Friday, April 29, 2016

Always buffs

We played Heroes By Trade last night and while it was a good time it definitely illustrated that I have some more work to do on balancing buffs.  At the moment in the game I have buffs balanced as though you are casting them in the middle of a battle.  That is, if you decide to cast Power Infusion on turn 3 of a fight it is a pretty huge loss of tempo because you aren't actually killing anyone.  As such it adds a ton of damage to your attacks for 2 turns to make up for that loss.  This is all fine.

The problem comes in when people buff before a fight.  Last night our encounter had exactly that, a situation where a bunch of weak enemies came after us from a distance and we had the chance to all cast our buffs before they got there.  Power Infusion is perfectly fine when used during a fight, but when it is used before the fight even starts it is ridiculous.  Even more than that though was the problem that one of the characters used a 2 round buff and a 1 round buff so that on the round that the enemies arrived and we started fighting he was absolutely absurd.  This messes with combat balance in a huge way and although I have noted this in the past it was never quite so stark as it was last night.

I have to fix this.  It isn't right that such a huge component of character power is based on buffs, and I don't like that fight difficult varies so wildly based on whether or not the characters are deemed able to buff immediately prior to the battle or not.

But how do I fix it without making buffs absolutely useless when the fight is ongoing?  If a buff is really terrible (but still better than nothing) so as to make prebuffing not a big deal, it will never be worth using during a fight except when you really have nothing else to do.  I had to find some other ways.

One of the fixes I came up with is to make buffs less offensively oriented.  If a buff lasts 1 round and is half offensive, half defensive, it is a lot less of a problem because the defensive portion is not likely to matter at all for prebuffing purposes, but will be highly relevant for in combat use.

Another simple change I had to make was to get rid of buff stacking.  No class can have a situation where they can stack up several buffs at once because that is going to get out of hand.  Buffs either have to be exclusive or only last 1 round so that they can't be combined with prebuffing.  I definitely can't have a class with a 1 round buff and a 2 round buff.

I also need to consider the discount rate I am applying to buffs.  Normally when an effect happens right away it is more costly than a delayed effect.  For example, for 3 ranks you can either do 4.5 damage right now or you can apply a debuff to an enemy that will do 10 damage next turn.  That 10 damage might not matter because the enemy might already be dead, and even if it does matter it doesn't stop the enemy from getting one last action.  I was using a similar sort of discount rate for buffs, making them more effective because they were delayed.  Unfortunately that was a huge problem with prebuffing because the damage wasn't being pushed to later rounds, rather it was being applied on the first round or two of combat, which is exactly where you want it.  I think I need to reimagine my balancing of buffs such that they are useful when you are out of position or haven't got a great action, but that they are simply not a good choice when you have a good direct action you could take instead.

I went through all the Powers and made some changes in accordance with this new philosophy.  One good example of the changes is the buff Power Infusion, which previously added 2d10 damage to your attacks for 2 rounds.  The new version lasts only 1 round instead and it adds 2d6 damage and +7 Speed.  The change in the damage is just a shift in the discount rate and the change in the effect is to get rid of the offensive orientation of the buff to some extent.  It is still a great Power to use when you have the change to prebuff but the damage bonus is reduced from 21 over 2 turns to 7 in a single turn.  Much more reasonable.

The one thing that is really being a challenge is that there is one class whose theme is totally centered around buffs.  Marauders have a series of Powers that let them take on the Aspect of a particular animal.  Aspect of the Drone lets you hit enemies that a chosen ally hits, Aspect of the Cheetah makes you really fast, etc.  The problem here is that these are a core ability of the class and I expect them to use these abilities all the time.  One quarter of all of their Powers are Aspect Powers and so if they aren't really good except in niche circumstances the class loses a ton of its theme.  This is going to be a tricky thing, but I suspect I am going to end up having to slap on an attack to each of the Aspect Powers.  Right now when you use them you don't do anything else that turn, so they are pretty powerful.  However, if I just make all of them also include an attack then they won't be overpowered in a prebuffing situation because the attack is worthless, but they should be fine to use during a fight, which is definitely my intention.

This is a lot of work, and a significant rewrite for a lot of abilities, but I think in the end it will be worth it.  I don't like that characters always want to know if they have a round to prebuff, and I don't like how important the answer to that question is, so I have to get this fixed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The oldest of the old

Whispers of the Old Gods is here, and with it a swarm of C'thun decks.  I played my own C'thun deck yesterday and went up against a bunch of others, and now I have reasonable idea of how that matchup goes.  My initial impressions of building C'thun decks weren't quite on, so today I am going to talk a bit about how that works.

C'thun decks are based around four things.  First is C'thun itself.  Second is cards like Beckoner of Evil that make C'thun bigger but which are weak on their own.  Third is cards like Dark Arrakoa, which buffs C'thun but is totally fine on its own and could easily see play without any C'thun interaction.  Lastly we have things like Klaxxi Amber-Weaver, which can only be played in C'thun decks but which is very overpowered in that situation.

The thing about C'thun is that you only have one of it.  If you draw it and it is buffed up to 20/20 or something like that you just win immediately, that is obvious.  The question becomes, what happens when a C'thun deck simply doesn't draw C'thun?  How bad is it for them, and can they still win?

It turns out that not drawing C'thun isn't that bad, and C'thun decks can still easily win games just off of cards like the Klaxxi above.  I don't know what C'thun decks will end up looking like, but I built one that seems quite effective and I figured I would examine the cards in it to see how good they are overall compared to other options.

I have 4 cards that buff C'thun but are good enough to use on their own.  (Dark Arakkoa, Disciple of C'thun)  Those I don't count.  I have 8 cards that are somewhat weak, and are a full stat point below what they should be, but they are in there to buff C'thun.  (Crazed Worshipper, C'thun's Chosen, Beckoner of Evil, and Twilight Elder.)  That gives the deck -8 stats.  Then I have 3 cards that are really overpowered, each of which is 4 stat points *over* budget.  (Emperor Vek'lor, Klaxxi Amber-Weaver)  However, these cards occasionally end up being played without their special buff, so I can't quite count them for the full amount.  I think counting them as 3 points over budget is reasonable.  That gives the deck +9 stats.

(I am aware that counting the Disciple as .5 stats under budget is reasonable, and the same could potentially be argued of Beckoner and Elder.  These sort of cancel out though.)

So when we consider the deck without C'thun we see that it has minions missing roughly 8 stat points and minions gaining roughly 9 stat points because of C'thun mechanics.  That means that even if you ignore C'thun, the deck is perfectly fine on its own.  You can definitely take this collection of minions and a bunch of other reasonable cards and beat people.

But when you consider that the deck gets to play a 10 cost monster that is a ~20/20 and does ~20 damage to the enemy board when it enters play, things get a wee bit nuts.  The deck isn't a pile of weak garbage hoping to hold it together until C'thun saves the day.  It is a collection of minions that overall are fine, but which definitely swing from a bit underpowered to seriously overpowered.  That collection of fine just has a hell of a kick to it at the end.

My guesses about C'thun decks ahead of time turned out to be wrong.  I thought that Warlock would be the C'thun deck of choice, and that definitely isn't true because Warlock didn't get an overpowered C'thun card, and that hurts them pretty badly.  Also C'thun decks are far less reliant on card draw than I had thought, and they run enough moderately priced minions that drawing cards as a Warlock isn't a particularly strong strategy.  You just don't have the time or the health to do that.  Fundamentally C'thun decks are far less focused on C'thun then I had guessed.  Which is kind of a funny thing, when you think about it.

I do think that the C'thun ramp deck is going to be the new default for Druid.  It has five big taunts, which is fantastic against any sort of aggro strategy, and tons of dumb minions it is happy to trade into other aggressive minions.  It also gets to C'thun faster than any other class due to ramp mechanics so in a C'thun vs. C'thun battle you get to slam down first and win.  I am quite sure this is deliberate as Blizzard nerfed the snot out of Druid Classic cards and now they get a very different path to victory.  Instead of winning with combo beatdown on turn 9 from an empty board, they get to win with C'thun on turn 10 from an empty board instead.  ;)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The new Overlord next door

On Tuesday Whispers of the Old Gods launches and Hearthstone players will begin the flurry of playing and testing that characterizes a new set of cards and a new format.  As any cynical veteran of the internet could predict, there is a ton of premature worry about how bad the new format will be, and of course little of it comes with anything resembling facts or reason.  Mostly people seem concerned that C'thun decks will dominate everything and everyone will be playing them.
I don't think we have much to worry about in that regard.  C'thun decks may well be very good, but they absolutely rely on playing a bunch of subpar cards while they wait to get to turn 10.  That should be viable, but if everyone is playing a deck that requires turn 10 to do anything good, all the decks that aim to win on turn 6-9 are going to have a field day.  It is rather self correcting.

Either that, or everyone will be teching in Mana Wraith to make C'thun uncastable.

In any case, Hearthstone is going to be at its best if a lot of decks that win on turn 10-11 are strong.  People like getting to play their giant monsters and fight each other.  They like getting to interact, and having a chance to play all of their cards.  They also like games to end, rather than dragging on interminably.  All of these things point to a 11 turn game being just the ticket.  Of course not all games will happen at that speed, but if the default, regular Hearthstone game is a game that lasts about that long I am pretty sure it will be the best meta in the game's history.

So will the 10 cost minions in the set end up being totally broken?  Maybe.  Hard to say without really playing the cards, and anyone who tells you otherwise is making stuff up.  But what I can say for sure is that if many or most decks are playing a bunch of stuff to control the board and put on just a little pressure so they can finally slam down some gigantic bastard and cackle wildly and win the game... that is a hell of a good time.  Let's do that!

Personally I really want to play Beast Hunter first off.  Or maybe midrange Shaman.  Both look like they are going to be fantastic fun with lots of new support.  Very much excited, I am.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

From orbit

The newest announcement out of Hearthstone is a series of nerfs to core cards from the Classic and Basic sets.  Blizzard wanted to fix some particularly defining or problematic cards for all time and so they swung the nerf bat at a bunch of offenders.  The short version is that they appropriately nerfed a couple of the most important aggro cards, (Leper Gnome and Knife Juggler) smashed druid Force/Roar combo in a sensible way, and made a few other reasonable changes to some stuff that prevented a lot of interesting new things from happening.

Oh, and they flew a giant spaceship over and nuked Big Game Hunter from orbit.  Because that is the only way to be sure.
Adding 2 to the cost of a card is absolutely crushing.  In fact, for any card in the game adding 2 to the cost would instantly move it from top tier to unusuable garbage.  The difference between seeing lots of play and being completely ignored is measured in half mana increments, as there are many cards that see no play at their current cost but which would be in every single deck if they were 1 less. such as Chillwind Yeti, Spectral Knight, Goblin Sapper, etc.

But this is Big Game Hunter.  It might be the only card in Hearthstone that could survive a 2 mana increase and still be used, and a lot of people seem to think that is true.

I think they are wrong.  That is, a couple of people will still use it, but it will cease to be a significant consideration when building decks.  Blizzard decided to utterly annihilate BGH and they weren't going to take any chances on missing.

While BGH is still good in the situation where your opponent drops a 8/8 minion and you need an answer he is now *horrendous* when there is no target for him.  A 4/2 for 3 mana  is poor, but at least it will kill something.  It can be played on turn 3 against an aggro deck and kill a minion.  Weak, but not disastrous.  However, dropping a 4/2 on turn 5 is game losing.  BGH goes from an amazing tech card some of the time and a weak some of the time to a good tech card some of the time and unusable garbage some of the time.

People will soon realize just how important his cost was, even when he is killing something.  On turn 8 when you use BGH to blow something up you used to have 5 mana remaining and now that is reduced to 3, which is a huge amount of tempo lost.  BGH was enormous precisely because he was so amazing in terms of tempo - you could often do something really useful on the same turn you dropped BGH to blow something up, and now that is quite unlikely to occur.  You probably just get to kill a thing and play a small 4/2 minion.

I wish they had done something different with BGH, like change his instant kill mechanic to something like "do 4 damage."  However, this accomplishes what I hoped it would - big minions are no longer going to be measured in the shadow of the dwarf with the gun.

It is obvious that Blizzard is trying to make big minions more worth it.  With the nerfs to BGH, Owl, and Hunter's Mark they are taking steps to get rid of all the random cards in the game that destroyed huge minions by accident.  If you want to wreck big minions or silence them you will have to make actual deck sacrifices to do that.  There aren't any things you just toss in because 'why not?' anymore.  If you want to have your answers to big minions now you will have to pay for it, and that is going to shift the "big minions - hard removal" equilibrium a long way towards the big monsters side.

All of which I like.  Honestly with the way the hunter drops are going right now I will likely be going after a control hunter build when the new expansion drops, so I like this shift to a late game style.  This change to hunter feels calculated - Blizzard knows the Hunter hero power is garbage for control so they can release really powerful mid and late game Hunter cards without worrying too much.  I hope they get that attempt right!

Friday, April 15, 2016

To think of a card

There is a new card out in the latest Hearthstone expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods, and it looks like this:

This is a good card.  However, it is important to think about how and why it is good.  A lot of people immediately jumped to comparing it to various cards that currently exist, and I want to explain why I think a particular comparison is most useful.  First off, it isn't at all like Shredder.

Shredder is 2 mana less, and is deathrattle rather than battlecry.  Useless comparison.  A far better comparison is the Silver Hand Knight, which saw virtually no constructed play but which is a fine Arena card and honestly not that far off the curve.

The main thing making Silver Hand Knight unplayable is in fact Shredder itself.  Shredder trades easily for Knight, and might even leave something behind if a 2/3 pops out of the Shredder.  Normally a 1 mana cost increase gives +1/+1, so if the Summoner at the top summoned a 2/2 we could confidently say it would have the same fate as the Knight and be mostly forgotten.

But a random 3 cost minion is a *lot* better than a 2/2.  In fact, you can expect an Attack value somewhere in the 2.6 range, and a Health value something like 3.15.  That gives a total stat stick of 5.75, which makes the Summoner much higher value than the Knight almost by a full +1/+1.  That is massive.

It doesn't end there though.  Many of the random 3 cost minions have special abilities, most of which are good.  You get a slightly higher than 50% chance of a good ability, and a small chance of a bad ability, and I roughly speaking think this works out to about a 50% upgrade chance, or at least that is my operating model.  Some of those upgrades are somewhat weak, but some of them are amazing stuff like Divine Shield or Charge.  Pretty much everything I counted was worth a stat point at minimum, and Divine Shield and Charge are much better than that, so I am confident you can count the extras as worth 1.25 stat points.  That pushes the total stat points on the 3 drop of the Summoner to 7.

Given that you can expect a 5/5 and the equivalent of a 3/4 for 6 mana, is this a good card?  Hell yes!  Silver Hand Knight is only overcosted by .5 mana.  It would be insane at 4, but is not played at 5, so it is a 4.5 mana card.  Summoner gets 2.5 mana worth of extra stats on top of it, for the cost of 1.5 mana.  Another way to look at it is that a 7/7 for 6 mana is a fine minion.  (Ignore BGH for the moment.)  Not superb, but would see play.  Lowering the main body to 5/5 and getting a 3/4 is a massive upgrade, since you pay 4 stat points to gain 7.  Even when you compare this to Cairne Bloodhoof you can't help but think that Summoner is strong.  No matter how you look at it, 6 mana for the Summoner is a bargain.

Of course the Summoner isn't a neutral card, it is a Mage card.  The question is, does Mage want an extremely powerful stack of stats for 6 mana?  I think the answer is yes.  Mage doesn't have a minion competing for that mana slot and would be happy to have something that can just be a big bunch of stuff.  Because Mage has so much direct damage and because of their Hero Power, random stacks of stats are great because any enemy minions left over with low Health totals just die.  Mage doesn't need specific sizes of minions, just lots of stuff, and Summoner delivers.

Nobody is arguing that in Arena this card is ludicrous, it is.  However, I think that it will spawn a new type of Mage grinder / midrange deck that tries to get lots of value and just play a straight up fighting game in Constructed.  Minions bashing into each other is the core of Hearthstone, and I think this card will cement that as a strong strategy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pile of Camp Nightmare

My shipment of Camp Nightmare arrived!  I finally have my bedroom containing a stack of boxes which look like this when opened:



So now not only is the game available to order online Here but now it also exists in a stack at my place.  I will be getting a bunch of them to Thunder Bay via my brother, so those of you who exist there will be able to acquire it from him.  Contact me or him about it next week, as they won't get there instantly.  For all those who want to visit me to grab a copy in Toronto, do that!  Call me!  Email me!  Find a way!

I am definitely going to leverage this passing out of games to people to have a boatload of games nights!

The final cost is $35 per box.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

You can order my stuff!

Camp Nightmare exists to order!  I have it all set up on TheGameCrafter at this link.   https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/camp-nightmare

They will ship all over the place so if you are far and wide you no longer have to worry about what I can or cannot do - someone competent is in charge.

If you live in Thunder Bay or Toronto or otherwise know me directly you will be able to get a copy when my stack of 100 arrives in the next week or so.  If that isn't the case, then your chance to acquire the one game I took from crazy idea all the way to real thing awaits.

I really like the final version of the game.  It looks pretty, its plays smoothly, and the quality of the production is great.

It also feels like a camping trip where everything goes wrong, and although the feel isn't the thing that really gets me going, I think this one truly does work.

Enjoy.