Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Big jumps

My DnD group just levelled up to level 2.  My character gained 67% more HP, 100% more healing, and about 80% increased damage.  Funny thing is that while I got a lot better, my increase in power over level 1 wasn't even close to the power increase our druid got.  My healing, for example, went from 5 to 10, but hers went from 17 to ~84.  She also has a shapeshift form that increases her damage by 300%, just for fun.  She went from a weak melee attacker with healing spells to being by far the toughest character we have and she dishes out far more damage than anyone else.  I know that druids with this ability are supremely broken at level 2 and it smooths out from there on out, but at this point it is kind of absurd.

This feels like way too much of an increase to me.  Specifically the trouble is that the GM absolutely must control who the party fights ruthlessly if the game is to work.  If a level 1 party goes off the beaten path and runs into a level 2 encounter they will likely get mulched.  A level 1 encounter for a level 2 party is going to be a cakewalk.  The difference in power is just so enormous that if you set up encounters to be challenging you absolutely cannot allow groups to run into the wrong encounter.

That to me feels like a real design flaw.  I get that level 1 is supposed to be a training level, and it isn't supposed to last very long.  It isn't meant to be a place you hang around.  Still, I wish that you didn't have to control them so hard, and after they level up once or twice, throw out all the encounters that worked for level 1 because they aren't worth running at higher levels.

A big part of this problem in my particular group is the issue of transforming into stuff.  I have consistently found that things that polymorph people are an endless source of fun and an equally endless source of balance problems.  It is a great time to turn into a bear and maul people but it always seems to turn out that the monster manual contains a bear, or dire wolf, or stone giant, etc. that has stats that are a huge problem.  Somebody inevitably finds something that breaks the system, as our druid did, and then the rest of the group stands around wondering why they are even along.

I have a similar issue in my other campaign where I am a level 7 wizard with polymorph.  What can I turn into?  This is an important question.  If I can be a beast with a ranged attack that is extremely powerful.  If I can pick that beast that happens to have way more AC or damage than is appropriate then I can do ridiculous things that are wildly unfair.

Naked Man has ruled that I can't turn into something I haven't seen.  But which beasts have I seen?  His first response was that I can turn into what I have seen during the campaign, but that list is nearly empty.  It has only been a couple months from level 1 to level 7!  Plus I am playing an elf that is hundreds of years old and has wandered the world as a smuggler for most of that duration, prior to becoming an adventurer.  Wouldn't I have seen all kinds of crazy stuff?  And if so, I need a list telling me every single thing I could turn into, because otherwise we have to have an argument each time I go to use the spell.

The system DnD uses for this is just begging for abuse.  The monster manual providing character power is a problem, and they should have avoided it.  In the case of a druid they could have done something like giving the druid bonuses to physical stats based on the type of animal they turn into - more strength from a bear, more dexterity from a ferret, etc, but keep their base stats.  Or they could have supplied stat blocks for various forms separate from animals in the monster manual.  But the current thing is a total mess.

People like turning into animals and polymorphing stuff.  I get that.  I just think that if you are going to let people do that you should find some reasonable way to control it so it doesn't go off the rails, and DnD has failed at that.  Again.  Because they always do.  (Except in 4th edition.  Props for that.  Slops for going back to this foolishness again for 5th edition.)

People also like power increases.  But do we really need to increase power quite so much in a single level?  I feel like there has to be a way to tone it down some to avoid this thing where once you level up all the previous challenges just fade away into irrelevance.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A good offense

I am in a new season of my Agricola leagues and things are going well.  They should go well, since I had some issues last season with UI problems, and also with being an idiot, so I got punted down to the D league at the bottom of the pile.

The players here are noticeably weaker and I have been consistently surprised at how many good actions have been available on each turn.  I regularly get premium actions on my last action of the turn so I haven't been taking start player often because I don't seem to need to!

One thing I haven't been sure about is how aggressive to get about starving.  A lot of my non league games recently have been against a group of players who are a LOT better than me and they consistently delight in punishing me if I take any risks with regards to food.  I don't know that this is a great play for them generally because I come last anyway so punishing me likely isn't that relevant, but I suspect they can't stop themselves.  There is certainly something delightful in watching someone swing in the wind because they took some foolish risks.  These players are a solid 300 Elo points ahead of me so I get mashed every time.

In my league games against much weaker players though I am regularly taking all kinds of risks and it keeps paying off.  On multiple occasions I decided to take an aggressive action to get points knowing that if the other players just took food from the board I would be screwed when it came to feeding time, and in every case the food wheeled around to me and I got out of the situation unscathed.

I suspect this is an issue when it comes to training.  Playing against players who won't punish me for overextending certainly lets me rack up higher scores but when I end up against superior players again I will likely end up falling back into risky plays that end up with me begging for food.

On the other hand taking those risky plays is paying off, and makes it more likely that I will be able to win my games now and move further up the ladder to actually get to those games against the better players. 

One thing that is new this season is I am trying completely different strategies in all my games.  I don't have any occupations the same between my games so it is all different.  In previous season I managed to draft 3 copies of the same occupation so my games were either defined by trying to get to stone house really fast to drop Manservant or taking a lot of day labourer to maximize Seasonal Worker.  This time I just took whatever was the best and ended up with a mishmash, so each game is different.  I think I learn better when I have multiple games with the same profession because I can really dig into what makes it work or not, but I certainly don't get quite the breadth of experience that I am getting this time.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A filthy cheater

I am cheating on my gamer spouses.  Gloomhaven is a game that you gain real advantage from playing through multiple times because you learn what to expect in various encounters and can plan ahead.  As such people who play as a group have some reason to want their partners to remain faithful and not play with anyone else... but I am not going to do that.  Gloomhaven promiscuity, here I come.

I have been playing a second campaign on tabletop simulator with Oldhobo and it is being a blast.  Normally computer supported board games are a lot faster than the manual kind because everything is automated but that is not true in this case.  It is just as annoying to do many things, and there are a few outliers here and there each way.  Shuffling is easier, but searching for stuff is harder.

I wonder if Naked Man is worried that I will leave him for Oldhobo.  I am quite able to maintain multiple Gloomhaven relationships at a time, in the same way that I maintain romantic relationships at the same time, but Naked Man seems more jealous of exclusivity than Wendy is.

My last scenario with Oldhobo was quite the joke.  We killed everything in the entire place except for a single super slow golem that had a ton of health and was laconically making its way towards us after we dashed past it to the final room.  We got our combat goals, left only 2 coins in the whole dungeon, and were never in anything even resembling danger.

I think a lot of that ease was due to my combat abilities lining up particularly well against the dungeon.  I had a pair of abilities that did a single damage AOE, and this AOE ignores shields because you don't actually pull cards for it.  One of the major challenges of the dungeon was that there were a bunch of enemies with high shields and 2 health, so the ability to pop off my 1 damage AOEs and just instantly end them was devastating.

I can't quite tell yet how much of Gloomhaven success is based around having just the right class for a particular encounter.  I know in my main Gloomhaven game I absolutely butchered a group of Retaliating enemies by popping a big Retaliate and Shield on myself and standing in the middle of them - single cards are not usually supposed to deal 10 damage and prevent 10 damage to me!  Many other classes struggle facing those enemies but I just laughed at them and mowed them down.

I do like that the way you handle particular groups of enemies is still being fresh and exciting even after many encounters.  I haven't seen anywhere near all the stuff yet and even just simple combinations of things I have already done require lots of thinking and creativity.

However, the one thing I am appreciating more and more as time goes by is automatic damage.  Enemies with lots of shields and retaliate really make it clear that effects with low numbers that can ignore enemy mechanics are super powerful and you need some of them in your toolbox.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Dungeon crawls are hard. Sometimes there is fire.

In my last Gloomhaven game I made a critical error.  I tried to get too tricky and it cost my team dearly.  (Minor spoilers for a single Gloomhaven card ahead!) On our way to the dungeon we drew an encounter card and it talked about how we were walking through the woods when we noticed all kinds of forest animals running towards us rather than away from us.  Then we noticed the smell of burning.  Should we keep going, or run away like all the animals are doing?

I thought it was a trick.  Obviously this is *supposed* to be a forest fire.  But that is too easy a solution.  Surely it is something else instead, like a dragon.  We could go kill the dragon and get loot!

Thinking this I voted to just keep on going.  My group was extremely hesitant and some argued against me, but eventually the majority prevailed and we forged on into danger.

There was no trick.  It was a forest fire and we all burned.  If we had run we would have had a small disadvantage because of being tired, but going straight into the fire cost us a perk, 3 damage, and the wounded condition.

This is *horrible*.  Our group has a hit point total of 37, and the damage and wounded conditions all together cost us about 28 health.  Ouch!  Not only that, but the lost perk means that we are all slightly worse forever.  What a punch in the groin that was.

The dungeon was not particularly difficult and had we just walked in without any penalty, or if we had just run away from the fire, it would have been a straightforward smashing.  Instead we struggled throughout the dungeon trying to cope with our starting damage and desperately needing more healing than we had access to.  It was a rough finish, with two of our characters exhausting out and a third on the brink of falling over.  I had a fair number of cards left though so even if it had come down to me vs. the last monster I would have beaten it up handily.

Still, we haven't come that close to losing since our first outing where we really had no idea what we were doing and cheated in the monsters' favour a lot.

I guess I should really start respecting the encounter cards and take them at face value.  So far every one of them has rewarded reasonable decisions.  You usually get screwed both ways, but generally the cards have punished us in ways that made sense and were predictable.  Everything that happens is bad, but it can be less bad if you decide appropriately. 

I keep thinking they are trying to be tricky and I keep being wrong, so I suppose it is time to start making obvious, sensible decisions.

Sigh.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Dungeons done quick

On Sunday I played my first game of 5 Minute Dungeon.  It is a cooperative game themed around a bunch of adventurers beating through a dungeon full of monsters to try to crush the final boss.  Each player has a class and this gives them a basic power and a deck of cards.  The powers are pretty meh most of the time but the decks have enough different and interesting mechanics that the classes really do feel different.

The basic way it plays is you have a few cards in your hand, most of which will be resources like shields, swords, arrows, speed, or magic.  An encounter will flip over and will do something or require resources to beat - usually three of them.  For example, an encounter might require two shields and an arrow to defeat.  When people play those resources to beat the encounter they draw more cards to get back up to maximum hand size and the next encounter comes up.

So far, so boring. 

But, the game has a wrinkle that turns it from complete snoozefest with a massive alpha player problem into a fun, fast ride.  You only have 5 minutes to play it.  You cannot sit there and strategize over who will play the arrow because you have 30 - 60 encounters to do in 300 seconds.  Five seconds to see what an encounter has in store, check your hand, and slam down resources is tough.  When you play a resource it is lost forever, even if it is overkill, so you will inevitably play things at the same time as someone else and be wasteful.  It is especially tough because you don't know what your friends have.  Do they have a 'beat a monster' card?  If so, you really don't want to slam some resources down and waste them if the monster is getting beat automatically.  But if you hesitate, you fritter away precious seconds.

You all have to yell and slam cards and strategize and flip over new cards as fast as possible and it is tremendous fun.  No one can be the alpha player because you literally cannot read everyone's cards as fast as they draw them.  Every person must play their own game the best they can.

Having a game in 5 minute chunks is really great.  If someone new shows up they only have to wait 5 minutes at most for it to be over, and another 5 minutes to shuffle the cards up again.  You never have to worry about going too long, or leaving people out.  Want a bathroom break?  Just skip a round!

The game also has a variety of difficulty levels.  The Baby Barbarian is pretty easy, and the Dungeon Master (Final Form) is absolutely brutal.  But if you want to play with kids you absolutely can - just increase the timer, or decrease the number of encounters, or whatever.  It is a coop game with multiple dials to change the challenge so you can play it with any group at all.

5 Minute Dungeon can never inspire strategy discussions or lots of thinking.  However, it can and does offer an entertaining, engaging, and easy to learn coop experience, and it has all the great logistical benefits of being a quick game while retaining replay value.

The game is out, but the latest expansion is up on Kickstarter, and I think pretty much every gamer would be happy to have this game on their shelf.  As part of the KS you can get the base game included too.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A table that isn't there

Old Man got me to download a new game this week called Tabletop Simulator.  It isn't a game in itself though, more like a platform for games to happy upon.  It is a physics simulator that allows you to manipulate pieces around on it just as if it were a physical board.  If you want to play a particular game you need a mod that simulates that game... so I got the Gloomhaven mod and we played together.

It was super weird.

My brain kept expecting TS to actually play the game for me.  I struggled with the interface a lot because I was continually looking for it to actually make Gloomhaven happen and it was only once I really got into the idea that this is just a box with parts in it that everything came together.  I think I have trained myself that when you play a board game on a computer everything just happens automatically and you click your actions so it required a bit of rewiring to get used to how TS operates.

I literally had to click on the box of board pieces, lift the correct one out, then put it on the board.  Figuring out which piece I needed required flipping through the manual that is sitting on the board.  Learning how all the interface options work together took a bit of doing, and when I finally had it all worked out the funniest thing happened.

I thought "Hah, this game is silly.  I could just cheat and win!"

Which is true of, you know, every board game in history.  But my brain just kept on going back to thinking of it as a computer game and apparently that has totally different wiring.

I don't know how much other use I will get out of TS.  I don't actually want to click a piece, move it to the right spot, and drop it down.  I don't want to have to manually change the hit points on a target.  I *love* it that computer games handle all the shuffling and setup and other annoyances.

But I really do love Gloomhaven and being able to play with people at a distance, and being able to kibitz with Old Man while I was doing it, was fantastic.  I think this means that I will use TS to play Gloomhaven and probably not much else.  It does the thing it is trying to do quite well but I don't know that I actually want a physics engine to play board games - I would rather do it in person whenever possible.  Gloomhaven is expensive to buy, limited in uses, and hard to find players for.  It also isn't available as a automated game so far as I know.  So TS is the best place to play it.

I gotta give credit though.  TS has a button you can hit that flips the table and all the bits go flying everywhere.  That is almost as satisfying as doing it in real life and you don't actually have to clean up afterwards.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Stay low

Last night my group finished our fourth scenario in Gloomhaven.  We are having a blast delving into dungeons and bashing monsters and I am so far really impressed with the difficulty of the game.  The first scenario we had no idea how it worked and we barely scraped through but ever since we have beaten everything with some room to spare.  However, we have consistently felt like we were on the verge of failure and the smell of desperation was in the air.  That all the scenarios so far felt like we just barely scraped by tells me that the difficulty is right on.  About 2/3 of the way through this last scenario the whole group agreed that we were screwed and we were going to lose - something about opening two rooms at once and having the party split up, facing two stacks of monsters simultaneously has that effect.  But even though it looked grim and one of our characters dropped out of the dungeon 3 rounds before the end we prevailed.

In the adventure last night we had some choices about where to go.  Some of the choices would have required us to figure out which NPC we believed and pick sides, but we elected to go into a dungeon that we knew was full of undead.  Killing undead and the people that summon them *has* to be right!

I felt great emerging from the dungeon as I managed to vacuum up 8 loot tokens, get 19 XP (before story award), and also collect the big chest at the end.  I also got my checkmark for completing my battle challenge.  In fact 8 loot tokens and 19 XP are both records for my group.  Everything's coming up Milhouse.


The funny thing is that getting a ton of XP is actually a penalty.  The monsters scale with your level, and so as you level up things get harder.  That might sound like it doesn't matter what level you are but that isn't quite the case, because the monsters are more difficult at higher levels and that is normally offset by having more perks, gear, and upgrades.  If you want to be as effective as possible you want to get as little XP as possible and as many other improvements as you can because the difficulty of the game does not scale with gear, perks, or upgrades.

You can't avoid getting XP.  You get some just for completing adventures and your abilities inevitably generate more.  The thing is that you can play the game attempting to maximize your XP gain or you can avoid it.  In nearly all other games maximizing your XP is the way to go, but not in Gloomhaven.  I really should be doing everything I can to avoid XP so as to keep the monsters weak relative to my character power.

Obviously I am not doing that!  XP is a number and I can make that number bigger so I am damn well going to make that number as big as possible.  What else do we play RPGs for but to make numbers bigger?!?

It does feel weird though to know that I am actively pursuing something that will make encounters harder and my character less effective against my foes.