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Serpent's Tongue» Forums » Sessions

Subject: Tuesday night duel and PVE rss

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Thaddeus Ryan
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Introduction
Met up with another local "Magi" (as we who play Serpent's Tongue call ourselves) at an FLGS tonight and I really enjoyed playing through my first round of ST versus another human.

Please don't take that to mean that it was an easy round by any stretch. No, there is definitely a learning curve here but I think it's worth the difficulty. I have a much better understanding of the game now than I did before. I think it's true that once you grasp the flow of a game, you have a much easier time understanding it.

Fears alleviated
My single biggest concern with this game was the turn order. There seem to be a lot of rules, but they can be boiled down pretty easily:
* Phases are maintenance - cast - resolve. Within each phase are steps, but these get pretty comfortable after a round or two.
* Almost every action allows a response. The exceptions are few and pointed out.
* The game goes to who knows their codex the best. Don't cast actions you can't pay for and you'll do fine.
* Each energy behaves differently enough that once you play with them, they become pretty obvious how they differ.
* Theme is not only important, it is very tightly tied to gameplay. What happens makes a lot of sense if you follow the theme.

One of the best things about ST is that you get to do something every turn. There are few reasons why options are completely shut-off for you; more often, the balance of the game is such that there's actual trade-offs, which keep the game honest and challenging, but not impossible.

The Session
I'll keep this somewhat high-level since I don't really want to talk strategy here, but rather speak to how a first-run goes. There's a good amount of setup but that's actually where much of the fun comes in. I didn't have a codex ready so my opponent patiently waited while I selected my 27 spells, my specialization and my artifact. I could have used the spell list on the back of the artifact but decided to be creative. It was rather dumb (I had spells that required components that I didn't have in my codex) but we both got a good laugh and he noted "yeah, that's part of learning this."

We rolled for resonance and I let him go first. From the beginning I was on the ropes - he played a series of Soul-sphere curses that I didn't have defenses against and he countered my counters. His was a well-prepared codex. But I noticed something - all of his curse spells required me to take an offensive action in order for me to take a hit. That meant I could sit tight, evade or dispel his attacks, and let him wear himself down.

The balance in this game is awesome. Sure, there's spots - killer spell combos that will flatten anyone - but for the most part there's a way out. The weakness to his Soul curses is that they cost harmony (one of the energies), while he played enhancements on himself to boost his attack abilities for those curses, and those enhancements prevent him from gaining harmony. So he was running himself into negative harmony, or discord. The problem with discord is that when you get low enough, you start rolling for damage. Think of harmony as the energy that binds the universe together, and falling into discord means that energy starts tearing you apart.

I saw this and took advantage of it. I played counterspells that were cheap for me but costly for him because he had to pay more to bring his curses back on me than I had to pay to dispel them. Then I hit him big - one of the curses levied one essence damage (essence = life energy) on me for every attack. I hit him for four discord, which pushed him into danger territory. True, I never got out of the shadow of his curses, but the discord kept pounding him until his essence was depleted.

Co-op play
On our second round we went up against an encounter, the Lesser Sentient Shadow. ST comes with 5 Encounters, and more are being developed (including a few on BGG by other Magi who want new challenges). Each is like a puzzle, there's a best approach and some less than ideal approaches, and some that just plain won't work. Strategy has to be used, and that's a lot of the fun.

The Shadow is tricksy, it hits hard and tries to flee any attacks against it (and succeeds more often than not). We quickly figured out the way to beat it is to keep its energy too low to attack. Every evade and every attack use up its resonance (another energy, used for casting spells), so throwing lots of small attacks at it made it burn energy and kept it from being able to hit us as often. It was still a close match - the Encounters all scale up for the number of players, so that sending more Magi doesn't mean an easier victory - but it was a rewarding win.

Casual play?
The one thing I'm not sure I agree with about ST is that it's suited for casual play. I think to really get something out of it requires quite a bit of attention and a willingness to climb a fairly step curve. In my experience, ST is easier to learn than Tzolk'in, and has less complexity than MTG. But it isn't Citadels or Settlers.

That said, it's an engrossing experience to play. That the designers made up their own language to cast spells (and it's a pretty comprehensive grammar with a growing vocabulary) says something about the level of immersion. It's also part of the puzzle nature of the game - each spell has to be spoken correclty and you get hints on the front. They're pretty easy for the most basic spells, but you need to know your stuff to cast the more powerful ones. I have an interest in linguistics and I really enjoyed playing in the game's language, called sehimu thinara.

I'll definitely be playing again.
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Ryan Full
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I think one of the things that makes casual play difficult is the deck building aspect. Even setting aside the need to buy boosters and the problems they had with distribution - deck building seems much more challenging in this game than in many others. As a beginner I can club together a basic MtG or Netrunner deck and have something playable. When I try to do the same thing in ST I end up just being confounded by all the restrictions and counters to everything.

Essentially I agree with you that the learning curve is sizable and a problem with casual play.
 
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Thaddeus Ryan
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Thanks for the thought. I don't know if an all-level 1 codex would be "casual" enough. To be fair, MTG has tried repeatedly to come up with an intro deck that will just "take". I don't know how successful they've been, though. At the same time, with MTG you can pull together an easy deck with 4 copies each of 12 commons and 12 mana, and it kind of explains itself.
 
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Ryan Full
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losh14 wrote:
Thanks for the thought. I don't know if an all-level 1 codex would be "casual" enough. To be fair, MTG has tried repeatedly to come up with an intro deck that will just "take". I don't know how successful they've been, though. At the same time, with MTG you can pull together an easy deck with 4 copies each of 12 commons and 12 mana, and it kind of explains itself.

I guess I feel like one could make two decks in Magic: a little creature deck and a direct damage deck and have two things that could play against each other and be somewhat balanced in win ratios.

I'm not sure what a ST equivalent would be for that? When I played the two decks from the tutorial the one with curses just ate the face off the other deck. The shapeshifter deck didn't seem to stand a chance due to lacking any kind of defense whereas the other deck had shields against the physical attacks.

I probably just need to troll the forum more and get some basic deck ideas so I have something to use to teach others.
 
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Thaddeus Ryan
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That's a good question, what kind of "intro" decks could you build with the core set for ST?

I think in this case you'd have to build the same two decks because the mechanics between spheres and interactions between cards vary so much. For example, your primary matter and forces defenses are shields, but for quantum its evades (and phasing). Forces attacks tend to be one-time, bio tend to be curses, soul are in the realm of backlash-style curses (not hte card term, but rather a soul curse deals damage only when you make an offensive action). So defense against the spheres has to vary - control decks are more necessary against soul and mind.

So yeah, I'd start with a limited number of components of the game as an "intro" deck.

Maybe even a smaller deck, say 2 dispel, 4 attack, 4 defense, 2 component.
 
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Adam Wells
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So, as the magi on the other side of this session report, I thought I'd expound on the higher-level strategy of what was going on in my codex (the soul book alluded to).

The book is in the process of becoming an Existance Injunction book, using Inquisitor and Archivist's Word Snatcher. The general idea is to get four injunctions to stick (Essence, Will, Resonance, and Harmony) and then cast Existence Injunction to win the game. Right now, it does a very good job of that. The only problem is I have no existence injunction. I'm also very unwilling in this book to waste actions since i'm so dependent on ritual paths and duration, and Will goes straight into spec upgrades on turns one and two (Tree B, btw). This forces me to generate discord to smash through the opponent's defenses and make sure my injunctions get in.

Of course, without the Existence Injunction, i'm forced to rely on Judgement and Karmic Debt, which isn't as fun or effective. But, hey. I'm waiting on Avak'Shar and more cases to show up.
 
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Thaddeus Ryan
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One other thought ... there are intro decks for magi v magi, and intro decks for going against weak, basic encounters to teach the flow of the game. I wouldn't bring the same kind of codex against both human and encounter, they simply function very differently.

Maybe some very beginner encounters with a small codex (say 5 spells) would help newcomers with a smaller time and learning investment? Then again, much of the experience of playing is having those interactions from that far more complex 27-spell codex.
 
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