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Summoner Wars: Master Set» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Summoner wars. A review from a competitive gamer PoV. rss

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Alejandro Magno
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Competitive gamers ultimate enjoyment from games, comes from tournaments and leagues.

I consider myself one and this is my second review, this one and all future reviews are all gonna be from the this PoV.

The reason I do Summoner wars today, is that my interest on it it's fading for several reasons that you will find below, and before it fades totally I want to make a review that I hope will be useful to other potential gamers, specially competitive ones that may be interested in joining the game.

Summoner wars is a thematic tactical game. There is a board kind of like chess (6x8) where each player starts with units on the board, and then start to add units. Those units can move and attack opponent units, and player can cast events that affect the board to help his army.



The game is mostly about using your magic (which is limited during the whole game in most cases), more efficiently than your opponent. Units and events cost magic, and using them to "deny" or destroy opponent's magic in a way that you get ahead is the way to win in this game.

Skills tested:
-Risk management
-Positional tactics
-Valuation

Things I like
-The game is super elegant, specially for a thematic tactical game. While of course abstract tactical games like chess and go are the best in this category. When you include theme, Summoner wars have no parallel on how elegant it is. You have your whole army in a deck of 34 cards. yes you need a board, 5 dices and the wound marker tokens. But ultimately is an achievement of tactical game design, and showing the advantages cards have over miniatures.

-Thanks to the first point the game is super easy to learn. The rules are quite simple and most of the abilities of units are on the cards, with little need of knowing a long list of special language. Making it a nice game to learn on the fly, very easy to introduce people on it.

- The game is not bloated with useless stuff. with 16 factions, 2 summoners per faction, it's quite a bit to have diversity, but not enough to feel the game is overwhelming. Clearly most units and events try to be balanced, while it doesn't completely succeed, most units have at least some niche valid use.

- The visual design I think it's great, i miss the lack of special images for events, but i find extremely easy for the brain to process what you have in hand, what is going on the board and what your options are. Some other games with amazing but bloated visuals and tons of numbers everywhere, may complicate the simple act of visualizing what's going on. Summoner wars is a game that does this great imo.

-The game theme ultimately works well, despite very questionable decisions that I will put on the things I do not like. The theme really wants to make me play, with a variety of fantasy themes, it has a place for every medieval fantasy taste.

-Games are very quick between 30 minutes and 1 hour. But every time I end a game, i felt i played a much longer game, i feel a lot of things happened. That is a great virtue of a game.

-The game is quite asynchronous (but not quite which was to me very sad, it would take little sacrifice to make the game completely asynchronous). Why asynchronous game is good? Because it means the game is online friendly, because it's very easy to implement clocks and it allows you go do something short while your opponent is moving, I appreciate that. Sadly the game is not completely asynchronous. I would prefer that the game to be way more interactive or completely asynchronous, to take advantage of one of both virtues, yet while being not any of both extreme, it causes problems without giving the full advantages of the problems caused.

-Little work lots of things happening. I find you make a lot of decisions and little actions. Every decision you make is quite relevant. Many tactical games you have to do a lot of obvious moves that give you very little advantage, in summoner wars, you do not make that many decisions, but everyone is very important, this is part of what creates the effect that when every game ends you felt like a lot happened.

-In some matchups, the amount of action and decisions in the game is really really high. Variance is there, but I was surprised by how little impact the luck has (compared to what i expected). Yes it's not chess or Go in terms of variance, but for what you would expect of a game this short with this amount of decisions and with the excitement of dice and card draw, the variance is comparatively, very low.

Things I do not like:
- Talking about theme, some things are debatable. The role of just walls as summoning points is kind of weird. My major complain though is that many things goes against "conventional medieval fantasy" wisdom. One would expect elves to be about ranged units, yet here they have among the weakest ranged units in the game (that prize goes to goblins and dwarves). One would expect dwarves to be tougher than other races, yet they do not show that, but almost the opposite.
Killing your own units is a basic move in the game, at the point that you should be killing your own units almost as much as your opponent units. Something I do not like in any game, and it's not exception here, many people have expressed how ugly it feels you spend so much energy to kill your own units.
Finally some factions ideas do not translate perfectly on the game. The main one is probably the Guild dwarves, presented as wall destroyers, have other tactics as their strongest and viable ones. Orcs, who one should expect to be a very offensive/aggressive race, present among the best defensive options in the game.

-Drawing at the beginning of turn. As I said before this is mostly an asynchronous game, which means you spend most of the opponent turn watching. The sad part is that you won't know your options to start thinking and save time on your opponent turn, until the beginning of your turn.

-The game has a faction called mercenaries. Each faction have a distinctive back of a card. Mercenaries can be played in any deck, which means that you can have a deck where you can see different cards back. It means that you should play with opaque sleeves. Also since some mercenaries are really good, you want to have them on multiple decks, so if in your house you want to have decks ready to play, you will need proxies, even for some matchups, you will need proxies anyway, since both decks need the same card.

-I won't say this game is a money sinker, because it's not. As I said, I think the designer tried to make every card viable, and it shows. But the deckbuilding rules allow deck builds such that if you want to have access to every deck on it's optimal competitive build, you need to buy each pack TWICE. I think it is an unnecessary drawback.

-Very defensive game. The game favors defensive strategies all over the place, and when two players approach the game with defensive strategies the game gets quite slow, and i would say boring. Most of the strong sides, are so because they have very strong defense.
This leads to another problem.

-Lack of natural ending. If players decide to take no actions, and they can do so, the game doesn't have any natural rule that ends the game, in IOS and real life, clocks will be in place to end the game. That is though a bad solution, since in many matchups, the side that attacks gives away some edge (in some cases a lot) it means that players try to pass their clock as fast as possible to not have to be the "offensive player". So when the game gets to a serious competitive level, it devolves on the first part of the game to both players trying to get more clock to be able to be the defensive player. The worst of this is that while some sides aren't terrible if they lose this clock battle (Jungle elves for example while prefer to defend, are not in terrible position if forced to attack), in some matchups, the side forced to attack is in serious trouble (Phoenix elves-Ellien mirror can be an example of this), giving a lot of edge away by attacking.
Regardless of how much edge you give by attacking, having "pressing the clock fast" a major component of the game is one of the major problem it has (the other big one being how strong defense is, leading to some very slow and boring matchups, though i think both problems are interconnected).

Conclusion:
This game could have potentially an 8 or 9 over 10 as tournament game. It is a ferrari with the gas tank of a pinto. A great game with a fatal flaw. It hurts to see so much potential ruined by a few very critical flaws.
Having said that, if you like tactical games, this is one you should check it out, but have in mind that as you learn to play, you will soon learn that the game devolves into a very boring game for most matchups, and getting involved in serious competition may lead to very frustrating scenarios.
Some more casual players get over this by "attacking" anyway, despite not being the best move, and those that choose to do so tend to pick races that have do not suffer as much of attacking and are still strong(Jungle elves, Sand goblins, Swamp orcs), even if they are better off not attacking. Other get over this playing factions that Force the opponent to attack (Deep dwarves, Filth, Cloacks). I get over this by changing the rules of the game, but that is another story, since it wouldn't be this game anymore.
My opinion is that any player that likes tactical games, should at least check it out, If you like theme in your tactical games and you like medieval fantasy it's a must to give it a shot, just do it knowing that it won't be your staple tactical game if you really interested in the competitive part of a game.

6/10
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MGS
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I need some help here. I usually like your posts and have done so since following your input in Yomi. I also like to criticize a major flaw in a game (especially games that I care about) as much as the next guy. I had a few generations of my family called all sorts of things when I pointed out that Summoner Wars could get in a stalemate and it was a major problem for competitive play. I came to terms with it because it is a rare occurrence. Plaid Hat dealt with it by using chess clocks. I deal with it in my league by calling it a draw. If I am running a tournament that a draw is not acceptable then I declare a roll off.

I just don't see the problem at the level as you do. I agree that it is possible to get to an end game situation in which being the aggressive player puts you at a disadvantage. But, I don't see it as a feature of the game from the get go. Present in each game from the beginning. An intrinsic part from each match up.

Maybe it is because you play the game at a much higher level than I do and this is quite possible. But, I like to think that we play at a reasonable level over here as well. My son just won the Pick Your Poison at GenCon this year and the most recent Gameday in our local league included 2 of the 4 GenCon champions from this year.

As I stated before, I respect your opinion beyond the usual "everybody is entitled to their own opinion". I truly respect it. But, it would help to have more concrete data before making or believing in such a bold claim of such a fatal flaw in a game.
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Masoud Tabatabaei
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Now if I play with an experienced opponent, most of the time we both know that one of the factions will have more disadvantage if both start to defend (and both know which one). So the controller of that faction Has to start attacking to prevent the opponent from becoming more powerful. If your opponent is not experienced though, I would say it is almost always better to attack because you can take advantage of your experience before the other opponent gathers extra magic. But I completely agree and I have seen myself that among the players who just start playing this game it can happen that both act very cautiously and bring the game to a very boring state. I would say this is a flaw but mostly towards new players.
 
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Horrid Beast wrote:
I don't recall the Mercenary faction having a different back to the other cards. Or maybe I am just reading you wrong?


What he means is that mercenary cards are grey and they can be put in any of the other faction decks crating a deck with cards with different color backs. It is funny and I think that, technically, sleeves should be mandatory at least in competitive play.
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K
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A lot of people I've taught the game to have been puzzled as to why you draw cards at start of turn. Seems like people want to draw cards ahead of time so they can think about their turn ahead of time (I just let them)

Allowing so many copies of a common when they come in weird distributions is unsettling to me. Deck-building is my least favorite part of the game so I probably wouldn't have much interest in playing it truly competitive anyway, but if I did, having to buy multiple copies of the same packs (where most cards would be useless) to build one deck would be a major turn off

Don't really see the problem with the fantasy races being "atypical." If anything the change is sort of refreshing. I kinda found the fact that you can kill your own units for magic kinda refreshing too. It's different. And not that much different than "sacrificing" them to Build Magic in the first place

The fact that stalemates or situations where neither player should attack don't happen every game doesn't mean it's not a problem that should be addressed by rules. Most people who play the physical game don't use chess clocks

Horrid Beast wrote:
I don't recall the Mercenary faction having a different back to the other cards. Or maybe I am just reading you wrong?...

So he is referring to the colour on the background of the character side of the cards?


Here's a picture of two cards, one is a Mercenary one is not. They are allowed in the same deck, though they have different backs:

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And another 100GG on this
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Excellent review. You outlined the same issues kept me from loving the game. I totally agree with your rating of the game 6/10 is right.
It's a shame, because there are some great ideas out there.
 
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@SirHandsome: Stalemates are a problem and I was one of the first to point that out years ago. What I am questioning is the statement that most match ups already start as a stalemate and are decided mostly by clock management. This is what seem like a gross exaggeration to me. But, I will gladly concede to actual data.
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the bear
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played the game a zillion times, never had the problem of a stalemate. But I don't play it competitively. Just adding this comment to tell people who are thinking about buying it, don't think the game is broken or something. spread the joy.
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James Sitz
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Thanks for your input.

Although I can't promise anything, I will push for some kind of rule to prevent the stalemate situations you describe. Maybe it could be an optional rule placed towards the end of the online FAQ: a recommended rule for more competitive players, and likely implemented in tournaments. I did see it happen once in a live tournament, between Brian Englestein and one of Ronaldo's sons. The one who had a slightly better position and moved first into an unfavorable position lost, although if he rolled average, he would have won.

Because of factions like the Swamp Orcs and Fallen Kingdom, I don't think getting magic for destroying your own units will ever go away.

As far as the deck-building thing goes, I think it's most apparent with only a few of the factions. Base Vanguards and Cloaks usually want more Priests or Thieves, although the Sera-Priest build is less popular after the reinforcements and Samuel. Selundar probably has one of the worst distributions, since with the starters it leaves you with only 3 Swordsmen but 5 Scouts in your draw pile. I tend to play 10 Defenders in Oldin and 10 Controllers in Tacullu, but I think I'm in the minority on that one.
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Carthoris Pyramidos
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Waterd wrote:
My major complain though is that many things goes against "conventional medieval fantasy" wisdom.


The unconventional riffs on standard fantasy tropes is one of the things I like about SW. I don't need more regurgitated gygaxian Tolklones.

You don't go to Summoner Wars with the Orcs you'd like; you go to Summoner Wars with the Orcs you have. Jungle Elves are crazy clever. Annoying little Vampires? Cool by me.
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Alejandro Magno
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Ronaldo: I´ve been playing a lot of summoner wars. Mostly in my group, but i did participate on 8 tournaments. one is still running though.

I´m pretty sure i played already against the best current players the game has to offer, at least online. I want to say i did play a lot.
Regardless of my tournament results, this has happend in tournament where people complain that i do not attack ever (one forfeited because of it). And ive been both in casual and tournament, ios, real life or vassal, be there, my opponent just want to say pass every turn,and me too.
in tournament already been in the situation where we spend all the initial game trying to get clock advantage, i generally won the clock war, but ive lost the clock war and generally costed me the game. Games where i win the clock war i generally won.
clock wars and stalemate happens, at all levels of game. But even in competitive game.

The very defensive slow games happen a lot more.

I will say most of the better players (that didn´t stop playing because of this) agree some of the problem is there, they just say its not big deal because they can get over it using the different methods i named in the review.

Having say all this, don´t be mistaken, if you are a casual gamer with no interest on competition and tournaments, and trying to figure out how to win the most is not a big part of your enjoyment, this game will probably be a blast to you if you enjoy thematic tactical games. But for those people there are lots of reviews and i think most positive. I`m here to make reviews for an audience that most reviews aren´t. This review is for those people, if you are not one of those people, this review may be useless to you.
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Very interesting observation, I play competitively as well had never known this.

Let me ask you a question. Lets say the clock went away entirely. The TO told you that you guys were expected to finish in one hour but the clock was not the tiebreaker. By one hour, the TO would check on your game and if you were almost done, he would let you finish it but if you guys were in a stalemate, he would either call it a draw or, if a winner was necessary, make you guys roll. Since most tournaments are just Swiss, he would probably just have you draw. How would this change your approach to the game?

I am Brazilian so, by tradition, we should be in opposite sides (although I don't think we are).

@James: Thiago totally beat Brian. He had the board and the clock advantage, Brian would have to have gotten really lucky to get out of that one.
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Alejandro Magno
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First it matters, how much a draw counts, and what situation in the tournament are in. Also it's very different if we would roll a dice or just assign points.

Then i would just analyze my chances to win by attacking, and it would depend a lot of the match up.

As I said there are many variables, but I think mostly I will attack vs players i think im a lot better, and accept the dice roll or 1 point out of 2 vs players are at my level or better. Probably if the draw count as 1 point over 3, the variables will define mostly my actions.

Where do you play tournaments or leagues of SW?
 
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MGS
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I played 3 GenCon tournaments last year and I run our local league which as I mentioned has some accomplished players and I ran I few tournaments last year. I did reasonably well online if you count just the games Outside my family.

In my league, a draw only counts as a tiebreaker. Whoever wins most games is ahead. In case multiple players have the same number of wins, then the ones who drew the most are ahead.

I like this a lot better than playing the clock. I am surprised that in an Ellien mirror match defense is better. I would imagine that if you just pass and I build magic and bring the Firedrake out, you are toast. Pun. Even worse if I bring my other champions out but it is very hard for Ellien to hide from the Drake.

I don't buy it. Have you had consistent success with this strategy against players like James and Clarissimus?

Just to reiterate, I like the way we run the leAgue much better than Plaid Hat's way.
 
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Alejandro Magno
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Ive played clarissimus, but really i do not remember the matches or the results, but I do remember the reason we played was exactly this one. He left some impression on me because for some reason i consider him one of the best players around, but it doesn't seem to had an effect on my other ideas of the game. Who is james?
For what is worth, clar and me are currently on the same vassal tournament, but we didn't face each other yet.

Also I do not see how the firedrake does anything, all i have in board is my summoner and 1-3 walls. if anything, worst case scenario i cast my own firedrake and attack first which gives me an advantage on the firedrake fight, i can't really say what my move would be because i need a lot of information that i do not have.
 
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So, you are not just passing. You are building magic. Basically, you are saying that with enough magic and saving key cards to react, you are at an advantage if you don't take the initiative.

This is a strong strategy but not as simplistic as you make it sound.

James is the lead play tester that just posted above and he he won the first gazillion tournaments that he played.
 
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Alejandro Magno
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oh Jexix, he is a great player, and i played quite a bit vs him, I wish I did play more, but he just for some reason doesn't want to play me anymore.
We had a series with very even results in different matchups, something like (me left) 3-3 Pe vs TO, 3-2 To vs To, 1-3 JE vs TO, 0-1 TO vs GD. I do not remember the exact numbers, they are in the PHG forums, but they are down right now.
He was the guy that gave me the major reason to believe attacking wasn't as terrible. in fact because this, I accepted JE vs TO, JE needs to attack, or lose. We also have at least one tournament match we faced each other, I know I won but i do not remember the matchup, it may have been PE vs CG, which he claims and may be right is super awfull for CG anyway. Again in PHG forums which are down right now.

I will say, that based on what I did talk with Jex, he doesn't really disagree with me, he is the guy that told me "I just play sides that do not give much edge by attacking, and attack regardless, after all there are no super prize tournaments around" (I'm paraphrasing here)
Despite he is the guy with the best recorded results against me trying to prove this point, he is not actually disagreeing with me, his point was more to prove that the edge you give away is way smaller that my initial claim (and he did succeed on that) but not that you do not give away edge.

But I'm more than free to keep playing Jexix, my games vs him are very interesting to me, but it seems he lost interest or something.

EDIT: Fwiw, he claims there are only a few real sides where this is true, which involves ellien, grog, oldin, tacullu, and maybe someone else im just not remembering. I think the list is way longer, Probably involving ret-tallus, sera, Bolvi, Krusk in some matchups, Mugg in some matchups, some specific mirrors (like Deep dwarves vs Deep dwarves), and then some rare outliers like Shadow elves vs Jungle elves, etc.

Anyway ronaldo if you want to play me on vassal or ios, tell me, anytime, m always open to play games to show a point to someone I have fun doing so, and i have a rule that if I end positive vs someone i do not make the result public (though you can if you beat me and i encourage you to do so)

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We could play in the iOS at some point although you may find a fitter march against my son Matheus. I bet he will be pumped to play an Argentinian, we are huge soccer fans (shocker) and Brasil-Argentina is my favorite game to watch. I dream that both will be playing the World Cup final at Maracanã next year with everything on the line. My Brazilian friends call me crazy. I digress, sorry.

I am with James here. Matheus is with you, at least regarding the Phoenix Elves, he thinks that it is best not to be the first to commit. You would be in trouble in our league where there is no clock and draws are worth peanuts.
 
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J. Stimson
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I don't see how you could have a clock war in a non-tournament game. In really any game, when not in a tournament setting, I've never seen anyone use a clock. Just a gentlemen's/gentlewomen's agreement about the pace of the game. Maybe a sand timer for turns (although I think that's frequently lame.)

Really, whenever I read something like this, about any game, I always wonder what's wrong with just calling a draw a draw. If you get in a stalemate, it's a draw, 1 point instead of 3. This works perfectly fine for chess and just about everything else, but people seem to dislike it with board games for some reason.

If something is obviously a draw, both players can agree to it being a draw and move on, or if someone rejects the draw, it seems like they need to "prove" they have a shot at winning, or wait a few more turns and accept the draw then. A lot of games are like that, and I really don't get what's fundamentally wrong with draws/stalemates.
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MGS
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You are right I don't think waterd would disagree but he admittedly wrote his review from the competitive standpoint.
 
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Alejandro Magno
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Quote:
If you get in a stalemate, it's a draw, 1 point instead of 3. This works perfectly fine for chess and just about everything else, but people seem to dislike it with board games for some reason


Saying that is perfectly fine for chess is not fair. Many pros over the history have claimed how they dislike how 1/2 games in chess end in draw, Ive played chess tournaments for 3 years, draws being one reason i dropped.
I could post quotes all day about grandmasters saying that they dislike draws and about many people claiming one of the most hated things of chess is their draws. We would disgress but stalemates in chess is far far far from "perfectly fine".

The problem with draws, is this imagine there is the final of a tournament, im phoenix elves vs Benders, I decide to pass turn 3 , my opponent pass, i say i will pass forever, the opponent does too. Game ends. That is a problem to me.
I know some matchups that vs certain players, without clocks, if we were in the finals of a tournament or in a heads up match, 100% of the games would end in a draw. That to me is inherently broken.

About casual games, again, this is not a review talking about the merits of casual game for this game. As I said if you are the kind of guy that isn't interested in joining tournaments of games, this review is not for you.

All tournaments I played tough were played with clocks.
Btw Ronaldo if my Ios user is Waterd103 if you want to add me and play, we can define the matchups and what not via PM.
Anyone is free to add me to ios or try to arrange me to get a game on vassal. Pm here or on the plaid hat games forums if you want to do so. as I said, if I get a positive record i won't post results. Even if you expect to lose, just to "see how i play and what my point is" i would be happy to have a game.

Also In your league depending on the format many things can happen, maybe there is gonna be a lot of chicken game, maybe I will decide to not attack vs better players and attack vs worse players. And so on and so forth It depends on the exact rules, but any result I can think off, doesn't seem to be exciting games.

Btw this is a game that promotes itself as a tournament game and tournaments are played in a decent amount, so someone that notice this may be interested in knowing more about this game, that is my audience. of course it would be silly to pull this kind of a review on a game like cash and guns or Apples to apples.

 
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Sure, but the counterpoint is valid as well. In 6 tournaments over 2 years at GenCon that either myself or my sons or all of us were involved, chicken games were never a part of it except for that game between Thiago and Brian Englestein and even then Thiago was winning on the board as well as clock. There were about 20-24 participants in each and this is valid and representative real life data. Similar experience locally as well. So, while your experience has merit, Summoner Wars tournaments and competitive Summoner Wars is far from boring or broken and appears to be quite functional and viable in the vast majority of the real life examples available.
 
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Alejandro Magno
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You are missing the point, if it happens say 5% of the games, is to me terrible, it doesn´t matter if it didn´t happen in 6 tournaments you played, it matters that it still happend in other tournaments
 
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Wind Lane
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RPGs - Natures way of saying "You would never be able to do this in real life." NOT A BAD THING.
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The problem with what you're talking about is that it requires the players to have a certain mentality going into and throughout the game.

Summoner Wars rewards the player who knew when to be aggressive. Completely passive play - something like Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope strategy - doesn't work in this game.

It's hardly a game design issue if players who don't adopt that passive mentality never run into the problem you're seeing for those that do.

It's a skirmish game, waiting and waiting and waiting doesn't really work in ANY games in this category.
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Alejandro Magno
Argentina
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it`s a problem if those witih not passive mentality have lower win ratio or even similar to those with passive mentality.
Basically the game punishes you for having an agressive mentality.
Btw im a very agressive players in game, but more important i´m a player that tries to win. Being agressive is not rewarded at all. My data comes from all online games i saw, wether i was participant or not. I suggest you to follow me in the current vassal tournament and watch all my replays. Sadly ios doesn´t have replays

For more data , you can always try to get a positive record vs my super passive play, i alway offer this up, so far the two players that managed to do better, that is basically break even. do not even disagree with me!
 
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