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Subject: Variant Designer's Notes rss

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Dave J McWeasely
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War of the Ring, out of the box, is basically a broken game. For a nice overview of the reasons, check out 7S's article here: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/159177

Here is a history of the various fixes I've tried, their effects, and what lessons from them can be applied to all War of the Ring games.

Character to Declare
This was our first attempt. Cheesed off by the "Turn Stall", we let a character action be spent to declare the fellowship.

Perhaps this was the inspiration for Smeagol's guide ability in Twilight of the Third Age. But unlike that ability, this method gave a reliable mass-healing ability to Frodo. By spending multiple character dice per turn to heal in the same city or stronghold, the Fellowship could withstand the vagaries of the Witch King Corruption strategy.

Games were divided into three phases: The opening, where both sides got two additional dice. The midgame, where the fellowship sat and healed and watched as battles raged all over the board. And the Endgame, where the Fellowship slogged up Mount Doom, hoping they'd squirrelled away enough corruption mitigation to make the dunk.

In truth, our Shadow players weren't spending enough effort to target Fellowship healing points. Had we done this, the game would probably have tipped shadow. As we played it, the game mainly came down to the Free's ability to roll Will of the West to promote extra dice.

The variant was fun for a while, but I wouldn't want to play it today.


Will of the West

http://wow.osaurus.us

This variant has two main rules changes.

One: the Shadow's Strategy and Character decks are shuffled together, and the top card must be drawn whenever the shadow would normally draw a card from either deck. This slightly hurts both WK Corruption and DEW North.

Two: Free strategy cards which muster units also advance free nations on the political track. (Actually, this only happens if the nation is active) The upshot is that the Shadow really only gets his first five victory points cheaply. After that he's going to have to fight forearmed, at-war opponents. Thematically this made a lot of sense.

Effects: Suddenly, the hidden strength of the game was starting to reveal itself. The free people were fielding big armies, engaging in more active, exciting play.

Sometimes the Shadow had no choice but to attack desperately into strength. That's pretty amazing when you stop to think about it -- of the twenty Free victory points, all of them were either already taken, or heavily defended! Clearly, that would never happen in the base game.

This game is rougly 50/50 balanced, but its a bit random. If the Witch King Corruption strategy is played, it can still often overwhelm the companions. There's no reason to seperate anyone but Strider.


Aside: The Problem of Free Will

All of the variants up until now still had one serious problem. The Free People's best move was to get 5 or 6 action dice, but if they didn't roll any Will of the West dice results early, they lots too many actions and their game collapsed.

This made all the other factors more difficult to balance: If the Free had rules that let them survive militarily on four dice, then they'd be unbeatable at six dice.

Thematically, the game designers wanted the reincarnation of Gandalf to be an uncertain proposition. While we could agree with that, we didn't think it was worth sacrificing 30% of our games to this aesthetic concern.

So we made cheap hacks, like "Spend an elven ring to convert any action die to a Will of the West die". It wasn't pretty. It made the extra free dice mechanistic. It worked ok.

But from here on out, variants started appearing which solved this more elegantly...

Wizardry

http://wiz.osaurus.us/

Wizardry used the same muster-cards-affect-the-political-track mechanic as Will of the West. What it added was a 5th free die from Turn 1 on. This die was special - it only ever rolled Event (palantir) results. It was removed from the game when Gandalf the White appeared.

This meant that Gandalf the Grey would typically enjoy a long and happy guiding of the fellowship, with Strider running south to become Aragorn.

The result was a very exciting game. Both sides now had dire choices to make: The shadow was happy because his DEW North and WK-Corruption strategies were as fun as ever.

The Free's card decks got much stronger because there was always enough energy to play at least one card per turn, and the effects of both decks were magnified.

Twilight of the Third Age

This is the official, $50 variant. It boils down to giving the free people maybe an extra die, in the form of Galadriel, nerfing the Corsairs of Umbar, and making the hunt pool wildly more variable. At least that's the quick overview.

National Action Tokens

http://veldrin.proboards22.com/index.cgi?board=HouseRules&ac...

In this variant, each active free nation gets its own pseudo action die, that can only be used for actions concerning that nation. Like the tokens in Battles of the Third Age's operational games, these tokens could only be played when the free player could otherwise pass, so they're not broken on those 6-eye turns.

By giving the Free People more actions, the war does seem more realistic. However, once again the bugbear of a free nation that sits out the whole war, until the Shadow takes it for the last VP, does return.

Nevertheless, this is my favorite variant that I've actually played. Yes, better than Twilight.

New Event Cards

http://veldrin.proboards22.com/index.cgi?board=generalonline...

In this variant, the author rewrites both event decks from the ground up.

The thesis is this: the Free People's action cards have been historically weak. Definately unworthy of an event die to draw just one.

For example, a typical reinforcement card is 1 elite and 1 leader, only 50% better than a muster. Worse, you can't pick the location, you just hope to get lucky.

Compare that to an equivalent Shadow card, like Shadows on the Misty Mountains, that is 150% better than a muster, and to boot the Shadow has strategic mobility to put them where he wants anyway.

I totally agree that the Free deck should be strengthened. That it is weaker than the Shadow deck, plus the fact that the Shadow gets way more actions, means that as players get better and better, the shadow will always out-improve the Free. After all, how much strategic innovation is left to be squeezed out of "sit in Minas Tirith and hope the orcs roll all 1s"?

I look forward to trying this variant.
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Sean McCarthy
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First of all, thanks for writing this up. It's very useful to have a list of variants compiled in one place.

Second, I want to emphasize that the "New Event Cards" variant is very new and the cards are in the first draft. So I wouldn't expect it to work well at this point. I think it has some potential. Also, I should point out that it's made in the context of Twilight of the Third Age, so it's not really on the same level as, say, the National Action Tokens variant.

Third, here is my take on what changes the base game needs to play well and fairly:

1. A boost in the military strength of the FP, and/or a substantial weakening of the turn-stalling tactic. All the variants you list do this to some extent.

2. A boost in how much corruption they can withstand. I played the Wizardry variant a couple days ago, and the Corruption strategy (http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/159177) crushed the Free as easily as ever. When I was testing the expansion, the Free was still losing to corruption until Smeagol was added.* The Free really need something to help them out in the corruption front. I think this is a potential issue with all the variants you list other than the actual expansion. My suspicion is that the best FP plan with national action tokens is actually to go for a military victory from the start.

*While playtesting the expansion, I suggested allowing Gollum to declare the Fellowship with a character die up to once per turn. Additionally, if this resulted in the Fellowship being in North Ithilien or Dagorlad, you heal one corruption. The latter part represents the Fellowship's recovery at that place where Faramir was (Amon Hen?). The point of this was to both avoid turn stalling and help with corruption problems. The designers took that intent and produced Smeagol, who has the same kind of effects but in a less controllable manner.
 
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Kevin Chapman
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What about the variant of adding just Galadriel from Twilight?
 
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Andy Daglish
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MrWeasely wrote:
War of the Ring, out of the box, is basically a broken game.[/b]


BULLSHIT, so lets move rapidly along...

Quote:
For a nice overview of the reasons, check out 7S's article here: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/159177


The reason why this fails is essentially a question of maturity as a gamer, rather than something directly design-related. The point you miss is the consequence of losing due to playing an extreme strategy, which you rate at 20% though I'd think it a little higher than that, given this game's unerring ability to bite back very hard.

The problem really is quite simple: if you lose after pursuing an extreme strategy you look a twat of similar dimension. It proves beyond any doubt you haven't been playing to win hard enough to be taken seriously as a gamer worth playing. 80% percent is not a good enough to support comments such as these. If you could prove a Way to Win of better than 90% against good opposition then I think you would begin to have a point, which would strengthen as the rate improved, as it would have to do. On that basis we are quite close together in percentage points, however this is not how real gamers play any game.

In Wilderness War, IMO the other great classic of recent years, you can try much the same thing: on a 1-5 roll you get an advantage, and on a 6 you embarrass yourself severely. I did this once in a formal pbem match and decided in future to try substituting better play for that 1-5 advantage I was giving up. Also I felt legislating against such moves would be to the advantage of the game plus a small legion of spotty Herberts who lack the insight not to try it repeatedly.

What happens between gamers trying both to win and not to lose is that they become scared of losing and start to play the Other Game, so "Dew-north" is abandoned for the Ring game for a little while, and thus the strategy unravels whilst both gamers retain their credibility.

Quote:
Here is a history of the various fixes I've tried, their effects, and what lessons from them can be applied to all War of the Ring games.

Character to Declare
This was our first attempt. Cheesed off by the "Turn Stall",


this is an integral part of the game, and it could be said to be part of the success of the book-to-game conversion. If you lack the fortitude to deal with it, this game is not for you -- which I believe is occasionally the case, despite those 100,000 sales.

Quote:
Will of the West

http://wow.osaurus.us

This variant has two main rules changes.

One: the Shadow's Strategy and Character decks are shuffled together, and the top card must be drawn whenever the shadow would normally draw a card from either deck. This slightly hurts both WK Corruption and DEW North.


thats a different game, so not really relevant.

Quote:
Two: Free strategy cards which muster units also advance free nations on the political track. (Actually, this only happens if the nation is active) The upshot is that the Shadow really only gets his first five victory points cheaply. After that he's going to have to fight forearmed, at-war opponents. Thematically this made a lot of sense.


essentially this is very close to things discarded in testing as a failure, because...

Quote:
Effects: Suddenly, the hidden strength of the game was starting to reveal itself. The free people were fielding big armies, engaging in more active, exciting play.

Sometimes the Shadow had no choice but to attack desperately into strength. That's pretty amazing when you stop to think about it -- of the twenty Free victory points, all of them were either already taken, or heavily defended! Clearly, that would never happen in the base game.


...this sounds like crap.

Quote:
This game is rougly 50/50 balanced, but its a bit random. If the Witch King Corruption strategy is played, it can still often overwhelm the companions. There's no reason to seperate anyone but Strider.


and I repeat the comment I gave some moments ago.


Quote:
Aside: The Problem of Free Will

All of the variants up until now still had one serious problem. The Free People's best move was to get 5 or 6 action dice, but if they didn't roll any Will of the West dice results early,


this is their only "move": 5 dice is not good.

Quote:
they lots too many actions and their game collapsed.

This made all the other factors more difficult to balance: If the Free had rules that let them survive militarily on four dice, then they'd be unbeatable at six dice.

Thematically, the game designers wanted the reincarnation of Gandalf to be an uncertain proposition. While we could agree with that, we didn't think it was worth sacrificing 30% of our games to this aesthetic concern.

So we made cheap hacks, like "Spend an elven ring to convert any action die to a Will of the West die". It wasn't pretty. It made the extra free dice mechanistic. It worked ok.


no it doesn't, because its crap design for the reasons you state.

Quote:
But from here on out, variants started appearing which solved this more elegantly...


thats more like it

Quote:
Wizardry

http://wiz.osaurus.us/

Wizardry used the same muster-cards-affect-the-political-track mechanic as Will of the West.


oh dear

Quote:
What it added was a 5th free die from Turn 1 on. This die was special - it only ever rolled Event (palantir) results. It was removed from the game when Gandalf the White appeared.


we all had ideas like this but it wouldn't have got past Nexus. These guys were 1. beginners and 2. scared. They wanted everything straightforward and hobbit-like as [probably] they believed this would maximise sales to those game-buyers who bought the German industry's mostly dire LotR output.

Quote:
This meant that Gandalf the Grey would typically enjoy a long and happy guiding of the fellowship, with Strider running south to become Aragorn.

The result was a very exciting game. Both sides now had dire choices to make: The shadow was happy because his DEW North and WK-Corruption strategies were as fun as ever.


playing the basic game to win 100% of the time is better. Being violent in the north was the first tactic discovered, for the very obvious reason that the Dewline comprises too many VP too close together and too poorly defended at game start, and it always required the Easterlings.

It is absolutely critical to put the SA city back in South Rhun. This is how the game was tested and the published version is entirely untested in this respect, and this represents a failure so obvious it doesn't really need to be mentioned. It does make a difference, though not a very big one. Whether you leave or delete Far Harad is as meaningless as the city in that location.

Quote:
Twilight of the Third Age

This is the official, $50 variant. It boils down to giving the free people maybe an extra die, in the form of Galadriel, nerfing the Corsairs of Umbar, and making the hunt pool wildly more variable. At least that's the quick overview.


If we are talking about the expansion, I'll finally blow a secret [not], as I guess enough time has passsed: its an exploitation item for extracting extra money from valued but unsuspecting dorks customers. Its the quality of design that varies wildly, not the Hunt Pool. You'd hope this was obvious, but clearly it never has been. We used to order the modules accordingly to quality of design, though the Ents and the battle games always came last. Actually the Ents were so laughably ridiculous I couldn't believe anyone normal would take them seriously -- the cards in the basic game are ever so slightly better for use in a real game. But of course the old tenet proved true: If You Put It In A Box, They Will Play It. Especially if mediated by miniatures. The Balwog, Gollum, and the Chief work ok and are interesting additons, if a little disturbing to the game's internal economy at times, but the rest don't, not least because there is nowhere near enough time to play them all, as Nexus wanted [eg. the extra cards], but also because they are either useless or represent too great a perversion of the basic game. For example Galadriel is fine, except that she forces the same FP opening every time. The Dunlendings and siege engines are B-grade options that were adopted for different reasons. The better Dunlending rule, which you didn't get, was seen as being slightly harder to understand [it wasn't], so was discarded, and the Engines never quite worked until they fell back to the cypher in the game.

IMO the best part of the module was the Breaking of the Fellowship scenario, which I suspect was held back so module #2 would run less risk of being totally slaughtered in review. Given the level of sales, the cost of production of an expansion is a serious matter.

Quote:
National Action Tokens

http://veldrin.proboards22.com/index.cgi?board=HouseRules&ac...

In this variant, each active free nation gets its own pseudo action die,


bin there, done that, and there's lots of similar ideas.

I'd get into the basic game properly, but from now on play not to lose.
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Dave J McWeasely
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This doesn't seem like the place to quibble about the SA win %.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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SevenSpirits wrote:
The Free really need something to help them out in the corruption front. I think this is a potential issue with all the variants you list other than the actual expansion. My suspicion is that the best FP plan with national action tokens is actually to go for a military victory from the start.
Hm...Are you getting Wizard's Staff out 70% of the time? Are you still moving the FSP with every sword? I'm not. Then again, I test mainly against DEW North or similar.

 
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Sean McCarthy
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Andy, If you want to make an argument against the game being imbalanced, it's very easy. There currently exist Shadow strategies that I can tell people about and cause them to win 80% of the time. All you have to do is tell us about a counter-strategy that their opponent can use to put that balance back closer to 50%, assuming the Shadow player mindlessly follows my advice. Anything less than that is pointless.

You called at least four things "crap" or "oh dear" without any justification. That's not very nice.

By the way:

Getting an 80% win percentage makes you look like an extreme twat?

I'm pretty sure I just read you explaining how "gamers" will try so hard not to lose that their win % dips back down to 50.

Turn-stalling is thematic??

"That's a different game"? No kidding, it's a VARIANT. This is a thread about variants.
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Sean McCarthy
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I haven't played a lot of base games recently.

I think you should probably play against a corruption-oriented opponent and see what you think then.
 
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Andy Daglish
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SevenSpirits wrote:
Andy, If you want to make an argument against the game being imbalanced, it's very easy. There currently exist Shadow strategies that I can tell people about and cause them to win 80% of the time. All you have to do is tell us about a counter-strategy that their opponent can use to put that balance back closer to 50%, assuming the Shadow player mindlessly follows my advice. Anything less than that is pointless.


whats the margin of error?

I would play both Ring and military games.

Quote:
You called at least four things "crap" or "oh dear" without any justification. That's not very nice.


Neither is the "broken game" comment, which is unsustainable even given your assertions. Most of this has been tried before, several years ago. For example there's no point trying to speed up the political track as its such an insubstantial thing anyway you could just as easily get rid of it.

Quote:
By the way:


on the contrary...

Quote:
Getting an 80% win percentage makes you look like an extreme twat?


whats 100 minus 80? its not enough to claim the game is broken, and lets remind ourselves, lest we've forgotten, that there's more broken gamers out there than games, and this isn't one of them.

Quote:
I'm pretty sure I just read you explaining how "gamers" will try so hard not to lose that their win % dips back down to 50.


re-read your last question

Quote:
Turn-stalling is thematic??


theme is dangerous ground, as there appears to be a general misunderstanding of the relationship between theme and design. Generally there isn't any. As this is a book to game conversion, it isn't strictly true that this is the case here, or that it should be. Similarly its unhelpful to use terms like "turn-stalling" as it implies this is somehow a bad thing and anyway it sounds kinda ignorant, and yes it just might be thematic. There again I understand it must really upset those who play seven-turn games, and its an excellent reason not to do so.

Quote:
"That's a different game"? No kidding, it's a VARIANT. This is a thread about variants.


thats not quite how it started.

AFAIR the two changes that were reversed at the printers were the extra elite in Erebor [the fourth one almost never got used] and the South Rhun city to balance Angmar. I think there was a third thing, but I can't remember.

The Witch-king's special ability was chosen for reasons of game mechanics [it was free of problems] rather than its design worth, and that always bothered me. One or two of the alternatives might have been better designwise [they certainly came first], but there were instances where they ran into difficulties. It would be possible to ignore it completely and still stay within the rules. Its seems wrong to use this ability to get cards that are not used in the context of His Honour using magic at sieges.

An idea I did like was making Minas Tirith worth 1VP to the FP as well as 2VP to the SA.

The we might return to the problem of the Fellowship moving too fast. The "moving back on 2+" "tweak for the Shadow" on playtester Kristoph's website works very well [and its the only good one in that list].

Impeding the SA military game and the FP Ring game is perhaps what an advanced or collector edition requires. The longer games are the better ones.
 
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aforandy wrote:
AFAIR the two changes that were reversed at the printers were the extra elite in Erebor [the fourth one almost never got used] and the South Rhun city to balance Angmar. I think there was a third thing, but I can't remember.

That's quite interesting. I've always wondered what the impact would be of adding an Elite in Erebor to the setup to counter DEW North. It seems like a simple solution, so it probably wouldn't work. I guess the designers didn't think it was that significant an omission, or they would have included it in the errata.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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I've tried it. It not only doesn't work, its barely noticable.

It would be interesting if they had, say, [2/2/2] in Erebor at start.
 
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aforandy wrote:
playing the basic game to win 100% of the time is better. Being violent in the north was the first tactic discovered, for the very obvious reason that the Dewline comprises too many VP too close together and too poorly defended at game start, and it always required the Easterlings.

"Always"? An attack from solely Mordor and Dol Goldur can sometimes succeed.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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Once I took 5 points in DEW with just the Dol Guldur guys and a Goblin Man. In War of the Ring, the lesson is the opposite of the movie '300': enslaved people fight better than Free People.
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Character-to-Declare
One criticism of Character-to-Declare I heard in the old days, is that the Shadow just easily obliterates the healing stronghold, to flush out the Fellowship. Sauron doesn't have a strong preference where he goes, so he might as well smite along the path of the FSP.

Or so I remember the argument.

Its not exactly like that. For one thing, an early seperation can put Boromir and Strider into Minas Tirith, and then the Shadow is in for a vicious grind fest, that could seriously take 20 action dice to win.

Lorien isn't nearly that rough, but is clearly the #2 defended stronghold for the Free. Then maybe you're playing with Galadriel devilry.

DEW is hard to get all of early. And the FSP shouldn't go that way in character-to-declare anyway.
 
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Bid Defense
An idea was proposed: let the players bid a number of muster dice. That many musters would be added to the initial forces (as if nations were at-war, no more than 1 die per region). Though this idea seemed extremely promising, it didn't lead to more interesting games. Bid inflation was rampant: first game: 1 elite. Second game: 3 elites. Then 6. Then 10. Free lost all those games. It was clearly going towards: add an extra elite to every region on the board.

It wasn't an issue of troops, it was an issue of the the energy to use the troops effectively.
 
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Arneson Stidgeley wrote:
"Always"? An attack from solely Mordor and Dol Goldur can sometimes succeed.


a question answered. Presumably the SA would lose a stronghold in these places regularly, but fighting defensively with the SA will lose more surely, as in the meantime the Fellowship moves to Mordor. The Easterlings always win eventually, but of course then you are playing a minimum of ten turns.
 
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SevenSpirits wrote:
Andy, If you want to make an argument against the game being imbalanced, it's very easy. There currently exist Shadow strategies that I can tell people about and cause them to win 80% of the time. All you have to do is tell us about a counter-strategy that their opponent can use to put that balance back closer to 50%, assuming the Shadow player mindlessly follows my advice. Anything less than that is pointless.


Which strategy specifically? From reading your guide, I don't see the Corruption strategy as being that high of a win percentage because as you say it depends a lot more on what the FP does. That leaves DEW North. But since the Strider Sprint is a valid strategy, that makes the 80-20 split a matter of pure dice rolls: everyone knows what to do and always does the same things, and so all that matters is how the dice come out. And I think that that's effectively Andy's point about all of this (he can correct me if I'm wrong); the 80-20 strategy means turning it all over to dice rolls, and it's just the case that the SP doesn't have to get as lucky as the FP, leading to that win ratio.

Or do both of them have that ratio?

Anyway, the question here is: is a game imbalanced if there is one specific strategy that you can use that turns it into a set of dice rolls where one player doesn't have to get as lucky as the other?


SevenSpirits wrote:
By the way:

Getting an 80% win percentage makes you look like an extreme twat?


To be fair, he said that playing an extreme strategy and LOSING makes you look like an extreme twat, and you can see why: if it all comes down to dice rolls, you locked yourself into a strategy that if the dice come up badly, you lose and there ain't nothin' you can do about it. That's not exactly a great strategy to use.

SevenSpirits wrote:
I'm pretty sure I just read you explaining how "gamers" will try so hard not to lose that their win % dips back down to 50.


Here's how I interpret what Andy meant here (and, again, he can correct me if I'm wrong). Consider probably the two main attitudes you can have going into a game: A basic game played for fun, and a tournament-type game where you really want to win.

Take the first type of game, and DEW North. It seems to me that DEW North comes down to dice rolls and is a very boring game, with the strategy determined. Who wants to play that? So in a fun game either the players won't play DEW North (perhaps opting for the Corruption strategy) or will put in some rules to make DEW North less attractive or try to turn THAT strategy into a more balanced strategy. Anyone who NEEDS the rules in order to not do DEW North (as opposed to making more thematic attacks or gameplay) has a problem in this case, since they are more concerned about winning than about having fun. And the win/loss ration would obviously move more to a 50-50 state since the extreme strategy isn't being used.

Take the second type of game, now. Again, DEW North comes down to luck. Maybe as the SP you don't need as good luck to win ... but if you really, really want to win the game, you have to realize that luck will turn against you at some point. So you don't want to use the extreme strategy that, as I said above, locks you into the strategy where you lose 20% of the time based on how the dice are rolled. You'd prefer to use one where your strategic and tactical ability matter to the outcome, even if it doesn't win as much of the time against an EQUAL opponent, since you can control what you do in a game. So, again, the win ratio should move towards 50-50 because players are preferring not to rely on luck to win their games.

If someone insists on playing DEW North because they are willing to win simply on the basis of luck, I think I agree with Andy that that's a problem with the gamer, not the game. And I'm not even certain that a game COULD be balanced so that that cannot occur.

That being said, I'm also not convinced that there isn't a strategic solution to DEW North that makes it be the case that in more cases -- even 60 - 40 SP -- that the Strider Sprint beats DEW North (which makes DEW North less appealing), and I also think that any tweaks should be specifically made to make the Strider Sprint's rolls work out closer to DEW North's, not to increase the overall power of the FP. That being said, I've only played three games against myself, so what do I know [grin]?

 
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Wow, you're really good at interpreting Andy!

Luck is an essential part of the game in all paths, not just DEW North. Playing DEW North robotically a few times will teach some good weakness-fighting tactics to a Shadow player, where they will be able to increase their win % even higher than the algorithm's ratio, by learning to (say) recognise when Havens/Shire/Rivendell is more vulnerable than DEW.
 
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Allan Cybulskie
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MrWeasely wrote:
Bid Defense
An idea was proposed: let the players bid a number of muster dice. That many musters would be added to the initial forces (as if nations were at-war, no more than 1 die per region). Though this idea seemed extremely promising, it didn't lead to more interesting games. Bid inflation was rampant: first game: 1 elite. Second game: 3 elites. Then 6. Then 10. Free lost all those games. It was clearly going towards: add an extra elite to every region on the board.

It wasn't an issue of troops, it was an issue of the the energy to use the troops effectively.


Actually, I think the issue here is more that it isn't an issue of total troops, but an issue of directed troops; in order to defend against SA blitzing, the FP would want to put their troops in areas that are weaker at the start and hard to bring up to a reasonable defense should they come under early attack. For example, I'd be tempted to stuff some troops into DEW to make it less tempting to the SA and force or encourage him to go after the more powerful Gonder. One muster per area, though, doesn't do a heck of a lot.

That's why I'd say that the right variants are to allow the FP to defend weak areas or dunk the ring faster. We know that the SA can win the war by attrition, but the ring quest gives at least a chance of that not working out all that well. All that's really needed is a way to blunt the SA "zerg rush" so that the FP can win it in the mid-game. If a game ends in either late or early game, the SA is almost certain to win.
 
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MrWeasely wrote:
Wow, you're really good at interpreting Andy!


Well, we'll have to see if HE agrees with that [grin].

MrWeasely wrote:
Luck is an essential part of the game in all paths, not just DEW North. Playing DEW North robotically a few times will teach some good weakness-fighting tactics to a Shadow player, where they will be able to increase their win % even higher than the algorithm's ratio, by learning to (say) recognise when Havens/Shire/Rivendell is more vulnerable than DEW.


Oh, I agree that in a lot of the game luck really matters. That isn't in doubt. It's just by how much skill and strategic play can make luck rolls less important or how one can react to turn them to your advantage or make them be less devastating. And, again, I'm not certain that a skilled FP player can't turn that move into the Havens/Shire/Rivendell to more of their advantage. Remembering that if DEW North is attempted, Strider Sprint is likely underway which won't allow for much room to be stalled, or to take longer to march to get the VPs needed to win.
 
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I'd been kicking this idea around, and looked it up to see if it was valid. Let me know what you more experienced people think:

Allow the FP to muster troops and thus recruit new units when they are active, not merely when they are at war. This would make activating nations more meaningful and would allow the FP to recruit some troops into areas that may be under attack a lot earlier. Every time I tried the DEW North strategy against myself, I couldn't get enough troops there to make a difference once the armies were on my doorstep, which led to me being tempted to just abandon it all together.

Thematically, it would basically mean that while active if you saw or figured that an enemy was coming after you, you could increase your defenses "just in case", but still couldn't go out and attack.

The SA could use this rule, too, but I don't think it matters much to them [grin].

Thoughts?
 
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I think its a pretty interesting idea you've got there!
 
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In response to the idea of being able to muster when active: I made a similar suggestion during testing of the expansion. It was like that, except only for regulars. (That way being at war had additional benefit, and the elves didn't get a huge advantage from being active at the start, because they only have two regulars.)

The designers pretty much said "try it out if you want, but we don't think it's a good idea." I did so, and here is what I thought of it:

Sean McCarthy wrote:
I played 5 turns of a solo game, standard except for the "active
mustering" rule I had suggested (I also modified the WK to only
activate one nation, lest the whole experiment be ruined). It was an
enlightening experience.

Pippin died off a hunt tile right away, and since the FSP moved 3
times that turn was able to reappear in The Shire. On the next turn,
the now active North mustered 3 regulars each in Dale and Carrock.
...so much for the DEW-line as a Shadow target...

When Gandalf died that same turn, he returned in Fangorn, and soon
made his way to Edoras. Rohan then mustered 2 regulars in each of
Edoras and HD.

The elves mustered a regular in Lorien just before being besieged.

When Aragorn was crowned king, Gondor mustered a regular each in MT
and Pelargir.

In summary, there was plenty of cool companion activating, lots of
mustering, and (here's the bad news) absolutely no manual movement on
the political track whatsoever. This made me realize that it wasn't
just activation that was usually pointless, it was that whole thing
about getting yourself to war instead of the Shadow doing it for you.
There are two parts:
1) Using companions to activate nations isn't useful because they'll
get activated at no cost to you when the SP attacks.
2) Using muster dice to advance nations isn't useful because they'll
get advanced at no cost to you when the SP attacks.

[...]


To summarize: I love the idea in the abstract, but I don't think my idea was a good one, and yours is basically a more extreme version of it, so I probably wouldn't like it either. Mainly:

It basically circumvents the entire "political" process (on purpose, because it's kind of sucky). But if you want to do that, you should make a new, good set of rules for that, not short-circuit the existing ones. These rules make political track advances suck even more than they already do.

Anything that makes it less likely for FP nations to actively move to a state in which they can attack, makes the game less interesting. In this system there is almost no incentive to go to war on purpose.

It ruins the Witch King. See http://boardgamegeek.com/article/874376#874376 for my opinion on that.
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I commend you for trying to interpret Andy.

Daimbert wrote:
Which strategy specifically? From reading your guide, I don't see the Corruption strategy as being that high of a win percentage because as you say it depends a lot more on what the FP does. That leaves DEW North. But since the Strider Sprint is a valid strategy, that makes the 80-20 split a matter of pure dice rolls: everyone knows what to do and always does the same things, and so all that matters is how the dice come out. And I think that that's effectively Andy's point about all of this (he can correct me if I'm wrong); the 80-20 strategy means turning it all over to dice rolls, and it's just the case that the SP doesn't have to get as lucky as the FP, leading to that win ratio.

Or do both of them have that ratio?

Well, me opinion is that they are both very good and in that range, though I really haven't played that many base games after figuring that out. My percentages may be a little off.
It's true there is a bit less skill involved in DEW north games, because they are less interactive, but that does not make them a worse choice if you are a skilled Shadow player. You can lose corruption games to luck too. Actually, in my opinion, this is all kind of moot. What is this hypothetical skilled Shadow player doing playing the base game, anyway?

Quote:
Anyway, the question here is: is a game imbalanced if there is one specific strategy that you can use that turns it into a set of dice rolls where one player doesn't have to get as lucky as the other?

Yes. That is a very good definition of imbalanced (assuming the person forcing the one strategy is the one who benefits from it). Actually, it's a bit generous: imbalanced games don't require a single dominant strategy, but a single dominant strategy (that is imbalanced) guarantees an unbalanced game.

This is not to say the game isn't good or fun.

But fundamentally, the question of balance is tied to the expected outcome of the game when both sides are being played optimally.


Quote:
Here's how I interpret what Andy meant here (and, again, he can correct me if I'm wrong). Consider probably the two main attitudes you can have going into a game: A basic game played for fun, and a tournament-type game where you really want to win.

Take the first type of game, and DEW North. It seems to me that DEW North comes down to dice rolls and is a very boring game, with the strategy determined. Who wants to play that? So in a fun game either the players won't play DEW North (perhaps opting for the Corruption strategy) or will put in some rules to make DEW North less attractive or try to turn THAT strategy into a more balanced strategy. Anyone who NEEDS the rules in order to not do DEW North (as opposed to making more thematic attacks or gameplay) has a problem in this case, since they are more concerned about winning than about having fun.

This is a good distinction to make. However, there is a third type of game, involving players such as myself.

I do not care about winning, nor do I intentionally avoid good strategies because they are boring. I play for fun, but for me, the "fun" is seeing what happens when both sides are played well. Playing the game is like running a simulation of the rules.

When the result is an interesting, balanced game that makes sense thematically, I am thrilled because the rules worked. When the Shadow wins 80% of the time, and the game is boring because of some crazy strategy, I'll find that oddly fascinating at first -- because the game rules created something that their designers surely never foresaw -- but then I will start looking for better rules. Those rules were no good: I plugged in some perfectly good play, and they just broke on me! What the heck -- they're defective!

Quote:
That being said, I've only played three games against myself, so what do I know [grin]?
A lot more, I believe, than most people who have played three games.
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