(Metagame Archive) Design Vs. Development: Decisions, Boost, and Public Humiliation

By Danny Mandel

I like to give readers a heads-up as to what a given article will be like. This is for two reasons. One, if I feel some parts of an article might not appeal to everyone, I can offer a sort of table of contents so readers can skip around. Two, it helps keep me organized as a sort of outline-on-the-go. Not that any of the above is important—just thought I’d let you know. In fact, those of you who don’t like to read about the technical aspects of article writing might want to skip the above paragraph.

So yeah, this article’s pretty much split into three parts. Part 1 goes into some of the differences between strategy and tactics as well as decision points. Part 2 takes a look at the DC Comics Origins set’s only new mono-syllabic keyword mechanic. Part 3 makes me look bad. No, really. Bad. Ungood. Doubleplusungood. Trust me.


Get to the Point
 
Like most games, the Vs. System is a mixture of strategy and tactics. As a quick summary, let’s define strategy as your overall game plan or the end result you’re seeking, while tactics are your on-the-fly decisions that help enact the above game plan or the means to the above end.

For example, when playing an X-Men control/discard deck, your strategy might be to stay alive and pummel your opponent’s hand until you can out-recruit him or her on the latter turns of the game (once you’ve completely stripped his or her hand). A tactical decision you might face would be, should you attack your opponent’s Beast Boy with your Gambit (and possibly face a No Fear or Nasty Surprise), or should you use Gambit’s power to straight stun Beast Boy, no muss no fuss?

Often the line is blurry between what constitutes a tactical decision and what is a strategic one. For example, is trying to decide whether to attack with Professor X, Charles Xavier or use his discard power a tactical or strategic decision? If the discard is relevant right now (as in, you need to knock that power-up out of hand before you launch a potentially game-breaking attack) it’s probably a tactical decision. If the discard is relevant for later turns (as in suppressing hand size over the long game) then it’s probably a strategic decision.

Another way to look at it is that a typical game of Vs. is kind of like a collection of tactical mini-games (one each turn) that are connected across turns by the players’ strategies (strategies that last or sometimes evolve over the span of the game). While a deck’s strategy might change from matchup to matchup, a tactical scenario—such as trying to decide whether or not you need to team attack a character for fear of a defensive trick—exists in and of itself except for potential strategic implications that may stem out of its result. Okay, that was a mouthful, so let me give you an example.

Let’s return to the above case with Gambit either attacking or using his power on Beast Boy. A tactical goal is generally to gain as much as possible while losing as little as possible, right here right now. But whether the greater potential loss (or cost) is Gambit’s getting stunned (perhaps by a No Fear played on Beast Boy) or the card you’d have to discard to use Gambit’s power and avoid direct combat with Beast Boy is actually a strategic question. Strategy is concerned with which scenario will have the greatest effect on the game on the whole. In a sense, tactics is for the short term, and strategy is for the long term. If you have exactly one card in hand and it’s a character you want to recruit next turn, then clearly you can’t afford to spend it on stunning Beast Boy. Then again, if you have nine cards in hand, it’s probably worth it to go ahead and use Gambit’s power to protect Gambit from getting stunned. On the other hand, maybe you’d rather “trick” your opponent into playing No Fear now instead of on a later turn. On yet another hand, perhaps you’re more concerned about Beast Boy getting a +1ATK/+1DEF counter and becoming a more serious threat down the line. (Both of the last two examples are strategic thinking.)

Okay, maybe that wasn’t such a quick summary. And now that I’ve gone over some of the difference between strategy and tactics, I get to reveal that the point I’m leading up to isn’t as concerned with labeling those differences as it is concerned with the fact that there are several different decision points a player will face in a given game. However, before the release of the DC Comics set, almost every in-game (non-deck building) decision a player faced involved the board (or in-play zone)—Which character should I attack? How should I set up my formation? Which plot twist should I play?

Because of the rigid nature of the Vs. System’s resource curve, there often isn’t much of a decision when it comes to deciding which character you want to recruit. That is, it’s usually best to maximize resource point efficiency by recruiting the biggest cost character you can on a given turn, and usually (especially on turns 4 and up) there’s only one character in your hand that fits that criterion. Occasionally you’ll have two characters in hand that it would make sense to play, and that’s where things get interesting as you now have a real decision to make. If only there were some way to simulate a player having more recruit options in hand without actually increasing his or her hand size . . .

Boost(er) Gold!

For those of you just now joining us from the second paragraph of this article, we’ve been having an awesome time looking at some of the types of decisions that exist in a typical game of Vs. However, we decided there just aren’t enough decisions to make on a given turn with regards to which character/equipment to recruit (unless of course you’re eschewing the standard character curve, perhaps by playing a weenie-based deck). Usually, especially on later turns, you’ll just want to recruit the biggest cost character you can. Fortunately the DC Comics set’s new boost mechanic may help change all this.

First, a real quick (and I mean “real quick” this time) summary of what boost means. If a character has a boost cost, you can pay that cost in resource points as an additional cost to recruit the character. Then, when the character comes into play you…

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