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.


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.”


Ultimate Combat! Rules

May 30, 2016

Yes it does.

Anyway, I’m kind of lazy and don’t feel like typing the single foldout, two-sided sheet of game rules for UC!.  Plus, there’s this thing called the internet where other people have done work.

Wikipedia entry.  That covers basics.  Actually, UC! was surprisingly sophisticated in a few ways.  One of them is that the tutorial in the rules sheet is quite good.  But, anyway.

I’ll consider scanning the rules, but I think it’s going to be hard to read, though I don’t know how well .pdfs zoom.

One thing the entry doesn’t talk much about is advantages.  The sequence of attack goes:  attacker pushes forward a single technique to display an attack, the defender decides whether to block with a single technique or not, the attacker plays all advantages (with an important exception), the defender plays all advantages.  Exception?  Combination.  When the first attack resolves, the attacker may play a combination on a set up technique (techniques have summoning sickness if it isn’t explained anywhere) to create an additional attack, which is resolved as above.  Any number of combinations can be played in a turn if there are enough techniques to attack with.

Combination decks can be vicious.  Something I got wrong on my oral exam was that any time the total defense value is higher than the attack value, all subsequent combination attacks are -X where X equals the amount the defense is higher.  I thought that only applied with counters, but it always applies.

Action cards can only be played on your turn unless they say otherwise.  Only advantages can be played during an attack.  It’s unclear what the timing rules on actions are, though they largely don’t interact with each other except things like Psychic Delay.

Weapons may break by playing rock-paper-scissors after use, which is why they suck in constructed.  They get 2 counters on them after use and lose a counter each recovery phase, cannot be used when they have a counter on them.

The movement grid is nonintuitive.  Movement only affects when attacking.  If I have a move left in play and you aren’t moving, I get +1 to my attack.  If you have move left in play as well, I get -1 to my attack.  Don’t try to think of movement as having two modifiers.

You can have only one of each talisman, weapon, or armor in play at a time.

I think that covers some major things not in the Wiki entry.


Draw, Lose, Win

February 6, 2016

I’ve now forgotten what got me to thinking about this, but I got to thinking about success and failure.  Oh, not in RPGs.  In CCGs, though the principle could apply to boardgames.

Not how to succeed or fail.  Not on the strategic level.  On the transaction level of the game.

I speak of transactions during CCG play because I needed some term to describe the events that happen during play that entertain me the most.  Results don’t generally entertain me.  Of course, a result can come from a transaction.

Anyway, I’m going to do my usual “here are the CCGs I played the most and why Ultimate Combat! is the best CCG ever” breakdown.  The general idea, to reiterate, is … wait, I don’t think I got to what the point of all of this is.  The point of all of this is that I enjoy CCG play when you have interesting, one might say compelling, successes and failures within games.  Probably, I’m also of the bent to be more interested in successes than failures.

Magic

I can say that drawing one card a turn is the worst thing about Magic.  But, that’s independent of actually enjoying playing.  I don’t enjoy Magic less because I draw one card a turn.  I enjoy it less because drawing one card a turn reduces how many things I do during a game.

Speaking of doing things during a game, this topic goes to why I enjoy Magic so much less than other CCGs.  I don’t feel like I succeed during play, at least not in any sort of compelling way.

What are points of success/failure in Magic?  My creature deals damage or not.  My spell is countered or not.  My counter counters your spell or not.  My removal removes or not.  I burn your brains or not.  I sac land to create mana to force you to draw your deck or not.

In a lot of ways, in other words, my cards do something meaningful or not.

Turn two, I tap two land and cast a 2/2.  Turn three, it attacks.  That is okay.  But, what if you cast an equivalent 2/2 on your turn before I attack and I decide not to trade?  That’s not succeeding at something.  Maybe that’s not failing, either, but nothing happening* is pretty boring.

*  Which makes one wonder why I spend so much time doing nothing during V:TES games, but I’ll get to that later.

So often, what happens in a game of Magic is something that doesn’t produce any sort of interesting, one might say dramatic, success or failure.  I bring out a 4/4.  It gets bounced, destroyed, even possibly buried since Type P still uses bury, or removed from play.  That’s a “removal success” on my opponent’s part, but it’s rather uninteresting to me.  Of course, the worst situations in Magic tend to be of the “I really need a card to deal with the board position, but I just drew a … land/card I can’t afford/other irrelevant card”.  Yes, mana screw is a variant of this, where I often see games where you don’t get one of your colors or enough mana to keep up.

It could very well be why I gravitate towards to fast decks with low mana curves.  You are more likely to play something early.  That early play may not win you the game, but it’s likely to do something.  Plus, shooting people in the noggin might make up for being in some sort of board position lock.

I’m probably not alone in the idea of wanting to DO THINGS when playing games.  After all, hand destruction, land destruction, and counterspells are three of the things players have expressed the most hate for.

Not to rag much more on Magic, but, even when I’m winning, I’m often bored with what is going on.  Oh, look, my auto creature generator keeps generating another dude my opponent can’t stop.  Or, whatever.  Not always the case, but far too often.

Ultimate Combat!

I don’t recall Mindslaver going off in any game of Magic I’ve played.  The older, yes, printed earlier, Mental Domination has gone off a bunch of times.  It would seem like the ultimate unhappinesser.  It’s weirdly not.

Actually, most of the time, Mental Dom just speeds your opponent towards decking.  The board impact is rather minimal as there’s little ability to prep or follow up with something nasty to an eight-cost play.

Now, Shake Up has to be a better card because it’s far more effective at deciding who wins.  But, I’m getting off topic.  Suppress is more like what Mental Dom would seem to be.  The ability to deprive someone of playing the game is, of course, not terribly enjoyable.

Attacks are far more interesting in UC! than in Magic.  Because techniques are one-shot plays, you lose something by deciding to attack or deciding to defend, unlike some 1/6 wall in Magic just sitting there sucking up damage every round.  Sure, Favorite Technique and weapons break this big time, though weapons are too unreliable or require too much effort in my experience, just leaving the potential for hideous lock situations with Drunken Favorite Techniques.

Yet another reason that UC! might actually be a better game without the expansion – Drunken Style is just way too much of a hose.  Whether it’s combinations, Adrenaline, doubled Speed/Strength, X advantages, or … well, other advantages are kind of too esoteric to worry about, Drunken techniques just fail too many “progress towards winning” plays.

Oddly, perhaps, you can get by with many fewer techniques than Magic decks will creatures.  Though removal barely exists in UC! and every use of a technique means it goes away, a lot of games are won off the back of three or so attacks.  Attack, combination, combination, with some help besides just a movement card can get you there, though probably have to do a bit more than just swing three times.

While Healing Mantra isn’t the best thing ever, it is rather discouraging on how it undoes successes.  It’s not like you really stop it from resolving unless you get into an unexpected Psychic Delay counter war.  On the other hand, for the more controllish player (in practice, but is this true in theory?), the success of getting back some hit points in a game that can often be – beat, beat, beat, over – may very well be an interesting success.  I know I’ve thought about holding off on attacks to choke someone on Healing Mantra until I could go over the top in one round.  That’s possibly interesting.

You rarely fail to play your cards.  They often do something.  Limited play has a strong technique management element to it that shows up very differently in constructed play.  Just putting out some random 3/2 technique may decide the game because so many UC! games come down to “if I don’t win this turn, you win next turn”.  When you do come up short because someone had the Speed/Strength to survive or had some bizarre play, like Banana Peel, to do so, that’s rather interesting.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

Every action is a possible success/failure.  Really, a hunt action can be quite dramatic, though usually just more setting up something down the road.  So much of my enjoyment in the game is seeing whether my bleeds will succeed or fail or seeing whether bleeds against me will succeed or fail.

But, tool up actions can decide games.  Votes are annoyingly swingy much of the time.  Though, to be fair to voting, I often have the view that most KRCs should succeed.  After all, someone invested cards and capacity into doing something, so it feels more failuretastic when a vote fails than when a bleed fails.

Combat is far less interesting to me than to others because I see it falling into a closer to Magic paradigm of success/failure not being all that interesting.  The best combats are the play a bunch of cards but little actually happens sort.  Those are pretty rare.  What’s interesting about “I rush you, Carrion Crows, Bats til you die”?  I still get beaten up by Trap decks, and it’s routinely boring as hell.

If Magic is a game where I feel more like the interesting bit is the result, V:TES falls into the camp, along with most other CCGs, where I’m living in the transactions.  (UC! tends to have fewer transactions and they tend toward being the same sort much of the time.)

Shattering Blow on Assault Rifle – yes, combat can be amusing – is living in the trees.  That should both be an interesting success for one player and an interesting failure for the other.

Masters and events – not really interesting successes and failures except in those rare cases when Sudden on a Villein is indecisive.

So, you may be wondering how all of this is any different from my going on about positive/constructive/quality interaction.  I guess it’s not.  I guess I’m repeating myself.  Well, on with the recursion.

Wheel of Time

Why WoT before B5?  Dice?

So, dice is not something I would go with in a CCG.  Oh, sure, die values on cards, like War Cry or 40k is really interesting and has rather sophisticated design space.  But, actually rolling dice?  That’s pretty ugly.

Made even more so by how important your rolls could be in WoT.  Prior to “Fixed Rand”, Lord Dragon giving you a big dice pool, and other expansion mechanics, WoT was way too dependent upon rolling specific things.  Even after the first couple of turns, after you burned Pattern just to bring out your Thoms or Liandrins, you needed certain symbols to continue your snowball of annihilation, your “I draw my deck” (but later errataed) advantages, etc.

Success.  Challenges didn’t become as important until later in the meta.  Suicide Dragon relied on them.  Maidens (not in playtesting where they were the most broken thing ever) relied on them, though that was long after the game had changed dramatically from Premier’s limited viable options.  So, what was success largely a matter of?

Recruiting, of course.  Card drawing.  Searching.  Yeah, there’s a reason WoT wasn’t one of the best designed games ever.  How about Overrun?  Succeeding at nuking characters or not nuking them with Overrun was a key feature of the game.  Last Battle event play to swing things just enough for victory was a key feature.

A strange game by the way I describe what it was like.  Actually, yes, it was just a strange game.  Recruit, recruit, recruit, draw cards to recruit some more.  Then, roll lots of dice.  Every once in a while play against some goofy kill character deck where you had to have your Guarded by Fates a ready or Healing Herbs.

There was certainly something going on during games.  Well, moving on.

Babylon 5

Expansions may have had a lot of bad ideas, but the most problematic environment (other than the Drakh/Ultimate Hoser environment or the “look at all my technomages environment”) was the Premier environment.  For the simple reason that success barely needed to happen to end games.

Sheridan gets a bunch of Doom that nobody can really interact with, Martyr, win.  Centauri/Narn win two conflicts and cheese to 20 power.  Alliance of Races, Forced Evolution, Order Above All just put a clock on the game.  Shadow Marks make Centauri Border Raids unstoppable … unless you You Are Not Ready something into oblivion.

Not Meant To Be could counter some stuff.  You Are Not Ready didn’t always hit “good” conflicts, it sometimes stopped annoying conflicts.  Level the Playing Field may have been annoying in how swingy it could be, but it did make success and failure more interesting.  There were a lot of events, at different points, that someone could play to suddenly be able to pop out a fattie or to buff someone.

Trade counters may not have made trade cheese all that interesting, but it did produce failures where you could expect only successes.

A lot of games weren’t really that good, certainly when it came to producing results.  But, tooling up certain characters or in certain ways was interesting to me.  “Adira Strikes” might have been intended for social play since the whole idea of Inconclusive Strike on Adira to make her bigger was not terribly productive, but the idea of pumping characters other than ambassadors with enhancements, aftermaths, marks, or whatever was a way to get some transactional success.

Unfortunately, the mechanic most intended for transactional success/failure – aftermaths – was normally a waste of deck space.

There’s a lot of B5 play I forgot.  But, for whatever reason, I tend to remember the positive – my amusement – a lot more than the games that just rather sucked.  Enjoyable card play must have been part of the experience.

Shadowfist

To me, Shadowfist is the CCG I’ve played a significant amount of that has the most transactions by far.  I can breakdown the important stuff in B5 games or V:TES games, even with a ton of cards played or in games where stuff happens for two hours.  I can’t ever seem to recall every little notable event in a Shadowfist game, unless the game is horribly unbalanced and over in 20 minutes.

But, are those transactions interesting?

Yes.  Shadowfist also happens to be the game where I have the least feel for what determines the outcome.  Because the outcome is largely removed from my experience, it is precisely the successes and failures in the transactions that I focus on.  Lusignan riding a Fire Horse and wielding the Boundless Heaven Sword is a success right up until he gets shut down by some cheap event, which can be an interesting failure.

Sure, Kinoshita House, Fox Pass, and whatnot make for less interesting failures.  But, there’s often so many things going on, a stack can just get insane, that I’m living in a world of transactional successes and failures.

So, why isn’t Shadowfist the best thing ever?  Because it can be too much to track.  V:TES has a much more manageable amount of effects in play at a time, to where I feel like I have some control over what happens.  I can determine success or, at least, predict it.

Having the player be in control has value.  I notice a lot more the sort of mistakes I make with other CCGs.  With Shadowfist, too often, it’s questionable the extent of a mistake.  I can look back at winning a V:TES tournament after letting Augustus Giovanni get torped right away in a prelim round as a mistake that probably didn’t hurt me any.  It improved the optics on my position of pathetic weakness.  With Shadowfist, I often don’t know whether overlooking something hurt more, hurt less, or didn’t hurt at all.

That lack of knowing does decrease the compellingness of successes and failures.

Maybe I just did rethink the whole concept of quality interaction.  But, I think there’s some point to trying to get at a bit more detail on what’s enjoyable about actually playing CCGs (there’s always deck construction and metagame analysis for other reasons CCG can be enjoyable).  It’s really Magic where I realized that I just don’t feel like success and failure in the transactions engages me that much, and that’s why I would rather play any of the other CCGs I’ve mentioned today.


CCG 103

November 15, 2015

So, there I was, beating up on an eight-year old at Type P Magic.  He had Assassinate, Lightning Axe, and Sulferous Blast in hand at one point and should have played them differently.  I drew a Swamp in time to Cruel Revival his Evil Eye of Urborg.

Curve.  Card advantage.  Card synergy.  Managing cards in play (e.g. blocking sometimes).

There are plenty of things to learn.  I don’t recall picking up a game nearly as complex as Magic is at that age.  I was only playing mahjong, rummy, chess (badly … hasn’t changed), and the like.

So, I wouldn’t put a lot of expectations on my opponent.

But.

I got to thinking about other CCGs I play and how there must be a lot of subtle things about them that it takes people time to learn.  Well, duh.

But.

To make this post useful, what are they?

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

Somehow, I doubt I’ll be able to articulate without having an example situation in front of someone.  I’m certainly not going to build some intricate examples in the next hour and a half.

Pool totals.  For some reason, people don’t seem to pay as much attention to them as I would.  I could very well be wrong.  But, the pool is the Spice, er, …  Then, comparing those totals against stuff, you know, bleed stuff is something to do.

Everyone knows that Samson can bleed for 5.  Do they plan around that?  Do they plan around the likelihood of that?  I’m not talking about HoFers, I’m talking about people developing their winningnesses.

I’m constantly amazed … well, no, I’m not.  Amazed isn’t the right word, nor does constantly come in.  Let’s say I’m occasionally surprised when I assess that someone will win unless something significant happens and others don’t consider the player to be in the penthouse position.  The flip side is that it’s occasionally easy to see how someone dies in one to two turns and yet is considered worthy of added dyingnesses.

Bleed bounce is not given enough respect in terms of how it interacts with pool totals.  Someone without bleed bounce probably has 8-12 less pool than someone who has the greatest thing in the history of cardboard vampire proclivities.  Yes, that means someone sitting on 15 pool very well might be dead before their turn.

Deck focus.  Huh?  Focused decks are more predictable, thus why I try not to play them.  I’ve been stunned by a rush deck pulling out a wake, before, so sometimes you just don’t know.  But, let’s use the example of how lots of decks generate zero intercept.  That’s a big deal.  Whether you are running no stealth boost, some stealth boost, or are nothing but stealth boost, you kind of want to know how much you need to do things so that you can math your way into ousting damage.

Combat survivability.  Combat tends to blow, I mean, suck in V:TES.  It’s not the awesome, “I play six cards and we each lose one blood” mechanic that is should be.  I often get nuked in combats I don’t need to get into, though sometimes that just makes me look weak until my inevitable victory.  Sure, it takes time to learn about all of the combat possibilities as well as the probabilities of them occurring, but it shouldn’t take that much effort to learn to not block when you have a lot to lose and little to gain or don’t take that trivial action that will get you blocked and ‘schrecked.

I guess that gets into a broader concept of what actions matter and which don’t.  I’ve noted on multiple occasions that the reason hunting can be so strong is because it’s an action with little appearance of significance.  In a two-player CCG, “bleed, bleed, bleed, and … bleed” might be constructive, certainly endgame situations see a fair amount of this.  But, optics matter.  Yup, optics.

One can get deep on, say, the value of getting a weenie torped and having it sit in torpor as a sign of how pathetically loserville you are before you oust a couple of players, but let’s not get esoteric.

Babylon 5

I haven’t played B5 in quite the years.  But, a great problem with B5 was predictability of who was where at winning.  Can reasonably count potential influence/power gains.  So, not the most interesting thing to mention.

What about who has Secret Strike in hand?  What about those few aftermaths that actually affect winning, like Rise to Power?  What about someone having a chain of replacements for Londo or whomever in hand?  What about the guarantee that someone will You Are Not Ready you because you actually want to do things?  So, maybe don’t overcommit to your conflict.

Wheel of Time

I can talk about dead CCGs if I want to.

Overrun.  There’s not that many cards that will just rip your characters to shreds.  Play around Overrun.  In fact, many of the Last Battle events were rather predictable.  One Power events were kind of unpredictable because it was such a crapshoot whether you would generate enough OP symbols to play them effectively.

When in doubt, leave all of your characters home and recruit.  After all, that’s what the game was mostly about.

But, actually read what control of contested advantages will do, as that can be a huge headache if you just let your opponent play their game.

Not quite hitting the theme of the post?  Okay, this is a case of bringing up deck construction – every search and card draw and force your opponent to discard effect is worth considering, no matter how tortured it can be to generate politics to play “Draw 2 cards.”

Ultimate Combat!

Speed and Strength.  There are not a ton of things you can do to mess with math.  Power Drain is an interesting one.  But, chipping against attacks is a way to just barely not lose.

There aren’t a ton of rules to UC!.  Actually, some things are just not explained at all.  On the other hand, there are a surprising number of rules written into the double sided foldout sheet that comes in starters.  Like, that defenses higher than attacks reduce attack values for all subsequent attacks.  Making the decision to overload a block when not playing a Counter is … damn, I keep trying to go with simple things for people to be aware of, yet this is techy in a “one more tournament and I hit black belt status” way.

While possibly one of the most challenging aspects of the game, thinking about when and what to discard is a key element of being less outmathed.  How many techniques do you need to win?  How many advantages?  If you draw Adrenaline, what happens?

Shadowfist

Me dumb player.  Me not know how to factor in burn for power.  Me forget Underworld Tracker in smoked pile.  Me hold on to three resource-requiring card until not me wins.

Reset

Okay, this post is all over the place.  Let’s get back to learning principles of such things as curve, card advantage, et al.

Card advantage is not the dominant feature that Magic makes it in many other CCGs, which is actually fairly interesting.  Yes, Shadowfist can see it, once you factor power advantage.  V:TES can only occasionally see it like with minion advantage or permacept.  It’s probably one reason I enjoy UC! more than Magic – so many of the differences between the two mitigate card advantage; then, you have Favorite Technique to remind you of how much it sucks that one card can just own you.  B5 certainly had card advantage, though how much it mattered as a practical matter was hard to say.  I mean, there’s a reason multiplayer CCGs work as well as they do when they often have inferior mechanics and card design to two-player CCGs.

Curve.  I haven’t figured out the curve in Shadowfist, though our numerous house rules mess around with this quite a bit.  UC! has a more severe curve than Magic in some ways, at least with respect to techniques versus creatures.  In UC!, if your technique costs more than one, you may just be screwed (unless it’s your “Favorite”).  I used to think three cost techniques were competitive.  Ha.  Ha ha.  WoT has a goofy curve to it due to Pattern cost reduction, though if you expect Whitecloak play, then you probably need to focus more on being able to get your recruiting infrastructure together ASAP.  B5 often had an anti-curve with characters.  It was really about whether you were (Support of the …) Mighty or not, first, then about how massive you were.  Now, fleets were different.  I hadn’t considered it before, but, maybe, I liked boring old fleets because their costs were more interesting.

Try another angle.  Let’s say I’ve lost a lot of games of every CCG I’ve played.  What caused me to lose?

UC!  Getting behind in power.  Not defending enough.  Not discarding the right number of cards.

Shadowfist.  Not generating enough power reliably to play cards.  Not having enough resources to play cards.  Not discarding aggressively enough.  Not paying attention to effects.  Making a bid for victory when I knew it wouldn’t work.  Not manipulating other players.  Not burning for power often enough.  Not playing more “I win” cards.  Playing Ascended to try to find something about Ascended that was remotely interesting.

WoT.  Playing a proxy in the only major tournament I ever played in.  Not playing more Murder of Crows.  Actually, I don’t really remember losing much at WoT.  I’m sure I did, I just don’t remember it.  I know I didn’t win tournaments, though we had so few of those.  I don’t really recall who won our locals.  So much of our play was playtesting that I can’t recall our real play results hardly at all, and playtesting inferior cards wasn’t my fault.  I did own with Forsaken.dec and Maidens at times in playtesting, but that just got cards changed so that those decks weren’t as degenerate.

B5.  Playing stuff that was less boring.  I’m sure I made play mistakes, but I don’t recall those so much as I recall losing to mindnumbingly straightforward decks.  Also, another case of spending a ton of time playtesting.  Not abusing Crusade Piles, Techno-mages, and whatever.  Not playing more hosers, like ways to stop a Support of the Mighty win.

V:TES.  Playing against better players.  Yup, really.  When I play against better players, my winenergy is reduced dramatically.  So, what’s better?  Knowing cards better.  Yup, I actually sometimes get owned by other people knowing cards better.  Thinking of a possibility, then not playing to it.  Mark Loughman newbed me in one tournament game when I knew he could play Change of Target, but I blocked, anyway, … as his predator.

Also:  not playing more wakes; more bounce; more acceleration; more Blood Dolls/Minion Taps/Villeins; more winnie-kill.  Relying on other players to do sensible things, which is a dumb thing to do as many of my tournament wins have come about because other players didn’t do sensible things.  Losing concentration in endgame situations.  Not willing opponents to do my bidding.

Hey, you didn’t talk about tempo!  Tempo can answer card advantage.  Yeah, whatever.  Other than WoT (and Conscription based B5 decks), I generally avoided tempo – too much multiplayer play.

Okay, I have no idea what I was trying to accomplish.  I started with an idea of learning basics in managing CCGs better both deck constructionwise and playwise, and I just threw out a bunch of observations.


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.


The Wheel Spins

September 29, 2015

So, recently, it’s been a period of nostalgia.  A period to look back at those things I was most fond of and see what I can do with them.

I also read the last book in the Wheel of Time series, finally.  I was entertained, even read all of the sections that involved female characters.  Wasn’t the greatest ending.  Some archery fun between Tam and Birgitte would have been something.  I could go on, but this is not “a beginning”.

Immortal: The Invisible War

This used to be my favorite RPG.  But, I never really understood the actual system.  I say actual because a primary reason this was my favorite RPG was I played it with Ran (the designer for those who can’t be bothered to know these things) running.  No, I didn’t play in his group.  I was introduced to it at Origins the year it was in San Jose.  We would roll a d10 and magic would happen.

I went back and looked to try to understand what the actual rules were.  Yup, they are awful.  They are far more horrendous than I remember, though why I would remember much of rules we never actually used in play is a question.  Multiple hostiles going off at the same time.  If I think 26 skills is poor design, let’s try like 60 skills.  Skills have varying costs.  Abilities exist that just negate hostiles (an interesting idea but painful design when you could have 20 different hostiles at work).

Mechanics were broken up in a way that it wasn’t clear how character abilities worked.  After getting through the mechanics sections, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing to preserve.  I would just rewrite the system entirely to have my attribute + skill + d10 to hit a target number.  As I lost interest in the thematics of the game as well, no Himsati, no Serenades, no rainbow Immaculum.  However, Free Immaculum I would try to find a way to keep, as that’s one of the things that attracted me to the game in the first place when it was previewed/marketed in Dragon Magazine.

Rather than an overly convoluted mythology that not only had too many things going on but also based everything on an alien, I would just build a modern mythological game.  I already have the idea, though ideas are the easy part.  It’s having players not screw up your geniusness that’s the hard part.

Ultimate Combat!

I built a new deck.  Yes, seriously.  That’s how I am.  I playtested my decks against each other and am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the game would be better without the expansion.  Or, better with the rules that existed prior to the expansion, by which I mean a whole bunch of annoying psychic action cards were restricted.  While my Bewilder (you lose a turn) and Suppress (you lose all of your turn except playing a “land”) deck might be fair in that it loses a lot to at least one of my other decks, I can’t imagine anyone enjoying playing against it.  Somehow, I don’t think CCGs were intended to function where one player takes six straight turns.

The post Ancient Fighting Arts of China environment just seems one where every deck has to run four Psychic Delays to stop being shut out from playing the game.  Mix in how unbalanced starts can be based on how many artifacts and Mantras of Power you drew in your opening hand, and you realize that the game isn’t guaranteed fun, even if it is more fun than other CCGs.

Why is this of interest?

In many cases, I look at something old I have and either want to play it or can mine it for material.  In many cases, like the constant fail that is my reading my old AD&D/D&D modules, I don’t get inspired.  As much as I’d play more UC!, I don’t really come away from looking at either game as inspiring.

I actually had more ideas about RPG stuff just thinking about things in a general way, from reading A Memory of Light, and from reading gaming forums.  I certainly am not in the mood to create a new CCG.

It’s funny how many characters I can picture in my brainial region but how little effort I put into NPCs thematically.  Of course, a big problem with my plentiful ideas for scenes is that there are too many, that choosing to run with one instead of another is too difficult.

Even writing things down doesn’t work, as the act of writing down often drains my visions of their color.

Then, so many ideas don’t work as gaming ideas but, rather, are scenes out of short stories or novels.  Suggests maybe I should stop being so lazy and actually work on writing a complete short story (I have a hard time seeing writing a complete novel, I just don’t have that sort of endurance).

On a completely unrelated side note, should I report about playing V:TES recently?  I hadn’t played in a long time.  What of Shadowfist where we playtested Ray’s cards designed to smooth the game out?  Should I get into how it got me thinking of adapting B5 style agenda to Shadowfist?  Maybe when I actually do something about it and don’t just think about it.

The reality is that Shadowfist already has Edges which have similarities to agenda.  Not sure why I capitalized one and not the other.  There’s also doing a league/campaign where winning allows you to make up rules.  Our group is stable enough that we could do that.

I feel like the next major undertaking needs to be figured out.  I’m just not gaming enough.  BattleTech might start back up Sunday, which would mean something like three days out of the week when things are consistent.  Still leaves Tuesdays or Wednesdays free, and Saturdays are a big unknown at the moment.