The Problem with Card Availability, Part II

Greetings Methuselahs,

Last article, I described a crippling but not often recognized problem in our community: reasonably priced bulk cards are a rare find, and a great number of cards simply cannot be purchased at any price.  This is a massive barrier that prevents interested players from getting involved.  Today I want to talk about one possible solution, and three ways that it could be implemented. I’ll also discuss what I think are some of the potential objections, and provide my counter arguments. Remember, the goal is to allow new players to cheaply and easily enter the game.

tu-logoThe obvious solution to a shortage of cheap physical cards it to remove or minimize the need for physical cards. This is actually something that the VEKN is already doing to some degree – there are currently three virtual or digital sets of cards that require nothing more than a color printer and an opaque card sleeve to play with. These sets are extremely accessible to new players, and they should be one of the places new players are directed to – it’s a fanastic way to increase their collections.

The problem is that these sets don’t necessarily work well with the cards available to new players. The Unaligned is the largest and most ambitious of the three sets, and it includes a number of great crypt and library cards, but not enough to play with on their own. This set really requires that you already have a number of group 5 crypt cards from Lords of the Night, as well as library cards from Lords of the Night and possibly older sets like Ancient Hearts and Final Nights. Unfortunately, it is now impossible to acquire Final Nights or Lords of the Night outside of Europe, and Ancient Hearts is selling for about double MSRP. It’s pretty hard to tell a new player that the Independent clans are a good starting point when you have to place an order from Europe (and beg for shipping to the US), and buy some incredibly expensive Ancient Hearts boxes.  Likewise, I’m sure that the upcoming Anarch-based set is going to be great, but will it be stand-alone?  I assume that players will need cards from the Anarch and Twilight Rebellion sets, both of which are very rare and hard to find.

dm_logoThe Storyline Rewards set provides some neat crypt cards for a lot of different clans and groupings, but there aren’t really enough of them to make a significant impact for new players. They might get one or two free vampires for their decks out of this set. Indeed, the only set that is well positioned to help new players is Danse Macabre which contains a number of crypt and library cards that can be easily paired with the Third Edition starters. Unfortunately, this set is quite small and so it gives players only a few extra options for their starters. The Brujah Antritrbu Starter gains the most from Danse Macabre, but that only amounts to 5 library cards and 2 Crypt cards (although you also lose 1 group 3 vampire from the starter, so a net gain of only 1 vampire).

What I am proposing is that we simply take the idea of digital cards and extend it to include some or all of the physical cards that were printed while the game was officially supported. I assume that most playgroups already allow printed proxies in their casual games, but I’m suggesting that these printed cards be treated in every way like the physical card they represent – meaning that they would be legal in tournaments.  This is an idea that can be taken in a few different directions.  Below, I outline three potential implementations, and the advantages of each system.

#1: Make All Cards Printable

The widest possible way to implement this is to allow any player to print any card they want and use it exactly as if it were a physical card. I think the advantages here are obvious – new players instantly have access to all cards.  It completely removes this barrier for entry. It may also help revitalize current players who have shied away from more active involvement due to a limited collection. Given that attracting new players and retaining old players are the highest priorities for a “dead” game, I think it is hard to overstate how significant these advantages would be.  That having been said, I think there are 5 reasonable objections to this idea which I enumerate (and attempt to refute) below.

Objection 1: Legal Issues.  Perhaps the most powerful concern regarding printable cards is a legal one.  Would CCP and/or WotC try to take legal action?  Unfortunately there is no clear answer to this question, but I would like to provide two arguments as to why legal action would be incredibly unlikely.  First, officially sanctioning printed proxies isn’t a new concept.  It’s been done by some player organizations dedicated to keeping alive other “dead” CCGs – most notably the Star Trek Continuing Committee, which has allowed all players to print every card for both the First and Second edition of that game. They’ve allowed printing of any card for about two years now, but even before that they created printable “promo” cards that were just digital versions of rare physical cards.  They released a new batch of these printable promo cards every 6 months or so.  And they did all this without the official or unofficial blessing of either Decipher (the publisher), or Paramount Pictures (who own the rights to Star Trek, which includes all of the still frames used as card “art”), but they have encountered no legal problems.  The second argument is that CCP and WotC could easily take legal action against the VEKN for the digital sets that have been created, but have chosen not to.

Objection 2: It would prevent VTES from being picked up by another company.  One hope that many of us has had over the last few years is that VTES would be supported by another company.  Apparently the game was almost picked up by Fantasy Flight Games, but negotiations fell through.  However, if that deal (or a similar one with a different company) ever did go through, the game would almost undoubtedly be changed and would not be backwards compatible.  The new game would likely try to capture the feel of VTES but without all the baggage that the game presently has.  This means that printed proxy cards couldn’t possibly be a problem for the new game.  In fact, I would argue a large and active player base would be seen by a new company as very favorable – all those players are a great initial target audience!  So anything that grows the player base and keeps old players active (like printed proxies would) might actually increase the chances of a future Vampire or World of Darkness themed CCG.

Objection 3: It would destroy Print On Demand (POD).  For those who don’t know, several years back OneBookshelf.com (aka DriveThruRPG.com) was looking to get the rights to print VTES cards as a print on demand game.  The idea was that you could get any card printed for X dollars, and that could simply order whatever cards you wanted from them.  And it is certainly true that allowing printable proxies would destroy this whole business model.  However, my understanding is that the negotiations for that deal were frozen more than 2 years ago, and there has been no progress made towards a resolution since.  I think it’s time to put the health of the game over the possibility of having print on demand cards. If we wait, there may be no players to sell to by the time the negotiations are successful!

Objection 4: It would destroy the singles market. Yup, it certainly would.  Or at least it would for the expensive cards.  A lot of common cards are sold for 5+ per dollar, and I think people might still be interested in those cards (I think it’s reasonable to think that people would still prefer to play with real cards), but nobody would pay $15 for Villein, $75 for Summon History, or $450 for Enkil Cog.  But while card scarcity may be good for secondary retailers, I honestly cannot see how it is beneficial for the game.  The only stores I would be concerned about hurting are Rose Tatu Productions and Walch & Nusser, both of who have unfailingly supported the game since White Wolf dropped it, and both of whom have gone out of their way to keep card prices very cheap.  But, as discussed in the previous article, Rose Tatu is nearly out of product (minimizing damage) and Walch & Nusser doesn’t ship outside of Europe.

Objection 5: Personal collections would become “worthless”.  Well, you certainly wouldn’t be able to sell personal collections for as much, but again I don’t think this is a valid argument.  And I’m speaking as somebody with a modest collection of ~14k cards (plus another ~8k that I’ve given away or set aside for new players), and somebody who owns a number of those expensive cards.  But the fact is that the health of the game is simply more important than how much money I could make by dumping my collection on Ebay.  I understand that not everybody would agree with me, but I don’t think that our community should put the financial concerns of a few individuals before the health of our game.

#2: Make Some Cards Printable

Last I checked, zero retailers were selling this card on ebay!
Last I checked, zero retailers were selling this card on ebay!  So much for the secondary market fixing everything.

But perhaps you aren’t persuaded by my words.  Maybe you still think that allowing anybody to print any card would be bad for the game. Well, let me pitch you a modified version of the plan.  The VEKN puts together a new virtual base set (Fourth Edition?) that is free and can be printed by anybody. This set would be a curated list of physical cards that are considered “essential” to play the game, and printed proxies of just these cards would be considered legal for all tournament play.  I want to stress that I’m not suggesting making new cards, but rather putting together a set composed entirely of existing cards that we want players to have easy access to.  Staple cards like Deflection, Telepathic Misdirection, Carrion Crows, Immortal Grapple, Majesty, Conditioning, and others.  Cards that we all reach for when building decks but are now difficult to find outside of the singles market.

Ideally, this collection of cards would complement the starter decks that are cheaply available (Black Hand and Third Edition) as well as the digital sets being released by VEKN.  So (as an example), the set might include a bunch of group 5 Independent vampires and a few of the discipline cards from Lords of the Nights, Ancient Hearts, and Final Nights which could be paired with cards from The Unaligned.  Alternatively, the set could focus on group 3 vampires which would play nicely with the group 2 vampires from the Black Hand starters and the group 4 vampires from the Third Edition starters.  It would be particularly nice if these vampires worked well with those in Blood Shadow Court (which can still be purchased cheaply and easily world-wide).  I think there are a number of ways this set could be made, but putting it together would certainly be the most difficult part of this plan.

But what are the advantages to this plan?  Well, helping new and current players (although to a lesser extent than the above plan) is still the largest benefit.  But this plan also helps alleviate some of the objections I discussed above.  For instance, if you really concerned about the singles market or the worth of your own collection, then we just make sure that expensive cards aren’t in the free to print set.  The set would include some moderately expensive cards, but not the really expensive cards, meaning that selling singles would still be viable, and personal collections would suffer only a slight devaluation.

What are the downsides?  Well, first, this plan just doesn’t help new players as much as the first.  And that is a major factor to consider.  The second problem is just figuring out which cards make it into the set and which don’t.  I honestly don’t think this could be a community project – if we designed this by committee, it would be debated for the next year and then dropped (if past projects are anything to go by).  I think that if we want to follow this idea, the VEKN should appoint one or more people to be in charge of this little project, and give them a month or two to figure out a list.  There should certainly be a community conversation about it that this person could read and consider, but I think we need a person or a small group of people to be empowered to have the final say on which cards get in, and which stay out.

Also remember that we aren’t limited to doing just one of these sets – if this proves to be successful, we could always chose to release another digital set.

#3: Make Cards with Errata Printable

What if you are a physical card purist and you don’t like the idea of a curated list of printable cards?  Well, my friend, I’ve got one more idea for you: the very minimal level of implementation.  It’s something that I think is essential to the health of our game.  There are a number of cards that have text that does not agree with what the card actually does.  Now, to be fair, most of these cards have been reprinted with their current text, but in many cases you can no longer get those reprinted cards except by purchasing them as singles.

The text on this card is so different than the modern text. Consider that this wording can't be used by an untapped Prince for intercept!
The text on this card is so different than the modern text. Consider that this wording can’t be used by an untapped Prince for intercept!

Consider Second Tradition: Domain.  It was printed in Jyhad, VTES, Camarilla Edition (in Boosters and 2 starters), Kindred Most Wanted (starter only), and Keepers of Tradition ( in Boosters and 1 starter).  But most of those sets aren’t available any more.  The only way you’d be able to get this card is by opening boxes of Jyhad and VTES.  But neither of those sets have the current wording.  Players (new and old) need to check each of these old cards against the current wording on Secret Library to figure out which have changed and which remain the same.  This problem certainly isn’t limited to this Second Tradition – the same is true of Majesty, Misdirection, Concealed Weapon, Wake with Evening’s Freshness, Fifth Tradition: Hospitality, Rötschreck, Fame, and Wooden Stake to name just a few!  Many of those are staple cards, and I think the game suffers from forcing players (especially new players) to play with cards that don’t do what they say they do.

What’s the solution?  Well, we can create a list of all cards that have had significant changes to their text and gather those cards into a small digital set that can be printed and freely proxied by players.  This helps new players by giving them a small number of staple cards to expand their collection while also making sure that they don’t accidentally play with outdated rules text (how horrible would it be for a new player who just spent a bunch of money on Jyhad cards to show up with an old Fame + Burst of Sunlight deck?).  This idea also has minimal impact on the singles market and the value of personal collections.  It could be a way to “test the waters” of sanctioning printable proxy cards.

Promote Online Play

In some ways online play is a separate topic, but I think it’s important to talk about it a little because it is also a direct answer to the card shortage.  Does it matter that new players can’t buy cards when they can go on Lackey and have access to whatever card they want?  I would argue that it does matter because I think that almost all new players will be recruited through in-person games and not online games.  However, online play is a great way to keep current players active, and to draw retired player back into the game.  Just recently, I randomly stumbled onto a gaming podcast called House of Commons which is hosted by three individuals who just rediscovered VTES and are now recording their Lackey games.  It’s great to have those three back in the community, and I hope they stay with the game.  Stories like this are something that our community should be encouraged!  I have a few ideas about how we can promote online play, but I’ll save those for a different article.


So what do you think?  Would printable cards help new and current players?  Would you rather allow players to print all cards or just a curated set?  Is there any reason not to have cards with errata be printable?  Please make your opinion heard by filling out the poll below, and post comments here or at the VEKN post that I created for discussion of this idea.

Until next time, may your bleeds never be bounced, all your votes pass, and a new player join your group!

Brett

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “The Problem with Card Availability, Part II

  1. From your options, I would pick ” Create a digital set of staple cards that can be printed”. But I’m really wondering why not just do official printing of the latest digital sets? No clients? Please… HttB and KoT sold incredibly well and there was actually a shortfall of these cards, which is currently reflected in singles prices. If CCP is worried about decreased player base, just increase the MSRP. I would happily pay more for starters and boosters, just to see my favorite game revitalized. If they’re still scared – just let someone else print these sets. This solution can actually be mixed with staple cards re-release.
    I’m proposing this because I think that making old cards available is only a partial solution. What is also important is showing that the game is still alive and supported by IP owner (even if only in limited degree).

    Like

    • I agree that CCP would stand to make some decent money by just printing existing cards, but the situation is complicated by the fact that WotC owns the rights to the rules. Ultimately, for reasons I don’t understand, CCP has decided that it’s not interested in licensing the game (that’s what DriveThruRPG was basically trying to do). So, given the fact that negotiations have thus far failed to solve the card availability problem, I think it’s time for our community to consider alternative solutions. We need new players (and reactivated) players if we want this game to survive. Free to print cards will make the game a lot more attractive to new (and returning) players.

      Like

  2. I think the only problematic card that needs a VEKN version under a different name (and perhaps twist) is Villein. Mainly because you need 6 – 7 of them for a viable big cap deck and the going price is about $15US (so $100ish all up).

    The rest of the exotics (Summon History, Ashes, Enkil etc) aren’t needed for a wide range of decks — although Ashes could potentially be better balanced by wider availability.

    Most other rare and essential cards are still reasonably priced. $5 for Dreams, $5 for Direct Intervention, $5 for Pentex etc… And in terms of useful commons they can still be acquired cheap enough (Deflections, Telepathics etc).

    I think a larger barrier to entry is the lack of range of starter decks and in turn vampires — which you partially covered in your previous blog post.

    One thing that may help new players is if existing players compose and sell mini-collections. A range of cards covering the core disciplines with complimentary vampires and essential master cards. So dominate, obfuscate, celerity, auspex, animalism, presence, potence, fortitude etc — perhaps the independent disciplines if they’re interested in those clans (serpentis, chemistry, necromancy & quietus). However avoid the blood line disciplines and clans — suggest they save them as something to explore after playing for a year or two.

    I imagine that a lot of players, that have been playing for a long time, probably have quite a lot of excess cards that they wouldn’t notice gone if packaged up and sold on to new players for fairly cheap.

    Like

    • Honestly, I’m not really comfortable with telling a new player that they need to spend $100 to make a competitive deck (Dreams, DI, Pentex go into most decks!). That’s Magic territory. I’d rather say – all of the basic cards you’ll need are super cheap (or free?), and if you want to build an interesting trick deck, you’ll have to hunt down some rare cards. Now, like you say, this could be accomplished through the generosity of existing players. But it’s a lot more difficult to seed somebody’s collection that to make them a starter deck. 60 good cards are something that we can all part with, but the 1000 or so cards that one really needs to have a few of each staple card? That’s more difficult.

      And it quickly gets you into problems. Let’s say that I can seed one good collection (which I think is about all I could do) – do I give that to the first player who shows up and seems interested? What if they don’t continue playing? Have I given those cards away for nothing? What about the next player who shows up (who might want to stick with the game for much longer)? I’m sorry, but I don’t see this as a sustainable model for getting staples into the hands of new players. Starter decks? Yes. Enough staples to allow them to build their own decks? No.

      Finally, we’re mostly talking about library cards here. But Crypt cards are an equal (or greater!) problem. You need a lot of vampires to be able to build a deck. The only vampires available to players right now are those that come in Blood Shadow Court and the Black Hand and Third Edition starter decks. That’s a pretty slim selection of vampires for somebody to try to deck build with. Even a digital set of free to print vampires would be incredibly useful.

      Like

      • Yes, this was my point regarding Villein — a VEKN equivalent needs to be created so new players don’t have to shell out $100+ for a viable large cap deck.

        In terms of the mini collections, they don’t need to be complete — for example it could just be two clans with discipline synergy and enough vampires and cards to open up a range of options for those clans.

        I was in Australia a couple of weeks ago for tournaments there and got speaking to Chris from Townsville who’s had quite a few new players start playing recently. One of the things he does is just have a large number of decks permanently made up (20+) and then new players pick from those. I do a similar thing at our events, show up with a dozen or so decks to choose from. This is good as it allows new players to try a range of different play styles before they commit to spending any money on cards. It also means they don’t need to invest the time or energy into building decks and purchasing cards — something which isn’t for everybody. This in turn also opens the game up to more players who aren’t interested in the CCG aspect of the game.

        Like

      • Those all sound like great efforts to bring new players in. I’ll certainly be sealing some of those ideas! But I just wish there was a source of cards that we could point players to as a good way to get them involved in deck building. I think CCGs are great in the same way miniature games are great – the hobby continues between games! And I would love to be able to give new players some ability to do that without buying huge quantities of single cards, which is pretty much what I feel that I’d have to say to a new player. But thanks again for your feedback – I love the success that you’ve had in bringing in new players, and I’ll be looking for ways to replicate it! 🙂

        Like

      • Looks fantastic! Maybe you are right that the best way for new players to get involved (currently) is to do these single clan packs (maybe the Antitribu vampires could be thrown in with their Camarilla buddies, making it a dual clan pack). Just out of curiosity, do your clan packs include moderately expensive cards like Freak Drive or Dreams of the Sphinx?

        Like

      • No freak drives, however this one contained 1x Pentex, 1x DI, 1x Dreams and a few other similar cards.

        Some of the stables from a few of disciplines:

        6x Carrion Crows, 7 Aid from bats.
        2x My Enemy’s Enemy, 6x Telepathic Misdirection

        We do allow proxying in out play group; so there was also 6x Eyes of argus, 3x Nightmare curse and 3x Deep song (printed and sleeved). If / when we put on a tournament those cards can be leant if the player wants to use them (if they haven’t chased them down themselves).

        Like

      • That’s a pretty awesome starter set, and I love the idea of including some proxy cards in there! Sounds like I need to go buy a few packs of sleeves to hand out now 🙂

        Like

  3. Oh, and go search Ebay for Telepathic Misdirection. It’s a staple card, right? Not a single vendor on Ebay is offering it (as of right now). The only way to get more of them would be to buy starter boxes (Black Hand has more than Third Edition) for ~$60.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s