Decks and Pets

Tobold posted about “The Grizzly Bears deck,” which of course reminded me of a Duelist article from 1995. Because you come to this blog for notes on how recent gaming events relate to forgotten gaming history.

The idea is to have some cheap-to-assemble “computer” decks to test your deck against. The variety of them listed in the article give you a range of challenges like you could expect to see in play, although the state of the game has changed a bit since 1995. The two I remembered best were the goldfish and angel decks

The goldfish does nothing, nothing at all. If you cannot beat a deck that does absolutely nothing, quit the game. If you cannot do it in 7-8 turns, fix your deck. (With some exceptions for decks that are doing fancy, slow, safe things.)

The angel decks does nothing for four turns and then gets a free Serra Angel every turn forever. That is your “slow deck” opponent. There are similar decks for defense, weenie hordes, etc.

There is not a lot of point to this post other than to point to history. That is one part “isn’t that neat,” another part that history keeps coming back around. That was an article from 1995 that was mentioned in a Wizards post in 2010, coming up in a variant in 2017. I have several times recommended reading Jessica Mulligan’s archives from Biting the Hand because so many of today’s issues were also yesterday’s issues. We are not just fighting the last war, we are doing so with the strategy that lost the last war.

: Zubon

Matchmaking

I have played a bit more Overwatch, and the only time the matchmaker seems to put me in a game with even levels is weekend prime time. As I mentioned earlier, either I am good enough to get matched with players 200 levels above me, they are just that bad despite time spent, or the matchmaker algorithm is just saying, “Sure, this is fine, why not?”

This post from Jeff Kaplan has a lot going on. There is a very good bit here and a “eh, whattya gonna do” bit, where the latter is frustratingly fair.

If I were to summarize match results into 5 broad buckets it would be these:

  1. My team won. We beat the other team by a long shot.
  2. My team barely won.
  3. My team barely lost.
  4. My team lost. We lost by a long shot. It wasn’t even close
  5. It was a broken match somehow. Maybe someone disconnected, was screwing around or we played with fewer than 12 people.

(of course there are more cases than this – I am overly simplifying here)
Most players will say that they want a match to be either type 2 or type 3 as I described above. Those sound even. Barely win or barely lose. But I believe when psychology comes into play, most players actually expect type 1 or type 2 to be the result. Even an amazingly close type 3 match can turn into a highly negative experience for a lot of players. And if you keep “barely losing” it’s not a very fun night. Winning is fun and good. Losing is less fun than winning.
So waiting a really long time to lose by a long shot is obviously not good. But waiting a really long time to barely lose is also a negative experience. And if we assume that your chances of winning are 50%, that means that even waiting a really long time for a “better” match means that you’re going to wait a really long time to probably lose half the time…

There are some rather good insights here.

First, we say we want 2 or 3 (a good fight), but in practice we want 1 or 2 (to win). 2 is always good, but all things being equal, most people prefer 1 (big win) to 3 (narrow loss). And we all like to think we are above average and should win more than 50% of the time, even though perfect matchmaking would lead to 50% 2s and 50% 3s.

Second, most people will feel bad about a 3 or 4 and good about a 1 or 2. Despite our ideal of wanting 2 or 3, many (most?) people would probably rate a 3 about the same as a 4 in terms of how much fun they had. Winning is more fun.

Third, given that, the matchmaker really does say, “Sure this is fine, why not?” Because there is no perfect game for you once all things are factored in, and if it were perfect you would have a 50% chance, so why try to wait several minutes to find that perfect game when odds are you are not going to find it any more fun? And you still have multi-minute waits, so how much longer do you want to wait way outside prime time?

There are other good thoughts in that post, like how many random variables there are in the game, notably if you are a highly ranked player because you are a great tank and you feel like playing a sniper tonight. Most of my ranking must be based on playing support, but I don’t always want to play support. Overwatch is probably worse for that than other games; having a couple dozen classes to play introduces more noise.

But again, players like shiny, noisy, and random. Most people would be unhappy with a game where the more skilled player won 100% of the time. You are not the most skilled player out there.

: Zubon

Pitch Deck

Pitch Deck is a fun concept for a party game, on Kickstarter now, but I don’t think it will age well. The idea is to match a company with a new product and explain why “Soylent for Juggalos” is going to be the New New Thing that everyone should invest in. It is vaguely like Apples to Apples, but everyone gives a pitch for their answer.

I think that sounds kind of fun, maybe you don’t. I do not see it aging well because lots of those companies are going to stop existing over the next five to ten years. A fair number of them you’ve never heard of, because everyone’s “everyone knows” differs. This was written by some folks in San Francisco, which goes a ways towards explaining the variety of recent tech start-ups but the conspicuous absence of major corporations or middle American consumer products (and the notion of having a game about elevator pitches for startups). I would be amused to see how the implications of some of these change over time; in recent memory, MySpace was THE social media hub and eBay was an auction site.

Have you seen that effect in other games? If you have an older copy of Trivial Pursuit, some of the answers have changed over time, and some major celebrities have changed to “who?” Playing Apples to Apples with the next generation gives lots of those moments like, “Who’s Michael Jackson?” I don’t know how well Cards Against Humanity has aged with aggressively edgy references to people who were politically relevant in the five minutes the game was published.

If you are interested in giving the game a look or test run, there is a Creative Commons print and play download available.

: Zubon

Heroes Alive?

Friends at a LAN party were hitting Heroes of the Storm hard, so I joined them. Quick version: it is still a weak LoL clone that replaces the toxic community with one that is silent. It is hard to tell whether the skill ceiling is that low or players are just that casual and disengaged. When you play support frequently, you really get a sense of how random folks can be.

I assume it still has a significant playerbase? I have found multi-minute wait times for quick play, which to me would imply “dying,” but maybe my account is at a weird point in the population density.

Overwatch feels similar, a shiny but somewhat clumsy TF2. Again the silent community and surprisingly long wait times. I assume the latter are not caused by my account level; I assume there is no matchmaking at all, given that I will end up in games with level 100+ pre-made groups, despite being relatively new.

Blizzard codified the trope of “soloing together,” and this is what it looks like in a team game. On the other hand, if you can get a few people working together, that will wipe the map. Fish, barrel.

: Zubon

Tao Long

While I am talking about Kickstarters, I should point to Tao Long. ThunderGryph Games started up last year and Kickstarted their first game, Overseers. It looked interesting and I backed it at the “Founders Club” level, which is a lifetime subscription to their games. So I’ll be paying attention to everything they do. Gonzalo Aguirre Bisi of ThunderGryph has a nice post about his first Kickstarter experience. The game arrived as expected, upgraded, and before Christmas.

I have only had one evening with Overseers on the table, so I do not have a heck of a lot to say about it yet. The mechanics work well. We found the swings of small decisions to be very large, but part of that was due to translation issues with the rules. When you play, make sure you have the FAQ because some of the rules are mis-described and there is a recommended text change that happened between printing the cards and the manual. I think the game runs much better after seeing the FAQ, although Greed becomes much weaker.

Let’s be honest, you expect some language issues when a Spanish company translates a Japanese game into English. Hyperborea, which I love like chocolate, had worse issues trying to avoid language and instead using increasingly arcane symbols to show complicated rules on cards. We have put up with worse to play our MMOs. This looks to be their model, translating games and taking them to new markets. I look forward to more non-European Eurogames.

Storytime over, Tao Long burst out of the gate, more than triple its funding goal in less than a day and currently over 1000%. It’s not a $10 million game, but it is already a relative success, twice the funding that Overseers received. If anyone has explored the game in greater depth and would like to discuss mechanics, rather than just game development meta, comments are open.

: Zubon

Monstrous Formatting

Since yesterday reminded me of the old Monstrous Compendium, can the grognards join me in remembering that book and how it could be improved?

I really liked the looseleaf approach that let you have just the right pages. We needed better binders and reinforced pages, but the idea is right. But here is a thing if you are doing that in a physical medium: it needs to be one monster per sheet, not per side of a sheet, if you are adding expansions. If Black Dragon and Green Dragon are on opposite sides of the same page, a problem arises when Brown Dragons get added. Keeping expansions separate by setting has some logic, but if you cannot even combine the binders for the base game, you have a problem.

Of course, that could lead to padding. How many monsters really deserve both sides of a page of paper? You could fill it in with things like rules for PCs of that race or advanced versions (kobold, kobold sorcerer, half-dragon kobold sorcerer…). The Monstrous Compendium tended to pad with cryptozoology and anthropology. This is useless to the gamist side of RPGs but great for the simulationist. Yes, tell me what ropers do when they are not just waiting for people. I want to hear about alternate names for otyughs. What do you know about ettin harvest festivals or orcish wedding rituals? Fluff and fluff and fluff and fluff.

: Zubon

I think I have all of them, still.

Kingdom Death Kickstarter

This is not a project I am backing, but I feel that I should point out the gaming Kickstarter spectacle of the year. I would surprised if anything tops the $10 million (and counting!) that Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 has. You have one day left if you want to join in, but I mostly want to wave towards the spectacle. The campaign is past 10,000% funding. On my monitor, the description is more than 100 screens long as they just keep adding things. The average pledge is over $500, and more than 250 people took the $2,000 pledge level (plus any add-ons). Pathfinder is doing a crossover, and that’s just the one where I got a press release.

I was really impressed with Monte Cook’s Invisible Sun, but this is more than 10 times as big.

: Zubon

The Cycles of Life

I saw someone explaining how he had bought an extra copy of the latest D&D books, then he removed the binding, punched holes, and kept them in binders so that he could have just the pages he needed for an evening, say the relevant classes, rules, or monsters. This is especially handy for encounters, where you can have all the monsters for each fight neatly stacked together, and if one type of monster is the main foe for this adventure you can clip that one to your DM screen.

And all this is just amazing. We have re-created the 2nd edition Monstrous Compendium. It’s a generational cycle.

: Zubon

Timelines

Shout out to Artipia Games. I backed Fields of Green, their new board game. The Kickstarter closed in September with a December delivery date. That was a few days off, but the boxes did ship from Greece in December and arrived here today. I have other games on my Kickstarter list that are years behind and still sending update notes.

Tabletop game makers seem to be just about done when they launch the Kickstarter, with production money needed rather than design money, although some projects have hit it so big on Kickstarter that they needed extra time just to design everything for all the stretch goals (or to massively scale up production). Video game developers seem to have little idea of time estimates, and they make me see the real value in project management as a discipline. It is invisible when done well but obvious when not.

: Zubon