An essay

Discussion in 'Card Hunter General Chat' started by Sir Knight, Feb 12, 2013.

  1. Sir Knight

    Sir Knight Sir-ulean Dragon

    Fair warning: you might have thought I was long-winded before. But now I'm doing it on PURPOSE. If I were some big "game review website person," this would be my review; since I'm not, it's an essay.

    I think that Card Hunter is a good game and it should succeed in fulfilling the idea's promise. It has a classic feel; it has classic difficulty (i.e., hard); and it has complex content that's worth exploring. I emphasize those last two points here--its difficulty, of course, is directly related to its massive variety in items, cards, builds, level setups, and so on. I think both of those parts are a success, and in the end I can see a lot of strategic gamers being attracted to Card Hunter and enjoying it even more than they expected.

    To get there, I've thought about my own expectations, the nature of different types of games, and the experiences of beta testers. Let's start fundamental; let's start philosophical.

    The basic idea of "hit points" in gaming is a weird abstraction. So you've got this slider: all "attacks" get translated into how much they drop the slider. "Healing" pushes it the other way. "Combat" is defined as getting your enemy's slider to hit bottom before your own does. Logically, people who want to win at such a game learn to use this mechanic. That's how you win at anything: learn the win conditions, learn the rules, then put them together.

    Perfectly valid. But something like that can be abused, can't it? There are countless tales of lamentation when someone's pencil-and-paper gaming was disrupted by a "powergamer" (or whatever term you like) who filtered literally everything down to "pushing the HP slider." "Strategy? What's that? Just give me another +1 to my Sword of Killing, and stop wasting my time with 'keys' and 'secrets' and 'puzzles' and stuff! I don't want to play; I want to win!"

    Sometimes this isn't even a question of strategies and priorities, but rather the essential game mechanic. There are many MMORPG experiences where how you "play" is to turn on auto-attack and walk away from the computer: the enemies are "balanced" for you, so their HP slider will hit bottom before you're done with your sandwich.

    In the end, people can wind up "not playing a game" quite a lot. The last paragraph was the "boring" way; the one before was the "confrontational" way.

    I thought about how one could apply such reasoning to Card Hunter. Suppose that people who didn't want to play the game designed the gameplay:

    First, you'd draw Move cards to get within range of your first enemy.

    Then, you'd draw Attack cards until that enemy were dead. At this point, you wouldn't draw any more Move cards: that's a waste when you could draw Attack cards instead.

    Subsequently, you'd only draw another Move card if it turned out necessary for reaching the next enemy in line. Otherwise, you'd keep drawing Attack cards until all enemies were dead.

    See how incredibly efficient that is? Imagine if the "default Move" setup were reprogrammed to pander to this "push the HP slider" plan. Whew, loot! XP! Victory! Exhaustion of all content with no effort beyond clicking the first card you see! It is the epitome of "I don't want to play; I want to win!"

    And it's not how Card Hunter works.

    It's not how Magic works, either, or any other game where truly massive variability depends on randomness. The reasons why Card Hunter doesn't (and can't) conform are threefold:

    First, randomness itself. If you draw all your cards out of order, then your slider-pushing plan falls through. Magic players know this, Magic players gripe about this, and Magic players plan their deck for this. Card Hunter inherits the legacy.

    Second, the default Move setup. This is your only anchor within the randomness of card draws. And, would you look at that, your anchor isn't the slider-pusher's favorite, an Attack card. Instead, it's a card you use for positioning: this weird sort of meta-level that Magic doesn't have, where you can completely bypass an enemy's hand if you use blocking terrain to your advantage, or you can render an enemy helpless if you get to a location where you can attack the opponent but the opponent cannot attack in return, or any of a number of other specific plans. And, of course, I'm not talking about some hypothetical ideal which people ignore in practice: a slider-pusher is obliged to use movement strategy, because to fail to do so is to concede an advantage to enemies who know better.

    Third, the complex interleaving game mechanics, deckbuilding options, and play challenges. I cannot summarize it all in one paragraph. Just think:

    Running straight toward the enemy and then hoping to draw Attack cards until the enemy dies will work in the tutorial. You can even ignore the lessons about Blocks and Armor if you want and you might still win. You can keep applying this method in later levels, and, for some of them, it will work. But someday you'll find it doesn't work: you drew all your cards out of order; your enemy had better Blocks or Armor; the terrain kept you from your enemy; you didn't have counters for Encumber or Stun or Halt or Burning or discard effects or facing-dependent effects.

    The set enemy decks in single-player will eat you alive if you refuse to use non-Attack card strategy (utility cards, discard, matters of positioning, and so on). Related to this, though, is something interesting: your card suites are designed to enforce using those non-Attack cards (on Boots, in Divine Weapons, and so on). So, again, a slider-pusher is obliged to do this funny thing called "using strategy," because to fail to do so is to end up with "junk cards" in your hand. The cards will always be there: you must be smarter than to let them become "junk."

    Likewise, in multiplayer, opponents who have seen the benefit of Block-heavy strategy and discard-heavy strategy (and so on) will turn "junk" into "killing you while you stand there." The lesson is the same.

    In the end, one can still have Card Hunter players devoted to "win win win at all costs nothing else matters," and that's not surprising. They'll probably even achieve it. After all, if you're serious about winning, you need to learn the win conditions, learn the rules, and then put them together, regardless of how complicated they may be. My point here is that the conditions and rules of Card Hunter are GOOD and they give the game a reason to exist (to "be played," not just be beaten in a mindless slog). With bugs and unbalanced encounters ironed out, what will remain should be a deep experience where "difficulty" and "complexity" and "strategy" and "learning" all happen at the same time.

    I'll say that again. First remember that this game is actually fun, and the battles are quick, and the penalty for losing is almost nonexistent (dying on the last fight in a six-part adventure notwithstanding). Now, realize that this complex strategy game is designed so all the interleaving game mechanics matter to the player: the player will actually "play the game" instead of asking where the auto-attack button is. It won't be for everyone, because not everyone likes the same sort of strategy game; but I'd say Card Hunter is fulfilling its promise.
  2. Dugrim

    Dugrim Orc Soldier

    May I add something?
    You can effectively run straight toward the enemy.
    You can do anything you want and win.
    The essential thing to do to be able to win no matter what strategy you want to use is: to think.
    As Sir Knight said, you can't simply push the "auto-attack" button, or in other words put the best damaging weapons on the hands of your warrior/s and go for the blood (or the best damaging staffs on the hands of your wizard/s).
    You have to think how many cards are in your deck, how many movement cards you have, block, attack and so on.
    You have to think how you can fight effectively against all type of enemies: some will create difficult terrain slowing you down while they cast on you all their magic.
    Others will block every melee attack you'll play, drawing cards and retaliating.
    Others will be unaffected by damage for 1 turn or more.
    Powergamer will have a difficult life on CardHunter.
    Powerthinker will not, and will enjoy every "bit" of this game.
    ParodyKnaveBob likes this.
  3. skip_intro

    skip_intro Ogre

    There was a article on The Dragon or White Dwarf that had the solution to that guy, something along the lines of "You have a +5 sword and +5 armour. You're at the end of a long corridor, a line of 1xp skeletons approaches, one at a time. When you kill the first one, another steps forward. Here's some dice, go sit over there and tell me when you're finished."
    ParodyKnaveBob and Scyrax like this.
  4. Scyrax

    Scyrax Mushroom Warrior

    Bravo! This is well worth the read (even if you are intimidated by forum posts longer than three lines).
  5. Wozarg

    Wozarg Thaumaturge

    I think there is a fine line to walk with powergaming but i could be confused. I see my self as a powergamer especially in D&D but that doesn't mean i want to kill loot repeat it just means i will make the strongest hero possible. The fact that i then weave a logical reasoning and story around why my kenku has a mordenkrad and is competent in using it doesn't make me feel any less like a powergamer. So am i confused and i just go deep in the spreadsheets and planing and dont actually powergame or is that just the worst possible example of one that you describe?

    Also very nice writeup i agree whole heartedly
  6. Ratticus

    Ratticus Kobold

    Powergamers is a poor term for what he is trying to express Wozarg. Powergamers are by his definition the ones who focus on the fight (moving the hp bar). As his point is that to do that strategy, rules knowledge, card selection, and getting the most out of every card etc are all part of "moving the hp bar" powergamers are already doing this. I would have used Munchkins (bonus points to those who remember Monty Haul campaigns) for us old timers and ptw (pay to win) players for the newer folks as terms for those who want to win without effort.
    ParodyKnaveBob likes this.
  7. Ponyboy

    Ponyboy Orc Soldier

    Otherwise known as "min-maxers" or "metagamers". :D And there's usually one in every gaming group. I know my group had one.
    ParodyKnaveBob likes this.
  8. Sir Knight

    Sir Knight Sir-ulean Dragon

    Yes, I attempted to distinguish between "people who literally only care about winning" and the standard application of strategy to win. Obviously, those overlap: hence you'll see that I explained, twice, how using the game's rules to win the game is just what you do. The difference was supposed to be whether you're discarding 90% of the game and being actively hostile toward it ("dude, stop wasting your time on 'curse' and 'poison' spells and stuff; just max out 'fireball' or roll up a fighter already") or actually playing the game ("maybe I'll try a 'poison' build, but those are a lot slower than 'fire,' so I just want to see if I can win with it"). Likewise, you wouldn't insult somebody for learning the rules before playing poker.

    I didn't use other terms for it because, to my delight, I haven't had to deal with . . . too many of those people. And I didn't want to just take a stab to find whatever term is most popular these days.

    Is it too badly explained that I should change to some other term? Editing is free.
    ParodyKnaveBob likes this.
  9. Wozarg

    Wozarg Thaumaturge

    I think it is fine as it is really and while i personally have a tough time making my self use less good or effective builds I'm not the kind of person who will tell others what they should do but i might suggest what they can do.

    Besides as someone pointed out i was actually the one confused as i am a minmaxer not a powergamer because i wouldn't cheat to win even if i could.
  10. Sir Knight

    Sir Knight Sir-ulean Dragon

    Heh heh, I didn't even think of the cheating topic. I don't know what to say on that one.

    Now I'm waiting to see if Ratticus still thinks the terminology is in error, or if the meaning ascribed is clear enough that it can all coexist in a world with mixed phrasing.
  11. Ponyboy

    Ponyboy Orc Soldier

    "Min-maxing" isn't always power (or meta) gaming, but it can be. Here is an example of when it certainly was:
    We were playing a GURPS campaign, and in that game, everything about your character (minus purely cosmetic stuff) either cost you or gave you character points, and they all had to balance out to a certain amount (usually 100 for starting characters). So this one guy in my group makes a character that is blind, which gives you a certain amount of points. BUT he then gives her a psychic ability called "mindsight" which he not only was able to make it cost less than the amount of points he got for being blind, but it also worked better then normal vision, because his character could "see" in 360 degrees. THAT is min-maxing AND powergaming.
    ParodyKnaveBob likes this.
  12. skip_intro

    skip_intro Ogre

    That just sounds like lax DM'ing to me.
    ParodyKnaveBob likes this.
  13. Wozarg

    Wozarg Thaumaturge

    I got stopped after 6 negative rolls on my krag barbarian as i was new to the game and someone explaine you can take a bonus roll past your first 3 or so as long as you take a negative roll after and you can keep doing this as much as you want. Basically i got stuff that didn't matter at all on the negative side and monster bonuses on the positive side. Obviously that was random chance not me minmaxing but still same scenario as you describe above tho I'm not so sure i would consider him a powergamer as much as i would consider that system broken if you can take 360 degree vision for less then the value of your vision.

    And yes like skip said my gm would never have allowed that in the form you describe it at least.
    ParodyKnaveBob likes this.
  14. Ponyboy

    Ponyboy Orc Soldier

    You're both right. Certainly the GM could have said "nah, you're not doin that", and certainly it was a broken aspect of the game that would "legally" allow that to happen, but it was still powergaming to even try that and to exploit that weakness in the system itself.

    But that gaming group did always play things pretty "legalistically", so something like that was considered "clever" instead of "cheap", lol.
  15. Pengw1n

    Pengw1n Moderately Informed Staff Member

    That reminds me of a campaign in my youth where a very persitent player tried to buy a contraption of collapsable spikes to mount on his quarterstaff (lacking any kind of mechanical skills). Weirdly enough every shop was out of spikes...

    That being said, there is a difference between playing to win at every cost (powergaming strategists), creative playing for the challenge (deckbuilders) and people who want to bend the game to their rules, who dislike challenges and rng and maybe should be called Progress Questers? If anyone has experience with that game? ;)
    ParodyKnaveBob likes this.
  16. Scyrax

    Scyrax Mushroom Warrior

    For a little while, Progress Quest was my most played game. :D

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