Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Living Card games: LCG vs CCG

If you are in any part a nerd, then you probably know what Magic the Gathering is.  It is what we call a Collectable Card Game, and it is the most successful of its kind.  Every year there are 3-5 "releases" of cards that you have to purchase in randomized packets.  These cards are organized into rares, uncommons and commons, but you do not know what you're getting ahead of time.  The game itself is played by two or more players putting together collections of these cards into a Deck that they draw randomly from as they play.

There is a lot of stuff said about this type of game play that turns people away from it.  First, you have to spend lots of money to get the cards you want to play with.  Second, there is always a new set coming down the pike in a few months, so you'll never "catch up".  Third, they raise the power of the cards as time goes on so that if you have an old set of cards, chances are you can not compete.  True or not, the thought of these turns people away.  One of those people is me.  The last year I played there was 3 mini-releases, and 2 major releases.  That is a rare occurrence, but Coldsnap counted as legal, so it was true.

Someone thought of what we now call Living Card Games a while ago.  Parts of it crept into other games in the past 10 years, but no one took it and ran with it like Fantasy Flight does now.  The first that got close was Munchkin.  There are many editions of Munchkin, and technically they all work together.  I remember the Good Fairy pack was put out in a "booster pack" wrapper, as if it was Magic:TG, but every pack had the same cards.

So what is a Living Card Game?  Imagine there is a card game, like Magic The Gathering, but all boosters and expansions came in complete sets throughout the year.  There is no need to rebuy sets because all the sets have the same cards, always.  You do not get randoms, you do not need to trade for extra cards, and you do not need to go hunting for rare, out of print stuff.  You buy the set, and you're done.  Each set comes with the maximum number of copies of a card you are allowed to have.  Now all you have to do is get good and game.  More money does not equal more power.  Your opponent will not have this vast collection that you could never touch.  You start on the same level playing field.

Yeah, you can still spend money, especially if you come into a game late, but no where near the amount Magic:TG requires.  I had a $50 a week habit for a few months the last time I played, and I was nowhere near a huge collection.  In most Living Card Games you can buy the last 2 years worth of cards and have change left over for lunch at the mall.

My favorite is Lord of the Rings by Fantasy Flight.  Its actually a cooperative Living Card Game, and each booster and expansion is a new series of quests for you to complete.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

FATE Points vs Bennies

On the surface of things, Fate's "Fate Point" and Savage World's "Benny" systems look similar, but if you take a moment to learn about them you will see that they serve different purposes.

What is a Benny?

In Savage Worlds you can be awarded a Benny by the GM(or by other players in some alternate rules).  This makes Benny rules kind of liquid, as you simply get them when someone judges what you do merits it.  This makes them flexible.  If the GM wants more action, he'll reward the players for being more proactive in things.  If the GM wants clever resolutions to problems, he'll start rewarding that.  It is kind of like Dog Treats.  

Some people do not like this non-codified giving of bennies because someone can become a "favorite", or you can encourage bad behavior.  Someone making an offhand joke about a situation makes everyone laugh wildly for 5 minutes, so they get a benny.  Now for the next 30 minutes, everyone's cracking jokes trying to get the next "you're the funniest person" benny.  This does not even take into account straight up favortism from a bad GM.

In the end, Bennies are not nearly as strong as Fate Points.  Bennies are "do overs".  They let you re-roll an action that you are not happy with.  If you're trying to diffuse a bomb, its a second chance at a better shot.  If you get hit by a bullet, that benny can be a split second dodge out of the way.  If you're injured and bleeding, that benny can be a shot of adrenaline that pushes you off the floor and into heroism.  Bennies are more plentiful and fly around in use much more than Fate Points.  They create tension and extreme acts of heroics that cause Savage Worlds games to be more "seat of the pants" style than other games.

What is a Fate Point?

Fate Points are earned by a player putting their character through hardship.  To get a Fate Point you have to invoke a negative aspect of your character, and fail at some task or ability. The favored way of getting Fate Points is to spring the failure only after you build up your idea as awesome and great to the group.

Fate Point acquisition is a sort of anti-min/max thing built into the game.  It forces you to think of real disadvantages of your character that you can call on in situations so you can get these Fate Points.  If you choose a disadvantage that rarely comes up(pineapple allergy), then you're going to find it hard to come by Fate Points.  Fate Points are not in the hands of a GM, and so there is not the potential for abuse as there is with Bennies.

Fate Points are sort of your "dream powers" if you go by the idea that Fate is sort of a group of lucid dreamers trying to make a story together.  You can use them for mundane things like adding +'s to your roles or -'s to other's rolls, but the real power is when you take narrative control of a situation.  You can find clues, you can know contacts, you can create "bridges" between the players and the goals that make it more interesting or move the story along.  You find out the bad guy's fortress is  hidden, you can use a Fate point to know a former guard is in prison and the group can go interrogate him for the location.  You get into a car that won't start, spend a Fate Point to do the "start up" routine your shitty car in college did and it causes the car to work!  Stuff like that.

On the flip side you can also change it to the detriment of other characters.  The bandits are on top of the train, so you spend a Fate Point to say "a storm rolls up out of the plains, causing heavy wind and rain" now the bandits have trouble moving while up there.  The Non-player character in the corner of a gas station is actually an undercover cop, and joins the group in subduing the criminals.  It can be simple too, spend a Fate Point to make a gun jam.  


So that's the differences.  There are some more, but this is enough of an explanation to get you started.  Bennies are more free for the awarding, but are more rule tied to their usage.  Fate Points are very codified in how you attain them, but the use of them is very free form.  Both are really cool additions to the old gaming formula, and even though I'm pretty much the GM of games I play, I love anything that takes control away from me, and gives the players the ability to affect the world.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Initial Thoughts: FATE Accelerated

FATE Accelerated is a newer version of FATE, which in itself is a variation of FUDGE.  You don't have to know the difference or the history... though I might do a history piece of on it one day; gotta have that blog fodder, you know?

Evil Hat Productions are old hat at doing genre specific versions of Fate.  Their releases garner almost universal acclaim and they have even got awarded top honors a few times for new RPG.  I initially was very skeptical of these honors, because I had a prejudice against Fate.  I wondered if what amounted to "setting" or "campaign" books should be considered different games altogether.  I still haven't shaken that thought, but it might be due to my ignorance of the system.  Lately they have gotten away from Genre or licensed property games and have been trying to produce universal "works for everything" systems.

So I came across this dilemma.  I love 3x D&D and I love Savage Worlds, but if I was ever going to make a Harry Potter Universe game for my girlfriend, it would require SOOO much work and research into the spells.  Then, at the end of the day, the game would not feel like Harry Potter because they don't care about how many times you can cast a spell, or knowing specifically the distances and all that.  The game SYSTEM would care, but the characters should not.  Then I read about Fate Accelerated's stat system.

Fate Accelerated was a Kickstarter project.  They have the PDF for free on the website.  Really, its there, all legal and everything, go grab it and have yourself a read(link at the bottom if I remember to put it there).  It was designed to be a quick version of Fate so that you and your friends could just decide to play, and get characters and a world going in less than 20 minutes.  This "group together" thing is emphasized by the fact that its almost impossible to finish a character without the group's input into relationships and stuff.  The game is geared to make NEW stories right when you all sit down.  This is not a game for those that like to create self contained characters and GM's that like to create a novel for the group to play through, this is not that kind of game.(the GM could easily keep a list of settings and even scenes though)

Fate's stat system is a system of "approaches" instead of physical/mental attributes.  They describe how your character approaches a problem or situation.  Instead of muscle and wisdom, your approaches are: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, Sneaky.  That's your stats and basically your "skills" all in one go.  In my example, you do not make a huge list of spells you know; you simply say "I use my exspeloramus(spelling, I know) spell to cleverly knock the wand from their hand".  The GM can argue that's force, but in the end the group settles the discussion and there ya go.

You do get some stunts, but they just augment your abilities instead of being something you'd use as a spell list.  Again, taking Potter, you might list "Petronus materialization" which means that when you cast your expecto Patronus spell, instead of being a cone of force(like Early Prisoner of Azkarban), you summon the spirit creature(like in Order of Phoenix), giving you a +2 to things it would help with.  Harry might also have that summon spell that, but his stunt is that he can call his broom from insanely long distances.  You get the picture... I hope.

The Fate points and how the game works is really neat too.  It gives the players a bit of "GM'ing" ability while playing, so that they can create their own parts of the story.  They can create problems so that they can get Fate points, or they can create advantageous conditions to help during a challenge.  Someone can just say "its raining" and there it is, raining.  Someone can say "I check under the doormat and find the key" instead of going through what the GM planned.  That might scare some GM's, but its not quite that easy to alter the world, you'll have to learn the system to find out.

My girlfriend said its like playing a dream where all the players are lucid dreamers.  Since I'm a lucid dreamer, I think this analogy fits really well.

I'll do some more Fate related posts later.  I want to talk about the differences between Bennies and Fate Points, and I might give some better examples on how the players create the world.

Fate Accelerated Official site