Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2 days

Lounge Day is upon us once again.  That day where a bunch of UWaterloo mathies go back to the Math and Computers building to sit in the lounge and play games all day.  Also the day where a bunch of people who aren't mathies but ended up there anyway follow us to our day of festivities.

If you are a gamer sort and want to come, you should do that.  There are some old faces that were gone for some time but which are back!

Today I was thinking about what games I am most looking forward to.  I play a lot of random stuff on Lounge Day, but in previous years I remember trying hard to find people to play Puerto Rico with.  I wouldn't mind that, but it definitely isn't the big draw for me this year.  I think that title goes to MoneyBu.  That is, Barbu, for money.

I have come out a substantial winner over the past few years (though there was one year in particular where my winnings were decidedly negative...) but I just love that game, win or lose.

Winning is better, don't get me wrong.  But even losing is pretty good.

Part of it is the trashtalk.  Most board games don't seem to engender quite so much mockery and derision.  I suspect it is the money element, because when you really want somebody to double you so you can smash them and take their sweet, sweet dollars it can pay to publicly doubt their fortitude and courage.  What, no double?  Are you chicken, or just bad?

The other thing that has me juiced is Camp Nightmare distribution.  There are still a bunch of copies here and I want to get them out to all the people who haven't collected theirs yet.  I figure I will GM at least one game to teach anyone who wants, and I quite enjoy watching people play my games for the first time.

And the day after that I launch off to Hawaii!  Likely I won't be making any posts here for the week because I will be too busy snorkelling and digging holes in the beach.

Life is grand.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What is my win condition?

A few weeks ago I played a game of El Grande.  (Thinking about a game that is called 'The Big' makes me giggle inside.)

I got blown out.  I haven't played El Grande in a decade or so and I certainly didn't play perfectly so I can't say I am surprised that I lost.  However, the game did illustrate one mechanic that I found frustrating.  Oftentimes I try to figure out how I could change a game to avoid mechanics that bother me but in this case I think the mechanic is inherent to the game.  The mechanic that troubles me here is the freedom to attack any player you want, without a clear way to figure out what you should try to accomplish with your attacks.

Early on in the game I was in a terrible spot.  I got blown out by one spectacularly brutal card coming up at the absolute worst possible time, and I was dead last at 15 points while the leader was at 35.  Not only that but she had far more units on the board than I did so I rated to get a lot less points on each scoring round thereafter. Given that my chance to win was vanishingly small at that point I decided that my new goal was to not come last.

Once my goal is to not come last, everything changes.  Instead of trying to smash the leader, my optimal play is to punish the third and fourth place players, those just ahead of me.  Of course those two players aren't going to like this conclusion as they would quite rather I attack the leader, giving them the best chance to win.  But if I spend all my efforts attacking the leader then I rate to end the game in last place.

It is frustrating to be in last and to have to reevaluate your win condition, but it is just as frustrating to be in third and have the last place player clawing you down, gutting your chance to win.  The key problem here is people don't agree on what your win condition is.  If you don't agree on what you are trying to do, you aren't going to agree on what course of action is reasonable.

You might have a particular idea about how a player should play when and if they conclude that they are out of the running for the win, but there simply isn't any widespread agreement.  Even then, players also have to be concerned about table presence.  If a person attacks you to set you back, you can either ignore it or strike back.  Retribution is often terrible in the game in which is occurs but its primary use is to build a table presence for later games.  Who wants to go after the player who will strike back relentlessly, starting a cycle of mutually assured destruction?

There are ways to get around this problem.  Some games just make it difficult or impossible to strike at a particular player.  For example, Le Havre is a game in which attacking one player is possible but difficult.  It doesn't suffer from this issue.  Settlers on the other hand has the revenge problem all the time but because it is so random you can rarely conclude that you are completely out of the game.  Even if you are behind it is quite plausible that you could run into a really fortuitous run of the dice and be back in contention, so going after the third place player is rarely a good choice.

One other way to deke around this problem is lack of information.  In Castles of Mad Kin Ludwig you can see who is ahead on points but you don't know what cards people hold.  This hole in your knowledge makes it far harder for you to figure out who is winning and also to be sure that you are actually losing.  That sort of arrangement, alongside the fact that the game doesn't often present you the ability to smash particular people, means that you don't have that same problem of figuring out who you want to attack.

You can make it really hard to do anything to the opponents like Dominion does.  Or you can obscure people's positions like Castles does.  Or you can make the game really random so that everyone can always win and attacking the leader is always right.

However, none of those solutions can be easily implemented into El Grande.  Even then, this isn't the sort of flaw that everyone sees as a flaw.  Some people like always hitting the leader no matter what, or just having fun punishing people at random while cackling like a madman.

Any of those is fine, if that is what winds your clock.

But for me, I really like to know ahead of time what my goals are.  I like to know what my opponent's goals are.  I don't want to be in a situation where people will be going after completely different goals partway through the game and knowing that I will be a casualty of war.  I also don't enjoy a game where partway through the leader is already determined and the rest of the group spends the game spiting each other, squabbling over second place because they have already given up.

It doesn't mean that El Grande is bad, but it does mean that it has a lot of potential to be really irritating, and I try to avoid games like that.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ultimate power

Character progression in WOW is in an awkward spot.  Blizzard wants people to feel more powerful with time, but they have designed themselves into a place where power has increased too much.  Right now my character does about 5 times as much damage as I did when I first got to maximum level.  Those increases have come from a variety of sources, but the end result is that instead of combat with a random monster taking 15 seconds and having some risk involved, I simply explode anything I attack with two button presses.

This is going to get worse, of course.  I fully expect that by the end of the expansion I will be doing more like 7 times as much damage as I did at the start, and if that number is wrong, it is almost certainly because it is too low.  Combat no longer makes any sense at that point and every task simply becomes about travelling as fast as possible because nothing presents any threat whatsoever.

Blizzard tried to fix this in the latest patch by having monsters scale with character gear.  The backlash against this was massive, and justified.  For example, I discovered that if I simply remove my rings and amulet monsters lose about 1/3 of their health because the game thinks my item level has utterly tanked.  However, those gear pieces were only giving me a damage boost of 25%, so I am actually *more* powerful when I take off my gear.  This is clearly unintended, and feels utterly wrong.

The fact that the playerbase is now doing this, just 24 hours after the patch launched, is a clear failure on Blizzard's part.  We as a community strive to maximize our power and if they let us do it in awful, frustrating ways we will do it that way, but we will feel terrible about ourselves.

There are easy ways to address this if Blizzard wants to approach it from a numbers standpoint.  Right now the problem is that a beginning character comes in with all of their gear being item level 800 or so, and characters with good gear like mine are at item level 905 now.  However, if I remove three pieces of gear the game assigns a value of 0 to those slots, so my average item level drops below 800.  I am still pretty close to as powerful as before, but the monsters scale as though I am the newbiest newb there is.  They can fix it by simply putting a floor of 780 on gear for the purposes of this calculation.  That way you can't game the system - putting on low level gear or leaving slots empty won't ever help you.

Fixing the problem numerically is easy, but fixing the perception is harder.  People want to be more powerful.  They don't like the feeling that when they get a new piece of gear the game will simply give the monsters more health to compensate.  They *really* hate monsters scaling with their gear.

However, people also find utterly trivial monsters to be a bore.  They would like things to be interesting, and if everything dies to a single swing the world stops feeling dangerous, real, and important, and becomes just another grind.  Unfortunately with the crazy scaling in this expansion there is no way to keep old monsters relevant - you cannot give characters 5 times damage and 4 times health and think that enemies will retain any sort of threat.

Blizzard has put themselves in this bind and I don't see any good way out of it.  They need to use my numbers suggestion if they insist on keeping the scaling with gear mechanic, but that mechanic is going to be intensely unpopular.

So what is worse?  Better gameplay but the players are bitter, or worse gameplay but the players are happy?  In the long run bad gameplay and bitter players both cause subscription losses so it isn't at all clear to me what they should do from a financial standpoint.  From a consistency and loyalty standpoint though I think the answer is to get rid of this scaling with gear thing.  People hate it when Blizzard suddenly nerfs them, and for good reason.  They put in a ton of time trying to get more powerful, and when that gets minimized or wiped out by a patch it is really frustrating.

If it were me, I would tell people that the scaling was a mistake and walk it back.  I am curious to see how that plays out though, because they have a lot more data on hand than I do.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I am a Fox

Last night I played an escape room challenge called the Mad Fox society.  I won't be spoiling any of the puzzles directly, at least in part because my team got the best time to date of over 600 teams and I don't want to get beat!  We are all Mad Foxes now, whatever that means.

The game has a success rate of about 11% and has a time limit of one hour.  We won in 44:32, and the second team that went after us won in 57 minutes.  They had some technical difficulties though, so it is hard to compare.

I really enjoyed the game in general.  There were a large variety of puzzles from word puzzles, crosswords, visual puzzles, and math problems.  Plus there were some puzzles that I don't even know how to describe without giving them away completely.  This escape room was somewhat different from the first time I tried it a few years ago because there was a GM with us in the room to keep us on track.  She didn't solve puzzles for us but she kept us from completely misinterpreting things and going totally off track.  For example, one clue contained a > symbol, which I took to be 'greater than'.  It was intended to be an arrow though, and having someone to clarify that seems quite reasonable.  Figuring out that it was supposed to be an arrow was not supposed to be part of the challenge!

Unlike my first experience with escape games this one didn't have much of a physical component.  In my first game I had to yank a chunk of furniture off a wall and succeed at a puzzle that required strength, dexterity, and communication.  This one was purely a mental exercise because every physical manipulation required was extremely straightforward and you couldn't fail.  In this particular group of hardcore geeks and puzzle nerds I think I am a lot more valuable as the jock than as just another geek, so I didn't have the same defined role as last time.

This time I mostly solo solved a math/algebra puzzle.  One thing that made me a bit disappointed was that the GM gave me a hint about how to solve it halfway through even though I didn't ask for one.  I suspect the great majority of people would struggle with it, which is why she gave me the hint, but I really wanted to do it all myself.  Looking at the line of reasoning I was following I am sure I would have gotten it but it would have taken me an extra ten or twenty seconds without the clue.  I would have felt a lot better about that had I done it without any assistance at all.

One thing I really enjoyed about the game was that you didn't have to solve everything.  There were a couple small things we didn't quite finish but we were able to figure out how to proceed anyway.  It is an interesting twist to have people guessing at an answer with only partial knowledge and the dilemma of locking in guesses vs. grinding away at puzzles to be absolutely sure is one I enjoy.  You only have so much time and brainpower and trying to make leaps to get on to the next stage without doing everything is a cool strategy.

The only real downside to escape rooms is the cost.  I spent $32 for 45 minutes of entertainment and while I don't feel bad about that (because it was a lot of fun!) it is a really expensive way to spend time.  The trick is probably to look at it as the cost for an entire evening and spend time before and after socializing and discussing the puzzles.  It certainly provided a lot to talk about and consider so looking at it in that light is best, rather than a simple $/min calculation.

However, that is still enough money that I can't really make myself want to do it all the time.  I think if I suddenly had boatloads of money I would do every escape room available though.  It is a hobby that makes me feel good in all kinds of ways and I like that it is something I can pursue with a bunch of other people that isn't an environmental mess, which an awful lot of group activities are.

Friday, March 24, 2017

No time

Something really weird is happening in the current WOW expansion compared to previous iterations.  In times long past people would often wait 8 months for new content, and sometimes the wait would even go over a year.  Hardcore guilds in particular would grind like maniacs for a couple of months to beat the current tier and then go into maintenance mode for half a year or more waiting for something challenging to do.

Of course a lot of guilds weren't hardcore, so they would slowly farm their way through the difficulties slowly grinding their way up the ladder.  A guild wouldn't necessarily be a Normal guild, or a Heroic guild, because they could quite reasonably spend that 8 months working their way through one difficulty after the other.

The current expansion, Legion, isn't like this.  The expansion has been out for seven months and we are now seeing the fourth tier of raid content added into the game.  Blizzard is on a pace to add a new raid every two months, though admittedly one of those raids was quite small.  The difference here is that most guilds do not have the time to grind all the way through the game before something new arrives on their doorstep.

If your guild wants to get through all of a big raid in the roughly nine weeks allotted then you have to kill a new boss every week.  If, like many guilds, you want to be a Mythic guild but need time to farm up gear in Heroic first then you have to kill Heroic *really* quickly before moving on to Mythic.  The top tier guilds do this in a single week of course, but guilds like mine took a few weeks to kill Heroic and are going to be looking at a new raid having only beaten 3 bosses in Mythic mode.  My guild *might* kill a fourth boss before the new raid lands but I would bet against it if I had to bet.

This accelerated schedule is really weird.  I am used to the idea of cleaning up easy bosses fairly quickly but spending weeks and weeks grinding away at the hardest bosses to accumulate enough gear and practice to get them down.  This new way where you get nine weeks to beat everything and then you move on is a serious departure.

I think it is great.

I bet the most hardcore guilds will experience massive burnout because of it.  They go so hard that their players *need* six months break between spikes of playing to have their lives work at all, and when they get eight weeks of insanity followed up with one week of downtime it isn't sustainable.  Some guilds will simply find the small core of people who are willing to play twelve hours a day for the foreseeable future, but most of them will give up and go way more casual.

But what does this mean for people in the middle like me?  I play a lot when new content comes out to see all the stuff and power up, but I usually quit WOW when faced with the looming prospect of farming the same stuff for eight months.  How will I react when there is constantly something new to do?  I was feeling a little burned out this week, not sure I wanted to keep on raiding, but a new raid, new stuff to do, new power to gain, at a reasonable rate of return on time.... that might change things.

What it means long term is that instead of lots of guilds slowly grinding their way through content there will be a lot more churn.  Get it done fast, or don't get it done at all.  However, moving past old content quickly and having a steady stream of new stuff will probably make Blizzard a lot more money as it will keep people like me paying into the system.

I also think this will push a ton of guilds out of Mythic difficulty.  Many of them are just there because they need something to do when Heroic is cleared out, but if there just isn't much time to get Heroic down there isn't the pressing need to push into the hardest difficulty.  Mythic, with its fixed twenty person roster size, is a giant pain to organize, and if you can avoid that mess you probably want to.

My guess is that a quick release schedule like this will lead to greater stratification in guilds, pushing them to just stick to one difficulty setting or another.  It will smash a bunch of the top guilds, but be good for the masses of players because there will be so much to do.  Blizzard has been saying for a decade or more that they want a faster release schedule, and it seems they are finally in a place where they can deliver it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A new take on control

It took Magic The Gathering a long time to figure out what sort of deck is fun to play against and force the competitive scene to look like that deck.  Having seen the first reveals of the new Hearthstone set I think Hearthstone is being deliberately pushed that same way.

People like games that are over in a predictable time span.  They like decks that try to do exciting things.  They want to see big swings.

What they don't like is games where a control deck just kills everything the opponent puts out and then sits there waiting for them to die.

In Magic the control deck that was most hated was the permission deck, where the permission player constantly counters anything the opponent tries to do.  It just sucks to sit there watching all of your schemes fall apart while your opponent prepares to bore you to death.

Don't get me wrong, I loved playing those decks, but my opponents generally did not, and that was the problem.  It isn't that nobody loves permission decks, just that most people don't, and the fact that their games take forever to finish is frustrating for casual players and a problem for tournaments.

Hearthstone has a similar sort of thing with Control Warrior.  CW sits there gaining health and killing your stuff and waiting for you to die.  It isn't fun.

In the last expansion Blizzard put out a new archetype called Jade.  Jade cards make Jade Golems, which start out at 1/1 and grow by +1/+1 each time.  Those cards start out weak but eventually the Jade Golems become 10/10 or more, and the opposing player just folds under the pressure.  A lot of people talked about how as long as Jades are in the game no other control deck can succeed because eventually Jade Golems overwhelm any other deck.  Many people posited this as a problem.  I think it is the solution, and is quite deliberate on Blizzard's part.  We just need more things like it.

The reason I think it is deliberate is the selection of new cards coming out in the next expansion.  The most obvious example is this Lakkari Sacrifice, which gives you the following card:

Nether Portal is a new type of card that sits on the battlefield like a minion, but cannot be removed.  Each turn it makes a pair of 3/2 Imps, one on each side of it.  Actually getting the Nether Portal card requires a lot of investment but once you get it you reap the value every turn thereafter.  Unless your opponent has some source of extreme value themselves you will absolutely crush them in the late game, no question.

This card *crushes* CW.  If your opponent plays this you can't just sit there trying to gain health and clear their board because they will have far more than you can handle.  Just like Jade decks this card is designed to flat out beat any deck that isn't able to proactively attack them.

What this means for the metagame is that people will be playing control decks that quickly get to a powerful win condition that cannot be stopped.  The only solution is to either crush them quickly with an aggro deck, or to set up your own amazing win condition faster or better than they do.  I think this second option is what Blizzard is aiming for.  They think, and I agree, that the game is most fun when people are battling for board control and life totals and ratcheting up the stakes each turn.  When both players have totally nutty things they can do that will end the game one way or the other the game is never going to coast or get boring.  Each turn is going to contain steps towards something game changing happening.

CW is going to *suck* in that metagame.  This is a good thing for Hearthstone, just as permission decks sucking was a good thing for Magic.  That doesn't mean that all decks should be control decks, and it certainly doesn't mean that everyone is going to include these win conditions, but if the design team does their work at all well, a lot of people will.  That struggle towards victory with people threatening their gigantic bomb cards is a lot more fun than a long attrition match.

This style of game will mean that control vs. control matchups will be exciting, much quicker than before, and involve a lot of early game action.  People will be pushing to get their engine going rather than just sitting there staring at one another.

Whether or not they get the numbers right is a real question.  I can't answer that yet, both because I haven't seen all the cards, and because predicting that sort of thing is extremely difficult.  However, I can say that I love the concept of control decks with powerful win conditions and I think the games that come out of that will be more exciting to play and to watch.  I am really looking forward to seeing what else is in the next expansion and watching the metagame that comes out of it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The wall

In the Nighthold raid in the latest WOW patch there are 3 clear tiers of bosses.  The first 3 must be done in order and are easy, the next 4 can be done in any order you like and are moderate in difficulty, and the last 3 are extremely hard.  This has lead to a situation where a huge number of guilds, several thousand at least, have defeated the first 3 bosses but are stuck unable to defeat anything else.

Recently I joined a new guild in order to be able to raid Mythic difficulty and I think we are the classic example of one of these guilds.  We have some really good players who could find a spot in a top guild if they were willing to play 40 hours a week but since they aren't they hang out with a 6 hour a week guild like the one I am in.  We have some solid players who are good enough to do the medium difficulty bosses, and we have a few people who aren't good enough to be in Mythic difficulty at all but are getting carried along.  This has translated to us beating the first 3 bosses without serious difficulty but being totally unable to get any further.

Many people are complaining that the step up from boss 3 to boss 4 is too much.  I think that is a fair complaint, but it isn't necessarily that boss 4 is too hard but rather that boss 3 is too easy.  When people wander into an instance and find a nice difficulty curve from boss to boss you don't end up with all the guilds stuck at one spot and every new boss you fight feels like a real success when you finally down it.  When a middling boss is trivial but the next is a serious challenge then people get frustrated because they are used to easy wins and suddenly they can't get anything done.

The hardest boss of them all is the roster boss.  You can't maintain a roster of 25 good players because you can only bring 20 players so you have to bench 5 of them every night.  If you try to do that those 5 benchwarmers leave to find guilds where they actually get to play.  You can maintain a roster of 20 good players and a couple hangers on, but then when a couple of your good players quit you suddenly have to bring the scrubs along just to fill up the raid and they make you lose.  It is really difficult to recruit people because nobody wants to be the 23th raider because they get benched and nobody wants to be the 18th raider because then their guild is carrying scrubs to fill the last two slots.

You also have the problem that since there are thousands of guilds at the same point in progression you are fighting with everybody else for a limited pool of recruits.  It is hard to differentiate yourself from the pack, and you pretty much have to hope that your raiding schedule uniquely suits the potential recruits that are looking for a home.

My guild is having all these issues.  We get some new recruits but mostly they are terrible players.  We can't just bench them freely though because we don't actually have enough good people to fill those spots.  What do you do when a new recruit fails totally at doing important parts of the fight?  Kick them, and run with 19 people?  That isn't a good plan.  Just run with them and let them suck?  That makes your good raiders mad because they are carrying people who are bad or lazy.

It is a complicated mess, and right now my guild is dealing with all of this.  We are just one of the thousands of guilds stuck trying to get a 4th kill, and our roster is enough to fill a 20 person raid, but just barely, and we often end up bringing along terrible recruits or puggers.

The raid itself is a lot of fun though, I can't deny that.  It is just the logistics that are a nightmare.  This is pretty much the way it has always been, and I am just glad I am not the one whose job it is to do the logistics.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

One dimensional

I think my approach to building games is too focused.  That focus makes sense because I am playing to my strengths, but I suspect that I would be a much better designer if I were working on a small part of a large project.

The thing I do is numbers.  When someone tries to tell me that I ought to rewrite the metaphysics of my world I nod and think seriously about it.  When people ask for big changes to the descriptions of a race, class, card, or flavour text I am generally happy to do whatever they ask.

But ask to change a 3 to a 4?  Bite my shiny metal ass.

That 3 is a 3 for a *reason*.

Yesterday I was driving and chatting with In The Hat and he made a couple of great suggestions about theme in Heroes By Trade, my roleplaying game.  Theme is a thing I think about once I have all the numbers built.  It is the pretty frame around the combat system, the necessary fluff required to make my beautiful numbers have some reason for existing.

Right now Heroes By Trade has a system where most people are just normal people.  They can be good at stuff, learn magical Rituals, and be important to the world, but they don't have the raw power that a Shard has.  A Shard is a person that has a shard of one of the ancient gods in them.  They are magical by nature and this means they tend to be stronger, faster, and smarter than the average person.  They learn Rituals more easily, wield fearsome magic in combat, and bend the world around them just by showing up.

But up to this point the fact that a person had a shard in them was just a convenient reason to give them big numbers.  It didn't really have much in the way of theme or depth.  In The Hat suggested that shards within people should have their own agendas or goals, some kind of thing that they were doing that might not jibe at all with the character's goals.  That is a pretty neat idea!  The idea of a power source within you that you have to negotiate with to some extent seems like it could generate all kinds of adventures and drama.

Adventures and drama are the thing we want!

I am not sure how it would play out, but it could be like the Nature/Demeanour dichotomy in the World of Darkness game.  It isn't exactly the same, but roleplaying a dual nature or conflicts in how a person usually is vs. some internal drive leads to great scenes.

If I wanted to build a system around this I don't think I would let the player control it.  If you did let the player control it the obvious thing would be that players could get some sort of bonuses when doing what their shard wanted.  I suspect that would lead to players hoarding shard bonuses if they were limited, or just being super overpowered if the benefits were always available.  It also would mean that characters with shards that align with their own goals would be flat out better, and I want to reward entertaining conflict, not punish it.

Probably a lot better would be to put the shard under the GM's control.  My first idea would be that either the player or the shard would currently be dominant, and when the player is dominant they can add a 1d8 bonus to a roll that the shard is in favour of.  However, this makes the shard dominant.  When that happens the shard gains the ability to penalize the player 1d8 on a roll of the shard's choice when the player is working against its desires.  Once it does this the player becomes dominant.

What this would mean is that players that always do what their shard wants get one bonus, then nothing much.  Players that are always fighting their shard take one penalty, then nothing much.  Players who are sometimes in agreement with their shard and sometimes not have exciting lives.  Things that the shard wants go really well, and things it hates go badly.

Instead of boring 1d8 bonuses though I could do something similar with a lot more pizzazz.  Basically I would say that players can tap into their shard's power to have it do something amazing to help them when they need it.  However, doing this means that the shard is now dominant, and it will do something horrible to stop the player when they are working against it.  Maybe it will mind control them temporarily, or cause a terrible moment of weakness at a critical juncture... who knows?

Now that system sounds like a bundle of joy for me as a GM and as a player.  I would be pumping that shard ability all the time.  Whatever wild shenanigans the GM comes up with to stymie my plans has to be fun, even if it wrecks the character's day.

This is the kind of stuff I need help to get going.  Maybe at some point in my life I can find myself on a team with people who pour out all the ideas and I can happily there simulating combats to figure out how much damage a longsword will do.

Until then I have to be the jack of all trades, it would seem.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The adjudicator

Chess is simple.  There are clear rules.  No ambiguity, no uncertainty.  There aren't obscure clauses you have to know or timing tricks - just a series of clear, logical steps.

So running a chess tournament should be the easiest thing in the world.  Just make sure the clear, simple rules are followed, right?

Hah!  Ten year olds take your simple rules and laugh.

Today I was helping to run a chess tournament and had to deal with some real head scratchers.  The biggest problem in running tournaments for kids is that they consistently forget about the king being in check.  If the game made any damn sense then leaving the king in check would be perfectly legal.  Stupid, maybe, but legal.  However, today I faced a situation where I walked over to a board and noticed that the black queen had the white king in check.  The white player had just moved her pawn forward to promote it and I had to inform her that the move had to be taken back because she had to get out of check.

Of course the obvious thing is to ask what the previous moves were to try to restore the game to a legal state.  The players thought that the king had probably been in check for ten turns and there was no way to get back to the way the board was when it was legal.  I looked at the board and had a conundrum.  Clearly the solution was to leave the board the way it was and inform white that she had to make a different move.  Normally I would say "You must either block the piece checking your king, move the king out of check, or capture the piece checking your king."  Kids need to know that all three of these things are possible.  Trouble is, the pawn that had been moved back could capture the queen that was checking the king.

(You might wonder why the pawn hadn't taken the queen in the first place.  Kids are BAD at chess.)

If I make it explicit that white can capture the queen to end the check, she probably will, but her opponent might feel that I was giving her moves to help her win.  He would have a point there.  If I don't say it, white will just move her king out of check and lose the game.  I don't think there is any way I can give the white player a proper understanding of her options without cluing her into a move that is completely devastating.

I don't know what a proper tournament director would do in this situation.  Declare both players the loser for failing to maintain a legal board state?  Declare a tie?  Beats me.

What I do know is that a game that seems so totally logical and solid suddenly becomes a complete mess when children are involved.  They can't agree on whose turn it is.  They can't agree which space a piece occupies.  They can't remember what the last move was.  One of them is obviously stalling, and I don't have a chess clock, and I can't just stand over her board for the entire time because there are other children who need help.

I just stand there trying to make up ruling on the fly, desperately hoping I seem impartial and consistent when I know I am not.

At least they weren't playing Monopoly?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Fire Turkey: Ultimate value

We got a glimpse of the new Hearthstone cards coming in the Journey to Un'goro expansion recently, and one in particular caught my eye.

Now this is a fun card.  It starts out as a 2/2, then a 6/6, then a 10/10.  All of the stat lines are low for the cost, but you get all 3 cards for the price of 1, and that is big value.  Most responses to the card have been negative, as people seem to think that it isn't worth running.  After all, why play 3 cards if they are all bad?

You could look at the card as a 2/2 that draws you a card.  This is a strong card that would see all kinds of play.  The 6/6 that draws you a card is also excellent and would see just as much play.  The 10/10 that draws nothing is trash and sees zero play.  However, I don't think that looking at the card like this is the best approach.  It isn't drawing you towards combo pieces or answers, so it isn't the same as drawing a card.  So how *should* we think about this?

The answer is that you have to think carefully about what cards do in your overall strategy.  Obviously no aggressive deck is going to run this because they don't want late game value.  However, control decks all run really expensive late game cards to win the game, so we ought to compare this against other late game cards to see how it stacks up.  The most critical element here is that if you run a gigantic dragon that costs 9, as many of them do, then it does NOTHING until turn 9.  It is useless against all deck types.  Pyros, however, is not like this.

Pyros has the huge advantage that if you don't happen to have much to do on turn 2 you can just slam it down.  It isn't massive but it is something, and something is far better than the nothing your other late game cards offer.  It gives you options.  That is actually quite a useful thing to do against other control decks because they often stare at each other not wanting to commit to the board and having something you can just slam down that they have to deal with is relevant.  It is also useful if you have nothing else good when playing against an aggro deck.  Not ideal, but again, far superior to the nothing that another late game card offers.

In the late game a regular late game card will be better than a 10/10 for 10.  However, if your opponent has poured removal into the 2/2 and the 6/6 then the 10/10 could be just the value you need to push the game in your direction.  It is just one more damn thing they have to kill, and eventually they will run out of ways to kill your stuff.  However, if you draw this in the late game when your hand is empty it isn't nearly as good as a regular big dragon.  It is slower out of the gate and gives the opponent more time to find answers and figure out how they will cope with it.  Still, the first stage of Pyros can often be brought out in the same turn as another high value card so unless your hand is totally empty it isn't going to be a dead turn.

My sense is that against a control deck this is a high value card.  It generates a ton of stats without digging into your deck, and that is great if you are grinding it out.  Against an aggro deck it isn't great by any means but it is still hugely better than your other late game value options because it does something instead of nothing.

The trick with Pyros is that it is consistent.  Normal big dragons are either rubbish or super powerful depending on who you are playing and when you draw them.  Pyros is always okay no matter when you draw it and is relevant against every opponent.  That consistency is important.

I don't think Pyros is broken, nor do I think it will suddenly be in every mage deck.  I do think that if you are looking for a high value endgame card for a control mage archetype this will be a real contender.  It has some big advantages against all other endgame value cards and might be even better than that because it has both the elemental type and deathrattle which are likely to have significant synergies in the new set.

My feeling is that you will see this card in most control mage archetypes once it launches.  Whether or not control mage is good enough to be a contender is a question we can't possibly answer right now, but if it is, Pyros should be a part of it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A world on a disc

I played the board game Discworld last week.  It, like Arkham Horror, the last board game I reviewed, is not a type of game I generally enjoy.  Discworld is a competitive game set in the world of Discworld, a set of novels by Terry Pratchett.  I have read a subset of those novels and generally enjoyed them but I wouldn't say I am a big enthusiast of the setting - it is fine but nothing special to me.

The main thing about Discworld that isn't my cup of tea is the win condition.  Each player is dealt a random win condition from a pile and you only reveal your win condition when you win or when someone else wins.  This leads to a game where everyone knows all of the win conditions and as soon as anyone is in place to score one of them everyone gangs up on them to prevent it from happening.  That isn't the sort of game I like.  It is frustrating to know that any attempt to interfere with an opponent is likely to have no effect at all because it probably isn't affecting their game plan but if I don't interfere there is a good chance I just lose on the spot.

Throughout the game we played the most experienced player kept telling everyone that they had to punish me because I was pursuing the 'get tons of cash' victory condition.  That was in fact true but the only reason I was accumulating cash was because all of my cards were 'gain cash' cards.  That my win condition was about cash was only incidental.  Of course people did listen to her and tried to punish me but all that accomplished was letting her win because her win condition was simply to prevent other people from winning.

Discworld is also really random.  There are a lot of cards that gain you 2 or 3 money, and there are also random events that can cost you 18 money.  Those kinds of swings based on drawing random cards and not even knowing what your opponents are trying to accomplish means that there isn't a lot of skill in the game.  Just keep doing stuff that seems like it generally forwards your plan and then wait and see if someone blows you out with random cards, pretty much.

The theme of Discworld is fine but isn't all that well integrated with the cards.  It isn't terrible, as there is a map of the city of Ankh-Morpork (the central city in the Disworld books) and the various win conditions are tagged to characters from the novels in reasonable ways but it doesn't *feel* much like Discworld.  If you love the source material you will probably be satisfied, but it isn't brilliant.

However, unlike my last review, I think that Discworld is a reasonable game if you want a game of hidden win conditions and random card draws to see what happens.  You can't really have any kind of long term strategy because your actions are limited to whatever random cards you draw so what skill there is mostly is short term tactics.  You are going to play some cards, draw some cards, laugh at random events mucking up the board, and then somebody will win.  Which somebody?   Who knows!  You can't even tell one turn before game end who is in the lead!

Discworld isn't my game.  But if you want a game themed on a fantasy city you know and love and like randoming your random, it seems well enough put together.

One thing I can't help but wonder is if there isn't some kind of more strategy based game hiding inside Discworld.  If the randomness of the events was way toned down or removed it seems like you could actually have a game where people really tried to fool each other into preventing the wrong sort of victory condition.  As it was though strategy and mind games seemed overwhelmed by the draws.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Doing it up proper

This week I joined a new guild in WOW.  My primary goal in swapping guilds was the same this time as last time I did so, just a month ago:  I want to do harder things.  My previous swap got me into a guild doing more challenging stuff, with a higher skill level, but even then it was still obvious that there were three top damage dealers and then a ton of people who really weren't playing well.

More to the point was the way it ended up feeling.  I sat there thinking that if everyone was as prepared as I am and was playing as well as I was the fight would be over in no time and we would move on.  That sense that I have beaten my personal chunk of the fight but that the rest of the group had not beaten theirs was not fun.

At some point I feel like I have beaten a fight, that I have surmounted its challenges.  There is also a moment when the boss dies.  If the boss dies first, it means I am still crap and I got carried.  Not fun.  If the boss dies much later than my mastery peaks, then I am carrying people.  Also not fun.

My new guild is much better this way.  They are a lot more aggressive, skilled, and demanding.  We move quick, expect that people be efficient, and insist that people show up, be prepared, and pay attention.  We also operate on a 6 hour raid schedule with optional stuff on other nights, and that suits me.

It also feels like Mythic difficulty fights are the ones that are actually complete.  For example, on the first Mythic boss we beat last night summons lots of scorpions.  The random trash mobs before the boss have an ability that puts down green splats of poison, but on the Normal and Heroic versions of the boss no such splats occur.  In Mythic those same sorts of scorpions that make the green splats appear and you have to dodge the green, just like on the trash mobs before the boss.  I appreciate those points, and the boss feels better designed because it is anchored in the world more completely.  These bosses feel like they are done properly, and the lower level versions are just cutouts that try and fail to deliver the full experience.

The numbers also feel right.  We have to play correctly, cope with mechanics every time, and come up with ways to handle difficult situations.  We can't just screw up and push through it anyway.  That makes winning feel far more rewarding.  Our victory came right about the time that I felt I was mastering the encounter, that I was able to keep all the bits in my brain and execute properly.

Matching group mastery of a challenge with individual mastery of a challenge is a deeply satisfying thing.

I remember in years gone past this challenge coming up.  Sometimes a specific encounter would be really hard for one particular group and the rest of us would have to just keep on executing it until that group figured it out.  Maybe it was really hard on the healer (solo healing Saurfang heroic says hi) or maybe it was complicated for the tanks (Sarth 3D comes to mind) but in any case there are going to be times that you have a thing figured out and you need to wait for your partners to catch up.

My new home does seem like a good place so far for this.  I am doing fights that I have to think about, playing with people who are good, and learning together.  I have missed that, and I think I will greatly enjoy slamming myself into challenges with them.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The numbers, they are scary

In the Mythic+ 5 person dungeons Blizzard introduced in this expansion they really have a hit.  A lot of people are playing them and I personally love that there is scaling 5 person content that is really challenging.  It also is interesting because it uses different sorts of abilities than larger raids do.  Stuns and interrupts and other such things are valued in M+ while being usually ignored in raiding situations.

One issue they have had so far is the balance of the additional mods on dungeons. As you get to level 4, 7, and 10 a new mod shows up on the enemies.  Volcanic causes each enemy to randomly spawn a volcano under players every few seconds, while Bolstering gives all nearby enemies 20% more health and damage every time an enemy dies.  There are a bunch of mods, which is great, but one problem is that some are far more challenging than others.

The real issue is that some mods can be beaten with skill, and some need gear.  Sanguine, for example, creates a pool on the ground when a monster dies and that pool heals enemies and injures players.  This is occasionally annoying but most of the time you just keep moving the enemies out of the pools as their friends die and nothing bad comes of it.  This takes concentration and skill but adds little in terms of output requirements.  If you play correctly it hardly matters at all.

On the other end of the spectrum is Necrotic where each enemy attack stacks up a debuff on the player that reduces healing they receive by 3%.  Very quickly the player becomes unhealable and dies no matter how much gear they have so the tank must use a movement boost and run away from monsters to get rid of the healing penalty debuff.  This drastically reduces the damage your group deals because monsters are running around everywhere and increases the healing you have to output to cope with the debuff.  Skill matters, but when Necrotic is up you need a ton of extra gear to overcome it.  Also because Necrotic takes 10 seconds to drop off you absolutely must wait 10 seconds between fighting enemy groups.

It turns out that all the mods that just take skill are considered the easy ones and the mods that force actual numbers increases are the hard ones.  In groups with weaker skill the difference isn't that large, I suspect, but there is no question that on weeks with really difficult mods there are far fewer people playing because they are stuck doing much lower level dungeons than they are used to.  The people pushing really high level dungeons who expect high skill notice this the most.

Blizzard is making some changes to the M+ system in an attempt to address this disparity.  Their changes are moving in the right direction, I think, but aren't going to change the fundamental situation that any mod that can be ignored via skill will end up being the easy one for those pushing their limits.

  • New Affix: Bursting (level 4)
    • When slain, non-boss enemies explode, causing all players to suffer 10% of their maximum health in damage over 4 seconds. This effect stacks.
  • New Affix: Fel Explosives (level 7)
    • Creatures have a chance to summon an Explosive Orb at a nearby location that will explode, inflicting damage of 50% of the player’s maximum health.
  • New Affix: Quaking (level 7)
    • Periodically, players will Quake, inflicting damage of 20% of the player’s maximum health and interrupting spell casts of themselves and nearby allies.
  • New Affix: Grievous (level 7)
    • While below 90% health, players are afflicted with Grievous Wound.
  • The Overflowing affix has been removed.
  • The Bolstering affix range has been reduced to 30 yards (was 45 yards).
    • Developers’ notes: The intent of this change is to allow players more opportunities for crowd control.
  • Necrotic Rot will now expire after leaving combat. Duration reduced to 8 seconds (was 10 seconds).
    • Developers’ notes: This should eliminate the situation where players were waiting for Necrotic to fall off after killing enemies, and it should give tanks more opportunities for resets while in combat.
  • Skittish threat reduction has been lowered to 75% (was 80%).
  • Fortified damage bonus lowered to 30% (was 40%).
  • Tyrannical damage bonus lowered to 15% (was 20%).
  • Sanguine radius increased to 8 yards.

The Overflowing affix has been removed, and while they don't justify this, it is easy to see why they chose to do it.  Overflowing causes any healing in excess of the player's maximum to create a *negative* healing debuff of the same size.  Some healing classes rely on big critical hits on their heals, and Overflowing punishes this brutally.  Other classes rely on healing over time buffs, and those create small healing penalties that are immediately cured again.  Removing Overflowing was mostly just acknowledging that druid healers were outrageously overpowered during Overflowing weeks and that wasn't particularly balanced.

Sanguine, easily the easiest mod, has had the size of the pools increased from 5 yard radius to 8.  This is a serious buff because the total area covered by Sanguine is now 2.56x as much as before.  Players will still be able to avoid Sanguine much of the time, but in enclosed spaces it will actually become a real problem to deal with and may require dragging groups of enemies long distances to find open areas to fight in.

Probably the most hated mod was Skittish, which reduced tank threat by 80% and randomly added threat to damage classes.  This meant that melee classes were pretty worthless as the enemies would constantly turn around, 1 shot the melee, and then turn back to the tank.  Blizzard is changing Skittish to reduce tank threat by only 75% instead of 80%.  This is actually a really large change and will mean that there will be many less random deaths.  Skittish will still punish melee over range disproportionately but at least it won't be the case that I just want to skip the entire week when it is Skittish week.

The mod I hated most as a tank was Necrotic, and it is being changed to make it easier to drop the debuff (8 seconds instead of 10), and as soon as all enemies are defeated the stack vanishes.  This will eliminate the mandatory standing around part of Necrotic and that makes me happy.  It will still be a serious issue on challenging encounters, but it won't be nearly as much of a pain in the ass.

I like these changes a lot.  They are taking the joke mod and making it real.  I think people will initially still laugh at Sanguine, but once they try out the new size they will find it a real challenge.  I like that the mods that made me refuse to tank or refuse to do damage on a given week are being altered so they are less gruelling.  I don't know how all these new mods will play out of course because we don't have ranges or frequencies but they look quite reasonable at a glance.

Under these new mods each week will be different requiring new tactics and priorities.  However, I think there will be less of a difference between the trivial weeks and the brutal ones, which is good.

It won't fix everything though.  The absolute best runs will still be Sanguine / Volcanic, where the enemies are quickly moved out of the pools and the players adeptly dodge the Volcanic bursts.  When people are pushing themselves to the limit of their gear if you can get mods that don't actually influence the numbers you have to take them.  However, these changes will even things out considerably and that is a good direction to go in.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Grind forever

In World of Warcraft there used to be really serious limits on how good you could make your character outside of raiding.  Once you finished up with dungeons you never needed to go back, generally speaking, and once you finished a raid there was little point in returning.  If you wanted to get better you threw more time into trying the boss you were stuck on, and if all the bosses were dead you could log off.

These days that isn't the case.  Now you can never really consider yourself finished.  The grind to maximize your artifact power is an enormous one and even though I play a lot I still haven't made it to the cap on a single weapon, much less on all my weapons.  It is certainly possible to hit the cap, as I am at 51 of 54 right now, but the time investment is huge.  In the next patch Blizzard is going to raise the cap again and the initial estimates are that after the 75 day setup period it will take around 1000 dungeon runs to get to the new cap.

A lot of people hate this.  There is a real perception that unless you are absolutely at the peak of your ability you are letting your team down.  There will be a ton of hardcore raiders who will feel pressure both internally and externally to play 10 hours a day, 7 days a week to get their 1000 runs in within two months.

This of course is hardly relevant for people a little ways down the ladder of competitiveness.  That last 250 hours of grinding to get 3% more effectiveness is not in the cards for the great majority of players, and honestly they would gain far more just from the practice of playing that 250 hours than they would the numerical bonuses.  Most people are going to look at that impossibly high cap and laugh.

The thing I have been wondering is how much it matters that the cap exists.  If people were allowed to grind forever but the cost of each new point kept increasing then at some point people would have to say that they have done enough.  The game wouldn't have a preset 'you are finished' marker and so people would stop when they wanted to.  My sense is that as long as a cap exists top players are going to insist that they and their teammates must be at that cap, no matter how absurd getting there might be.  They could do that now, of course, and the great majority of the playerbase does so, but the top players would have to be like the rest of us and accept that they cannot be perfect.  They would have to admit that their time was a real constraint on their power level.

Having an unlimited progression scheme does have its risks though.  Blizzard greatly underestimated how hard people would farm for artifact power in the early going of the expansion and that led to the first raid being badly undertuned.  It was true throughout the raid but was most obvious on the final boss who simply didn't do enough.  People's numbers were simply too high.  The current raid is much more appropriately tuned though because Blizzard had a hard cap to work with and could tell exactly how much damage people would be capable of.

If their new cap is unachievable under any reasonable playstyle then Blizzard is going to be in guessing mode again.  They will have to decide just how nuts people will be and guess at how much time the most hardcore will sink into the game when tuning encounters.  In previous expansions this might have been a huge issue for the slightly less hardcore players but right now it actually works out just fine for people who are a bit behind the curve.  They can just take an extra couple of weeks to farm more gear from the instance and make up the difference that way.

This is of course drawing data from the public test realm.  Things are subject to change.  However, it does make me wonder if Blizzard truly intended for the current system to be effectively endless and were surprised when it came to an end all of a sudden.  It might be that the completely outrageous new cap is actually intended to be outrageous.

If I were designing the new cap myself I would make it endless.  With any hard cap people are going to complain that they are 'forced' to get to the cap.  With a soft cap they can figure it out for themselves.  If each new point cost 30% more than the previous point and each new point gave a .5% increase then people would fairly quickly stall out.  Sure, the most hardcore players in the world would be doing 5% more damage than me, but they would also be playing 11x as much, so that seems fine.  I have a feeling that people would then just decide for themselves when it was enough.  Some of them would presumably always feel inadequate if they weren't the best in the world, but there isn't a lot I can do about that.  They will likely always feel that way.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The horror!

Yesterday I played Arkham Horror for the first time.  It is a cooperative board game for 1-8 players themed around Lovecraftian monsters coming into the world, eventually followed by some sort of horrible evil Elder God.  The players are investigators trying to fight or evade the monsters and either close all the gates to other worlds or defeat the Elder God.

I hate Arkham Horror.

Part of it is Arkham Horror's design flaws and part of it is simply the type of game it is, which isn't necessarily a flaw but makes it a game I dislike.  Arkham Horror is one of those cooperative games where players all have the same information so instead of each player deciding things on their own they all can make decisions together.  This is pretty much the definition of the Alpha Player Problem where newer or less aggressive players get told what to do by the better or more yelly players.  It is also extremely random and involves drawing lots of cards that either ruin you or help you, and rolling lots of dice to see how encounters come out.

I dislike both random games where you just do stuff and see what happens and games where one player can just run the board.  They make me sad.  You might like those games but I have no use for them whatever.

Let us imagine for a moment that I am the sort of person that likes the kind of game Arkham Horror is.  Does it do that well?

No, not really.

The quality of the pieces and art is great.  The theme is well done and I like the characters and events.  There is all kinds of fluff and lore that is well made and enjoyable.  Unfortunately the play of the game is rubbish.  In the game I played I just did the same thing over and over again because there was no reason to explore or do anything interesting.  The cards that came up were extremely favourable so we just walked through the game effortlessly and it hardly matters what we did at all.  We won handily, never felt like there was any real threat, and honestly spent much of our time not having anything to do.  People just wandered to random locations to draw random cards to see what would happen because there was nothing useful to accomplish.

I read a strategy guide written by someone who had played a lot and who read all the cards and the optimal strategy is to just sit in one place that has mostly really helpful cards and do nothing else if you can avoid it.  When the strategy guide is "Just sit in the Newspaper office all game" then the game itself seems extremely weak.  It is fine to have some areas be good for some things and not others, and it is also fine for some areas to be risky but with big payoffs, but when you just stay in one place because it is flat out the best then the game is not well made.

Arkham Horror feels like a game that was built by someone who liked the Lovecraftian lore, got lots of nice art made, and had no clue how to build a good game.  It is the Monopoly of modern cooperative games - trivial strategy, extremely long, and unpleasantly random.

Two thumbs way, way down.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Am I bad?

Today I was looking at warcraft logs rankings of retribution paladins to see if my spec is actually a good one.  The first ranking I was linked to shows ret paladins in 22nd place of 24 specs.  Ouch.  Then I realized that this was only showing Mythic difficulty, so I changed it to Heroic difficulty because that is what I actually raid.  Now I am showing up as 2nd place instead of 22nd.  There is some small correlation between the two data sets, but it is pretty random.  When I switch to Normal or Looking for Raid I similar giant swings.

What gives?

A lot of this is going to be due to people's perceptions of how specs are performing.  If the absolute best players all decide that one spec is a couple percent higher than another, then that best spec will end up overrepresented amongst the top players.  This will inflate its numbers, and even though all things being equal one spec might do 95% of the damage of another, once you account for the shift of top players towards the better spec it suddenly appears as though the number is 85%.

You also have problems with some players doctoring logs to make themselves better, some groups organizing raids just to give certain specs great parses, and specific sets and legendaries making perfectly optimized characters of specific specs amazing without actually affecting the average people playing those specs.  People represented in mythic raids are going to represent not the average but the extreme top end and that means that highly variable specs will be overepresented.

In other words, much as people really want to use warcraftlogs rankings to complain about the shape their own spec is in I don't think you can use it effectively that way.

I figure that I am consistently top two in my pickup group Heroic raids and guild raids.  I don't get cut from groups because of my spec.  Given that, I ought not to worry about it.  Far better to work on being better than to look at online statistics and fuss over my place in them.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Boss fight

Many times in the past I have had conversations with people trying to figure out which World of Warcraft raid boss would win in a fight.  The game becomes most interesting when you assume that all of them have their numbers scaled to similar degrees, otherwise of course the old bosses get 1 shot by the new ones and that isn't interesting.

There were always a lot of questions.  For example, Azgalor has a debuff that instantly kills the target after 1 minute, so pretty clearly either the fight can only last 2 minutes or bosses need to be made immune to instant death attacks.  I generally think that instant death attacks aren't allowed, as bosses are immune to most status conditions and I think it would be fair to put instant death on that list.

Which boss wins the Royal Rumble is not immediately clear to me, but it is pretty certain that modern bosses do much better than old ones.  Largely this is because of mechanics designed to force tank swaps.  Old bosses just sat there and bashed one tank for the entirety of a fight in many cases, or forced tank swaps just by dropping aggro.  Both of these are shockingly ineffective against another boss.  Modern bosses tend to have stacking debuffs that are extremely dangerous and if two bosses are just standing there beating each other those debuffs would become dominant, far exceeding the damage of mere autoattacks.

A big part of the challenge is figuring out how smart the bosses are.  Star Augur Etraeus, for example, summons a Thing That Should Not Be, and that Thing, if it is anywhere near Etraeus, grants both of them 99% damage reduction.  Players simply drag the Thing far away but if another boss is just standing there beating on them then this ability is absolutely brutal.

Some bosses also have healing abilities that are similarly impressive.  Unless you can kill the Twin Emperors in just a few seconds they will heal each other to full over and over again with little you can do about it.  Their other abilities aren't particularly scary though so I expect that other bosses would eventually stack up huge damage over time abilities that would overcome even that incredible healing power.

In both of those cases though the power of the abilities depends on the location of the critters in question.  If the Twin Emperors choose to stand next to each other they are a massive problem.  If the other boss is allowed to separate them they would be total pushovers.

I think the best way to tackle this is to simply assume that all bosses stand in a pile beating on whatever has the most threat.  If some bosses have outrageous positioning based powers, then let those powers do their thing.

Funnily enough this week in Hearthstone there was actually a Tavern Brawl that emulated this sort of question but for Hearthstone bosses instead.  There were lots of really neat matchups between wildly different strategies.  Chess let you play minions with immense health pools for their cost who attack without the enemy being able to counterattack.  The Grim Guzzler let you put a random minion into play for each player, and its deck was full of gigantic minions.

I didn't get enough of a chance to play the Tavern Brawl to be sure of what boss was the best, but I absolutely love the idea.  It is one thing to play against these outrageous things as a player, but doing so as a boss is a totally new and intriguing problem.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Nerf me more

I have been ranting some here about the way retribution paladins work in WOW at the moment.  Blizzard agrees with my basic thesis, it turns out, and they are moving to change things.  The principle of my issue is that Crusade is too powerful.  I can see why it ended up where it is, because the basic version you see here is totally reasonable.


Instant2 min recharge

Increases your damage and haste by 3.5% for 20 sec.

Each Holy Power spent during Crusade increases damage and haste by an additional 3.5%.

Maximum 15 stacks.

This is a fine talent.  The problem is that at the end of Crusade you are doing a truckload of damage, and there are a bunch of ways in the game to extend the duration of Crusade, which means you extend the part of the buff where you are a brutal hitting machine but leave the setup time of the buff the same.  When Crusade is fulled stacked you are doing roughly 2.3 times normal damage, so trinkets and other buffs that give you temporary bonuses that coincide with Crusade become nuts.

It isn't good.  That is, ret paladins do lots of damage, but there is no realistic choice other than Crusade, and every relic you pick has to buff Crusade duration, and every trinket you pick has to synergize with Crusade.  Blizzard wanted us to have options, and right now we don't have that.

I won't take any credit for this, but Blizzard agreed with my posts and decided to nerf Crusade to 3% per stack instead of 3.5%.  This is fine and all, since ret paladins are one of the top dps specs right now, but it doesn't solve the problem.  Crusade, even with this nerf, is still absolutely the best and you still want to stack trinkets and relics to buff it.

There is hope on the horizon though.  People have datamined changes in the next big patch that have two more ranks in the trait that extends the duration of Crusade, potentially allowing you to get it up to 40 seconds in duration.  Clearly this cannot go live with the current version of Crusade.  There is also datamining that suggests that ret paladins will get a trait that allows you to cast Judgement more during Crusade (or Avening Wrath, if you don't have Crusade.)  At the moment this Judgement benefit is quite terrible because Judgement is bad.

But wait!

Many months ago I suggested that Crusade should be gutted and Judgement damage should be doubled.  This would be pretty much a wash in terms of overall damage dealt, but it would mean that ret paladins might actually care about the mastery stat on gear because it affects Judgement, and the new trait that affects Judgement would get a lot more attractive because Judgement would be a hard hitting attack.  Relics and trinkets that line up with Crusade would still be fine, and running a hardcore Crusade build would be viable.  However, it would also be viable to take other options on that talent row and use relics that buff other strategies.

For example, if you took the Greater Judgement talent, it would be great to stack Judgement relics.  The Final Verdict talent would make using Templar's Verdict relics good.  There would be lots of choices, and Blizzard wouldn't have to worry that if they forget to include relics or trinkets that buff Crusade in a particular tier of content that ret paladins will be trash, and they also wouldn't have to worry that if they put a few too many of those things in that ret paladins will be too dominant.

What I would do personally is change Crusade to have a flat 35% damage bonus, but have the stacking haste buff be at 2.5% per stack.  This means that fully stacked Crusade is a 85% damage increase, much less than now, but it is better at the start.  Crusade would still retain its flavour, and would be comparable to the other talent beside it, but would be lowered enough in overall power that relics and trinkets that buff it wouldn't be such a problem.  People that chose Crusade would obviously lean towards things that buff it, but other strategies would be perfectly fine.  Again this assumes a doubling of Judgement damage in order to make this work out.

So there you go.  Blizzard agrees with my goal... now to see if they implement it the way I suggest.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

One big problem

In the new Nighthold raid in WOW I am looking forward to one particular item.  It is called Convergence of Fates, which does this:

Convergence of Fates
Item Level 875+

Binds when picked up
+1,634 [Agility or Strength]
Equip: Your attacks have a chance to reduce the remaining cooldown on one of your powerful abilities by 5 sec.

This is a good trinket for many people, I presume, but it is completely ridiculous for me as a ret paladin.  My current trinkets are worth roughly 5-7% of my damage depending on luck and conditions, including both their passive stats and their unique bonuses.  Convergence of Fates is worth 14%.  That is absurd, and completely beyond the scope of what Blizzard intends for trinket power.

To give context, they recently nerfed a ret paladin Legendary item that increased my damage during Crusade, which is the powerful ability that Convergence of Fates modifies.  That belt's legendary power was worth about 10% additional damage, and they nerfed it to half of its original strength so that it is now worth 5% additional damage.

If they don't want a legendary item, of which I can only wear two, to do 10% additional damage, they absolutely cannot want a random trinket to raise my damage by 8% over comparable options!

The link here is Crusade.  Both items modify Crusade, and Crusade is so over the top powerful that anything that benefits it becomes outrageously strong.  My rough napkin math suggests that the Crusade talent is worth about 20% additional damage, and the other options you could choose instead aren't remotely close to that value.  This is of course before you factor in Convergence of Fates, which makes the Crusade talent even more dominant.

Crusade is a problem.  No talent point should be as automatic a choice as Crusade is, and the fact that Blizzard consistently underestimates how critical it is to a ret paladin's performance is an issue.  They are going to nerf Convergence of Fates for ret paladins when they realize how powerful it is, but they shouldn't... they should nerf Crusade itself.

Not that they should just nerf Crusade and walk away!  Ret paladins are so dependent on it that Blizzard should probably give a flat 10% damage bonus in exchange and then nerf Crusade to be something comparable to Holy Purpose, which is the other reasonable alternative, and rewrite the third choice completely so it isn't terrible and a problem at the same time.  Right now there isn't any choice but Crusade, and it is so good that it warps all kinds of things.  The only relics I want are Crusade relics.  The only trinkets I want are trinkets that work with Crusade.  It dominates everything, and that isn't good.

I want options.  Right now I don't have them, and Blizzard so underestimates the power of Crusade that I am on a whoopsoverpowered -> nerf train that isn't fun.

The belt isn't the problem.  The trinket isn't the problem.  Crusade is the problem.  It needs fixing.

Edit:  Blizzard has already noticed the problem that Convergence of Fates was presenting, and nerfed it by 70%!!!!!!!   It has been out for 1 whole day.  This means Convergence is now still a fine trinket, but not completely bonktastic.  Good, I guess?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fast or dangerous

This past week was a good one in terms of me getting phat lewt in WOW.  The first big change was the patch that changed my legendary belt's (Chain of Thrayn) ability from worthless to amazing - 10% increased damage and a buff to healing.  The ability was so amazing that just four days after they changed it Blizzard decided they had to nerf it to 5% bonus damage instead.  In any case 5% is a hell of a lot better than nothing, which is what I had before.

The second thing that happened is that I got a new legendary, the cloak called Whisper of the Nathrezim.  It also offers bonus damage, probably about 4% worth.  Between the belt and the cloak there is no choice - the belt is the best.  The question becomes which second legendary do I wear?  I can pick my new cloak for 4% more damage, or keep my other option, which is Aggramar's Stride, which gives me about 24% movement speed.

Now if you compare damage and movement speed at the same % you always take damage.  50% more movement is quite useful, 50% more damage makes you the best character in the game no matter what.  However, in my current case I have the option of 24% movement or 4% damage.  Six to one is starting to look pretty damn saucy.  Movement speed always translates to more damage to some degree, since in every fight you have time moving between places and being faster gets you on target more quickly.  However, for 24% movement speed to grant 4% more damage, you would have to be moving towards your target about 15% of the fight.  There are some fights where that is going to be true.  Even if it isn't though, 24% movement speed lets you get away from stuff much more easily.  It will help significantly in placing debuffs, avoiding ground damage, and otherwise getting mechanics done right.

There are some fights though where being mobile isn't particularly relevant, and the damage is going to be better.

Six times more movement really does fit in the zone of being unsure though.  I know for certain that I take movement speed at ten to one - especially the 30% movement speed over 3% damage done is a fantastic deal.  I know for sure I take damage at two to one, because 20% speed just isn't as powerful as 10% damage.  Six to one is well into the cloudy zone for me, where I can't tell which I take.

I guess I will set up two gearsets and two talent sets and swap between them as necessary for movement or output fights.  More finicky that way, but worth it.  I am impressed that Blizzard has given me such pause to think - the dps legendary items were always the best ones before, but now I am genuinely intrigued by comparing utility to dps and thinking about what I want.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Singular focus

When the latest patch was in testing I was quite pleased with the developments for retribution paladins.  I figured that in general we were going to get a small buff, and in particular I would get a monstrous buff because my garbage legendary belt was getting completely changed to be our new best in slot item.

It ended up being even better for me than I had thought.

The main thing that changed is my passive AOE.  My old Blade of Justice generator attack hit a single target for 210k physical damage about 9 times a minute.  It generated 18 holy power while doing so.  My new Divine Hammer attack hits everyone nearby me for 392k damage 6 times a minute and generates 12 holy power over that time.  The 6 extra holy power generated by the old generator can be spent casting Templar's Verdict for 495k damage per 3 holy power.  What this means is that over a minute my new generator hits for 6*392=2352k damage, and the old one does 210*9+495*2=2880k damage.  That means I lose out on 528k per minute.  However, the higher damage rotation uses 5 extra casts to get that 528k, and even if I can only fill 3 of those slots with other attacks I will definitely do extra damage.

The nutty thing is that I am so far *only* considering the single target damage.  The new attack does a massive amount of AOE damage, basically for free!  It could potentially be a damage loss on a single target, but even that is debatable because I don't have a good value for the extra casting time I have with the new rotation.  But what is certain is that if I happen to have one extra target around I deal 2352k extra damage with the new rotation, which means I still use 5 less casts but I generate 1824k additional damage.  That extra 2352k can hit an unlimited number of targets too, so if there are a bunch of enemies around the damage is absurdly high.

Another similar sort of choice was found in my first tier.  I could either choose a passive 20% bonus to Templar's Verdict, the holy power spender I referenced earlier, or take Consecration, a new spell.  Consecration is an AOE which does 242k damage that I can cast 6 times a minute, and I can take it instead of the buff to Templar's Verdict.  I normally get about 12 Templar's Verdicts a minute, and the 20% bonus is about 80k of that, so I lose out on 960k damage.  However, I can then cast Consecration 6 times to gain 1452k damage, a gain of 492k damage.

When I saw this I was greatly amused.  One change cost me 528k, the other gained me 492k.  One change gave me five extra casts per minute, the other consumed six casts per minute.  This is a net loss, to be certain, when only one target is considered.  Probably about a 1% loss.

But when there are multiple targets it is *nuts*.  A large proportion of my damage is suddenly hitting everything in a large area.  If there is a single extra target around I am doing 3804k damage to it per minute, which is a 20% overall dps boost.  The outrageous thing is that keeps on going for each additional enemy around.  I do more damage if there are 2 targets for just 5% of the fight, and when there are a lot of targets I become ridiculous.

However, when you do some napkin math and decide you are ridiculous, you really ought to test it properly and see if it comes out in actual trials.  I am swapping to a new guild and last night we did a full clear of Emerald Nightmare heroic and Trial of Valour heroic.  My numbers on bosses were good, ranging from 1st to 6th, mostly in the 2nd to 4th range.  But on trash I was preposterous, doing 1.02B while the second place person did 549M.  Not even close.  Only two other raiders made it above half of my damage over the course of the raid.  Part of that is people doing loot after bosses, mind you, but mostly it is just that when we were AOEing down trash mobs I was a juggernaut.

Trash, however, isn't that relevant.  It helps to clear it quicker, but it is not often the thing that matters.  Crushing the meters over the course of the night is great for my ego, but not necessarily what I should worry about.

I guess the question becomes, what should I do going forward?  Clearly taking both of these talents is an upgrade, but perhaps I should only be taking one of them.  I feel like my rotation is fairly full at the moment, so I can't imagine that swapping back to Blade of Justice is a good idea because I can't find another 5 empty slots to cast with, it will just be a waste.  However, not taking Consecration to give myself 6 more casts over a fight might be worth it.  I will end up doing more single target damage that way I am sure, but at a significant cost to my AOE potential.

I suppose the trick is that I should figure out how much AOE there is going to be in boss fights in the next tier of content and spec accordingly.  If a big part of my job is going to be killing swarms of dorks, or even cleaving onto two enemies at once, I should spec full AOE.

I don't think Blizzard intended this at all.  They clearly noticed that Consecration and Divine Hammer weren't being taken, but their solution was to double the damage of both of them in this latest patch.  They succeeded in convincing me to use them, and got them close to competitive single target, but I think they overlooked just how nuts they were in AOE situations.  I can't imagine that they actually intended for me to do damage like this, and it makes me think that their testing may have been mostly target dummy or simulation testing which often ignores AOE potential.

Players focus too much on pure single target damage when evaluating abilities, and I suspect the developers do too at times.

At any rate I am having a blast with this new setup.  I love the absurd splash damage I do, as it reminds me of playing during Wrath of the Lich King.  A time, I should note, when retribution paladins were ridiculously overpowered, largely due to their passive AOE.