After several months of not talking about Tanto Cuore, I’m back! I’m guessing it’s the cold weather that’s getting me in the mood to talk about it again since Motto Tanto Cuore is all about winter parties (or maybe the fact that the first set is finally out on the iOS App store. Yay!).
So let’s get straight to the problem of Doki Doki Vaction, which are the Reminiscence Cards. As I mentioned briefly in my previous articles of this series, the Reminiscence Cards are the precursor to the Preparation Cards found in Motto Tanto Cuore, except with slightly different rules:
♥ Setting up Reminiscence Cards is very similar to how you set up the Private Maids: shuffle the stack, place it face down, and then reveal the top three cards from the stack, which are the only ones available to be picked up. Reveal another card from the stack when someone picks up one of the revealed Reminiscence Cards.
♥ Unlike the Private Maids, there are two tiers of Reminiscence Cards.
Both tiers are shuffled separately with the second tier always placed at the bottom of the stack. One of the main reasons for this is that you don’t want to have a card like this appearing right at the start of the match:
It’d take quite a long time before someone had all the right cards to pick this one up.
♥ You can only pick up one Reminiscence Card anytime during your Serving Phase as long as you meet the requirements stated on the card (unlike the Preparation Cards that have no limit), which are having right the cards in your hand and then placing them into your discard pile. So for example, if Scary Night was available,
and then discard them in order to pick up this specific Reminiscence Card.
♥ Since the Reminiscence Cards does not interrupt the flow of the player’s turn order other than possibly inconveniencing them by being unable to use those maids for their current deck cycle, (for those unfamiliar, a deck cycle is complete when the player has to draw cards in their deck but has none left, so they add everything from their discard pile back into their deck after shuffling it) it’s still possible for them to buy cards if they have any Love stored for that current turn.
So where does the problem of the Reminiscence Cards come into play? Their inherent traits add a new way to win a match due to sheer dumb luck, which is a huge taboo in basic game design. Richard Garfield explains this concept well in a panel he held sometime last year and you should watch this video in its entirety if you have the time:
Since that video is over an hour long though, I’ll cut to the key parts pertinent to this article, the first one starting from 15:12 to 16:10, with the bolded parts my emphasis:
“This leads to how we should use luck as game designers.
Historically, one of the reasons we should question this is because historically game designers are not professional; games have been sort of evolved rather than designed. And so you see this in games like poker or chess. Finding the exact author of the game is hard and it’s because the community sort of evolves it and some people come up with innovations, they ought to catch onto them but they don’t. And one thing that falls out of that is that whenever people start playing more and more seriously, then they start making game changes which reduce the luck in the game.“
Even Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield’s own game that spawned the Trading Card Game craze over a decade ago, isn’t immune to this and he mentions it right at the 18 minute mark:
“In Magic, luck has been reduced over the ages too. When it was first released, there weren’t mulligan rules, and cards were a lot swingier, and as the game is taken more seriously as a competitive game, there’s this incentive to reduce the amount of luck in the game.”
So games tend to evolve as opposed to be designed, and they tend to evolve towards less luck. It’s very difficult to add luck to an existing game, and that’s because the existing audience likes the way they’re rewarded right? The good players are getting a lot of accolades and adding luck is going to reduce them, so they don’t like seeing their knowledge of the game trivialized or their expertise in the game trivialized by sometimes losing.“
Romantic Vacation goes in the exact opposite direction of improving an existing game because the Reminiscence Cards add the possibility of winning the game through sheer dumb luck.
The mechanics as to how one can win by random chance is this: you should’ve noticed by now that not only do the Reminiscence Cards give you bonus VP like the Preparation Cards do, almost all of them grant a special effect that happens only once when you pick them up. Every tier 1 Reminiscence Card has one, and this wouldn’t be too bad as long as the cards were carefully balanced, except what tends to happen is the moment one player successfully picks up any Reminiscence Card that’s not Scary Night (although even that one is viable if at least one of your opponents did something dumb like activate Riya’s ability before someone picks this card up), they usually gain such a huge lead over the other players that it’s going to be nearly impossible to catch up when it starts to happen. One particular Reminiscence Card I have personal issues with is this one:
So what’s the problem with this card? If River Canoeing happens to appear at the start of the game, and one player manages to pull a hand full of 1 Love cards within their first deck cycle, they’ve just gotten themselves a huge lead over everyone else due to sheer dumb luck as they already started their first turn with not only 3 Victory Points, but with the choice of being able to pick ANY non-Private Maid from the town for free. If you’re familiar with the requirements for the more important Reminiscence Cards, you’ll realize that picking Sophia or one of the more expensive Maid Chiefs from the other sets is going is going to be their best choice regardless of what decisions their opponents make. Here’s a flowchart to show you how bad it gets:
As an added consequence from the design of the Reminiscence Cards, the only deck building strategy that’s viable in a match is to draw out the most cards as possible into your hand so you increase the chances of meeting the requirements to one of the Reminiscence Cards available in the Town. So not only did the developers add new game mechanics that could make a player accidentally win by random chance, they also removed a lot of the strategic depth that the past two sets built up to this point.
Compare this to the other sets prior to Romantic Vacation:
The first set had Event Cards that can be used to distract opponents who chambermaided too early if Claire’s available for Employment or to severely punish them if she’s not. Finding the right time to start chambermaiding cards before the game ends was the main emphasis of this set. Beginners are usually scared to chambermaid anything if they see Event Cards in the field while more experienced players are better with taking those kinds of risks.
The second set introduced Building Cards which if one player owned enough of one type of Building, they were immune to any Event Card attacks from the previous set. Another Building type can solve the problem of the more expensive Maid Chiefs cluttering their deck because those can’t be chambermaided, but they might have to reconsider that option if Victoria is available for employment in that match because those expensive Maid Chiefs would be the player’s best offensive or defensive weapon. The third Building Card was meant for players who want to devote their strategy around the buildings. However, you need to keep in mind that depleting Building Card stacks doesn’t help end the game as they’re not a Maid pile, so it’s wise to not devote too much attention trying to get all of them.
One final consequence from the design of the Reminiscence Cards is how incompatible they are with the unique cards from the previous sets:
♥ By the time the player’s opponents built a deck based around spamming multiple Bad Habits or Illnesses, the player who focused on collecting Reminiscence Cards can easily shrug them off because they’d at least have three 2 Love and/or two 3 Love cards in their deck from getting the Picnic and Hidden Hot Springs Reminiscence Cards. Coupled with the General Maids in this set that allows you to draw several cards, they’d be buying so many Sophias or whatever else they need to offset a maximum of -28 Victory points thrown by their opponents and whatever Illnesses are forced at them can be easily negated with at least 2 copies of 3 Love cards found in their deck.
♥ Players who try to build their deck around the Building Cards will be at a huge disadvantage compared to a deck designed to acquire Reminiscence Cards. The Gardens are the cheapest Buildings in the set, cost 4 Love, and give you one Victory Point. To have an effective ROI you need to also get Ririko, chambermaid her on a later turn so you can then spend 5 Love on a Lily Garden. In contrast, every tier 1 Reminiscence Card gives out a flat 3 Victory Points, can’t be stolen or forced to go back to Town, and triggers a beneficial effect to the owner of the card for that turn. They might get a free Maid at no cost, three copies of 2 Love cards, two copies of 3 Love Cards which they can immediately use on that same turn, or get an additional 8 Love plus one Employment. Also unlike the Building Cards, it’s possible to end the game if you start emptying the Reminiscence Card stack because eventually Camp Fire will show up and whoever gets that card immediately ends the match.
Obviously, Arclight Games saw these problems I’ve pointed out and focused on making a Reminiscence Card-type system work in Motto Tanto Cuore, which made several big changes to the design of the game that you can’t traditionally combine the General Maid stacks or the unique card types found in the previous sets. Unfortunately, Motto Tanto Cuore isn’t out over here yet, so my best advice for everyone reading this at the time of this writing if you have a copy of Doki Doki Vacation is to figure out the fastest ways to build decks based on acquiring Reminiscence Cards to see the inherent problems with their design and then not use them at all unless you’re screwing around; it’s a good learning tool, for sure, but it’s not very fun to play with them for more than a few games. Because this set doesn’t come with any Private Maids, they decided to add more General Maids in order to fill up the same amount of volume in the box, and there’s a few interesting cards that combine well with the previous sets so if your intent is to get this set for the maids, go ahead and do so. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about how broken these Reminiscence Cards are.
– Carl Dayagdag