Monday, January 23, 2012

Campaign Manager 2008: Fair Deck Options

I mentioned the other day that I thought the infinite deck in Campaign Manager 2008 was relatively easy to build and very powerful when built. I fear it may even be unstoppable. Today I'm going to look at all the options available to a fair deck to see if it can possibly have a shot at beating an infinite deck.

As a reminder an infinite deck is a deck which has reached the point where it can play a cantrip card every turn for the rest of the game. It can chose between gaining an economy, or gaining a defense, or shifting the issue track. It can choose the same one over and over again if it wants. Essentially it is a deck which is giving up tempo (it only gets one effect each turn) in order to have complete flexibility.

A fair deck has to spend time drawing cards with the default 'draw a card' action. This means it is taking a few turns off (during which the infinite deck is just churning out economy or defense) in order to build up a string of good turns in the future. In order for the fair deck to have a chance that string of good turns has to be really good. It has to make up for giving the infinite deck free turns. What cards can the fair deck hope to draw in order to pull this off?

The first class of cards are the cantrips which make up the infinite deck's gameplan. I hope it is obvious that these cards can't help the fair deck win. In the best case scenario for the fair deck the infinite deck merely plays the same cantrip and undoes the fair deck's turn. In the worst case the cantrip from the fair deck isn't optimally useful in which case the infinite deck can play a different cantrip for a better effect. To be fair cantrips will help cycle the fair deck into better cards which could help deal with the selection issue of a 5 card hand but as far as power goes they can't help.

Next up are the double effect cards. These cards let you do two unrelated things in a given turn. The potential options are to gain an economy, a defense, shift the issue track, or alter the key demographic. Note that there is a card to shift the issue track two spaces but there is not a card in this class which adds both an economy and a defense. As such your best case scenario is to build up a hand with the right 5 of these and then get 10 effects over 5 turns while your opponent only gets 5 effects. This seems like it should be pretty good but there is one fatal flaw... You can only gain 5 actual support by doing this. The infinite deck has an easy counter... Ignore any issue shifts and just deal with the support you gain. If they spend their 5 turns undoing just your support in economy or defense then what have you got to show for your build-up? 5 demographic swaps or issue track movements. Then you have to spend 5 turns filling your hand back up while they get 5 free support anywhere they want. It doesn't matter how you set up the issue tracks. Because they can take either defense or economy for any number of turns in a row they just get to score up two states while you refill your hand. The end result of playing a bunch of double effect cards? They win two states and you win nothing. Not good.

How about the card drawing spells? Ancestral lets them build up a 7 card hand for a really big sequence of plays but that doesn't help with any of the cards we've seen so far. Same with Oprah. The regrowth style effects are even worse for the fair deck since they cost extra cards to play. Every extra card is an extra turn spent on 'draw a card' and giving your opponent a free support somewhere so what you get out of those extra cards has to be pretty powerful. Just getting to play a card a second time doesn't count since we don't have any cards that help us at all as it is.

There's an interesting set of cards that allow you to get a bunch of effects all at once. Each side has two of them with the Obama set only impacting economy and the McCain set only impacting defense. How they work is you play the card which does nothing on its own. Then you can discard any number of cards to get a support of your type or to shift the issue track towards your type. There's one card for support and one for shifting and you can't mix and match the two. And, as an added drawback, you can only hit each state once. The shifting really isn't very relevant (we saw earlier that the infinite deck will gladly ignore shifts in order to just deal with any support you gain) but getting 4 support from one action seems like it might be what we need to out-tempo the infinite deck. At the most powerful case we've spent 6 turns (5 draws and a turn to play the card) in order to get 4 support. 6 turns for 4 support is actually pretty bad. The infinite deck got 6 support over those 6 turns and they can even put them all into a single state if they want to! In terms of actually helping the fair deck win a state it seems like the best case scenario is actually one where two states exist and you're two support away from winning either one of them. By then gaining a support in each one you put pressure on your opponent. He can only counter one of the moves and then you can play another card to finish off the other state! Yes, we've won a state! On the downside it cost us 6 turns to do so (draw 2 cards and the super-support card, draw the finisher card, play super-support and finisher) and they spent 1 turn countering the secondary effect of the super-support card. They then get 5 more support to do as they will. That's certainly enough to win at least one state. And since they got to choose which state they defended off the hop you're guaranteed to have won the least valuable state of the two while they turned around and won the better one. And that's assuming there are even two states where you're that close to winning in the first place!

What about media support? I haven't mentioned these cards before but they can be decently powerful. The basic idea is every time someone wins a state they get to pick a new state to put into play. Then you flip a random event card form a big deck of them and it does crazy things. Sometimes to the new state, sometimes to all states, sometimes to individual players. (Make Obama discard 2 cards, for example.) If you have a media support card in play then you get to make choices for the event card. Instead of it working on the new state you can choose any of the 4 states in play. One of the events lets whoever controls the media draw 2 cards. Getting one of these into play as the fair deck might give you a little advantage here and there to try to combat the infinite deck. The problem is you simply can't keep one in play against an infinite deck. If they only have 1 card in their discard pile and you play a media support it will kill theirs, putting it in the discard pile. Then they play Oprah and put it right back into play. They still have 1 card in their discard. They still have media support in play. They spent 1 turn. You spent 2 since you have to manually draw the card and then play it. Even if they have 2 cards in their discard and Oprah doesn't hit the media support it will hit a cantrip which gets them the media support to play next turn. Best case you have a 1 turn window to win a state. After they played a cantrip and gained a support. I think you were better off winning the state before they got to cantrip if you actually had any way to make that happen!

What about key demographic cards? These give you a way to get multiple support in a state in one action. This has some potential but it has two major drawbacks. The first is that you only replace neutral dots and can't actually remove anything your opponent owns so they're pretty useless against an established state where the infinite deck has already played some cards. The second is that they're very narrow. Each demographic card works on only a small handful of the states. Often they need the key demographic swapped with another card before they can work at all.

That said, there is some potential here for sure. If your opponent puts a state into play and you have the demographic card in your hand you can often set yourself up to win the state for sure on your next action. If you end up with n-1 support in both economy and defense there's nothing that can stop you. Assuming you have the right cards in hand to follow up you can play a shift + support card in order to win the state no matter what your opponent does to react. Sweet! Unfortunately there are still downsides. For one, you then have to put a state into play and your opponent can guarantee you can't end up in a position to win that state with another demographic card. Also the infinite deck is going to put states into play starting at the bottom value-wise. So even if you can win the state they put out they get to win the next one and it will be worth more. Nevermind the fact that while it's _possible_ to have the right demographic card in hand and the right follow-ups in hand it's nowhere near guaranteed. If you fill your deck up with demographics then you'll be able to win a few states by surprise but then sometimes you'll have a hand full of cards which actually can't impact the board at all. Then you have to waste two turns (one playing it for no impact and one drawing a replacement) while your opponent gets to score up lots of free support.

There's one last type of card. The negative campaign card. These cards let you grab multiple support in a single state in a single action but come with some potential drawbacks. Each side has 4 of them available. One of the cards lets you gain 1 defense and 1 economy in a single state. The other three make you discard two cards in order to gain 2 defense or 2 economy in a single state. If it is defense or economy is determined by the card. Obama has 2 economy cards and 1 defense card. McCain has 2 defense cards and 1 economy card. Every negative attack card has the drawback that you have to roll a die at the end of your turn if you play one of them and your opponent gets a benefit. The potential outcomes are {draw a card, draw 2 cards, do nothing, gain 1 support anywhere, shift a state anywhere, alter a key demographic anywhere}. If your opponent is already infinite then most of these actually do nothing. The only really scary one is giving them a free support since if you didn't win a state straight up with the card they just get to completely undo it with that roll.

Now we're starting to see a framework. Imagine the following set-up... You use ancestral to get up to a 7 card hand. Then you use the super-support to gain an economy in two different states. Then whichever one he doesn't defend against you go negative on for an extra 2 economy. This only requires two states where you're within 3 of winning which doesn't seem unreasonable at all. Downside? You spent 6 cards over 2 turns to do it. You went negative so he gets a bonus. You can only do it when you draw ancestral. And you still only get the worst state of the two.

What about combining the negative card with a demographic card? This costs you fewer cards and wins you whatever state you want for sure. If the state you want happens to match your demographic card...

Also once your opponent sees the negative card once they can work against it. They can start shifting out of the support you can double up on. They can start trading states since it does take 4 turns to pull off a single double card...

Nevermind the true trump they have up their sleeve... They're only dedicating 8 cards to going infinite. They can have 7 more cards in their deck that do things. Often they'll have a negative double card too which they can use to counter yours or to just blow you out on a big state. And while it costs you 4 turns to pull it off it doesn't really cost them anything at all to do it. They lose some of their flexibility from having a full hand to be sure but they're one ancestral or a couple Oprahs from going back to infinite again...

The other negative card (which gives you a defense and an economy but doesn't cost extra discards) just seems bad. It can combo decently with the shift+support cards as you can try to keep your opponent guessing. But generally speaking every time my opponent plays it against me I cheer since it doesn't hurt me at all and I get a free die roll bonus.

Put it all together and what do you get? Well, most of the cards available to a fair deck are completely useless. There are a couple situationally powerful cards that can work together to win an individual state but you end up giving your opponent too many free turns in the process. You're not going to get shut out if you can put together a couple combos but there's no way you're going to actually be able to win the game. I think building a fair deck is basically guaranteeing a loss against an opponent who knows how to build an infinite deck.

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