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Subject: Issues I have with Wizard's Academy rss

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I have played around 10 times solo using the Tabletop Simulator DLC. I keep thinking I will play a few more games and try more of the scenarios then post a review...

But if I was to do a review today it would be exactly the same as yours. The game feels too random.

But I will add two caveats:

* I have yet to try to the scenarios where you do start with known spells and threats; and

* For NZ$8 on Steam this was good value for money.

Cam
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Stuart Holttum
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Thus far I've only played twice (one solo, one group) but I agree with your comments. Great concept, that in reality can often turn the game into a three hour frustration with no hope of winning.

I think the chief problem is that it takes two or more turns to cast a spell (getting to room gathering glyphs, etc), but that disasters happen every turn. Even in the best scenario there is a progression of bad stuff - and that's without the added effects of bad spells. For what was sold as a fun and fairly casual game, WA seems to require a huge amount of careful group planning, with the likelihood that players will be forced into particular static roles (e.g. I will camp in this room to keep this vital glyph in my shared box). Tactically sound, perhaps, but dull for the player.

Non-random room layout or spell choice would be helpful, but perhaps the simplest amendment might be to make the "gather glyph" action give you TWO glyphs per use. Far less time wasted going back to rooms over and over, less wasted time from The multi imp issue, and far less likelihood of the "stuck player role" problem.
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Andrew Riley
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Wouldn't the kind of fixed set up you mentioned lead to the scenarios being "solvable"? Where you'd hit on a certain technique that worked every time for a given scenario, yes there'd variation in the order of disaster and the placement of spells, but you'd know you're looking for certain spells because because they're always present in this scenario, and you'd know having a player in a certain area of the board is the way to win.

While I understand that certain randomness is bad (I've only played the intro scenario on solo a couple of time) and some set ups seem much harder than others. What your suggesting sounds like it would have the same effect as fixing the initial 9 cities in a pandemic game.

And while I do see it can be hard to collect, retain and use glyphs as you want given the disaster progression, doing something like doubling the glyphs received would dramatically increase the win rate against the game. I remember reading somewhere the intended win rate was 30%. That combined with the advertised 90-180 (I think the variation is more on scenario than anything else) isn't really dropping into the "fairly casual" bracket for me.
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Stuart Holttum
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It's horses for courses, I think.

Personally, I don't mind a win rate of 30%....provided that that's the rough chance of winning an individual game, if that makes sense?

With the random setup of the game, it means that - from the start of turn one - you might be looking at a session you will win with ease, or a session that will be a three hour slog that will inevitably result in failure....but you won't know at the start which it will be. For the fairly lengthy time investment a session requires, that doesn't float my boat.

I see what you're saying about scenarios becoming solvable, but in honesty I would prefer that element of solvability to complete randomness, with the chance (as the OP noted) that you may be playing a game with multiple fire threats, but few or no ways to counter them.

To use the pandemic example, sometimes this game is like having all the epidemic cards in the top dozen cards of the deck, and sometimes it's like them all being in the bottom dozen - but not knowing which until you've been playing for an hour or more.

The game requires quite an investment of time to learn, with all the interactions of threats with wizards and other threats and glyphs and rooms and.....so perhaps I was wrong to describe it as "casual". What I meant was that the theme and high-level description make it sound like a fun romp - the Sorcerer's Apprentice/year one at Hogwarts fun and frolics. In reality though, it's less "ooh, bad luck Weasley, you just blew your eyebrows off" than "oh. I just accidentally gave Voldemort all the Deathly Hallows". There is an imbalance between the impression of the game (the artistic style and description) and the way it actually has to be played.

I also wonder whether the serious gamer who is prepared to invest the time to learn all the interactions of threats, and spend the brainpower to do all the team planning the game requires, will be comfortable with the large amount of randomness?

Anyhow....long ramble there....I think my point is that I want the fun, fluffy game that the illustrations and box blurb promised, where casting a botched spell causes laughter and "d'oh" reactions rather than a "oh hell, that's screwed us" pall of gloom.
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Max Maloney
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"If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason." -Jack Handey
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NorseWiz wrote:
Take the random room and glyph source placement. This gives you a starting point ranging from very helpful to pretty unwieldy, with glyphs close by or far away from you, and the same goes with important rooms. In one of my games the Warded room, Library and the Scrying chamber were right next to each other, and the three starting shifts made it possible to place the first 3 glyphs close by.

This raises an interesting question. In the Basic Game it is quite clear that the order of operation puts shifting rooms before placing glyph sources. The Advanced setup puts the shift step much nearer the end, but it doesn't specify when glyph sources are placed at all.

It could be the intent that you shift before knowing where glyphs are located. Perhaps Greg will chime in to clarify.

The other comment I have is that I wouldn't use "random" to describe the part of the game being discussed here. I think it's more a matter of a highly variable set up that doesn't ensure a balanced level of difficulty. While that may seem semantic, someone unfamiliar with the game might assume the gameplay itself is random. Once set up is complete, the game is nearly deterministic, with only the unknown order of the cards providing any hidden information from the players. None of the interactions are randomized at all.

I hope that doesn't come off as disputing the OP, because it's a perfectly valid opinion. I only wanted to clarify.
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Greg
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I think the comment on initial variation is spot on - there's a lot of randomness in setup and less in play. Ultimately it's playing on the notion of "input randomness" as opposed to "output randomness" Essentially looking to generate a sequence of

"Here's a situation"
"We do a thing"
"It works/fails because of how good a thing that was in the situation"

over

"Here's a situation"
"We do a thing"
"It works/fails because of whether chance favoured doing that thing"

Some setups are easier than others. I don't think any setup is impossible. I think the paths that exist after shifts are a better predictor of outcome than the distance between the glyphs and the starting room or library. I do think it's possible to lose to something essentially random (imagine always happening to find the spell you need at each level after trying all others). I don't think this happens more than one game in a hundred (because it's based on cumulative probabilities involving large numbers of events).

Glyphs are meant to be placed before shifts. I think this is codified as listing the glyphs as scenario setup and scenario setup instructions having a particular place in the sequence - but we might've changed that at some point and not noticed that it undid the explicit nature of it.

I thought we'd solved the long slog that was impossible with the "If you play a disaster above your top locked spell the game ends in defeat" thing, letting a game get reset and trying a possible scenario rather than being locked into a slow defeat.

The 'problem' presented by the game is quite hard. In part it's an experiment in overcoming quarterbacking by creating a puzzle that's hard to process as an individual (including the memory task regarding cast spells which acts as a cognitive impairment task). I wanted to create something where if someone insisted on trying to take charge, other players would have the opportunity to say "You didn't think of..."

I wonder if there'd be any mileage in a cheap (say $5) booklet of pdf expansion that listed fixed scenario setups as challenges, gave some options for variant monsters (say imps that don't steal glyphs but can eat bigger monsters and wizards if they gather in enough numbers) and introduced a casual difficulty setting. There'd be a lot of development and playtesting in making something like that, but from a manufacturing point of view it's easy so it'd only need to cover its dev cost.
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Andrew Riley
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x_equals_speed wrote:
I wonder if there'd be any mileage in a cheap (say $5) booklet of pdf expansion that listed fixed scenario setups as challenges


I think this actually sounds like a pretty good idea. As with any co-op there is always the possibility of an "impossible" or really hard set up and having someway to get a standard difficulty game would be useful or even with the other thread you've got going you could imagine a scale of challenges for a single scenario; Easy, Standard and Insane layouts that you could apply to either the standard or hard version of the scenarios in the book. Heck it might even be possible to get a set of layouts that work for every challenge at once, maybe just differentiate between the intro game and the rest.

I think these would be great for people starting out, knowing they have the "expected" chance of winning rather than a potentially big swing, but they could also be useful for experienced players looking to step up from normal to hard setups, and looking for some way to make "hard" a little lighter on themselves the first time out.

I wouldn't focus on variants of monsters (despite that being something I suggested in another thread during the KS), but codifying a way out of some of the set up randomness and simultaneously giving a known challenge level would be great.

Obviously I'm only a single voice, but I think if you look at the popularity of things like WoW's challenge mode dungeons you can see how knowing the difficulty doesn't reduce the enjoyment.
 
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Stuart Holttum
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Just to add to that the potential that the fire-dousing spell may not even be in the game.....
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Andrew Riley
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baredas wrote:
In that respect I like the idea of looking at the spells you have drawn before adding them to the spell Grid. That way you know when you can stop searching for level 1 spells and move to the higher ones.
I don't think there's anything in the rules that says either way if you're supposed to know what's been added to the spell grid as the non-defined cards.

The bit in the main rules just says separate, shuffle, deal, then mix with the fixed. It doesn't say "look" and it doesn't say "don't look". Norsewiz's point has a lot to recommend it, if you know what's possible it can stimulate creativity rather than "anything could happen" where you just shrug and move on.
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Greg
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This is really interesting to read, because at times during the design I was pushing for the direct opposite! I'm looking for the post in my design blog archives (but there are over 300 of the bloody things) in which I was calculating how many games were required before a player would have seen every spell in the game at least once (I think it worked out 11 if players looked at the hidden spells after each game, closer to 15 otherwise).

In playtests the "I didn't even know that could happen" reaction was pretty positive and in terms of the ... ach I forget the term ... there's a "why do people play games?" theory that breaks it down in terms of different things. Anyway, in that context "discovery" was a strong motivator for WA and one that's not particularly common in board games (compared to say, open world RPGs, in which looking in nooks and crannies for hidden things is half of the reason some people play the games - others don't care at all and read a guide online before turning it on).

I find it fascinating that I've done a lot of testing with players who are attracted to different things in a game and what we're seeing here are suggestions that are antithetical to those players enjoyment of the game.

I think the thing that makes it really interesting is that nothing that's being suggested is wrong. It just keys into other motivations for play (most prominently 'displaying mastery'). I think that the modification of looking at all of the spells as they go onto the grid will improve your experiences of the game for some players (and particularly players who'd generate that suggestion). I'd suggest that it probably also makes the game easier so you might need to do something to counterbalance that - but fundamentally the notion that it'll produce an ability to push towards particular solutions is sound.

What about keeping the game as is, but adding an option to the mana crystal
"Expend one mana to look at all face down spells at a particular level and randomise them"
So there's a cost involved and it can be used in the face of a specific problem to see what solutions are available and see if it's worth exploring the current level to get one over pushing on to the next one. I don't know if a mana is too steep as a cost though. Maybe it should be available as a room action for some glyphs in the scrying chamber. Equal to the level of the spell? I'd need to test it to see what worked - since playtesting was producing feedback pushing the game in the opposite direction (more games without knowing everything!) we didn't explore this part of the design space so I'm not certain what a good cost would be.
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Andrew Riley
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x_equals_speed wrote:
Maybe it should be available as a room action for some glyphs in the scrying chamber.
At the moment, with a very limited number of plays of the intro scenario under my belt (which is fully deterministic for spells) it seems hard enough that giving the information completely for free wouldn't impact the chance of me winning enough to look for counter balances.

However, this would be a much more thematic use for the Scrying Chamber, which I think we briefly discussed during the rules proofing sessions. It always felt wrong that the Scrying Chamber wasn't for looking at things.
 
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Greg
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Mm, I remember discussing alternate titles for it. I think "Mesmer chamber" came up. But ultimately the consensus was that it worked best as was.

The room action to move a monster is pretty critical, some combinations of scenario and spell deal would be impossible without it, so there wasn't really a case for changing it's ability to something more "scryish"

I guess I am in a position of having played hundreds of games and that feedback predominantly comes from playtesters who've played a lot of games (almost tautologically!) so I may be prone to underestimating difficulty.
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Stuart Holttum
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As Breg says - no way of p,aging is "wrong" as such.

But my chief grumble remains - the artwork, and the blurb (including that used in the Kickstarter) points to a fun frolic, not a calculating grind:

"....fight off rampaging hordes, persuade an inspector that the academy is safe (and any uncontrolled fires they see are legitimate experiments) or tame a book that has learned to cast its own spells and delights in mayhem....you may not always have the right tools for the job, but when all you have is the capacity to tear open a rift to the water dimension, every problem looks like a fire!"

That's the description of a light, fun game, where you cast a spell for a laugh to see what happens, and where a miscast spell prompts laughs and friendly insults towards the hapless caster. It's not the description of a game where every single action is crucial and calculated, where mixing glyphs just for jollies is a bad move, and where a miscast leads to groans and five minutes of discussion on the best way to recover.

To be clear - I would be happy to play either of those games. But I was sold this game on the basis it was the first type, and so it is annoying and frustrating to discover it is a game of the second type.
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Greg
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I think that the claim that knowing what spells are present won't make the game easier is logically equivalent to the claim that there's no point in knowing what spells are present. Either the info helps to generate better decisions or it's meaningless to have it.

There are other factors at work there - but more playtesters who can offer different perspectives are always welcome if you want to have a look at the next thing(s) I'm doing.

I certainly wasn't trying to be misleading in the KS - the video of playtesters are genuine people's reactions to the game and I had almost no input on the seven independent reviews that were posted (which is all of them, I didn't hide any reviews). I see what you're saying though, rereading the blurb now does suggest a lighter game than it is. That wasn't a deliberate deception and I'm sorry it set a false expectation.
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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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Thank you for an interesting post. Your experience with the game is quite opposite mine.

Initially I feared that given the random setup I'd regularly be faced with situations I wasn't equipped to deal with and I've felt like that happened multiple times, but after taking a bit of time to think and look through my options I've each time realized that the available spells and room actions actually did give me a way to deal with the problem or at least mitigate it.

That's not to say that I win every time (I don't and that would've made the game boring), but I've never been in a situation where a haven't at least had the means to try and handle a threat.

It's important for me to state that I've only played four times, have made rule mistakes, and haven't played the scenario in question, which of course lessens the value of my opinion, but it's interesting to me that our experiences have been so different.
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