Monday, December 11, 2017

Greenery

I played Terraforming Mars for the first time a little while ago and I have been mulling over my feelings on the game.  It is a competitive board game with a vaguely cooperative theme in that everyone is trying to terraform Mars as quickly as possible and the ones who do that the best win the game.

The game combines a grid of hexes representing Mars upon which everyone makes cities, lakes, and forests with a system of drafting and playing cards.  The cards have a lot going on, in that they can cost temporary resources or reduce your income, and they can generate temporary resources or permanently increase income.  There are lots of kinds of resources and income too, and also the cards have lots of symbols on them that interact with other cards.  Thankfully the design of the cards is really well done and with minimal practice you can easily figure out what each card does.

The cards seem largely well built, both in graphic design and balance.  I am not anywhere good enough at the game to make proper evaluations but my first pass was a favourable one for sure.  You can play a balanced game looking for all the best deals at a given moment or you can really go all in on one strategy and hope to cash in on the cards that reward the particular thing you are doing.

One thing I found really odd was that the main way of getting points was linked to income.  If you get a point, you also get a buck every round.  This worried me initially because it seemed like anyone who did well at the beginning would just steamroll their way to victory but there are ways to score points that don't increase income and ways to raise or lower your income without getting points, so it didn't end up being a problem.  In most games you end up either building your engine or generating points and you have to figure out when it is time to stop creating infrastructure and just start making points as the game closes down, but in Terraforming Mars you often end up just doing both at the same time. 

The game does have other ways of generating tipping points though because there are three good ways to score points that have a fixed number of them that can be cashed in.  When there are ten temperature bumps left to go nobody cares much but when you get down to the last few suddenly everyone scrambles to get their temperature bumps in before the opportunity to score off of them vanishes.

The theme of the game is well done.  For example, as terraforming proceeds the oxygen % goes up, and that means that eventually you can build cities without domes.  However, once the oxygen gets high enough you can't build a city with a dome anymore because nobody wants to live in a domed city when the air outside is breathable.  The cards reflect these sorts of things effectively and the themes feel like they tie into the mechanics in immersive and enjoyable ways.

There is one thing about the game that I don't much like though, and that is the number of cards that punish a player of your choice when you play them.  Throughout the game people would draw cards that could do something bad and then they would have to pick which person to hurt.  I don't like that mechanic in Lords of Waterdeep and it isn't any better here.  I like mechanics where you can play against another person's strategy, but cards that simply say "Pick who gets screwed" are not fun for me.  This is pretty much the only catch up mechanism in the game so I imagine with excellent players it would usually mean that the player in the lead gets beat up, but that kind of mechanic usually means that the players in last place end up kingmaking (when people are good) or people end up punishing the person they don't like (when people are bad at the game).  Neither is fun.

Overall I think the designers of the game did a great job.  The game looks slick, the information is presented effectively, and the theme is well integrated into the mechanics.  I like the way new players can be handed a faction that gives them a simple starting situation that is balanced, and I the replayability looks good.  But that card mechanic of "Pick who gets screwed" .... I don't like it.  I will play the game more times for sure to figure out what I think of it, but overall I expect it is a game I will continue to enjoy despite that one significant drawback.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A shiny new 7

In the old days of hearthstone Dr. Boom reigned supreme in the 7 slot.  He dropped 9/9 worth of stats onto the board and his boom bots would randomly blow up enemies for 1-4 damage when they died, so he combined a massive pile of stats with extra effect.  Dr. 7 saw play in every kind of deck because he was a great finisher for an aggressive deck and a great stabilizer for a controlling deck.  In fact this was one of the real problems with Boom - everyone wanted to play him.


A neutral card with immense value and which was good in all kinds of decks - many people saw the good doctor as a real problem.  Fast foward to 2017, and there is a new doctor in town, with many similar issues.

Bonemare is a neutral 7 drop that puts 9/9 worth of stats on the board.  Those stats also have extra goodness because 4/4 of those stats can attack right away.  Very similar to Dr. Boom in many ways.  The thing that makes Bonemare just not as good as Dr. Boom is that it requires a minion in play to work.  That isn't a big ask, but it is something.  Dr. Boom can be slammed down in almost any situation and be good while Bonemare can be a weak draw if there is a clear boardstate.  Pretty much the only time you draw Dr. Boom and sigh is when you are going to be killed before your next turn.

I got a couple of Bonemares in a draft deck I was playing and it was an absurdity.  If I got to turn 7 with anything in play I just won by slamming Bonemare after Bonemare.  In talking to people about it there was a clear sentiment that Bonemare is a problem.  I think Bonemare's problem is different than Boom's, though, simply because of rarity.

In Constructed play both cards saw a lot of use, but Bonemare wasn't unfair, just really good.  It is actually a good thing to my mind to have a common that is a powerful late game card.  Beginners often feel shoehorned into aggressive decks because they simply don't have access to the expensive legendary minions required for a late game and Bonemare gives them an out.  Bonemare is common and provides a thing for people with limited collections to do in the late game, and I like that. 

When drafting Arena decks though Bonemare is a disaster.  Dr. Boom was absurd in Arena but at least you hardly ever saw him so it wasn't such an issue.  Having Bonemare in the common slot often means that you may have to face down multiples of them and there is often nothing you can do to play around that raw power.  They just make too much stuff too efficiently and leave no realistic counterplay.  When you have a deck with normal late game cards in it and you go up against one that has multiple Bonemares you simply have to win by turn 6 or accept that you are getting blown out.  I am not a fan of that as a common thing, and right now it is a common thing.

Well, up until this week it was a common thing.  Now that the new Kobolds and Catacombs expansion is out the extra appearance bonus for Bonemare is gone and it should go back to being something you see on occasion instead of something you see constantly.  That is better for Arena, certainly, as Bonemare is just too far above the power curve.  However, Bonemare is going to continue to let people with few resources have a power play in the late game in Constructed, which is a thing I like.

Overall I think Bonemare will be a positive contribution to the game.  It mucked up Arena drafting a lot for 4 months but it will be in Standard Constructed for 16 months and I like what it has done for deck building.  It surprised me honestly to see just how powerful Bonemare was, and I think it surprised a lot of other people too.  Now we know - 9/9 for 7 mana with extras is superb.  I should write that down somewhere.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Once again, here I am

This season of Blood Bowl ended very much like the previous season did.  I went up against Umbra's orcs with my dwarves in the semi final, and I lost.  In both cases my dwarf team was reasonably developed but the orcs had a far higher team value and could clearly beat my team up and down the field quite effortlessly.

I find bash on bash matchups like this where one team is vastly ahead not much fun honestly.  When you are a dodgy team you have a lot more options to try to make plays against a more powerful bash team but when the opponent has just as much Guard and Mighty Blow as you do but also has seven more Strength... it just feels absurd.

Still, I gave it a go.  I was feeling really off before the game, distracted mightily by things outside Blood Bowl.  It showed in my play and I didn't give Umbra the run for his money that I had hoped.

With my giant pile of inducement money I bought a chainsaw and a bombardier Star Player and also a wizard.  I hoped that I could chop his team down to size in the early going.  I did injure a dude with the bombardier but the enemy apothecary fixed him.  I must say, throwing bombs at the enemies each turn is a hell of a lot of fun, even if it isn't necessarily that good.

In any case I tried to leverage my start players to inflict some hurt but the orcs managed to score early and clear them both off of the field.  I had a plan to stop the TD but the loner dwarf I was forced to bring to the match rolled snake eyes and knocked himself down at a critical moment.  In fact this happened twice that the first roll I made on a turn was a 2 die block and my dude fell down - even if the teams had been even that would be enough to lose me the game.

I tried to answer with a touchdown of my own in the first half but couldn't make it happen.  That same loner dwarf who screwed up the defence also managed to fumble the ball and cost me my touchdown on the backswing - that guy is not getting hired by my team!

The second half went even worse than the first.  The orcs pounded my team to bits, and I made a desperate attempt to run around them to score but got stymied, my blocks amounting to nothing.  By turn 12 I had only four dwarves left on the field and three of those were down.  Frustrated, I conceded the match to get out of it without anyone else getting injured.

That concession was wrong.  With three dwarves down I should have just passed the turn, let Umbra foul me brutally, and hope that my dudes wouldn't accrue any lasting injuries.  I would only have to cope with 3 fouls and a knockdown, I think, and even though I could easily get dudes killed that way it would have been worth the risk to get the cash and experience from finishing off the match.

In any case Umbra bashed the hell out of my team and ended my playoff run.  Funnily enough I think I actually have a better shot at winning the finals than he does, because he goes on to face an elf team.  I have better ball carrying, way more Tackle, and a much lower team value than Umbra does.  The elves will get a wizard and all kinds of other goodies against him and I think he rates to lose in the finals.  I don't know that I am favoured to win by any means but I think I rate to do better.

Next season I am starting with a 10 dwarf roster and only 20k in the bank.  I need 70k just to get my full team, never mind needing to get a 12th player to have a bench.  Plus I have to fire and replace my blitzer who has a niggling injury once I accumulate enough cash to do that.  Next year will definitely be a rebuilding year.  Maybe I can reverse my fortunes - last season I kept setting fire to all my cash because the dwarves were so healthy and then hit a massive rash of injuries and deaths near the end that ruined me.  Perhaps the coming year can begin with money problems and an injured lineup and end with me flush and sporting a bunch of dwarves ready to rumble.

We can only hope that the dice will provide.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The old days are back

Blizzard announced a little while ago that they are bringing back classic World of Warcraft.  They are going to be launching servers that will be running vanilla WOW so everyone can experience the game that dominates the industry like it was when nobody knew anything.

Most of the interest in this is purely nostalgia, I think.  People have been calling for vanilla WOW servers forever and it looks to me like those calls are mostly people trying to recapture the magic of the good ole days.

I love those ole days.  I have such amazing memories of raiding back in the beginning, of exploration, of losing myself in an online world.  There are no end of friends that I felt so close to and then lost when we no longer had the game to keep us together.  But let's get real:  I can't have those days back.  Doesn't matter what WOW looks like, doesn't matter what version they are running.  I can't be childless, mid 20s, and seeing an MMO for the first time.  Nobody can give that back to me.

There are some things that Blizzard can do that would attract me to WOW classic though.  Some of the things I call for in the game are things that I remember from the early days.  For example, I love challenging monsters.  I remember having to carefully pull one mob at a time because if two came at me it was bad but if three came at once I would die.  I remember not having a quest system that highlighted my map, so practice and knowledge really came home.  These are things I would enjoy about classic WOW.

But man there are so many incredibly shitty things about it.  Whole specs and talent trees that were complete rubbish really bogged the game down.  You could be a feral druid, except that was worse than just being a regular druid who hit things with a staff and cast moonfire every 9 seconds.  One spell every 9 seconds!  Optimal damage rotation! 

But there is more.  How about boss enemies designed to be attacked by 40 players that could only have 8 debuffs on them at once, when one class was designated a debuff class that needed to cast lots of debuffs to be even remotely good?

How about parties being designed around having 1 tank, 1 healer, and 3 damage dealers, but only 1 class of the 8 classes in the game having the basic toolkit required to tank?  So basically the game is mostly sitting around waiting for a warrior to show up because no one else can do that thing that you absolutely need somebody to do?

I remember a long quest chain that took me a full day to do and cost a ton of money to finish.  I finally got to the end and the reward was a green shoulder piece with Spirit and Agility.  Nobody in the entire game wants Spirit and Agility, so I sold it for a few silver pieces and was offended.  I would have been okay with just finishing the quest chain for no reward, or okay with a good reward, but that piece of trash that is useless to absolutely everyone was just an insult.

If Blizzard actually made vanilla WOW servers that brought back the brutal open world content, slow levelling, higher difficulty level, and other things that I remember happily from vanilla WOW I would be interested.  But there is so much complete garbage tied up in there I can't see them actually producing something I want to play, or something most others want to play.

There are things Blizzard could do to convince me to play this vanilla WOW experiment, but I doubt very much that they will do those things.  They are catering to nostalgia, not trying to reinvent the wheel.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shambling across the finish line

This past week I had my Blood Bowl quarterfinal match.  I went in with a full 12 player roster and 130k in the bank, which is a strong situation.  I am playing dwarves while my opponent was running Chaos dwarves.  The classic good vs. evil slugathon!

I knew going in that the best way to support the team long term was to save my cash, and be conservative with my use of the apothecary.  The opposing team had a dwarf with Claw/MightyBlow, and that is dangerous.  Best to play it safe.

I also knew that I wanted to win that damn trophy and that you don't win trophies by sitting back and taking it easy!

I decided to just go for it.  I blew my entire bankroll buying a wizard, which worked out because my opponent was 20 Team Value above me.

So going into this game you would definitely expect me to win because our teams were solidly matched but I had a wizard to swing fortune my way.  My opponent had better bashing though, so you would expect my team to get hurt more.

Those expectations would be right.

I received the ball and began the slow process of pushing the enemy team down the field.  I knocked an awful lot of enemy dwarves over but just couldn't land any injuries.  My opponent began to whittle my forces down, and early on I took a 'miss next game' injury.

Decision point.  If I apothecary this, I have a good chance to run a full team for my next game, and have a better second half.  But if I save the apothecary I can potentially mitigate a worse result later.

I went for broke and saved the injured dwarf.

This was a disaster as by the end of the game I had a good lineman at level 3 die, and my best dude at level 5 took a niggling injury.  Catastrophe!

But although my opponent had great luck in injuring my dudes he had much worse luck in actually playing football.  I managed to keep control of the game, despite my losses, and scored at the end of the first half.  I started the second half down several players and things looked grim, but then I dropped my wizard's fireball on four enemy players and all four lost their coin flip and fell down.  I went from thinking that we were a sure thing to go to overtime where I would continue to get murdered to me cruising to victory in a single moment.  I grabbed the ball and ran off to score again, going up 2-0, which in dwarf vs. dwarf matchups might as well be infinity-0.

After kicking again I ran my team away from the opponent and let him score at will.  Being dwarves he only managed a single touchdown and I won 2-1.

I got really lucky on the fireball.  I also got lucky that my opponent's minotaur knocked himself down as the first play of a turn, and failed to stand up for multiple turns in a row.  Basically I lucked out on winning the game, and my opponent lucked out on murdering my dudes.

So I advance to the semi finals against a team that is 440 TV ahead of me because of my injuries, and my last opponent gets to take his healthy team and wait for next season.

I even managed to roll a 1 for money at the end of the game so I can't replace my dead dwarves, and might not even be able to replace them after another game!  I went all in, and got my win, but I sure didn't end up looking like a contender for first place.

Still, even if the expected thing happens and I get butchered in the semi, at least I made the semi finals twice out of two seasons in the league.  That is a decent showing.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Bad Doctor

I had my last Blood Bowl game of the regular season this week.  I had a choice to make ahead of time: Concede, and squeak into the playoffs with a strong team, no injuries, and lots of cash, OR play the game out and hope to get experience and not get my dudes injured.

I chose to play, because the dwarfs want to snap some necks!

It was the wrong choice.

I was up against a Nurgle team that wasn't even fielding a full roster of players and which was 400 Team Value under me.  That should have made it an easy game, but things didn't work out that way.  My opponent used that money to get a Bribe, a Wizard, and a Star Player that has a chainsaw.  The chainsaw is really swingy and can easily kill itself or opposing players, but since my opponent was retiring the team after the game he didn't care - he just wanted to hurt me as bad as possible.

The basic problem I had was that the chainsaw smashed through my team.  I knocked that player down multiple times but he just kept on getting back up, and after the second knockdown he jumped up and killed my best Troll Slayer. 

No problem though, because my team has a doctor.  The doctor tried to help the injured dwarf but ended up breaking his neck instead so he was a loss in any case.  After 21 games with the team the doctor has tried 4 times to save a dwarf from death and in every single case has botched the job and the dwarf ended up getting terribly injured and then retired anyway.

Stupid doctors.

In the first half I received the ball and slowly pushed it upfield.  I lost a dwarf to the aforementioned death but then finally scored near the end of the half and made it to halftime up 1-0.  However, in the second half my opponent kept on removing dwarves and used his wizard effectively to fireball 4 dwarves and he managed to score on the second last turn.  I was fielding only 8 dwarves at this point and only had one runner so my chances to score in 2 turns were bleak, at best.  As expected I could not manage the score and ended up in a 1-1 draw.

Now I did replace my Troll Slayer with a fresh one but the old player had three levels and the new one has none.  Dwarves are pretty good right out of the box though so my new player isn't a huge liability but my team definitely took a significant hit.

I have to go up against Chaos Dwarves in the first stage of the playoffs and this will definitely be a grindy matchup.  We are going to get into a dwarf punch showdown, and unfortunately I just lost a copy of both Guard and Mighty Blow with my dude dying so my winningness is much lower than it would have been if I had just conceded.

The really scary thing is the orc team from last season that knocked me out is still there and they have levelled up a bunch, especially compared to me.  If I go up against them I doubt I will have much of a chance - they have too much strength for me to dominate the field and I can't move well enough to just zip around them.

I think my chances of advancing in this round are pretty good, but my chances of winning the playoffs seems remote.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Come level with me

Recently Blizzard announced the lastest WOW expansion and some of the details really tickled my fancy.  The basic concept of an expansion focused around Alliance / Horde conflict is kind of meh, as I don't much care, but admittedly it is pretty hard to top the previous expansion where heroes basically went and killed Satan himself.  Once you do that, you really might as well go to war with each other, right?

The thing that caught my attention though was the revamping of levelling throughout WOW.  The old world will be changed so that all zones now level up with the player, though each zone will have a minimum and maximum level.  Noob zones will be 1-10, the rest of the old world is 10-60, Burning Crusade and Northrend are 60-80, Pandaria and Cataclysm are 80-90, and I assume the rest is being left as it is.

Right now if you are levelling you will find that you constantly outlevel zones so by the time you finish all the storyline the monsters are trivial and everything is a bore.  Plus if you are in the middle of a zone and you do some dungeons you can't go back to the zone because nothing gives experience anymore.

Also heirloom items that you hand off to your low level characters wreck the game.  They give bonus experience so they exacerbate the problems I have described above.  Gaining more experience faster actually makes the game *worse*.

As a consequence the levelling game sucks.

But when the zones level up with you this problem goes away.  Suddenly you can take breaks from a zone and do other stuff or level professions or run dungeons and then get right back to it and the zone will be a challenge and give meaningful rewards.  You can do whatever zone strikes your fancy instead of having to travel halfway across the world to find an appropriate place to be a hero.  You can follow all the storylines if you want and they won't end up being worthless or trivial. 

I LOVE IT.

I haven't wanted to level a new character in a long time but these changes are making me think about doing it again.

I do have one request though:  Make it hard.  All of these changes will be good but the levelling game right now is so trivial that it is hard to be engaged with it.  Make the monsters tough!  Let us die if we screw up.  People who don't like levelling get a free max level bonus with every expansion anyway so it hardly even matters.... just let the people who truly enjoy levelling actually have a gaming experience instead of a time passing experience.

Heck, if making the game have any challenge is out of the question then give us a hardmode.  Put an NPC in major cities that we can talk to that will make all monsters in flexible levelling zones +3 levels on us and give 25% more experience or something.  The zones will suddenly feel hard and we will have to be careful and I will *totally* do that.  The noobs can still have their mindless grind and the people who want everything to be challenging all the time can do that too.

You are doing a good thing here Blizzard.  And I know, years ago I would have told you that this idea wrecks immersion and feels bad and blah blah blah.  I was wrong.  Zones scaling with the character is the right way to be.  So do it, but please make sure that crusty old veterans like me can have our old school challenge back.  I want to plan.  I want to think.  I want to worry.  And when I fail to do these things, I want to die.

Make it happen, and I will go back to the World of Warcraft.  In 2005 I levelled up and hunter called Bluecape with his trusty wolf friend Ahortes.  It was challenging, and fun, and glorious.  Give me that again, and I will once again entrust you with my addiction.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Makin' the playoffs

In Blood Bowl this week I faced off against Fur Plus Death, a Necromantic team.  The FPD have the highest team value in the league and had killed a ton of players on other teams.  The team sported a normally statted out Necro lineup but had two Werewolves with Claw, Block, Mighty Blow, Frenzy.  They are super fast so they can hit whoever they want and they absolutely murder people, as the rest of the league can attest.

I had hoped to be able to buy a wizard because of FPD's big Team Value but the coach trimmed some zombies off the roster just before the game so we ended up with my inducing a 10k star player (Barik Longblast) and no other inducements.

I received the kickoff and began the slow, inevitable march up the field that is the dwarf game plan.  Things got a bit exciting as my opponent got the kick deep, right on my goal line, but I recovered and got the ball safely into my cage.  In the early going one of the Werewolves went after a lineman of mine and killed him - the apothecary managed to turn it into a -Str injury, so that lineman is still alive but is getting fired immediately due to being terrible.  He had one skill, so this hurts my team a little, but no big deal.

Due to my massive edge in Guard, Block, and Mighty Blow I took control of the brawl and punched the opponents into submission.  My Star Player spent his time firing his cannon into fallen enemies, and his relentless fouling killed one Werewolf but it regenerated and was waiting in the dugout for another shot at my dudes.  By the end of the half I had the board completely under control but had only removed one Wight permanently.  I scored and went into the second half up 1-0.

We both fielded 11 players for the second half, with my opponent putting in a zombie instead of his injured Wight, and me fielding a regular lineman instead of one with Guard.  Not that much damage either way, though I did get the better of that trade.

In the second half my opponent had couple of early turnovers due to failing to pick up the ball and knocking his own dude down on a block but neither really was a big problem.  The turning point came when I dropped a -Str injury on his Flesh Golem and completely opened up the board for myself.  Without the second Golem to lock up dwarves I was able to start beating up his team and putting pressure on the ball. 

Facing down an implacable wall of dwarves my opponent came up with a gambit - he rushed the ball to the sideline and tried to get a quick score.  Dwarves aren't good at defending such things, being slow and all, but I had just enough dudes to surround his advance and pin them in.  Once they were pinned against the sideline I knocked a couple dudes out of bounds, grabbed the ball, and the game was over.  There were still turns left but with me having the ball, a significant numbers advantage, and no need to actually score to win the game my opponent conceded and just left his players lying where they were.  I ran out the clock and then scored on turn 16 to go up 2-0.

I got 17 experience for the game and lost a dude with 16 experience.  Unfortunately the experience gain did not net me anything so I am slightly weaker for the next game.  I am however locked into the playoffs now, being guaranteed second or third in my division.  FPD might tie me in overall points on the season in their next game if they win and I lose but I won our showdown so I get the tiebreaker advantage.

I could simply concede my next game if I wanted to and still get into the playoffs.  The team I am up against is Ziggyny's Nurgle team, which is 390 Team Value below mine.  That advantage is massive, and I think I am hugely favoured to win.  In bash vs. bash matchups that much Team Value is *really* hard to overcome.  He could easily kill some of my dudes, but I could also rack up some experience if things go my way.

I like the idea of playing.  I want to bash things!  That said, I think a smart player aiming to go for the best possible setup for the playoffs would concede in my spot to make sure to go in with a full team and a full bankroll.  I am more bloodthirsty than smart though, so I figure to get my bash on.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Toad

Recently the Naked Man pointed out the spell Banishment to me and asked for my opinion on whether or not it is broken.  In 5th edition DnD Banishment is a spell that grants a saving throw and requires concentration to maintain, but while it lasts the target is removed from the world.  Just gone.  This is potentially useful to run away from a single powerful enemy, but most powerful in a fight where a single enemy makes up about half of the opposing forces.  If you have two giants to fight and you banish one of them until the other is dead, you are going to win.

That seems pretty powerful to me.  It isn't always useful but unlike most crowd control spells the target doesn't get a new save every round, they just have to suck it up.  I don't think crowd control spells are much good at lower levels because of this restriction.  That is a fine design though because honestly paralyzing people and then butchering them isn't that much fun really, and it is far worse when the characters have to sit out an entire fight on the basis of one save.

Banishment requires something the target hates as an ingredient and some people seem to like the idea of making that a real pain in the ass.  Force characters to find a particular item that has significance to the target in order to cast Banishment and suddenly the spell goes from really powerful to completely worthless most of the time.  Trouble is if you do this then it will feel terrible when the characters spend five sessions finding the single item that the evil wizard hates, and then the evil wizard just makes the saving throw and the Banishment is irrelevant.

I don't like that rule much.  It has some flavour going for it but it definitely encourages people to take forever doing everything and just isn't enough payoff at the end.  The spell just doesn't warrant that big a nerf.

You know what does warrant a huge nerf though?  Polymorph.  Both spells are 4th level but Polymorph is completely bonkers.  You can turn your opponents into sheep, effectively negating them the same way Banishment does, but you can use it for all kinds of other things too.  Your rogue is beat up and low on HP?  Turn them into a Giant Ape and watch them do way more damage than before and have a massive HP pool to soak damage.  Need to cross a chasm?  Polymorph yourself into a giant eagle and ferry the party across.  Need to swim?   Turn into a dolphin.  The spell has so many uses that it would be a great pick even if the combat applications were only so-so.

But instead Polymorph is a fantastic single target crowd control spell and a powerful buff in one.  It effectively gives wizards a monster sized heal that is, admittedly, difficult to control.  Add that to the noncombat effectiveness it has and you have a totally absurd spell.  Banishment just doesn't stack up, even though it is slightly better at getting rid of a single enemy for a long duration because of the difficulty of dispelling it.

I remember Polymorph Other and Polymorph Self from earlier editions and those were usually completely bonkers too.  In 3rd edition I recall turning into a Stone Giant to take advantage of their amazing physical stats and natural armour, and while the 5th edition version is less broken it is still a problem.

One issue I do have with the system is the way saving throws scale.  5th edition wanted to keep numbers flat explicitly and that generally is a good way to go.  However, one issue with this is impressing people with magic.  If a peasant doesn't believe that you are dangerous you can Fireball them and wipe out a whole room full of people no problem.  But if you want to turn them into a sheep?  They save a good portion of the time.  We actually had this come up in our recent session where we tried to intimidate people and it failed because they just saved against our crowd control spells. 

It feels like maybe crowd control spells should have notes in them that against people of sufficiently low HP they just work, no save.  Polymorphing a giant should be hard, but doing so to a 5 HP peasant should be trivial.  Heck, it might be better to move most or all CC effects to a HP based system like that.  It shouldn't much matter against serious fights but it would make things feel better against mooks and townsfolk I think.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I like my learning with curves

This week in Blood Bowl action it was all about dwarves fighting dwarves.  Slow, smelly, tough, and clumsy, it figured to be a slugfest from start to finish.  It was a contest between the upright, lawful, and admirable Cutiest Pies regular dwarves piloted by yours truly and the fiendish and corrupt 2 Bulls, 1 Ball Chaos Dwarf team.

On the other hand these are Blood Bowl players so probably both teams are evil bastards, it is just that one team likes to use Claws to cheat a little.

I had a lead on the opponent in terms of Team Value so he got a wizard, which is a huge advantage in a game where somebody likely wins 1-0 or 2-1.  Stopping a touchdown can easily be a win.  However, the cost of this is that I had a better team and could easily dominate the brawl in the middle of the field.

I had to kick to him and he quickly got the ball, taking some big risks to get it into the hands of one of his Bull Centaurs.  They are both strong and fast and pretty much define the Chaos Dwarf team.  He ran his Bull Centaur across the goal line and scored on turn 4 giving me 5 turns to return the favour.

The kick back to me was a Blitz, and I had prepared terribly for that eventuality.  It was a near thing for him to just grab the ball again and score, but I got ahold of it and gained control of the match.  I ran my runners down the field with the ball while my brawlers punched his team around but I had to contend with a Bull Centaur chasing them down trying to get the ball back.

This is where the story takes a meta turn.  My opponent wanted to blitz my ball carrier and smack the ball away but he started moving before clicking Blitz, so while his Bull Centaur could wander about it couldn't attack.  This is really frustrating - it sucks to have a UI issue swing the game.  Halfway through his movement he realized the problem so he used his wizard to knock down my ball carrier and pop the ball loose, intending to continue running over and scoop it up himself.

But using your wizard ends your turn.  So he knocked over my ball carrier, went to continue taking actions, and realized it was my turn because once you click the wizard, the game ends your turn.


He was pissed.  Two possible ways to stop my TD were at hand, and one was lost due to the UI, and the other due to not knowing the rules fully.

I get it.  I lost a game on the back of not knowing how the wizard works early on in my Blood Bowl career and it *sucks* to have a valuable resource lost to no real effect.  That is a really shitty feeling.

In any case although my ball carrier was knocked over by the wizard there weren't any enemy players nearby to capitalize so I grabbed the ball again and ran in for a TD, tying up the game at 1-1.  My opponent tried to set up a 2 turn TD to regain the advantage but couldn't manage a throwing game with Chaos Dwarves - no surprise there.  However, I managed to knock 3 of his players off of the pitch before halftime was called and none of them made it back.

Starting the second half I was up 8 players to 11, which is a really serious advantage.  There isn't much to say about the rest of the game, because I got the ball and with my numbers advantage I punched him around the field with little difficulty.  I pushed a Bull Centaur into the crowd and slowly wore his team down to guarantee my win.  With my team being up 3 players and having more skills the second half was just a safe, careful grind to a 2-1 victory for me.

I like winning, but I don't like winning like that.  In a board game you can let people take back moves when they don't realize the rules, but in a computer game you are pretty much stuck.  Even if he knew the rules exactly I still had good chances to win but this kind of thing is pretty devastating, no doubt about that.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reversal of fortune

My Blood Bowl game this week was a weird one.  Looking at the final result things seem pretty normal as it was a game of dwarves vs. wood elves and it was a 1-1 tie with the wood elf box full of KO'd and injured players.  The way the game played out though was odd indeed.

In the first half I elected to kick to the elves.  I like doing this so that I can try to force a quick score and then use up the rest of the half injuring as many elves as possible.  The idea is to only allow them a single roll to get their KO'd players back at the half as I score on the last possible turn.  Worst case is that I don't score at all and still keep their team as small as possible for the second half. 

My strategy did not work.

The elves grabbed the ball and on turn 2 their tree knocked himself down and left the ball in a vulnerable position.  I rushed up, bashed the ball carrier, and got 4 dwarves around the ball which is a superb position for me to be in at that point.  Unfortunately for me the elves had a wizard and they used it to knock down 3 of my 4 ball defenders, and then blitzed the last defender away.  They grabbed the ball and then played a good game of keepaway throughout the rest of the half, scoring late, leaving me no chance at a touchdown myself.

This is all pretty normal.  What is abnormal is the state of the dugout when the elves scored.  There was 1 injured elf and 2 KO'd elves, which is fine, but there were also 3 KO'd dwarves, including both of my runners.  Both after the TD and at the half my dwarves failed all of their wake up rolls while the elves made all of theirs so I started the second half down 1-0 in score and outnumbered by the elves.  I also had no ball carriers and only 2 rerolls because I use a runner with leader to get my third reroll.  I was *not* optimistic about my chances.

Elves are not supposed to bash dwarves this well! 

The natural rebuttal to that is of course that in Blood Bowl anything can happen, and does.

The second half saw a reversal of fortunes.  Even though I was outnumbered I pounded the elves brutally and kept the ball safely in my cage.  Early on I managed to knock the treeman down and get the cage away from it so the elves had to pursue my gang and they kept on getting punched, stepped on, and generally brutalized.  I steadily moved the ball up the pitch just the way dwarves are supposed to.  Turn 10 I injured 2 elves.  Turn 11 I KO'd 2 elves.  Turn 12 I KO'd 1 elf and broke another's neck, but the doctor was on call and the elf got better.  On turn 13 I KO'd yet another elf and then I was faced with a tough choice where I had to decide if I was willing to rush in for a TD and try to kick to the elves and score again in 3 turns or just keep on caging up and go for a draw.  This is how the game looked: 


I have a crowd of dwarves, and the elves have a tree in a useless position, one stunned elf, and one elf who is running for his life.  I mean "In position to score".  I can score here and probably be facing a tree and 5 elves, desperately hoping to score again in 3 turns.  Or I can just sit around and punch the snot out of that one elf within reach and guarantee a draw.

If I had had my runners available I might have gone for the score.  My opponent certainly encouraged me to do so!  However, if my runners don't wake up I have only 1 reroll and I think my chances of scoring the second time are pretty terrible.  I have nobody above Movement 5 and nobody with any passing skills, and only 2 dwarves who even have normal Agility.  If I put my 3 Agility dudes anywhere on the line of scrimmage the tree will beat them up so just getting to the ball might be rough.  I decided to just sit tight and draw and I am pretty sure this was right.

It turns out that I don't have an actual guarantee of a draw.  The elves have a play to get a 1 turn TD after I score and they lined up to do it, though it definitely required some luck.  Hilariously both of my runners woke up so I was fielding an almost full team (one man down because he got caught fouling the elf who was on the ground in the picture above.)  Also when I kicked to the elves the kickoff result was Blitz, which if I had known about it would have made my 3 turn TD attempt *vastly* more likely.

In any case the Blitz made it easy for me to crush any hopes of a 1 turn TD my opponent may have had and I locked in a draw.

When I look at the luck on both sides it is interesting.  I got unlucky on the Fireball rolls in the first half, and that was crucial.  I also got unlucky on armour and injury rolls especially in the first half.  However, the Treeman was absolutely garbage at standing up again after falling over and only made 1 stand up roll of 8 attempts, and that success came after he was completely irrelevant to the play.  I also only made 2 of 9 wake up rolls and that was extremely important to keeping the game a draw instead of a win.  Just generally I also had a lack of 6s on my d6 rolls.

I shouldn't complain overmuch though.  I didn't accrue any injuries, I collected a solid 16 SPP, and my team is still very much in contention to advance to the postseason.  My next 3 games are against Chaos Dwarves, Nurgle, and Necromantic so I am ready for a slugathon to finish off the regular season.  1 win and 1 draw locks me in for the postseason I think, though I doubt 3 draws does and that is quite plausible given my schedule.

Against the Chaos Dwarves I have 4 more copies of Guard, 4 more Block, 4 more Mighty Blow, and much superior ball handling.  They have 2 dudes with 4 Strength, but I think I am a significant favourite because I am pretty sure I can dominate the gangpile with the skills listed above.

Nurgle has 5 more Strength than me.  This is bad.  But I have 8! more copies of Guard, 7 more Block, 2 more Mighty Blow.  However, my opponent will get a ton of inducement money to combat my extra stuff.  Maybe he will buy a Halfling Chef and I won't get any rerolls at all.  That would be bad!  Still, I am 390 Team Value up on him in a brutal slugathon, and that seems like it has to be good thing for me.

Necromantic isn't quite as bashy as the other two as it has significantly more speed and Agility but I suspect the game will still hinge on success at murdering rather than fancy plays.  The Necromantic team is 100 TV above mine so they look pretty scary, but I definitely like my chances of winning the brawl.  The main question is whether or not they will murder my dudes with a couple of Claw/Mighty Blow werewolves.  This is the matchup that I think is by far the worst for me, though because I have lower Team Value I can potentially even things up by buying a wizard and Fireballing my way to victory.  The really key bit to this matchup is that the Necromantic team is in 3rd place to my 4th place in the league so if I lose to them I am likely out whereas if I win I have a clear path to the postseason.  I guess I will find out soon enough!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Beware of vampire

On Tuesday one of my DnD groups went up against a vampire.  Vampires seem pretty nasty in 5th edition, and this particular one was a CR13 while the group was only level 8.  That would be fairly dangerous on its own but vampires have regeneration as one of their abilities and that makes any level disparity much more important.  If the group can do 40 damage / round and the vampire regenerates 20 / round, we do a net 20 / round.  If we are a bit underlevel though and only do 30 / round, the regeneration reduces that to net 10 / round, and it takes the vampire twice as long to die.

This vampire should have annihilated us.  It wasn't just a CR13 vampire because it started in a zone of magical darkness that we couldn't see through but it could ignore because it had truesight.  It also had a tremendous advantage due to terrain.  It resided in a 30 by 30 room that had a 5 foot wide hallway leading to it.  Our group has 3 melee characters in it so the vampire could just park itself in the hallway and beat us senseless.  If we stay away from it then its regeneration quickly returns it to full health, and if we close in then only one or two of us can attack and that isn't enough to overcome its regeneration while it mauls us.

The vampire didn't need to use the hallway to win the positioning war.  It has 3 legendary actions per round, each of which can be a move that does not provoke attacks of opportunity.  All it has to do is fight us for a bit, then run away and hide on a ceiling out of range.  We can't escape because we would have to make a terribly dangerous trip across boiling mud, but since the vampire can walk on walls and fly it could happily regenerate to full and then come back in a few rounds to eat us.  This is even more effective because our barbarians lose their rage if the vampire retreats for a round and once they aren't raging we get absolutely smashed.

Even then it should never need to mess around with positioning at all and can simply beat us with raw power.  The vampire has a Charm attack that has a 75% or more chance to succeed against 3 of our 4 party members.  If the Charm hits we are out of the fight completely.  The vampire can simply use its legendary movement actions to zoom away from us and fire off Charms.  We rate to lose 2-3 party members to the Charm, and it doesn't even matter which ones get hit since no 2 characters stand a chance.

There are some ways characters can respond to these problems.  You can use Dispel Magic on the darkness that the vampire starts in.  If you don't do this you are *completely* boned and you will lose.  The fight is already extremely dangerous numerically, and stacking on advantage on all of the enemy's attacks and taking disadvantage on all of ours makes it impossible.  Either have Dispel Magic, or lose.  We had Dispel Magic though, so we had a chance.

You can use Protection from Good/Evil to prevent the Charm attack.  We didn't have access to this, but the GM didn't have the vampire use the Charm until it was already badly hurt.  If the vampire had just used the Charm right away, we lose.

So this opponent had four different things it could do to flat out beat us.  It had darkness, constrained positioning, incredible speed, and its charm ability.  We had the magic bullet for the darkness, but it didn't bother using any of its other three auto win abilities to crush us.  Whoever wrote this mess either didn't bother to think about what the monster could do or assumed the GM would not maximize its abilities.  I get people not thinking about what incredible movement speed and regeneration does to an encounter, but not looking at the Charm and darkness and realizing that they absolutely end the encounter unless you have a specific spell is sloppy and embarassing.

I particularly hate the Charm ability as written.  Most crowd control effects in fifth edition let you make saves each round to get rid of them.  People remember how awful it was to get hit with Hold Person in old editions of DnD and then just stand there for an entire encounter doing nothing, (Roleplaying being paralyzed loses its fun after about six rounds of it...)  but apparently they are okay with handing out abilities to monsters that do that same thing.  If a fight will take five or ten minutes I am fine with knocking people out of it early, but a fight that is designed to last a huge amount of time should not work this way.

The last thing that frustrates me about the vampire is the same thing that frustrated me about half of the monsters in this dungeon so far - they take half damage from non magical weapons.  I get the story driven thing about how you want to make a monster sound exciting, and saying that normal weapons just aren't effective can do that.  But when you stack it on half the monsters it makes the game feel stupid.  I should have chosen a magical weapon.  It would make me do double damage in many situations because of this trait, and 20% more damage generally.  Had I realized that the high level game was designed for everyone to have a magical weapon I would have done so.

I am having fun with the group I am playing with, but good grief I am glad I am not trying to actually roleplay because this dungeon is an absurd mess.  It really makes me feel like I should write up some dungeon crawls and do it properly.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Who will be my teacher?

I have been playing a bunch of Agricola on the board game site boiteajeux.  It took a bit of getting used to but I am getting comfortable with it now.  Any time you swap UIs, particularly from a physical gameboard to a computer game, it is a bit of a transition as you miss things and screw things up by accident.

I signed up for a tournament to start and my results have been mixed.  My first game I misread a card called Ceramics and doing so caused me to completely screw up my game.  It turns out Ceramics only works with ovens and not with other cooking facilities but by the time I went to click the button to make Ceramics and couldn't do so I had already committed to the line.  That caused me to have a poor game and wind up 3rd of 4 players.

In all three of my other tournament games I am currently sitting in first place though so I am cautiously optimistic.  I don't expect to win all those games because the score in Agricola can change quite dramatically in the final turn or two, and it is easy to wind up with somebody gaining 20 points in their final turn in a game that often is won at 40 points.

I wanted to play more than just four tournament games every three months though, so I looked around for other games to join.  The first thing that popped up was games that required someone to fill in for a person that had abandoned the game.  I like the idea of helping people out to finish games when a player ditches and I feel like this will give me a useful breadth of experience.

One of the things that happens in online Agricola is that when you are drafting occupations and improvements you can use online tools and lists to tell you what to draft.  They aren't perfect but they can make sure you don't take total garbage and that you don't miss the bombs.  However, using those tools means I will end up consistently drafting good cards and ignoring my bad ones.  That will teach me how to use those good cards but it won't teach me about all the ways that the bad cards are bad.

But boy you sure can learn about bad cards when you fill in for players who have ditched.  I find myself in all kinds of horrible situations where it is clear the person who was playing left because their game state was completely untenable.  I get to see the cards they slammed down and how they used them and I have been able to learn a lot about what cards just don't end up helping you the way you think they will.

The main takeaway is that a lot of people don't develop a food engine.  I have been regularly in the situation of having a good point total but no food and having no reasonable way to acquire food.  Often this results in me desperately taking spaces that have just two food on them and trying to survive that way and it has consistently been a disaster.  Not that I had any better choice given the situation I landed in, but it has certainly taught me a lot about coping with catastrophe.  I am also getting really comprehensive lessons about how food engines work and which ones don't cut it, which is helpful in the long term.

The end goal of all of this is to get practice with a huge variety of effects and situations.  There are a lot of other Agricola cards out there and new ones are going to get printed and I think that it will be useful to practice all kinds of strategies and test all the cards out so that when I run into new cards my experiences will have more breadth to them and I will be able to evaluate those cards more effectively.

I don't know if this strategy is actually the right one in terms of educating myself.  Right now I am letting random people on the internet teach me how to be bad at Agricola, which isn't useless, but maybe I should try to select for better teachers than random people on the internet.  For winning tournaments it is probably better to just play whole games through and practice drafting the standard cards over and over until I master them all.  But there is a huge amount of fun in parachuting myself into an unknown situation and then trying to extricate myself from it, so that is a good time at least.

And either way I expect to be able to put up much more of a fight when I go after the real sharks in the Agricola tournament at WBC next year.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Rats with pointy bits go squish

This week was week 2 of my fall Blood Bowl league.  I lost last week, largely due to playing poorly / too aggressively, and this week I was determined to right that wrong.  I was up against Skaven, and those sneaky rat men had a pretty normal crew with one particularly dangerous rat who had both Claw and Mighty Blow.  I was determined to smash that rat to bits to keep him from hurting my dwarves.

I won the flip and elected to kick the ball to the rats.  Things went badly right away as the rat with the pointy bits on him immediately injured a dwarf but that was just the start of that rat's amazing game.  By turn five it had injured out two more dwarves and KOd yet another!  I sent blocks at that rat but it would always fall over, not get hurt, and then stand up and remove yet another dwarf.  Thankfully I was taking out rats at a similar rate so the field was clearing out quickly. 

Around turn five I cleared out all the rats in the midfield and was suddenly able to put pressure on the ball which had been kept deep in my opponent's territory.  His only real play to get the ball to safety was a really long throw and it failed.  I capitalized quickly and grabbed the ball, running it almost to the TD line.  I had a choice - stay two spaces away from the line, and leave a possible blitz on my ball carrier requiring a double go for it and some dodges, or take a single go for it myself to get to complete safety.  I had a reroll available, so taking the go for it to secure the ball seemed like the right choice.

I rolled a 1, rerolled it into a 1, and my dwarf fell down.  This would *still* have been just fine and dandy if the dwarf was just prone as he could stand up and score next turn anyway.  But he injured himself with his fall and was stunned, out of the play.  This catastrophe let the ratmen grab the ball, double go for it, throw the ball, catch, double go for it, hand off the ball to the rat ogre (which, it should be noted, is TERRIBLE at catching and running with the ball) and the rat ogre ran in for a turn eight touchdown.

We started the second half with me fielding nine dwarves and my opponent having seven rats.  I bashed his team around a bit and moved my pile of dwarves up the pitch, and was faced with a dilemma on turn thirteen.  I could either just stick with the cage and lock in a 1-1 draw, or I could score and desperately hope to take the ball away from the rats and score again in the last three turns of the game to secure a victory.

I think the sensible play here is to go for the draw.  I was in an extremely secure position and my chances of getting that second touchdown in three turns were not good.  But I don't want to draw!  I want to WIN.

So I rushed in for the touchdown and hoped for a lucky break.  I got my break because the rat assigned to collect the ball developed a bad case of butterfingers and I was able to run the dwarves in and make his life really difficult.  On the next turn the first rat assigned to throw a block knocked himself down and I easily scooped up the ball and ran in for a touchdown, winning the game 2-1.

I think my play was wrong, but it sure worked out for me.

The after game was pretty sad for the rats and pretty great for me.  I got four levels and the rats got none.  All three of the injuries on me were just Badly Hurt, so all the dwarves are still good to go for next game.  The rats, on the other hand, had a Blitzer die and two Gutter Runners are missing the next game with serious injuries.  Their position going forward is ... not good.

Their incredibly devastating rat petered out in terms of success after its amazing run at the start of the game.  It managed to escape the game unscathed but also didn't succeed at taking out any more of my dwarves, in part because it was part of the ridiculous scoring run and in part because I kept bashing away at it to keep it facedown.

My levels weren't exciting but do seem good.  I got Dodge on a runner which is solid and another random lineman got Guard.  I decided to give a troll slayer Stand Firm so he would be better at pushing people out of bounds and not getting pushed out himself.  I also gave my blitzer Strip Ball, as I think having one copy of that on a team is a fine plan as it can force the opponent to play around it.  Still, the dwarves both got better at bashing and also at playing the ball, so I am pleased with the way the team is working out.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The rust, it is real

I haven't been playing Blood Bowl much the past little while and in the first game of my new season it showed.  I was playing dwarves against dark elves, a matchup I generally like.  I kicked to my opponent to start and got a lucky turnover that let me grab the ball and dominate the field.  I crunched five elves and scored right at the end of the half to be up 1-0.  My position was excellent, though unfortunately between the apothecary and elves waking up from KOs my opponent still had a full roster for the second half.

In a small bit of hubris I even used my troll slayer to get the touchdown because he really needed the experience.  I don't normally do this a lot, but I figured with the entire elf team lying on the ground, having given up on the half, it was worth the risk.

But although the first half went great, the second half was a catastrophe.  I received the ball and made a crucial error.  I could have just decided to hold onto my lead and cage as hard as possible right off the bat but instead I left the ball back field some with the ball carrier guarded.  I put a ton of pressure on the elves all over the place, and it looked like my opponent had pretty crappy chances at the ball carrier.  However, he made a ton of dodges and go for its and managed to get a single die block on the ball carrier which worked.  Then my counter attack failed to do anything useful and he made a bunch more blocks, dodges, and a pickup and scored.

My play wasn't monumentally stupid, but it wasn't correct.  I should have just let the elves do whatever they wanted and rushed the ball to the middle of the field.  Doing that would have meant more blocks on my lower armour characters, and probably real difficulty moving the ball, but that didn't matter.  I didn't need to score again, I just needed to keep the dwarves in a pile that the elves couldn't penetrate.  I successfully forced my opponent to roll a ton of dice and they came up favourably for him, but I could have made it harder.  I could easily blame luck, but I don't think I should.

With the game tied 1-1 I received again and got the ball into a good strong cage.  The elves attacked hard, risking their poor, snappable necks, and I was faced with a decision.  I could just rebuild the cage and accept a tie or I could go for it and try to score to win.  I wasn't at all sure that I could win if I just sat there because I had already burned several turns of the second half and dwarves are not fast.  I figured out a configuration where I could get the ball carrier far away from all the elves and have a dwarf with guard protecting him.  My opponent needed an absurd number of dodges to get elves onto the ball, and also a bunch of go for its.  I decided that I should go for the win rather than just sitting tight and hoping for a draw.

I watched my opponent test out various lines of play to try to get the ball and some of them involved single elves rolling six different dice, each of which would end their turn if failed, and there were still other elves rolling a bunch of dice that would be required to stop me.

So the elves rolled all of their dice, made all of their rolls, and took the ball.  Every turn I did my best to make the elves roll as many dice as possible to try to get the ball back, and every turn they made their rolls, and on the last turn of the game the elves made a collection of dodge rolls, walked around the dwarves with ease, and scored to win the game 2-1.

It is tempting to blame luck when your opponent rolls a huge number of dice and makes improbable plays come home.  I know that a lot of the key plays were statistically like to fail, but worked anyway.

But I shouldn't have allowed those key plays to happen the way they did.  If you keep giving the opponent a 25% chance to take the ball, you can't complain when it comes home sometimes.

It is tricky sometimes when trying to deconstruct my play when we are on 2 minute turns.  It is simple to criticize plays from your armchair when you have all the time in the world to consider and you can see the dice results already.  I don't expect that my plays will be perfect when I look at them this way.  However, I think it is important to write down what I screwed up and why.  I had reasons for my plays at the time, but those reasons were not good enough.  I need to play more like dwarves, and make sure that if my opponent gets a shot at the ball it is with a player that is surrounded by dwarves and who will get crunched even if they succeed.  I need to play tighter, and be willing to grind out tough 1-0 wins.  I don't need to get more points, I just need to make sure my opponent gets none.

Now I hope I can put those hard lessons into practice in my next game against the rats.  Thankfully the rats are squishier than the elves so I should have an easier time getting a numbers advantage on them.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Actual things

It is a huge shift for me to go from game theory and design to actual crafting.  There is a weird thing where it feels like they are part of the same process and yet are so different as to have nothing to do with one another.

One of the big things is my perfectionism.  When I am talking about numbers and formulas I can and will iterate without end.  I can always find a better way to do things, always improve.  But when I am building a physical model I manage to cut that part of me out of the equation and just get the thing done.  Obviously I want a prototype to be good, but I am able to effectively manage my time so that it is good but not wasteful.  When I am building something theoretical I am much worse at the whole 'just get something out the door' part of it and I just sit there building and tinkering for years at a time.

The two things are similar in that I can really get into the zone doing either.  When I am cutting things out with scissors or a knife and then getting ready to glue all the pieces together there is a real calm there, a sense of flow, similar to what happens when design is really working.  The physical act of building also seems to make me feel better in the same way that chores do.  When I do the dishes or clean the bathroom or other similar things I get a sense of calm accomplishment.  Doing so makes me feel good about the world.  I can be happy about designing a game purely theoretically but it isn't quite the same thing - it makes me happy in a different way.

The game I am building today is Dot.  It is the fourth copy of the game in the world, and although this particular copy probably won't ever be played for the amount of time I spent building it I am still pleased to be doing so.  There is something in my brain that is deeply pleased that my designs will be out there on somebody's shelf, occasionally coming down for a dust off and a playthrough.

This latest craft is going to nearly run me out of foam board.  I bought two sheets roughly ten years ago when I first started building game prototypes and I have been consistently using it to create boards and tiles since then.  It is ideal in that it is easy to pick up, light, cheap, and no problem to cut exactly as I want it.  When I have to go back to the store for another sheet it is going to feel like an era has ended. 

I wonder which game will cause me to finally go back out and buy some more.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Always war

I have been playing more Civilization 6, testing out the various win conditions.  I have mixed feelings on this issue because while I like a lot of the innovations and subgames of the various win conditions I really don't like the balance of the game in terms of how you go about winning via the various conditions.

The fact that the religious game requires you to balance fighting with regular units of soldiers and fighting with religious units is kind of neat.  There isn't much variety in religious units but I liked the decisions I had to make about which ones to make based on what I was trying to do and layering religious combat over the rest of the game felt good to me.

Also the fact that your religious units fight by throwing lightning at each other never gets old.  Boom!  Crack!  Kapew!

I also enjoyed immersing myself in the culture game.  I built tons of archaeological museums and sent my archaeologists all over the world fetching things.  I made art museums and directed Mark Twain and Jane Austen to various cities to write their novels and impress visitors.  I enjoyed figuring out how to theme my museums and chasing particular kinds of great works to fill out the museums I had.  It was an enjoyable subgame to the rest of the Civilization game.

But in both cases I was just kidding myself.  I conquered an early opponent or two, then just sat there building my stuff for the rest of the game.  I built all this culture stuff but it would have been far easier just to keep on with the conquest, smashing my enemies beneath my feet.  I could have just removed every opponent except one, and left that one opponent with a single city that had every tile pillaged.  Then I could win a cultural or religious victory quickly and effortlessly.

By far the best way to win one of these other win conditions is to simply kill every opponent but carefully avoid taking their last capital so you don't trigger the domination victory condition, and then do whatever you want.  The AI is bad at war so this is practical. 

Civ 5 had this same issue in a lot of ways.  Players could keep their units alive forever by retreating and healing and using ranged units effectively.  If the player couldn't heal their units, or if they couldn't pay gold to upgrade obsolete units to new ones, this wouldn't be much of an issue.  Warring players would need to build new units constantly to replace old ones and that would be a huge drain on their other endeavours.  But as it is you can just build one army and keep using it throughout the entire game, with only occasional replacements needed for units that die.

If replacing units was the norm then there would be much more meaningful tradeoffs between conquering and building, which I would really like.

At the moment I am thinking about ways to implement this in Civ 6, which apparently means I am staring directly at the rabbit hole.  I spent most of a year modding Civ 5 and while I enjoyed it greatly it really took over my life.  I know that my alterations would not improve the game for everyone, but from reading forums I have found that most people agree with me that conquest is far too easy.

There are other things that make conquest too simple in addition to unit healing.  Upgrading armies slowly over time is important, but instant upgrades are also a problem.  When your civ researches Crossbows and then instantly your entire army becomes Crossbowmen that is a problem.  The instant power increase is immense.  So both the fact that you don't have to make new units and that there are enormous power spikes is an issue in my mind.  The other thing is simply that ranged units are too good. 

Slingers have a range of 1.  They are mediocre - good at defending cities and encampments, fragile in combat.  When Slingers upgrade to archers though they acquire a range of 2 and are absurd.  You can hide them behind melee units, tear down walls, and a clump of them will annihilate any melee unit that gets too close.  Crossbows also have a range of 2 and are equally brutal, as are Field Cannons.  But when you upgrade them again to Machine Guns they suddenly drop down to having a range of 1 again and then they suddenly aren't particularly powerful anymore.  Strangely the attack values of ranged units and bombard units all proceed in a predictable, linear fashion, but the range of the units appears to not have been accounted for in their cost or overall effectiveness.

Archers, Crossbows, and Field Cannons are fantastic units, far too good against the AI.  It just can't figure out how to attack entrenched ranged units and when you use a bunch of them you can just slowly march forward, massacring their units, and then blow up their city defenses when you get there.  If these units had a range of 1 the game would be a lot harder on the human player because their primary way of killing enemies without incurring losses would vanish.

Implementing these changes is widely variable in difficulty.  I don't know that you could remove healing without wrecking the game - the AI in Civ 5 certainly couldn't handle it and kept trying to heal anyway.  Destroying unit upgrades is a lot more feasible, and I suspect the AI could handle it just fine.  Nerfing the range of Archers, Crossbows, and Field Cannons I know the AI could deal with.  One other advantage to the nerfing of ranged units is that bombard type units would suddenly have a reason to exist.  If it is really hard to tear down cities with ranged units (because they have to walk up right next to the city and risk being beaten up) then having a catapult or two that have a ranged 2 attack to bombard the city walls suddenly sounds a lot more appealing.  I like the idea of rewarding intelligently created mixed armies instead of just 'spam the best unit' as a guiding principle.

Now I need to sit back and decide if I am going to take the plunge and dedicate a couple thousand hours to making this next version of Civ into the game that I most want to play.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Eureka

One of the core mechanics in Civ 6 research is Eurekas.  These are specific events that immediately grant you half of the science or culture required for an advance.  For example, if you build a Water Mill you get a Eureka for Construction.  When you kill a unit with a Knight, you get the Eureak for Military Science.  Eurekas can require kills, owning units, buildings, wonders, diplomatic actions, and more.  In the early going this is really cool because many of the Eurekas make a lot of sense, and it feels exciting to see advances in specific technologies or policies because you are already doing that thing.

However, this mechanic leads to some strange situations.  For example, I don't usually build Privateers.  They are middle game ships that are invisible unless you are beside them but I usually don't find time to make them.  However, if you own 3 Privateers you get the Eureka for Electricity, which gains you 625 science.  Each Privateer costs 280 production, so you invest 820 production to get 625 science.  That isn't a particularly great rate of return... but you still get 3 Privateers that can run around exploring or shooting enemy units!  The first and second Privateers aren't especially good unless you really need boats, but that third Privateer is *ludicrous*.

This mechanic is found all over.  Workshops are pretty horrible buildings.  They cost 195 production to make and only make 2 production a turn.  97 turns to return their cost is wretched.  But you get a Eureka for owing three Workshops, and that Eureka is worth 422 science, so while the first two Workshops are awful that third one is the best.

This mechanic is a massive driving force in maximizing your power.  There are times when you can't get a Eureka because the AI won't cooperate or you are under attack, but the great majority of the time when you look at the cost of whatever it is you are doing to get the Eureka you absolutely must make it happen.  If a unit or building is even close to reasonable in a vacuum, then when it gives you half of a technology in addition it is better than anything else you could be doing.

This leads to strange consequences.  Spearmen are basically junk units, good for nothing.  But there is a Eureka for killing a unit with a Spearman so I build exactly one and figure out some way for it to get a killing blow.

This gives the game a jarring feel sometimes.  Like even if I want to have a massive production based game once I have built the third Industrial Zone I really don't want to build the fourth.  At least not until I have 2 Theatre Squares, 2 Campus, 3 Commercial Hub, 1 Encampment, 2 Harbour, and 1 Aqueduct to hit all the Eurekas.  The Eurekas create these very odd breakpoints in utility that feel out of line with the rest of the game.

This also pushes the game towards a lot of sameness.  That isn't necessarily an issue, because having some incentive towards a balanced approach isn't a problem.  It is perfectly fine to have some game elements rewarding players who build a bit of everything so that extreme strategies aren't quite so powerful.  Unfortunately if you don't have a ton of cities to do different things in you are generally going to want to build your civ the same way a lot of the time, or at least with a really standard sort of core.

I was thinking about how the system could work to accomplish similar things without the same level of sameness in every game.  For example, if instead of having a Eureka based on having 2 Banks, what if each Bank gave you a 50% chance to get the Eureka?  If you structured all of the Eurekas this way you could set it up so that each time you fail a Eureka your next Eureka attempt of any sort goes up to 60%, stacking up 10% each time you fail.  When you succeed, it drops 10% instead.  This ensures that over time you will get the right amount of Eurekas, but you won't be doing the same thing every game.  Overall Eurekas should stay about the same level but you will have a lot more differences in each game, and you won't have the same weird breakpoints.  Three Industrial Zones to go for the Workshop Eureka is fine, but four is a little better yet as it gives you more opportunities to get it, and two is also ok.

Obviously that isn't going to happen, but I like it better as a system to keep the game fresh and new each time.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Everything sucks

I have been playing a bunch more Civilization 6, and while the addiction is strong there are some fairly serious frustrations I have with the game.  One of the things that the theme of the game supports is the idea that wonders of the world are really important and powerful.  They are unique in that only one copy of each can be built, they often have tricky placement rules and requirements, and they all have cinematics and quotes associated with them.  Finishing a wonder is obviously supposed to be a big deal.

It usually isn't.  In fact much of the time finishing a wonder is mostly just a good time to mourn all of the production you poured into making it, and wonder why you didn't spend that production on something useful.

There are certain kinds of bad wonders that I have no problem with.  For example, I don't think that Stonehenge is a good wonder.  It is useful if you want a religion because it gives you one right away, but if you go for Stonehenge and someone else beats you to it your early game position is awful because you threw away all that production on something that isn't new cities, infrastructure, or military.  It isn't good for a religious game particularly because if you are doing that you want to build holy sites and shrines and such anyway.  I don't think there is a strategy in which Stonehenge is the best build.

Big Ben is another crazy wonder that doubles your current treasury.  If you are in the late game and the other players let you stockpile 10,000 gold and double it then sure, Big Ben is ludicrous.  So what though?  If you have done that you have already won the game anyhow.  In any game where you pull off a massive Big Ben you are just winning more.

Both of these wonders have unique effects, but I doubt they are ever actually relevant or a good idea in terms of optimal play.  This is fine!  The wonders I have a problem with are the ones with boring effects that are also bad.  There are wonders that are basically comparable to generic buildings, but they suffer from the possibility of getting blown out if someone else finishes them, they occupy a space on the map, and they have restrictions on placement.  Plus they take a really long time to make so they come online slower and make timing other builds more annoying.

A wonder is a risk, and comes with real costs, so it should be exciting.  You can make something exciting by doing something unique, like Stonehenge or Big Ben, or you can make something exciting by making it powerful.  But if you make a wonder like The Hermitage, you have a wonder that is barely better than a regular building and costs an enormous amount of production, in addition to the basic risks of placing a wonder.  It is an embarassment.

I don't want wonders that are as powerful as wonders were in Civ 1 and Civ 2.  Those were world shattering in many cases, easily meaning the difference between a sweeping victory or crushing defeat on their own.

One serious struggle in terms of wonder design is long vs. short term.  The game really shouldn't go beyond turn 250, and a lot of late game wonders can't possibly pay for themselves in less than 50-100 turns.  They literally can never be worth the production you pour into them before the game is over.  Some wonders, like Big Ben or Oxford University, immediately give you their benefits so they are surely worth building.  Others, like Forbidden City or Colossus have slow benefits and those are going to rarely pay off sufficiently.

All of this is mostly sad because when I look at a city build queue I should be excited by my options.  I should wonder if I ought to take the risk of building Forbidden City for that huge payoff when it arrives.  Instead I pretty much just ignore the wonder section because there isn't any point.  I would be far better off just building normal buildings, infrastructure, or troops.  The real kicker is that even if there was no risk of someone else building it out from under me I wouldn't want to build most of the wonders anyway!  Risk should come with reward, and the way the game is now most of the risk comes with no reward at all.

All this makes me want to get back into modding.  I spent a year tinkering with Civ 5 and I absolutely loved doing it.  One of the most critical things I was doing there was making sure that each wonder, building, or troop had a place.  They don't all have to be good in every game, nor even part of optimal lines of play at the highest difficulties.  They just have to have some way to shine, some reason to be there.  You don't have to say that Forbidden City is the thing to rush for, but you should at least be able to say that when you finish it you look at what it does and are excited that you snagged it.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Invisible walls

Recently I got involved in a dungeon crawl 5th edition DnD campaign.  It is meant to be a short run, no roleplaying, grind through the insane dungeon sort of thing.  I find this tricky sometimes because I like roleplaying games, and I like games where you try to win with tactics, but this particular iteration combines them in a way that is pretty absurd.

We started out being told that a incredibly powerful wizard who somehow is still alive after more than a millennium has stolen several artifacts from their place of safekeeping and left behind a note to tell everyone where his hideout is.  Our job is to go into the hideout and get the weapons.

This is preposterous.  Look, if the villain specifically says "I am right at the X on the map" my first assumption is that the villain is definitely not there.  Pretty much anywhere else, really, but definitely not where they say they are.  Why in the world would they do that?  Any villain with two brain cells to rub together would just put the X in the middle of the most dangerous place on the planet and hope some fools were stupid enough to try to go there to get their stuff back.

And we are fools that are exactly that stupid.

This same scenario happened to me in a game many years ago.  The villain sent us a message about his dastardly plan.  For no reason other than to brag, apparently.  We all agreed he must be lying to us to trick us to we assumed he was doing something else.  The GM got furious at us because the villain totally got away with his plan since we didn't just go where he told us to go.  Why would we believe the villain?  That dude is EVIL and tricky and certainly would lie, so why would he give us the truth?  The game blew up after that in part because I was so disgusted with the GM ranting at us for not doing what the villain told us to do!

Anyway, we are gigantic idiots who do exactly what villains say.  This is our life.

And because this module is silly, presumably this will actually help us to some extent instead of being a pointless way to die.

We get into the dungeon and right away we discover that when we step in the wrong place a wall of force stops us.  We do not have any magic capable of breaking it, nor can we teleport past it.  We can, however, answer the riddle of a Sphinx to lower the wall of force.

But then we traipse on through the dungeon.  Into the lair of a wizard who has demonstrated that he can cause walls of force to appear at will.  Why exactly he wouldn't just have a trap right before his room that causes two walls of force to appear in the corridor, pinning us in place, and then fill the corridor with gas / fire / ice / acid / whatever is completely unclear.  Our characters have faced the certainty that whatever is in here has the capability to kill us easily, and without us having the slightest chance to defeat it.

But we soldier on, because we are suicidal idiots relying on plot armour.

Now I get being brave.  Sometimes you face down hard odds to do the right thing.  But we are just mercenaries here, being paid to get back some weapons that are just rotting in a dungeon.  Who cares if they are in the dungeon?  Nothing bad is happening!  We should really start to worry only when the weapons leave the dungeon and threaten people.  Going into this dungeon (which, in any sensible world, wouldn't have the stuff we are looking for) to fight this enemy (which, if we consider the stuff we know it can do, can dispose of us effortlessly) isn't brave, it is just a quick way to die.

I like roleplaying brave.  But to play these modules I have to roleplay a blithering idiot with no sense of self preservation... and to survive it I need to roleplay an extremely intelligent, careful, cautious person.

Good thing we insisted from the start that this was just a puzzle game, not a roleplaying game.  The puzzle part has been okay so far, which is good.  If you refuse to roleplay at all and just try to beat the game with the character you have, munchkining as hard as possible, then it is a fine thing to do.  Just don't ever consider your motivations.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

I got beat

I played my Blood Bowl semi final match last week against Umbra's orc team and I lost 1-0.  This wasn't surprising as I didn't particularly like my odds, but some things changed before the match that really swung it against me.  Umbra fired his goblin and thrower so his team had absolute maximum armour and minimum ball moving.  This was a good move against me, I think, as it trimmed his team value down and made him as tough as possible.  He was left with just 11 orcs on the team, but I decided to keep an extra dwarf around and run with 12 players.

The way the game played out was I received and then we both took out a couple of each other's players in the first half, and I found myself with a good scoring opportunity.  I screwed up though because I forgot that it was a blizzard so when I did a double go for it with my ball carrier to get in prime scoring position I slipped on the ice, fell down, and got stunned, and that was the end of the first half.  I had a reroll back but it turns out it wasn't enough.  The half ended 0-0 and we both fielded full teams for the second half of the game.  I had other plays that were superior if the weather wasn't a blizzard and this was definitely a screw up on my part.  Even still it was likely to work... but that is dice rolling for you.

In the second half Umbra got lucky and injured a bunch of my players out quickly.  He made a terrible misplay by running his ball carrier right up next to my dudes for an assist (forgetting where the ball was...) and while I knocked the ball carrier down I did not get lucky in doing so and he easily recovered the ball.  I kept making more and more desperate plays as I was down a lot in numbers but eventually he locked me out and scored to secure a 1-0 victory.

I say that Umbra got lucky but I don't want to imply I deserved the victory or anything.  His team building against me was strong and he played well.  I do think he got better luck on the injury dice in particular than I did, but since nobody in the league had inflicted an injury on me the entire season thus far I can't complain about my luck overall.  I suppose I can complain that my bad injury luck all concentrated in my semi final game, but I lost to a good player in a tough matchup and that is just how Blood Bowl goes.

I have been thinking about what I might do to change the odds in my favour, in the event of a theoretical rematch.  There are some ways I can trim team value off of my team and that might well have been enough to give me a real shot at victory.  I recently levelled up a dwarf to get Leader which grants a bonus reroll and I think I should get rid of one of my regular rerolls.  This would have dropped me by 50k team value and put me below Umbra's team which is a big advantage.  Secondly I could fire my extra dwarf on the bench to free up another 70k of room.  If I did this I would have 90k of inducement money to work with and I could have easily thrown another 60k of cash at it to get a wizard.  That would definitely be enough to swing the game my way, at least potentially.

My real problem though was that my team didn't have enough gas in the tank in terms of raw power.  Rather than a wizard I think what I would really want is 4 or 5 extra skills on my players to make up that 90k difference.  If I take my current team and add 2 copies of Guard and 2.5 copies of Mighty Blow to make up that 90k I am much more likely to be able to just outbrawl Umbra.  I still don't think it is a great matchup but at that point I have better ball handlers than him, vastly more Guard, Mighty Blow and Block.  He has strength, certainly, but the game looks a lot more even.

So what I need to do this season is level up like crazy, getting good skills on all the players that need them, and be prepared to trim down my team as necessary.  I need to make sure that every point of team value is absolutely maximized, and I do that by getting more Guard and Mighty Blow and cutting back in the two ways I can cut back.

In terms of play during the game I clearly need to pay attention to the weather.  My play was a strong one under normal circumstances, but I made a mistake.  Still, with 2 minute turns stuff like that is going to happen.  There was one thing I did that generated some discussion though, which was to run a dwarf around to Umbra's backfield to pressure the ball carrier.  Both Umbra and Ziggyny thought this was a terrible plan because dwarves need to be in a pile to use all their Guard and win the fight.

In general I agree with that.  The Guard should be in the pile.  However, one of the dwarves I sent to the backfield to harass Umbra's ball carrier was my runner.  My runners don't have Guard or Mighty Blow so I don't get much from having them in the pile, and the runner caused a high strength orc to dash off to pin him down and I think that is actually good for me.  I can't win the pile if all the orcs are there because I only have two more copies of Guard than Umbra does and I have way less strength.  Using the runner to get rid of a powerful orc seemed good to me, or at least as good as anything else that runner was doing.

However, I also sent a blitzer to the backfield once, and that blitzer had both Guard and Mighty Blow.  He did draw off two orcs, which is great, and honestly if I can consistently get two orcs to run off after a single dwarf I should do that every time!  However, I could have probably found a stupid lineman to accomplish the same goal and not wasted the blitzer on it.  I think it is a fine plan to send a dwarf to the back field to make protecting the ball hard, but I should have made sure the dwarf doing it was always someone who is has little else to offer.

I can't complain about my season.  I got a third/fourth place result in a group of sixteen players, and I lost only two games in the entire season - one due to not being able to show up, and one to the eventual champion, Umbra.  I learned a bit about how to handle that particular matchup, and I will be more ready next season to crunch the necks of whoever gets in my way.

Time for more Blood Bowl!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A bashdown

I am in the semi finals of my Blood Bowl league.  It turns out that Ziggyny decided to just concede to me via not waking up for the game so instead of me bashing his elves to bits I just got my free win.  Tomorrow I will need to face down a team of Orcs coached by Umbra and I am a lot less confident of my chances in this matchup.  Orcs and Dwarves are two of the most bashy teams with both teams lacking in speed and ball handling.  It will be a brutal slugfest.

I have some real advantages.  I have Block on my entire team, and my opponent is missing 3 copies of it.  That helps me.  I also have 2 extra copies of Guard, and 2 extra copies of Mighty Blow.  I rate to get more assists and do more damage.  Plus I have Thick Skull on my entire team, which normally isn't a big deal, but against another powerful bash team it will keep my dudes from getting KOd, in fact it reduces 'off the field' injuries by a full 33%.

This all sounds great!  I have better blocks, more assists, and superior injury and armour rolls.

But.

The Orcs have strength.  They have four dudes with Str 4, and one with Str 5.  This is a serious problem for me.  That additional strength means that I am going to have a really hard time pushing through their lines, and when their Str 4 dudes manage to single out one of my dwarves the dwarf is getting dominated.  I do way better in a massive dogpile where my superior Guard numbers help out, but I am worried that Umbra will be able to punch through my lines too easily.

My opponents so far have been way behind me in overall fighting ability, mostly through me having lots of Guard and them not having much or any.  The one game I won where my opponent had more strength they didn't have any Guard to speak of.  Umbra has both lots of strength and lots of Guard and this means that I can't rely on a line of dwarves to hold.  Umbra is going to roll more dice than me, and I am going to have better odds on each die rolled.  Overall though... I think he has the advantage.

However, I do have one ace up my sleeve, which is that my team value is lower, just enough so that I can buy a Wizard for our game with the extra cash I get to compensate.  A Wizard can do a nasty 3x3 fireball once a game and since my opponent's strategy is almost certainly going to involve caging around the ball carrier I have a great tool to blast that cage wide open.  The Wizard can potentially turn a half where I am just getting beat into a half where I score, or at least one where nobody scores.

And while I generally rely on the game plan of beating my opponents into bloody submission, I can't expect that against the orcs.  They are almost all 9 armour, and that means it is going to be extremely difficult to actually get a man advantage on them.  Umbra, of course, is facing down roughly the same dilemma.  It is even harder to get a man advantage on the dwarves, because of Thick Skull, but he at least has better options for getting good blocks in.

When I look at the four top teams I see a Chaos Dwarf team, Ziggyny's Dark Elf team, my dwarves, and Umbra's Orcs.  I think the Orcs are the team I am most scared of.  I really like my odds against the Chaos Dwarves, and although elves normally rate to beat dwarves I think my chances of beating Ziggyny's Dark Elves are pretty good.  Meeting what I consider to be my toughest matchup in the semis is not the result I wanted, but there is nothing for it but to hope that my singular fireball can swing the match to me and catapult me to the finals.