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The Thornwatch team released a new scene during PAX Australia, and we tried it out. The setup was a bit complicated, and a few of the rules were unclear. It was fun and has potential, but could use some cleanup on some of the rule wording.
Setup Time: 14 minutes
Play Time: 24 minutes. This was a very fast scene.
Thornwatch Party: 2 players - Guard and Sage
Outcome: Judge victory
In this scene the Thornwatch must defend this Grove Lion pup.
Art copyright Mike Krahulik.
The story for this scene is that the players must defend a creature (the Grove Lion Pup) in the center of the map, while enemies attack from all sides and try to drive it away. The Pup has rules for running if an enemy is near, and returning if no enemies are nearby. Each turn it scares all of the creatures out of its space, including the players. The players lose if the Pup runs off the map.
The Judge has an extra rule to pay ebb (money) to move the enemies farther, which came in *very* handy. There is also a Felled Daughter in the center space, which acts as a ticking time bomb forcing the players to hurry - each round the Daughter card hands out wounds to any player of the Judge's choosing. This chews through the wound deck *fast*. The players simply must take action immediately if they don't want to lose.
The mechanic of handing out wounds each round and forcing the players to act quickly really matches the theme of the Wagon Wise knot in the story - "for when the Watch must not tarry".
Setup - Reading rules + fun strategy
"Riddle of Autumn and Aurum" scene title. Art copyright Mike Krahulik.
Setup for this scene was a bit more complex, as we had to read all of the new rules for the new terrain card, the new NPC, and new Driven enemy, as well as the scene victory and defeat conditions. This seemed to take a while passing the cards to each player, reading, and sharing everything, but according to my timer didn't actually take longer than normal setup.
Placing terrain cards was fun and strategic. Since this scene was all about movement and I had the option of paying ebb to do so, I wanted options, so I placed two Ley Line cards in the outer corners. These were places the Thornwatch were unlikely to visit due to the deadline for action, but still allowed me to collect bonus ebb I could use to move monsters. I also placed Thick Foliage to block Thornwatch attacks, with Animate Brambles and Murky Depths to slow them down. I created a line of terrible terrain leading off the map - not difficult to do with only two area tiles to the edge. Because I would be able to control the path the Grove Lion Pup took while fleeing, I could send it right through my Driven and terrain gauntlet.
It's fun that there is strategy to how the Judge sets up a scene - this gives you something to think about. Because there are never *that* many terrain tiles to play (in this scene: 5) it doesn't take too long to decide.
Game Suggestion: Pre-calculate terrain card count
One thing that would help setup go faster: it would be great if each scene pre-calculated the number of terrain cards that the Judge could place. It's not *terrible* having to do this myself, but it does involve a few steps. Count the tiles on the map; divide by 2; look for and subtract any existing scene-specific terrain cards (e.g. Felled Daughter). Since one of the Thornwatch design goals is to avoid forcing the players to do math, this seems to fit well. It would be easy to calculate the number of allowed cards beforehand and include it in the scene setup diagram.
The scene map starts like this:
'D' are the Driven enemies. 'G' is the Grove Lion Pup.
Round 1 - leave the middle
Once the party's doom was finally orchestrated, this scene went by quickly. I drew top Momentum slot with the Driven and got to work ruining the Thornwatchs' hopes and dreams.
First I closed all of the Driven in one space to the middle circle of the map and paid 1 ebb to move a single Driven into the center:
This worked well. The Grove Lion had drawn the second Momentum spot, so they would move next. This meant the lion immediately fled to the middle circle of the map, and I controlled where. It fled straight into my trap of terrain cards and monsters, and the party hadn't even played a turn yet:
On their turn the Thornwatch moved in to protect the Pup and were able to kill off a Driven. It was only one of four, however, so I still had room to work.
Round 2 - further out
The next turn the Driven closed in again and were able to move to the Pup's area before the Pup acted:
Having +1 Momentum for the enemies and -1 Momentum for the Pup really helps. The Driven scared the Pup a second time, driving it to the outside space:
Again the Pup pushed the monsters out of its space, but I was able to pick the path of retreat and get them ready to close in. All too easy.
On its way through the map the Grove Lion led the Thornwatch through some Animate Brambles, adding further wound cards to erode the wound deck. Free attacks against the party are pretty great.
Round 3 - dead
The third round saw the Grove Lion Pup starting its turn on the outside edge, and I was able to move a Driven to share its space:
Unless the Thornwatch were able to kill the Driven this turn, they would lose.
The players tried valiantly, but the cards were stacked against them. The Guard had no mana for a basic attack and couldn't get to the Driven in time. The Sage had no large damage spells. Because there were two only players, both of their attacks had to hit (and hit well enough) to knock the Driven to the edge of the Momentum track and then also kill it.
The party tried what they could - the Sage helping to draw extra cards and all three of us looking at all of their options. In the end they could do nothing but watch. The Grove Lion Pup took its turn, was scared by the surrounding enemies, and yelped off into the forest.
At the end only a single Driven had been killed.
Meanwhile - a bleeding time bomb
While all of this was happening I was simultaneously having a great time handing out Wound cards to the players. The Felled Daughter terrain card in the center of the map reads as follows:
"After momentum is resolved, the Judge chooses a hero to gain a number of wounds in the hero’s discard pile equal to the number of wounds under this card. Then put 2 wounds under this card."
This is the time bomb, and it works quickly. At first we were surprised by the mechanic, and I'm open to being corrected about the rules. But our interpretation is that the Judge does not take the wounds from under this card and hand them to players - the Judge *both* puts wounds from the wound deck under this terrain card, *and* hands out cards from the same wound deck to players. That chews through the wound deck fast.
You can see the math below (see appendix), but basically this means the scene will never last more than 7 rounds. Even if the Thornwatch take zero damage from enemies, they're handed more and more wounds from the Felled Daughter until they lose. For two players the game will never last more than *four* rounds, as the players only have 20 wounds in their Wound Deck. Yikes!
Story-wise this mechanic evokes a great feeling - the death of a Daughter of the Eyrewood is a terrible and tragic event that brings ruin *quickly*!
With all of this, even if the players had been able to prevent the Grove Lion Pup's escape, within four rounds they would have died anyway. That makes it very tough for the party.
At the end of our play when the Grove Lion Pup fled there were only 5 wound cards left in the deck. The players would not have survived the start of another round.
A single play does not a balanced opinion make, and I'd like to try this scene more. At the end we felt like the scene *is* winnable, if the party gets their act together quickly and kills enemies ASAP. From reading other players' feedback online it sounds like many parties were able to defeat the scene. I wonder if those parties had more players, and thus more enemy-killing firepower.
This scene seems to get easier the more players there are in the party. Not only do you have more time to avoid Felled Daughter destruction but you have more chances to hit and kill enemies. Thornwatch is very much about "how much damage can you dish out *this round*?", and the more players in the party the more chances they have to succeed at taking out an enemy. With two players and only two attacks per round, things have to go *extremely well* for the players to kill a Driven. In fact, with two players the party has to hit and kill an enemy every single round for four rounds to just barely win the scene before the Daughter explodes. Tough task! No one ever said being a Thornwatch was easy.
Even if the party is able to keep the Grove Lion Pup on the center square and reduce some of the wounds from the Felled Daughter, it's pretty easy for the Judge to move a Driven into the space, so a two-player party still has a hard time.
I did get extremely lucky in this game with Momentum draws. Having the Driven go first and especially go before the Grove Lion Pup makes it much easier to scare him away.
As the judge, paying ebb to increase movement for that scene is pretty great and really lets you strategize. You only need to have *one* Driven in the square, so if the Momentum timing is right (which it was for me) you can have one Driven hit the pup while the others wait for its next move. And since the Judge decides where the pup flees, it's fairly easy to attack it again.
Perhaps more experienced Thornwatch players could recognize this Momentum draw as the worst possible deal and take action to alter the track. But it was the first round so it may have been tough to get enough mana to change anything.
Is it coincidence that the first scene published with the Driven enemy also uses mechanics for *driving* away an NPC and running them off the board? Do the designers love puns that much?
Breaking the game - just kill the Pup
Another fun thing about this scene: it seems the Judge can be mean and ruin the players' day even faster by having the Driven simply attack the Grove Lion Pup and kill it.
By the Rules As Written, Denizens (i.e. NPCs) can be attacked, damaged, and killed just as regular enemies can. If the Grove Lion Pup gets an unlucky Momentum draw and ends up close to or on the edge the Judge has several enemies it can pay to rush the square and attack. The Grove Lion Pup has a -1 Momentum adjustment to make this even easier.
I didn't choose this option because I wanted my group to have fun and wanted to try the new scene. But it's interesting to think about. Should there be a rule for the scene about *not* attacking the Grove Lion Pup? Do we really want to have to add special rules to each Thornwatch scene about whether or not denizens can be attacked? That's an interesting problem to try and solve in an elegant way. Killing the NPC outright would ruin my custom homebrew scene too, so when running the scene I avoided taking that route. But if we assume the Judge is the biggest possible jerk all of the time it may benefit Thornwatch to have some way of handling this.
Corrupted Grove Lion
"Corrupted" Grove Lion. Art copyright Mike Krahulik. All I did was click 'invert colors'
In-game story-wise it may make fantastic sense for the Driven to avoid killing the Grove Lion Pup. Perhaps their goal (or the forest's goal?) is capture and conversion rather than death. Perhaps Grove Lions can be corrupted by the ebb and turned to serve its evil will... if so, a corrupted Grove Lion Pup could be a powerful and dangerous force indeed...
Fun scene. Very tough for a small number of players. The enemy count and/or timebomb mechanic may need tweaking to scale down more. Still has interesting mechanics and is fun to play.
Other Game Thoughts
Judges, winning, crests, and knots
This scene rewards players, including the Judge, with a knot and a crest if the players win:
"The reward for finishing an adventure successfully is the knot tied to summon the Thornwatch. .. Each player, including the Judge, in a successful adventure gains the ability to wear the knot"
It's good that everyone gets the reward, but also creates a weird incentive for the Judge to let the players win the scene.
Suggestion: reward the Judge no matter what
Perhaps granting meta-rewards to the Judge regardless of success or failure would be good. This could encourage people to play as the Judge because they're guaranteed to get a reward, and they aren't tempted to throw the game.
Limit on knots
Red Mage - an Old School min/maxer
Will Thornwatch need a limit on the number of knots a player can use?
Players can take knots with them from game to game, and they grant bonuses. This also makes me wonder if if there will be a limit on the number of knots a player can use each game. If a player showed up with 50 different knots, each of which grants a special in-game ability, that could quickly get out of hand (and feel unbalanced if the rest of the party has no knots). Perhaps e.g. 3 knots max per game would help. It's similar to the limit of 4 skill cards being powered at a time - enough interesting options to choose from without being overwhelming.
Appendix: Timing math for the Felled Daughter
Round 1: 0 wound cards used so far + 0 handed out this round = 0.
+2 wound cards underneath the Felled Daughter = 2 underneath.
0 + 2 = 2 total wound cards used.
Round 2: 2 wound cards used so far + 2 handed out this round = 4.
+2 wound cards underneath the Felled Daughter = 4 underneath
4 + 2 = 6 total wound cards used.
Round 3: 6 wound cards used so far + 4 handed out this round = 10.
+2 wound cards underneath the Felled Daughter = 6 underneath.
10 + 2 = 12 total wound cards used.
Round 4: 12 wound cards used so far + 6 handed out this round = 18.
+2 wound cards underneath the Felled Daughter = 8 underneath.
18 + 2 = 20 total wound cards used.
You have now defeated a 2-player party no matter what (20 wound cards spent).
Round 5: 20 wound cards used so far + 8 handed out this round = 28.
+2 wound cards underneath the Felled Daughter = 10 underneath.
28 + 2 = 30 total wound cards used.
You have now defeated a 3-player parties no matter what (30 wound cards spent).
Round 6: 30 wound cards used so far + 10 handed out this round = 40.
+2 wound cards underneath the Felled Daughter = 12 underneath.
40 + 2 = 42 total wound cards used.
You have now defeated a 4-player party no matter what (>40 wound cards spent).
Round 7: 42 wound cards used so far + 12 handed out this round = 54.
+2 wound cards underneath the Felled Daughter = 14 underneath.
54 + 2 = 56 total wound cards used.
You have now defeated a 5-player party no matter what (>50 wound cards spent).
We gave this scene another shot with three players, and it was much closer. The Judge still won, but with one fudged die roll and 9 extra wounds they players would have had a chance.
The Driven close in and surround the Pup, dealing damage to the Thornwatch as they go.
The Sage uses Bridge of Ages in the center square to boost all player rolls. Well played!
A failed Guard Lure plus a failed Blade Feint grant the Judge two extra ebb.
The Pup runs out one rung on the map.
The Driven attack in force! Six wounds to the Guard and several more to the Blade and Sage. This helps chew through the wound deck quickly.
The Grove Lion Pup is driven to the edge of the map.
The Sage saves the day, killing one Driven on the outside space using Rend Earth. Great spell name.
Only 9 wounds left in the wound deck already. The Sage uses a second Rend Earth and kills another Driven!
The Blade's Feint misses, but the Pup is clear enough to move back one space! Into the middle rung it goes. Huzzah!
Three Driven pile into its square.
The Guard uses Plan + Lure in the Sage's boosting Brideg square and scores three hits! Huzah! The Driven are pushed to the edge.
The Sage uses a boosted ranged attack to attack the Driven but can't kill it. It's getting close!
The Pup moves back to the outside edge.
A single wound card remains in the Wound Deck.
The Sage casts a last desperate Bridge-boosted Fireball and rolls 15 dice! One Driven is killed and the Driven are pushed back to the Edge. Only two monsters remain.
The Blade kills one of them!
However, the monster fights back, exhausting the Wound deck. After that the Animate Brambles terrain card adds insult to injury with further wounds.
Final tally: 13 minute setup time, 48 minute play time, Judge victory.
In this game I didn't spend any ebb as the Judge other than to move the Driven in the first two rounds. I had ~16 ebb left at the end of the game. I stopped counting at a certain point. I could easily have paid for Apex Predator or Ebb Infusion, but that would have just made the odds further stacked. OTOH, we did not use any Hero Dice, which might have made a big difference.
We gave this scene a *third* try, with Sage, Blade, and Warden. It started out well with some very lucky Momentum draws and things were looking up. However, the players still lost.
Two missed attacks in the first round may have won us the game.
By round 6 we had just barely returned enough wounds to be able to play that round. The Grove Lion had returned 3 wound cards from under the Felled Daughter on rounds 1, 2, and 3.
Again, we played with no Hero Dice, and the Judge did not spend any ebb.
Blade acts before the Driven! Good momentum draw. Damages Driven to the edge.
Sage can make a 1 die ranged attack, but misses.
Warden uses Command - also miss. Damn!
However, this means the Grove Lion Pup acts first! It removes a wound from the Felled Daughter! Huzzah.
Driven hand out wounds and land on the Pup's space.
Great momentum draw again!
Warden uses Three Pronged Attack and kills one Driven!
Sage casts Grasping Vines to keep those damned skeletons where they lay.
Grove Lion removes another wound and stays in the center! This session is looking much better.
However, the Judge had 8 ebb in their pocket and is not paying for Apex Predator nor Ebb Infusion, so it's a false sense of accomplishment.
The Blade kills second Driven! This removes the Driven pawn from the center space, and the Grove Lion Pup gets *another* round free from scary masks. Three wounds removed from the Felled Daughter (still stacking up though)
With the help of the Sage the Warden kills *a third* Driven! Unprecedented success!
Two Driven remain in the center, having escaped the Sage's Grasping Vines. They finally drive the Pup out and away from the middle of the map.
The Thornwatch still manage to kill one of them!
The Felled Daughter bleeds again - only three wounds remain in the wound deck!
The lone Driven hits the Blade for 2 wounds! A single card remains.
The Warden misses her attack, discarding two wounds.
The Blade pulls the classic "Cunning Plans (draw 3 cards), Cunning Plans (draw 3 cards), Second Chances (return cards from discard pile), Cunning Plans" maneuver, doing their best impression of The Matrix to learn Kung Fu. Fully *eight* of the nine cards drawn are wounds!
The Blade is unable to attack, fails to learn Kung Fu, and happily returns all of their wounds to the Wound deck before passing off their turn.
Achievement unlocked: 8 wound cards returned after a single turn. Now Thornwatch has a new goal to beat
The Sage has Rend Earth, but with the Driven not on the edge it would be a wasted attack. They save their fury for next round.
*Thankfully* the party has returned just enough wounds to survive the Felled Daughter's wrath one more time, and proceeds to Round 6.
Terrible momentum draw for the players - the Driven act first.
With two cards left in the Wound Deck the Warden draws a hand of 4 wounds and one mana card. The Warden is unable to make even a basic attack (and has no powered abilities). Even if they could attack, the Warden would only be able to hit the Driven *to* the edge before the Grove Lion Pup's turn, whence the Pup promptly runs off the map and scampers into the woods!
Final tally: 29 minute play time; Judge victory.
Overall: obviously the key to the map is to keep the Pup in the center, to remove Daughter wounds and keep the time limit going just a bit longer. It still feels like either low numbers of players do not have enough firepower, the Driven are able to move too quickly, or the bomb explodes too soon, however.
I'm still willing to try it again
I really like the Warden class - it's great to see a role that helps others do lots too.
Gave this scene a fourth try with the anti-damage party, but still couldn't beat it.
The party was in great shape! But either got really unlucky, couldn't deal enough damage, or both.
Setup Time: 13 minutes
Play Time: 30 minutes.
Thornwatch Party: 3 players: Guard, Briarlock, Greenheart
Outcome: Judge victory
Guard comes up first. Has some great cards but can't reach the Driven on the outer edge. Preps fury in anticipation.
The Driven close in to seal the deal.
The Greenheart lands two hits, but can't send the Driven to the edge, so none will be killable this round
The Briarlock saves their attacks and uses recall to give the Greenheart extra mana for next turn. Every bit of friendship counts.
The Grove Lion Pup gets scared and moves out one rung.
The Driven draw top momentum card, but the Guard plays Tactical Shift! Huzzah, player tactics.
The Guard hits the Driven twice, but they're still not at the edge.
The Briarlock hits a Driven to the edge!
But the Pup goes next, and continues to run. Now on the outside rung.
After the pawns scatter the Greenheart only has melee attacks and can't reach the Driven to hit them.
Finally the Driven act last. They close in to the Pup's square and deal 3 wounds to the party.
The Briarlock grabs top momentum spot, but is foiled by Thick Foliage - they can't get any dice to make a ranged attack and can't move close enough to hit the Driven.
At this point there are three Driven in the Pup's space. Even if all attacks land and do amazing damage it's pretty unlikely that the party will be able to get three of them out of the Pup's space this turn.
The Briarlock helps the Guard recall Drive Back, to both hit the Driven and move them out of the Pup's space.
Thu Guard his with Drive Back. The Driven are on the edge!
The Greenheart still only has melee attacks. They spend their giant explosive Crack The Shell - 3 die attack plus grant an ally a 2 die attack. There are no allies in the Greeheart's space, but they use it anyway just to make sure they hit as much as they can.
It works! Two hits, and the Greenheart kills a Driven!
This causes the Driven momentum card to move back up, so the Driven act before the pup.
The Guard has Vengeance powered and ready, which lets them attack when an ally takes damage.
Unfortunately, the Driven don't need to attack the Pup; they only need to stand beside it. (in fact if the Driven were smart they would *avoid* attacking at all, so as not to trigger the Guard power. Can you do that?)
The Driven attack anyway, oblivious. The Guard swoops in with Vengeance and damages them to the edge! But without another attack the heroes can't kill any more Driven this round.
The Pup acts. It is surrounded. It flees. Judge victory!
There were 12 wounds left in the wound deck, but the heroes simply couldn't do enough damage. Again the Judge spent zero ebb on any monster-boosting abilities; only a single ebb to move a Driven to the center on the first round.
Do enemies *have* to attack during their turn? Can they opt not to?
It would be neat if players had the option to *delay* their turn and lower their momentum order. But is it balanced? And how to make them pay to activate it?
It's interesting that the Briarlock needs wounds in their *hand* to activate many special abilities. Being able to activate with wounds in-hand or on top of the deck would be pretty neat. Not sure if that would be balanced though. After this session I'm more intrigued by the healing/wound classes and would like to try them more.