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Subject: Challenge and Strategy in Utopia Engine rss

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Matt Blackburn
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I'm happy I stumbled upon this game. I love how the mechanics come together, and the minigames have a good blend of strategy and luck. From very simple mechanics, players get and a lot of decisions where they must choose between gambling for a big reward, or playing it safe.

That said, I was very disappointed with the challenge level. After the first play, I thought the game was broken, but I played it a few more times to be sure. I played it five times, and I won every game. My scores were 233, 260, 261, 345, and 257. I’m really surprised nobody else found this exploit as this game has a lot of plays.

Anyway, uh, I know loads of people are having trouble beating this game, so major spoilers follow, but here's a walkthrough of my gameplan (read at your own risk):

***
On the first day, go to Zone 4 and hunt for the boss by throwing a huge negative number. Use the wand to help you kill the boss if you need it. The legendary treasure that the boss drops gives you 1 HP back every single day. This will be 10-15 HP throughout the game. Before you leave, make sure to get the construct, The Golden Chassis. It will allow you to kill enemy spirit bosses safely from 6 health. If you survive the fight, then your massive regen will bring you back to full. Activate the Chassis, and then full clear zones 2 and 5. The Bracelet of Ios from zone 2 gives you 5 free energy throughout the game (1.66 turns). The Ancient Record makes it so you can skip the most challenging minigame and score basically perfectly. Also, the constructs from zones 2 and 5 will help you a lot for zones 1, 3, and 6.

At the end of turn 7 or 8, you should have full cleared zones 2, 4, and 6, and you should have the constructs built and be gaining a steady stream of energy. You don’t have to fight any more bosses, so it’s pretty much just cleanup. You have 3 turns per zone for the remaining zone, with extra turns from the windfall of a modified perfect 0 search.

This strategy is incredibly strong. It even works through very bad luck. In my third game, I died to the Zone 4 boss on day 1. I rolled 13 (and decided to spend 1 HP to gamble and try to save my wand), then rolled 12 and then 11 so I was knocked unconscious. I woke up and went back to the Glassrock Canyon on turn 8. It was basically like I started the game with -7 turns, and then I won anyway (4 turns to spare).

In my fifth game, I failed to find the treasure after killing the Zone 4 boss, then I tried again and died, then I came back on day 9, managed to kill the boss by rolling a 6, and went on to win the game anyway (won on the final turn, but had a 100% roll for the victory).

Unless you make a lot of play mistakes, or get preternaturally unlucky, you should be able to win well over 90% of the time. This method also has the potential for the highest scoring games as you’re scoring the 3+ treasures. I maybe haven’t played this game enough to know, but I don’t think there’s even a consistent way to win without trying to get the ancient record.

***

I hate pointing out a problem with a game without suggesting some fixes.
I’d like to propose some rules changes, not only to fix that problem, but also there are some elements of the game I think could be even more interesting with a few simple tweaks. The rules changes seem very slight, but they give players a lot more meaningful decisions without changing the difficulty, theme, or anything else.

The main changes are that I moved the bosses around to prevent my abusive strategy and have the bosses synergize better. The treasures that give you combat bonuses are now all guarded by spirit bosses (so you can get going on a combat-oriented strategy by fighting them with the Golden Chassis) while the powerful treasures that help you build the Utopia Engine are no longer guarded by spirit bosses (so you *can’t* just get the Golden Chassis and then plunder the most powerful items in the game). I would guess the vast majority of players would not notice this change at all, but it gives a very interesting strategic decision for experienced players. Do you want to risk fighting through several legendary bosses just to get equipment that won’t even help you build the Utopia Engine? Do you want to fight maybe one boss or two bosses that give you powerful utility treasures without the bonus from Chassis? Do you want to just save your wand to fight normal enemies? There are a lot of ways that will work.

Secondly, the abusive artifacts have been toned down. Now all the artifacts are pretty useful, but nothing is grossly OP. The Ancient Records, instead of letting you win the game automatically, now opens up some interesting strategies. There’s even the possibility to avoid finding one of the components if you plan carefully.

Third, there’s an increased focus in God Hand energy. The energy now has multiple potential uses and it’s important to decide how to use it instead of just waiting until you have 3 and then getting another day.
Last, the order that you construct the Utopia Engine now matters and players are encouraged to build connections throughout the game, rather than in one glut of the same minigame 6x straight near the end. Also, the way that you construct the engine will affect how well you do.

Here are the changes I made:
General: You can now build connections between unpowered constructs. Constructs take 5 energy to activate. The energy cost is reduced by 1 for each *activated* construct that is directly connected to it. You can use energy from the God Hand to help cover activation costs. A perfect zero search now grants 4 energy instead of 5 to the God Hand. Rules clarification: You add the energy to the God Hand only when you return to the workshop and plug in the construct.

Unmodified perfect 0 search no longer gives a score bonus, instead players score 1 point for each point of energy left in the God Hand at the end of the game. I just felt like how many times you got lucky shouldn’t be the driving factor in a high score.

Changes to the locations in the game:
1) Halebeard Peak’s boss now has spirit.
2) The Great Wilds boss no longer has spirit.
3) Root Strangled Marshes Abyssal Leech (rank 4) has spirit.
4) Glassrock Canyon is ++00+0 and the boss has spirit. Name changed to Leviathan Spirit.
5) Ruined City of the Ancients boss no longer has spirit. Nightmare crab has spirit.
6) The Fiery Maw is +++0+0.

Item changes:
Scale of the Infinity Wurm lets you exchange 1 God Hand energy for 1 HP at any time when you’re in the workshop.

The Ancient Record allows you to attempt the Final Activation once all 6 constructs are activated and joined together. Note: this is possible with 5 links instead of the normal 6 if you build carefully. During the scoring phase at the end of the game, if you used this ability and attempted the Final Activation, score as though you had completed all 6 connections.

Crystal Battery can be used any number of times.

Formatting note:
The constructs and treasures are not listed in zone order. I think it would help players so they don’t have to look back and forth to find out which treasures come from where, etc.


Anyway, that’s the changes that I have. Played with them three games. The game is very similar if you don’t go boss hunting. If you do, this makes the game much more interesting. Also, the minigames should be more spaced out. Players are encouraged to return to the shop and work on the Utopia Engine and play some of the other minigames before going back to the field.
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Nick Hayes
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There is a lot of great stuff here Matt. I am painfully aware of the Golden Chassis -> Ancient Record exploit and the high power level of the Ancient Record. Both of these things I have rewritten for the third edition of the game. But I really like some of your solutions. I want to play a few games with the changes you mentioned here and see about incorporating some or most of them into the new edition.

Thank you for the detailed analysis. It's very helpful.
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Brian Coppedge
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That's my strategy too. The bonus days from consistent perfect search results are so strong that I usually just move Doomsday 9 days forward. Very little wiggle room there! In fact, at "Doomsday -9" I often skip the Scale, getting just the Bracelet and Record.

I've also experimented with swapping the constructs and artifacts around. I never settled on any perfect configuration, but I definitely agree there's room for improvement.

Regarding the difficulty level, I believe Nick Hayes has stated that he wants it to be possible to win after getting KO'd. Fair enough, since otherwise a KO might as well be a death.
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Nick Hayes
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bc84 wrote:
Regarding the difficulty level, I believe Nick Hayes has stated that he wants it to be possible to win after getting KO'd. Fair enough, since otherwise a KO might as well be a death.

Yes, this is true. The game should still be winnable after a single KO.

I think it would be fun to add an expert variant at the end of the rulebook that matches Brian's playing style. I think Doomsday -7 would be a good start. That's half of the original time, not counting delaying Doomsday.

An alternative would be to start it at D-7 and allow the player to cut the clock even shorter, earning +20 points (for example) for each additional day he or she chooses to discard before the game even begins.
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Matt Blackburn
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If anything, the Scale is more OP than the Ancient Record.

The scale makes you immune to random damage, so you can play the minigames much more on the edge and the natural punishment the game has to deter people from doing that (the threat of damage) is eliminated. The Ancient Record is really, really good, but if you have full HP going into the final activation, you can just burn HP for +6 to the check. But the big kicker is you can use the Scale to help get the Ancient Record (as well as the other powerhouse artifacts).

I mean, collectively, the two are just really gross, but if you "fix" the Ancient Record by weakening it, people can just use the Scale to get it and the strategy is exactly the same.
 
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Nick Hayes
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I see what you mean.

Originally, I wanted the legendary treasure to be very powerful because it is such a risk to go after them. You have to go out of your way and fight a very difficult encounter just to get one, none of which is actually required to beat the game. The Paralysis Wand conceivably helps you get a free legendary treasure if that's what you want to use it for, so then the question becomes, which treasure do you go for? I think you pointed out very well that the answer to that question is the Scale.

Luckily it is easy to weaken the Scale. I'll add that to my list of tweaks for the third edition.
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Matt Blackburn
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Yeah, I stand by the changes that I proposed, so I hope you playtest them from the perspective of both playing "normally" and going treasure hunting.

The Ancient Record is certainly standalone OP. You can just use the wand to get it, and you will win. Sac days for health if you need, but you're going to win every time.

But the weird thing is that Ancient Record doesn't affect the optimal way to play at all. The game would be much harder to win if the Ancient Record did nothing, but the best way to play would still be to go treasure hunting for the 4 and 2 at least. Whether the Ancient Record is as good as it is now, or doesn't do anything at all, it's just the difference between whether I have a final activation throw of like 6-8ish, or a final activation throw of 2. Like yeah, the game is "harder" but it doesn't change the fact that there's one correct way to play and all other ways to play will lose more often.

That's why I really think the spirit bosses have to get split by combat/noncombat *and* the scale has to come way down. That way you can't just grab the Chassis and then get treasures that help you finish the Utopia Engine.

You have to risk whether you go treasure hunting and have to fight like 3+ bosses (even though you throw +1) before you see any return for your risk (easily you could die or be wounded so badly that you have to change strategies, leaving you with nothing), or you use the wand to get 1 treasure, maybe risk it for 2 treasures, or you can just save the wand and play without treasures. It's three viable paths with my changes.

(I think the game could be balanced pretty effectively if the Chassis affected 1 die, and/or nerfing the petrifying wand somehow, but I didn't really calculate those lines.)
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Darsh 97 Cl.199
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One question about proper usage of the Ancient Record.
I've also found this is extremely powerful but I wanted to be sure to play it properly: whn using this item, do you need to spent one material to activate the links or do you just report "1" everywhere?
Also, is it possible to start activating the links normally (trying to attempt "0"s) and then switch to using the artifact halfway?
 
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Nick Hayes
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darsh97 wrote:
One question about proper usage of the Ancient Record.
I've also found this is extremely powerful but I wanted to be sure to play it properly: whn using this item, do you need to spent one material to activate the links or do you just report "1" everywhere?
Also, is it possible to start activating the links normally (trying to attempt "0"s) and then switch to using the artifact halfway?

You must always spend a component to attempt a link, even when using the Ancient Record.

As the rules are written, you can use the Ancient Record's ability at any time. So you can attempt to get a zero, but if it doesn't work out just use the Ancient Record to modify it to a 1.

The idea behind the Ancient Record is that there are illustrations or some sort of text that helps Isodoros understand how to assemble the Engine. Sort of like cheating on a test by looking up the answers in your text book.
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Ryan Smith
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I'm late to this discussion and have only played two games (the second of which was an overwhelming win), but I have to agree.

After Game 1, I realized:

* Time is very short. It seems especially short in the first game when you don't spend it efficiently. You can't spare much time to rest, and it's hard to conceive how you'd win if you lost 4 or 6 days to unconsciousness. (OK, that's no worse than 4 or 6 days of rest, but this insight didn't come until I was writing this post. Though that's still a lot.)

* Yet, damage is unavoidable. So my first priority was finding a way to recover health without using the time track. Scale of the Infinity Wyrm is the only thing that does that! And the sooner I get it, the more health it'll be worth. These basic thoughts immediately point me toward the most broken plan in the game.

* In the first game I also noticed a single level 5 encounter can lead to unconsciousness if not death, and at any rate will probably hurt me badly. So a combat modifier is absolutely necessary. Paralysis Wand is enough for the first fight, but then I need another bonus. Therefore I started with Wyrm Scale, followed by Golden Chassis, and also grabbed Molten Shard and Ice Plate when I could. (These might be overkill; I don't know, they did good work.)

* At this point I also realized Ancient Record is OP. Link strength 1 might as well be link strength 0, since it's so easy to reduce final activation difficulty. Even at first glance, my impression was that it would be greedy and risky to try for link strength 0. Getting zapped for damage and an immediate +2 link strength sounds terrifying! Now thinking more deeply, the wastebasket looks like a pretty strong safeguard, but this is another case where first impressions point directly toward the broken thing. It's also not a very fun way to win, since I skipped half the game; it's anticlimactic and feels a little like cheating.

---

Perfect searches are also way too good, as I realized during Game 2. Finding an activated artifact is worth 1-2 extra days; having to activate it yourself might cost you a day, and will deal you perhaps 1-3 damage (which would equate to additional days if Wyrm Scale weren't so strong). That's a massive difference in outcomes. If perfect searches were primarily luck-driven, that would be Snakes-and-Ladders levels of horrible. But you can get a lot of perfect searches by using the -10 Search bonuses (which make it more likely to find an activated Construct than a deactivated one!) This doesn't really take a lot of skill: it's just an obvious move that ends in profiting wildly and skipping over chunks of the game. It also makes the Bracelet of Ios look silly: a paltry bonus for doing a thing you're trying not to do.

If you're going to keep Ancient Record in anything like its present form, I suggest making the City of the Ancients boss disgustingly strong. Give it stats that are unbeatable without bonuses, and make it the climax of the game. Maybe you could have two fights in a row, give players a choice of whether to face the second boss or flee and try again later; some sort of strategic option so that this big climax isn't all luck.

I'd also suggest changing the Paralysis Wand so that it doesn't give loot: just helps you escape. Currently the smart move is to just trade the Paralysis Wand for the best Treasure on turn 1, and I think that's always going to be true no matter what the Treasures are (unless they're all weaker than the Wand, which you probably don't want). Furthermore, currently, sometimes you'll roll an unmodified 6 and get the Treasure for free without wasting the Wand; other times you'll roll badly for loot and you wasted the Wand for nothing; and both those things are terrible. Maybe you can add another combat bonus somewhere else so that players can get the first Treasure without the Wand, but it takes more preparation.
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Brian Coppedge
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WheresMyElephant wrote:
It also makes the Bracelet of Ios look silly: a paltry bonus for doing a thing you're trying not to do.

As I understand it, the Bracelet kicks in for perfect zero searches as well, making a +5 into +6. This winds up being rather helpful due to the God's Hand's constrained ability to store unspent energy.

Let's see, in the extreme case that you find all six artifacts with perfect zero searches, you could delay Doomsday by 12 days instead of 9.

Ah, but I forgot that you're nominally limited to 7 delays... Well, I like to challenge myself by starting Doomsday 7 days earlier, which does make every last point of energy count.
 
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