Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Nobodies

No, I'm not insulting you. It's a song title. Look it up.

It's been so long since I've posted here that my shareholders are totally up in arms and random people on the street keep spitting on me as I pass them. I've never heard the words "pariah," "outcast" or "unclean" so much as I have in the last four months or so. I probably need some time to warm up before heading back into the deep end of the usual nonsense, so this post will be relatively brief. I won't spend time boring you with the details of why I haven't been keeping this place clean and evergreen (hint: videogames), so let's get down to it, boppers.

Over on his saucy Torn Signpost blog, Josh outed me for thinking of trying to start up a Chaos In the Old World league night. (Details of the league rules and how it plays out will follow here, if it actually comes together.) Why create and run a league, he asks, given that there's a potential downside of people playing against their own best interests in a given game in order to improve their overall standings within the league?

First, a word about how scoring in the game works, since it'll become important later. Players can win either by scoring the most dial advancements (a kind of experience point track, earned by fulfilling special conditions unique to each god) or by accumulating the most points (scored by placing mans to achieve area control). Victory conditions are checked at the end of each turn. If more than one player has achieved victory, dial advancements trump points, tieas on dial advancements are broken by points, and ties on points are broken by a three-round spitting contest or something. I don't remember what that last tiebreaker is because it never comes up in actual play - the point values have enough granularity that they're never that close, if they matter at all.

The winner of the league will be whomever has the most game wins, regardless of how they came by them, with ties being broken by total dial advancements and point accumulations per god. It sounds complicated, but it's really not. The takeaway here is that since game wins are more important than dial advancements or points, and since most gods aren't able to successfully win if they spend all their time messing with one specific other player, I don't foresee having to worry about the kind of "thrown game/eventual victory" scenario that Josh brought up as being detrimental to league play.

So why organize a league for CItOW?

1) Leagues are fun. Even without prize support, the narrative of underdog and reigning champion is one that has a lot of appeal to people, and the nervousness of having to defend your top doggery or struggle to rise through the ranks adds a bit more frisson to individual sessions. And that thrill can be...

2) Incentive to show up. My main motivation for running the league is to try to establish a weekly or bi-weekly night of playing Chaos, which is difficult to do if people aren't showing up with the expectation of playing the game. Not because people don't necessarily want to play it - in my experience, CItOW is second only to Battlestar Galactica for creating the most first-play converts - but because the game can only be played with four players, no more, no less. If the league never forms or collapses before being completed, I'm fine with that if we can still consistently get people together to play. I've played it hardly at all in recent months, and I'm more than happy to take on the duty of league organizer if that helps to rectify this glaring oversight.

3) Establishes a group of experienced players. As with most games that have any depth of tactics and strategy, CItOW tends to be a lot better if everyone playing it has at least a basic grasp of not only the rules but the ways that the game mechanics tend to create certain tendencies of play. When a given game isn't played very frequently, it's easy to forgot how all its parts interlock, and for a game as asymmetrical as CItOW this tendency gets aggravated quickly. You not only have to remember how your god plays, you've got to remember how the other three play as well, and there's really no viable substitute for regular play to accomplish that.

4) Excuse to say, "It's a league game, Smokey." This should be self-explanatory.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Monodiscipline Deckbuilding Challenge #3: Obtenebration

This latest entry in the NWWYP series is a bit more adventurous than previous efforts. Obtenebration is a support discipline rather than a meat-and-potatoes affair, providing stealth and a pretty wide range of effects which are reasonably good but which aren't particularly useful for any one function. Light intercept, combat defense, one of the few combat payload cards in the game, some mostly crappy offensive combat and a few weird outlier effects are all available to vampires who sport the tentacley shadows, but most of that stuff never sees the light of day (marvel at that thematically deployed cliche!).

That's because Obtenebration is one of the better stealth disciplines in the game, and it usually comes packaged with Dominate, and in Ye Olden Dayes, was most often spotted on a hefty selection of titled vampires who often sported Presence for additional vote-related antics. Obtenebration's heavy blood cost keeps it from being a Tier One stealth discipline - accept nothing less than Obfuscate if you want to go for the top-shelf stuff, because no other discipline in the game can compete with it - but it's certainly a solid contender for second-best. Being so good at stealth, and being so closely tied to bleeding and voting, means that there haven't been many occasions for people to bother dusting off their copies of Darksight or Summon the Abyss.

Today, that changes! We're going to put an end to the tyrannical stranglehold stealth has had on the history of Obtenebration, you and I. Together, like we used to. Like a family. So step into the shadows with me, etc.

Deck Name : Shadows Fall
Author : John Eno
Description : Obtenebration intercept/combat. Test version to mine for workable ideas.

Crypt [12 vampires] Capacity min: 1 max: 8 average: 4.83333
1x Conrad Adoula 8 DOM OBT POT ani cel Lasombra:4
1x Henri Lavenant 7 DOM OBT pot qui Lasombra:3
1x Onaedo 6 DOM OBT aus pot Lasombra:4
1x Otieno 6 OBT POT ani dom Lasombra:4
2x Andrew Emory 5 OBT aus dom pot bishop Lasombra:4
2x Ermenegildo, The R 5 DOM OBT pot Lasombra:4
1x Leila Monroe 4 dom obt pre Lasombra:4
1x Hester Reed 3 obt pot Lasombra:3
1x Lucy Markowitz 3 dom obt Lasombra:4
1x Margarite 1 obt Pander:4

I thought about including a copy or two of Dame Hollerton in here, as she's as cheap as superior Obtenebration gets. But thinking it over a bit more, I decided that it was better to make sure that my non-nerd vampires were Lasombra, so that they could reap the benefits of Drink the Blood of Ahriman (see below). Dodge/additional strike/hands for two is a lot more menacing than "well, I could dodge or strike hands for two," after all. Theoretically, keeping the focus mostly on one clan despite there being one and a half clans available with Obtenebration as a primary discipline also means that I can utilize more clan-specific cards in the library, but it turned out that there really weren't many that I wanted to use.

Library [80 cards]
Master [16]
1x Barrens, The
4x Blood Doll
1x Channel 10
1x Elysian Fields
1x Giant's Blood
3x Jake Washington (Hunter)
1x KRCG News Radio
1x London Evening Star, Tabloid Newspaper
1x Rumor Mill, Tabloid Newspaper, The
1x WMRH Talk Radio
1x Wall Street Night, Financial Newspaper

Obtenebration really isn't meant to be a frontline intercept discipline, so I the methuselah am going to have to do some helping out on that score. I had wanted to run some Therbold Realty in here to offset the cost of the locations, but even including Club Zombie (which got dropped for its massive expense), there would have only been eight other cards for the Realty agent to encheapen, and the likelihood of drawing it late in the game and it not having any effect loomed large in my mind. Noting that the only source of bloat in the deck is by pulling blood from my vampires, and also that rather a lot of the minion cards cost blood, I decided to drop the Realties and instead put in a bunch of Jake Washingtons. He's solid bloodgain in any deck, of course, but I hope that the Drinking the Bloods will synergize well with his sometimes difficult timing window.

Action [11]
3x Abbot
1x Aranthebes, The Immortal
2x Black Metamorphosis
5x Drink the Blood of Ahriman

Having standing intercept that you don't need to tap to use is critical to decks that want to block but don't have good access to transient intercept, just like this deck. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of options for that if your vampires don't have Animalism, but Abbot should help to fill that gap a little bit.

The Drinks are both combat offense and better than Paths of Night, hopefully. I'd been collecting Drinks for a while without any real idea of what use they'd have, and it seems to me that using them in a reactive deck is probably the way to go, as that should hopefully allow me to get some use out of them before I even need to pay for them (ie, by blocking people and fighting them on their turns). I also think that they'll be hot with the Nocturns, since that combo allows me to get a free Nocturn and untap to do something else.

I'm not sure about the Black Metamorphoses, not because they lack a strong effect, but because I'm doubtful that I'll be able to successfully complete the action to get them. They're a zero-stealth action, for some reason, and I don't expect that my combat will be scary enough to deter blockers early in the game, which is when I'd like to get the Black Mets. On the other hand, these provide some much-needed combat offense for the guys with inferior Obtenebration, who can't make use of the dodge/additional/hands for two combat package that's the focus of the deck. These cards might be better as Shades, which are much less likely to get blocked since they're at stealth to acquire and because they're not so threatening as to automatically make people want to block, and which are also half as expensive.

Action Modifier [2]
2x Leverage

My sole ousting tech. Also playable by Nocturns.

Ally [9]
9x Nocturn

As mentioned above, these guys should be really good with the Drink the Blood of Ahrimans. They're also handy for getting in cheap bleeds of one while I've still got vampires with Dominate untapped, at least until people twig to the fact that I'm not using Dominate in this deck. But that's really unlikely to happen in a blind environment, given peoples' expectations of what Lasombra decks do.

Combat [20]
10x Arms of the Abyss
4x Darkness Within
2x Entombment
2x Target Vitals
2x Weighted Walking Stick

Arms of the Abyss/hands for two sounds like a pretty good combat package, so that's what I'm focusing on here. Entombment and Darkness Within are good cards that I don't think are normally worth their cost, but they should shine when played by a vampire who's Drunk. The Target Vitals are for the Nocturns, and the Sticks should work well with the rest of the combat options.

Equipment [3]
2x .44 Magnum
1x Sport Bike

I dream of having a vampire with a Black Metamorphosis and .44, though it's unlikely to happen. I may need more intercept equipment here, like more copies of Sport Bike and possibly some Phased Motion Detectors.

Reaction [18]
5x Darksight
5x Eyes of the Night
4x Forced Awakening
4x On the Qui Vive

I know that this is awfully wimpy for a deck whose supposed main function is to block stuff, but you go to war with the army you've got. Darksight is another card that I'd normally pass over due to its cost, so this is partly an experiment to see if Drink makes it worthwhile. I may want more wake tech, particularly On the Qui Vive if I find that Nocturns are surviving past the end of my minion phase and could also wake and block something. Most of the intercept locations are usable by allies as well as vampires, so getting double duty out of free Nocturns would be great.

Retainer [1]
1x Mr. Winthrop

Well, duh.

I can already see the blueprint for a Kiasyd deck along these lines beginning to unfold in my head, one which is better thanks to more reliable intercept and combat, as well as some Dominate for bloat, bleed and bounce. But for now I'll try out this little weirdo and see what works.

It lacks any real ousting power, so I'll have to try to be Johnny-on-the-spot with regard to blocking the bloat actions of my prey. Stealth-vote will likely murder me. Real combat decks will probably have all kinds of trumps that I'll have no recourse against, except to attempt puppy dog eyes. Stealth/bleed decks will probably sneak by me, though I may be able to run them out of stealth if I get lucky, except that they'll likely turn me into their bitch if they're my initial predator. Other than that, I'm not sure what could go wrong with this masterpiece.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Monodiscipline Deckbuilding Challenge #3: Dominate

The third entry in the NWWYP series. (I guess it could be considered sort of the second entry, since Karl pointed out that the Potence deck disqualified itself via use of the prince/justicar "discipline.")

Deck Name : Guns Don't Kill People, Dominate Does
Author : John Eno
Description : Weenie Dominate with guns for combat defense and some "stealth."

Crypt [12 vampires] Capacity min: 1 max: 5 average: 3.41667
2x Banjoko 5 DOM obt pot Lasombra:3
1x Isabel Giovanni 5 DOM NEC pot Giovanni:2
1x Kurt Strauss 5 DOM aus tha !Tremere:2
1x Gloria Giovanni 4 DOM nec Giovanni:2
1x Ingrid Russo 4 DOM for !Ventrue:2
1x Ember Wright 3 aus dom !Tremere:3
1x Saiz 3 aus dom !Tremere:3
1x Christine Boscacci 2 dom vic Pander:2
1x Mustafa Rahman 2 dom Tremere:2
1x Samson 2 dom !Ventrue:2
1x Royce 1 dom Pander:2

Standard Dominate/Govern chain here. The six guys who have inferior Dominate can all Govern down to the others who also have [dom] once they receive a skillcard. I put in two copies of Banjoko to keep as many Sabbat vampires in the crypt as possible, since I want to use Abbot and Hungry Coyote, and it's unlikely to make a difference that one guy is doubled up. As a side benefit, Banjoko prevents Fall of the Sabbat from ever being played! That's quality crypt-building right there.

Library [80 cards]
Master [14]
2x Anarch Troublemaker
3x Dominate
1x Humanitas
1x Hungry Coyote, The
2x Jake Washington (Hunter)
3x Life in the City
1x Misdirection
1x Police Department

A good amount of bloodgain, some combat defense, and a light selection of minion-tapping tech. Originally I considered using a bunch of the intercept locations and Therbold Realty, but as I figure I'm going to be putting those cards into the ridiculous mono-Obtenebration deck I've got on the back burner, I don't want to build too many decks at the same time which are similar to each other.

As is the case in every deck which doesn't have at least one, this question needs to be answered: Why is there no Pentex Subversion here? In this case, I felt like using cheaper alternatives, and I hope to have enough combat defense to not worry too much about getting blocked. The advantages of Misdirection over Pentex are that it's cheaper, has about the same effect if you don't run into something like an Earth Meld wall as your prey, and forces someone using lots of bleed bounce or reduction to play a wake for each of those cards that they play. Since I've only got bleed as offense here and might be able to take down the unwary with my combat, I'm more worried about that last part than I am about needing to shut down one superstar.

It's a gamble to choose not to use any blood-to-pool reclamation tech, and something along those lines might very well be better than putting Dominate skillcards onto dorks in order to turn those dorks into poolgain machines via Govern - those Governs can be pretty easily blocked, after all. Since this is a prototype deck, though, I'll stick with the unconventional choice for the time being.

Action [11]
1x Dominate Kine
1x Far Mastery
8x Govern the Unaligned
1x Graverobbing

Bleed, bloat, and some miscellaneous stuff. I'll be able to play Dominate Kine every game, of course, even if at inferior, but Far Mastery and Graverobbing are the kind of cards that I like to throw into something untuned and not really tournament-worthy like this deck. I fully expect to discard them, but if circumstances come up that they turn out to be useful, they tend to turn out to be really useful.

Apparently the Abbots I mentioned above got dropped somewhere along the way, so now the only Sabbat-only card in the deck is the Hungry Coyote. I may end up putting them back in, so I'll keep an eye out for situations in which it would have been useful to have them. The Coyote is another card that I'm really not sure of, and might very well be something better. If it turns out to be the case that it's not worth the investment it requires, I'll also change out the second copy of Banjoko for Catherine du Bois.

Action Modifier [21]
5x Bonding
2x Change of Target
2x Conditioning
3x Foreshadowing Destruction
4x Seduction
1x Sleeping Mind, The
4x Suppressing Fire

If this were your daddy's weenie Dominate deck, there'd be at least twice as many bleed modifiers and probably far fewer Bonding (which is good stealth for a discipline that doesn't provide stealth, but not a good bleed mod for a discipline that's got loads of them). But I like to have the Power of Truth on my side when I say, "But it's not that kind of deck!"

The Sleeping Mind is total pants, of course, but I'm curious to see if it ever comes in handy should I find myself in a corner of the case. It would also be a funny finisher against a deck that relied entirely on Second Tradition, though I seem to be the only person who makes such decks, locally.

Is Suppressing Fire any good? Probably not, but it might mess with someone's math enough to allow me to squeak an action through now and again. Originally I thought I was going to use a giant pile of these, but their effect seems so wimpy that I just couldn't bring myself to. Should I go for what seems to be a totally nutpunchy exercise anyway? I'll put the question to the audience, and if there's a overwhelming response I'll retool the deck before playing it.

Combat [18]
4x Fake Out
6x Target Vitals
8x Zip Gun

The original plan here was to run seven or eight each of Concealed Weapon and Saturday Night Specials. The deck should play in such a way that I'll need to hang onto a lot of cards for what might be a long time - I don't have enough serious bleed mods to throw them around willy-nilly, for example - and so I didn't want to put another two-card-exclusive combo* into the deck and foul up the slow cardflow that I'm already expecting to be working around. This decision is what led to putting more bloodgain into the deck than I normally would, since the Zip Guns essentially have a cost every time that they're used. It may end up being less work to simply pay the pool upfront for the guns and save master card slots for something else, like maybe hand-management tech to make sure that I get the Concealeds and guns together.

Reaction [16]
6x Deflection
2x Delaying Tactics
3x On the Qui Vive
2x Redirection
3x Wake with Evening's Freshness

Nothing particularly special here. The low number of actions, combined with the need to not make myself very busy until it's time for a lunge, means that I can lowball the number of wakes a bit. Redirections aren't very popular, for a reason that should be clear, but I like to throw a few into decks which are looking to conserve blood.

*What I mean by this is a two-card combo in which the cards aren't playable, either usefully or at all, without each other. Concealed Weapon/Saturday Night Special is a good example of this, as the former isn't playable at all without the latter, and if you take the action to acquire the latter, it wastes the action (compared to if you'd used a Concealed to get it) and has a tendency to mess up cardflow later in the game, when you're drawing Concealeds for which you don't have any accompanying gun.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Failure of Strength In Arms

We were hunkered down around a pile of beads and two decks each, one short and one tall, just like our ol' grandpappies used to back in the days when you couldn't get white onions because of the war. Josh's last-minute arrival to our gaming night bumped us up to the dreaded six players, but we'd already sat down and begun our first turn of a game of V:TES, so we agreed to try to play fast and set a time limit to see if we could get through a six-player game.

Game One: When Combat Decks Collide
me (Potence princes) -> Scott (Menele CEL/dom) -> Josh (Marconius vote) -> Chris (Unnamed Cog bleed) -> Greg (? barons) -> Matt (Synesios + Setites)

For this game I decided to play The Only Study of a Prince, my mono-Potence entry in the NWWYP project. Lady luck was grouchy and so sat me down next to the only other deck with offensive combat out of five other decks, meaning that Scott and I would expend a lot of effort beating each other's minions up and fail to achieve anything like victory. Joy.

On the other side of the table, Chris was had a hard time getting anything going with the Unnamed, whose bleeds of one vanished into the maw of endless bleed reduction that characterizes most of Greg's decks. Since the bleeds weren't successful, the Unnamed wasn't untapping after his Flurries of Action, meaning he wasn't able to take whatever follow-up actions he'd planned on. Greg wasn't doing much better, having drawn a lot of vote push but no Fee Stakes or political actions. Matt attempted some forward movement, but couldn't seem to scare up the stealth required to get past my Second Traditions, and I beat down his vampires enough to keep them scrambling for blood. Josh was sitting pretty thanks to Scott's deck not doing anything and me occasionally molesting his vampires. I wasn't able to get out more than one guy with superior Potence until late in the game, so my combat wasn't particularly effective, and though I did manage to deal some pool damage to Scott via my votes and twisting Josh's arm in order to give him my vote support, Matt also began landing enough bleeds of three that my pool started to look rather droopy.

It had been some time since I'd played an Anathema deck, so I made the idiot mistake of choosing Menele rather than Synesios once I'd passed one of them. Ten pool seemed so much better than eight, but I'd forgotten that Menele could fight and this incarnation of Synesios couldn't, that I needed Menele around to try to keep Josh somewhat reined in, and that I'd have been much safer stripping Matt of his primary offensive weapon than trying to take down Scott's best fighter. I wasn't particularly invested in this game, which led to a lot of mistakes, most of them revolving around Menele.

After Anathemizing him, I also put a Haven Uncovered on him, figuring that if Nikolaus's rush failed, I could follow up with some of my less fighty dorks. Nikolaus's rush did fail, and then Scott played Taste of Vitae to undo all my hard work. Soon after I got out Murat and sent him to Menele's apartment, but Murat managed to get himself knocked into torpor during his first action and only reduced Menele to two blood. I was focusing on trying to get my pool to one lower than Scott's so I could call the two Parity Shifts which had piled up in my hand, so I failed to press on to kill Menele. That turned out to be a huge mistake, as our big fights had stripped all the combat cards out of Scott's hand, so when Marconius realized that he could just stroll on over to Menele's pad and slap him into oblivion, he promptly did so.

Josh ousted Chris, and then Matt ousted me because I'd tapped out for two turns in a row without much pool or any wakes in hand. I supposed I'd been trying to cycle into some wakes? Probably the combination of waiting to clear space off the table so I could eat the Thai food I'd ordered and not thinking that I had much chance anyway caused me to slack off. Matt then ousted Scott, Greg ousted Matt, and Josh squirmed through Greg's bleed reduction to finish him off. I wasn't paying any attention to the game at that point, as Chris had broken out some Mesna shape-recognition game that he was mocking Scott and I with. Apparently I'm even worse at shape-recognition than I am at placing workermans.

Conclusions: If I want to win, I should pay attention to the game and also not play like a total gump. Getting ten pool and burning your predator's primary vampire for the cost of one action and one blood is a pretty good deal. Lowering your pool to puny levels and then not bothering to defend it doesn't make for a good path to victory. The Only Study of a Prince might actually be a good deck with some tweaking, if I take the time to learn how to play it. Warsaw Station should be doubled up in it, and I should put some more bloodgain in.

Game Two: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Matt (Helo) -> me (Cavil) -> Scott (Kat) -> Josh (Ellen) -> Chris (Cain) -> Greg (Zarek)

After briefly considering the merits of playing another six-player game of V:TES, we decided instead to break out Galactica. Greg hadn't ever played before, but Josh didn't have his set with him and none of us felt like taking the Pegasus expansion stuff out of Matt's set, so we threw Greg into the deep end, though we decided to ship him off to Kobol rather than New Caprica to keep the game from getting too complicated. We gave him the barest rendition of the rules possible and launched into choosing characters. I picked Cavil because I didn't want to mess around with any sympathizer/sympathetic cylon rules and he's the one cylon leader whom I hadn't played yet.

We'd decided to play with a houserule that I'd first encountered at Origins whereby the allegiance of the cylon leader's agenda card determines how many hidden cylons are infiltrating amongst the humans. My agenda was The Illusion of Hope, dictating that the cylons had to win but not before the humans first reached six or more distance. Since I was playing for the cylon team, I built the loyalty deck to contain only one You Are a Cylon card.

The game started out smoothly for the humans, who assumed that I was full of hate for them since I drew Treachery during my first few turns. They got through their first jump cycle without any real excitement, in spite of me using Cavil's power to add a basestar, some raiders and civilian ships to the board. Chris chose a three-distance destination card, and I knew I had no time to dilly-dally around. I couldn't seem to find anything useful to do with Cavil's skillset and special abilities, as I was now convinced that taking an action to summon a basestar wouldn't be of too much use if the humans were cooperating well enough to skip through their jumps without much infighting. It seemed clear to me that the hidden cylon hadn't shown up yet, or was too afraid to risk exposure to really be doing much to help us win, which meant that the humans were working together so well that there was little I could do to sow distrust amongst them.

The humans skated through another jump cycle, during which they had so little to do that they threw me into the brig. I used Cavil's OPG ability to take three actions during my turn, shedding a body in order to return to the Resurrection Ship and then farming two supercrises, which seemed to be the best way to directly impact the game at that point. Chris chose another distance three destination, which meant that the other cylon had figured out his origins but also that we were pretty much sunk. Earlier in the game, Greg had assigned Chris to be his arbitrator, and it didn't take long for us to figure out who had received a coded message, as Chris's first action after the sleeper phase was to head over to the Admiral's Quarters and then use the powers of the Arbitrator to hustle Kat through a quick court-martial. He dumped his entire hand of skill cards into the check, resulting in a high enough result for him to use Cain's power to force Kat to skip the brig and head directly out the airlock. Scott revealed that he was human, surprising no one, and chose Tyrol as his replacement character.

Another jump cycle was completed while Chris was still admiral, in spite of him being an obvious cylon, but he was presented with two-distance and three-distance destinations. He picked the three, in order to tax human resources unnecessarily. Everyone's hand of skill cards was really thin, so I revealed that I'd set up a bomb on Colonial One and the humans weren't able to figure out how to defuse it before it took a chunk of their morale away and dumped Zarek into Sickbay. Morale was a bit low, and was really the only dial which had any chance of hitting bottom, but Greg made a successful speech and also used Zarek's ability to turn people into happiness. Chris revealed and joined me in cylonville, and we rejoiced to see a pair of cylon attack crises show up. I activated the raiders from the Cylon Fleet and they destroyed no less than four civilian ships, but two of those ships turned out to be decoys and the others only removed a few points of population. Sneaky humans! They ended up having plenty of people left and made an early jump, leaving us cylons wondering where the hell Kobol was and shaking our fists impotently.

Conclusions: Cavil is as bad as I suspected he'd be, at least in a six-player game. He might be good in a game with fewer players, but cylon leaders have so little power over what happens during a game that using movement abilities is critical to their success. That lack of agency is a direct result of regularly receiving fewer actions than humans and unrevealed cylons, since no one is likely to give you an XO even if you're infiltrating. Unlike Leoben and Six, Cavil's movement ability is a OPG rather than a daily special, and his daily special is generally too dependent on luck to be a worthwhile use of one of those precious actions, in a game featuring enough players (ie, five or six) that it's entirely possible that a jump cycle will be completed before your next turn.

That everyone assumed I had an anti-human agenda because I chose to draw Treachery early on was really a mistake on their part, even though they turned out to be right, due to the pro-human agendas generally containing some kind of "...but also screw over the humans in some way" clause. At the same time, it's not really worthwhile to draw Treachery rather than Engineering when playing a cylon leader, both because of that suspicion on the part of the human players (appropriate or not) and due to the low strength of the Treachery cards as compared to the Engineering cards. If you want to spike checks, it's quite likely that Engineering will allow you to do so as often as Treachery, and the value on those blue cards is higher.

The humans played well, but I think luck was definitely smiling upon them this game, to such an extent that the cylons didn't have much chance of winning. That only two of the four of the humans needed to use their OPGs is a pretty good indicator that the game never developed much in the way of tension, and they also made several self-admitted mistakes which nevertheless didn't seem to turn the tide against them. One of Galactica's greatest strengths is the way that every game plays out so differently within the same framework of rules, but the downside to that high variety is that sometimes it's possible to have games which are something of a turkey shoot for one team or the other. After the game was over, a few of us discussed the cylon agenda houserule, and came up with some other variations of it that I'd like to try out. Matt's idea was to keep two hidden cylons in a six-player game, but have the allegiance of the cylon leader determine when one of them is placed into the loyalty deck - pre-sleeper if the leader is pro-human, post-sleeper if the leader is pro-cylon - and leave the distribution of the second cylon loyalty card up to chance. I really like that idea, and I think I'll use it next time circumstances warrant.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Eli Con 2010

EliCon 2010 was a one-night gaming gathering hosted by Feuerstein the Mighty, probably as part of one of his many nefarious schemes, but it was a great time regardless of how it fit us cogs into his diabolical machine. His son Eli was good enough to give his dad the night off, mostly sleeping soundly in spite of the excited nerdery taking place just downstairs from his room.

Games played included Dominion, which I successfully managed to avoid, Ben Swainbank's prototype superhero card/boardgame hybrid, and a game called something like We Didn't Playtest This At All which totally lived up to its name. (It was like Fluxx, but even more random and less interesting. It was basically a series of cards that invented the kinds of rules that get laid down during a game of Asshole, which aren't really any fun if you're not drunk and looking to get drunker.) In addition to these appetizers, the main courses involved overt Norsemen and covert robots, so all in all a delicious feast was had. Hopefully a small beer spillage and my abuse of Eli's plates and sippy-cup won't be enough to dissuade Josh from hosting again in the future.

Game One: Drunken Fortress-Building and Snowball Fights
I haven't got much to write about the first non-warmup game I played, as I'm still so bad at worker-placement games that I can't understand their basic rhythms well enough to really get a sense of the overall shape of the game. Suffice it to say that it seemed like a lot of other people gathered materials without needing to resort to the axe, whereas I didn't seem to get anything for free unless I happened to accidentally have one of the surviving vikingmans in an area which had been cleared of hostile forces by other hostile forces. I did pretty well at the card-playing aspect of the game, winning at least as many fights as I lost and mostly losing only the fights that I didn't care much about anyway. But while everyone else's forts grew pretty substantially, my own didn't amount to much more than a circular dog run and adjacent outhouse.

By the end of the game, I'd officially had my pants beaten off. I had no pants! Very embarrassing, especially in mixed company. Not only was I dead last, the folks who were vying for the top two spots had more than double the amount of points I did. Any general advice on how these kinds of games play, or if I'm overthinking the whole affair and ascribing skilled play to what might turn out to be randomness, would be greatly appreciated.

Conclusions: I really don't know what I'm doing. My inability to correctly figure out the placement of workermans is shameful.

Game Two: Man, This Show Is Brutal
Josh (Apollo) -> Matt (Roslin) -> me (Tigh) -> Ben (Adama) -> Kevin (Tyrol) -> Jen (Starbuck)

Since Kevin had never played Galactica before, we stuck with the basic game. We chose to use the No Sympathizer variant, which meant that our resource dials began the game slightly reduced from their normal starting positions. After Josh and Matt picked their characters, I was left with the hard choice of picking a military leader or Tyrol, none of whom really excite me. Helo is pretty good by my reckoning, but picking him as the third character in a six-player game meant that I'd be spending a lot of time shooting up antirad meds rather than participating meaningfully, so I discounted him as a choice. I've found playing Adama to be boring, and Tyrol as well. Saul Tigh is probably the weakest character in the game, but given my choices and the fact that I had a bottle of beer in my hand while looking over them...well, I let destiny decide. Looking at my loyalty card revealed that I was a human, meaning that I'd be drunkenly muttering under the aegis of the first definition of "Cylon Hatred," at least until the sleeper phase.

As the game began, I suggested that Matt give up the presidency, since Roslin's a pretty terrible president and works much better as a kind of back-row artillery character, lobbing lots of Investigative Committees and Executive Orders around the table rather than trying to take a more active role. Matt wanted no part of that suggestion, and though I briefly entertained the notion of telling him to go frak himself and declaring martial law, that seemed like just a bit of a hasty play.

The matter was mostly taken out of my hands by a succession of three cylon attacks, and everyone spent their time ordering the two pilots to get themselves in gear and go kill some raiders. Unfortunately, Starbuck didn't live up to her reputation as an ace pilot, and she managed to get herself shot down twice before we made our first jump. We also took some hits to civilian ships and the resource dials, both from all the excitement in space and from some failed crisis cards. Further darkening our spirits, Ben picked a Tylium Planet as our destination for the jump, ensuring that we'd have more fuel than we'd know what to do with but leaving us woefully distant from reaching Kobol.

The second jump cycle was uneventful in terms of Explosions In Spaaaaaace, so we got right down to the business of accusing each other of being cylons. This didn't bear much fruit, as nobody seemed to be sabotaging the crises, and we blew through this jump cycle so quickly that we didn't have much time to get our bicker on. Once Admiral Ben picked another one-distance destination, though, there were a lot of groans and furrowed brows and at least one instance of the phrase "cylon admiral" being muttered.

It seemed that our allegedly cylon admiral had called ahead to his buddies in the cylon fleet and told them where we'd be heading, and they'd spent that time traveling there while we were mucking around with limp-wristed accusations during our second jump cycle, because oh my sweet bottle of ambrosia did they show up in force during our third jump cycle. We got hit with a total of four cylon attack crises during this period, and after the game was over, Matt said that he'd used Roslin's ability to bury a fifth one. Evidence suggests that the cylon One True God has a thing for statistical improbability.

During this relentless assault on everything humans hold dear, at one point it became clear due to a spiked crisis and the associated card draws that either Kevin, Ben or myself must be a hidden cylon. The indicting color was purple, of which I drew the most, so I came under some suspicion. I'm sure that this was intentional on Ben's part, but his poor choices of destination still kept the majority of suspicion on him, with me as a good second choice should he prove himself to be trustworthy. Matt decided that there wasn't any reason to take more chances, and Encouraged Mutiny to make Starbuck our admiral.

Not too long after, Ben revealed and left me with the parting gift of two handgun rounds to the chest as a reward for my decades of friendship. Thanks, buddy. That was actually a mistake on his part, since Kevin and I were the only people on Galactica at the point that Ben revealed, and he would've been better off choosing Kevin to send to Sickbay since Kevin's turn came next. It ended up not mattering much in the end, though.

Our morale had been taking a beating - the crisis that made it mostly obvious that Ben was a cylon had been caused a morale loss after several other crises that he probably spiked, in retrospect, had done the same, and the first of many civilian ships that we lost to the swarms of raiders on the board was the party barge - and was critically low at this point. President Roslin received an Executive Order to make a speech with my Strategic notes to back her, and we got a little happier, but she then started muttering about how she knew our species was doomed anyway without realizing that the microphone was still on. In spite of my providing Strategic speechwriters a second time, the human journalists had a field day with her hypocrisy and we didn't gain any more morale.

It was all over but for the task of breaking out the cylon champagne stores at this point, and humanity got too sad to bother trying to continue shortly afterward. We all sat around for a while and bitched about the fact that the crisis deck apparently held a grudge against Josh, and assured Kevin that while the game is somewhat predisposed against the human team, it wasn't normally so one-sided as this game had been. Sadly, there hadn't even been a second hidden cylon amongst us, and Ben said that he didn't really do much crisis-spiking until near the end of the game, which meant that extremely bad luck had been our worst enemy. I cast back and tried to remember if I'd ever seen a game finish before the sleeper phase and couldn't remember any instances of that happening, so we'll put this down as my Official First Time that the game ended before the sleeper phase.

Conclusions: Well, our group selection of characters kind of sucked. Characters in Galactica are designed to be balanced internally rather than against each other; Boomer's special abilities are much stronger than Zarek's, for example, but at the same time she has a crushing disability and a skill set that's not so great. It's therefore possible to have groups of characters that are weaker or stronger than others, though there's not a huge amount of variance. Three of us picked characters on the low end of the power scale (Adama, Tigh, Tyrol). Roslin was prevented from being powerful due to refusing to give up the presidency, though the president is most useful during times of peace and we didn't have much of that, so that probably didn't make a huge difference.

Having two pilots should have helped a lot, due to all the cylon attacks that came up, but there were so many raiders in the air that our pilots had to hold onto their Evasive Maneuvers just to try to stay alive, which meant that unmanned vipers were being torn apart like tissue paper. During the last attack crisis that came up, for example, Josh wanted to launch Apollo in a viper in order to get out of Sickbay, but we told him that he couldn't because there weren't any vipers left. He explained to us that the rules have been clarified to explain that pilots can take a viper off the board in order to launch in one, and I replied that I knew that, but that we only had a single viper left, and Starbuck was already in it.

Ultimately, though, I don't think that there's really anything that the human team did wrong. Even if we'd chosen better characters to play, that dense clump of cylon attacks which came up would've likely still ended us. Maybe we should've been Launching more Scouts, even in the midst of the heavy fighting, but I think those of us able to do so were assuming that probability would smooth out and we wouldn't get hit with yet more attack crises. Still might have been worthwhile, to ensure that we got jump icons and could leave the damn party already, but it can be difficult to rationalize doing so when there are actions that can be taken which provide more immediately concrete benefits. I've yet to play Dualla in a game, so perhaps next time we're playing with the Pegasus expansion, I'll choose her and see if keeping the raptors in heavy rotation in spite of what's happening elsewhere on the board is a sound strategy or not.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monodiscipline Deckbuilding Challenge #2: Potence

While watching Thirst and contemplating how it isn't very vampirey for a vampire movie, for some reason it suddenly occurred to me that I had been needlessly conflating "mono-Potence" with "weenie Potence," and that it wasn't necessary or desirable to do so. To this end, I started casting about for ideas that could use Potence as their primary engine but not rely upon weenie vampires, and I remembered reading something about Nikolaj Wendt building a deck that was all about princes who have Potence. I also recalled seeing Dave Pennington play a deck that seemed to be built around the same core concept, so I opened up ARDB and got to work.

This is the second entry in the NWWYP project, which will probably take me the rest of the year to complete, at the rate that I actually play V:TES these days.

Deck Name : The Only Study of a Prince
Author : John Eno
Description : "War should be the only study of a prince. He should consider peace only as a breathing-time, which gives him leisure to contrive, and furnishes as ability to execute, military plans."
-Niccolo Machiavelli

Crypt [12 vampires] Capacity min: 2 max: 8 average: 5.5

2x Selma the Repugnan 8 OBF POT ani for prince Nosferatu:1
2x Nikolaus Vermeulen 7 POT ani for obf prince Nosferatu:2
1x Donal O'Connor 8 CEL DOM POT prince Brujah:2
1x Murat 7 OBF POT ser prince Nosferatu:2
1x Calebros, The Mart 5 ANI obf pot prince Nosferatu:2
1x Volker, The Puppet 5 CEL pot prince Brujah:2
1x Hector Sosa 4 POT pre Brujah:1
1x Duck 3 obf pot Nosferatu:1
1x KoKo 2 pot Nosferatu:1
1x Lupo 2 pot Brujah:1

Group 4/5 was very tempting, featuring the awesome combo of Tara and Karen Suadela, but it doesn't have much in the way of other midcap princes with Potence, particularly at superior.

Since I've only got fairly good defense in the form of hurting people (don't want to do it as it wastes my resources), the threat of hurting people (doesn't usually work in my playgroup), and Second Tradition (good), I also need to include some bloat. Parity Shifts are good but risky, plus I only own three copies that have grown-up backs, so I'm going to use a bunch of Fourth Traditions to get vampires on the cheap. To that end, I've created a staggered chain of vampires so that, hopefully, I'll be able to continually bring out fresh vampires as the game continues.

I went with an all-Camarilla crypt even though a lot of the cheapest vampires with superior Potence are Sabbat, because I want to be able to play Judgment: Camarilla Segregation without hurting myself. This will be a deck that won't have a great deal of aggressive offense and will want to knock people off the table as quickly as possible, making J:CS is a good choice.

Nosferatu not only have good midcap princes with POT (and a good special, in Nikolaus's case), they've got access to some pretty good clan cards, so I focused much of the crypt around them.

Library [80 cards]
Master [14]
5x Blood Doll
1x Creepshow Casino
2x Fame
1x Giant's Blood
2x Haven Uncovered
1x Labyrinth, The
1x Papillon
1x Warsaw Station

This should be largely self-explanatory. Some people might question the addition of the stealth locations in a fighty deck, but I've found that smart players know enough to block really evil actions (like Parity Shift or a rush targeting an Anathema'd vampire) even if it means that they'll lose their blocker. Having the option to add stealth to those actions is a good investment, as long as you don't have to leave the stealth card sitting in your hand until you need it.

There may be too many Blood Dolls and not enough bloodgain in here. A second Warsaw Station might also be nice, since the card is so boss, but this is a good starting point.

Action [12]
8x Fourth Tradition: The Accounting
1x Judgment: Camarilla Segregation
1x Rampage
1x SchreckNET
1x Third Tradition: Progeny

Mostly nuts and bolts stuff. Probably could use another two Segregations if I want to get serious about ousting people. Rampage often isn't great, but the ability to punch, say, the entire city of Chicago into rubble with a single action is too funny to pass up.

Combat [34]
10x Immortal Grapple
4x Taste of Vitae
4x Thrown Gate
2x Thrown Sewer Lid
9x Torn Signpost
5x Undead Strength

Again, nothing particularly thrilling here. I apparently traded away more Signposts than I'd realized or else there'd be a tenth one here instead of one of the Undead Strengths. Though I've not no way to play them without a little help from my friends, I like having a few Sewer Lids in any Potence deck just to have an answer for people who get all smarmy about out-maneuvering me. The Gates are less good for that, but can deliver a fair amount of damage while possibly keeping my minions safe from harm.

Political Action [12]
2x Anathema
2x Archon
5x Kine Resources Contested
3x Parity Shift

I don't have enough available actions or any vote push to justify playing any more votes. Realistically, this is probably already too much, since I've got no other means than getting out more princes to try to push votes, though many of these are sellable enough that I might be able to talk my way to passing them.

Reaction [8]
8x Second Tradition: Domain

Probably just enough defense, though the largish number of actions makes me wonder if a few more wouldn't help.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Monodiscipline Deckbuilding Challenge #1: Celerity

Here's the deck whose genesis kicked off the NWWYP project.

Deck Name : Juggernaut's Folly
Author : John Eno
Description : Gunless weenie Celerity.

Crypt [12 vampires] Capacity min: 2 max: 5 average: 3.58333
2x Dodd 5 CEL dom pre !Brujah:2
1x Rigby, Crusade Van 5 CEL PRE aus pot !Brujah:2
1x Jimmy Dunn 4 CEL POT for Pander:2
1x Parmenides 4 CEL qui Assamite:2
1x Scarlet Carson O'T 4 CEL pro !Gangrel:3
1x Victor Tolliver 4 CEL pot !Brujah:2
2x Sarah Brando 3 CEL !Brujah:2
1x Carter 2 cel !Toreador:2
1x Jesus Alcala 2 cel !Gangrel:3
1x Kanya Akhtar 2 cel Assamite:2

With these kinds of weenie decks, the question always arises as to whether it's better to smallify the crypt as much as possible and use Master: Discipline cards, or increase the average capacity a bit and use mostly vampires who have the discipline in question at superior and fill out the crypt with a few support nerds. The answer to that question will usually depend on how good the discipline in question is at basic. It's totally possible to coast along on basic Dominate or Obfuscate until you start drawing into skillcards, for instance. Celerity at basic, on the other hand, is possibly the worst discipline in the game, and I figure this deck is going to struggle mightily to accomplish anything in any case, so I don't want to gimp my chances extra by needing to wait to draw master cards to make my minions effective (or as effective as mono-Celerity can be, at any rate).

The crypt is staggered so that I can make the most use out of Powerbase: Zurich. I'm not sure if this will actually work out in play or not, and I might need to add some Wider View later on in order to make sure that my larger vampires can gain me some free pool during my turn, but this looks like a reasonably solid starting point from which to gather some actual play data.

The cheapest vampire with basic Celerity, Antoinette DuChamp, was cut out of the crypt after I finished building the library for two reasons. The first is that there are enough Celerity actions and strikes in the deck that I worried that her disability would cripple her more quickly than the one pool she'd save me over using one of the two-caps was worth, and the second was that her basic Celerity means that she can't use Sideslip as damage prevention, and would quite likely end up having to hunt every other turn even if her special didn't trigger.

Library [90 cards]

This is a significantly bigger library than I normally run, even for combat decks. I'm not entirely sure why it ended up being so big, though I strongly suspect that the reason is me overcompensating for what I perceive as Celerity's inability to deliver the goods in combat, so my combat card selection probably got overzealous. I'll try it like this, but I expect that I'll probably end up cutting the library size down by about ten cards.

Master [10]
1x Barrens, The
1x Dreams of the Sphinx
1x Elder Library
2x Fame
2x Frontal Assault
3x Powerbase: Zurich

A fair bit of hand-tuning tech here, required stuff for any deck packing as large a combat module as this one. Some light offense in the form of Fame and bloat from Frontal Assault and Zurich are probably all that the deck has room for, given that it intends to play quite few cards during the course of the game.

Action [20]
8x Bum's Rush
12x Flurry of Action

Here's the meat of the deck. The plan is for my minions to bleed with Flurry, hopefully without being blocked, and then untap and do something else - hunt if they're low on blood, get a +bleed permanent, bloat via Zurich, rush someone, or possibly call a vote if the political situation looks favorable. Staying untapped to block might also be an option if the deck sits down with a non-sneaky predator. Flurry's basic option also provides more hand-tuning potential if it's needed.

Combat [52]
4x Infernal Pursuit
8x Psyche!
4x Pulled Fangs
8x Pursuit
8x Sideslip
8x Target Vitals
4x Taste of Vitae
8x Weighted Walking Stick

Whole, whole lot of cards here. As I mentioned above, this is probably overkill on my part, but I do feel like Celerity has so little to offer in terms of combat payload that these are all going to be needed. Pulled Fangs is good tech to work with both Fame and Dragonbound, and with the extra damage I can inflict, dodges and damage prevention, it shouldn't be too difficult to play them.

Equipment [2]
2x Laptop Computer

Event [2]
2x Dragonbound

Political Action [2]
2x Perpetual Care

Retainer [2]
1x J. S. Simmons, Esq.
1x Tasha Morgan

The rest of the deck is ousting tech, which feels too light to me. The Perpetual Care seem especially fringey to me, but Darby Keeney has assured me that they can do plenty of damage in a rush deck, even if that deck lacks titles of its own. I'll give them their day in court and see what verdict comes back.