The Sinking of 7th Sea

The Sinking of 7th Sea

How the best of intentions sank an incredibly popular card game series.

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I played the Legend of the 5 Rings CCG (also by AEG) for a while and the mechanics and the way the story tournaments work sound almost identical.

When one faction turns out to be overpowered and tournament prizes include the company printing special faction-specific cards it can be discouraging to play one of the "weaker" decks. Even if certain factions are only perceived to be overpowered it can lead to a lot of people jumping on that bandwagon, making it statistically more likely for that faction to win tournaments.

[nerd]
Still, it was fun playing casual games and local tourneys to refine my Scorpion Ninja Dueling deck into a finely tuned psychological war machine. (At least, it was when my friend wasn't wiping me out on turn 5 with Lion Deathseeker Blitz.)
[/nerd]

I remember this happening with Doomtown as well. Not just killing off characters, which was decided in tournaments, but also ultimately wiping out one of the factions, though in that case they were flat out gone. Again, AEG.

BanZeus:
I played the Legend of the 5 Rings CCG (also by AEG) for a while and the mechanics and the way the story tournaments work sound almost identical.

I was thinking the same thing about Legend of the 5 Rings... so I can't help but wonder if something else was going on as well with 7th Sea.

The thing that makes me the saddest though is that the 7th Sea RPG never got a second edition because of the demise of the card game.

I nearly crapped myself when I read the title of this article, I was looking at my 7th Sea cards the other day! I remember buying them at Wizards (the company store used to be located in malls) and maybe playing the game maybe once or twice at home. The issue I had was that I was getting into the game way too late. The moment I started playing and went back to buy more cards, I discovered the game was being discontinued. It's a shame too because a lot of great artwork, time and effort was clearly poured into this game. I knew nothing of the tournament scene, so I can't really comment about that. Man, this article was a huge nostalgia trip. I thought barely anyone else on the planet knew about this CCG.

Something else interesting about this triumph of mechanics over narrative is just how often the 7th Sea RPG books emphasize that narrative should always trump mechanics. The GMS's guide is rather emphatic about telling a good story and having fun being the most important thing in the game.

Man I love 7th Sea. Just ran a 1-shot of the RPG last night for my D&D crew. It was an absolute blast.

I would say the difference to L5R might be that they never hit a faction that hard, sure Phoenix was ignored in one expansion and Monk, Ninja, Toturi's Army, Naga, and Ratlings (and possible some factions more) got dropped at some point, but they where all not that popular. That Shadowlands became Spider was possible the biggest thing, to enrage players of that faction (with was not so minor), still many continued to play the game.

Also I think that L5R does better might be because it has an actually working pen & paper RPG, which draws people also to the CCG to make an impact on the setting they started to enjoy as role-player. the 7th Sea RPG, so similar it might appear to the L5R RPG, just sucked big time.

Karloff:
The Sinking of 7th Sea

How the best of intentions sank an incredibly popular card game series.

Read Full Article

This is why the most important thing for game designers, game masters, or other folks in the "rules creation/enforcement" position to remember is this:

The dice don't give two shits whether or not anyone has a good time.

The dice are extremely loyal. No matter the result, they'll be right back at your table next time around, ready to do your bidding. But that's because they just don't care. Players do. And their loyalty isn't automatic or indestructible.

AEG didn't realize that this epic fight wasn't just between two of their characters. It was between two factions of their fan base. The characters have to do whatever the writers say... but the players don't. Sometimes killing one kills the other.

________

That said, lots of people love to ask for "consequence" in the narrative of their games. People often cite MMOs as major offenders: No matter how many times the princess gets saved, she still needs saved by the next batch of noobs to run that quest line. No matter how many times I clear the wolves from the forest, they'll be back in a minute or two.

This situation demonstrates the very real "be careful what you wish for" that desire carries. Everyone loves the idea of consequence... when it's not their own sacred cows on the way to the slaughterhouse. Which leads to another important axiom of game leadership:

Risk is fun. Failure is not. Risk requires the possibility of failure, sure, otherwise it carries no weight. And failure is an important part of any story or game, and can sometimes lead down more engaging paths than constant success.

But consider skydiving. It's extremely thrilling, satisfying to our inner daredevil. The adrenaline rush from the excitement, the excitement from the danger. But skydiving is actually incredibly safe. Nearly all skydives go off without a hitch. Tons of safety equipment and precautions make it as safe as possible.

Does that take away from the thrill? I don't think so.

It's okay to dial back the permanence of certain consequences, or to reduce the chance of failure, to ensure players still feel safe enough to "risk" their time and money playing with you.

Cool article, I never knew the details of what went down, I only heard that players had left the game in droves at one point.

I never participated in the 7th Sea story tournaments, but I did compete in many of the early L5R events.

I do have a decent collection of 7th Sea RPG books, the world is well realized and I liked the emphasis on adventure and story.

Dastardly:
snip

I think this needs an important *for some* distinction though. We all like to play and interact with games differently, and there are people, myself included, who think that game mechanics should inform and decide narrative. Fudging mechanics offers instantaneous gratification, the hero lives instead of dies, but it begins to cheapen the world.

The underlying issue, which I believe is the true problem from the article, isn't that narrative should trump game mechanics. It was flawed mechanics in the first place. Deciding that an entire faction all but dies based on two players is really a poor system. Likewise, this is often the crux to many gaming issues in that failure tends to be very binary nature. Some of my favorite tabletop experiences stem from what the party does after say they failed to stop the lich's ritual.

Slycne:

Dastardly:
snip

I think this needs an important *for some* distinction though. We all like to play and interact with games differently, and there are people, myself included, who think that game mechanics should inform and decide narrative. Fudging mechanics offers instantaneous gratification, the hero lives instead of dies, but it begins to cheapen the world.

Completely and totally agreed! When you have "infinite take-backsies," nothing really matters. Stakes are never really high, because consequences don't stick. The narrative loses any weight or integrity.

But...

The longer a story runs, the greater the likelihood that its narrative integrity will break down. I mean, why isn't Spider-Man 80 years old by now? How many times has Jean Grey died? But it doesn't so much matter, because these kind of comics don't sell narrative. They sell characters. Narrative is just part of the delivery method.

The same is true for CCGs. They're selling cards, not story. Story is just part of the packaging... and this article presents an example of why that is the case. Maintaining narrative integrity as a priority will mean losing some characters/cards along the way... which can fundamentally change the experience over time and drive fans away (without necessarily drawing in new ones to match).

On a long enough timeline, every story starts to decay this way. It either becomes too cyclical (Either the dead-alive-dead-alive cycle, or "dead" characters being replaced by remarkably similar "new" ones), or it morphs into a completely different story (which, while not a bad thing, is not the original story).

It's the cost of keeping a story open-ended. Sometimes writers do it because they're too attached to let a particular character go, but usually it's because no one wants to shut the door on money if people will keep paying.

In short:

1. If you're selling narrative, have an ending in mind. For something to have integrity, it needs a closed shape.

2. If you're buying a product with an open-ended narrative, prepare for the inevitable disintegration. That might mean being ready to jump ship when it jumps the shark, or it might mean loving something other than the narrative.

___________

EDIT: One more example. Let's say you've got a tabletop game going. And someone's character dies. In a short, closed-ended narrative, you might need to wait awhile before jumping back in... but in an open-ended "could go on forever" type story, that could mean one of two things:

1. You're sitting there with nothing to do for a long time, and will probably get bored and leave.
2. The GM takes back your death, thus invalidating the concept of high stakes.
3. You join back in with a different character, meaning eventually (most likely) everyone will be playing different characters, and it's no longer the game or story you started with.

Slycne:

Dastardly:
snip

I think this needs an important *for some* distinction though. We all like to play and interact with games differently, and there are people, myself included, who think that game mechanics should inform and decide narrative. Fudging mechanics offers instantaneous gratification, the hero lives instead of dies, but it begins to cheapen the world.

The underlying issue, which I believe is the true problem from the article, isn't that narrative should trump game mechanics. It was flawed mechanics in the first place. Deciding that an entire faction all but dies based on two players is really a poor system. Likewise, this is often the crux to many gaming issues in that failure tends to be very binary nature. Some of my favorite tabletop experiences stem from what the party does after say they failed to stop the lich's ritual.

This is a somewhat humorous conversation as one of the 7th Sea Roleplaying Games' more infamous rules is that nobody dies "permanently" unless it's a scripted style event or "Murder Most Foul"... if I recall correctly.

In all honesty I have very little sympathy, the players took part in a game where the factions and characters where at risk of either dying or being changed beyond recognition.

They where obviously fine when other factions got slapped with a trout, when it happened to their favorite they had a tantrum about it. What was the point in playing in the first place?

I was a L5R player back in the day (ccg and rpg) and despite what AEG did to 7th Sea I do have to give them props for trying something interesting in the ccg world. Interestingly Fear The Boot did an interview with Jim Pinto who has a few....choice thoughts on AEG.

Chased:
I nearly crapped myself when I read the title of this article, I was looking at my 7th Sea cards the other day! I remember buying them at Wizards (the company store used to be located in malls) and maybe playing the game maybe once or twice at home. The issue I had was that I was getting into the game way too late. The moment I started playing and went back to buy more cards, I discovered the game was being discontinued. It's a shame too because a lot of great artwork, time and effort was clearly poured into this game. I knew nothing of the tournament scene, so I can't really comment about that. Man, this article was a huge nostalgia trip. I thought barely anyone else on the planet knew about this CCG.

When it first launched, it was a major entry in the CCG community. The game came out, IIRC after the second major wave of CCGs in the late 90s, and actually managed to find a pretty solid user base for at least a few years.

As far as I can remember, it was doing pretty well, and was a pretty recognizable name, and then... well, I guess the above article happened. I seem to remember it breaking into the top ten for CCG sales for a year or two there, before everything turned sour.

At the time I was playing Babylon 5 pretty heavily, so I didn't really stick my head up much to see what else was out there, and after WB pulled the licensing for it, I didn't get into another game.

Nice piece.  Would be great to get an interview with the designer or some big-wig at AEG -from the horses mouth if you will- and find out what happened and why.

/mm

Michael Mifsud:
Nice piece.  Would be great to get an interview with the designer or some big-wig at AEG -from the horses mouth if you will- and find out what happened and why.

/mm

I did contact AEG prior to writing the article but unfortunately none of the people who work there now, worked there then.

Karloff:

Michael Mifsud:
Nice piece.  Would be great to get an interview with the designer or some big-wig at AEG -from the horses mouth if you will- and find out what happened and why.

/mm

I did contact AEG prior to writing the article but unfortunately none of the people who work there now, worked there then.

Agh ok. That's a shame. Good read nonetheless.

While the Gosse incident did give a blow to the franchise, I'm not sure it's the worst. It seems most people were more annoyed that Iron Shadow reprinted a lot of older and useless cards to be more useful, so people felt they had to buy things they already had. These two, in combination with the rising star of Warlord were what mostly convinced AEG to drop the game.

Doomtown was somewhat similar, only in that case, it was 7th Sea's rise in prominence that sealed its fate.

Ah, AEG, the best storylines and mechanics, the worst marketing and management...

EDIT: Ah, one thing to mention, now that I'm here, is that anyone can play 7th Sea (and Doomtown) online on OCTGN3.

http://octgn.gamersjudgement.com/game.php?id=29

I'm a Gosse player (ex) who started playing about the same time as you, and you are spot on with a lot of the sentiment I feel. There are a few things missing though.

After the loss of the Gosse, there was Iron Shadow, that acted like it was a new base set, with massive MSRP and complete (and hideous) redesign to save on printing costs. The cards lost their cool sea theme for a solid color uno-like look that helped nothing. Before people would come over and ask what that cool looking game was, but after Iron Shadow that was gone.

Additionally, rather than follow magic and L5R's example of having a complete second edition, they released it as just another set, with all previous cards still legal. One more set followed and pretty much on the release day of that set they announced it was over, just after starting a whole slew of new stories. There was an officially produced print and play set that had a new Gosse Captain in the form of Red the Adventurer, reflecting the final few stories from Dana (the head of the story team), but no amount of fan enthusiasm was enough to keep it alive for long.

I should also mention with regard to the reprints of old cards, the intent of the reprint was to make those old cards more relevant by adding additional abilities and effects (and presumably save on having to buy new art). The new versions of the cards were completely different from their originals. In particular there were a series of character attachments (or upgrades) that originally gave +1 to a stat that now had a paragraph long second ability. Too complicated to remember what that ability was if you had an older printing of the card, and with the new set, the new printings were annoyingly hard to get. It was frustration mounted on frustration when the intent was so nice.

AEG also didn't learn their lesson with this. A year or two later my group had transitioned to l5r only to see them remove the Ratling fashion in a similar manner. The real problem is AEG can't seem to keep things simple. Why have 11 7th sea factions in the first place? Of those factions, why give them each three captains and three boats making an insane number of primary game elements to balance? Of course if they keep adding factions at some point it becomes impossibly unwieldy.

 

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