Custom VS Hijinks: Experienced Versions

Having played other collectible card games prior to VS, I have sometimes wondered if certain elements of these other games could be translated or interpreted in some form in VS System.  One of the most flavorful concepts that I have seen is the idea of overlaying more “Experienced” versions of unique characters to represent character growth, both physically and in other aspects, which was most prominent in the card game Legend of the Five Rings and has also been seen in games such as Pokemon.  Such a concept seemed like a perfect fit for VS thematically, since the heroes, villains and supporting cast of the Marvel and DC comics universes have, in most cases, developed a rich and eventful history that almost always involves an evolution from a certain origin story to the sum total of what the character is today.  Superman wasn’t always the Metropolis Marvel, Wolverine wasn’t always the best there is at what he did, and the Hulk had a long, convoluted road to travel before becoming the mighty king of Sakaar (albeit briefly).

From a game mechanics perspective, however, the concept of overlaying experienced versions is rather more difficult to balance out.  The tight curve employed by VS, where characters a resource point cost apart tend to be significantly different in stats from cost 3 upwards, makes it impractical to allow the overlaying of higher drop versions even if the resource cost between versions is only one resource point.  By way of example, if I had a 3-drop Batman and wanted to do an overlay of a more “experienced” Batman on turn 4, I would effectively have two 4-drop sized characters on turn 4 simply due to the overlay.  If I decided to do it again on turn 5, I would be entering turn 5 with two 5-drops and a 4-drop (assuming no losses), for the mere cost of my 3/4-drop and a couple of cards from hand.  As such, the overlay would end up being superior to other resource bypass mechanics such as Substitute and Press, with less setup necessary to facilitate the effect.  While I suppose this would make the Legend characters much more desirable to play, all that curve breaking would get degenerate in a hurry.

Besides, I felt that an Experienced version of a VS character ought to be earned by the player, perhaps requiring some level of active participation on the part of the inexperienced version of the character to work towards becoming more proficient at his craft.  Also, I figured that VS was ripe for some radical new keyword that actually did something on its own (Evasion, Reservist, Substitute) rather than simply put a name to a certain class of powers (Leader, Backup, Vengeance).

Enter the highly experimental keywords Rookie and Veteran.

Basic Training

As we all know, a rookie is someone who is new to his chosen discipline, maybe showing tremendous potential but needing to hone his abilities to really take advantage of his giftedness.  In VS, the Rookie keyword represents that stage in a character’s life, but also reflects his or her inevitable ascent to a status of greater renown (or infamy).

As a mechanic, what Rookie does is allow the character with the keyword to accumulate Experience counters.  Every time a character with Rookie:

a) Stuns an opposing character (once per turn?  not sure);

b) Uses an activated power (once per turn); or

c) Exhausts to pay the cost of a non-ongoing plot twist effect (once per turn)

the Rookie character gains one (1) Experience counter.  An Experience counter can be removed from a Rookie character once per turn during the combat phase to give the character +1 ATK or +1 DEF during an attack.  From a flavor point of view, the character has gotten a little better over time at what he or she does, and can use his or her improved skill to gain a slight advantage when fighting an opponent.  It’s not much, but it isn’t meant to be more than just a minor edge anyway, and sometimes the difference between winning or losing hinges on having that extra +1 ATK or +1 DEF, which the Rookie character will almost always have waiting to be unleashed.  As an example, let’s go with one of DC’s most popular coming-of-age characters, Batman’s original trusty sidekick, Dick Grayson.

Rookie characters aren’t meant to be strictly worse than their non-Rookie counterparts; after all, the independent advantage created by Experience counters is weak enough not to imbalance the character.  Robin here seems just about average for his cost, and maybe even slightly better to his Concealed status.  He also gains an Experience counter whenever Batman shows up on the player’s side, which is also not a significant advantage, and is appropriate flavor-wise.

That’s all well and good, but eventually, all boys have to grow up.

Graduation Day

Experience counters grant one more benefit, which goes to the heart of the overlay mechanic.  During your recruit step, you may remove a ready Rookie character you control with X Experience counters from the game.  If you do, you may put a Veteran character card from your hand with cost X or less into play with the same name as the Rookie character you removed.  Use this ability only if you control X or more resources.

I realize that wording is a bit complicated, but necessary to preserve the all-important game mechanic balance.  Yes, Rookies can eventually develop into combat-hardened Veterans, but they have to work for the promotion.  Moreover, to avoid the problems with resource acceleration, you can only put a Veteran character into play with a cost less than or equal to the number of resources you control.

Naturally, the Veteran version of the character has got to be worth all the effort spent training up that Rookie, which is why it seems appropriate for Veteran characters to be somewhat tougher or more powerful than other characters at the same cost.  To offset this, perhaps an additional rule would be that Veteran cards cannot be recruited normally from hand – they can only be put into play through the Rookie removal method.  They can still be used as power-ups, of course.  If this seems like too much work for too little reward, maybe the mechanic can be tweaked so that the Rookie removal will allow the player to search his deck for a copy of the Veteran card instead of having to possess the card in hand.

Or maybe the Veteran character can be nerfed a bit.  I haven’t decided yet.  I am leaning towards the solution above though, since it makes it more exciting to play Veterans by nurturing them from their Rookie counterparts than simply to recruit them.  Anyway, here’s an example of Dick Grayson, after years of kicking bad guys around with the Bat.

Should Veterans be allowed to continue accumulating Experience counters to be used in the conventional manner?

Lastly, I figure it would be helpful to have non-character cards that have a generic benefit for play in Limited, but have an additional effect specifically for Rookie characters.  Below is a hasty example of such a card.

I realize there’s only so much comic book flavor you can represent in a collectible card game, and if we wanted this much character development, we’d be playing a role-playing game instead.  Still, the idea of characters getting better over time due to activity rather than just sitting around waiting for your resource row to grow is highly appealing, and I feel that it would make for a more immersive play experience.

Until next time.  May your Galans eat enough planets to become Galactuses.

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2 Responses to “Custom VS Hijinks: Experienced Versions”

  1. Damn. You are really good at this.

    Color me entertained.

  2. omnicresence Says:

    High praise coming from the master. Thank you. 🙂

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