Spring 2016 VTES League

Greetings Methuselahs,

My first VTES League recently came to an end.  It was a blast to organize and run, and I think it was extremely successful: 23 different players from all of the San Francisco bay area (and a few from more exotic locals!) participated in the League which stretched from the beginning of April through the end of June.  During these three months, an impressive total of 49 games were played (meaning about 4 games every week!).  These included tournament games, casual constructed games, and even some cube draft.  Each game was carefully tracked and League points were awarded each player.  As I explained in my article announcing the League, the point of the League was simply to encourage people to come and play the game.  I did not want to force players to bring tournament-ready decks to casual games.  Accordingly, players got a lot of points just for showing up and playing, with relatively few points being given for Victory Points or Game Wins.  But today it’s time to look at the results, and announce the prizes!  Let’s start with the results:

League Points: Games: Victory Points: Game Wins:
Mark Jasper 161.5 28 42.5 9
David Corson-Knowles 155.5  29 33.5 6
Brett Schofield 114 25 13 1
Ian Lee 87.5 14 26.5 5
Kate Hanley 74 14 15 3
Kenneth Davenport 62.5 13 8.5 2
Eric Schultheis 57.5 14 1.5 0
Alex Orzulak 55.5 12 6.5 1
Zach Eulberg 49.5 12 1.5 0
Paul “Lev” Japser 43.5 8 9.5 2
Brandon Haas 36.5 8 3.5 1
Stephan Topfstedt 30 6 5 1
Jeff Kuta 26 6 2 0
Brad Nozik 21 3 7 2
Richard Phillips 21 4 4 1
Chris Shorb  20.5 4 3.5 1
Andrew Haas  10.5 2 2.5 0
Eric Haas  9.5 2 1.5 0
Geoff Benson 8 2 0 0
Rob Wanat 8 2 0 0
Jeff Yin 8 2 0 0
David Anderson 5 1 1 0
Jeff Philips 4 1 0 0

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Danse Macabre Library Review, Part II

Greetings Methuselahs!

So sorry that this article is late – the holiday weekend kind of messed up my writing schedule.  Anyway, last week I started to review the library cards from the very first VEKN print-and-play set Danse Macabre which was released near the end of 2013.  The set focused on the Sabbat, home of all five of the five weakest clans in the game. Let’s take a look at the last six library cards and see what effect they’ve had on the game.  As a reminder, I’m rating cards in a bit of an unusual way.  Cards are rated on a 1-5 scale with 1 reserved for cards that have actively made the game worse (perhaps by supporting already very powerful archetypes), cards that have had little to no impact on the game will get a 3, and cards that open up new strategies or help define flavor in a useful and novel way will get a 5.

 

Recruitment-ExerciseRecruitment Exercise

Before I talk about this card, I have a confession to make: I don’t like the Black Hand. Splitting the Sabbat crypt between Black Hand and non-Black Hand was a mistake in my opinion (especially since you can’t be titled and be part of the Black Hand, putting high capacity vampires in an odd position), and I don’t understand what the trait is supposed to do. What sets the Black Hand apart mechanically? What might entice me to make a Black Hand deck? Well, I guess there’s untapping… but the effect that shows through most strongly is the fact that younger vampires can influence the allegiance of older vampires (as shown by Reunion Kamut). Now I have absolutely zero idea why this should be true other than it’s a strong effect and the Black Hand is a weak trait. Is the Black Hand known to be an organization where the neonates hold great sway over their elders? If you can’t define a thematic and mechanical core to a new concept you have for the game, you likely shouldn’t included it.

But the Black Hand was made, so let’s look at this card. It’s clearly a variant of the Nosferatu clan card Kindred Intelligence. The difference is that you gain a free counter on it if the crypt card is Black Hand. This is a little like Mesu Bedshet, which gives 2 blood, but only if the card is a younger Follower of Set at the cost of 1 blood from the acting vampire. Actually Kindred Intelligence was the only free “de-crypt” action card in the game prior to this card. But the real difference here is context. The Nosferatu have almost no way to get counters onto uncontrolled vampires, meaning that there is a limit to how many vampires they will be able to influence out. The Black Hand have no such restriction. Reunion Kamut ensures a plentiful supply of counters meaning that this card functions much better for the Black Hand than Kindred Intelligence ever did for the Nosferatu. Recruitment Excercise works so well that I think it’s a problem – it causes players to build decks where the vast majority of actions are dedicated to pulling out more vampires, putting very little pressure on their prey until they hit critical mass.  In short, the combo of Recruitment Excercise + multiple Reunion Kamut essentially means that the player is encouraged to play a little game of solitare until their force is built up enough.  Encouraging this sort of strategy is, in my view, a mistake.  The fact that 7 tournament winning decks since the beginning of 2014 (which is all of the winning Black Hand decks) have included this suggests to me that my conclusions are at least on the right track. I’d give this card 2/5 – it’s a very powerful card that helps a weak archetype, but it encourages a style of play that I view as being detrimental to the game.

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Danse Macabre Library Review, Part I

Greetings Methuselahs!

Blogs and podcasts for other games feature a lot of card reviews and evaluations.  As each set comes out, the blogs and forums become abuzz with people debating the merits and flaws of the new cards.  Power, flavor, strategy, and so much more gets talked about.  For VTES, this is obviously more difficult – card sets come out only rarely (a little less than once per year), and our community is small enough that a new set generates only a small amount of conversation.  As an example, I can count the number of set reviews published for any given VEKN set on a single hand.  Yet, as a blog writer, I’d like to engage in more card evaluation.  Perhaps what I should do is start a series of articles on individual cards and possible uses for them, but today I’ve decided to step back in time to 2013 and the release of Danse Macabre.  It was the first VEKN set released, and it was designed to shore up the weakest sect in the game: the Sabbat.

dm_logoNow, I have a very odd love/hate relationship with the Sabbat.  I am baffled by them in the RPG.  They really just make no sense to me – it’s a sect that flagrantly breaks the Masquerade, but nobody knows about them (remember, monsters are a secret).  They rule with an iron fist and create armies of newly raised vampires who know nothing about their supernatural condition (shovelheads) to lay siege to cities, but humanity has no knowledge of them.  I guess they have legions of Lasombra with level 3 Dominate following their armies and making everybody forget their presence.  It’s clear that the entire sect was conceived of as “the bad guys” and flavor/beliefs were ascribed to them much later.  So in that sense, I really dislike the Sabbat.  But in the card game, I love them.  Why?  Because they are the underdogs.  Not a single one of the Antitribu clans are able to match their Camarilla counterparts.  Five out of five of the worst performing clans (if we ignore Bloodlines and Laibon for a moment) are Sabbat.  Most of the Sabbat clans that manage to rack up any number of wins are being held up by their mastery of Dominate, the only two exceptions being the Malkavian Antitribu (turns out Dementation is a pretty good replacement discipline) and the Tzimisce, who were the subject of a previous detailed article.

You need only look at the number of crypt cards available to the Sabbat clans to see that they are at a disadvantage.  They have three full crypt groups (although I’d hesitate to call group 4 “full”), and 1 group that is so small that it’s a wonder it ever gets played (group 5 currently has 3-4 vampires from each clan).  Compare this to the give full groups that the Camarilla boasts, and the four very full groups + 1 significant group that the Independent clans possess.  There are more Independent vampires in group 6 than there are Sabbat in group 5!  Underdogs, indeed.  And frankly, the Sabbat never has had a mechanical center or theme in the game (other than being the underdogs).  This is likely due to the fact that the game was designed as a Camarilla game, but the Sabbat has never managed to feel different.  It’s pretty hard to tell the difference between a Brujah and a Brujah Antitribu.

The point is, I’m drawn to underdogs, and the Sabbat certainly qualifies.  For this reason (and likely this reason alone), the Sabbat are my favorite sect in the card game.  So when the first VEKN set was announced as being the next Sabbat set, I was pretty excited.  Danse Macabre was the first time cards for the Sabbat had been released since the Sword of Caine expansion hit the shelves in March 2007.  The question is how good are the cards?  To what degree did they help make the Sabbat competitive, and did they provide a mechanical center or theme for the sect?  Well, I’d like to answer those questions today with a Danse Macabre review three years in the making.  Now, I’d like to go through the crypt cards, but the problem is that so much of the analysis for a crypt card relies on what else you could pair it with in the same group.  But since group 5 (which all the Danse Macabre vampires belong to) has 3-4 vampires in it, it’s extremely difficult to review them, so sadly I’m going to skip them for now.  Maybe someday I’ll swing back to cover the crypt cards (and to rant about how much I hate the fact that the Assamites rule the Black Hand, get a seat on the Inner Circle, and become the most powerful Independent clan… seriously White Wolf?).

Now I’m going to rate these cards on a somewhat unusual scale.  Since I have access to a lot of information about how these cards have impacted the game, I will rate cards on a 1-5 scale with 1 reserved for cards that have actively made the game worse (perhaps by supporting already very powerful archetypes), cards that have had little to no impact on the game will get a 3, and cards that open up new strategies or help define flavor in a useful and novel way will get a 5.  Got all that?  Well then, let’s look at some cards!

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A Comprehensive Guide to Melee Weapons

Greetings Methuselahs,

I’ve recently been thinking about melee weapons in VTES.  These thoughts have been spurred on first by some conversations about the Salubri Antribu, and how they might be helped by the upcoming VEKN set.  But I’ve also been thinking about them because of my demo decks.  You see, I want each of my decks to have something interesting to do during combat.  Even my Malkavian stealth bleed deck includes the ability to disguise out Saturday Night Specials for defensive purposes.  Once I started trying to do things like use Cold Aura to go to long range so that I could use Thrown Sewer Lid, I realized it was time to start considering melee weapon combat.  But which one should be picked?

Now, before I start reviewing individual melee weapons, I want to first address the inevitable comparison between melee weapons and guns so that I don’t have to keep doing it.  Melee weapons make the faulty assumption that a blood on your vampire is worth a blood on the opposing vampire.  What do I mean by this?  Well, melee weapons typically do 1 additional damage when compared to a cost-matched gun (Bastard Sword usually does 2 damage for the cost of 1 pool, while Saturday Night Special does only 1 damage).  However, because you are forced to be at close range when you strike with a melee weapon, you leave yourself vulnerable to being attacked back.  At best, that will mean that the opposing minion hits you for 1.  The result of this is that both combatants lose 1 additional blood over a similar combat with a Saturday Night Special.  But no combat package should be measuring itself against a punch-for-one strategy.  This doesn’t even take into account the fact that Immortal Grapple completely shuts down melee weapons, but it only stops guns if the Potence deck musters up enough maneuvers

Meat CleaverThe simple fact that a melee weapon is only effective if you are getting hit while a gun is effective at either range (with the possible upside of not being hit back) means that there is a giant gulf that separates the two types of weapons in terms of usefulness.  Maybe if melee weapons did 1 extra point of damage or if they allowed you to prevent some damage from a hand-strike they would be more equivalent to a gun.  But such speculation is best left for another time.  Let’s look to see what melee weapons are available for us to use right now.

At present, there are 30 melee weapons in the game.  7 of these feature a clan requirement, meaning that it is difficult to consider them for most decks.  Of the remaining, 9 are unique, which leaves us with 14 non-unique weapons as candidates to build a deck around.  Let’s take a look at these:

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CCG Design Lessons & Thoughts

Greetings Methuselahs,

So last week, I mentioned that I was getting increasingly interested in CCG design theory, and I posted a number of articles and podcasts that I had found on the subject.  Well I’ve now had a chance to read or listen to many of them (I’ve spent a lot of time in airports and on planes recently…), and I had some semi-random thoughts about VTES as I listen to them that I’d like to share.  I’m not sure that any of these are broad or developed enough for a full article by themselves, but I did want to briefly discuss each of them.  Get ready for some bumpy transitions!

 

What’s special about VTES?

When listening to all these designers talk about their own games, I was thinking about what factors make VTES unique.  What makes it stand out from all the other games?  The list is pretty lengthy, but if you look at fundamental game concepts rather than minutia, I think the list shrinks dramatically.  My own list includes five core differences that seem to have been designed into the game.  But while I was making my list, I also spent some time thinking about how each of these concepts were doing in the current game, and if they could use an update.  Why did I do this?  It’s certainly not because I hate VTES.  I really don’t hate or even dislike the game, despite what some have suggested on the forums.  Instead, it’s because my mind is always toying with things that I like and trying to see how I can improve them.  This quest for improvement is part of my profession and has always been part of my personal life, so it’s no great surprise to see it seeping over into my hobbies.  I keep trying to write an article about this concept, but I find I have trouble describing it.  Anyway, please take these meandering thoughts as a show of love for the game, rather than an attempt to tear it apart.

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CCG Design Resources

Greetings Methuselahs,

I’ve been thinking about CCG design recently.  It’s incredible to me just how many games have been released in the genre, and while it’s an undeniable fact that many of them are terrible games that were made simply to join in the cash grab that followed in the wake of Magic, there can also been good design elements in an otherwise terrible game.  I’m blessed to have ICL in my local playgroup who has played a huge number of different CCGs, and can readily describe the merits and pitfalls of each.  Anyway, I recently decided to take a look at what actual designers were saying about CCGs.  Below is a list of resources that I’ve found that discuss the topic in general.  Next week I’ll talk a little about what thoughts these resources have provoked in me about VTES, for for the time being I’ll just post these here for your enjoyment.

Ludology: CCGs and DBGs – a podcast episodes featuring guest star Mike Elliott (designer of Quarriors and Thunderstone, who has done design work for Magic and other card games).

Ludology: the ABC’s of CCG’s – a podcast episode featuring guest star Mike Fitzgerald (designer of Wyvern, the Mystery Rummy series, and Hooyah, who has also done significant design work for Magic, Pokemon, and other games).

Hearthstone: 10 Bits of Design Wisdom – a lecture given at the GDC conference on some of the things that the Hearthstone team learned while they were designing the game, and goals they had for their game.

Remaking Magic – this is an awesome podcast series on game design through the lens of Magic: the Gathering.  If you aren’t familiar with Magic, you might have a hard time following it, but it has some excellent insight on game design in general, and the lessons they talk about apply to games beyond Magic.  I’m just discovering all the wonderful topics they’ve covered, and you can bet that some of those topics will be featured in future posts on this blog!

Rarity and Power: Balance in Collectible Object Games – an article by Ethan Ham from his experience designing an online CCG called Sanctum.

Sirulin.net is run by the designers of games like Puzzle Strike, Codex, and many others.  They’ve written a number of excellent articles on the topic of CCG design, including:

Eric Lang (designer of several LCGs) put out a series of tweets on game design.  They have been collected into this article.

A very interesting article on the drawbacks of Rock-Paper-Scissors design.

An article from Richard Garfield about designing VTES along with excellent commentary from the Stockholm Jyhad blog.

Boardgamegeek has collected a fantastic list of online resources for making cards and card games.

Edit: Here are a few other resources that I recently came across:

 


Do you know of any other good resources on designing CCGs or other card games?  Post them below – I’d love to listen/read whatever you find.  Until next time, may your bleeds never be bounced, and all your votes pass!

Brett

Outferior Disciplines II

Greetings Methuselahs,

Last week, I discussed outferior disciplines and my belief that the effects exist specifically to support crypts that mix bloodlines with so called “ally” clans.  After all, if the outferior was simply a way to allow you to cycle the card out of your hand if you didn’t have any bloodline vampires out, they could simply be given a Burn Option.  I went through the five clans that the VEKN are going to focus on during the upcoming set, and the unique discipline associated with those clans last week.  Today, I’ll do the same with the remaining bloodlines and their unique disciplines.

To recap, I’ll be giving each discipline two grades – one to represent the choice of outferior disciplines (and how much these disciplines are useful to ally clans), and how powerful or useful those outferior effects are.  The best cards will be those whose outferior discipline is held by an ally clan, and whose effect is at least somewhat desirable.  I confess that I missed the power level on some outferior effects last week, but the commonality among these cards is that their outferior effect is situationally good enough to be included in decks without the bloodline discipline.  While it’s great that outferior effects like Transfusion see play, I will be basing my review on the degree to which the outferior effect encourages mixed crypt decks.  Alright, let’s get started!

 

Ahrimane:

Feral SpiritWith Animalism, Presence, and Spiritus, the Ahrimane find their natural ally in the Guruhi (ANI, POT, PRE).  The Guruhi help to strengthen their ties to the Ahrimane through Sobayifa who is the only non-Ahrimane in the game with Spiritus.  However, the game also includes a number of cards like Feral Spirit and Spirit Claws that attempt to link the Ahrimanes to the Gangrel / Gangrel Antitrubu.  This link is also seen in the choice of out-of-clan disciplines that the Ahrimanes have: 4 have at least basic mastery of Protean, and there are 3 who have either Celerity, Fortitude, or Obfuscate.   This access to Obfuscate also ties them a bit to the Nosferatu / Nosferatu Antitribu – there’s even one Ahrimane who has Potence!

Given these allies, I would assume to see a few outferior cards for Celerity, Fortitude, and Obfuscate, and a lot for Potence (to help out the Guruhi) and Protean (to solidify the link with the Gangrel).  Below are the disciplines picked by White Wolf for Spiritus cards:

  • Animalism (6)
  • Auspex (1)
  • Celerity (2)
  • Fortitude (2)
  • Obfuscate (2)
  • Protean (1)

I’m a bit surprised to see so many Animalism cards (especially considering that there are no Presence cards), but I’ll let that slide.  As expected, there are a few outferior cards for loosely connected disciplines (CEL, FOR, OBF), but the real shocker is that the two disciplines most closely aligned are either missing (POT), or represented by only 1 card (PRO).  Admittedly, Bloodlines came out before the Guhuri existed, but why was no card with a Potence outferior effect published in Heirs to the Blood?  The only real mystery discipline here is the lone Auspex card.  I’d give the choice of disciplines a B.  They hit a lot of the right points, but let me down on some crucial areas.  I’d highly suggest any future Spritus cards focus on Potence and Protean for their outferior effects.

Then we come to effects.  By my estimation, there are 5 cards that possess effects strictly inferior to what the outferior discipline provides, 5 cards that provide effects on par with the outferior discipline (although some of these are pretty weak – burn 1 blood for +1 intercept for PRO and ANI, both of which are given intercept with a downside, but these are steep downsides!), and 4 cards that provide totally new abilities (some like Nose of the Hound are handy, but others like Vulture’s Buffet are extremely situational).  I’d give the outferior power level a C.  Passing, but not exemplary.

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