Thinking back about Triple Triad (referred to as TT from here on) I’ve broken down four key points that I feel are most important to its success as a minigame:
– Simple rules
– Optional, but fleshed out
– Card game feel
– Card Value & High stakes gameplay
Now I would like to take a look at Tetra Master (referred to as TM from here on) to see how it failed an all four points.
The first problem players will run into. TM is a much more complicated game, and therefore requires more explanation on how to play. This problem is exacerbated by inadequate rules explanation within the game.
The basics are fairly simple, each player chooses 5 cards and then places them onto a 4×4 grid attempting to capture each other’s cards. On the grid usually about 5 spaces will be blocked out randomly at the start of the match, leaving 11 coordinates to be used. This system actually fixes one of my issues with TT, namely the 2nd player advantage. There are now more than enough spaces on the board for each player to place all their cards. There is even usually at least 1 left over the last card to still have options for placement.
There are two methods to capture an opponent’s card: place your card so its arrows point at your opponent’s card without an arrow pointing back, or if there is an arrow pointing back you will initiate card combat. The first method is very simple and intuitive, not requiring additional explanation. Card battles are where the rules become obscure.
To help understand the card battles you must be familiar with the stats along the bottom of the card. The first number is their power, the character is their combat style (P for physical, M for magical, X for flexible, A for assault), the next two represent physical and magical defense respectively. The general rule of thumb is that if your character has P for physical attack, use it against cards with low physical defense. Once combat is initiated each card will generate a random number based on their scores (higher scores generate higher numbers). Then each card subtracts a random amount from this number, which can reduce the score to 0. The card with the higher number wins the combat. If you capture an opponent’s card through combat, it will then combo and capture other enemy cards that its arrows point at.
While confusing, the rules do add an interesting element of risk vs reward. A normal arrow capture is relatively safe and consistent. Combat captures are higher risk, but can lead to large rewards. This also means that while more arrows initially seems better, they can also lead to very punishing capture combos if their combat stats are low. It should also be mentioned that the RNG on card combat has very high variance and it is entirely possible for very low rank cards to capture high ranked ones, just not likely. Overall I do feel that this ruleset allows for more possibilities and gives more options for the player to think about. It also allows for player to attempt to pursue a strategy with their card selections, for example choosing a low stat high arrow card to try and build chains off of.
For a more detailed explanation of combat mathematics please check here: http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Tetra_Master_(minigame)
Optional, but fleshed out
TT had a number of different side quests to pursue, while TM has none outside of its own gameplay. Despite this you are actually required to play TM at a certain point to progress in the main FF9 plot. This is strange as there is no other main game benefit to playing TM throughout the rest of the game. This required gameplay is also framed as a tournament, which would have been a fun sidequest for card game players.
Card game feel
This part is more due to my personal preference. What I like about cards is that when you have 2 copies of the same card, they are the same. Each standard deck has a 2 of hearts and we all know what that means depending on the context of the game we are playing. Within Magic the gathering, a Lightning Bolt always deals 3 damage. Even in TT a Cactuar always has 6/2/6/3. But within your first set of Tetra Master cards you will have 2 goblins with different arrow configurations. TM cards also have a chance to “power up” after a match. These are things that real cards do not do. Plus, the combat requires a computer to quickly calculate the results of in order to keep the gameplay moving. My main point is that with TT you could very easily see it as a real game and play it at home (hell just make your own!). With TM that doesn’t seem possible, at least not with lots and lots of rules changes.
Card Value & High stakes gameplay
Cards in TM have no use outside of playing more TM. Unless you have a lot of vested interest in continuing to play more TM, gaining or losing cards is probably not going to cause much of an emotional reaction. Despite the other problems the game had, I believe that if the cards had some kind of additional value it still would have retained its appeal (outside of the single ring you can acquire from the tournament). This could have taken the form of converting cards to items, or possibly even just being able to bet gil on matches.
Coming from FF8’s TT, TM is a very disappointing game. While in some ways the rule set is more fair and more interesting, it still isn’t that fun in and of itself. The biggest loss to the formula of its predecessor is the removal of extrinsic value on cards. Playing Tetra Master is both pointless and boring.