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.”


Cardflopping Like It’s 1999

February 21, 2016

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

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

There are so many miscellaneous things in that pile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An email I sent after Origins ’99:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Draw, Lose, Win

February 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Combat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheel of Time

Why WoT before B5?  Dice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Babylon 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadowfist

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

But, are those transactions interesting?

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

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

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

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

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

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


CCG 103

November 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

But.

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

But.

To make this post useful, what are they?

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Babylon 5

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

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

Wheel of Time

I can talk about dead CCGs if I want to.

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Combat!

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

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

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

Shadowfist

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

Reset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Selectivity

June 28, 2015

What is the nature of a customizable cardgame?  Something that has to do with games, cards, and immigration.  No?  Games, cards, etiquette?

Sure, Customizable Card Game is not what I used to call them.  I used to call them Collectible Card Games, and there were many who would use Trading Card Games.  Whatever.  Magic and its ilk.

My deck.  My deck is different from your deck.  Your deck is … okay, won’t get into that song.  Deck Cheaptastic is full of commons, doesn’t max out card limits, gets crushed by … Deck Suitcasium, the deck full of ultra rare promo signed foil holographic …

Insane Designer

I’ve argued I can play this card.  I got challenged to explain the Shadow Mark symbol on the card that is hard to make out.  After all, it’s not like my name isn’t in the credits of the game.

I’m taking a circuitous route to get to the point.  Shocking, I know.

One deck is different from another.  That is the nature of a customizable cardgame.  I make selections that someone doesn’t make.  Decks have authors.  The authors might not even be the people who play the decks.  It’s like being a songwriter.  I’m a deckwriter.  I am not alone.

So, I was thinking about design.  I was thinking about the problem of staples, no brainers, autoinclusions.  I was thinking about the lack of choice.  I’m not talking about the true lack of choice, like how Babylon 5, Wheel of Time, Tomb Raider, and other games require you to start with one of a number of starting characters/cards (see L5R Strongholds, etc.).  I’m talking about how choosing any other option so adversely affects your competitiveness … these are competitive games, you know, not like the modern boardgame age where everything is coop … that you would never not include them.

There’s a line I use – “If a card goes in every deck, it’s badly designed.”

“Every deck” is a fluid thing.  The Wheel of Time CCG is one where you play either Light or Shadow and, outside of craziness, your opponent plays the other.  “Every Shadow deck” is sufficiently broad that it is “every deck”.

The Babylon 5 CCG is one where you play one of the five races – Centauri, Human, Minbari, Narn, Non-aligned.  I’d like to disbelieve in Drakh, Techno-mages, and whatever, but those are add ons to your race.  “Every Narn deck” is “every deck” broad, but I’m willing to let “every Narn military deck” be not broad enough to qualify.  Just as “every Vorlon deck” isn’t broad enough to qualify as “every deck”.

Babylon 5

I’m not that visual, so rather than throw out some sweet, sweet card displays (or not so pleasing card displays), try this link for Meditation.  Besides, Sam’s site deserves more views.

Meditation is an every deck card.  It’s nonfaction card draw, if you aren’t going to bother to look at the weirdly colored Deluxe version of the card.  After becoming a deck-technomage, I chose not to play Meditation in one deck I can think of – an eventless deck.  Oh, wait, there was likely my all rares/all promos deck.

People would argue against including x3 Meditation in every deck.  They were wrong.  Meditation isn’t always a net gain of one card.  The draw mechanic in B5 was to draw one card per turn in the later phases of the turn, and you could apply three unspent influence to draw an additional card, repeatedly.  So, at the end of a turn, if you had six influence unspent, you drew one card plus could draw two more.  Meditation could throw off your perfect threesie math if you weren’t careful.  Plus, many a folk has had problems grasping the idea that “Draw 2 cards.” only nets one card since you had to play a card for the effect, at least until you point it out.

Other generic cards were of a similar level of ubiqcessity.  Not Meant to Be, Carpe Diem, and some would argue Level the Playing Field as cards you can go look up on b5ccg.mahasamatman.com.

Suppose I was playing Centauri, then I would always play The Eye.  That bothers me.  On the other hand, What Do You Want? in every Shadow deck doesn’t.  See, playing Centauri is not really a choice, it’s a game requirement that someone play a race and that everyone be different races (not being different races, when that mechanic came about, sucked real hard).  Playing a Shadow deck or a Vorlon deck or a Babylon 5 Influence deck were all choices.

Or, maybe it’s better to say that the choices were meaningful enough to lead to deck diversity.

Wheel of Time

Which Rand are you starting with?  That was actually a fascinating question to me at one point in my life because I’m the sort of guy who writes a gaming blog and talks about dead CCGs like the Wheel of Time CCG.

WoT actually has fewer autoincludes.  Certain card drawing engine cards were autoincludes before things got fixed just because you couldn’t compete without ridiculous card drawing.  Thom was deemed by our group the Light’s only hope until the first expansion, but one could argue that you could put a different character in your starting hand and run x3 Thom Merrilin out of the draw deck.  Ha.  Yes, I just gave evidence that the Premier play environment was horribly unbalanced and bad.  Dark Prophecies was some bomby goodness for making the game better.

Lucky Find just shows up every time as there is always at least one bomb advantage to search for (after all, not only was the game all about card drawing in the beginning, search was even better, and the game nerfed card drawing in certain ways to make the game primarily about searching … then Moment of Transition got printed).

When Invasion got printed, OMG.  I’ve mentioned this card before when talking about broken beyond broken.  That brings up a good aside.  I’m not talking about broken cards, though broken cards tend to be autoincludes.  Lucky Find isn’t broken and required knowing what was in your deck and how different cards were important at different times.  But, anyway, if you want an idea of effects that are insane to build cards around, read the text of Invasion.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

Whippersnappers just don’t understand how ubiqcessitous Wake With Evening’s Freshness was.  Sure, On the Qui Vive is just better, which is frightening when you think about it, to the point where I often don’t even run a few copies of WWEF.  Meanwhile, Minion Tap didn’t crowd out Blood Doll like Villein crowds out Blood Doll.  Which goes to how crazy Villein is.

Yeah, I’m not giving links as people still play V:TES.

But, what about clan cards?  I’m glad I asked.

Great Symposium hits my bitch and moan threshold.  Sure, there are such things as decks with a splash of Kiasyd.  But, heavy/all Kiasyd will always play this card except for some turbo Kassiym Malikhair deck I’m forgetting about.  Now, you could argue that bloodline decks were not intended to be a defining element to deck creation a la choosing a race in B5 or even choosing a base clan.  Except that thinking was always wrong and led to a lot of bad decisions about how to balance bloodlines.

But, would you ever not run Ecoterrorists in a Gangrel deck?  Unfortunately, I’m not aware of anyone doing the fine work that Jeff Thompson did of categorizing tournament winning decks by clan (hadn’t thought about how this deprives the world of valuable knowledge), so I’m too lazy to go through and validate my contention of autoincludedness.

Does it bother me if Anarch Convert goes in every Anarch deck?  I don’t think so, assuming it was even true that AC goes in every Anarch deck – I can envision a Mesu Bedshet Anarch deck where I wouldn’t bother, for instance.  Does it bother me if The Unmasking goes in every ally deck?  As much as I hate The Unmasking, it doesn’t actually go in every ally deck.  There are Courier flock decks where the metagame is less “throw the Courier in front of the rush” and more “I really don’t want your Shamblers blocking my !Nos”.

Anyway, whether I’ve articulated the point or not, I’ll just assume that I did.

Sesame Street Song

There are those who argue for the value of autoincludes.  The Blood Dolls and WWEFes of the world simplify the card pool environment and provide necessary effects to any and all.  In fact, I would even offer that the more autoincludes you have in a CCG, the easier deck construction becomes to where someone can get going faster and avoid the deckbuilding paralysis issues that can crop up.  In WoT, for instance, once you chose a faction, much of your deck was predetermined.  While that’s the opposite direction of my post’s argument, it’s not like these things are Light and Shadow, there are all sorts of benefits to evil.

But, then there are CCGs like Magic.  Yeah, certain cards in certain colors had so much power that you would expect them in a format for every deck.  Outside of the eternal formats, though, the card pools would change, and the amount of subtlety in deck construction has often been vast enough to make for really interesting decisions.

It’s not that I dislike Blood Doll, it’s that I’d like to see comparable options to where Blood Doll is only one option.  Yes, strictly speaking, Minion Tap was always a substitute.  Except, across a too broad swath of decks, it wasn’t.  WWEF is now just another option where previously it was the king and Forced Awakening was just some seneschal.  That’s good.  I like how the game has gotten to the point where deciding between Eluding the Arms of Morpheus, Forced Awakening, and WWEF occurs after you put in five On the Qui Vive.  Kidding, I know On the Qui Vive doesn’t go in every infernal deck.  Why, I even play decks that don’t play any wakes at all!!  I know, pure insanity.  There can’t be more than a few hundred decks in the TWDA that lack wakes or that play Eyes of Argus.  But, I’m getting sidetracked on examples that aren’t so relevant in modern play.

What an autoinclude is in the abstract isn’t all that clear.  At the same time, I don’t hold the view that what got printed in a game to begin with is somehow sacred and the game must always build around its roots.  Point being that never adding other cards that compete with autoincludes is bothersome in that it just leads to the ubiquity of autoincludes and/or removing autoincludes from a play environment doesn’t strike me as removing the core of a game, necessarily.  If the Centauri can’t drop The Eye to get one influence closer to winning, I’m not going to be crushed.

I even ad nauseam argue for everyone (except winnie decks) having inferior Deflection, which would be awfully stapletastic on the level of an On the Qui Vive.  But, then, my last TWD didn’t have any wakes.  And, Telepathic Misdirection, Deflection, My Enemy’s Enemy, and Redirection would still all see play (the last would see more play if we could just get rid of The Unmasking) because they offer something more.  The game has so been distorted by the access to quality bounce … and that’s enough of this rant for today.  I need to save up the identical rant for many another day until the promised day.

TL:ROO – Designing for CCGs is hard.  It’s easy to be lazy in some areas just to see stuff get made.  One area is creating cards that should go into every competitive deck, whether that’s truly every single deck or just every deck in some broad categorization where choice doesn’t really exist, such as faction.  It is actually possible to design in such a way that certain cards are usually the best but not always.  V:TES is a game, to its credit, that has in more recent years moved away from having the feature of predetermined choices, though I could hunt around for a few more Great Symposium situations.

I didn’t mention Shadowfist.  Well, next time, after I beat this dead horse by doing another post just like it, I’m sure I’ll add in Shadowfist and Ultimate Combat!.


Better. Stronger. Faster.

February 22, 2015

To an extent, this is my Fisticuffs and Fangs post for the last few days.  But, I got into a discussion where I was beating the dead horse with my mantra that to be the more successful player with V:TES (equally applicable to other multiplayer CCGs) involves being a better player not a better deckbuilder.

But, what does it mean to be a better player (of multiplayer CCGs and V:TES specifically)?

I have a few posts from the long, long ago … the Summer of ’14 … that address aspects of better play.  I’m too lazy to look back to see if I listed various things in a previous post, though it feels like I have.

Whether I’ve gone to this well before or not, here are areas where improvement in the area should improve results, everything else being equal.  Obviously, if you go from playing with poor players to playing with good players, results may get worse even if skill gets higher.

1 – Know the cards

There are those who do really well without knowing what most of the cards in the game do.  If that’s you, why do you care about this blog post?

I don’t memorize all of the cards.  I, in fact, barely have a sense of the recent VEKN sets because I have no intention of putting the slips of paper in my decks.  I do have a general sense of what every card does and know what most cards do specifically.  Wherever someone is on the spectrum, knowing what more cards do matters.

What I find kind of odd is that this isn’t something that everyone wants to pursue.  If people are getting excited by new sets, it’s because of new cards, which don’t do the same things as existing cards – in other words, learning about more cards is always something going on when you keep up with a CCG, so why not learn even more about the card pool?  Now, the caveat in there is “when you keep up” as I find that many players don’t keep fully engaged in CCGs.  Seems weird to me, but, again, I don’t rate as a typical cardflopper.  Certainly, where a lot of the vocal playerbase was complaining about how quickly WW was putting out expansions for V:TES, I was finding the rate of expansion to be really slow.

2 – Know the decks

Why know what cards do?  Besides the tactical play in CCGs, there’s the strategic play of understanding how decks win and lose.

I’m sure I used this example in this blog before, but reiteration is iteration with two! more!! letters!!!  Last major Wheel of Time tournament I recall and one I wrote an article for for Scrye Magazine involved the winner playing a “kill your starting character” deck (for the Shadow side, I don’t recall what he played on the Light side … Maidens?).  He destroyed opponents.  They weren’t prepared for Genocides, Genocide recursion, et al.  I wasn’t playing in the event, so I didn’t really care who won, but I was somewhat frustrated by how easily he won those games where he played this deck because our playtest team had playtested such decks a lot and they sucked … if you understood how they won (in detail and not just that they murdered your “lose the game” character(s) when they won).

Now, there’s a lot to know about knowing decks.  Malk94, to me and maybe only to people of my ilk, is different from other Malk stealth bleed decks that rely on Dominate and Obfuscate.  A Mask of a 1000 Faces, Command of the Beast deck and other builds that are much more DOM/OBF are not the same as the Aus/Dom/Obf builds that might actually block something or Dom/OBF builds that go out of clan or tricked up decks with a clear Madness Network plan or whatever.  And, obviously, Kindred Spirits decks produce different states from Govern the Unaligned decks.  The former will gain pool as it takes actions and can get out of control poolwise, while consuming little blood as none of KS, Eyes of Chaos, nor Confusion use blood, where the latter can easily burn two blood on Govern/Conditioning and rather than gain pool with actions, preserves it with superior Governs.  Both styles of stealth bleed can easily gain 6 pool in a shot, but their vulnerable points poolwise differ.

Again, my interest in CCGs over and above other competitive games has a lot to do with discovery.  Besides playing lots of stuff, I also look online for information on decks.  I’m not going to play everything, and my regional metagame may bias things.  While finding other people’s decklists decreases the total number of decks I could build, as I see no reason to “build” someone else’s deck (even if I’m willing to build someone else’s deck to test *their* deck out), I’ve gotten tons of ideas for my own decks based off of other people’s decks.

You don’t have to put the effort in – everyone has different priorities, but the effort to learn more about how other people play the game translates into avoiding the “OMG!!  XYZ is unbeatable!” thinking that occurs when people are exposed to something they have no familiarity with.

One more aspect of this is know your own deck.  How many copies of cards does it run?  How many cards are left?  Probability calculations on what someone is going to draw (or, for Wheel of Time, what the dice will generate) are ubiquitous.

3 – Know the rules

I don’t know all of the rules.  I’ve certainly become less interested in the esoteric and the obscure when it comes to V:TES and my knowledge of Shadowfist timing is “I don’t really understand Shadowfist timing but it sounds like old Magic timing and here’s what I think happens”.  Knowing how Psyche! actually works or how Mask of a 1000 Faces actually works or whatever is one level.

Another level is knowing such things as that you can use a Blood Doll the same turn you play it, something a number of newbs I’ve played with didn’t realize.  Having down the “During X, do Y” rule comes up a lot.  There are people who still don’t know precisely how the No Repeat Action (NRA) rules works, probably because it’s not remotely intuitive and was bolted on to the game to make the game less broken.  For instance, that hunting, leaving torpor, rescuing from torpor are all things that can be done repeatedly can be rather important to know.

As with all of these categories, it’s a spectrum.  When you know what it means that “wakes” are “magic” and the precise order of events during diablerie and the like, that much further along.

Actually, one more example because I need to up my Glory Rank with some Perform: Storytelling (Bragging).  Our playtest group created the timing rules in Wheel of Time.  As Magic players, we came at things with a Magic mindset.  Now, others may have looked at things similarly and/or were inclined to adopt what we had adopted in our play, but, basically, I told Precedence what we did in the absence of the game having actual timing rules and that’s what I saw got used.  Consider how many people didn’t know the rules … because, uh, there weren’t any until after the initial set was already published!

4 – Be psychic

This is a V:TES in joke that I’ve mentioned before, from the newsgroup days and David Cherryholmes complaining about people who think they will know what will happen in a game.

While players aren’t psychic, they should try to be.  But, obviously, not rigidly.  In other words, anticipate, predict, extrapolate, but realize that you don’t know for sure and that the very act of anticipating something changes what will happen, while card play is kind of intended to change game states.

Let me try some more specific examples.

When does a combat deck have no combat cards in hand?  Because this will happen … a lot.  Sure, some decks have like 60+ combat cards and it doesn’t happen, but whatever, let’s live in the world of useful and not extreme cases that have little impact to winning more often.  You extrapolate.  That someone rushed someone and didn’t full on nuke the minion may or may not be relevant.  That a wall blocked and punched for one rather than Crows, Chiropteran, Breath may or may not be relevant.  Can read the player, can read how recent actions have gone, can inspect the ash heap, or whatever, but thinking about how decks don’t magically give the players every card they want outside of Yu-Gi-Oh!’s world is essential.

When will someone get ousted?  This can be really hard to judge.  Maybe someone gets tapped out with no wakes and their 20 bounce cards are worthless.  Maybe someone cycles into the first of eight straight Second Traditions.  What if DI gets played?  Golconda?  Fame?  Still, V:TES is a game where ousts occasionally happen before time and they have some sort of impact on who wins tournaments.  Predicting when someone will get ousted, which becomes a lot easier when people have 1 pool than when they have 30, can have a substantial effect on decisions.  I’ve often gotten screwed by someone either getting ousted sooner or lasting one turn longer than I expected.  In a lot of cases, I just didn’t do the math right or didn’t talk to the players to get a better sense of where things were at.  Of course, in some cases, you just don’t know because random card draw is one of the features of CCGs.

What will the rush deck do?  The bleed deck?  The vote deck?  What will your new predator do when your first predator was ousted?  What will you face when you oust your prey?  Paying attention to both current game state and potential game states is huge, potentially large.

I find playing stealth bleed to be fun … when my prey can actually defend … as I have said before.  What makes it fun?  Predicting what sort of defensive plays my prey will make and trying to figure out how to defeat them.  If I lead with a Tasha Morgan bleed with two vamps with DOM untapped, will my prey try to block?  How big of a bleed do I need to make to get my prey to play the only bounce card in hand?  How likely will my prey draw into more defense?

On the other side, trying to minimize damage interests me.  Do I take the Govern bleed from the OBF minion to avoid Faceless Night?  Do I think Elder Impersonation will defeat my copious amounts of intercept (I tend to forget about Elder Impersonation when defending)?  What do I bounce?  Do I try to block first?  How likely am I to draw into more defense?

I was in a tournament when I tapped The Barrens while being bled at too much stealth for my !Gangrel rush deck to deal with.  I played the Archon Investigation I drew.  I actually expected a good chance of that happening.  Now, I was playing a rush deck and I don’t know how to play rush correctly and took too much pool damage from my first stealth bleed predator to survive my second, so it didn’t really matter to my position, but there is psychicness and that psychicness needs to be cultivated to be more accurate.

5 – Communicate

The reality is is that results change when perspectives change.  Games are not played on autopilot.  As soon as someone breaks out the “clear leader! clear leader!”, the players change how they play.

Common situation.  I want to bleed on my next turn and have just finished my turn.  My prey runs bounce.  I might consider talking to my grandprey about keeping someone extra up so that I’m not helping my prey exploit a vulnerable turn.

There can definitely be too much table talk.  I prefer more of my table talk to be joking about how absurd the game has been, like the Jake Washington ousts multiple prey because of Life Boon game.  But, players are often myopic or otherwise missing something.  I completely pooched winning a tournament because I forgot I was supposed to rescue someone after playing Dramatic Upheaval, while Dragonbound was in play.  I had arranged the plan to rescue before seat-switching, which was good, then got blinders on when finishing out my turn.

Two-player CCGs don’t have this component.  Multiplayer CCGs are often determined by this component.  While some love to make deals or whatever, which is certainly one form of communication, there are many ways to let people know something to help you not lose.  Today, I DIed an Ivory Bow from my predator when my grandpredator was playing a deck with Gremlins.  I should have talked to my GP before making any decision, even though it was probably correct to play the DI.

6 – Know your opponents

Does some loon play Jyhad, 4cl decks in tournaments?  Does Roger McRushie always play rush decks that destroy a few minions and then get ousted (I’ve played against a couple people like this)?  Does Sandy Salmon always destroy her predator and say to her prey at the beginning of the game “don’t mess with me and I’ll spend the whole game going backwards” (I played with someone who had this style and said something basically like that to me at the beginning of a game)?

Does Ted Oscar Anthony Dreyfus never play enough wakes, so that Ted is tapped out and dead?

Does the group despise vote decks and seek to crosstable them to death immediately (I played with this group, too, which included that “I only care about killing my predator” player)?

Is someone better than everyone else?  This is a concept I have had that came up as a discussion item on a trip down to LA one time.  Because I see the same people win all of the time, for a while it was me – there’s a reason I was an original hall of famer based on constructed play (while being a much better limited player based on, you know, winning like five straight tournaments and being ranked second in the world for a year), I got to wondering why players don’t think “if we just eliminate the clearly best player, then all of us less good players are more likely to win”.  Now, this is a feature of local play that may not be relevant for other groups.  We’ve often had a highly uneven distribution of results, so picking out the “oh, that guy wins all of the time” player has been easy at various times.

Some might consider it an out of game consideration to identify a superior player and work to see their end, but I don’t know how that can be argued.  The whole point of posts like this one is that play skill is more important than deck construction for multiplayer CCGs, which means, by definition (well, by logic) that a game consists of not just a deck but a player of that deck, which means that adjusting to the player is as valid as adjusting to the deck the player plays.

I think it’s mostly a matter of not considering that some sacrifices in short term goals can be better for the long term goal of taking the table.  I probably didn’t go into this enough in the Communicate section.  V:TES, probably more than Shadowfist, certainly more than Babylon 5, is a game of keeping the big picture in mind.  If I win every game by having my prey get the first VP, oh no, the horror.  If time is running out and I’m not in the finals yet or not winning the finals, my “I will always win … after 4 hours” deck needs to get off its ass and reduce my prey’s pool.

7 – Be mindful

Pay attention!  V:TES, for whatever reason, seems to have players pay far less attention than other games.  I get that Babylon 5 is a race game, so everything going on affects whether you may lose.  I get that Shadowfist might see someone attack anyone and effects can be huge, e.g. Neutron Bomb.  I don’t quite get why it’s so hard to actually follow what other people are doing during V:TES games.  The most similar I can recall is how players will check out during RPGs when their characters aren’t involved in the current situation.

But, also pay attention to your own game.  A ton of errors get made when time is running out and players who haven’t bled in the first 1.5 hours suddenly start doing forward actions.  Forgetting things that happen during untap, master phase, putting counters on Temptations and taking minions, using Heidelberg, saccing Wider View – we all do these things.  Technical play matters.  Not always.  I subscribe to the theory that a lot of mistakes don’t actually hurt in the end because people adjust to your inferior plays.  But, they also will decide games, especially early and late.

In one of today’s games, I was playing an Aus/Dom/PRO/THA deck with a weenie Ass combat predator.  I got Priority Contracted right away and Famed pretty quickly and never went down because I had a lot of Fleshes of Marble.  But, I stupidly wasted one in a fight where Evan Rogers got a Weighted Walking Stick and I was planning on playing Blood Rage!

Games

And, now, for something completely different.  Game reports.

Shadowfist

Thursday, we played two, four-player Shadowfist games.  They lasted similar lengths.

Joren (borrowed Architects good stuff) -> Justin (Ascended/Lotus assassins) -> Ray (Ascended) -> Ian (Monarchs/Syndicate!!)

Yup, Monarchs/Syndicate.  I am looking to build more multifaction decks and decided to roll randomly to determine the factions.  Street Sweepers and Fire Engineers – synergy.  Queen of the Ice Pagoda and Hirake Kazuko – yikes.  I played Jessica Ng as a “ramp” character(!!) to get four Syndicate resources for Kazuko.

If I would have won, I would have retired the deck.  I didn’t win, so, maybe, everyone will figure out why I’m playing the characters I’m playing.  I actually enjoyed the deck even though it’s full of self-inflicted wounds.

Justin murdered a lot of my characters, which made me impotent.  Ray won, off of Might of the Elephant, I think.  Justin and Ray did the most characters and fighting thing.  I was only relevant when Queen of the Ice Pagoda was in play before a Hand of Darkness took her out.

Ray (Kun Kan) -> Ian (Purists) -> Joren (borrowed Dragons blow up the world) -> Justin (7 Masters/Hand)

I played six 36-Legged Horrors, one from Martyr’s Tomb.  They all ended up in my smoked pile.  Joren’s Obsidian Eye never got taken out by my various Symphonic Disciples, though my third one took out Justin’s Shield of the Pure Soul.  Joren ran into the problem that the deck he borrowed just doesn’t have much in the way of relevant characters, so even after murdering lots of stuff with Carnival of Carnage and Final Brawl, he couldn’t take advantage.

Justin got Ghost Wind out and Black Belt Rebels but wasn’t doing a whole lot.  Ray put out Kun Kans that got blanked a lot but only nuked a couple of times.  Eventually, Justin won with Red Bat, when we could only stop Jade Willow’s reign of terror.  A Yellow Senshi Chamber got passed around a bit.

The Purist deck is too 4-fighting focused.  I need to put in hitters as even this deck was at like 14 power at one point during the game.

V:TES

Today, we had three games.

Brandon (Anarch Pre bleed) -> Eric (Aus/Cel guns) -> Sergio (Cybele Beast) -> Ian (Jyhad Pre bleed)

Brandon’s Anarch Troublemaker and Sergio not drawing a skill card earlier slowed down Beast action.  Eric couldn’t defend well, so he sucked lots of bleeds, including Public Trust bleeds on his way to oustage.  I brought out Uma Hatch, Courtland Leighton, Demetrius Slater, Black Cat, Jazz Wentworth, and Hostile Takeovered Brandon’s Amber(!) for minion dominance … before putting out Gideon Fontaine!

By the time that Sergio just gave up on having the full combo and brought out the Great Beast, I had a hand full of Majestys and didn’t need them to swarm him to death.

Brandon (Hektor) -> Ian (!Ventrue combat) -> Eric (Matthias and Unre) -> Sergio (as above)

Sergio got going and had the Great Beast with Cybele.  Unleash Hell’s Fury was helpful for slowing Hektor.  Hektor still ate Cybele, the Great Beast, and the next Cybele.  Eric and I played our own game over on the other side of the table in that I tooled up and Eric bled.

So, really, I played my own game of Neighbor John gets an Abbot, Freak, Improvised Flamethrower, Freak, Harvest Rites, Freak, Vial of Garou Blood.  Jephta gets Abbot, Ablative Skin, Guardian Angel, takes Vial of Garou Blood.  Randel, The Not Coward gets Vial of Garou Blood.  Ulrike gets Ivory Bow and Weighted Walking Stick.  Brandon laments the matchup.  When Hektor finally comes over to play with Jephta a bit, I don’t even bother using the four Rolling with the Punches and Resilience in my hand, I just prevent with Guardian Angel and Ablative Skin.

Eric ousts Sergio after allowing Sergio another Cybele to threaten Brandon.  Brandon is at 1 pool temporarily, gets up to more than one and gets ousted by evasion bleed.  I get bled some but Neighbor John getting Spirit Marionetted doesn’t hurt me that much and Eric concedes.

I did burn one Vial of Garou Blood, but Hektor maneuvered to long.

Ian (Aus/Dom/PRO/THA) -> Brandon (Brujah P/J 4/5) -> Andy (borrowed Aus/Cel/Pre guns) -> Eric (Kiasyd) -> Sergio (borrowed Horde of Ass Beating)

I mentioned something about this game above.  None of Eric Kressida, Frere Marc, or Frere Marc’s Dual Form went to torpor, but Sergio got out five minions and recovered fairly easily from my Walk of Flame and Wolf Claws.  Brandon’s Tara got emptied right away by Andy.  Andy intimidated Eric into not blocking, so the deck’s Zephyrs were not useful as Eric just took bleeds until he died.  Brandon recovered to oust Andy as Zephyrs were not wakes and Andy got tapped out too much.

I let Brandon call a Neonate Breach to oust Sergio, though playing to win would have been to deal with Sergio to not have that happen.  Brandon eventually conceded with his minions largely in torpor.

I love the crypt for my deck.  I enjoy playing Walk of Flame with presses from weird disciplines, like Protean or Thanatosis, but there is no ousting power in my deck, well, besides the Codex of Edenic Groundskeepers I added right before we played to have something that was plus bleed.  I have the same problem with various other combat decks and am not sure how I want to address or if I want to address.