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Another Kind of Line

October 30, 2013

Dear Reader,

We talked recently about the line between good leadership and bad attitudes.  In thinking about lines while doing my pet battles and playing Card Hunter, I noticed that there’s another very fine line related to those: a line of tolerance.

I already sort of knew about this line from playing Magic: The Gathering with my buddy.  We’d both occasionally go on win streaks that were simply improbable, and often the improbability was helped along by “Mark Wahlberg” hands (a perfect storm of cards coming together, or because the hand needs to “PUT ON A F’ING SHIRT!”).  In either of those cases, there was always long silence and sullen acceptance of the improbability, but not far underneath, a deeper seething rage lingered.

You see, dear reader, my buddy and I aren’t going to be mad at each other when our decks perform improbably well or improbably poorly.  Those moments, particularly the latter, are precisely why we don’t play magic seriously.  We’ve had many, many occasions where we mulliganed several times and never drew more than one mana, or when we started with three mana, but never drew another (this is using decks of between 20 an 24 mana, depending on deck comp).

This sort of nonsensical thing happens.  We get it.  But when playing alone, I get far more irritated when I improbably screwed by games.  In both pet battles and Card Hunter, it seems at times that the improbable is probable, and in those cases, I have no reason not to vent my rage at the screen.

Here’s a few examples.  Several pets have the ability to hit between 1 and 3 times.  I’ve twice in the last week had a streak of seven of those attacks all hitting once.  Now I admit I don’t know that each outcome is evenly likely, but there’s nothing to suggest it’s not.  Given a 33% chance of hitting one time seven times in a row, we end up with… well, it’s small.  It’s pretty improbable.

If it happened once and not again, I wouldn’t sweat it.  But often these are coupled within repeated missed by attacks with an 80%+ chance to hit.  When four of those miss during a battle, it can be a little frustrating.

Card Hunter suffers from the same problem.  I don’t know what it is, but in the last 48 hours or so, I’ve had my decks turn up nothing but move cards probably ten times.  Bear in mind in a 5 card hand, you’re guaranteed one move card, but the premise is that you’ve got other things to do.  My decks in total only have maybe 5 or 6 “extra” move cards in them, so to turn them all up at once is, again, pretty improbable.

In both of these cases, there’s not much of a penalty for failure, so while no one likes to fail, I don’t think that’s what drives me so crazy about it.  Instead, I suspect the reality-jarring improbability of some of these outcomes really just offends my brain in a way that triggers a lot of powerful irritation, like a flashbang with numbers.

Of course, in the end, there is a simple solution; stop playing the game for a while to let the dust of unlikely outcomes settle.  I don’t grind pet battles for this reason; I might once or twice a week do the whole circuit, but that’s it.  Card Hunter, too, is played in moderation, so when I wait until the enemy mob has used 3 moves on his turn and THEN lay down a ground effect that will kill him – and then he moves again! – I won’t be too upset.

So there, then, is another line; the line of tolerance of improbability.  It’s a fine one, too, but at least it’s a lot easier to see.



4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2013 8:41 am

    That can cut in both directions, of course. Way back in the stone age when ICE was just releasing the initial, stand-alone, products I ran a campaign using Arms Law. If anyone has ever seen it, the system was a plethora of tables, charts, and situational modifiers. Probably one of the better examples of the realism movement in RPG-space back then.

    One of my players did something remarkably stupid, the sort of stupid where, as the GM, you roll your eyes and start thinking about how you are going to introduce his new character into the campaign. Then I managed to roll a fumble for the troll. Nothing serious, even after throwing his axe across the room the monster could just crush the player with his bare hands. The player rolled a natural 00, then rolled something like a 99 on the critical table, and wound-up decapitating the troll. With a short sword. Once I recovered I spun out some ridiculous wushu explanation involving a broken pillar and a lucky jump. The players had a lot of fun with it, even if I was left staring at the tables and wondering how I’d insulted a bunch of cardboard.

    The inability to do that sort of silliness is one of the things I think I least like about MMOs. It’s all very clinical and predictable and that can get a bit stale.

    However, I still hate being top-decked or mana-flush in a card game.

    • October 30, 2013 1:03 pm

      I completely agree. I want to have SOME probability, or once you lock down a win, you can repeat it forever. Still, I don’t want to lose with a winning team/deck/whatever over and over when it’s clearly superior.

      I completely agree with your point about pen and paper games; I love the ingenuity of the players, and unlike some DMs who like to quash creativity, nothing makes me happier than when my players outmaneuver me and come up with a creative solution. When players ask “Can I…?”, I make it a goal to say, “Sure, how do you want to go about it. What are you going to roll?” And as long as they can come up with something reasonable, I go with it.

      Speaking of, I’m getting ready to start a new D&D campaign since I had a lot of players have to leave my Vampire campaign all at once, so I’m excited about those kind of situations again! (:

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. October 30, 2013 4:38 pm

    The perfect storms of coincidence are entertaining in rpgs, but I find it infuriating in a card game. Bloody HearthStone stinks in the same way I think MtG stinks – that I can have a few cards that assist a scenario, but it feels like my deck is forever in the wrong order. The is no fun to me in having powers randomly handed out and expecting tactical gameplay to be effective.
    And that tells me that MtG and HS, and probably CardHunter are games that I probably won’t enjoy. I can see and understand the appeal, but I’m too far over the line of tolerance to play them regularly. Its me not the games. I really should have known that going in when the games were described. 🙂

  3. Samus permalink
    October 31, 2013 3:33 pm

    I know Tobold loves the idea of randomness keeping a game from feeling repetitive, and hence loves Card Hunter, but I just don’t see it the same way. The more randomness you add, the more it feels like my actions aren’t really what determines the outcome.

    This is especially true of games which require only a very low amount of strategy, like Card Hunter. I can’t help but feel like the strategy is simple enough that I expect any idiot does it as well as I do, the only thing that changes is what cards I am lucky enough to be dealt.

    There just isn’t enough complexity in the game to come up with any strategy beyond that. I just can’t imagine what would make someone “the best” Card Hunter player in the same way I can see the best chess player. Or I couldn’t see the developer needing to hotfix some exploitative strategy someone came up with. The game just doesn’t really allow for any kind of real strategy beyond the obvious.

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