Sunday, November 20, 2011

Legalism, Intent and Game complexity...

I'll do more later, but I'm starting to get frustrated by the interplay of three effects in VTES.

Player legalism
Card/Rule Intent
and Game Complexity.

These are basically the same set of forces that are turning up and maxing tax law overly complicated in Australia. As a feedback loop it works something like this.

A Card or Rule is created with a specific intent (e.g. Villein: To make Minion Tap more difficult to play but also to not become a perceived problem like Minion Tap had become)

Players read the Card/Rule with a mindset based on "If the law doesn't explicity say it can't be done, then it must be legal even if I know the intent is the opposite". (From what I remember of the Tax Lawyer babble I used to hear when I worked in a Big 4 Accounting Firm they label that the "Narrow Reading"). Some players seem to spend their entire time reading cards for 'loopholes' where they can deliberately circumvent the intent of a card/s or rule/s.

So those creating the cards and rules then feel compelled to 'close the loopholes'.

In Australia, that process has created Tax Law documents for Federal Taxes that is something like 3000-pages on A5 paper at 8pt print for Company Taxes only. The next part is that around 500 tell companies what taxes they need to pay, how to pay it, when, how to document it, how long to keep records and so on. The other 2,500 are basically the deductions against the other 500 pages. When I was dealing with a 'small uncommonly used section' the core of the deduction was covered in about 3 pages (including when and where, documentation, etc), another 20+ pages was amendments made to it because people deliberately went out of their way to abuse the wording of the first 3.

I know that many lawyers realise, especially tax lawyers, would be out of a job if they didn't make the tax law more complex. By making it more complex, they make their existence more needed and get to charge more to sort out the problem they explicitly helped to create.

How this seems to be playing out in VTES:
This has been the set of forces that seem to be heading us towards EVERY card nearly having its own off-the-card ruling about how it 'should be read' and how it 'should be played' and it often just reads a long list of ways you are or are not allowed to abuse the card beyond its intent.

This is why there have been rulings that several players find counter-intuitive. This is why there are words that now seem to have gained new 'keyword meanings' compared to what they have had in the past.

Now I am not saying that the Role of Pascal is irrelevant. He is needed and valuable and does a good job (and I apologise if he thinks I am deliberately targeting him or LSJ).

As players, I think we need to take a greater responsibility for our collective Legalist tendency. We need to stop looking for the ways we can break cards by ignoring things like the card's design intent and if nothing else, help to make our game less complex. VTES does not need to have new players thinking they have to become close buddies with the Rules-Lawyers and keep their own 20-page document of not-on-the-card-card-texts-and-interpretations-of-those-cards to play VTES once a week...

It is our fault that things in VTES are becoming this way. We should drop our need to push for the loophole as if it gains us some genuine advantage. We pay for that 'advantage' in increased complexity.


  1. Villein has one ruling, that I recall.
    And that's the ruling that you can still use it if your vampire has 2, 1 or 0 blood.

    About the general issue. I'm overseeing a new VtES player in becoming a VtES Judge I can trust, because in the greater Lisbon area I'm pretty much the only guy that checks rulings and has interacted with Scott and Pascal.
    This player is a certified MtG Judge and what he tells me is that "VtES rules are simple".
    Compared with other games, our Rulings are not that many and some are just rewordings with the same intent.

    About players pushing the limits to use and abuse the cards they have as much as they can. I think that is just a sign that some people are becoming more competitive and that is not a bad thing.
    It just gives us, the Judges, more responsibility before events to further our understanding of the game.

  2. I've heard some claim that villein was intended to make playing high cap vampires more playable and decrease the power of weenie decks. Some argue that minion tap actually had nothing to do with it. It was more a move of similar purpose to the series of ten caps like Shalmath and the settite that untaps once a turn.

  3. The Golden Rule of VTES has always been, as printed in the books, that the Text on Cards beats the Rulebook. Elegant, simple, clear.

    Well, there seems to be another "Golden Rule" of VTES... the Rulings get to tell you exactly what the card says.

    There is being competitive and being litigious. One is about playing better, smarter, etc. The other is about 'breaking the rules' to win the game.

  4. It is fairly true, what Tiago Brum says.

    A Game of Thrones actually has even stranger rules in the likes of "there can be three states to any given card with respect to being the target of effects and whether they are affected by effects: chosen for effect, not chosen for effect and not-not chosen for effect".

    Considering how V:tES still doesn't have rules like that, I'm willing to accept move == steal, een if I don't really like it.

  5. YY,
    I don't disagree that there are plenty of elegant rules in VTES... why should it be a problem to work towards having as many of the rules as simple and elegant as possible?

    That's my point.

    And this legalist mindset that I do see in the game leads to a LARGE number of rulings which are literally "You should pretend that Card X actually says XYZ"

  6. Cards don't have intent. Designers (probably) do. But, it's not our jobs as players to guess what that intent is.

    Now, as to your complaint about having to know a bunch of rulings that reside in one person's head in order to play things correctly, I don't see this being anything new. I've felt like this has been the case for ages with LSJ. I gave up on trying to understand how the game works because rather than clarifying such things as timing in the game - wakes are "magic", Weather Control damage, etc. - we get a bunch of rulings you could never figure out on your own.

    All CCGs, by the way, have this problem to varying extents. They are simply too complex to have card interactions be as clean as the game's managers would wish. Better management, however, doesn't come with making up rules on the fly to fix narrow problems. While a perfect example of the rules living in LSJ's mind, at least when he made up the rule that bounce requires declining to block, he changed all of the cards to reflect that crazy ruling.

  7. IC,
    I would argue that the designer gives a card its own intent (in the same way the a carpenter gives a chest of drawers an intent to be used as storage) and that by its text we can guess at its function.
    I know that all CCGs will suffer some of this problem, inherently because there are many many cards whose interaction cannot always be predictably well.
    It would be excellent if there was an internally consistent set of guidelines that were obvious (publicly displayed or at least consistently referenced to by those making amendments to the rules) and that those guidelines where then consistently applied. I think then we would have far fewer times that the VTES community goes "WHAT????" when we read a ruling.


Just be polite... okay?