Originally published at: http://gomorragazette.com/2016/04/30/playtesting-and-octgn/
by Joe James
Deck building for Doomtown: Reloaded is a complex, rewarding, and sometimes frustrating experience. I'm not sure which I like more - brewing up new decks or actually playing the darn game. Once you've settled on a deck, though, you simply cannot know how successful it will be without playtesting it. I cannot count how many times I've brewed up a great idea, only to either find a card didn't work as I thought it did, or to find out that the deck simply didn't work well at all. Playtesting is the glue between deck building and a finely tuned masterpiece.
For some folks, that simply means playing with a group of friends, or going to the local game store to test your new deck against the local gunslingers. Other folks head online to use OCTGN - the most popular computer program for Doomtown: Reloaded (among a multitude of other card games) that allows you to play with anyone in the world. Another method of testing is to maintain a list - often referred to as their gauntlet - and play test games against themselves and others using those top-tier decks that they think are most likely to show up at the next tournament.
There are pros and cons to each method:
Playing against friends gives you the advantage of a dedicated partner, or partners, in deck brewing and testing. In addition to testing against each others latest decks, each person can switch between playing their new brew and those gauntlet decks. If you get in the groove, you can crank through a bunch of games quickly and run the new deck through plenty of good testing. With this method, however, you severely limit the diversity of play styles and skill that comes with a bigger tournament. Most of us have tendencies that carry over from game to game, regardless of which deck we are playing.
Playing at the local store, depending on the size of your local Doomtown posse, can increase the diversity of play styles and strategies. If two heads are better than one, then surely many heads are better than two. If you don't intend to play in any bigger regional tournaments, these two methods will serve you well. If you plan to draw down at an Outlaw, Sheriff, or Marshal tournament then you can do more to prepare for those top-tier events.
Enter OCTGN. Playtesting on OCTGN offers two unique components that you cannot find anywhere else. The first, and most obvious, is the diversity of players and decks you will see. With a world-wide player base, there is a wide array of player skill, play styles, and decks. The currently in-progress third Doomtown OCTGN league has over two dozen entrants representing more than half a dozen countries and many US states. You will not find a better arena of competitive players and decks.
The second unique component of playtesting on OCTGN is what originally drew me to it when I first discovered it: incredibly efficient self-playtesting. I used to play Magic: the Gathering competitively, and while I had plenty of friends who played the game, none of them were interested in the bigger regional tournaments. I used a program called Magic Workstation. After downloading all the top tier decks, I would playtest my unique, "against the grain" decks.
Once I got into Doomtown, I found OCTGN was the perfect equivalent of Magic Workstation. While I own a playset of every released Doomtown card, there is no more efficient way to self playtest. If you are new to the program, some things might seem a little more burdensome (like shootouts), but after a little practice you will find nearly every aspect of the game will be sped up compared to traditional playtesting with physical cards. How long does it take you or your friend to whip up one of those top tier decks to test against? If you maintain a gauntlet list on dtdb.co, you can have that deck exported and loaded into OCTGN in five seconds or less. Shuffling is instantaneous, and it will even automatically shuffle your discard pile into your deck when your deck is empty and you need to draw a card. The list goes on and on, but suffice to say that OCTGN swiftly automates nearly everything you need to do.
Whether you are preparing for that next big tournament, or simply want to improve as a player, these playtesting methods will provide you with a broader knowledge of different cards, interactions, and strategies. You will have more confidence and experience playing against a wide range of decks. Most importantly, you will find out if that crazy gadget deck will actually work! (Rest in peace, Plasma Drill deck... you will not be missed)
If you have jumped on board the self playtesting wagon, whether or not you use OCTGN, here are some things I have learned:
-As with most games of Doomtown, you will come across very tough decisions, both for your test deck and the gauntlet deck you are testing against. If you need to make a decision for the gauntlet deck, always, always, make the decision that is worse for your test deck. There is no point in testing against an opponent that makes the worse of two decisions - any skilled player can beat someone who makes mistakes, regardless of what decks are on each side. It may be tempting to think "I doubt anyone would see this coming, we'll have this deck walk into this trap", but experienced players only need to see your starting line up, your home, and a few cards in your discard pile to know exactly what they are likely to come across. Testing against an opponent who makes mistakes is poor testing, and will not be a good example match for your deck if you intend to play in bigger tournaments. Once in awhile those test games will end with "well, if my opponent makes a certain decision, he wins, and if he doesn't, I would win." That is a fine place to end, and gives a good idea of how the deck would do.
-Likewise, when you have to make hard decisions for your test deck, try to be as objective as possible. Naturally, you can see both hands so you know whether or not they have a cheain' resolution, for example. Try your best to pretend you don't know what they have, and do what you think you would truly do if you were in the same position at the tournament.
-If possible, try to get experience playing against each type of deck in your gauntlet. Sometimes there are strategies that a deck employs that are not obvious upon seeing a deck list. If you can see a skilled player in action, you will have a good idea of how to play that deck against your own in testing. Sometimes this is not always possible, but you will also be able to learn a lot from reading a tournament report or a deck description on dtdb. That information can help immensely in playtesting, whether you are self playtesting or testing against a friend.
-Along those same lines, try to play as each deck in your gauntlet at least a few times against other people. Not only will you have a better idea of how to play it against your own deck, you will have the experience and knowledge of how to beat that deck the next time you come across it.
Self Playtesting on OCTGN
With a full time job, wife, and kids, there is not a lot of leftover time in the day. Maximize your OCTGN time with these tips. Technically you do not even need an account to self playtest on OCTGN. Simply open the program, and click on the 'Play or Spectate' tab. Click the green 'Start' button. If you are not signed in, it defaults to 'Host Game on LAN'. If you are signed in, check that box. This ensures that the game only appears on your home network, while if it remains unchecked it becomes available to everyone over the internet.
Now open OCTGN again, and when it says 'another instance is running, would you like to close it?' simply click No. Click on the 'Play or Spectate' again, and you'll see the game available to join. Hop in, and start playtesting!
There is no limit to the number of OCTGN instances you can have running. If you are online and looking to play a game with someone, you can open two more instances of OCTGN without logging in and start playtesting while you wait for someone to join your game.
For more information on how to install and play OCTGN, see the guide on dtdb:
Donations Make the World Go Round
Finally, if you are like me and you use either dtdb.co or OCTGN, consider giving a few bucks to help keep these awesome tools running and updated. Platypus and dbzero do this purely voluntarily. Even a small donation will go a long ways in showing support and appreciation for the work that they do.
I recently had the good fortune of playing in an OP tournament for kit #6 and winning. I now have that beautiful Xui Yin Chen playmat, and to put my money where my mouth is I am auctioning the playmat on eBay. 100% of the winning bid will be split evenly between donations to dtdb.co and dbzero's patreon:
I encourage y'all to give to support these fine programs and their creators. If you want that sweet, sweet playmat, and want to give back at the same time, see my posting on ebay (live through May 8, 2016):