Monday, March 28, 2011

fortune cards & (not) the end of civilization as we know it: part 2

So I passed out the free packs of Fortune Cards at the first session of March of the Phantom Brigade and what happened?

No one used them, that’s what happened. In fact, after seven weeks of Encounters sessions, no one has used the cards. Well, that’s not completely true… one guy did use them during one game session (around about Week 3, I think), but he wasn’t even in the original group that received the free packs.

Wondering why Fortune Cards weren’t being put into more widespread use by my Encounters players, I passed out a questionnaire at last Wednesday’s session of MotPB. The feedback was interesting and shed some light on why no one has been using the cards.

Here’s a few of the comments:

  • “I’m open to using Fortune Cards in a game… but I’m not sure how they work. I saw a friend use them, but he didn’t play a single card during the whole session.”

  • “I’m open to using Fortune Cards in a game… but I’m not really that interested in them. They don’t seem that useful.”

  • “I’ve used Fortune Cards in a D&D game and my reaction was negative. They were a little inconvenient. Had more to remember.”

  • “Doesn’t seem fair that you can use them and your ally can’t because he didn’t buy them. Games like Magic where the more you spend the more you win drive me crazy.”

  • “I will never ever use Fortune Cards in a D&D game. The cards do not fit into my ideas on what D&D is supposed to be about and I don’t feel I need them in order to enrich my game. For me, the cards detract from an already incredible game.”

That sampling of comments pretty accurately reflects the gist of the conversations I’ve heard around the game table(s) whenever the topic of Fortune Cards comes up.

I’m not surprised that the one guy didn’t see his friend play a single card during a game. Each card works with a specific sort of power or action, so if that specific trigger doesn’t happen while that specific card is the ‘active’ one in your hand then it’s useless to you. You can discard that card and draw a new one from your deck, but you’ll still find yourself facing the same conundrum as before: waiting for a specific trigger that may or may not happen while you have that specific card in your hand.

The player who said the cards were inconvenient because using them translates into added complexity (“more to remember”) echoes many comments I’ve heard about 4e D&D and its inherent ‘analysis paralysis.’ Even before adding Fortune Cards to the mix, many 4e D&D players find themselves a bit overwhelmed by the number of actions available to their characters during a turn. Searching for the ideal combination of those actions can easily lead to ‘analysis paralysis’ as the player finds herself unable to make a timely decision. Adding Fortune Cards to the equation may mean that already long turns are slowed down even more as players find themselves with yet one more factor to consider.

In WotC’s introduction to the rules for Fortune Cards, they say, “Fortune takes many forms. The hand of fate, destiny, divine intervention, or even just plain luck— adventurers attribute their good (or bad) fortune to such agents. Dungeons & Dragons Fortune Cards represent these forces acting on your character and his or her allies.” If the goal of Fortune Cards is to inject a totally random element into gameplay without unduly upsetting play balance, then I think they succeed at that. Some players won’t find that the randomness adds anything meaningful or enjoyable to their experience at the game table, and those players don’t need to give Fortune Cards a second thought. But players who find the cards a fun addition to their gaming experience ought to feel free to use them. And if a DM feels the need to ban use of Fortune Cards at his table because he thinks the cards give the players some kind of unfair advantage, there are plenty of blog articles out there detailing creative ways for DMs to incorporate use of the cards into their games, and house-rules they might implement.

Having said all of that, I think Fortune Cards will be a relatively short-lived phenomenon on the 4e D&D scene. I don’t think they detract from the essential nature of 4e D&D or that they upset play balance, but I just don’t see the widespread acceptance within the community that WotC was obviously hoping for when they introduced Fortune Cards. I personally think the cards are fun and am glad WotC was willing to take a chance on putting them out there, but at the end of the day if there aren’t enough players using them (or, more importantly from WotC’s perspective, if there aren’t enough people buying them), then I anticipate Fortune Cards will pretty quickly find themselves consigned to the ash heap of D&D history.

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