I’ve been MIA for a while. In good news, my wife and I just bought a house, so we’ve been knee deep in paperwork and packing and speaking to contractors about renovations before we move in at some point in October. In hectic news, the most insane school year that I’ve ever experienced has also just begun, and the combination of extra planning for remote real-time lessons, combined with the possibility of eventually returning to the classroom and seeing 100+ students daily means that I don’t have the time to participate in filming, nor do I really want to potentially infect the other WnR members, so I basically Irish-goodbyed out of WnR and the larger TFTCG community in general.
Although I can appreciate the possibilities of using both webcams and/or an online client like OCTGN or TTS to continue to play the game while in self-imposed isolation, I don’t have a great laptop at home, nor do I really want to be on webcam after being on it all day while livestreaming for work, nor do I want to fiddle through another online interaction client, so my ability/desire to get my PVP TFTCG fix has been nonexistent.
Here’s how I’ve been scratching that gaming itch.
I previously suggested LOTR LCG as a game that works great for quarantine, and it truly does. There are tons of expansions to play through, and it functions equally well if played solo or if played co-op with up to 4 players. The downside is that it is very fiddly. The game itself is almost ten years old, and it’s from the early days of FFG card games, where they wanted to have a multitude of different systems going on at once, and tokens and cards are flying all over the place into different zones on the board. It also has a pretty steep learning curve. Between memorizing opportunity windows in order to play effectively and doing unique deck building and tweaking for each specific adventure, and playing through each one multiple times to finally achieve success, it requires significant time, energy, and brainpower investment.
Marvel LCG is an excellent refinement and distillation of what made LOTR into such a compelling game for so many people. It has the added benefit of streamlining a lot of the complicated systems from LOTR into something much faster and intuitive. It’s also generally much easier to set-up, play, and tear down once finished.
As fun as both of these games are, Transformers as an IP will always be my first love. So I had a thought.
What if I could adapt the general flow of gameplay from these LCGs, where the player(s) have to contend with an automated system that throws challenges at them that they must overcome?
The idea sat in my brain for a while. I pondered it while driving or doing other tasks that don’t require full attention. A lot of different possibilities floated through my mind. One thing that really stood out to was how each of the LCGs handled win conditions.
In LOTR, the players win by advancing through different stages of a quest. Each stage has a different “win condition” that allows you to move on to the next stage. You need to juggle handling enemies, clearing locations, and dealing with negative events while also meeting these conditions. Your hand of cards, your hero abilities, and your allies/equipment/action cards all end up being resources that you need to manage in order to win. There are multiple ways that you lose (all your heroes die, the threat tracker goes up too high).
Marvel works on a similar system. The players win by defeating a villain, who also functions in different stages (when you defeat Rhino I, he swaps cards and comes out as a slightly different powered up Rhino II). Along the way, however, various schemes also pop up and you need to keep threat from piling up on them. You lose if your heroes die or if the main scheme reaches a certain level.
I started brainstorming different ways to implement that into TFTCG, but I also didn’t want to change things too drastically. For example, in LOTR, heroes have certain stats that count for fighting, while another stat that counts for questing. In Marvel, heroes have a stat used for fighting and a different stat for getting rid of threat on schemes. In TFTCG, we only have stats related to combat (ATK, DEF, Health). I didn’t want to complicate that, especially for an initial version of an AI system.
For the first attempt, I decided that the scenario would be based almost solely around combat. In future examples, I’d like to expand that to other variables that the player needs to manage. As an example, in a scenario against the Combaticons, the player may have to juggle defeating the Combaticons while also trying to prevent them from forming Bruticus while also trying to prevent them from stockpiling too many weapons, any of which might trigger a lose condition (the player loses all their character because they’re KOed by the Combaticons or Bruticus, or they stockpile too many weapons).
I also think there’s the potential to go in two other interesting directions with this. The first is an attempt to make it cooperative, but it’s going to involve a scaling system for the enemy AI to make them more difficult. The other interesting route is to look to Arkham Horror LCG as an inspiration.
Arkham Horror LCG was released between LOTR and Marvel by Fantasy Flight Games. It takes the idea of progressing through a quest, like in LOTR, but adds significant narrative elements to it. One of the more interesting things it does with this is that it creates a more unified campaign, where the results of one adventure can directly impact what happens in the next (ie. a character goes into the next stage of an adventure with a boon like an additional weapon or a penalty like an injury). The idea of making a linked TFTCG campaign story (like the Scavengers attempting to escape the Decepticon Justice Division) is extremely tempting.
As cool as these future ideas might be, I knew I wanted to come up with a proof of concept first. In that spirit, the goal of the first AI scenario is simply to survive. You will be hunted down by the Predacons. Your goal is to KO them before they KO you.
Here’s my plan. Within the next few weeks (I’m hoping 2-3), I’m going to lay out some more articles about the solo AI system and how I’m going to implement it. I’m finalizing initial draft copies of the enemy character cards (adapting the Wave 2 Predacons to function better if controlled by an AI system) and refining the instructions for the scenario to try to make them as understandable and streamlined as possible.
Within the next week or so, I should have files that you can use to print out and try this on your own. I’m anticipating that the first iteration of this scenario is going to be brutal on the player, but I don’t have the time or energy to playtest it completely on my own, so I’m going to be open for feedback on it. I’m also fully expecting that people are able to deckbuild and problem solve once they’ve played through the scenario a few times and get a feel for it, eventually cracking a character line-up and deck that achieves success. I’m also hoping that people take the general ideas behind the AI system and run with it, creating interesting scenarios of their own that people can play.
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