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Monday
Sep032012

PAX Prime Thanks

Serious YomiThanks to Gabe and Tycho for holding PAX. It's so big and complex of a thing that it's hard to imagine what must go into planning and executing it all. If you guys are reading, great job, though I have one complaint you probably can't possibly do anything about. At PAX East, the layout is one enormous "room" the size of an airplane hangar or something with the video game area in the front and the tabletop games area in the back. The booths where tabletop game companies do demos are right next to the place where tournaments for those games are run, which are right next to the free play area. Because of this, at PAX East it was very easy for people who wanted to find me to find me, and it was generally easy for anyone to find anyone and to meet up and play things.

At PAX Prime though the company booths, tournament area for tabletop games, and freeplay area for tabletop games were so segmented that it was logistically very hard to deal with. The tournament area was in a different building 3 blocks away from the rest (rather than 10 feet away), so it makes it much more inconvenient to enter tournaments. When people at the tournament area asked where is the main place to buy games, giving them directions to a place 3 blocks away isn't a great thing to have to do. And trying to meet up with people in the freeplay tabletop game area is generally very difficult because there were like 6 different rooms (rather than one big space) and it's not possible to predict which rooms will have empty seats, so you can't really say "let's meet at room 210" or whatever.

Anyway, it seems like you've outgrown the entire city of Seattle! It looks like you need a new convention center that's way, way bigger than what's there. You've managed to have to have the problem of being "too popular," ha.

Thanks to everyone to attended and helped run the Sirlin Games tournaments, and to those who played my customizable card game, too. It was interesting seeing how new people reacted to it and you guys gave me generally very high quality feedback for people who were so new to the game.

I never did end up meeting the elusive Day9 but super thanks to Thom From Canada, the diamond league Terran player who had me sign his "gg" button, and then waited in line for an hour to have Day9 sign right next to it so he could tell Day9 that I would really like to talk to him, lol. Thom From Canada was also a star playtester of my customizable card game at PAX. I liked how he made a list of a few properties of the game ("things I know to be true," he said) in order to derive a few second-order statements about what must be good strategy tips. He was excited to hear that I had reasons his strategy tips might not be totally right (because it meant new information for him). And it was hilarious to see him play more and go against all his own tips. I also see why he's such a high ranking player in Starcraft. He made constant strategy mistakes while playing the card game the first couple times, creating a comedy of errors. Maybe embarrassing and funny, but I think this allowed him to very quickly learn a whole bunch of things not to do again. I wonder if there's something to that. Try all you can when you're new and accept that you'll make play mistakes. That results in lots of bad choices, but also teaches you faster than if you try to play in a very restrictive, "correct" way when you are new to a game (maybe?). In any case, big thanks to TFC. (And to the rest who played, like Claytus and Stephen Keller from the comments section of my Diablo3 post, lol.)

Oh and by the way, I won the Street Fighter HD Remix tournament again. And I met Cammy.

Reader Comments (21)

Did you make it to the keynote/Q&A on Friday? Mike/Jerry spent a while talking about being too big, particularly since Prime 3-day passes sold out in a few hours (and single-day passes not long after). They have something like 70k attendees at Prime and it's clear that at least several times that many people want to go. PAX East didn't relieve any pressure the way it was supposed to, and they joked that everybody now just attends both. They're going to do a PAX Australia (this seems like a really odd choice but maybe the market is underserved) which is really unlikely to help.

So yeah, I completely agree that the layout was really annoying but I'm not convinced there's an easy answer except moving convention centers. Which is probably a lot of work but probably also needed. I'd just like to echo that having tournaments several blocks away made me... not really go to any tournaments except Yomi. I probably would have watched or played in more except it wasn't easy to just drop in.

Also to the readers of the blog, I guess basically everything Sirlin said about his customizable card game is true. I played several games and it's what is promised: there's tons of customization options and the restrictions on deck-building feel totally natural and not restrictive just to be restrictive. And there's plenty of customization within a game, which means his claims about not being boned just because you picked a bad matchup are probably true. Though of course predicting metagames is basically impossible and I only got to play a little bit.

Speaking of: I really would like to play a few hundred more matches!

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Keller

Thanks Stephen. Yeah I don't claim that there is even a good answer to the PAX layout problem, I'm just saying it's...a problem. I did not attend the Q&A so I didn't know they even talked about that, but at least they know it's an issue apparently. It's kind of mindblowing to be "too popular." My games don't quite have that problem.

Thanks for what you said about my card game, glad you liked it. I thought about your complaints that some matchups can take too long, and it's a tough one. MtG has no answer to this. Some matcups just take a long time there. And if players are bad and don't know how to close in a win, MtG does nothing there either. And yet...Puzzle Strike does. We added Panic Time specifically for new players as a way to end the game when it's going too long. Doing something like that in this new card game would really not fit with the theme...but I wonder if we should find a kind of "Panic Time" rule anyway that ensure that two control decks aren't taking so long. I'll think about it and bring it up with other players to see if they come up with anything.

It would be great if you could play more. At some point I'll have a way for people to play remotely, but we aren't quite ready for that yet. Also fyi, in June I'll probably be holding a pretty big event in San Francisco that will have tournaments for all my games and a way to play this new card game too. So maybe you and your crew can come to that.

September 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I'm glad to hear that they are aware of the issues with PAX Prime. Seattle just can't deliver the same environment as Boston. Perhaps they will move it to LA one day, assuming they are not locked into an agreement similar to the one they have signed regarding PAX East with the city of Boston.

Sirlin, SCG4 was a pleasure to play. The amount of choice available at any point in time was stunning. I keep finding myself going over a couple different skirmishes, and have come to the conclusion that my MtG instincts betrayed me in how I traded. Along the line of other card games that might betray me the next time I play SCG4, I have serious plans to play the WoW TCG. I'm not sure if I'll want to invest in anything constructed, but we shall see. That's only a short term plan leading eventually to more SCG4, of course.

Glad to see you on the site, Stephen! I can't believe PAX has come and gone. It was a pleasure talking about games a software with you, and I'm sure we will do it again.

Also, my name is spelt with an 'h', Sirloin.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThom Baynes

Thom: I edited my post to spell your name correctly. (I've never heard of that spelling before, sorry.)

I don't know which trades in combat you're referring to, but yeah in general I can see how your intuition would be thrown way off from other games. The value of some weakling creature in MtG is much different than the value of a corresponding unit in my game. The value of a flying guy is way different (much more powerful in my game, even though flying is generally powerful in MtG also). Overall you just need to care about having some actual defense way more in SCG4 because combat is such a bigger part of the game.

Glad you liked the game. If only we were closer and could easily play more, huh? Or you know, online. I hope we'll see you on the forums here, and msg me if you have more ideas or something about SCG4. Or about the "host's goals" in that other game I mentioned.

September 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I got to talk a bit to the guys running tabletop after the show. They really were super positive on how the Red Lion worked out, as you said, but I figured out why. They were kind of afraid that having the tourney space so far away would basically mean it was empty all weekend. And the truth was anything but that... their experience was that anyone really into the tourney games, who wanted to enter would find their way there, and the tourneys had generally decent turnout. And apparently they saw just a constant flow of foot traffic, and continual game checkouts in the Red Lion freeplay area all weekend, too. So that stuff might stay. It's unfortunate that it doesn't have the PAX East vibe of just having random guys walk past and decide to enter because it's 10 feet away, but I understand why they thought it was a positive.

Loved SCG4 as well, but I guess you already knew since I wasn't playing for the first time. I think in terms of "MTG instincts betraying you", what I saw from every opponent, all weekend, is that people over-value having cards on the table. A dead creature in MtG is potentially buried in your graveyard and gone for the rest of the game. But in SCG4, it just cycles into your draw deck, and you play it again in a few turns. So, it's always better to attack and potentially trade than to sit on creatures. Most opponents were just not attacking if they couldn't guarantee hitting my tech buildings.

Sorry about that last game being super long. I would like to reiterate that I don't think that game should indicate the game needs a timer, though. My opponent was learning for the first time, so the problem really did come down to him playing super, super slow because he needed to read a whole bunch of cards and strategize each turn (I suggested the "simple" game with one hero/tech only, and he rejected it... and proceeded to actually play more skillfully than I would have expected, but it did slow us down). And I contributed by trying to play "nice" and not crush him with seemingly dumb things like early Assimilate usage when I knew Blue had no possible response. We had played less than 20 turns by the end there. And I'm confident I would have won very shortly... it was so slow because he dropped a Judgement every time I was about to kill him, and forced me to build up units again, and that final slow-time Generator was going to prevent that happening yet again (Despite the name, that card actually sped us up, since no workers meant no decisions to make).

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaytus

Claytus I think the opposite about "MTG instincts betraying you." Units in this game are way more valuable than creatures in MTG and you should not trade them so easily. You NEED them to project yourself, as you have several very vulnerable things to worry about losing that don't exist in MTG. You also need bad creatures to stick around to protect your good ones. Yeah you can trade when it's smart, but like having a random extra 1/1 blank guy on the table in MTG hardly matters at all, whereas here it's the difference between your vulnerable stuff being destroyed / not being destroyed.

I heard how positive the guys running the tournaments were too. What they're saying does not match up with the reality I experienced though. The turnout was lower. They said it wasn't, but it absolutely was for my games, like obviously. And the people who did attend kind of complained how much of a hassle it was. Stephen Keller, above, said he only entered Yomi and would have entered other things but being 3 blocks away in a separate building is such a pain that he didn't. So I think it really is a problem, and it was not ok. It's actually very distressing if they thought it was ok. It should be kind of clear that having tournaments directly next to free play and company booths where demos are going on is much preferable to having them three blocks away, lol. I'm worried that they are kind of saying "because it's not really possible to fix this problem, we are going to have some cognitive dissonance and say that it's not a problem." I'd be more comfortable with "Yes it was a problem, it is a hassle, it makes attendance lower, but we don't know what else to do, so oh well."

September 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I still stick by what I said from MtG, though I understand what you're saying. The extra rules you allow in regards to attack-targeting and multiple attacks in a turn means the math problem of "how do I setup an optimal attack?" is harder to solve. And some of my wins came from really thinking that out, and getting every point of damage dealt that I could. And a lot of my opponent's losses seemed to come from just passing on attacking entirely when they had kind of obvious chances to start poking me.

You asked me early on sunday whether I liked that purple starter card that removes an attacking unit of power 2 or less. And I said "yes, it's awesome!", and it turned out for the entire rest of the day I never had a single chance to play it. And I'm fairly certain that was due to non-optimal play from my opponents. That card is really soft defense, and it was often all I had to prevent base damage in early turns (due to forecasted units and such). And yet noone even attempted an attack that could have triggered it. Kind of weird.

For PAX, yeah, you're right, noone agrees it was optimal. But on the scale between "does this even work", and "Is it a complete disaster", it was closer to the former. I think it's a focus thing. PAX is purposely a somewhat non-commercial show (compared to other conventions). The first and foremost consideration for them is "Do attendees have a place to sit down and play games against other attendees?". And it's wholly secondary to provide exposure for new games. And the stats at the end of the day just showed that yes, the space actually got utilized, and attendees actually seemed happy.

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaytus

Oh I see what you're saying about combat. Yeah combat has a lot higher, uh, "skill ceiling" than in MtG. It's actually exactly the kind of stuff MtG intentionally avoids for some reason, like they are afraid of too many decisions. In a different version of all this, there really were too many decisions, and everyone had analysis paralysais like the entire time, so I see where they are coming from. In the current form though, all the extra decisions in combat really add to the game though imo. Like you said, you can eke out advantages by being being better / more clever / more tricky / more deep knowledge or whatever. There's just more ways to cash in on that here.

It's my theory that you will have chances to threaten that purple spell vs good players, and that the mere fact of you leaving mana open for it can save you from disaster sometimes. So I think it's valuable now. It used to have no restriction on ATK size, but instead only triggered AFTER you took the damage from the attacker. So really it's way stronger now, and I think ok. Ironically I didn't use it either though.

September 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Out of curiosity, what characters won the various Fantasy Strike tournaments?

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertwo_eyes

Claytus, if that's how the organizers are thinking about tournaments, they're not thinking clearly. That a lot of people showed up to play tournaments should be expected: there were 70k attendees! If just 1% play a tournament, that's 700 players. You would need to poll attendees to really understand whether it was a good setup (I suspect large numbers of potential players didn't even know there were tournaments.)

I was there all 3 days and never even saw the console tournament area, though I assume they were in the same building as tabletop tournaments? I just feel like if you can't stumble upon things at a con, that's a bummer. Given the space they had they did a decent job with stuff, but it's just a crappy space for that much stuff.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Keller

David pointed me to this blog post as part of his post show feedback. We know that space is an issue, and are always worried about attendees finding what they are looking for. Despite our best efforts (maps, banners, online schedules and maps, Enforcers directing attendees, internal info sheets, Twitter feeds with constant updates, etc.) we hear the refrain you list above..."I couldn't find _____!"
Internally we are of the mindset that East and Prime are two different shows; not clones of each other. We tend to run them that way, other than fundamental logistical and operational constants. This means what exhibitors are regional vs. national, panelists that are regional vs. national, our Enforcer staff, how the halls operate, where they are in relation to the rest of the city, and a number of other issues.
As for leaving Seattle, given the history, established community, and that all of the show creators and a majority of the Enforcer staff live within a 45 minute drive of the WSCC, it is unlikely it will be relocating any time soon.
Our show expanded beyond the walls of WSCC a few years ago when we started moving theaters offsite. Like GenCon and Dragon Con the only place to grow in Seattle is to continue to place more content outside the walls of WSCC.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristian Kelley

No, console tournament was on the 6th floor, above the expo hall. And actually, every tournament in console tourney was so packed that we were pushing people away for most of the day. The tabletop tourney area wasn't quite that full, but some of the more popular games like Dominion and Pokemon apparently had a huge turnout. That's the issue... yeah, everyone wants to stumble upon things at a Con. But in the long list of possible things to stumble upon, tournaments are basically near the bottom. People not previously exposed to the games are just generally very unlikely to enter, and people who were previously exposed and want to enter, are the ones most likely to still seek the tourney out if it's hard to find.

@Sirlin: For that other game you mentioned. What if instead of single success/fail cards for a mission, each player was distributed two small stacks of cards (probably need 5-10). The success cards are artifacts, and the fail cards are disasters, or something? And then for the Push Your Luck section, you actually shuffle all the mission cards into the deck, so you're just constructing the alternate decks you needed a moderator for, as you play the game. And then it kind of sucks that at the end of that section, you have to pull those cards out of the deck, count them up, mix them up with all the other players small decks, and redistribute them. But it seems workable, maybe fixes needing a moderator?

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaytus

Thanks Christian, I know you guys are doing your best. And Claytus's explanation of how tournaments are lowest priority makes sense actually, even though that's unfortunate.

Claytus your design idea thing will not work. It's the first idea I had and what you heard about was version 2 that fixes the very thing you suggested. Having one deck you modify rather than separate decks greatly increases the downtime between rounds. "Hold on while I fiddle around and reset the decks...and then redistribute a set of 60 cards to you guys in packs of 10." Some players I asked rejected the whole game on this basis alone actually.

But even if we didn't care about that, there's a bigger problem. If you give everyone cards and let a traitor put in some bad cards (under cover of everyone else putting in good cards) then the power of a traitor DECREASES as you have more and more people uh "on the mission" each round. This is the opposite of what's desired. We actually want just one traitor in a large group of non-traitors to be able to fuck the whole thing up, not just barely affect it. I really wanted it to be something like you said originally, but I just couldn't find a way to make one traitor in a big group on one of the later rounds have the power he needs to have. (And it gets even worse logistically if you try to figure out some way that only traitor + one other person puts cards in, even though like 5 people are "on the mission."

I will probably try it out the way I said this weekend, btw. We'll see how that goes.

September 6, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Yeah, I saw both of those problems. My only real thought was that the traitors "real goal" is to make themselves trusted, and then pick up the artifacts. So their power scales in the later sections with how well they're playing the mission entry phase, not with just getting cards in the deck.

An alternative that slightly addresses both issues... don't disassemble the deck after each round. Just have a whole bunch of extra stacks of cards, and distribute a new set to players who went on the mission. And the central deck is continually building a larger and larger set of bad cards if traitors keep getting sent. I guess it still doesn't necessarily scale right because there's an even greater quantity of non-traitor cards, but maybe if non-traitor cards are sufficiently weak it's alright (Just give them ones or something instead of artifacts? I dunno).

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaytus

Hey Sirlin, long time fan. Didn't get to go to PAX, so I've just been lurking about and reading these posts and the comments they've generated.

Towards SCG4: It sounds a lot like the WoW TCG meeting the VS. System TCG. I loved VS. System, and one of the design goals behind it was making a bigger focus on combat and positioning, while also removing mana screw. The game first came out right when I would have considered playing Magic, and was designed by a lot of Magic pros that got hired by Upper Deck. Have you ever heard of it or tried it?

Towards your design problem: This won't help as much, but have you ever heard of the Resistance board game? It's a 5-10 player traitor game that only takes a max of 20 minutes per round, and a lot of the things Claytus mentioned in response to your design problem reminded me of it. That said, I haven't heard the original problem, so I may be even further off base.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterProven

I don't think you can hand wave away the scaling problem like that though. In one round, you'll have 1 traitor + 1 non-traitor adding cards. In a later round you might have 1 traitor + 4 non-traitors having cards. So instead of players saying "In this last round, we REALLY need to have figured out what's what! It's SUPER IMPORTANT" they will say "It matters less now than ever if we screw up and have a traitor. Like whatever, the effect is small." I think it really doesn't work.

I also thought of leaving the cards in, so you have a snowballing of badness in there. Still has the same problem where the last round matters less than ever when it should matter more than ever. On top of that, it adds the new problem that the first round (which is kind of just luck because you're choosing pretty much at random then) has a really big importance. If you happen to get a traitor first round vs don't, there's a different in how much snowballing you get. I just don't see how the adding cards each round thing can work (even though I had the same idea and tried to make it work).

September 6, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin

What if the "gold" cards or whatever that people are collecting are also being permanently removed from the deck on top of added cards staying in? And I guess, maybe it has to be all weird such that the initial starting deck is really huge, and yet somehow doesn't contain enough points to win without adding more stuff? So, on that final round the entire deck is smaller, so each bad card is suddenly way worse, regardless of the fact that more good players are adding cards too?

And... hmm, I mathed that out, and came up with some wacky numbers. If you do it wrong, either the players want to pull as many cards as possible right at the start when they're least likely to bust, and just rely on luck later. Or else you get a weird playstyle where want to bust on early missions (I'm assuming busts also are removed from the deck when discovered to be fair?), while hoping they can prevent additional sabotages, and can just win on the final mission. Or something. Maybe I give up, your way is certainly easier.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaytus

Proven, yeah I know of VS though I don't really like it. WoW TCG is an influence though yeah. And The Resistance doesn't actually help with (unstated lol) problem at hand, but thanks.

Claytus, fyi when you flip over a +8, I think it's best if the players split 8 gold. So that means you can't actually give one person the +8 card (no one gets the card, and people get gold coins or trinkets etc). Anyway the whole thing is really frustrating. Also it's confusing to talk about here because no one knows what we're talking about.

September 6, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Do you think the addition of the 4th day of PAX Prime (on Monday) will help with the problem? In theory, an extra day could create more event-specific days, but I suspect that many exhibitors will just do the same things for 4 days instead of 3.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChad

Hmm, I think a 4th day wouldn't help with the space problem. Probably exhibitors do what they do for 4 days instead of 3, yeah. I guess it could help with a different thing, that maybe it's hard to hold events because too many things conflict. I'm not sure if there were other tournaments or events that people wanted to have but that PAX said no to because of only having so much time in the schedule. So maybe it would help there, but there'd still be the problem of events being far exhibitors, and tabletop freeplay being fragmented.

September 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin
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