappointment because it focused on things I didn’t care about and ignored addressing things I did, to the point where I consider 1e a better game for campaign play, I have hopes based on the description of the ethos the game is going for.  Since I missed the initial 2e launch, I’m mostly backing for getting the 2e corebook.  I doubt the stretch goal will hit, but that would be more useful to me than worrying about expansion materials.

Empire’s Reign

When is the Shadowfist Kickstarter going to happen?

In other realms, there’s a bit lacking in reins.  Nothing is really holding my attention outside of my latest fixation.

I’m well aware that I’ve always been this way – enthused by the latest thing I turn my weary gaze to.  When I play a campaign, it’s typically the campaign.  When I play a CCG weekly (or playtest or design), it’s typically the CCG.  But, the interest in V:TES is weak, Shadowfist is very undemanding (which is a good thing), Nightmare War isn’t moving very quickly and HoR4 will likely have the same experience of waiting around for the next session.

Wandering mentally has had the effect of getting me to reread some books (well, parts of them I find more appealing).  It’s interesting how I’ll come back to a novel after N+ years and find a different take on things.  There is a series that I read the first book for and found it in my wheelhouse, in that I would read modern supernatural stuff.  I never got the second book.  Skimming through it, I now think it’s rather … not so great.  I guess I realized that at the time.

See, it uses astrology, which you may realize I find a rich vein for fiction.  But, it just isn’t cool enough.  The writing now seems extremely repetitive.  The world just isn’t all that.

I kept up with Anita Blake stuff for ages because the world was just so interesting from book one.  Of course, it got sillier, though the world was not as much of an issue as the way the main character was handled.

I skimmed through one of the Deryni books I had only read a couple of times or so.  Far more engaging.  What I took away, though, since it was familiar ground, was just how different from a FRPG campaign it would be.  It’s political, whether religion politics, politics politics, or relationship politics.  One could analyze early books from later books and maybe say that the series has moved away from action and toward soap opera.  But, I don’t recall a tremendous amount of action in earlier books and I don’t recall caring about much of it, anyway.

Whether hinting at l33t swording by Morgan or energy battles, just not the draw.  If anything, the incredible stupidity on the parts of the protagonists in how they use their powers is a frustrating distraction from what’s often pleasant drama.  (I especially have a hard time with any of the books involving Camber because of how dark they get and how easily wizards can own non-wizards if they bother to.)

I did come away, though, with a bit of a new view.  Maybe I’m just really crotchety, but there’s too much “[blank] is the greatest of them all” to characters.  I’m not looking for flawed types who agonize through life.  I just don’t need people to constantly express how great someone else is.  Should be more subtle.  Can convey that someone is respected in all of the 11 Kingdoms without actually having one character state to another character how the person is respected by all.

Of course, this is from someone who can’t even write a short story to submit for publishing.  But, opinions are why blogs are written.

Speaking of opinions, Flash and Arrow premiered.

As I read reviews’ comments, my opinions feel like a rehash, but here we go, anyway.

Both series suffer from repeating annoying things.  That doesn’t make them bad, though I wouldn’t call Arrow good – Flash still has enough humor to be good.

Some folks commenting on Arrow are all thrilled by going back to a season one feel.  Um, look, I found it interesting when the series opened with Oliver murdering people left and right, but to go back to that undermines the supposed character development in later seasons.  I like better action, but I’m still not feeling it.  What was better in season one was the sense that characters were actually doing something interesting.  Even if the filming of action is less bad recently, it still feels like people going through the motions.  What was appealing was how Oliver and The Hood felt like the same justice warrior, not Oliver’s relationship problems and Green Arrow’s bow parries.

Then, Flash’s repetitive superspeed fights is repetitive.

But, back to Arrow.  So, so tired of Oliver having to navigate relationships.  What made for the best scenes in season one were the surprising interactions with folks.  Let me pull my shirt down to show you I’m Bratva.  Let me speak foreign languages to maids, et al.  Let me try to keep my secret in the most flimsy way possible from techbabe.  Oliver the outsider who plays by special rules so much better than Oliver the “oh look, I’m angst-ridden”.  Thea has her moments but is too slight to be credible as a super and too slight to be eye candy, Diggle is nowhere near as interesting to me as he is to a bunch of others, same with Lance.  If anyone, have Katrina Law be in more episodes, but don’t turn her into something else, even though that already started – she was so good early on.

What wasn’t all that was the family drama, the friend drama, the girlfriend drama.  Those things are old.  Be novel, or, at least, be short story.

Flash, meanwhile, has gone the same route of dipping into the well of time babble.  Just stop.  Find something creative to do.  I’m not saying avoid using superpowers, since I actually find superpowers more interesting in superheroes than lack of superpowers.  For instance, what’s a fight between two speedsters?  It’s a bunch of punching and kicking and pushing and throws and tossing stuff.  Gee, that sounds like a fight between two bricks or two martial artists (without cool martial arts moves, which Arrow did better in season one).  Now, there’s a problem.  Psionics is not interesting, probably even less so in TV.  Brick versus speedster can often be problematic interaction.  Teleporter versus speedster is awfully like speedster versus speedster.

Flash is more appealing because the characters are more appealing.  Harrison was amazing early on, still good.  Cisco may be a tad too forced sometimes but mostly good.  Some of the combinations work out well.  Course, swapping Felicity and Iris on the two shows could be so much better than the relationship slogs we’ve had to endure, as one of Oliver’s best moments involved Iris’s take on him, where Felicity and Barry always was at least decent.

I’m curious as to how Supergirl will go now that it can be better integrated.  I don’t really look that forward to it because it focuses too much on romance.  You know, as someone who actually likes romance in things, it’s not necessary to be beaten over the head with how it has to be a source of conflict.  There are other paths to go.  I’m also less clear what the show should be about.

Legends of Tomorrow actually ended on a higher note, though LoT is really all about certain characters doing fun things.

That’s the thing.  Superhero shows should be about doing fun things.  Make amusing use of powers.  Have conversations full of double meanings due to secret identities.  Fire boxing glove arrows.  Salmon that ladder (aka focus on training).  But, more than anything else, do crossovers because you get out of the quagmires of your own angst and just do fun stuff.  Nyssa showing up is like a crossover.  I do look forward to the Supergirl/other crossover, hopefully with Mayor Handsome being on her list of guys she can make an exception for.

Oh, did I get away from gaming?  Well, probably next time.


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.


Dungeon Lies

September 18, 2016

Time to opine.  Deep delve on True Dungeon.  My take on tokens (and, maybe, whatever).

On the one hand, I’m a 4th level player.  On the other, I went eight years without playing and have never done more than two runs in a year.

Then, I’ve never transmuted a token as the recipes always sounded way too hard to accomplish, though this should change in the next six months due to transmutes moving down to rarities I exist in; I didn’t even know trade items were a thing until this year’s Gen Con.

Is it analogous to my Shadowfist situation where I know about things but lack practical experience, putting me in a rather odd class?

I have rather biased biases.  I’m a Wizard (assuming Andy is around to suck up Druid, the only other class I would really enjoy, though Bard is my fourth thought … I hate weapon combat, Samhain I amhain … fifth thought is Paladin who just Guards and heals).  I don’t care about nuking monsters, as I prefer shuffleboarders to feel victorious in their smiting.

Casual Calculus

What do casual players want?  You know, the “I sign up for puzzle at normal level and don’t bother learning anything about shuffleboard even when I’m a fighty dude” types.

.1  Surviving

I don’t actually rate surviving the 7th room, anymore, from an analytical standpoint.  Still get the same number of XP, either way, and 7th rooms are vastly more deadly than other rooms, so characters bite it.  Though, I still prefer surviving to not by some degree.

Some folks vastly prefer surviving to get the Survivor badge.

But, let’s not dwell too much on that – it’s just notable that people want to survive the 7th room as a tack on to what really matters.

Nothing matters more than surviving to the 7th room, in my experience.  Dying is boring.  Dying is embarrassing.  Less than 1000 XP is sad panda.  Just all around antifun.

What’s the best way not to die?  Unlike how it may be for Grinders or Nightmarers or whatever who need to murder monsters before they murder characters, for us normal puzzle types, the greatest boons are more HP and more healing.  Even a few HP is huge, potentially large.  There were truedungeon.com forum posts about how people didn’t realize how popular Charms of Health was going to be.  Charm of Health is actually pretty solid in my uneducated opinion, as it’s puzzle damage and push damage that is going to produce Casual-ties (TM, R, P).  The amount of damage is low, but, then, so are the HP for we wizards.

.2  Treasuring

Everyone wants to feel like they get more stuff.  TD is superexpensive.  Everyone feels less good about themselves when other people are more plentiful, richer, avaricefuller.

TD is crazy with how much money there is in it from the playerbase.  It’s model is perhaps not so much CCG (except outlier models like original Star Wars, Dragonball Z, and even Wheel of Time after a certain point) as it is videogames of the MMO sort.  I don’t do MMOs, so I’m speaking only truths here, but the grinding for elite drops is totally something I see more as MMO than as CCG.

TD doesn’t even try to pretend tokens are balanced.  Many a CCG where there were obvious imbalances still pretended that rares weren’t just strictly better than less rares.  The whole nature of TD is that an incremental, one might say linear, gain is accompanied by an astronomical uplift in secondary market value.  I can have a rare that gives +1 to stuff you care about for a few bucks become an ultrarare +2 that goes for more than $100 that becomes a transmuted +3 for $300+, etc.

I’m not trying to scare people off.  What makes TD so weird is that the power gains are only relevant to certain types of players that may comprise a significant amount of the people doing runs but also are rare in my runs.  I can play a Wizard or Elf Wizard with exactly zero tokens and expect to get through a puzzle normal.  What’s likely to kill me is a group being bad at puzzles or the healers not getting enough opportunities to mend me.

But, everyone likes more treasure.  I had dreams of Roguery.  I have no interest anymore, even though it’s more loot.

What’s disturbing is the variance in treasure draws.  I believe the current cap is 17 draws, with that about to go up.  This year made a casual player friendly decision to ensure everyone got … 3 draws.

Yeah, I’m one of those newbites who got 3 draws when one (and only one) player in one of our groups had 12.  This is obviously tolerable, in that TD is doing fine, but, mathematically, this is nuts.  If I were setting a range, the range would be between 100% and 200% because I believe in these United States, Superman 1, and pistachio pie.  Yup, it would not have occurred to me that someone should get five times as many draws as the starting point.  Plus one would have been a huge deal and +2 the wasp’s elbows.

There are plenty of discussions of the potential problems of constantly upping the limit.  I’m only entering into taking TD seriously and I wonder about a bubble bursting, not because I’m anti one-percenter but because of the ability to farm treasure and the potential economic value a farmer gains from buying up event tickets and crowding out newbites, who just want to recite palindromes.

Obviously, treasure that helps keep a newbite alive is a thing.  But, what other treasures are newbite friendly?  Not uncommons.  Nothing makes 99%ers feel more 99%ed than playing the lottery.  Wait, that’s not remotely true.  Anyway, uncommons are sigh worthy.  GP rares, which, notably are worth more than other rares in many cases, are not newbite friendly.  Newbites like magic weapons and armor.  How do I know?  My entire take on combat is “show me where Ethereal is” and I’ve been excited by the idea of having magic arms/armor, though less so once I realized I was going to Wizardize almost all of the time.

Everyone wants “you know, you can sell that for $250 on eBay” treasures, so that’s not very exciting as a newbite decision.  It’s these sorts of upper tier draws that make the race for ultimate draw power appealing.

That Lenses of Fortune and the 2017 rare cap someone at 4 draws just seems so wrong.  I get it because rares actually have very little value most of the time.  But, when you can start lending out treasure enhancers to farm off of other people’s runs, is it necessary to be so blatant about the class structure?

Anyway, have to move on at some point.  The discussion around treasure is a difficult one that many are agonizing about.

.3  Beatdown

Casual players want to feel useful or have the blackjack moment.  We had a group where the Paladin didn’t have a ranged weapon, so he had nothing to do but Guard somebody.  Having someone come in and eviscerate all enemies while everyone else knouts around is not particularly fun for many, either.  Sure, if it’s a matter of winning or losing, I’m in the win camp, but it’s far cooler when a one-packer kills something.

Powerful but subtle effects aren’t that great for the newbite.  Does a newbite care at all about changing fire damage to shock damage?  I’m all about the burn and don’t remotely care.

Note that beatdown just means contributing usefully.  Of course, I have a passive, defensive personality, but, for instance, I only plan on having one token that increases my spell damage by one.  I’m far more interested in ultrarares or whatever that give Constitution bonuses.  Contrast this with how many posts on the forums are about maxing out damage for different classes.  I’m not going to turn down Boots of the Four Winds, but I’m also not PYPing (Pick Your Purple) the Winds Boots to transmute.

.4  Relevancy

Besides not dying and being able to weaponize something, any effects that eliminate the character as relevant to the challenge are fun inhibiting.  I looked up how wands work and they require command words, so Silence effects stop that, as well.  As a Wizard whose tokens were barely better than none at all, I’m both bored and feeling like I’m letting team newbite down while Silenced.  Sure, it makes other people’s builds more relevant and the combats more interesting.  For us, where the shuffleboarders were not mediumcore, it just made it that much more likely we were going to lose while some people waited to be relevant.

Given how much saves are a concern to posters, there are likely all sorts of other effects that just make you useless.  I know I’ve always carried both a mirror and a Stone to Flesh scroll because of one year’s Medusa.  From watching the video on what the rooms were for the combat runs this year at GC, seems like certain effects could make the unprepared unproductive.  I get that a straightforward slidefest is repetitive.  I’m just saying that newbites seem quite vulnerable to any sort of control effects.

.0

Note that the casual player is not prioritizing being a 5th level character.  Though, that’s possibly due to ignorance.  As soon as I understood how to be a 5th level character, that became one of two priorities along with getting more than 3 treasure draws.

Pick Your Poison (Damage Booster)

TD is not healthy for me.  I like collecting.  I like chasing.  I like having things other people don’t.  I also like having some sort of retirement plan and the ability to go to European Championships for V:TES if they don’t schedule them close to my brother’s wedding.  TD is so far beyond any money madness I saw in CCGs.  Sure, Magic had cards that went for $100+, $400, then $1,000, or whatever.  TD has people advertise $1,000+ tokens that are just something people will include in their posts about their character builds.

I have a tendency to get into things much deeper than any sort of original concept.  I’m worried that even considering how to allay the cost of $8,000 bundles crosses my mind.

To play something twice a year.

That’s incroyable.

Nevermind that the fun isn’t in kicking ass, that the fun of not dying before the 7th room is not terribly difficult to achieve with some healing management, that I would humiliate myself if I ever got a planar skill test wrong with the new, dumbed down Wizard board so I’m consistently doing 6 or 11 damage.

Oh, and that’s if I can even play twice a year.  What if Gen Con sells out slots I can play in because I’m busy with Heroes of Rokugan or screw up registering for events in the first second they open or am too lazy to wait list on a run or look for refunded tickets on my phone?

Since Gen Con, the thing I’ve been thinking of the most gamingwise is TD.  Yikes!

What Else?

Variance of information is huge even though the economy is mature enough that killer eBay deals don’t seem all that common.

Lot of the forum threads are meaningless to me as I don’t debate whether latest ultrarare is BiS (I assume this means best in slot).  That so many spend so much time arguing that something new won’t see play because it’s not as good as something else is … … … you know, kind of like a lot of arguments about CCG cards, so, as crazy as I think it is to constantly run down some ultrarare that a lot of people would love to own (without sinking $150 into owning it), I guess it is rational to worry about the “tournament” level of the game.

Would I go to the other two cons to play?  That’s hard.  After Gen Con, I currently rate Origins as the other US con I’d fly to.  There’s a reason HoR is far less meaningful to me than a bunch of people in the middle of the country.

I talked about things related to it, but I wonder if a middle class of TD actually exists.  Oh, I’m sure there are other people at my level.  I just don’t know that it’s a significant enough part of the population to matter.  Seems like TD lives off of a not tiny group who sink thousands into the game and a bunch of people who barely have any sort of collection who just want to play a different sort of game.

Well, I’m sure I’ll have more to talk about later.  Hopefully, get those two runs in next Gen Con without screwing up my RPG schedule.


VCG Salute

July 30, 2016

I had recently acquired a box of Ultimate Combat! starters.  I deprived myself of currency in such an effort.  I would not do so for boosters, seeing as I have unopened booster boxes.

But, why starters?

Because they are playable.  They have foundation (land).  They are far more coherent than Magic starters that lack preconstructedness, as UC! only has four “colors”.  In fact, I have never played a sealed deck event that didn’t use only a single starter.  Admittedly, that’s less than a full handful of sealed deck events, but one gets the idea.

I don’t need them, right now.  It’s entirely possible I’ll never need them as I lack the intention of producing a breed of nextgen UC!ers.

But, I got a feeling when looking at the box, a feeling of nostalgia.

It’s not so much that I remember actually playing the game.  No, it was that feeling I have had with multiple VCGs (variable card games) when I got product.

It was the feeling of having something unknown to play with.

FCGs (fixed card games) don’t elicit that feeling from me, nor do I see quite how they would for others, but I do make some effort to not try to project my own beliefs upon the multitude of heathens who prefer the FCG model.

Once upon a time, it was the norm.  You cracked a deck and you weren’t looking for more rares, you were looking for a play experience.  More so than Magic or Jyhad, where a single starter was too random to be a deck I was interested in playing, whether it was B5, UC!, or some games I didn’t play a whole lot of, there was the allure of the potential.

Not that UC! starters and B5 starters are remotely comparable.  B5 starters were quasi-preconstructed.

No, this feeling was connected to a time when I didn’t have every card, when I made an effort to play UC!, when CCGs were relatively new and far more new to me.

The feeling of possibilities.

CCGs (customizable card games) live off of variety.  Yes, there are those always looking to not have to constantly engage with new cards and want to essentially play a different themed boardgame, but let’s venture into the realm of why CCGs have been printing money.

But, it’s not variety, exactly.  It’s possibilities.  I have ten more possibilities of taking an unknown quantity and handing an unknown quantity to someone who I can Mental Domination into playing a game that died around 1997 and that had hardly any playerbase between 1995 and 1997 and I can play a game.  A game that isn’t Settlers of Catan, a game that isn’t shogi, a game that isn’t rummy, a game that isn’t Dragon Dice.  A game that encompasses both the known and the unknown with a randomizing element that doesn’t come across as all that random even though it is (the shuffling of the deck).

A game that has something of a theme that can be made fun of.  (A core piece of enjoyment for me in most CCGs, whether V:TES, WoT, B5, Buffy, Guardians, and various others, is finding humor in the transactions that occur during games within a thematic context.  Others just find UC! laughable for its art and because it did embrace silliness to a degree.)

If I ever had a game of Rage that felt like an actual game, maybe I did once, even terrible games like Rage would have some element of this.  Shadowrun, Hyborian Gates, Highlander(?), 7th Sea, and others where I had a starter in hand rather than had someone’s built Young Jedi, Blood Wars, L5R, or whatever deck had that feeling, that feeling of embarking upon a unique experience not provided by any other form of gaming that readily comes to mind.

Excitement.

I mention how I prefer CCGs and RPGs so much more than boardgames.  Excitement.  When do you get excited by a boardgame?  Far more often than I, I presume.  Now, sure, I get excited by mahjong because it’s part of the tapestry of my life, but I don’t look at “this is better than Puerto Rico, trust me” boardgames and feel anything.  I may enjoy and often do playing all sorts of games, but there’s something elevating in a CCG.

And, more so in a VCG.  Now, maybe if I were younger and lacked decades of experience playing CCGs and hadn’t playtested a bunch and hadn’t designed and hadn’t spent four hours deciding what three opening hand cards and starting Rand I would play in a WoT tournament, I would feel more excitement for FCGs.

But, while I have played Year of the Goat precons and mixed together YotG precons and played various other precons, there’s just something about “hand me a starter deck and let’s check out this game” that opens a portal to another dimension of gaming.

Even a terrible game, a Towers in Timey game, has this dimension when you go to crack open a starter to try something out.

Then, Ultimate Combat! one ups the ante by starter decks being entirely playable, which many a CCG lacked.

I find cracking boosters more interesting than opening Shadowfist Kickstarter rewards.  I said not long ago Magic still holds some appeal to me – more for the nature of it being a highly aesthetically pleasing VCG, but, even more than opening some out of print Shadowfist booster or out of print V:TES booster or “yes, this really did see print” Tempest of the Gods booster, even more than cracking boosters for just published sets hoping to pull recruitable Forsaken or whatever, the starter deck that initiates someone into a game is something magical … er … something that kicks ass.

VCGs appear to be dying outside of certain, well known, industry leaders.  So much of the community hates the model and wants FCGs.  There may not be a lot of us, but some of us will miss the VCG experience.  Some of us will be doddering old fools who show up at conventions and be “Hey, want to try this 30-year out of print card game, I have a half sealed box of starters in my bag?  If you like it, I got a couple boxes of boosters back in the hotel room.  We can … draft.”


Despised VTES Sets

May 8, 2016

If you read this blog for V:TES stuff, can read my prior post for my top 5.  Let’s go with the dark side, the shadow, the ill, the haflingification of the game.

Starting with the worst:

#1  Ebony Kingdom

Nights of Reckoning introduced the worst idea into the game, the most unfun decks, but it was trying to do something interesting.  This set didn’t.  This set is offensive.

It’s offensive in bringing in way too few vampires.  It’s offensive in trying to fix Aye/Orun without consideration of how to fix the crappiness of Laibon (which is fixed by printing a bunch with Dominate – hey, that’s how most other things got fixed).  It’s offensive in introducing two of the most moronic hosers I’ve seen.

It’s borderline offensive in not giving Abombwe far better cards.

Not every single card is bad.  It has that going for it.

Oh, and it’s offensive for not learning a most basic lesson – additional master phase action is broken.  We have known it was broken since whenever I looked around and thought about what was broken in Jyhad/V:TES.

#2  Nights of Reckoning

Some people don’t hate it.  Not sure why.  It’s not V:TES.  It did one good thing – it caused people to metagame against all that is vile.  Most V:TES sets don’t have that sort of shake up on the environment.  Now, I’m sure there’s bad shake up even from a set about vampires.

Gehenna was the previous “Do you want me to stop playing this game?”  NoR made Gehenna so much worse.

#3  Gehenna

There are interesting vampires in this set.  There are a bunch of cool cards in this set.  Using the discard phase to play cards seems kind of cool.

Burn Gehenna and NoR becomes far less obnoxious.

Lesson for designers everywhere – global effects sound good but aren’t.  Just say no to killing babies.  Just say no.

#4  Kindred Most Wanted

There are interesting vampires in this set.  There are some cool cards in this set.

I understand that it was trying to do something, something top down, something that made use of the IP, which is a major selling point for the game.

It made me enjoy the game less.

Drafting this set is dumb.

#5  Keepers of Tradition

This is why I’m infected with geniusness and so many others are healthier.  This set is full of cards I don’t think should have ever been printed.  That’s even more impressive when you consider how much of this set is reprints or innocuous crypt cards.

There are plenty of “bad” sets – Anarchs, Black Hand, Third Edition (for reasons that have less to do with the text on the cards), Sword of Caine, 10th Anniversary, Dark Sovereigns and Ancient Hearts (which I largely give a pass to for being when designers and players were much dumber about how the game worked).

KoT is a perfectly reasonable set full of bad cards.  Cards I want to see gone from the game include:  Villein, Ashur Tablets, Eyes of Argus, Deep Song, Dmitra, Lutz.  That’s off the top of my head.  I’m sure I could find some others.

Rex

What do these choices say about me?

Don’t execute on bad ideas.  Don’t introduce stuff that takes you away from the core of the game.  I know expansions need to expand.  I know every niche CCG goes through the process of getting further and further from what the game was originally about.  I know Gehenna was themed to tie into Time of Judgment.

Don’t invent.  Reinvent.  Take what the game is about and make it fresh.  Take the Camarilla sect and stop saying it doesn’t need help because P/J cards are overpowered and give it Cammie things to do.  Don’t just keep introducing mechanics that are insular, make crosspollination more common.  Why don’t we have Tzimisce/Lasombra decks?  Because they don’t share anything relevant.  Yeah, you could find more titled minions by joining them, but each of the clans can get by or can call upon more friendly partners.  Yet, there could be a “Leadership of the Sabbat” card that makes them playable together.

Babylon 5 could have played with existing or logical traits a lot, it didn’t.  Instead, Nightwatch, Drakh, ISA, Techno-mage.  Wheel of Time didn’t get much of a chance, but it could have focused more on Forsaken.  We got tons of Aiel.  I kind of get that, but Aiel versus Aiel just doesn’t feel global enough.  Sure, White Tower was going to be the next set, which reminds me that I need to post some playtest info at some point.

Another takeaway is that I don’t care for power.  Sure, I said in the last post that I’m not attracted to it.  But, I’m almost repulsed by it.  V:TES is a game of small effects when you compare against other CCGs.  Upping the power level largely just further coasterizes a bunch of cards and removes deck diversity.  There are so many masters in this game I find interesting yet hardly ever see because … it’s a phrase I invented … Good Cards Squeeze Out Bad.  Okay, in this case, it’s actually Better Cards Squeeze Out Worst, but that’s less memorable and draws less upon my economics background.


Favorite VTES Sets

May 7, 2016

Extremes are so much easier.  Tell me to rank every HoR mod I’ve played from favorite to least and I could get 5-10 in at the top and 5 or so at the bottom and the middle would be pain.

On vekn.net, I brought up the idea that we don’t really know what people like.  With niche CCGs, what attracts players, what drives them away, what retains them?  You can go off of sales of sets, but that’s so misleading.  Something I have experienced is that a crappy set sells badly and the next set’s print run is smaller, so, even when it sells out and people yum on it, its sales aren’t necessarily all that.

A lot of people don’t share my opinions.  I guess that’s okay.  I would dread being around me all of the time, unless the other mes were fe- …  Let’s not bother going there.

As a voice, if one so often ignored even when I’m involved in making a CCG, I will voice my favorite sets.

Blood Shadowed Court is not a set.  10th Anniversary is.  The e-sets mean nothing to me.

#1  Sabbat

So, here’s the thing.  I am large, potentially huge, on variety.  I get bored quick.  To me, CCGs are one of the greatest inventions of humanity in at least the post-Atlantis days or the last 137,000,000 million years (counting from Earth 7’s dimension), whichever is more exponential.  Yes, environments get stale because lots of cards don’t do anything remotely interesting, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more decks that could be built for any given CCG than decks I have ever built for all CCGs ever.

I was playing in a Jyhad only group.  Dark Sovereigns was out.  I ignored Ancient Hearts since my group wouldn’t allow it.  Sabbat came out.  I had to go for it.  I may not make a good Tzimisce nor do I understand what it is about Vicissitude I used to like so much in the RPG, but, hey, Tzimisce and Obtenebration and !Ventrue and whatever else.

Red cards.  Jyhad graphics are pretty crap.  Can be goth if you want, but, maybe you also want to not be swirly gray and green.  Reaction cards in blue are eyepain, but red?  Clint Langley.  One player I used to play with said he didn’t like Thrown Gate, et al, because “it burns”.  Mmmmm, burns.

More clans, more disciplines, clan cards, some better ideas for how cards should work and a lot of worse ideas for how cards should work.  Non-unique allies that actually did something.

I was so much less jaded back then.  I was excited by all of the possibilities.  I would play Sabbat only decks at cons for a bit, having just Forced Awakening to not die, and I was cool with that.  I also built some rather horrendous decks … not on purpose.

#2  Bloodlines

In many ways, I think Bloodlines ended up doing a disservice to the game, but that’s in hindsight and after numerous possibilities for evolving the game differently.

It was certainly not perfect.  Perfect would have been better outferiors, no scarce rule, Thanatosis cards that actually went with a clan that should never be in combat, Visceratika cards for a clan that should get into combat, Shroud of Absence as an uncommon, infernal rule where you pay 1 pool for any number of infernals, Razor Bat that cost less than 2 pool (this was partially our fault), Nagaraja and Harbingers having something interesting to do, no idiotic mill theme, etc.

But, the variety.  Oh, the variety.  Final Nights was both a huge success and a huge failure.  It made three of the indies viable where they were kind of crappy or extremely crappy prior.  It produced an incredible amount of supreme coasters.  But, it mostly just made existing stuff better.  Bloodlines made new stuff.  Also pretty much killed The Kiss of Ra as a metagame play as Fortitude was everywhere, not a bad thing itself.

I may bias my views on sets by how I don’t think bloodlines actually make for a better game, but I’m not picking sects.  I’m picking sets.

#3  Sabbat War

At the time, this would not have rated to me as highly for the obvious reason that it’s supersimilar to Sabbat.  It didn’t reprint some cards it should have, the !Ventrue precon is awful, and it did print some cards that rank in the top 20-50 cards I’d eliminate from the card pool.

But, it did remedy some things missing from Sabbat in the reprints – WWEF, Deflection, Minion Tap, etc.  It was Sabbat with some of Jyhad’s important stuff.  It may be a bitch to have so many clans in one set, and one of the things I hated about it when it was new was not including !Trem, which was one of my preferred clans, but it feels much more akin to what a base set should be like while having a bunch of cool cards.

Yeah, I guess I got over the lack of !Trem and Thaum.

I’d much rather draft this than recent sets.  !Nos get their time to shine, I mean, leap from the shadows, in the Sun, I mean, in the diffused light of streetlamps.

Does point out that I’m not more excited by other sets.

#4  Jyhad

The first set of anything gets cache because it sets the game that one chose to play.  Jyhad is huge to where lots of decks were possible.  I still find that I can build interesting all Jyhad decks.  I can whip out playable cards that people virtually never see.

But, is it as fun as Sabbat War?  A better environment, one with more consistent titled minions, perhaps, though Camarilla Edition came in and nerfed a bunch of Jyhad cards not a bunch of Sabbat cards.  We still see the power cards from Jyhad be prevalent, which isn’t so bad in the case of something fair like Enchant Kindred but kind of bad with the most powerful cards that are just oppressive when it comes to producing a more diverse environment.

#5  Twilight Rebellion

Yup.  I went here.  TR is the only good small set.  That’s not saying much when the other small sets are largely garbage or otherwise offensive, even Sword of Caine.

TR does not have strong cards.  But, it has interesting cards.  I’m thinking more the library cards.  I wish I could play with more of the crypt cards, but it’s rough to find uses for some of them.

Why don’t I like HttB more?  It just feels like trying to fix a problem in the game, where TR feels like it’s doing some quirky things … while helping make anarch decks more viable.

There are plenty of cards that I vastly prefer than the cards in TR, but TR feels like an expansion set, if something of a weak one.  Too many sets are trying to be a new base set or trying to make something suck less or introduce awful mechanics like Gehenna Events and Imbued.

Setticus

V:TES is a bloated mess.  It has 30+ clans and 30+disciplines.  You can play in a game where no minion has any votes or in a game where the Framing an Ancient Grudge deck has to be nuked.

Tons of coasters got printed.  Plenty of things that should have been printed never made it.  New mechanics were often daft and the effort to make things better only made more crap (see the worst set ever made, Ebony Kingdom, from a design point of view).

There were more important sets than some of the above.  Final Nights was more important than Bloodlines or TR.

But, these are the sets I, at this moment in spacetime, believe I enjoy the most.

What does that say about me?

Variety.  Do something new and different, except when you are expanding upon things I already really like (SW from S).

Don’t concern yourself with power.  KoT is a powerful set.  Third Edition brought in some powerful cards.  CE brought in powerful vampires.  Lords of the Night feels powerful.

While TR was intended to promote anarchs, it’s not as much the anarch boost that I care about, outside of Anarch Convert, which I mostly use just to cryptthin.  Bloodlines brought in new mechanics.  But, the trend here is more “new without new mechanics”.  Yes, new clans and new disciplines are new mechanics, but they are qualitatively different from Red List/Trophy, Black Hand, and whatever.

Put another way, I feel a generalness to these sets.  There’s lot of interactions possible between stuff, even if you hardly ever bother mixing Ahrimanes with others.