Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle - The past, the present, the future

It has been 14 months since my last post on this blog. Though I was sure I will drop V:tes for sure, I played through the year 2016. Granted the rated dropped from 6 hours every week to 1-2 games every 5 or 6 weeks. Played some other CCGs during that time and got some more experience and insight. This has lead me to evaluating lot of things including V:tes and what it means to me.

The Past

I have played V:tes for more than a decade and the game will always have place in my heart. Uniqueness of the game, political aspect and everything about the game is just fantastic. And though I have encountered and tried a lot of games, there is very small number of them I consider this good, original and interesting. Even digital space is not innovating TCGs as much as I have expected. I have participated in many tournaments and played hundreds of games, enjoyed time spent with my friends with this game. There is so much to say, but that would be boring for you, since every V:tes veteran knows what I am talking about and it is very hard to explain to non players

The Present

There is a friendly tourney in march, which is held at my friends house and that will probably be my last V:tes venture. Although I persisted longer, than I thought, everything about the game became tiresome for me. Booking time for potential games, which did not happen, people hoping that there will be fourth player to last minute and so on. Trying to setup game just became so much painful, that I did not even enjoyed game nights that ended in a success and often left early. Although this will be probably another blow for Thursday games, its the best move for my nerves. There is no influx of new players, no stashes of boosters left. Though you can interest someone in game, it rarely works long term. You can draft from LotN and KMW only so many times and no one really set up cube. And although there is Anthology set, coming out, by itself it cannot revive game, so this is probably last goodbye with V:tes unles the game comes back to life. Which brings me to:

The Future

After playing other games and hanging with older players, people of the same age and lot of younger players, I do not believe that simply reprinting V:tes will solve anything. The state this game ended in, is model that will probably get no investors, because there will be very small market for it. I myself would find it very difficult, to sell the idea of this game to anyone right now. And though I am not professional in designing cards and games in any way, I will try to list problems I see with V:tes that will need to be addressed before reprinting, but to be honest, restarting. Because I am pretty sure there is no way to sell this game with sticking to enough core things that would allow some kind of reprint. Also will mention few things that should be addressed, but are not part of the game itself.

1) The endgame

Cash prizes were never a thing in V:tes as far back as I can remember. (Granted was not there from the start and attended only like 4 ECs) But these days, to capture good part of new players, there has to be some carrot dangling before them. The ability to earn some money, or potentially become pro player that just lives only from his winnings, has a strong pull on people these days and helps competitive events. Casual players can be deterred from the game that has complex rules, high threshold for entry and requires larger investment to start with it. On the other hand if experienced or motivated players see that there is potential to earn something on the top, they invest (profit for a company), play competitive and play a lot. (good for community)

2) The threshold

As I have mentioned above, if the game was reprinted right now, the threshold for new player would be way too high. Learning to play this game perfectly takes time, practice, reading, thinking and a lot of times spent with rulings just to be sure and that is just one part. Learning how to play five player table of experienced players is a skill, that needs to be learned as well and is not easy. And lastly, the collection. Even if we consider every possible card would be reprinted, we stand before collection issues. There is no rotation in game, so we have (not counting PDF editions) 3 500 cards to play with. And lets not forget there is not anything like a playset in V:tes. You can theoretically build a deck with 90 Blood Dolls and play with it, so its very hard to estimate how many copies of a card will you need. MTG did good with rotation. Not only that players are able to collect legal cards quickly, they can keep in mind smaller subset of cards that can be played in respective format. That still does not prevent them from collecting older cards or playing in a different format, just lowers the threshold (good for newcomers) and also makes new products to sell more. (good for company) Also complete restart would lower threshold even more, possibly could move more product for company. (Although this would probably piss a good part of old timer community) And it would be good opportunity to tamper with a core rules while we are at it.

3) The 3,6,7 dilemma

 So you have met for a V:tes night and you have this awkward number of players. Three player games are often boring, it turns to quick 2 vs 1 or someone dies quickly and you have to play longish 1v1 game, when 1v1 is just supposed to be finale. If there were some kind of "Event/Eneny/Raid" pack included in PCD, that would provide additional problems/objectives/enemy you are able to redirect bleeds or assign points from political actions, that might bring some refreshment to a three player tables. As for 6 and 7 player tables, someone often sits that out because otherwise that game will take 3 hours and that is very hard to remedy without taking out some of the core things that are true for V:tes. Because obvious things you can do to do faster games are - no deals/ timed turns/ reduced starting pool. All of which somehow favor one or the other player. Event deck might help here too, splitting that table into two, or there might be special event pack, which would introduce new threat to the game (like permanent effect of Becoming of Ennoia in play from turn 1) - though this would be tough thing to balance. And although different number of players needs to be addressed in casual games, it can get troublesome in tourneys too.

4) The 4/5 difference

Although it might seem a minor thing, if two players get maximum VPs on all of their tables, they might have different total of VPs. I am of course talking about difference on 4 and 5 player table. And though it seldom has effect, the difference should not be as significant as it is right now. Giving the table total an addition 0,5 VP or TPs might lesser the difference. It would be interesting to see comparison of tourney data and what would that do with order of players. (This would need a lot of testing and data analyzing) Now I would switch to rules themselves.

5) Cutting the obvious

Over the years the game has grown, so have the factions, types of cards and interactions. I had conversation about these things and I know a lot of people would disagree, but the game needs to by simplified. If there were only two choices - a) reprint with a ban or rehashing the rules, some of these suggestions would fall to both options, some only to one of them. If they decided, that they would reprint the game, but ban complicated cards, I would say, no problem - everything that mentions research area, imbued, events, Maleficia, Striga and few cards from the most asked about rulings list. Its very simplistic approach, but it would go long way making the game easier to learn, though its not ideal by a long stretch. If we would go for reprint, I stand by most of the choices. Every type of card that requires special subset of rules just does not need to be there and annoy new players - so yes, imbued are first on chopping block again and to be honest, research area, events, Maleficia, Striga should be removed too as unnecessary. V:tes has already enough of interactions by itself, that removing most of the special cases just makes the game smoother.

6) Streamlining combat

As much as I love combat mechanics and every aspect of it, (for years I have played lot of combat heavy decks) and it has become more complicated, than it really needs to.I cant really say that combat is too complicated, but i´t certainly did not remain in boundaries of three phases - determine range/choose strike/press - described in base rules. Although detailed play summary posted on vekn.net helps a lot, there should still be few things handle. Cards should be moved to less phases, end phase is just redundant as is pre strike window used by only a few cards. Also the "exceptions" should be smoothed out. Its painful to try explain that dodge is only strike that does not resolve, or that every effect of "combat ends and..." happens after combat, except untapping, which by card text happens first. I could go on and on, but you can see the picture. There should be clearer outline of phases and less exceptions.

7) Removing exceptions and confusions

And I mean those really annoying ones, like Caitiff status in game. It looks like a clan, it has a design of a clan, but no, it is clanless. And I know its because of lore, but in terms of game design, it just does not have place there, or has to be treated differently, because current design is just flawed. Another confusing  problem for new players is the difference between blood hunt referendum and referendum of a political and what effects can be used in it, but if you add Bernard, the Scourge or Veles Hunt, to the mix, you get a very unfortunate situation. And mind you, I know all these things, but times and times again, I had to teach new players these differences and it was just painful. Again I could continue here, but as in previous point, we need better accessibility.

8) Keywording

There is a tourney anecdote that might or might not be based on a true story. Player A played a card with a long text that player B did not know, he started explaining it and after five seconds, player B said: "Too much text, Direct Intervention." Extreme case? Maybe, but lot of V:tes cards have this giant block of text, that can just deter from close enough reading. We need to replace "Enter combat with a ready tapped minion controlled by another Methuselah" with "Rush tapped" and continue from there."Maneuver, only usable to go to close range" could be substituted with Maneuver close and so on. Wording of V:tes has become bloated in trying to express in exact words, what card does, but some things, like during X do Y are counter intuitive for players from other games, before they read clarification about it.

9) Balancing cards

If we return back to talking about possible competitiveness of the game, there needs to be a little more balancing in terms of cards, but mostly disciplines. If we look through entire history of V:tes, there are disciplines, that just stay on top for most of the time. (I am looking at you dominate!) And for a good reason, since the strong cards for them were released during Jyhad and never rotated out. Govern the Unaligned and Deflection are still so high on power curve, that adding something more powerful into the game is very problematic and balancing cards in other disciplines to match it had to pain in the butt as well to designing cards for dominate just to not add more power in in. I have to say all the designers did pretty good job around it, but all the time id had to be pretty complicated. And since Jyhad, when I see dominate, first cards I still consider playing are Govern and Deflection. Bad design? Not really, but there is a room for improvement here.

10) Play to win

We are coming full circle with this one and getting back to endgame which I started  with. If there ever should be tourneys witch prizes, "Play to win" rule has to have clearer boundaries. Which is not easy in game that has ousting, back ousting, cross table ousting, self ousting and still tries to be competitive. I have been on table, where I was accused of not playing to win, judge was called on me and after hearing my reasoning, agreed with me, that I am playing for my maximum possible VPs. I was on table, where I was really torn. I look like one person is a) playing very poorly in terms of judgement b) was not playing to win/was helping his friend to do table sweep. And that table was played in a fashion, that no one would be able to prove either way. Hell I was not sure and I was observing the play entire time. This one is tricky and I do not claim I have solution for this. To keep all the possibilities in game and at the same time limit grey areas of play is a task for a team of people. However there is need for this to be dealt with.


Conclusion

I am feeling greatly nostalgic about the game and I still do love it, but it being dead means I will move one for good. I would love to see it alive again, but I am confident, that there is no chance to market it without solving most issues I have pointed out above. And I know there will be points that many of you wont agree on and also that it is easy pointing out mistakes and not offering solutions, but I am not payed to do that. Do not get me wrong, I would jump on opportunity to make this game better, but even writing this post took a way more time than I expected and I treasure my time dearly these days. Not sure if anyone will even read this, but for those of you, that will make it to the end, thank you and I hope you will find something interesting in the paragraphs I have written. Hope to meet you in better times for V:tes.


Silmegil

2 comments:

  1. MagdeburgMethusalemJune 14, 2017 at 5:25 AM

    from a game mechanic point of view, caitiff being handled as a clan makes a lot of sense. I know in the lore caitiff means clanless, but if you delete caitiff from the list of clans in VTES you also should delete Clan Pander, since lore wise they are just a big group of caitiff that follow the sabbat.

    Your argument about keywording invalidates your argument regarding 'Strike:dodge'. If you wanna write out 'dodge' then keep it consistent and use no keywords at all.

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