Thursday, June 22, 2017

A little bit of thievery

Lately I have been thinking about what I could do if I had a normal Blood Bowl team that could steal just one type of unit from any other team.  This includes the number of those units, so normal Skaven can field 4 Gutter Runners, and any team that steals Gutter Runners can similarly have 4 of them on the roster.  What is the best or most interesting thing you could do using this?

The obvious place to start is to pick a team that has glaring, nasty flaws and see if you can prop them up some.  Blood Bowl restricts team to having either players with 4 Agility or 4+ Strength, but you don't get both.  (Barring a single Big Guy).  Adding high Strength players to an already high Strength team probably won't help much because you won't be able to afford them all and by the time you can your team value will be enormous and you will lack Block.  You can surely make a better team this way, but not much better.

The real trick is taking a slow team that is awful at football and making it suddenly a terrifying threat for scoring.  Gutter Runners are certainly the first unit I thought of stealing because they are maximally fast, have 4 Agility, and you get 4 of them.  Dwarves are normally tough and slow but have no quick scoring threats and are unreliable at playing football.  A dwarf team with 13 players including 4 Gutter Runners on it can still field 9 brawling type dwarves on defence and bench 2 Gutters and have plenty of punching power if they want, or switch it up and field all 4 Gutters to create some crazy passing plays if they don't have much time to score.  That team would be terrifying, because they still have the normal slow cage progression tactic available but you have to break that cage FAST or a Gutter will dash in for a touchdown.

On the other side you have teams like the elves or skaven who are great at scoring and have lots of potential for big plays but they have huge problems with getting pushed around.  They also have the struggle that their linemen are fragile and all units need constant replacement.  There are a couple ways you could go there - you could grab Chaos Warriors to have 4 copies of 4 Strength and 9 Armour which would solidify their line immensely, or you could use 6 Saurus instead, which provides absurd amounts of Strength, though it is hard to develop all those Saurus due to them being clumsy.

If you want to go totally nuts you could recruit Ogres and get 6 hitters with Strength 5.  That is the absolute pinnacle of beatdown but does have the huge issue of cost.  At 140k you will only be able to add in 1 Ogre at most to a normal team so it would take a really long time to purchase them all.

When I try to figure out how I would add units to a midrange team like humans I come up short.  They would like both Gutter Runners or Sauruses, as they could develop into a real scoring or bashing team depending on the pick, but no configuration is particularly scary.  To do something awesome with this setup you really want a team that already has one thing they do really well, not a team that is mediocre at everything.

There are actually some teams out there that would make me consider taking linemen on as my choice.  Ogres, for example, are super expensive and you can normally only afford them because they are accompanied by worthless Snotlings.  However, if you grabbed Ork Linemen instead of Snotlings your money problems are worse (they cost 50k instead of 20k) but they actually have 3 Strength so the opponents can't just massacre them effortlessly and they still have 3 Agility so they are capable of playing the ball.  They can't play the ball *well*, mind, but they can play as well as a Snotling and instead of being made of paper they are tough as nails.

On a team like Lizardmen I would be tempted to grab Dark Elf Linemen as my pick.  They are good at playing the ball and have midrange armour so you could play a really serious bashing game with your Sauruses without worrying that every turn one of your squishies is going to die.  You might use a pair of Skinks as dirty players or scoring threats potentially (because your elves can throw the ball) but mostly the team would be just Saurus beatdown and elf football.

In any of these configurations the trick is to make sure you don't commit to more cost than you can afford.  Dwarves are expensive, for example, so swapping some of them out for Gutter Runners or even Elf Linemen is no problem.  You can't just swap out cheap units for expensive ones though, so fixing up teams like Nurgle or Ogres takes more care.

Off all these options I think the dwarves with Gutter Runners scares me the most.  They slot in easily because you can just skip out on buying Dwarven Runners at identical cost, and if you want 4 Gutters to start you just drop 1 Troll Slayer and 1 Lineman to start and you are good to go.  You have a tremendous beatdown game and a sturdy core of players so when your Gutters die you should have spare cash around to buy new ones.  You have a legit quick scoring threat, great caging ability, and a rock solid financial plan.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The stair gambit

When talking about Castles of Mad King Ludwig recently I opined that the Utility Card that gives bonus points for Stairs wasn't so great.  It has substantial potential if you can effectively corner the market on Stairs, but otherwise it isn't exciting.  A game of Castles recently saw me go turbo Stairs to test this theory, and it worked out superbly well giving me a 136 point finish with a wide margin of victory, largely on the back of getting 5 Stairs.


We had Kings Favours for both square footage and number of corridor rooms so the game was ripe for a hardcore Stairs opening.  I started off with the Utility cards that benefit Utility rooms and 200 rooms, and after building 4 sets of stairs I scooped up the Stairs Utility Card!  I would have built more Hallways than I did but one opponent went nuts and scooped up 3 Hallways in a single turn leaving my last Stairs looking lonely and sad.

My board doesn't look that super at first glance but my Utility cards are strong coming in at 10, 8, 6, 6, and 3 points.  I also have 14 points from Stairs and Hallways, and the 200 stack emptied so the fact that I was collecting those was fantastic for me too.  The last two King's Favours were doorways (where I scored 1) and purple rooms (where I scored 0).  However, I cleaned up the two Favours for Corridors and Corridor square footage so I got a solid 17 points from Favours.

One thing that I was wondering was how good Basement rooms are in general.  Clearly if you already have Stairs you might as well build Basement rooms if they look tasty, but are they really worth it?  Do you give up much by simply not having any Stairs at all?  The interconnectedness of the points of various rooms makes this calculation quite challenging, but I am going to have a stab at it on this board.  It won't be easy to generalize it to all games, obviously, so take this as a data point, not a thesis.

I will assign points from cards to the Utility Rooms that generate the cards, not the rooms.  The points from my starting cards will be assigned to the rooms.  I will ignore the 350 Corridor I bought because it was obviously purchased only for King's Favours and isn't representative.

Utility Rooms:  12, 9, 5
Green Room:  5 + 10 coins
Blue Room:  4 + (empty 200 stack = 8 - 3.33 = 4.66)  = 8.66
Yellow Rooms:  4, 4 + (2?) bonus turn(s)
Basement Rooms:  11, 7, 6, 5, 1 + 5 points + bonus turn

My upper rooms generated 6 points + 1.25 coins + .25 bonus turns.
My basement rooms generated 7 points + .2 bonus turns.

The difference between the two set is quite small.  The basement rooms come out on top if you count the kitchen as not completing, but if you treat it as though it completed they are very much on par.

Looking at this board it appears as though my basement and upstairs were similar in scoring on a per room basis.  In that case it appears as though Stairs were a fine investment even aside from the massive stack of bonus points they got me as I did well on basement rooms and having the flexibility to buy them was excellent.  I am not yet convinced that being the third person into Stairs is strong in a game unless the Favours or Utility cards benefit Stairs, but I am eager to see what data other people have in this regard.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Cultural Divide

Recently I watched a video by Brian Kibler about the differences in culture between Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone.  He correctly notes that Hearthstone has a culture focused around the idea that the game is all luck and skill doesn't matter, while MTG has a culture that supports the idea of skill being paramount.

These aren't all or nothing ideas!  Obviously there are plenty of MTG players who whine about getting mana screwed and Hearthstone players who correctly acknowledge that the game has a pretty large skill ceiling.  That said, the trend of Hearthstone players talking about RNG and MTG players talking about skill is real.

Kibler thinks that this is in part because of explicit randomness in a lot of good Hearthstone cards - cards that summon a random minion or make a random spell, for example.  MTG has less of that.  Also the average MTG player plays in tournaments, whether they be small scale Friday Night Magic kind of tournaments or Pro Tour Qualifiers.  Hearthstone players play on ladder and only a tiny percentage take part in tournaments of any sort.

He also thinks that MTG content creators tend to write serious strategy articles while Hearthstone creators make silly decks to play on twitch and youtube and this changes how they are perceived.  While Firebat may bring really tight decks to tournaments he still makes stupid Blood Bloom / Doom decks to play on his stream because those bring more viewers in, so people see top Hearthstone players doing stupid crap all the time and don't see the skill that goes into perfecting and practising a deck.


Kibler's points are right on, but there is more to it, I think.

I remember when I was playing MTG a lot back in Thunder Bay when I was a teenager and it was easy to see that skill was a defining factor.  I won about 25% of the tournaments I entered, and one of my close friends won another 25%.  Mostly anyone else who won was also somebody I knew because generally we were all in the top 8 in nearly every tournament.  When much of your life in a hobby involves tournaments and you see the same people winning every time you really get the impression that skill is the dominant factor.

When I played against good players in top 8 situations I played tight and quiet but it was entirely different in the early rounds against newbies.  If I rolled over someone whose deck really needed some tuning I would often sit after the match and go over their deck to give them pointers.  We would talk about cards they needed, land ratios, what decks other people were playing, etc.  Usually those people would leave some new ideas and also with the definitive impression that I beat them because I was better, not because I got lucky.

In Hearthstone you never get that experience.  When you get beat you just lose and queue up again.  Nobody who crushes you on their way up the ladder sits down with you to say "Hey, you know, your deck could probably use a couple more 1 drops and cut a few expensive dragons."  You don't get people saying "You would have beaten me if you had just Fireballed me in the face on your second last turn."  Lacking those cues it is easy for the player to just rail about getting unlucky and move on.

Hearthstone players also consistently play people of a similar skill level.  The ladder pairs you against people who have won about as much as you, and tournaments are full of top tier players.  You just don't have the newest scrub going into a big tournament, meeting a pro, and getting beat because the pro plays better, at least not nearly as often as it happens in MTG.

When you play against people who are equally skilled, *of course* the victory comes down to RNG.  There is room for individual skillful plays, but on average against a similarly skilled player you would expect somebody's luck to break better and take the victory on that basis.

So while there is an advantage to pitting all the noobs against one another, it does make them think that the game is just RNG based, and the pros end up in the same boat.  Hearthstone pros don't have as much experience at grinding through noobs as the MTG people do, so their games often come down to a single instance of good or bad luck because skill is already controlled for.

This isn't something that needs fixing.  It is just an emergent, accidental property of the way the games are played, marketed, sold, and viewed.  Both companies are doing it right, considering those considerations, but those choices really do affect the way players think about the games they play.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Two states

Being 'in combat' is a bizarre and ridiculous thing.  When playing tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons there is usually a sense of combat time in which characters take turns doing things on a short time scale.  People act sequentially, which is ridiculous from a realism standpoint, but is the only practical way to have tactical combat in this sort of scenario.  It leads to all kinds of weird things - for example, two characters can't walk down a hallway together.  One has to go first, then the other when it is their turn.

Outside this silly (but necessary for our purposes) framework things flow much more naturally in a state I call narrative time.  People can do things simultaneously and even perform activities that don't fit into discrete six second chunks.  You could, for example, give a speech without having to check if every person in the room passes their turn!

The other day Naked Man asked me a rules question that touches on this strange construction.  He wanted to know how to rule it if a player was readying a spell over multiple turns.  If they say "I shoot a Magic Missile at any enemy that walks around that corner" and nobody walks around the corner by their next turn is the spell lost?  Can they just choose to continue readying it?  Can they keep the spell and do something else?  Finally, if they can do all these things, can the players just wander through the dungeon constantly declaring that they are readying spells to attack at all times so the instant they see an enemy they unleash a barrage of magic?

I know what my GMs in highschool games would have done to anyone who tried to ready spells for extended periods like that.  They would have said "oh, rocks fall, you die" and then waited for the player to stop being an ass.  Or they might have had low level spellcasters cast illusions of monsters that walked around corners so the players unleashed fusillades of spells at an illusory beholder.

However, if I want to answer the question of how to handle this in general for a wide swath of players I think I would like to be a bit more thorough and within the rules.

I would definitely allow players to continue to ready a spell against a particular circumstance should it not arise.  If you ready a Magic Missile against an enemy coming around a corner and nobody does, I would say you can just abandon that and do something else next round without losing the spell.

But as soon as anybody says they are readying a Magic Missile during their entire walk through the dungeon, well now that is a different thing.  Readying a spell is a combat action.  It makes no fucking sense outside of the combat time construct, so any time the players are operating in narrative time rather than combat time I would forbid combat actions completely.

If a player said "I am keeping a special watch on that well in the corner in case anything crawls out of it to attack us" I would absolutely take that into consideration and perhaps give them a bonus on a surprise roll or a roll to notice the monster leaping out of the well.  Could even just decide that if a monster does come out they are definitely not surprised.  What I definitely wouldn't do is let them ready a Magic Missile against that eventuality, because they are in narrative time until combat starts.

And since I am the GM in this case, *I* decide when we are in combat time vs. narrative time.

That is kind of a ridiculous solution, but I think it is the only one consistent with the rules of the game.  Combat time is silly but it is an intrinsic part of DnD and you should make use of it when it is helpful, and keeping players from doing silly things with combat actions all the time is exactly the sort of place where you want to enforce the strict duality of game state.

My solution has the nice benefit of feeling elegant (once you accept the combat time construct) and also keeping people from doing abusive things.  Readying spells and then not using them in combat isn't powerful, so there is no need to try to quash it.  After all, you missed an entire turn and did nothing!  All we need to do is prevent players from doing dumb stuff like trying to ready actions for hours on end, and combat vs. narrative time solves that neatly.