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Subject: Dr. Phlox or how I learned to love long range attacks rss

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Jacob H.
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I've played Mage Knight (MK) a lot. Like almost more than any other game (that honour goes to Twilight Struggle, but that's another story). And so am intimately familiar with that game. Played a game yesterday of Star Trek Frontiers (ST:F), and after absolutely ransacking my first game (in a three-player game, three borg cubes conquered by the middle of the third turn), it's become rather obvious that the long range attack mechanic is completely broken.

I won't write a review for the whole game, but thought I'd just look for opinions that might show me wrong on this question, and make me want to play the game a second time: why would you ever not prioritize long range attack cards in the game? Long Range attacks are the optimal strategy, to the point of being game-breaking.

In MK, the whole purpose of range attacks was to make early battles easier to handle, when you didn't have enough cards, blocking, or simply armour to absorb damage efficiently. So, with double swiftness or concentration-swiftness, you could hit a few early dungeons or rampaging units, and start building a deck in whatever direction you wanted. Due to the fortified mechanic (for those not familiar with MK, in certain types of encounters, including end-game encounters, you couldn't use ranged attack against fortified units), you were forced to diversify, or grab one of the very few cards that could remove fortification and hope that your deck would shape up for end game encoutners.

In ST:F, there's absolutely no penalty to simply stacking long range attacks (LRA). You can build an entire deck solely on advanced action and undiscovered cards that give you LRA, crew members that give you LRA, and trash the game. End-game encounters are made laughably easy by simply stacking your deck with LRA cards (of which their are many) and LRA units, and blowing everyone up from afar. Furthermore, it takes away all tension from away missions, the new mechanic in the game, since, once again, you've got no fear of having your crew members or captain hit, since you can simply use LRA.

In other words, you could simply take Advanced Actions and Undiscovered cards that give you in order 1) long range attacks 2) mana and 3) armour reduction and there you have it, all encounters become laughably easy (double points for "swift attack" and other cards that give you either a crystal or a LRA).

In my three player game, two of us went down this path, and had the easiest time ever, while the third player didn't, and simply waited for his basic LRA cards to be in his hand before going into large fights or more difficult encounters.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm super disappointed. MK is one of my favorite games of all time, and I thought this would be a fun (if simplified) reskin--with the emphasis on fun. Turns out that after a single game, an optimal strategy became obvious, taking away replay value. Once you've found the absolute best way to play a game, for me at least, it takes away a lot of the fun.

Am I crazy/wrong? Please do tell.

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Jeff Thornsen
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I also found it really weird to no longer have to worry about Fortified units when attacking starbases or whatever the equivalent thing is to Keeps/Mage Towers in Mage Knight.

It also seems kind of weird and non-thematic that you can use LRA during Away Team missions. They already added a diplomacy/influence option specifically for Away Teams. It doesn't make sense that your Away Team can fire Photon Torpedoes or whatever to defeat something while on the planet's surface. Surely you would also destroy your own Away Team in the process?

If I find this becoming too powerful, I think at a minimum I would house-rule that Away Teams either can't use LRA, or that if you do use LRA, you also wound everyone you sent on the mission and/or lose reputation for essentially shooting at the planet to kill its inhabitants.
 
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Roy Stephens
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Don't forget the inevitable expansion that will add more enemy units, some of which most assuredly will be LRA proof/resistant.

The hypothesis pushed here though is not a guaranteed every time you play, though. It is dependent on the cards that come up in the crew and advanced action offers. IF all you get early on are like medical officers and whatnot, this plan doesn't really fly.

Yes, if the cards fall right, you can build a powerful LRA-based deck, but if that is happening a lot with multiple players in your games, I'd probably think about switching to more PVP gameplay... and maybe getting a good card shuffler too. laugh


Edit- I just got home and counted all of the non-starter cards in the game that provide LRA. It's a total of 14. Only 2 standard crew (Donatra and Gowron), 5 Elite crew, and 3 advanced action and 4 undiscovereds. If you are able to farm those out every game and for 2 out of 3 players in the same game, I want to know your strategy!
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howl hollow howl
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I'm less concerned about LRA being a dominant strategy, especially for Away Missions (I kinda like Influence for that). I am concerned with the Concentration/Swiftness combo being the answer for even more situations than it was in MK.
 
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Jacob H.
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Faranim wrote:
I also found it really weird to no longer have to worry about Fortified units when attacking starbases or whatever the equivalent thing is to Keeps/Mage Towers in Mage Knight.


Removing it takes away the whole ramping up aspect. It's no longer a race towards something bigger with bigger challenges, it's a plod through slightly more difficult units while you become much stronger!


Faranim wrote:
If I find this becoming too powerful, I think at a minimum I would house-rule that Away Teams either can't use LRA, or that if you do use LRA, you also wound everyone you sent on the mission and/or lose reputation for essentially shooting at the planet to kill its inhabitants.


The no LRA on away missions could work as a house rule.



hockeyjedi wrote:

The hypothesis pushed here though is not a guaranteed every time you play, though. It is dependent on the cards that come up in the crew and advanced action offers. IF all you get early on are like medical officers and whatnot, this plan doesn't really fly.


I'm not sure about this. Reading through the cards, it does seem to be that there's a whole lot of LRA. Like you would need to actively avoid using it. It doesn't seem at all like a card conditional thing. Most games you would have a whole lot of LRA advanced actions and undiscovered cards available. And in very few games you wouldn't.

hockeyjedi wrote:

I'd probably think about switching to more PVP gameplay.


Totally. That might help, and I usually play with PvP with experienced players in MK. However, PvP in MK and (from what I gathered from the rules) ST:F is so situational. You wouldn't want to use it all the time, as it penalizes you often almost as much as the next guy/gal. So only a partial solution at best, which would work best if you faced someone going all out LRA.

Dave wrote:
I'm less concerned about LRA being a dominant strategy, especially for Away Missions (I kinda like Influence for that). I am concerned with the Concentration/Swiftness combo being the answer for even more situations than it was in MK.


Totally.
 
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Barry Miller
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jacobgh wrote:
In ST:F, there's absolutely no penalty to simply stacking long range attacks (LRA). You can build an entire deck solely on advanced action and undiscovered cards that give you LRA, crew members that give you LRA...

Jacob,

I hope you write a strategy article, because as a newbie to ST:F who's never played MK, I'm absolutely bewildered as to how you achieve this state inside of only three turns!

Either that, or you and I have different sets of cards!

Here's why I'm "bewildered": The Ship Deck starts with 16 Action Cards, which only two are capable of LRA. (And both cost red data to use, BTW). The probability of drawing one of those two cards into your hand on the first turn is only 8%. By the 2nd turn, drawing both is in the 20%-40% range, depending on how many cards you get to draw for your 2nd turn.

Then the Regular Crew Deck has only two cards out of 20 that have LRA capability. That means for your three player game, the probability of a LRA-capable crew member appearing in the opening Crew Offer is 44%. (53% probability of one showing-up in the 2nd offering if none were in the first). And that's of course only if no-one else grabs that card before you.

So for the first one or two turns of the game, you have a 8%-40% chance of having a LRA card in your hand, and a 44% chance of being offered a LRA crewmember. While those probabilities aren't tiny at all, they still don't guarantee (to me anyway) being able to "stack" enough LRA capability of any significance by the end of the 2nd turn.

So for you to dominate with LRA by half way through your 3rd turn is very impressive and leaves me baffled! (In a good way, as in, "I want to know how you did it!" way). Because I'm not seeing how it's possible, yet. And BTW, I've played only twice, but in both times it took me until my third turn to get an Advanced Action card, and my 4th turn before getting an Undiscovered Card. Chalk that up to being a newbie, I guess.

Thanks!
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Jacob H.
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bgm1961 wrote:

jacobgh wrote:
In ST:F, there's absolutely no penalty to simply stacking long range attacks (LRA). You can build an entire deck solely on advanced action and undiscovered cards that give you LRA, crew members that give you LRA...

Jacob,

I hope you write a strategy article, because as a newbie to ST:F who's never played MK, I'm absolutely bewildered as to how you achieve this state inside of only three turns!

Either that, or you and I have different sets of cards!


Sorry, I wasn't clear, I meant three rounds, not three turns! As in halfway through the game. That would be absolutely crazy in three turns of the first round! My bad.

However, I would say that in my first turn of the first round, I gained a level up by beating one of the rampaging baddies, and on my second turn I went down to a planet and diplomacied some aliens. Thus after two turns in the first round, I had an advanced action and an undiscovered card. So not an impossible task to have those in hand rather quickly: I'd say it's even probable, given the high rewards of the game.
 
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Jacob, I have never played MK, but agree that the standard settings for ST:F scenarios are very easy. However:

1. I found LRA to be strong but far from dominant. In every game, I want to pursue an LRA strategy, but only in a small fraction of games did I find enough LRA cards for that to be viable. Barry Miller and Roy Stephens above gave statistics of LRA card frequencies that are very much in line with my experience. Is it possible that you simply had an unusual game where many more LRA cards and abilities were out than normal, and that gave you the illusion that there were more LRA cards in the game than there actually are? (PS I am assuming that you didn't miss rules like sideways cards cannot boost LRA, LRA cannot deal partial damage, and only one Action and Undiscovered card gets cycled every round, not all 3) On these forums, there are posts from MK players who appear to be as experienced as you, and while the consensus is that the game is much easier than MK, they have not been saying that LRA is dominant.

2. The rules say you can adjust the distribution of tiles in addition to borg cube levels. This means that in theory you can set an arbitrary difficulty curve shape, and make more challenging enemies appear before you have enough LRA to deal with them purely with LRA.

3. I think when somebody above mentioned PvP, they meant the "very competitive" scenarios, but I think you took it to mean as PvP during conquest scenarios. Do your concerns hold even for very competitive games?

I'd be very curious about your thoughts on 1-3.
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Jacob H.
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rbelikov wrote:


I'd be very curious about your thoughts on 1-3.


Hallo Rus!

Here are my thoughts on your thoughts

1) Indeed, we didn't miss any rules. In terms of whether it is an unusual game or not. My feeling based on reading the advanced action and undiscovered cards before and after the game was that there was a lot of LRA. I can't say for sure of course, as I'd need to go through all of them and determine how many cards actually have LRA, which I didn't do, but will do as soon as I get an opportunity, and report back here. So part of my conclusion is based on gut-feelingness, which isn't always accurate, I'll conceded.

However, my pain point is that you would want to go for LRA cards over any other type of card whenever you can. That LRA is so overwhelmingly powerful, that it becomes the best strategy to approach the game. That's more where my disappointment lies.

2) Yes, totally. You could increase the level of bord cubes (which you should do anyway to make the game more difficult, put in more core tiles and do all sorts of adjustments. It would make the game harder, but only because you're allowing it to compensate for a mechanic that doesn't work. The LRA stacking would still be you're most viable play.

3) I haven't played enough very competitive games (as I usually just play conquest with PvP) to give an informed opinion on that.

--

Let me state my case in another way: the other combat mechanics in the game can be used is some phases but not all. For example, diplomacy only works in away missions, block only works in star battles, attack only works once you've blocked. LRA works in both away missions and star battles, need no other cards, and allow you to skip past any damage assignment. It is thus the best combat mechanic. And there are no restrictions at all to it (compared to MK where the fortified mechanic compensated for the strength of ranged attacks).

Perhaps that helps explain my thoughts better?
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jacobgh wrote:
Let me state my case in another way: the other combat mechanics in the game can be used is some phases but not all. For example, diplomacy only works in away missions, block only works in star battles, attack only works once you've blocked. LRA works in both away missions and star battles, need no other cards, and allow you to skip past any damage assignment. It is thus the best combat mechanic. And there are no restrictions at all to it (compared to MK where the fortified mechanic compensated for the strength of ranged attacks).

Perhaps that helps explain my thoughts better?


You list strong advantages of LRA, but there is a strong disadvantage as well: its strength is roughly half of normal attacks per card (at least if you take enemy resistances into account).

Let's consider two decks with 10 combat cards each. In deck 1, all combat cards are LRA. In deck 2, 5 cards are shields/repair/heal and 5 cards are attacks. Assuming for the sake of argument that the average attack power of an LRA card is 1/2 that of a normal attack (accounting not only for the numerical value, but also for the fact that there are more non-LRA special attacks than LRA special attacks). Then these two decks should have exactly the same capacity for defeating enemies, right?

For what it's worth, my experience with ST:F is more or less consistent with the above theory. I'd love to know why you think that the lower attack values of LRA and the dearth of special LRA attacks does not balance the advantages you listed.

By the way, that said, I totally agree that ST:F is too easy on the default setting, and part of the reason is LRA, but I always thought there were viable alternatives to LRA that were sometimes even more overpowered, depending on the specific cards that are out. Could it be that you just have not seen those alternative strategies because they are unique to ST:F and absent from MK, and/or because the specific cards that were available in your first game favored an LRA strategy?
 
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jacobgh wrote:
1) Indeed, we didn't miss any rules. In terms of whether it is an unusual game or not. My feeling based on reading the advanced action and undiscovered cards before and after the game was that there was a lot of LRA. I can't say for sure of course, as I'd need to go through all of them and determine how many cards actually have LRA, which I didn't do, but will do as soon as I get an opportunity, and report back here. So part of my conclusion is based on gut-feelingness, which isn't always accurate, I'll conceded.

However, my pain point is that you would want to go for LRA cards over any other type of card whenever you can. That LRA is so overwhelmingly powerful, that it becomes the best strategy to approach the game. That's more where my disappointment lies.


I just started learning the game this week, but it appears Roy had the numbers close to right earlier in the thread. There aren't very many LRA cards in the game:

2/16 Basic Action cards (3 if you play Martok) 12.5% (or 18.75%)
4/27 Advanced Action Cards (6 if you count Special Maneuvers & Unconventional Tactics) 14.8% (or 22.2%)
3/24 Undiscovered cards (Roy said 4, but I could only find 3, including Advanced Range) 12.5%
2/20 Regular Crew 10%
5/20 Elite Crew 25% (6 if you count One, who can turn all attack into LRA)

Looks like LRA is explicitly on 16/107 (~15%) cards a player could potentially have available to them. Since Elite crew only enter the game if you've defeated a specific Borg cube (at fairly great expense) or managed to score the Great Link from the Undiscovered deck (or that one Class-H token), it's more like 11/87 (~12.6%) cards. Only 4 of those 11 produce an advanced damage type. Only 3 of the 11 produce more than 3 damage per card.

Importantly: Only Donatra, Isolytic Burst, Shinzon*, and Gor* have LRA which is not a "Stronger" effect requiring the use of a die/token/crystal. To say that they "don't need other cards" is disingenuous considering you'll almost always have to have spent other cards or skills ahead of time to have the crystals you need to produce enough LRA to win any meaningful battles.

Admittedly, there is little downside in choosing an Advanced Action card with LRA when you want a combat card and LRA is on offer, but seeing as how they make up 2/3 of all the Advanced Action cards capable of doing any damage at all, I think that's the point of those. The Advanced Actions help give your deck focus, and if you're focused on combat, LRA does that nicely.

Alternatively, fully 62.5% of crew (Elite included) don't provide any special attack types or LRA; only straight Attack (50%) or no attack at all! Your crew is clearly intended to give you versatility, but not necessarily strength—in fact, only 5 of the 39 Regular Crew abilities are "stronger" ones, and very few do anything beyond the starting deck's capabilities.

Similarly, only 9 Undiscovered cards are capable of either providing attack or destroying a token, and only 3 of them can help with LRA. Thirteen of them are helping you manipulate the game's rules in other, not-directly-combat-related ways. The Undiscovered deck is clearly intended to be a multiplier—whatever you've been focusing on with your advanced cards and however you prefer to utilize your crew's versatility, there is an Undiscovered card which can multiply, enhance, or enable that outcome. Including your choice to focus on LRA.
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After a few more plays, I definitely feel that LRA is strong, but definitely not game-breaking.

Two reasons:

1. I think part of the issue (maybe even the dominant part) is that LRA is easy. You don't need to optimize 4 things relative to each other (shields, attacks, repairs, and abilities that use damage cards). If a computer analyzed the best strategy without any regard to how "easy" it is to execute, I am certain LRA would be far better balanced against others. A look at the distributions and strengths of LRA vs. normal attacks + shields also suggests this is the case (see my earlier post).

2. Even considering #1, I think LRA is a bit strong. However, I think the fault is not with LRA per se, but that the time pressure in ST:F is much more relaxed compared to MK, which allows accumulation of adequate LRA abilities. If the number of rounds is reduced to where there is similar time pressure in ST:F as exists in MK, I believe LRA would be much better balanced. More details here (see last paragraph): https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1697713/think-game-too-...
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The issue of the strength of LRA compared to other strategies is very much a development consideration going forward.
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