Cardflopping Like It’s 1999

February 21, 2016

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

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

There are so many miscellaneous things in that pile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An email I sent after Origins ’99:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You There, In The Woods

January 28, 2012

Perhaps a better title for a different sort of post.  If you’ve never seen the comic strip in Scrye Magazine about Dragonball Z where this comes from, well, missed out on hilarity.

Interaction.  Is a game a game if you don’t interact with anything?  Solitaire?  Interacting with random draws or layouts.  Too esoteric, maybe.  Interaction with opponents in a game with multiple people is a necessary element to a game.

As I often say, I once thought interaction was the key to making a CCG good.  Then, I realized just how much interaction in multiplayer CCGs is crap.  Player A trashes player B and either C or D wins, just because A’s deck only does the one thing of trashing another player.  If you did a cost/benefit table of two-player CCGs vs. multiplayer CCGs, I’d put something down on the two-player side about how two-player CCGs don’t have to worry about the kingmaking effects of negative interactions.

Which led to the idea of “quality interaction”, however subjective that is.

But, this isn’t a post about quality interaction.  This is a post about something I more clearly realized due to helping design a CCG/LCG style game.

You want to minimize m-… self-play.  The more time you spend dealing with your own “board” is that much less time you are spending engaging your opponent(s).  Seems obvious, but it also seems like designers forget about this when trying to come up with mechanics, especially when doing top-down mechanics, i.e. simulating the flavor of whatever the game is based on.

At least, if you are looking for enjoyable play.  For effectiveness, it’s something of a truism that the less you interact with your opponents, the better off you are.

I’ll run through the CCGs I know best.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

I hadn’t thought about this until yesterday.  The increased number of effects that happen during untap always struck me as being off, but it was only yesterday that I realized that at least part of this was because it was purely administrative functions that had no interactions with other players’ boards and card play.  (Burn option is not remotely interactive, just in case it bothers anyone I don’t mention this.)

To get kind of sidetracked already, people bitch a lot about Imbued, and a lot of the carping has to do with how long they take.  Then, you get counterarguments that people who know what they are doing don’t take very long.  It’s clearer to me now that it isn’t the actual time spent, but that the Imbued deck is doing lots of things that don’t involve other players.  Much like Freak Drive decks play with themselves for far too long.

There are some benefits to expanding the untap phase, such as helping people remember optional untap effects like taking pool for the Edge or using a hunting ground.  But, overall, it’s just more doing stuff that isn’t “playing a game” (interacting with people).  Similarly, expanding the master phase, the influence phase, and the discard phase all involve expanding phases where you aren’t playing with other people.

Which obviously brings up the minion phase.  The minion phase is the heart of the game.  A lot of people like combat because they see it being the primary interactive element to the game.  I see stealth versus intercept, bleed mods vs. bounce, actions vs. wakes being the primary interactive elements of the game.  But, I can see how some wouldn’t find those quite as compelling as the subgame that is combat as they like the feeling of more directly interacting.

Either way.  The point is that actions are where we engage other players.  Of course, it’s not just actions but the possibility of interference with actions.  Unblockability, such as from excessive amounts of stealth, is obviously less engaging.  I hate playing decks that don’t wake because being tapped out means not being involved in the game, even if all I’m doing is waking and bouncing – bounce is actually a pretty good form of interaction in the game, which is yet another reason I don’t see why people hate it so much.

Where Imbued are masters of the untap, Girls …, et al, are annoying for their abuse of the master phase.  No wonder people can find them more obnoxious than decks that do things I find far worse, like minion destruction.

Babylon 5

A lot of my observations about interaction have come from B5.  There’s no requirement that you interact with opponents, like there essentially is in V:TES.  B5 is a race game, so you can sit back and gain your influence/power as efficiently as possible and hope you outspeed everyone else.  This was one of the great criticisms of the game – that everyone could play multiplayer solitaire.

The whole beginning of the game, outside of some speed/hyperspeed openings was predicated on doing infrastructure work … which is why people so often hated the beginning of B5 games.  Sponsor, build, promote, build, build, build, build, okay … now we start interacting.

Then, as the card pool got bigger, it became easier and easier to spend more and more actions.  It wasn’t like those actions were increased participation in conflicts.  Those actions were often more infrastructure building.  It’s hard to choose one card as the worst card ever printed for B5 – too many options, but in terms of making action rounds as dumb as possible, Bogged Down has to rank up there.  The intention might have been noble – to force people to do important things, but the real result was to encourage people to do numerous trivial actions to prevent the inevitable Secret Strike that would guarantee a successful conflict if everyone else had passed.

Did B5 have a problem with too much administrative stuff outside of the action round?  I wouldn’t say so.  The game emphasized the action round as it should.  Possibly too easy to have a full hand of cards (20, 30), which slowed things down.  Probably too many ways to dick around for a while before doing important things.  And, often, lots of problems with conflicts being the focus of the game.

Wheel of Time

I enjoyed WoT a lot, so why don’t I ever try to argue for its greatness?  Because hardly any of the game involved interacting with your opponent.  Not to say that interaction never mattered.  Challenges could easily decide games depending upon deck matchups.  A basic Pattern Challenge contested might nuke enough resources to decide a game long before the Last Battle.  But, usually, the game was heavily oriented towards recruit, recruit, recruit, Last Battle.

It was particularly bad before the expansions added more brutal challenge cards.  Outrecruiting almost always won games.  The primary form of interaction was actually forced, random discard with Thom Merrilin, Liandrin Sedai, Sabotage (which I underplayed).  That’s not terribly fun, though Thom was the Light’s only hope.

Even after Invasion, Genocide, and the like got published, there were still many games where it was just recruit, recruit, recruit, Guarded by Fate not to die, see what happens in the Last Battle.

There wasn’t a lot of administrative nonsense.  However, there was a lot of time spent just on recruiting.  There was way, way too much time spent counting up symbols – an argument for turning WoT into an awesome electronic CCG.  Lots of card drawing and card searching.

Then, even if you did actually contest challenges, the system for determining who went to which challenges or wussed out was horribly clunky.  Possibly exciting in the rare cases it mattered, but just so clunky that playing with people you trusted was completely different from playing with strangers.

Magic: The Gathering

I think Magic “wins” this category in a couple of ways.  First, while there are ways to do things during upkeep or draw or end of turn, the game is focused heavily on the main phases and the combat subphase.  Second, Magic has lots of ability to interfere with what opponents are doing.  Counterspells might annoy me and be a general source of unfunnity … people like to have their cards do something … but they and things like instant speed creature elimination or responding to effects with card play or board effects all mean that the game has lots of ability to require players to be paying attention to what is going on.  Third, while I consider Magic’s draw one card a turn the primary reason it’s not as fun as it should be, limiting cards in hand does mean that each individual play has more relevance – compare and contrast with games where playing several cards might have no greater game meaning.

On the other hand, Magic does have interaction issues.  Creature combat may be far more important these days, but it’s historically been a minor part of constructed play.  My swarm of 2/2’s beat, your 5/5 flyer swings back, Bolt/Terror/Swords is more of an answer than Giant Growth.  Magic’s more open nature when it comes to card interactions also means far more combo decks than other CCGs, decks that just want to go off and you either can interfere or you can’t.  Can also be ground out by graveyard decks recursing creatures.  Can be hard locked or soft locked out of games a host of ways.  Armageddon or targeted land destruction to prevent being able to play cards, discard to destroy the hand, counterspell everything, whatever – all means games that suck.

In fact, as much as Magic should have better interaction due to its structure, it often has worse than other CCGs due to card effects.  Creature removal is far too easy, making any given creature unreliable.  Planeswalkers, which are awful for the game, become cardless ways that are hard to get rid (to the extent that anything in Magic is hard to get rid of) of that produce obnoxious, repeatable effects.  Equipment tries to solve the problem of creature enchantments being the suck, but they are a much more difficult way to interact with an opponent outside of environments where artifact removal is prevalent.

Ultimate Combat!

Why talk about Magic first?  Well, UC! is Magic.  UC! also has much less relevance to others.

UC! had far fewer effects to interfere with opponent card play, but it did have a lot of lockdown effects.  It had Time Walk.  It had a Time Walk variant.  It had Mindslaver.  It had Winter Orb (as a “sorcery”).  It had Armageddon.  It had lots of scary, scary things it could do to you and very little ability to stop those, mostly “Memory Lapse”, … in theory.

In practice, aggro plays are so strong that a lot of the control mechanisms just aren’t reliable enough.  One wonders whether it would be fair to compare UC! to a Magic format more like Legacy, even given the differences in curve and options, just because of the brutal nature of how decks won.

One thing I vastly prefer about UC! is that “creatures” are one-shots.  It may seem odd that I hate creatures in Magic as much as I do because of how easy they are to remove, but an undealt with creature just wins, often in a tedious fashion.  At least with UC!, you feel like you can recover permanentwise.  Though, I do find that Favorite Technique undermines this immensely.

UC! has about as many administrative needs as Magic, so nothing much there.  The combat subphase is far more important in UC! due to how few other ways there are to win and technique interaction is the norm rather than an accident.  Giant Growths are ubiquitous, which is a lot more interesting to me than Swords to Plowshares effects.

While I concede that proper Magic play requires a lot of thinking and that my numerous bad experiences often come down to poor planning (deck construction metagaming) or huge discrepancies in player skill, I’m quite the believer that proper play in UC! is a massive factor.  So, while the interaction may seem more limited and just generally less present, I find that I have to pay a lot of attention to the game state and making good decisions does get rewarded.

Tomb Raider

Sure, why not?  So, I didn’t play a lot of this game.  Who has?  I probably played my share through playtesting.

Two-player Tomb Raider never felt all that interactive.  Well, maybe starter versus starter was okay, though it wasn’t that hard for one player to get locked on one side of the board.  Multiplayer had a very different problem.

We often playtested multiplayer scenarios where you had to return home with your prize.  Not unexpectedly, it ran into the problem of people behind just waiting for someone to return and ambushing, much like you might see in RoboRally.

In addition, much of Tomb Raider had nothing to do with your opponent.  Getting stuff, overcoming board effects, deciding where to explore – the game was probably much better suited to solitaire play since decks designed to nuke your opposing adventurer(s) weren’t exactly fun for people who wanted to do things like tool up.  The balance of adventurer destruction just wasn’t really there.

Even worse was the intended interaction of card play obstacles.  A core mechanic of the game was supposed to be to throw obstacles in front of your opponent(s).  But, as with other games that had similar mechanics, like Shadowrun, obstacles didn’t do anything to help you and may just end up helping an opponent.  Nevermind that it was a major hassle to even be able to play an obstacle.  Again, I can think of how the game could work better as a solitaire game with there being an obstacle deck that randomly spit out additional obstacles to add to inherent ones on locations.

Just a strange entry in the history of CCGs.  I’m sure a far better game with much more appeal could have been created stealing a lot of elements from Tomb Raider.  Even reasonably likely such a game already exists as TR always reminded me of random dungeon games.

The Next Big Thing

So, if going to try to make some money off a new CCG/LCG or any sort of game, it may not seem like a key concern, but I would pay attention to just how much of the game is not designed around doing things that opponents are involved in.  Bookkeeping – bad.  Lots of plays that can’t be affected – bad.  Lots of phases to a turn where things must be addressed that don’t really engage the players – bad.

“Liveliness” in a game is tied to enjoyment.  I can think of boardgames that have similar problems, in fact very possibly a greater issue with boardgames, where there is lots of dead time for other players, but I think I’ve hit a reasonable word count limit.


Enjoy?

October 15, 2011

So, I was reading Starcitygames.com’s front page, free section.  (All the articles in this section are Magic related.)  One person’s post talked about what he enjoyed in Magic.  What prompted the thought for him, Matt Elias, is interesting in other ways since it was a game Matt played where his opponent played a land and a one-drop, Matt won on turn two, and his opponent asked him if he enjoyed playing decks like the one he was playing.  Matt goes on to explain that the answer was “yes” because he enjoys drawing lots of cards and not, assumedly, because he likes having games that don’t qualify as being an actual game.

When it comes to Magic, I also like drawing cards, though it’s probably not as important to me.  The reason why card drawing is important to me has more to do with how I believe Magic’s greatest problem is the draw one card a turn mechanic.

Anyway, I want to talk about more than Magic.  I want to think about what I enjoy most in the CCGs I have played or have been most invested in.  I’m going to try to go in order of what I’ve played the most.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

I’m sure I’ve spent more time playing this than anything else, perhaps as much time playing this as all other CCGs combined due to longevity of play and relative  consistency of play.  It’s also my largest CCG collection from a straight card quantity metric.

What do I enjoy most about V:TES?

Not deck construction.  I may be prolific, but I dislike many of my decks, certainly don’t have the same attachments as I’ve had with decks for other CCGs.  I don’t even consider deck construction all that important.

Not the source material.  I was once fond of Vampire: The Masquerade, back before I played much of it.  I have some connection to the source material, I guess.  Though, I’ve always had separate interests.  For instance, I actually enjoyed playing cards that require Dominate for many years whereas … to give an idea how little interest I had in Dominate in the RPG, my two main characters were a Tremere and a Ventrue – neither had any dots in Dominate.  I could go on about the differences, but there are so many examples that it would likely just be tedious.

Not the politics.  Funny thing is that politics was far less important in my early years of play – 1996 (when I started) to maybe 2002.  People were much more focused on either the player to the left or the right and doing what their decks did, which was often lots of bleeding.  My style of play, which is far more concerned with what the crazy people across the table are doing than with my natural partners to the left and right, developed in reaction to that.  Now, of course, I often lament how much table management is a consideration over having people get ousted.  I have a basic view that any table can be talked to victory, and that’s just annoying.  What interests me the most seems to be …

Card interactions?  I stress context.  For everything.  There is no meaning without context, an argument I remember making in a college philosophy course.  Card interactions, in and of themselves, probably don’t do it for me.  I think it’s because games, more so with some CCGs than with other CCGs or other games, have a feature to them besides just the numerical values of the components.  I’ll come back to this when I get to Babylon 5.  But, as a V:TES example, I find it hilarious to Shattering Blow someone’s Assault Rifle in constructed play.  It’s not so much the flavor, it’s that there’s a game context that Shattering Blow is a bad card and that the odds of being at close range against someone with an Assault Rifle are negligible, after all, the odds of even playing against someone with an Assault Rifle while running Shattering Blow are minute.  It’s these sorts of odd/surprising card interactions, where odd/surprising is determined within the context of how a game plays, that floats my boat.  Because they are so much more varied in CCGs than in other games is likely why I value CCGs so highly.

What about on a more tree level than forest level?

I enjoy having lots of minions, though I seem to forget this a lot.  I enjoy being successful at actions.  I enjoy surviving when survival seems implausible.  I enjoy guessing at what is in my opponents’ hands at any given time.  I enjoy discarding master cards to Pariah.  I enjoy lots of sound and fury signifying nothing – lots of cards played with little of consequence occurring, to an extent, anyway.  Far more than other CCGs, V:TES is the game where I can accomplish the least in results and still be enjoying playing.

Babylon 5

For a game that I didn’t start playing until the year after it came out (1997) and which I haven’t played in nearly a decade(?) at this point, I sure did play a lot once upon a time.  Once our group started playtesting, it was crazy how much we had to switch between living in the future and going back to what was already in print.

Far more so than V:TES for me, Babylon 5 was about the connection to the source material.  I didn’t start out a B5 fan.  I was far more interested in Deep Space 9 as the look of season one and the terrible acting of Sinclair were so offputting.  I only saw a couple of season one episodes and gave up on the show.  Then, I saw season two, and I became a fan.

Where V:TES is much more a “game” CCG, B5 was definitely a “genre” CCG.  You were required to play with main characters and numerous cards were recognizable, obviously virtually all of the character cards.  For me, this was an opportunity to mess with people’s expectations, a common theme throughout my gaming.  I think the first tournament I ever won was with a Centauri Diplomacy deck, pumping B5 influence.  That would have been the Fall of 1998, just a tad (3 sets) before Centauri Diplomacy was legit.  I played Minbari Intrigue before Shadows.  Londo got Vorlon Marks.  Sheridan, Shadow Marks.  I often played Centauri Military, in part to counteract obnoxious Narn war decks, but also because … well, there were a number of reasons, so maybe not a great example.

Some characters I liked better than others.  I kept trying to get a Walker Smith card created, including when I was working on the Anla’shok design team.  Again, the point is that B5 was a CCG that lived within the context of the flavor of the show.

Other things I enjoyed:  Non-player influence, especially B5 influence – Shadow and Vorlon influence could get annoying due to the major agenda, but even so, to me, the best part of the show was the Shadow War.  Marks – I loved me my marks, even Conspiracy Marks, even Doom Marks after they became far harder to convert to Destiny Marks and Seizing Advantage got rewritten.  I loved me my hyperspeed, especially hyperspeed military – unlike the V:TES players who virtually always see me screw around, my Spike-ness came through with trying to win major victories in 20 minutes with Conscription openings, even though it was incredibly unfun to play against.

Which brings up something deserving of its own paragraph.  Precedence CCGs allowed you to choose your opening hands.  This was huge, potentially large.  Choosing optimal opening hands was its own subgame.  I agonized about it more with Wheel of Time, but I spent more time (because I played more) on it with B5.  The Great Machine openings, Military Build-Up openings, Gambling Londo being all about not having an opening hand – I think it was a major fun factor to these games that one had so much control *and* so much variety with how to play the early game.  Of course, as B5’s early game was often anti-fun to play, it was likely essential to have something fun about it.  Also, this would be why any sort of aggro opening, like Conscription, was so much more fun – avoid the tedious building actions and taking entire turns just sponsoring or promoting someone.

Magic: The Gathering

I’m not so clear what the order should be after B5.  I think this is where Magic falls in how much I played a particular CCG, though with all of the playtesting we used to do for Precedence games, it’s hard to be sure how much Wheel of Time I actually played.

What do I enjoy about Magic?  This would seem to be yet another opening for me to rant about how frustrating it is that I don’t enjoy the game more, but that’s not the spirit of this post.

I enjoy building limited decks.  I hate building constructed decks for Magic as there are simply too many options.  Yes, the complaint that I’ve seen by others for various CCGs I’ve played where I built tons of decks of it being too hard to complete one deck without thinking of a bunch of others is exactly the problem I have with Magic constructed.  But, limited doesn’t have that issue.

Similarly, I enjoy drafting.  I don’t love it.  But, having a plan for what sort of limited deck to build is interesting.  Drafting Magic is a lot more interesting than drafting V:TES since Magic is designed to be drafted and may be the only good CCG for drafting.

I like burn.  I especially like burn that can go to the dome or nuke critters.  I very quickly developed a distaste for creatures given how easy it was for one to die to Terror, Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, or whatever.  On the other hand, Spitting Earth doesn’t kill your opponent.

I like multicolor cards and non-basic lands.  A lot of this might just be aesthetic appeal due to coloration and layout, but for some reason, I’ve always been attracted to lands that didn’t just tap for mana or that tapped for multiple colors of mana.  I think it’s because basic land is the most boring part of Magic.  Similarly, multicolor cards are rarer, thus more exotic.

I enjoy the ability to come out of nowhere for unexpected victory.  Pretty much the only thing I ever enjoy about a game of chess is when I make some unexpected sudden win move.  It’s a bit more likely in Magic.  I was playing Zak Dolan, that would be Magic’s first world champion, with sealed Tempest product when I had him shut down offensively with Humility, but I had to jump through a bunch of hoops with Capsize with buyback and pinging until I could get enough land in play with the last card in my deck to burn him out with Rolling Thunder for exactly how many life points he had left.  The game was dumb for him for quite a while as it looked like I’d just deck with the board choked with creatures, but I knew that the game was winnable for me.

I enjoy thinking about all of the various card combos.  Well, not all, I’m not that Johnny.  Some, with cards I think are cool.  And, that’s the thing.  Magic has so many cool cards.  In a more general sense, I enjoy thinking about deck archetypes and how to win the metagame.  I hate how Magic relies on hosers and I’m no fan of sideboards, but sideboards do enable vastly more metagame choices.

Magic, more than V:TES, where I don’t think it matters, more than Babylon 5, which is more about doing “what if” riffs on the show, is a CCG that appeals to my sense of efficiency and effectiveness.  Now, for two others.

Ultimate Combat!

I’ve probably played more Wheel of Time than Ultimate Combat!, but UC! is more important to me, and it makes sense to put it next to Magic, considering that it’s basically Magic, with the awesome flavor and variety of Magic replaced with fun game play.

I feel compelled to mention, yet again, that UC! was the first CCG I ever played.  My first game turned out to be frustrating after the fact, but it’s quite possible that failing to win that game after taking away 19 of my opponent’s 20 hit points in one turn motivated me to learn more about the game.

It’s an impossible sell.  For those who like UC!, it’s preaching to the converted.  For everyone else, can’t get past the art, the theme, and/or the card names.  Nevertheless, UC! is the most fun CCG to play.

Why?

Well, what makes games fun to play?

I’m fairly sure that the single most important thing to a game being enjoyable is closeness of result.  In other words, that every player had a good chance at winning the game.  A huge turnoff to me is when I feel like a game is unwinnable, including for an opponent.  Similarly, the sporting events I find most compelling are the ones where the winner barely wins.

This is why Magic is a vastly inferior game to UC!.  Sure, there are blowouts in UC!.  There are games where you can get a lock.  They are rare.  Or, at least, they are so much rarer than other games that I always think of UC! as the game where “if I don’t get you this turn, you win next turn”.

UC! is the CCG where games play fast, players get beat down hard, and both players are always in danger of losing.  It’s also a game where tight play and subtle moves matter.  Deciding whether to throw a Speed/Strength in defense may determine the game.  May deck one turn before putting an opponent away (decking is easy and has the same result as it does in Magic).

As for the limited variety that comes with only having two sets, I still believe that there are plenty of decks for me to build.  Sure, some day, the variety won’t be there not just because of the small card pool but because so many cards are functionally the same, but it’s sad that the game was never given a chance to be played out to that level.

Wheel of Time

A strange entry in that it was never particularly popular, I only had two regular opponents, and it didn’t last that long, but I was incredibly invested in the game.  Can I call myself a designer?  Maybe not.  I’m in the game credits as of the second expansion, but whether that’s because I helped enough with design or whether it was because I was doing things like art requests, I’m not so sure.

B5 introduced me to the awesomeness of choosing an opening hand for a CCG.  Wheel of Time was where I spent hours deciding on an opening hand for one deck.  While the dice mechanic was full of problems, some of which were fixed with the expansions, the probability calculations and permutations of results meant that a tremendous amount of analysis could be built just around the first few turns of the game.  This for a two-player game that often took us two hours.

I enjoyed the brokenness.  Typically, I get tired of brokenness quickly, but WoT was different in that it embraced brokenness to where it was the norm rather than the exception.  Okay, admittedly, a couple of card drawing cards got fixed as they were absurd, but the game was always a battle of broken card drawing, searching, and discard.  I really liked the different starting character possibilities.  Yes, this is just a subset of opening hand, but I became highly knowledgeable about the source material and the Forsaken options were particularly flavorful.

On a more general level, I can probably say that Wheel of Time was the one CCG I took seriously (most of the time) and really put my analytical skills and interest in efficiency/value to the test.  I can’t say I was a great player.  The one major I played in, I was screwed in the one game I lost because I was playing with a proxy, but I also didn’t feel like a great player during the event.  I was never top 10 in the world like I was with three other CCGs.  But, our playtesting was by far the best playtesting I’ve ever seen.  I still can picture sitting in Dave’s apartment, proving to ourselves that Forsaken.dec had no game against Maidens.  The level of analysis I read about with Magic is the level of analysis we were doing for WoT.

Tomb Raider

Yes, Tomb Raider.  What’s interesting here is that almost all of my Tomb Raider play was playtesting or demos.  I just really wasn’t that into the game.  So, why bother bringing it up?

I’ve defended Tomb Raider a lot.  I’m not an art guy when it comes to CCGs.  I appreciate great art, but it doesn’t determine whether I enjoy playing a game or not.  So, it’s hard for me to relate to people who will only get into a game that appeals visually, even if I did pass on checking out Magi-Nation because of aesthetics.  In terms of game play, Tomb Raider is not a strong CCG.  It’s not even that much of a CCG.  It’s really more of a boardgame with CCG elements.

Sure, I thought about opening hands with Tomb Raider.  My best recollection of one was running two copies of the “draw two cards” card.  And, I’m sure the CCG elements were important to having the game be something more than just a boardgame.  But, I think the main takeaway from my experiences with the CCG is that it could be a fun boardgame that could handle a range of players that, with a different genre (or much hotter Lara Croft art), could have been something as appealing as the HeroQuest boardgame, which I see similarities between.

Other?

I had a Netrunner collection once upon a time.  I could include Dragon Dice.  And, so forth.  But, really, this has gone on long enough and none of these were comparable to the above (except, maybe, Tomb Raider).