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Subject: Balance in Magic Realm rss

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Wynand Louw
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I'd like the input of both old wizards like Jay and newbies alike about what you think about the balance in MR. (Note to Jay: I printed your answer to a previous question and filed it - I appreciate it that much)

The reason I ask is because I am interested in what makes games work, and I know MR reasonably well, so it is handy for me to dissect.

1) Is the game too difficult for newbies? (I still find it hard too stay alive long enough to finish a game.) How many games to become "proficient"? Thumb sucked answers are ok.

2) How would you rate the different characters (those you know well enough) into the following categories?
a) God: Broken because he is too powerful
b) Powerful: Gives you a good advantage over others to win.
c) Medium: Good but not fantastic.
d) Weak, but still ok: can still win if you play very well.
e) Garbage: Broken because he is too weak.

3) Strategy:
a)Does a character have only one meaningful strategy available to win the game or are there many viable choices? Are there characters who are single strategy games? If so, is it because there is a single strategy that is so good that all other strategies are non-choices or because there really is only one strategy which is not very strong with no alternatives? Name some examples!
b)Are there characters who offer multiple viable strategies that are equally good but may shine in different situations?
c)Meaningful vs meaningless strategy decisions: What decisions in MR are meaningless pseudo decisions (like positioning the monster when fighting -- but that is tactics, not strategy)and what strategy decisions have a TRULY meaningful effect on the game? I know this is a broad question but I would like some illustrative examples, if possible.

4) Strategy in player interaction
Some have said MR is a multi player solo game. Players do interact because they compete for the same resources, and sometimes may work together. My question is: Apart from explicit cooperation how does what the other players do influence your strategic choices?

5)Spell Balance
How many of the spells are actually useful? How many would you say you actually ever use?
Are there spells that are simply broken because they are useless?
Are there spells that are broken because they are too strong?
How do magic using characters like the Wizard fare against fighters like White Knight? Give examples!

6)Magic items / treasure
Percentage of useless items? I suppose there are none because everything can be sold for gold.
Useless examples?
Too powerful examples?

Thanx guys!

Wynand
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Wynand, just a suggestion: Create an individual thread for each question! If you are truly looking for meaningful insight, your questions are way too complicated to be grouped like that.

Reading through some of them, I get the feeling that you already know or suspect the types of answers you are going to get. Certainly there are hundreds of posts here in these forums or at other MR fan-websites with all sorts of insights into these topics. I suggest starting in the "Sessions", "General" and "Strategy" forums to find lots of relevant threads. Also the MR-Wiki is a good place to look for a more condensed collection of info http://homenowned.com/wiki-mr/pmwiki.php?n=Main.HomePage.

For question #2 why not start a thread as a poll? In fact you may be able to reword your questions in such a way that all of them can be put into the poll.

Just a few ideas to help you maybe get a better response...
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Stephan Valkyser
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Concerning the balance of characters you might have a look at the following poll I have done some time ago.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/383764/how-do-you-rate-t...
 
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Jay Richardson
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"Balance" in Magic Realm is illusory. The great number of random and/or unpredictable things that can occur during the course of a game will strongly influence the outcome of that game. An expert player will win more often than a weak player, but you will have to play many games for this to become apparent. In any given single game, an expert player can easily find himself confounded and be unable to accomplish anything worthwhile, even as a weaker player in the same game has great success and scores a runaway victory.

Magic Realm is a fantasy game with unparalleled immersiveness, but it's a poor choice for gamers who prefer that the outcome of a game be decided solely by the skill of the players.

Wynand Louw wrote:
1) Is the game too difficult for newbies?

If you are asking if the game should be made easier in order to attract more players, then my answer is no, absolutely not. There must be dozens of fantasy adventure games that are easier to learn and to play than Magic Realm; there's no reason to "dumb down" Magic Realm to match them. The features that make the game so appealing to play are also the ones that make the game complicated and difficult to learn; you can't separate cause and effect.

Is Magic Realm difficult to learn? Of course it is, and that's probably the single biggest factor that keeps the game from being more widely accepted (other than it being out-of-print). Some players have attempted to write tutorials for the game, and there are some video presentations that beginners have found helpful... but much more needs to be done.

I think that Steve McKnight has looked into the possibility of creating a "Starter Kit" for Magic Realm: an introductory variant to be played with the existing components, but one that would use only a limited subset of the full game's rules, monsters, spells, etc. The value of this approach has been proven by the great success that MMP has had with their Starter Kit series of games for Advanced Squad Leader (ASL).

I've also considered writing a detailed tutorial for Magic Realm, similar to the ones I wrote for the ASL Starter Kits:

An ASLSK Tutorial (Part 1)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/157922

The problem with any of these ideas for making Magic Realm easier to learn is the tremendous amount of time and effort required to do it right. My ASL Starter Kit tutorials altogether total over 50,000 words and took nearly two years to write. I've no reason to think that a Magic Realm tutorial would be any shorter or easier to write... and I'm not sure I want to sink that much time and effort into a game that's not in print, even if it is my favorite game.

Wynand Louw wrote:
(I still find it hard too stay alive long enough to finish a game.) How many games to become "proficient"?

A lot.

Well, it's meaningless to discuss numbers here, because it all depends upon the individual players: some will gain proficiency quickly, while others will struggle and take a much longer time to become proficient.

It's interesting in that, even though randomness and unpredictability play such a large role in the outcome of a game of Magic Realm, you can still divide the players into sharply defined levels of skill/experience:

* There are beginners, who struggle just to keep their characters alive for more than two or three days at a time, who cannot begin to comprehend why anyone would want to add optional rules and/or variants to make the game even more dangerous and difficult.

* There are the proficient players, who find the basic game to be just about perfect.

* And then there are the expert players, some of whom may find that the basic game is no longer much of a challenge for them, and so they are open to experimenting with optional rules and variants that make extensive changes in the way the game plays.

You definitely have to play a lot of games of Magic Realm in order to become good at it. I think that's the sign of a good game design.

Wynand Louw wrote:
2) How would you rate the different characters (those you know well enough) into the following categories?

a) God: Broken because he is too powerful
b) Powerful: Gives you a good advantage over others to win.
c) Medium: Good but not fantastic.
d) Weak, but still ok: can still win if you play very well.
e) Garbage: Broken because he is too weak.

I'm not going to try to rate individual characters, because the value of any given character depends too much on external factors that will vary from game to game. I will say, however, that I don't think any of the characters fall into your "a" or "e" classifications... I don't think that any are broken.

As an example of how external factors affect characters, consider the White Knight. In the basic game, he's one of the most powerful characters in the game, certainly a "b". But if you use the Optional Combat Rules, he would drop down to the "d" class: one of the weakest characters in the game. And... if you use both the Optional Combat Rules and the Knights' Adjustment in 10.A.6.8 then the White Knight might actually fall into class "e" and be broken to the extent that no one would want to play him!

Another good example is the Magician. He's a challenging character to play in the basic game (maybe class "d"), but if you use the Automatic Enchanting optional rule he becomes a much better character (class "c" or "b").

And it's not just the choice of rules that affect a character's relative strength. The Druid, for example, becomes much less effective as the number of characters in the game increases. Or consider a two-player game where one player is playing the Wizard: if the other player selects the Witch King, who normally won't need any help from the Wizard, the Wizard will have to struggle along on his own. But if the other player selects the Dwarf, a character who can benefit greatly from the assistance of the Wizard, then the Wizard can team up with the Dwarf and be a far more effective character.

Wynand Louw wrote:
3) Strategy:
a)Does a character have only one meaningful strategy available to win the game or are there many viable choices? Are there characters who are single strategy games? If so, is it because there is a single strategy that is so good that all other strategies are non-choices or because there really is only one strategy which is not very strong with no alternatives? Name some examples!
b)Are there characters who offer multiple viable strategies that are equally good but may shine in different situations?

There's not a lot of strategy in Magic Realm. The characters spend much of the game reacting to what they discover while playing the game, and to what happens during the game, so long-range planning is of limited usefulness.

There is some strategy in choosing Victory Points for a character, but once a player finds what he believes to be the optimum Victory Point selection for a given character, there's no incentive to ever choose a different selection.

Some characters do have strategies that can work well for them in the basic game. For example, we had a player who loved to play the Swordsman, and, as the Swordsman, he would always get a workhorse, go to the woods where the wolves would appear, and then slaughter them all in one combat once they did appear, gaining a large amount of fame and notoriety at no risk to himself.

Once we switched to using the Optional Combat Rules most of these "sure fire" strategies either no longer worked, or were much more risky to attempt... which is just one reason (of many) why we never went back to the basic combat rules.

Wynand Louw wrote:
c)Meaningful vs meaningless strategy decisions:
What decisions in MR are meaningless pseudo decisions (like positioning the monster when fighting -- but that is tactics, not strategy) and what strategy decisions have a TRULY meaningful effect on the game? I know this is a broad question but I would like some illustrative examples, if possible.

I can't really think of any strategy decisions in Magic Realm that would be either completely meaningless or truly meaningful. The strategic decisions that most influence the outcome of a game – things like selecting starting spells or choosing what part of the map to explore first – are little more than educated guesses given how little information the players have to work with at the time that they make those decisions.

If you want to include variants in the analysis, then I think that the Book of Quests variant adds many opportunities for important strategic decisions. Many Quests offer quite a wide array of starting options to choose from, and a few Quests require careful strategic planning right from the start of the game.

Wynand Louw wrote:
4) Strategy in player interaction
Some have said MR is a multi player solo game. Players do interact because they compete for the same resources, and sometimes may work together. My question is: Apart from explicit cooperation how does what the other players do influence your strategic choices?

Monster summoning. Many a Magic Realm plan has gone awry because the monster you wanted to get was summoned by someone else first, or the one monster you didn't want to face was dropped in your path by another player.

Here's an example. You're ready to move to a treasure location and start searching for it. There are no other characters nearby, and you check the Set Up Card and see that the only monster that can appear is a Bat, and you think, "I take on a single Bat, so no problem." Unfortunately, you end up moving last... and two other players also summoned Bats elsewhere... so when you finally do move you get *three* Bats to fight instead of the one that you were expecting. Oops! (This kind of mistake never happens with expert players, by the way, which is precisely why they are expert players.)

Your plans for Natives can also get sidetracked in this way. The Natives you want to fight/trade with/hire can be fought/traded with/hired by some other character before you can get to them. Or, if they are roaming Natives, they can be summoned to the opposite side of the map by someone else.

And, of course, there's always the joy of being trapped in a useless part of the map by a damnable magic user enchanting a woods hex! Part of the strategy of Magic Realm is making sure you don't get into a position where someone could do that to you.

Wynand Louw wrote:
5)Spell Balance
How many of the spells are actually useful? How many would you say you actually ever use?
Are there spells that are simply broken because they are useless?
Are there spells that are broken because they are too strong?

There are no broken or useless spells... every spell in the game does something potentially useful. But there are many spells that the basic game will simply never give you an opportunity to use. The focus of the basic game is entirely on "Kill monsters! Gain loot!" Given this extremely narrow focus, only a few spells are actually going to be worth the effort it takes to cast them.

Personally, I use lots of different spells... but that's because I also use the Book of Quests variant, which provides characters with a much wider array of challenges than the basic kill & loot (although that's also present).

I think the spell least likely to be cast is Ask Demon. But I also think it would be possible that someone could use Ask Demon to win the game, given the right circumstances. As long as that possibility is present, regardless of how unlikely it may be, then I don't think that the spell is either broken or useless. Part of the charm of Magic Realm is watching something utterly unlikely actually occur.

At the other extreme, Absorb Essence might be a bit too strong in the basic game, because of how invulnerable Tremendous armored monsters are. But this "problem" with Absorb Essence disappears if you use the Optional Combat Rules.

Wynand Louw wrote:
6)Magic items / treasure
Percentage of useless items? I suppose there are none because everything can be sold for gold.
Useless examples?
Too powerful examples?

There are no useless treasures, but I would say that the Chest is nearly useless. I've played Magic Realm since it was first released, and I've probably only seen the Chest opened... hmmm... maybe once? But, as discussed previously, Magic Realm is filled with things that are unlikely to ever happen, and wondering if they will ever occur is part of the appeal of the game.

The Lucky Charm is probably the treasure that many players might think of as being too powerful, although personally I'd rate the Timeless Jewel as being more useful than the Lucky Charm. But I don't think that either one is too powerful. That is, I would not want to see either of them limited or removed from the game.

There are many ways for a character to get lucky in Magic Realm besides simply drawing a powerful treasure. When fortune does smile on a character, in whatever manner, it is up to the other characters to deal with it. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, then the fortunate character deserves his win.
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Wynand Louw
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Thanks Jay

Sorry I read it so late, I thought I was subscribed to this thread but it turns out I wasn't. It is a fantastic and helpful answer!

 
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Ken H.
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bielie wrote:
1) Is the game too difficult for newbies?


Depends on how interested the newbie is in a game with this level of detail. Simple games can be learned even with relatively low interest. This game, though, you really have to commit to it.

Quote:
How many games to become "proficient"? Thumb sucked answers are ok.


Well, I've been playing it on and off since the seventies. I have actually sat down and studied the rules like a text book. And yet, I consider myself barely proficient. In a large battle with multiple players, multiple hired natives, multiple spells... ummmm.... I could stumble my way through it, but there is only a small chance I would get all the rules correct.

Quote:
2) How would you rate the different characters (those you know well enough) into the following categories?


Well, like Jay said, it depends on your choice of optional and/or house rules. But in general terms, I would say they break down like this:

Good: All the T strength fighters, and the magic users who can cast Absorb Essence without help.

Medium: everybody not mentioned above or below

Weak: Magician and Woodsgirl. Oddly enough, Magician is probably my favorite character, while Woodsgirl is probably my least favorite. Well, I guess I also find the Druid kind of boring, although I don't think he's weak. And I find the Dwarf irritating, even though he is powerful.

I've also played around with a small number of fan-made characters, using Realmspeak. Some are quite interesting (currently enjoying the High Priestess -- white and black magic, plus immunity to animals).

I haven't yet found any that seem too powerful, although I'm sure there probably are some. And of course fan-made material (for any game) is almost never too weak.

Quote:

3) Strategy:
a)Does a character have only one meaningful strategy available to win the game or are there many viable choices? Are there characters who are single strategy games? If so, is it because there is a single strategy that is so good that all other strategies are non-choices or because there really is only one strategy which is not very strong with no alternatives? Name some examples!


The closest thing to what you are talking about would be Witch and/or Witch King, using this strategy: put most or all of your VP into Notoriety and a little gold. Absorb Essence on a T monster. Kill lots of natives, loot, sell, and repeat. It's not fool-proof, and is slightly luck-dependent, but it is much better than any other strategy available to these characters. I am not an expert with either character though.

The T-strength fighters also have a really good single strategy of putting all points into Fame, or maybe 1 or 2 into Notoriety. Then, go kill monsters and ignore searching for treasure or trading. Possibly hire a rogue or knight if you think you will need a safety net. This strategy is extremely effective and can lead to scores of 50 or more points in a one month game.

Quote:

c)Meaningful vs meaningless strategy decisions: What decisions in MR are meaningless pseudo decisions (like positioning the monster when fighting -- but that is tactics, not strategy)and what strategy decisions have a TRULY meaningful effect on the game? I know this is a broad question but I would like some illustrative examples, if possible.


When positioning monsters, the only thing that matters is whether you line up your maneuver with your attack. I call this "covering your move". With some monsters, you can't win unless you cover your move. With others, you can't win if you DO cover your move. In some battles, it's not important, but this can be a critical decision.

Off hand, I can't really think of any meaningless decisions.

Quote:
4) Strategy in player interaction
Some have said MR is a multi player solo game. Players do interact because they compete for the same resources, and sometimes may work together. My question is: Apart from explicit cooperation how does what the other players do influence your strategic choices?


Currently, I only play solo games. I have played with other players in the past, and it was almost always cooperative.

Quote:

5)Spell Balance
How many of the spells are actually useful? How many would you say you actually ever use?


I just did a quick count of the spells. 47, I think? I was surprised to notice that there are nearly 20 of them that I can't recall ever using, or even seeing someone else use.

Every ritual type has some bad ones, but the really bad numbers are II, III, VII and VIII.

Quote:
Are there spells that are simply broken because they are useless?


I say yes. See my earlier discussion of them here (Good lord... that was FOUR YEARS ago???!! Feeling old.... )

I think most of the bad spells could have minor tweaks to make them more palatable, and I think it would be good for the game to tweak them. Since I play almost exclusively with Realmspeak now, I don't really get to test the tweaks however.

Quote:
Are there spells that are broken because they are too strong?


I don't know if it's "too" strong, but Absorb Essence is fairly ridiculous. (But also extremely cool.)


Quote:
6)Magic items / treasure
Percentage of useless items? I suppose there are none because everything can be sold for gold.
Useless examples?
Too powerful examples?


"Useless" is too subjective in this case. It so greatly depends on the character you are using, that I can't really answer.

I'm not sure any of them are too powerful in terms of their effect. However, some of the treasures could be a little too good in terms of gold value. I like using the commerce rules, so I occasionally find a native group who wants to give me a treasure AND a handful of gold. Then you can just walk to a dwelling where it's worth more (usually Rogues or Guard) and make a huge haul.

Also, if you can find the Golden Icon (assuming you can carry it) or the Sacred Grail (assuming you can reach the chapel), you have basically won the game if using Gold VP's. And, personally, I almost always use Gold VP's for the reason you mention -- making use of otherwise useless treasures.

I would also add that in the few games I have played using the Realmspeak expansion, I seem to find a higher percentage of useless treasures. Maybe it's just that I'm not used to them, but I think the average utility of the expansion treasures is lower than the standard ones.
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George Haberberger
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You think the Woodsgirl is weak? I can see that if you're using the optional combat rules, but if you're not, and you're using Ambush, she's a killer. Sneak into a clearing, snipe with the bow, and run away when discovered. Repeat. With a little luck, she can take out even Tremendous Armored monsters.
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Ken H.
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GeorgeHa wrote:
You think the Woodsgirl is weak? I can see that if you're using the optional combat rules, but if you're not, and you're using Ambush, she's a killer. Sneak into a clearing, snipe with the bow, and run away when discovered. Repeat. With a little luck, she can take out even Tremendous Armored monsters.


Okay, I'll buy that. I played her twice this weekend, and the strategy works pretty well. I haven't played this character in years -- maybe I wasn't using the ambush rule before. I don't really remember.

I still don't consider her a strong character because you can't really "run the table" the way you can with, say, a Witch with Absorb Essence.
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