We fought the Swamp Choir *again*! i.e. this friendly fellow:
The Swamp Choir! a.k.a. "Giant Death Turtle". Art by Mike Krahulik
We ran two battles back-to-back. In the first the Swamp Choir dominated and slaughtered the party without remorse! Then the Thornwatch bounced back and managed to take it down. It was fun.
Setup Time: 8 minutes, then 5 minutes
Play Time: 14 minutes, then 24 minutes
Thornwatch Party: 3 players: Guard, Warden, Blade
Customization: Change scene defeat condition
Outcome: 1 Judge victory, 1 Thornwatch victory
Custom boss victory - Instant failure still bad
We changed the defeat condition for this scene again, but made it less severe than last time. We used:
"If the Judge has 4 objective tokens of the same number, the Swamp Choir becomes Ebb Infused for free for one turn".
This removed the RAW instant failure, but kept the players focused on their goal: fight the boss. It worked much better.
Round by Round - Fight 1
Foolishly, I placed the Ebb Well terrain card right close to the player starting square. I was just trying to fill in space.
The Thornwatch all move up to the Ebb Well terrain card and spend their actions removing my precious ebb! Well, I'll never make that mistake again
The Swamp Choir and the Gliders move closer, but can't yet engage. I pull a 2, 1, and 3 for objective tokens. No matches!
I start off with Ebb Infusion! No delay this time; let's buff and smash!
The Warden gets to go first, but foolishly moves over to engage the Gliders, and steps in an area with the Blood Flies terrain effect (players take +1 damage per hit). Mwuahahaha.
Time to die! The Swamp Choir moves in. Standing on the edge between two squares, it can reach 9 of 12 areas on the board, catching the entire Thornwatch. It's at full strength, so I get to roll five dice per attack.
Smash! I get two attacks in a row with two of the Momentum cards. 7 + 12 = 19 damage in one round! Most of the players' 30-card wound deck flies out the window and into their hands!
The Blade pulls a Run-Hit, but I have enough Ebb left to use Ebb Stitching and avoid the damage. Phew - one momentum card was on the edge and would have died.
The Guard uses Lure to pull the Swamp Choir into his space. Good move - drastically reduces the Choir's attack range.
The Gliders get a turn and deal 4 damage, thanks to Blood Flies again.
The Swamp Choir gets its third and final act this turn. With three more five-die attacks it is easily able to dish out the remaining 7 wounds.
The Thornwatch are dead! Long live ebb.
Scene ending - Thornwatch failure. Art by Mike Krahulik
Round by Round - Fight 2
This fight lasted much longer.
Nice Momentum draw for me as the Judge: the Swamp Choir goes first, and last on the edge, with the Gliders second.
The monsters move closer but can't fight yet.
The Blade makes a ranged attack to draw first blood. In fact: the Blade kills a Swamp Choir head! :-O It was right on the edge and I couldn't prevent enough damage to stop him. Crazy opening!
The Warden closes in and gets caught in Animate Brambles. Free damage is fun.
Both Swamp Choir momentum cards land at the end of the track! Bad luck. I pay for Apex Predator to move one of them up, and also pay for Ebb Infusion on the Choir. Time to deal some damage!
The Thornwatch have other plans. The Blade attacks and kills a *second* Swamp Choir head. Landing on the edge is a big deal.
The Guard and the Warden stay put and fight the Gliders, but no kills.
The Gliders and remaining Choir head deal minor damage against the party (6 damage).
I cannot pay the upkeep on Ebb Infusion, so the Choir shrinks back down to regular levels of evil.
The Choir moves to separate the Blade from the party and bites him for 3 damage.
The Gliders join the frey on the trapped Blade - 6 more damage. Things are looking better for me; 17 wounds left in the deck.
The Blade draws a beautiful hand of 4 wound cards and decides to stop being separated from the party. They move back to their friends.
The Gliders swoop after him, but the Guard blocks part of the attack. Teamwork!
The Warden moves up as well, into Animate Brambles. More free attacks!
The Guard moves in and scores two hits! But not enough to kill the Choir head.
I finish the round with some free Animate Brambles attacks.
The Warden acts early to move the Blade up the momentum track before the round begins. "It's just like dealing damage!"
The Guard and Blade combine their attacks to deal 6 damage. The Swamp Choir is on the edge!
For the final blow the Warden uses Command, allowing their friends to attack again. They succeed! The party deals the killing blow and the Swamp Choir collapses into the muck.
Scene ending - Thornwatch victory. Art by Mike Krahulik
During the first fight things went basically perfectly for me as the Judge. I used Ebb Infusion to buff the Swamp Choir at exactly the right time, and the Choir was able to sit in the middle of the map where they could cover 9 of 12 map tiles with their ranged attack. All of the Thornwatch players were inside that ranged space, and one of them even stood on a Blood Flies terrain tile, which forced them to take 1 extra damage per hit! I was able to roll 5-die attacks against every player multiple times in a row and hand out tons of damage! It was quite satisfying
Having the Choir hide inside some unfun terrain tiles (Blood Flies/extra damage, and Animate Brambles/free attacks) seemed an effective strategy; players never really wanted to enter and engage the boss in melee, so I was free to stay away and hit them. That's exactly where the Choir wants to be. It also made the Guard's actions to pull the boss and move it around that much more effective, to bring the party into a good position.
During the second fight the party got lucky and had a Swamp Choir momentum card dealt on the edge. This allowed them to kill one of the heads right away, which made it significantly less powerful.
In the first game I made the mistake of putting my Ebb Well terrain card within easy reach of the players. The capitalized immediately and spent their first round denying me three ebb tokens XD I fixed that mistake the second round and put the well far away behind the boss, which worked much more nicely. Interestingly, I still won the game where I made that mistake, and still lost the game where I made the right move.
Despite all of the Choir turns I took, I never claimed enough tokens to match four of a kind. That means the RAW failure condition would never have come into play, which is interesting for a scene we modded specifically to avoid it. That makes me feel better that we got a good playtest of the Swamp Choir and it's abilities without straying too far from the intended rules.
An engaging fight
This session was the first time I felt really nervous and excited about the possibility of defeating the party in a giant battle Perhaps it was because we had saved the boss scene for last, or I had built it up in my head. It was fun having a giant creature who could cause a lot of havok, and giving the players a reason to fear it I felt invested in the fight. When I dealt a lot of damage, it felt great! When the players dealt a lot back to me, I got nervous! I only hope they felt the same.
Bosses or the Choir still need.... something
There were good tactics on both sides during this session. We each considered our options, were clever, and adjusted. That's my favourite kind of game. And yet it still felt like the random deal of momentum track cards played a very large part in how each battle turned out.
I'm fine with a bit of randomness in games. It would be boring if they always played the same way. But I don't want random chance to be the *main deciding factor* in a game. Good strategy and clever thinking should count for a lot.
Andy Schatz, creator of Monaco, has some good theories on collecting player feedback during game design.
Art by P0ot-CT
I'm a big fan of Andy Schatz's GDC presentation on creating Monaco, a team heist game. He has a great blurb about listening to player feedback:
When players tells you what they like or don't like [about your game], they are always right. Their suggested solutions are not always right, so ignore those. Ignore the things they say you should change. But listen to [what they say they do not like, or what is confusing], and act on that feedback to improve.
I feel that way here. *Something* is hinky about the way the Swamp Choir plays, or the way boss monsters play, or the way the Momentum track works with boss monsters. I don't know exactly what it is. I don't have a good suggestion for fixing it. But I know that something feels off.
• Should the Swamp Choir start with a +1 momentum adjustment instead of +0, so it is on the edge less often?
• Should making progress killing the Swamp Choir somehow not reduce the number of turns it gets?
• Is there a better way of tracking progress and killing a boss without resorting to counting hit points?
• Do boss monsters/Villains need something special to give them staying power without adding a lot of extra rules? A blank momentum card placed at the edge so they never start on the edge?
I don't know, but it's worth playing more and thinking about. I don't think that *all* boss monsters should be able to devour their own kind to stay alive; that would get boring. But surely it can improve somehow.
Fun mechanics to keep
I *do* know that Thornwatch should *definitely* keep some things:
• Using wound cards to pollute player decks is great for tracking player damage
• Having monster damage knock them down the Momentum track, so when they get hit they act later is *also great*. It's fun and satisfying. They should definitely keep that.
• Having one player take actions on another player's turn, and considering when they can do so, keeps players engaged
...but there is something about boss monsters...
It feels a bit strange that the Judge pays the same ebb cost to cast Ebb Infusion on every enemy, regardless of how powerful the enemy is. It costs the same to buff the boss villain as the henchman. Still, it's nice and simple, and different monsters have different ebb upkeep costs, so I'm not sure I'd change it. Perhaps knowing which monsters to buff and when just falls under Judge system mastery.
Anther unfun thing that happens in some games: sometimes players have a lot of great powered up actions but can't use them to much effect, because they have the last Thornwatch turn and no monsters are on the edge. When that happens they often give up and avoid using any powers, because they can't reach an enemy or do anything that will kill something.
Is that bad? It certainly seems unfun for players to not do something cool, or to know that using your badass ultimate ability won't do anything useful. But maybe that's just part of the game, and knowing when to *conserve* abilities is actually very important. Perhaps this is exactly why and when they should be using the Plan ability to make sure they can kick ass *next* turn, and move into position to make sure they do.
If no monster is on the edge, then a player must be on the edge. So they can always plan. I like that. Unsure if this is just part of the game.
In the end, we all had fun
At the end all of the players said they had a great time and a lot of fun, which is really all that matters
This was a milestone session for me, because I have now run through every scene in the print-and-play, playing only as the Judge, with at least one other player. We've done everything at least once! So I did feel a little sad that I have now completed all Thornwatch content
So what's next? Well, at the very least
• Run through the Hunted scene with my main gaming group (they haven't done it yet)
• Take *another* attempt at The Riddle of Autumn and Aurum, until we beat it
• Run my custom 'Throwing More Than Stones' scene more and fine-tune the monster stats
• Play several scenes back-to-back (so far it has been mostly single scene sessions)
• Force someone else to run the Judge and try being just a player
• Create more content!
I'm sure all of that will keep me busy until the team publishes another new scene during PAX South
Happy New Year!