I could scarcely think of a better way to start my Acts of Terrorism column than to talk Yu-Gi-Oh. Okay, I could because I’m me and that means the definition of stupendous, but I thought it best to kick things off with this. You see, my opinions have inflamed the intestines of close-minded Yu-Gi-Oh players for years, and I think that is due to the fact that I do not “troll” and merely state well-reasoned thoughts. I am me, after all. The following post is mostly a repeat of one made on the pojo.biz website, on which I am no longer a member. Don’t worry, pojo dudes, I did not scramble my I.P. Address or some other such new-fangled method. I simply asked someone to find this post for me. Simple, no? Anyway, without further ado…
In this post, I will sum up for you all the major issues plaguing modern Yu-Gi-Oh. No, this doesn’t include Phantom Darkness or Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy or any such set. I don’t care about those. Once you read this, if you didn’t believe the game is in a cesspool, you will. So yeah, I’m warning you that if you don’t want a paradigm shift happening to you, go read one of my colleagues’ great posts! I lied, there’s still some ado. Now it is over.
1. Xyz monsters
Xyz is terrible in concept, so it’s a mechanic guaranteed to be terrible in execution as well.
Said concept is every deck should have access to a set of tools that absolutely cannot bite them in the ass since it isn’t in the main deck and requires no deck commitment. That is, with Synchros if decks wanted to use them they’d have to add in Tuners that probably messed up the deck’s consistency, but with Xyz monsters, decks like Gadgets didn’t have to shoot that consistency in the knees, merely just throw a card in the extra and using it.
Not only does this remove each deck’s individual weaknesses, but it makes the game become homogeneous. In a TCG, what separates a group of cards from another is what they cannot do, and when every deck has access to every tool, it essentially means every deck plays the same. Sure, you might move your cards around in differing orders, but the end result is the same: Exciton Knight/Castel/101/whatever new Xyz are released post-March 2015.
From a non-gameplay standpoint, Xyz also ruined other mechanics. Because of the plot of the then-current show, Yu-Gi-Oh ZeXal and its 100 Numebrs, Xyz marketing was an all-consuming beast that ate up space from every other type of strategy and card frame. This meant that when ZeXal ended, Konami felt the need to intensely push the other mechanics, and for them to compete with the generic and powerful Xyz monsters, the only course of action was to make them powerful and generic. All this has done is further blur the lines between cards and, again, homogenizes the experience.
2. Searching and floating
Discard 1 card was a fair cost when it came out. Magic Jammer was a great card. It’s just that Konami power creeped (creating cards that break the game’s power curve) it right out no more than one set later when they started releasing Spell Cards that discarded from the opponent’s hand anyway.
Burning Abyss, Shaddolls, and pretty much everything today pay for their own costs. They’re consistent, fast, and effectively costless at the same time. Seriously. Why is it called a cost if you break even or better by doing it? This sets a new standard for what a “cost” to output ratio should be, and that ratio has been out of balance for a long time.
You shouldn’t be rewarded for trying to beat your opponent. That’s pretty much what Arc-V era’s floatception (look, an Inception joke; totally still relevant) does. You’re rewarded for summoning your monster by having more cards so you can summon more monsters. You’re rewarded for committing to piling one boss after boss. You’re rewarded for having your monster sent to the graveyard. It’s okay, your cards replace themselves and you can just do it again! Positive reinforcement only! I would be remiss not to mention the card design choice of recent years where “if X is sent to the Graveyard: do Y” has become the norm. When you’re rewarded for losing cards without consideration for how it happens, you and your opponents’ interactions become meaningless.
When you put a bunch of cards on the field, that should be because you’re ready. Because you thought about when to make your push. It’s not really like that in Yugioh. In Yugioh you’re dramatically altering the board every turn, and it’s way too /easy/. Burning Abyss /everything/ but the one that sticks out to me the most is how Fire Lake and Dante loop. Shadolls loop their fusion and constantly pay for their own summons with draws, searches, or destruction. Qliphoth can just re-Pendulum whatever you kill and crush your opponent’s field again. Pretty much every Nekroz has a graveyard effect if the opponent manages to get over Trishula. Sure you have things like D-Prison which hurt most of your floater abilities or Breakthrough that can stop you right there, but it’s honestly not enough. Too many things pay for themselves for that to be enough.
There’s also how a good majority of the floating today is done with a search. Nobody ever has to play through a sub-par hand which means you’re never tested. Memorizing what card to search isn’t a measure of talent. It’s the beginning of auto-pilot. You’re not even in control of your deck anymore. It’s playing for you.
3. “Randomness/Variance is bad”
Quite the contrary, actually. Randomness creates surprises. The unknown allows for occasions that cannot be completely anticipated. This makes for dramatic and exciting game-playing moments, instead of “I play this search card, which lets me search this card, which lets me search this card. Oops, you lose.”
Randomness makes the game play differently. Do anything enough and you’ll get tired of it. Randomness allows for variance, and variance makes you more likely to want to repeat what you’re doing. There is, of course, the classic experiment where the mouse pushes a lever and gets food. He pushes the lever significantly more often if he only sometimes gets food than if he always gets food. Variance in games is a motivator.
It allows players to react. One of the biggest arguments against randomness is that it takes away from skill, the idea being that having everything under your control rewards the better players. That’s what Yu-Gi-Oh would want you to believe, but that’s hardly the case. Random events happening in a game force players to do several things. First, they have to identify what is happening and what it means to the current game; second, they have to deduce how best to use the new variable to bend the game to their favor; and third, they have to maximize their other resources to take advantage of the new variable. It turns out that doing all this is pretty complicated and thus the more experienced players are much better at it. The more unpredictable, unknown variables that get added to a game, the more opportunity there is for the better player to take advantage of them.
I’m sure most of us have played video games. Let’s take the typical shooter. You are camped out in a great position, and you have someone in sight of your sniper rifle. The game is programmed so any number of things could go wrong, like a random NPC walking into your shot, or your target doing a simple movement independent of you. Maybe an enemy soldier spots you and you have to modify your position and try again. You might fail and try again, and then a whole slew of other things happen that stop you from completing the kill. This is variance, and it’s fun and keeps experiences fresh.
Randomness makes games more fun, more repeatable, and more skill-testing. Sounds awesome. Mind you, randomness can be bad too, as it can lead to tonnes of unfun game mechanics (coin flips and dice rolls, for example). The randomness I’m talking about is the one in how you assemble your cards, because in current yugioh that simply doesn’t exist because every deck can search out whatever tool it needs for any situation.
The lack of variances is chiefly due to archetypes. Players aren’t given the freedom to craft decks themselves, and instead Konami pre-makes the decks. Some arguments I’ve seen over the past couple of years have been “Archetypes are needed so you buy new cards,” “You can still mix archetypes to make your own deck” and “Archetypes play differently, adding more to the game than random cards.”
I’ll tackle the latter argument first since it’s the easiest to grok. Archetypes don’t play differently, largely due to the aforementioned abundance of searching, floating and Extra deck use. The only thing that is “different” is the art on the cards and the order you move them around in. That argument simply doesn’t hold up.
The first argument is also easy to shut down. Konami doesn’t use archetypes to sell you cards: it uses the banlist and powercreep to do so. The trick is, with powercreep, they can tie it to a new group of cards like a Nekroz, or a Shaddol and then sell those to you. They’ve also attached it to various generic cards such as Soul Charge, so it is not limited to Archetypes. Archetypes are not a “must” by any stretch of the imagination.
Finally, the second argument is a farce as well. You don’t actually mix archetypes outside of the ones Konami wants you to mix. For example, the Atlantean-Mermail deck, which plays like one archetype even though it’s a deck made of two. Most times it’s simply better to run one archetype, and in the cases where you mix, it’s usually with archetypes designed specifically to be included in mixtures. Konami has masterfully created the illusion of choice here.
I’d like to end on this. Konami, with pride, said “That’s a total of 6 different decks in the top 32!”. Yeah, just let that sink in.
Flavor is essentially non-existent in Yugioh, despite new factions (archetypes) being introduced en masse every set. It’s easy to write off flavor as “non-essential”, but when you look at the response Duel Terminal has gotten, you can see that many players cling to the lore, even as weak and as inconsequential Konami makes it.
Besides having mechanics, a game wants to have a trapping. It wants to be about something. Sometimes this comes first and the game is built around it. Sometimes the mechanics come first and a flavor is found to match it. Either way, games are more fun if the elements of the game refer a story or an environment or a theme.
I mean, without flavor when you play a video game you’d just be looking at some Matrix-style numbers on your tv/computer screen. Without flavor, what Yugioh calls the “Graveyard” would just be the “discard pile”. Flavor allows you to take emotional investment built by your players and bring it to your game. Let’s use Gagagigo as an example. Hey, this lizard man has had a tonne of things happen to him and has been in a number of cards. Instantly, a player looks at it and goes “I want to make a Gagagigo deck. Oh, looks like I actually can’t. Oh well.” That’s lost interest, which is lost revenue.
But wait, there’s more. What’s one of the greatest obstacles to players playing your game? In order for a player to play your game they have to first learn how. Learning new things is difficult and intimidating, and if you get turned off during that process, odds are you will never play that game again.
Flavor lowers the intimidation factor of a game. Flavor helps explain rules that might otherwise seem random. Flavor helps players lock onto ideas. Flavor excites the player making the material less intimidating and encouraging the player to learn. Flavor is barrier to entry’s greatest nemesis, and as they say, your enemies’ enemies are your friends.
Flavor also allows you to make your game look good, and helps things have a certain tone. Beyond the aesthetics, flavor also presents excellent mechanical opportunities. Because of flavor, you can make a monster that battles another and takes control of it if you name it “Something Vampire.” Vampires take control of the things they damage, so the flavor makes that easy to grok, and far more intuitive that if the card art was just a giant floating rock.
With these benefits in mind, it would not be financially difficult to put actual effort into story, artwork (which is tremendously lackluster) and flavor.
6. Marketing the cards
Konami is ass backwards with this. Why aren’t the Egyptian God cards the strongest cards in the actual card game? Why aren’t the anime decks competitive? Since the anime has influence on the sets and how they sell, a not insignificant influence I should add, then there is no reason for cards advertised through it to be so low in power when compared to Konami-originals?
This goes back somewhat to Konami’s disregard for flavor. After 10 years of player anticipation, they release awful versions of The Seal of Orichalcos, Eye of Timaeus and so on. The only things this does is alienate new players and take advantage of older players’ nostalgia.
7. Every product is for every player
Going back to flavor once more, you wouldn’t put tiny little anime girls into a group made of abhorrent demons, right? Because you want this group of cards you’re pushing to have a consistent tone, no? I mean, it’s not like you couldn’t make a different theme and make it full of tiny little anime girls. Yeah, you wouldn’t because you understand that a specific group of players would be attracted to the abhorrent demons, and that another specific group of players would like the big-eyed anime girls.
That is not the case with Konami. Beyond just sticking random things into archetypes, it sticks cards with no viability into products meant for those that lean more to the competitive side of the game, and then sticks excellent cards (power-wise) into products meant for more casual play. This is just a cheap and malicious way to get more people to buy more products, and all it does is inflate prices on the secondary market as people rush to get the cards they want without having to go through the cards they don’t.
The obvious answer to this is have different products geared to different players. One set of player likes multiplayer? Make a multiplayer set. One set of player is competitive? Make a set tailored for them. This is a model that has proven itself not only viable, but amazing for wizards of the coast. They release a product for beginners in the summer, as well as one for casual formats; “expert” expansions in the autumn, and spring; a multiplayer product every winter; and finally, one tailored to hardcore long-standing players. It’s not an unfeasible model as the sets continue to outsell the previous year for the past 5 years this model has existed.
8. OCG getting world premiers/Banlist split — Dividing the game even further
It’s obvious. If I go to a restaurant chain and order a meal, I expect the meal to taste the same, or almost the same no matter where in the world I order it within the same restaurant chain. Uniformity is a proven success.
The two differing mindsets of the TCG and OCG are conflicting and leads to wildly varying card design between regions. A separated banlist does the same, causing certain things to be troublesome when they cross over into the TCG from the OCG because the different banlists want different things from the same cardpool: creating 1 product for 2 different purposes, essentially.
It’s clear that the game is made for Japan, and everything and everyone else is only secondary. Obviously, they design cards for the OCG’s meta because that’s the primary player set, but at the same time the TCG has to adapt the same set to fit into a meta it wasn’t designed for, interacting with cards it wasn’t meant to.
The OCG and TCG being in sync only enhances the game. I think TCG players would enjoy it too:
Compared to a TCG Pack that consists of 9 Cards (1 Guaranteed Rare + a chance for a common to a be rare) and retail at 3.99$. Now let’s just look at that price alone for a moment.
At 143 Yen we’re looking at roughly 29 Yen per card, that’s 0.24 USD compared to roughly 0.44 USD per card in the TCG Pack. And then there’s the Rarity Ratios in the TCG and OCG. To repeat for a moment in the OCG you get 5 cards per pack and a full box contains 30 packs giving you 150 Cards in a complete box. Of those 150 Cards you are guaranteed 30 Rare Cards, 9 Foil Cards with 5 Supers (Which can also be Secret Rare instead of Super) and about 4 Ultras (Which can be in Ultimate Rare instead of Ultra) + the chance for the special Holographic in place of an Ultra. Now of course it’s not a trading card game without you getting doubles of some cards which is noticable with the Japanese Set Ratio: 6 Ultra Rares, 10 Super Rares, 20 Rares and 54 Common Cards. Not too bad all things considered.
Now the TCG’s ratios are a bit different, 9 cards per pack, 24 packs in a box gives you a total of 216 Cards in a box, sounds good on paper until you realize what you get. 1 Secret, 2 Ultra’s and 5 Supers and 24 Rare Cards in a box of 24 if we do the math quickly that gives you 32 non commons and 184 Commons in a box. Now let’s look at the spread in a TCG Box, 8 Secret Rare, 10 Ultra Rare, 14 Super Rare, 20 Rare and 48 Commons.
9. What’s a “traditional”?
The lack of support for alternate formats is hilarious, as the only thing this does is further limit the players one attracts. This also makes the “every set is for every player” thing Konami does even more baffling. You can only play your cards and receive tournament support in one format, so a large chunk of every set is completely worthless garbage.
10. Konami does not respect its players
What the fans of Konami’s video games are going through at the time of this writing (10/3/2015) is what everyone that plays Yu-Gi-Oh has been dealing with for the better part of five years, except Yu-Gi-Oh doesn’t have the exposure video games have and therefore there are no smart alecky critics to bring attention to them.
Two words: Kevin Tewart. Look him up and the things he’s said to players and the way he carried/s himself.