Archive for the ‘Magic the Gathering’ Category

RinCon 2012   2 comments

39 years ago I helped start LepreCon, the first sfnal Con in Arizona.  At least if anything else preceeded it, my friends and I had never heard of it, though we knew about cons in California and back east.  Since then the number of cons has increased tremendously, and it reached a point where cons weren’t just for science fiction any more–they spread out into all sorts of related fields, like Gaming.

It all blurs together after a while, but I don’t remember going to any gaming specific cons before the 1990s.  However, once the idea caught on, it became quite popular.  This year, I have attended three Gaming Cons here in Arizona–VulCon I, Conflagration 1, and RinCon 2012.  In addition, I have spent most of my con time gaming at DarkCon, LepreCon, ComiCon, and CopperCon.  And those were just the cons in Arizona, which I tend to attend because they are close and don’t cost me much money.  Out of state I went to Origins, OSRcon, and GenCon.   And I’m planning on LaughingMoonCon on Oct. 20.  That makes 8 weekends minimum spent at conventions, mostly gaming–slightly more than 1/5th of the year’s weekends up to my neck in cards and dice mostly.

Last week, Sept 28-30. I was in South Tucson for RinCon 2012.   This southern Arizona convention is about 5 years old now, and I have attended it once before.  This year the Con committee made me an offer I couldn’t refuse (a hotel room for my stay at the con–I’m easy, folks, you can have me for as little as a place to stay while at the con (grin)).  My son and I went to the Con.  I played Tunnels & Trolls twice, and a few other games.  I was on two interesting panels with John Wick and Mark Truman who were the other major frp people at the con.  We talked about such things as GM technique, things to keep in mind if you want to create your own frp game, and how the sport of role-playing has developed and is likely to continue developing.

I took my little camera along and took a few pictures, which I will now share with you.  They don’t really make a story this time, but it should give you an idea of what it was like.

There was plenty of function space at the Airport Holiday Inn in South Tucson. About half of the gaming took place in this large hall. The dealers have an area down at the far end.

I broke a rule, and actually played That Other Game. Jim McKenzie, the big guy on the left ran Pathfinder for most of the weekend, and I sat in on a game Friday afternoon as a wizard. Had to leave after about an hour of play, and I got back just in time for the grand finale. My wizard wasn’t missed, and got to throw one magic missile in the whole game.

Although you will find I prefer my own Tunnels and Trolls to all other frp systems, I am willing to play other games from time to time.  Really, it isn’t the system that matters.  It’s the role-playing that counts and having a good time with others.

That evening, Jamie, the cutie on the right taught my son James, the blurry fellow on the left, and me how to play the World of Warcraft CCG. James won–twice. I prefer Magic ™, but if one were a WoW player (and I’m not), I could see how one might grow fond of this game.

James Ernest was the Guest of Honor at RinCon. James is an amazingly smart game designer of mostly board games, but he could do anything. We know each other, but don’t mingle that much. Here he is having breakfast at the hotel buffet on Saturday morning. Bacon, eggs, and orange juice–yum!

The major Event of the convention was a GM conference on Saturday morning from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m.  5 game designers including me down front and 20 to 30 people in the audience at various times.

Audience, right side, Matthew Nielson down in front.

Audience, left side.

John Wick sat to the right of me. John pretty much dominates any panel he is on.

John said he had designed 10 rpgs this year already.  I said, big deal, designing them isn’t so hard.  Getting them published and out to the gamers in an attractive format is the hard thing.  John amended his statement to say he had published 10 rpgs already this year.

Mark Truman sat to the left of me on the panel. Mark is a game designer on the rise.

You won’t see any pictures of me at this Con, at least none that I own.  I was always pretty much at the center of the action and looking out admiring the great works of other people.

RinCon pays its GMs in RinCoins–tokens that dealers have agreed to take as part of the purchase price of games. Alas, I spent my RinCoins buying more Magic.

This BEN HVRT (clever play on Roman letters and a movie title) looked like a lot of fun. It represents all the great games I saw at RinCon but never got the actual chance to play.

After 2.5 days of gaming goodness, RinCon came to an end on Sunday afternoon.  While I was there I participated in a Pathfinder game, 2 Tunnels and Trolls sessions, a Settlers of Catan game, several rounds of Magic with my son, a WoW demo, a game of Gloom with my son, and a long session of Legacy the other t & t game (time travel and technology).  It was a good weekend for gaming.

If you were at RinCon, or some other gaming convention recently, why not leave a comment and mention your exploits there?

–end

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GenCon 2012, Part 2 (Friday)   4 comments

We got there early.  These following pictures are chronological in order.

As we walked to the Mariott to run my 9 a.m. T & T adventure we passed these World of Warcraft giant posters stuck onto a business wall in downtown Indy.

We were early, so we stopped and played some Magic at a Catan boardgame table inside the Convention Center’s open gaming lobby. Mayfair was everywhere with Catan stuff.

James is making his way through the halls of the convention center.

I thought the place was like a gigantic crowded maze, so I took some pictures to show you what it was like in the halls.

And then we came to the entrance to the True Dungeon. Talk about larping. A ticket to walk thru and play that game cost $34.

I wanted to explore the True Dungeon. I didn’t have time to buy a ticket and wait around hoping to join a delving party, but I was able to walk around in the free area and take these shots. Obviously a poster of a goblin . . . I wonder why?

It was dark inside. D’oh! Delvers waiting for a trip counted their tokens and prepared for the ordeal.

A chart showing some of the tokens you might win or purchase inside the dungeon. Tokens represent treasure in this game.

Out of the dungeon and back in the labyrinth.

Some adventurers pausing between adventures.

The maze goes on and on. We were working our way back to the Exhibitors Hall. Yes, this is really what GenCon looks like in most places.

There were plenty of hall costumes. These lovely ladies were showing off. I don’t understand the hair tentacles.

The Exhibitors Hall (i.e. Dealer Room) was guarded by a zombie when we entered.

White Wolf shared a booth with Drivethrurpg.com. I probably should have gone in and talked to them considering how many of my products are on drivethru . . . but I didn’t.

Later in the afternoon, James and I met Daniel–a musician (drummer) and a Magic player. We wanted to try out our Magic decks against him, but never got the chance. Seems like whenever we saw him it was time for his band to go out in the halls and play music. I heard them play. They were pretty good, doing a weird kind of folk rock.

Wil Wheaton was at the Con. He seemed to spend most of his time in the autograph area signing things. Autographs were free and there were several notables including Nichelle Nichols of the first Star Trek series. She has snow white hair now, and is very thin and aristocratic looking. Later, I gave Will a D6 that I brought back from OSRcon with me–one from the Argh gaming club with a coat of arms on it. He admired it, said thanks, and tucked it away where it will probably never be seen again.

After leaving Wil, I went and talked to this pretty elf. She was helping to promote a Game Master’s software program–keep track of everything on your laptop when you run a frp game. There were elves all over the convention, and especially in the Dealer area, but she was the most beautiful one I met.

There were many heroic-sized statues located in the Exhibitors’ Hall and some of the dedicated gaming areas. Here’s a magical hero of some sort.

Speaking of elves, here’s Drizzt do Urden and his kitty cat guarding an exit from the Dungeons and Dragons (which I have dubbed “That Other Game”, area in the hall. I managed to sneak in past him.  I didn’t care at all about the products.  I just wanted to see and admire the statues.

10% sorceress, 90% giant spider thing. I’m glad she wasn’t hungry.

And that seems like a good place to break off today’s GenCon narration.  It was a very busy day.  The dealers seemed to be doing well, and the gamers seemed to be having fun and spending money.  Yay!  Spending money!  That’s what it’s all about for the many game publishers and manufacturers at GenCon.  For the rest of us, it’s a kind of huge carnival crowd scene with wonders in all directions.

–to be continued

GenCon 2011   4 comments

I spent most of last week–Aug. 2 through Aug. 8–at GenCon in Indianapolis.  Thirty or forty thousand gamers, dealers, exhibitors, models, musicians, and cosplayers were also there.  What a scene!  I talked to a lot of people, sold and signed a lot of Tunnels and Trolls stuff, and got some incredibly kind words and compliments from nearly everyone I met.  I had a blast.

Last year I devoted my camera work to people in costume.  The costumes were abundant this year also, but I’m not going to do that again.  This year, I just took a bunch of pictures, and each one reminds me of the fun I had.  Sit back and enjoy the show.

Rick Loomis and Corencio are having supper at Steak and Shake near the convention center.

Rick Loomis, Mr. Flying Buffalo himself, is my principal publisher and patron.  I go to big conventions like GenCon and Origins with him to help man the Buffalo booth and to promote Tunnels and Trolls.  This year I brought along my son Corencio to help with the heavy lifting.  We arrived late on Tuesday, set up the booth on Wednesday–that’s a miserable job as the convention hall is not fully air-conditioned before the show starts–and it’s 90 degrees and 200% humidity inside.  After setting up we all went over to Steak and Shake to have supper–yum!  I do love those double fudge shakes, and this is the only place I ever get them.

Three Amigos--Grimtooth, Shrek, and Trollgod.

Later in the day, I ran into my friend Steven Crompton, and Corencio took this  Three Amigos picture for us.  I didn’t expect to see Steve at the show, but he came to demonstrate his new Powers superhero trading card and sticker game.  Steve is an amazing artist–and the creator of Flying Buffalo’s Grimtooth the Troll character.  Steve is an Arizona boy from Scottsdale, and also a member of my <a href = “http://trollhalla.com&gt; Trollhalla </a> web fanclub for Tunnels & Trolls fans.  That gigantic ogre is really a foam rubber creation and lighter than it looks.  He was extremely busy taking pictures with Con attendees for the whole week.

Rick and Corencio teach retailers how to play Nuclear War.

On Wednesday night before the show we went off to demonstrate our games for retailers at Victoria Station.  We showed a few people how to play Nuclear War and Lost Worlds.  Wizards of the Coast hogged most of the visitors with their lavish spread and demonstrations of Magic ™ and their Dungeon Assault version of Dungeons and Dragons–not available for purchase, but playable by groups in game stores that sell their products.  Steve Jackson Games and Mayfair were also there in force.  I ignored the big companies pretty much–I’m there to see what the little guys are doing.

Typical of the small exhibitors was this company with their pirate miniatures game. Very nice toys they had.

Explorers back from the Center of the Earth.

When the show opened on Thursday morning I went around and talked to some of the dealers.  I most admired the ones who came in costume and wished I had more than an old Tunnels and Trolls t-shirt to wear.  Before it opened on the first day was the best time to see what was at the show–after it opened it was a shoulder to shoulder crowd scene most of the time.  That’s great for dealers, but not so good for rubber-necking game designers.

The Flying Buffalo booth number 501 just before the doors opened to the public on Thursday morning.

Flying Buffalo shared 1/8 of our booth with a small company this year that couldn’t get their own booth.  Studio 9 does small fantasy-themed card games.  Last year they released Treasures & Traps; this year they came out with Villagers and Villains.  People in the picture include Cameron and Lisa in the light green shirts, Bill who helped us in the booth, Rick in the command chair, and Corencio hanging around the back.  One of the few games I got at the con was the T&T card game.  I liked the initials.

Christian, also known in Trollhalla as Dupin, stopped by to say hi.

Death wandered around during the convention. He didn't seem to be taking anyone with him, though.

The Olde Guard was there in force. Here I am with colleagues Robin Laws and Ken Hite.

A member of Trollhalla demos my new DewDrop Inn solo adventure.

Trollhalla member Brrrennt gives A TRAVELER'S TALE a thumbs up plug.

Trollhalla member Kopfy shows off the latest two publications from Peryton Press–Elder Tunnels–Tunnels & Trolls fiction and games that don’t come from me and Flying Buffalo.  I think it is very good to have some outside support for my game.

Perrryton and Aarrra'aghaa are both members of Trollhalla.

Classic profile of a winner--later in the afternoon, Perrryton came and whupped Corencio, Brrrennt, and me in a game of Magic.

Brrrennt explains some of the finer points of the game to Corencio.

The convention center provided a couple of good places to simply sit down, eat, relax, play your games.  I spent a fair amount of time in this area gaming.  It wasn’t as noisy as the main halls, and food was close at hand in the form of small convention center cafes just out of sight.  I ran my one game of Tunnels and Trolls at this table on Friday afternoon.

I had to walk a mile for my supper on Thursday night.

When the dealer room closed on Thursday, Corencio and I joined some friends for a Mexican supper.  Afterwords, we went to their domicile for a Call of Cthulhu game–everyone died, but no one went mad.  Thursday was actually the first and the best day of the Con for me.  Flying Buffalo had a very good day for sales, and most of the friends I actually wanted to see at the Con came to see me that day.  Then we finished it all off with a game.  Can’t beat that!

Fast forward to Friday . . . We had so many helpers at the Flying Buffalo booth that I couldn’t actually stay there all the time.  In one way that was bad because some of the people who came to see and meet me actually missed me.  In another way it was good because I got out and saw more of the Con.

Friday morning found me at the Namaste booth where I went to see my friend Liz Danforth–she who is the very Goddess of Fantasy Illustration–and the creator of the classic Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition cover.

Dungeon delving is a blast.

Aaron wants to revolutionize MMORPGs. I'll help him if I can.

I’m in the picture here with John Harmon who is one of the artists at Namaste games.  He spent some time explaining their storyblocks system to me.  They brought Liz Danforth to the con for the first time in ten years, and signed her up to do concept art for the mmorpg they are creating.  I demoed their system, and I like it–very story based, and not so much twitch gaming like most of the runner/shooter computer rpgs you see these days.  I hope they succeed.

Liz Danforth (in purple) is talking to some of her fans.

It was great to see Liz out on the convention scene once again, and apparently having a good time.  On Saturday night Liz had supper with me and Rick and Corencio and Steve and Rick Roszco at the High Velocity Sports Bar in the Marriott.  That’s living the high life, folks.

Arch geekery with Steve Jackson.

Liz and I connected with the ever reclusive Steve Jackson at the Namaste booth.  Twas really good to see Steve again–it has been more than a decade since our paths last crossed.

LIfe-sized Robo Rally.

When I wasn’t in the dealers’ room trying to sell stuff or talking to people, I hung out in the convention lobby a lot.  In once place they had a life-sized Robo Rally game going for the whole convention.  It attracted a lot of attention and was beautifully produced.  Where do they get those fabulous toys?

Steve came by and talked business with Rick later in the day.

Richard Roszko is the Nuclear War apps developer for Flying Buffalo.

One of the people who helped out at the Buffalo booth was “Nomad” Rick Roszko.  He created the spinner map for Android cell phones for Nuclear War, and is working on a complete Nuclear War app.  The two Ricks think that if Apple Computing would only approve these apps, they would soar to undreamed of heights of popularity and richness.  C’mon, Apple, get off your butt, and approve the Apple I-phone version of the Nuclear War spinner.  Later you can approve the T & T cell phone interactive stories we intend to do.  Nomad took us all to dinner on Friday night at the Claddagh Pub.  Thanks, Nomad!

Saturday was Shadowfist Day!

On Saturday Corencio and I spent a lot of time playing cards at the World Championship Shadowfist tournament.  You may see me write about Magic a lot, but my real favorite collectible card game is Shadowfist–the game of Hong Kong action science fiction movies.  My son, Corencio, is currently the Arizona State Champion of the game–though I think he was lucky when he won that–and we tried our hand at the World Championship.  Now this is sort of typical of my life in gaming.  Here I was, competing for the world championship in a game, and there were only 14 other competitors.  Neither Corencio nor I even came close to winning–we didn’t even make the finals–but we had a good time, and saw some great players in action.

Do these guys look like kung-fu killers to you? The Shadowfist Championship tourney.

After the Shadowfist tournament I went back to the Buffalo booth for the afternoon.  Rick went off and ran a Nuclear War tournament at 4 p.m.–he had 30 players.  Ha!  He should bill it as the Nuclear War World Championship tournament at GenCon.  He might get 100 players if he did that.  When the hall closed a bunch of us went off and had supper at the High Velocity bar.  What  a feast!  But what will forever stick in my mind was the fact that they had television monitors in the Men’s restroom.  You could stand there doing your business and never miss a moment of whatever game was currently playing.

Sports TV heaven and the food was good too. I could not say the same for the Champions Bar in the other Marriott hotel down the street where I had lunch on Sunday.

We parked across the street from the football home of the Indianapolis Colts. The whole stadium is enclosed within this gigantic brick building with huge neon lights on the outside.

The City of Indianapolis has a lot of bizarre and impressive structures in it.  I would have a good time just riding around and photographing strange places.  The football stadium is one of them.  So is the church that follows.  I wish I had time and a local guide to get to know these places better.

Twin Towers--the top of the cathedral across the street from the convention center.

Go for baroque front facade of the church across from the convention center.

The church was so massive I couldn’t get it all into a single photograph.  Likewise for the stadium, and I didn’t even try for a photo of the power plant or the convention center itself or the state Capitol buildings a block to the north.

Some Uruks got lost in the Dealers' Room on Sunday--three of them.

Did I mention that the hall costumes were incredibly great this year?  They were spectacular and none were better, imho, than these lost uruks.  The leader, above, had this harsh rasping voice you could hear halfway across the hall, and yet he was the soul of courtesy and couth.  I tip the trollgod’s battered fedora to the Uruks of GenCon.

Looks real to me.

This fellow had an axe to grind--luckily not with me! I'd sign him up in a hearbeat to guard the trollcave at Trollhalla.

Sunday was the least eventful day of the trip.  I had lunch with my Trollhallan friends and said goodbye to them.  Perhaps we’ll meet again some time.  By 6 p.m. the Con was over, and we had packed the stuff we didn’t sell and were ready to head out.  This concludes my tale of GenCon Indy 2011.  It was the best I’ve ever attended.  All the dealers seemed to do well, and the gamers, cosplayers, etc.  all seemed pretty pumped up and pleased with it.  My congratulations to Peter Adkisson for running a great Con.  Long may it continue!

Goodbye to Indianapolis!

I know thousands of you were at GenCon with me.   There were a million other things I could have mentioned, but I’ve been working on this blog for half the day already, and I have to stop some time.  What did you enjoy most at GenCon?  I’d welcome your comments for this blog.

end

Dragons and Goblins and Trolls   1 comment

 
Creating fantasy games, reading fantasy novels and comics, and thinking and writing about such things are all things that I also do for fun.  Here are some slightly chaotic thoughs inspired both by Tunnels and Trolls and also by the card game known as Magic the Gathering.

Muscular Tunnels and Trolls goblins deal with a tentacled horror that lives in their lake. This picture was painted by and used here with the permission of Simon Lee Tranter. You can see more of his work, and possibly engage his services at http://www.simari.co.uk/.

Dragons and Goblins and Trolls!

Oh, my!

Dragons and Goblins and Trolls!

Oh, my!

DRAGONS AND GOBLINS AND TROLLS!

OH MY!

I think that I’m likely to die.

Oh my!

With a tip of the Trollish sombrero to A. A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh . . .

Yesterday I was talking a little bit about my latest Magic ™ deck–modified from the Dragons and Knights set.  Today it won some games against my son’s decks–lost some too.  I felt it did well, and the modifications were successful.  I still need to try it out against a variety of other decks.  Here’s a picture of my favorite dragon in the deck.

Voracious Dragon gets its power by devouring goblins.  I wonder where the card designers over at WotC got that idea.  To the best of my knowledge I have never read any fantasy story that used the idea of dragons eating goblins.  The great archetype for all fantasy role-playing games was Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Tolkien used both goblins and dragons in his book about THE HOBBIT, but they didn’t eat each other.  In fact, they were widely separated geographically.  The Hobbit started out as bedtime stories of John’s son Christopher, and featured trolls first, goblins, second, and Smaug the Dragon for the grand finale.   When Tolkien got serious about his fantasy, the goblins disappeared, and the main bad guys became Orcs.  Tolkien invented the Orc.

I’ve read a ton of fantasy–probably hundreds of different novels and stories.  I’ve never read about dragons eating any goblins.  If dragon’s eat anything, it’s usually domesticated animals, or the occasional human army foolishly trying to slay them.  But the very imaginative card designers at WotC came up with the planar world of Jund–a place where the two most common Kindreds are–you guessed it–Goblins and Dragons.  Dragons have to eat something, so why not have them chow down on the most common other critter in the landscape–namely, Goblins.  It makes perfect sense.

Dragons don’t seem to spend much time eating Trolls in fantasy literature either.  As far as I know, I’m the first person to even postulate the idea of a massive war between Dragons and Trolls.  I set it at the very dawn of Trollworld history.  Even then, Dragons wouldn’t eat my Trolls.  My Trolls are made of living rock–they would break the teeth of even the mightiest dragons.  Granted, the Dragons could melt my living rocks down into slag, but T & T trolls certainly aren’t good to eat.

Dragons and Goblins both feature prominently among the cards available for playing Magic.  There are dozens of varieties of both.  On the other hand, Trolls are few and far between, and not very interesting.  The only power the Magic designers have given Trolls is regeneration.  They all regenerate.  Kinda boring, really.  And there is something called Troll Shroud–the immunity to spells and effects cast by the opponents.  It’s a nice power.  I’d like to see it used more often, and more creatively.

Magic Trolls all seem to have been inspired by Dungeons and Dragons.  They are all what I call Meat Trolls–that is they are made of flesh just like you and me.  They may be big and mean and regenerate like crazy, but there aren’t any Trolls that I have found in Magic the Gathering that are actually made of living stone.  I protest!  Tunnels and Trolls is being unfairly slighted by the world’s greatest collectible dueling card game.  (grin)

Well, Dragons don’t eat Trolls, and Goblins don’t eat Trolls, but guess what . . .?  Trolls are more than happy to eat both Goblins and Dragons given the opportunity.  They especially like the crunchy calcium bones.

Dragons and Goblins and TROLLS!

This rock troll in a stone boat was drawn by David Ullery and is used by his permission and that of Trollhalla Press.

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The Stylish Blogger Award

A couple of days ago i was given the Stylish Blogger Award by two of my blogging friends who both run excellent blogs.  It looks like this:

This award is making the rounds.

While I appreciate the honor that my friends offered me with this award, it comes with conditions.  I’m supposed to link back to those who gave me the award, and I’m supposed to tell you all seven true things about myself.   However, I’m kind of grumpy and contrary today–I’m not accepting any conditions.  I don’t want to list seven true things about myself?  Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus “What is Truth?” and I repeat the question.  Nobody knows the real me.  I don’t even know myself.  I’m not going to do it.  I guess that means I’m not a Stylish Blogger.  To Hell with it!  I never aspired to that title.

To some extent WordPress controls what I can do in these blogs.  They limit me by the tools they provide.  I accept those limits in order to put my messages on the internet for anyone to read/see.  If I were more savvy about the tech, I could do more than I do with the WordPress tools–I really don’t know much–I can put up words and pictures.  Sometimes I can’t even get that simple format to come out the way I want it.  I’m a pretty lazy guy.  My motto is K.I.S.S.  Keep it simple, Stupid.  I’m Stupid.  I like things simple.

So, WordPress can limit my blogging form because the site is making the whole blog possible.  I don’t see why I should accept any other limits on what I choose to enter.  I’m only accepting my own self-imposed limits on what I share.  Just because some yahoo thinks up an award and it starts going around on the internet doesn’t mean I have to follow his rules for what I write.  I reject it.  I write what I want to write–tell you what I want to tell you.  You read what you want to read, and think what you want to think.  That’s our bargain as blogger and reader.

If you want to know more about the Stylish Blogger Award, and perhaps find the many stylish blogs that have accepted it, then Google it.  I’m opting out.

(The civilized and courteous thing to do with the Stylish Blogger Award, other than complying with its restrictions, would have been to simply ignore it.  Well, I choose to express myself on how I feel.  I’m neither civilized nor courteous today.  I am Atroll.)

End

Everybody Wants to be a Game Designer   1 comment

And . . . everybody can be.  Game Design isn’t Rocket Science.

Some games automatically turn their players into game designers.  Role-playing games are pretty good at this.   Once you have gone adventuring in someone else’s dreams and ideas, you inevitably want to be the person in controll.  Thus you will make up your own scenarios, and your own rules variations–that is, you will if you have any creativity at all.  A good role-playing game for testing your wings as a budding game/scenario designer is Tunnels and Trolls.

If y ou do not change the rules at least a little, you are not really playing Tunnels and Trolls.

 
But there’s one game that really makes game desiners of us all.  It’s a card game–you’ve probably heard of it.  It’s called Magic ™.  It was designed originally by Richard Garfield, a math professor in his secret identity, and it was published by a small company called Wizards of the Coast.  WotC became a big company after its card game became the most popular game in the country and perhaps the world.
 
Saturday I took my son off to Walmart to buy some blue jeans.  On the way out he spotted the Magic display, and, being gamers, we of couse had to check it out.  The best thing there was the Knights vs. Dragons duel decks–two complete decks in one package with the classic fantasy theme of Knights and Dragons–natural enemies.  He talked me into buying it.  He took the Knights; I took the Dragons.
 

What a pretty, pretty knight!

 
We played three game using the decks just as they came out of the box.  The Knights won two of them by crushing margins.  I barely squuezed out a victory with the dragons in game two of the set.  While we were delighted with the rare cards and mythic rare cards that came with the set, neither of us were very happy with the original decks.  So we modified them.
 
I felt that the Dragon deck needed fewer goblins, more kill spells, and a knockout punch.  It also needed some way to get the big guns out faster.  I added swamps, poison goblins, and kill spells like Go for the Throat and Terminate.   The deck as released by WotC was weak.  Too much land, too little actual magic, everything on the theme of flame.  Themes are great, but they don’t often win games or tournaments.  What wins are killer combinations.
 

Big, nasty, powerful--just like Dads are supposed to be in our real world.

 
What I did, in essence, was design my own winning scenario in Magic.  I’m thinking of beating those pesky knights, but I want it to beat everything.  Everybody does that with Magic.  The game invites you to use your own creativity.  It sells you the parts–cards with various strengths and weaknesses and abilities, and then you have to put them together to make a playable deck.  This is a real test of your game-designing ability (and cash).  How good is the deck you make?  Does it win or lose?
 
Regular card games like Poker or Bridge don’t make game designers out of the players.  The decks are the same for everyone, and so are the rules.  Creative, imaginative play will help you succeed in playing those games.  But you don’t design anything.  You don’t really create.
 
Collectible card games like Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, Naruto and others turn their players into game designers.  To make a deck you have to think about such things as Game Balance and Pace.  You want a fast deck to knock out your opponents before they can get going.  The Dragons had the greater power in the original sets, but the Knights were faster and deadlier.  To beat those Knights, I had to change the way Dragons fight.  Have I succeeded?  I don’t know yet, but I’m eagerly looking forward to a rematch.
 
Once you start thinking in terms of Game Design, it’s hard to stop.  Everywhere you look you will see pieces that can be turned into games and contests. 
 
After that comes the really hard part of the Game Designing life–convincing others to play Your game instead of Their game.  Somehow, your game has to be more fun than their game if you want to make any converts.  Good luck with that! 
 

We Game Designers all want to be dragons--powerful, influential, and known far and wide. But, we mostly wind up as goblins, and goblins are dragon food.

 
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Magic the Gathering–the Building of Decks   3 comments

I think they could have had a flashier, more colorful look for the back of the cards.

One game I really enjoy playing is Magic the Gathering.  The game was invented by Professor Richard Garfield and first released on an unsuspecting world in 1993.  I was at Origins that year when It was released.  The Wizards of the Coast booth was getting a lot of attention, and I walked over to see what the big attraction was.  It was Magic!  They were selling cards just as fast as they could take the money.  Peter Adkison saw me and called out to me, “Hey, Ken, you oughta get in on this. It’s going to be great.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“A new game called magic.  You buy a deck of cards and then you compete with other players and try to win their cards away from them.”

“How much does it cost?”

“Only Six dollars for a deck or $2.99 for a pack of cards.”

“How many cards in a deck?”

“Sixty.”

“Ten cents a card!  That’s outrageous!  I’ll pass.”

“Okay, Your loss.”  He went back to selling cards to other rabid fans who couldn’t wait to throw their money at them.”

“This is a fad,” I said to myself.  “It will never replace roleplaying.  Nah, it will never really catch on.”

That may not be exactly how it went.  It was a long time ago, and I didn’t pay attention or write it down at the time, but it was pretty close to that.   I could have been in at the very beginning of Magic’s rise to most popular card game in the world, and I stepped aside.  (This seems to happen quite a lot in my life.  I have chances to connect with Greatness, often before it becomes Great, and I step aside.  Does that ever happen to you?)

I didn’t get into Magic as a player until a year later when all my friends in Phoenix started playing the game.  Once I started playing and found out how much fun it was, I was as hooked as everyone else on the game.  Well, I wasn’t totally hooked.  I never became a dealer of Magic cards.

Eighteen years later Magic is still going strong.  I’m still playing.  I have a few thousand cards around the house and am still buying new ones from time to time.  I was in a Magic tournament a few weeks ago–came in 17th out of 30–not because I’m that good, but because some players, when they see they can’t win, just drop out.  I play mostly with my son.  James St. Andre is 19 going on 20, and Magic has become the center of his existence.  He has a friend named Harley who is also deeply involved.  Hanging with these teens gives me an opportunity to play a game I love, and meet new people, and stay current.  Through most of my career as a librarian I have managed to stay current with what’s happening with young people, teens, twenties, etc.  I do it by being interested in what they are interested in.  I may look old on the outside, but I’m a teenager at heart.

Still, if Magic were a static, unchanging game, I would have probably set it aside long ago.  When I was  younger, I loved to play chess.  I still can’t pass a fancy chess set without stopping to admire it.  I own sets with unique themes–one is made all of transparent glass, another is  conquistadors and Mayans.  You get the idea.  Themed chess sets still appeal to me.  I still love the game of chess, but I hardly ever play it.  I go years at a time witout playing it.  Been there, done that.

Dogs vs. Cats in medieval garb. How cool is that! I love this kind of thing, but I don't play chess any more. The pieces are cute, but the game hasn't changed a bit to account for it.

Magic remains new, and what keeps it new is the ability of players like myself to make their own individual decks.  You buy or acquire the cards, but you can put them together any way you want.  I’m a Game Designer.  That’s my number one joy in life–creating new games.  I can make a game any time, any place, out of anything.  Each time I take an idea and make a new deck from that idea, it is just like making a  new game, and I will have the opportunity to test how good that game is against other Magic players.

There are rules for constructing decks.  For example, a full deck is supposed to have at least 60 cards in it.  The decks require land to power the cards and their effects–lands of specific colors and types.  Decks should be about 30 to 40% land, 30% creatures, 30% spells.  These rules are more like guidelines, but you get the idea.

The best Magic players in the world build their decks to emphasize one or two killer effects.  If they can get a certain combination of cards, they win.  Often the cards required for these killer effects are rare, expensive, and hard to obtain.  I retain a vestige of both sanity and humility–I will never be able to match and compete with such players.  I play the game for fun, not for a living.

Then there are players who don’t have a clue.  They are new to the game, and they let other people build their decks for them.  Or they just buy starter decks and slowly modify them.  I can beat those players most of the time.  I’m always happy to see such a nooby–it means I’m going to win. (insert evil chuckle here).

And there are a lot of players in the middle.  We have a pretty good idea of what we’re doing.  We play for the fun of the game, and for the fun of seeing our decks beat their decks. 

Magic lends itself to Theme players.  It does this by having lots of fantasy creatures of the same type that can be grouped together to gain a thematic effect.  Goblins, for example.  Goblins are generally low-powered creatures with tricky effects.  Goblin grenade unites a spell with a suicide bomber to do 5 damage.  That’s a pretty good blast.

Take this present to that guy over there!

Magic continually reinvents itself by offering new cards and powers to the players.  It seems that each new set incorporates some gimmick to make their cards more powerful and dangerous than everything that has gone before.  That doesn’t always work, but Wizards of the Coast always try.

Another thing that keeps Magic going is the issuance of new Rare cards with every set.  There are Rares and Mythic Rares now–you get a rare with each pack of cards that you buy.  Mythic Rares are a lot harder to get.  Here are some of the Rares and Mythic Rares tht I own.  Each one is important to a theme deck built around it.

Valakut is the Master Volcano of all Volcanoes. What if Volcanoes were alive and malevolent?

Valakut is the key card in a red burn deck meant to simply blast the other player out of existence by playing mountains.  Rig the game so that you draw mutltiple cards each turn, and can play more than one land, and the deck becomes very dangerous.

This Planeswalker turns mountains into creatures that do direct damage. At  least you can then fight them as if they were creatures.  Imagine killing a mountain!

Koth of the Hammer is a Planeswalker who turns mountains into creatures.  He can win a game all by himself, but he’s second banana to Valakut in the red deck they share.

This is a silly card with a power that costs too much to use.

Sometimes I wonder what the Magic Card designers were thinking. When one point of energy can do up to 3 or 4 direct damage in a red deck, why have a card that has to be played, then has to guess a card at random and get it right and pay 3 energy to do 2 damage to the opponent?  Not only is the cost way too much for the effect, but you wind up telling your opponent what is in your hand.  This card should be rare mostly because anyone who buys it will tear it up in disgust.  I keep it for the art.

The Eldrazi are a recent gimmick for Magic the Gathering.  They are a race of horrible creatures that attack your world–alien invaders of the worst sort.  The largest of them are world-destroying giants.  The smallest are insignificant gnats. And there are many sizes in between.  You can build a multi-colored deck to bring in Eldrazi. 

The horrible monsters from another plane of existence is a concept that keeps coming up at Wizards of the Coast.  Off the top of my head I can think of 3 other groups of cards that fall into this category: The Phyrexians, the Slivers, and the Kavu.  Kavu cards are pretty old, and they seem to have faded from the Magic scene.  Slivers are so horribly effective that WotC seems to have discontinued them for now.  Phyrexians and Eldrazi are still going strong.

I have an awesome Sliver deck that includes this pretty card. The deck is too evil to play, and all right thinking players band together to destroy slivers whenever they appear.

I could go on and on.  The point I really wanted to make is how much fun it is to create your own decks using Magic cards.  It is also fun to make Shadowfist decks, or Legend of Five Rings decks, or Yu-Gi-Oh, or Naruto, or whatever your brand of collectible card-playing might be.  The other games don’t offer as much variety as Magic but the challenge of making a world-beating deck always exists.

Friends, bring your decks to the Sci-Fic or Gaming conventions that you attend, and I’ll be happy to take you on.  Consider yourself challenged!

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