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Terra Mystica» Forums » General

Subject: About to open my wallet - how is the race balance now? rss

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Evan Champie
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I was always interested in this game, but the reports of imbalanced races always put me off. I'm a big fan of asymmetrical play but the "imba" feeling just seemed too widespread.

I've read there have been some changes. How do you feel about the race balance these days?
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Luke J
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I think bgg is dominated by people who have dozens if not hundreds of plays under their belts. If you're primarily playing with a real-life board game crew, you'll get many happy plays in before determining that balance is an issue, and even then, the "weaker" races provide an interesting challenge that allows you to discover new game space. But I do highly recommend the new town tiles (which are broadly available now).
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Aernout Casier
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I have now played the game 20 times. I have preferences, but I will still happily play with each and every race. If only as a challenge. The game is great. Full stop.
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Łukasz Małecki
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Race power is also based on race choices of other players, round tiles and bonus tiles - which means even a good race can have a tough time in bad conditions and a "bad" race can do very well if the stars are right. Other than the fakirs, which are almost criminally underplayed, all races can achieve high scores (and I suspect even fakirs can win if the setup suits them). It's just that there are one or two factions that are less often viable and therefore will be less often picked, but I don't think it's a reason enough to not to buy this amazing game.
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Peter Strait
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Here's the important thing about race balance:

First, it's close enough. The differences only manifest if everyone brings their pro-tournament level game and has played the game multiple times. It's a case where, if both players are equally extremely skilled, then the marginal advantage might be enough to let one eke out a win over the other. Everyone has a shot, and reading the initial setup to see who has synergy with either the cult bonuses or the bonus tiles in play is really how you figure out whose differences can best be leveraged given the setup.

Second, and much more important to understand, each race's ability is the ability to ignore one particular mechanism that would normally apply. This means that players that find some specific thing within the game annoying to keep track of, or limiting to their strategy, or just plain challenging to take into account, can find a race they enjoy playing.

For example, if you don't like keeping track of how easy or hard it is to terraform different land types, play Giants. If you don't like being landlocked and want an easier time using waterways, play Mermaids. If you don't want to worry about getting locked out by gold costs, play Alchemists. If you just want to focus on terraforming and get rewarded for it, play Halflings. If you don't want to think about shipping at all, play Dwarfs. Etc., etc.

The balance quirks caused by this exist, but are extremely small and really only manifest in high-level games between equally skilled and experienced opponents. Besides which, the largest of these issues stems from a faction color in the expansion, not even the base game. If you don't plan to immediately get the expansion, there's really nothing to worry about, and if you do, just skip the Riverwalkers / Shapeshifters board and you've dodged almost the entire issue.
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C TK
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Out of 14 races, only the Fakirs are significantly below average, and nobody will force you to play them. There are other factions that are slightly above or below average, but for all factions besides Fakirs individual tastes and aptitudes are worth more than the difference between factions.

Some of the "strongest" factions are Darklings, Cultists, Engineers, Witches, and Mermaids. I'm amazing with Cultists, pretty good with Darklings, okay with Engineers, and pretty bad with Mermaids and Witches. I'm much better with Alchemists, supposedly one of the worst factions, than I am with Mermaids. So individual strengths and preferences play a large role, much larger than a sterile list of aggregate faction winrates that show cultists win 28% of 4p games while dwarves only win 19%. I win 0% of my games as dwarves, and 75% as cultists. But I win 60% as alchemists, and only 20% as mermaids.

I'd estimate that in terms of predictors of who will win a game, player strength is worth 5x more than all other factors combined, but there are many other factors that are more important than raw faction "strength", including suitability of the faction to the setup and how well the faction in question matches the specific player playing them.

Some people will tell you Darklings are "too OP". I'm looking at Henrik above who is very bitter. When I started playing, I accidentally started playing against too easy competition, and never played Darklings because if I wanted to play black I liked Alchemists. Until I started playing Darklings (about 80 games deep), they definitely won less than 10% of the games I was in :)

TL:DR. The balance is fine. Individual players will be good with different factions, only the Fakirs are consistently bad in the hands of almost all players. Player strength reigns supreme in this game.

ETA: White has a statistical advantage in Chess, and depending on the level of play, will win as many as 5 out of 9 games. This is more pronounced at the tournament level but black still has lots of counterplay and in any case a strong player will still beat a weak one every time. This is the same for TM.
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King Maple
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Balance discussions of this game is as misleading as you can get. This is not intended as a 1vs1 game. It's a complicated strategy game where player success is impacted by their experience, their knowledge of the race they play and same with their opponents.

Some factions require more knowledge of the game. Others are easier. Some are better in some situations, others good in others.

What matters is that it is possible to win with each race and it's a fun game at that

Expansion is also recommended
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Øivind Karlsrud
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I don't get why factions have to be balanced, as long as you can choose your faction. If there are no situations in which you would choose Fakirs, that's too bad, because it means there are in reality 13 races, not 14. But if Fakirs is a good choice occasionally, let's say in 1% of games, they have a place in the game. Recognizing when you are in one of those 1% of games might even be what separates true experts from merely good players. I'm not sure if that is the case here, but the fact that Fakirs win less often certainly doesn't prove to me that they need to be improved to have their place in the game.

A more interesting question is whether or not your chances of winning is influenced by player order.
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Matt Stokes
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The fakirs are consider weaker. But until you are even half way decent, they can be a winning pick. By the time you actually get good enough to een see differences, just implement the auction variant and it will balance things out.

TLDR: Open that wallet wide.
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Robert
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Scuzball wrote:
I was always interested in this game, but the reports of imbalanced races always put me off. I'm a big fan of asymmetrical play but the "imba" feeling just seemed too widespread.
"Widespread"? I don't see that here, it's mainly Henrik (cf. his texts above and CTK's refutation). Here on BGG, tons of people love the game and played it dozens, if not hundreds of times, which they certainly would not do if the factions weren't sufficiently balanced. As has been pointed out, factions do worse or better in certain setups. Almost all factions (exception: Fakirs) have a niche in which they can do very well - of course the size of the niche varies, and while some factions can do reasonably well in most settings, some do not. So if good players would play random factions, some factions would tend to win more often because their chance to fit well to the setup is higher. Picking a faction which fits the setup is part of what sets good players apart from beginners.

As a beginner (i.e. until you played a dozen games or more), you'll lose or win because you made more/less mistakes than your opponents, not because of faction balance (though the player who (accidentally ) picked a faction which fits well may have an extra mistake free ). And one key step from beginner to intermediate is to recognize which setup fits which factions.

TL;DR: buy the game! As a beginner, you won't notice the different niche sizes for factions, and once you become intermediate, you understand how to deal with them.
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Tommy Ryytty
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Best board game ever done and you have not yet bought it :-)

It is well balanced. When you play the game with non experienced players, balance differences are meaningless. And if some of the players are better, he will won even with Fakirs basically in every setup. I remember one discussion in finnish boardgame forum (soon after TM published), where was discussed if Fakirs are bit too op.
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Matt Shields
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oivind22 wrote:
I don't get why factions have to be balanced, as long as you can choose your faction.


So much this! The game is not balanced, but it doesn't need to be balanced. You aren't assigning the factions randomly, you're picking them based on board set up.

Having stronger and weaker factions is a good thing. It makes the game better not worse. How many of people play in game groups where there is a mixture of experience levels and skills at games like this? Right. Let the new guy play Darklings, and you play Giants or something. It improves the experience for everyone.
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bob lawblaw
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Just to echo what others have said here:

Even the most egregious "imba" doomsayers are only going to say 4 factions (fakirs, giants, alchemists and auren) are overly weak and 1 faction (darklings) is overly strong. As others have said, only fakirs have proven to be truly weak (the other 3 are completely playable in the correct circumstances, they're just rarer circumstances than other races). And the "irrefutable statistical evidence" that darklings are OP can be very misleading. They are strong, even the strongest, but as others have pointed out in this thread (and many others), they are beatable and frequently not the best choice (rather they are just typically a "good" choice in most circumstances so score well on average).
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Matthias Reitberger
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You have to consider that balance is influenced by player count. Discussions on BGG are mainly on 4 player games wich is the most common in online gaming. L
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Robert
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1869 wrote:
You have to consider that balance is influenced by player count. Discussions on BGG are mainly on 4 player games wich is the most common in online gaming. L
Good point! E.g. Fakirs can actually be quite nice in 2p.
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Oh goody, another balance discussion. I want to weigh in on this one.

It seems to me pretty clear that atm main balancing factor is the map and not factions themselves. Fakirs are okay on F&I1 map. Significantly better than dwarves for example. Darklings are 4th on F&I1 and 7th! on F&I2.

The only faction that should be considered under-powered are aurens, simply because it's so hard to find setup in which they are better than witches. For every other color there are many setups in which you would want each faction (and the fact that, for example in black, you want darklings in 80% of games and alchemists in 20% shouldn't be considered dis-balance)

So to answer OP. As others have said, you won't notice any dis-balance until you've played a lot of games (like > 2 with each faction). And in the long run, provided you intend to play only original game, any dis-balance will be caused mainly by the map.

Imho the ultimate balancing for current situation would be to have like 100 different maps , randomly choose map for each game and than evaluate on case by case basis which factions it suits.

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jonatan dyre
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I think it's a misunderstanding from OP's part to think the game have a serious balance issue

the most important thing to consider when thinking about balance is that each setup will favor different races based on the round scoring tiles and the bonus tiles. And this varies then again with each race picked.

learning to read the setup is one of the hardest things in the game. But there are setups that favors all specifics races compared to others. Or nearly, as fakirs was maybe nerfed a little to hard just before release, and Auren is just a similar but worse version of Witches. Fakirs still have its setups at least so it's claimed by the best player, and Auren might have it also, but this depends more of the players race selection as Auren strength lays in racing against others players on the cult track.

But with this in mind there is actual no reason not to consider the game very interesting and quite well balanced, even though it could be better balanced. And that's because each setup is it's own case where each race have huge or minor advantages or disadvantages. And that's the games big strength, that gives it so much replayability.

Just to give an example. Giants is consider a weak race in many cases, and with good reasons, as it is hard to play and benefits more being 5 than being fewer players. And in really many setups they will have a hard time, but if you as example manage to pick them in a setup where you can go sailing, and that is not to contested, then they can do awesome. That means games with bonus tiles with sailing and/or priest and being sure to get it, and ofcause a setup with good neighbors and not bad ones.

(but don't get me started on the expansion because there is serious balance issues)
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bob lawblaw
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shanarkoh wrote:
Oh goody, another balance discussion. I want to weigh in on this one.

It seems to me pretty clear that atm main balancing factor is the map and not factions themselves. Fakirs are okay on F&I1 map. Significantly better than dwarves for example. Darklings are 4th on F&I1 and 7th! on F&I2.

The only faction that should be considered under-powered are aurens, simply because it's so hard to find setup in which they are better than witches. For every other color there are many setups in which you would want each faction (and the fact that, for example in black, you want darklings in 80% of games and alchemists in 20% shouldn't be considered dis-balance)

So to answer OP. As others have said, you won't notice any dis-balance until you've played a lot of games (like > 2 with each faction). And in the long run, provided you intend to play only original game, any dis-balance will be caused mainly by the map.

Imho the ultimate balancing for current situation would be to have like 100 different maps , randomly choose map for each game and than evaluate on case by case basis which factions it suits.



This is a really great point. One thing that I thought was unusual upon my initial unboxing of TM last year was that the map was static rather than randomized each game like in settlers or many other games. Map almost certainly contributes more to "race imba" than anything else.
 
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Robert
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There are two reasons why tons of maps (and certainly random maps) are not a good idea:

1) Show me a map and with high probability I'll tell you why it's less balanced than the original one. And here I mean "balanced" as in "only few factions are at a disadvantage, and even fewer have clusters which are easy to expand". If a map favors one or two colors, then 1st pick becomes too strong. Note that both expansion maps (which I'm sure have been playtested quite heavily before release) are still less balanced than the original map.

2) "Reading" the setup to pick a suitable faction is one key skill which separates the good players from the beginners, and it's based to some degree on knowing the map and how factions play out on it. This would change with random maps, and you'd need a new "reading the map" skill, which would make faction selection even more tricky and result in long thinking phases at faction pick.

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James Wolfpacker
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I think a map reading skill would be interesting.
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DocCool wrote:
1) Show me a map and with high probability I'll tell you why it's less balanced than the original one. And here I mean "balanced" as in "only few factions are at a disadvantage, and even fewer have clusters which are easy to expand". If a map favors one or two colors, then 1st pick becomes too strong. Note that both expansion maps (which I'm sure have been playtested quite heavily before release) are still less balanced than the original map.

2) "Reading" the setup to pick a suitable faction is one key skill which separates the good players from the beginners, and it's based to some degree on knowing the map and how factions play out on it. This would change with random maps, and you'd need a new "reading the map" skill, which would make faction selection even more tricky and result in long thinking phases at faction pick.


I very much agree with this. Original map is probably as balanced as map can be. East continent might do with some minor alterations but other than that it's very fine-tuned. I also agree that random map would not be a good idea, precisely for the reason you mentioned. However, I don't think it would be that hard to make more maps that would be relatively balanced, like the expansion maps, and having new maps that you can "read" before game would be a lot of fun. Especially if there were a lot of these so you didn't have statistics that would direct you (and later you could get confirmation from statistics as to whether you "read" them correctly )

edit: another thought - new map for every tournament season that wouldn't be revealed prior to the start
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@OP.

I have played around 200 games on-line now. Similar to CTK above. Considering the complexity of the game, and how much the smallest tweak could alter something in someones favour, the balance is AMAZING.

AMAZINGLY GOOD.

Fakir's are a fail without the Fire and Ice extension. That's it. You can play them with local rules, such as 5pt for flight, and then things even up. With Fire and Ice, the Fakirs are winning a decent amount of matches due to their ability to spread out and a more suitable map.

And besides, for casual play, till people master it, the factional differences are irrelevant.

IRRELEVANT

It's only when you start to master the game, which we regulars are still trying to do after 100s for games, that some factions are slightly better than others. But even then, players with a ranking of 1400+ on the snellman site, are still significantly more likely to beat me, a player with 1200+ ranking regardless of which faction I or they choose. It's about skill mostly.

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bob lawblaw
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shanarkoh wrote:

edit: another thought - new map for every tournament season that wouldn't be revealed prior to the start


This would be super interesting.

Also in agreement that totally randomized maps are a bad idea for all the reasons stated above.
 
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Jari S
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It is quite simple to test your claim, Henrik.

You and some others in this thread claim that the game is so imbalanced that it is not worth playing. This must mean that there is a strategy/strategies that are so overpowered that by selecting them you nearly always win.

Why don't you a) ask from snellman top20 ranked players which of them do not believe in your claim, b) play a couple of matches against them.

If your claim holds, it should we pretty easy for you to win most of the matches. Just leverage the imbalances you have found!

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sthrjo wrote:
3-5p, Original, Original, All players rated 1000+
Average score per faction, difference from medium, difference in %
darklings 132.03 +7.85, +6.32%
engineers 127.66
halflings 126.98
witches 126.69
mermaids 126.31
nomads 125.81
cultists 125.72
chaosmagicians 125.43
dwarves 124.70 +0.52
124.18
swarmlings 124.06 -0.12
alchemists 119.78 -4.92, -3.54%
giants 119.03
auren 118.33
fakirs 116.03 -8.15, -6.56%


So in a very complex game, with factions that have substantially different abilites, you are complaining about a 6.5% difference from the average in skill across 14 factions between the very best faction and the very worst factions?

Are you seriously trying to present the argument that this 6% difference is game destroying?

Do you play any other games? I can name about a dozen games where going first is an advantage of this magnitude, 6% or so.

Some people are never pleased.

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