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Subject: Game seems easy/unbalanced - am I doing things right? rss

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Alexander Mont
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I have played this game a couple times by myself, playing 3 players, and both times it seemed like the monsters never posed much of a threat. My thinking is that most monsters have about 1.5-2 hit points per power point they cost to play. So assuming nothing in the Monster Power Area (MPA), about (1.5 * number of players) hit points worth of monsters are coming out per turn, so as long as each player can do about 2 points of damage per turn, you can keep the monsters at bay, and kill them as fast as they can come out so they rarely get past the 1 spot.

And that's not that hard to get to. Your opening deck already can do an average of 1 damage per turn, and even adding two 1-damage cards to it already improves the damage to an average of (4/12) per card times 5 cards, or 1.67 damage per turn. And it just keeps getting better from then on. Maybe it is because I had some of the better cards, described below:


- Spear Volley just seems overpowered. Basically as long as one other player drew any kind of ranged attack card, which almost always happens, it's 2 ranged damage for one card - the only card in the game which does that.

- Fireball is also really good when combined with Spear Volley (I played this combo in the Fire Dragon scenario) Fireball can power up another player's Spear Volley and also, you don't have to worry about drawing multiples and only being able to play one, since you can discard one to the other. This is also good once Heroisms start coming out.

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Some cards that I haven't played with yet, but just from looking at them don't seem well balanced. Brawler seems weak - you are basically paying 1 prowess per turn to draw at most 1 additional card per turn (Brawler does not improve average card quality, since you draw a card off the top of your deck that you would have drawn anyway next turn). Holy Aura is much better because for the cost of 1 prowess per turn, you draw a card per turn AND prevent a wound.

The power of Revitalize and Rousing Speech seem hugely dependent on the number of players. In a 6 player game I can easily see it being a good strategy for one player to just load up on Revitalizes and keep casting them. If you draw two in one hand then that's 6 cards for the group, plus the removal of wounds. (Can you cast a Revitalize if nobody has any wounds in hand, just so you can boost it?)

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Basically, it seems like the problem is this. The players can increase their power over time, but the monsters don't. Basically the only ways the monsters have to improve their power or weaken the humans are:

1. If they get stuff in the MPA. But that usually only happens if the humans are already in trouble, to let a monster get that far, and it's pretty easy to get rid of something in the MPA with a Seal or Priest. This really might become a problem for the humans if a couple Shadowrifts or power cards come out directly to the MPA in the first couple turns, forcing the humans to buy seals instead of attack cards the first time through the deck.

2. If they give the humans Wounds or Burns. But it's usually not that hard to avoid getting Wounds (like with ranged attacks) or get rid of the Wounds after you get them (like Revitalize). Especially in a Spear Volley game, you're doing mostly ranged attacks.

3. If they attack the village. But again, this doesn't really help much with damage dealing capability directly, because very few of the villagers directly help with damage.

Essentially, the only way the monsters can do anything that improves their power vis-a-vis the humans is if the humans are already failing to do something (like if they let a monster get all the way to the end of the track). If the humans can stabilize after the first few turns, there's very little that can happen to cause the monsters to gain the upper hand again.

This is different from other cooperative games like Pandemic and Defenders of the Realm (where there is a built-in mechanism to escalate the threat as the game goes on) as well as Thunderstone (in Thunderstone when you kill a monster, it goes into your deck, diluting your deck. In Shadowrift when you kill a monster your decks get better because of the Heroisms.)

Is there anything important that I'm doing wrong here?
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Jeremy Anderson
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Are your monsters Hunting? That's one of the easiest rules to miss that can make monsters seem weak.

If we're assuming this is the start of the game, adding 2 Strikes means you either also took 2 Wounds or you didn't attack that round.
So the equation should be more 4/14 * 5, which is 1.48, just under the 1.5 needed if we're just dealing with Strikes.

If you're buying Seals to deal with Power cards, you're making your own deck less combat-effective on average. If you aren't, then the Power cards are a sudden annoying boost to the enemy and can get out of hand faster than you can buy the Seals.

Spear Volley's pretty strong, yes. "Almost always happens" is probably inaccurate on average; much more true in games that also include Fireball. In most games, you're begging other players to make a Strike ranged for you (giving up their buying plans for the round) so you can get that bonus damage.

Fire Dragons are probably one of the easiest options for 2-3 player games. Their gimmick - Burn - is a lot easier to deal with when it's only getting passed out to a few players, and their tendency to be big and expensive means lots of time to deckbuild more power. As long as players are careful about removing their own afflictions, Endless Fire is actually one of the easiest scenarios out there. It's designed for beginners.
If you're finding it too easy and we assume you're playing it right, try randomizing your hero cards and switching monster factions. Storm Lords and Glacien are good challenges for more experienced players, and Demons provide a pretty good challenge for 2-3 players (though they're much less threatening for 4-6 players games).
This kind of difficulty scale is definitely going to be part of any future rulebook for Shadowrift.


The thing about Shadowrift is that you're balancing 3 decks: Hero, Monster, Town. If you focus in on attack power it's possible you'll totally wipe the floor with the monsters. It's also possible they'll kill 3 people with turn-1 Kill actions on large monsters, and then you'll draw 3 Corpses and 2 Infiltrators and lose. Or that they'll draw into 2-3 power cards/Shadowrifts, suddenly doubling their rate of arrival while you're stuck buying a Seal late and then waiting for it to show up and then getting it in the same hand as a big attack when there's no Mayor.
Or none of them get past turn 1 but it doesn't matter because their turn 1 was to add a Freeze and now your Town's hand size is 2 and if they're both Corpses you lose.
The Corpses and Infiltrators (and Freezes) are the slow degeneration. They're your ticking clock. Most games you can't remove Corpses except with the Gravedigger, who is just as likely to get ganked by a random hunting monster. There are many ways for things to go terribly wrong, and buying more attack power only fixes a few of them.

That said, Shadowrift is easier than Pandemic or Ghost Stories. It just is. I expect skilled players of Shadowrift to win 1/2 to 3/4 of their games of Shadowrift, which I recognize is FAR more generous than many Co-op games. This has to do with the mix of audiences I'm building for. Some want the difficulty of co-ops, but some want a merry hack-and-slash romp, and others want a stand-in for D&D for weeks when the DM doesn't feel like writing up campaign notes. I found that the audience didn't quite match up to the hardcore strategy audience of several other co-op games.

Assuming you're handling hunting correctly, I recommend trying out a few games with randomized hero cards and seeing if it still feels too easy.
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Jeremy Anderson
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A few other notes:
The Storm Lords do come after you and try to ruin your deck. It's probably what makes them one of the nastiest factions.

Brawler's better than it looks. It combos well with Frenzy (always having both an attack and a Wound), Revitalize (getting Wounds in-hand so they can be removed), and attack-boosting cards like Shining Blade (which don't do anything on turns you don't have Attacks). More generally, it's a lot more powerful in games where you're getting into melee and taking Wounds with more frequency. Games with two good ranged attack options? Not so much. Though I have seen someone just buy Strikes, Mights, and Brawler. It's fairly effective. It basically lets him turn 1 of his prowess into an early attack, or discard next turn's Wound in favor of something else.
The other odd thing with Brawler is that it increases your odds of having a bigger buying hand next turn, which can help jump you to cards like Blessed Smite or Resurrect.

Revitalize is indeed usable without a first Wound to target (Attacks, however, can't be played without something to attack). And yes, several cards are more or less powerful depending on the number of players. The monster factions are the same: Demons are pretty terrifying in a 2-player game, while Storm Lords are ridiculously strong in a 6-player game.
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Scott Burns
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Jeremy is spot-on with his comments. My thoughts are below.

Make sure you have the Monsters Hunt! That's what makes the game very challenging: I've played 7 games, with 2,3,4,5, as well as 6 players. We've won just twice.

Brawler isn't just about drawing attacks. It's also about drawing Woundss *now* instead of the 5-card hand you're initially drawing every turn. I've seen a single Wound card drawn with Brawler change a 5-card hand into a 8 or 9 card hand. It's a great ability, and lets you draw a handful of good cards instead of Wounds.

As to the power of the monsters, they don't *need* to get tougher, they just need to kill stuff. As Jeremy said, you have three competing tasks: Keep the village safe, kill the monsters(which will come out faster if you let them), and build your own deck. It's pretty much impossible to keep at least some monsters from reaching the 2nd or 3rd action space, especially in some decks, like the Necromancers. In addition, if you let the Powers or Shadowrifts stay in play, they throw more and more monsters in play each turn, and I promise you, if that happens, you'll never draw enough attack cards to stop all of them.

You did some math on attacks and monster HPs, but there's more to consider. If you buy a bunch of attack cards, you often won't have money or prowess points to buy more attack cards. In addition, if you only buy attacks, and beat the heck out of the bad guys, during the "easy" turn when there's no monsters to attack, you have a handful of attacks that do nothing, and you can't spend those to buy more Villagers, Hero cards, or Walls.
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Scott Burns
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So, Alex, were you having the monsters Hunt? I know that in my first two games, we didn't do it, and the game was extremely easy. Since re-reading that section of the rulebook, it's been a lot more challenging.
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Philip Morton
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karishi wrote:
Or none of them get past turn 1 but it doesn't matter because their turn 1 was to add a Freeze and now your Town's hand size is 2 and if they're both Corpses you lose.

I take it from this description that the Refresh Town step in the rulebook should read "Draw cards from the Town deck until there are five Town cards out", not "Lay out five new cards"?

I guess the bit about "five town spaces" could be read to support that interpretation already, but without a prior definition of what "town spaces" are and with no layout example, it's not very clear. Even granting the concept of "town spaces" it still should say "fill the empty spaces", not "lay out five new cards."
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Ken B.
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Quote:
In most games, you're begging other players to make a Strike ranged for you (giving up their buying plans for the round) so you can get that bonus damage.



Okay, I thought we were playing correctly but this sentence tripped me up. Is "buying" an Action and uses up your action for the turn? I thought from reading the rulebook that buying was something else you could do (and can even buy multiple cards if you can afford them.) So you could Attack *and* buy. Did we do this wrong? Otherwise I can't figure the above sentence out at all.
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Mike Ger

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They planned to use the 2 prowess to buy, now they are using it to make an attack ranged so your spear volley can do more damage.
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Ken B.
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Ah, gotcha...the "Strike" is capitalized. So +1 Prowess to make it ranged.
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Mike Ger

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+2 prowess, but yea.

As a side note, the difficulty seems to vary wildly based on the monster deck, and not so much based on randomization of the player deck. Turn #1 resulting in 2 shadowrifts is pretty huge.
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Alexander Mont
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Philip: You *do* discard all the town cards and lay out 5 new cards normally. Freezes are special because unlike other cards, they stay in play in the town area and take up a slot until you destroy them.

---

Anyway, I played again against the Glacien. My strategy was to open with Leading Strikes (because they are very powerful in the first few turns when you are more likely to have a guard in play) and also buy Holy Auras. By the third time through the deck or so I almost always had 2-4 holy auras out every turn (with a total of 3 players), so I almost never had to worry about taking wounds and I could draw lots of cards with the Auras. The monsters did some damage and almost got me; there were a couple turns where there was only one "good card" (Wall or non-Infiltrator Villager) in the town. But pretty soon I was able to stabilize (with cards like Blessed Smite and Wild Charge) to do the extra damage, and then it was just a matter of grinding to get lots of Heroisms and using the resources on the Heroisms to build all 8 walls to win the game.

Anyway, based on this experience, I think you're right that the monsters can still threaten you even if they don't get more powerful over the course of the game, because they are doing damage and at the same time you as a player have to be spending resources undoing the damage (i.e. Wounds and killing villagers) and you have to do that instead of improving your deck. But I do think there are a few particular cards that are overpowered:

Holy Aura - I think this is overpowered because it effectively removes the threat of wounds at very little cost. You do have to pay a prowess each turn to keep it in play but you effectively get that back every turn because you are drawing an extra card almost every turn. Holy Aura might be more balanced if it didn't draw you a card.

Spear Volley - I mentioned this above. This is mostly overpowered in setups where there is another good ranged attack card like Fireball - or even multiple Spear Volleys, because if all three players play a Spear Volley, two of them will get the +1 hit. A possible idea here would be to change the +1 hit to being "if the last attack card played this turn was a ranged attack other than Spear Volley." That would make Spear Volley much less "spammable".

Priest - I think that Priest is by far the best villager card, and it's pretty inexpensive to boot. In a 3 player game, removing 2 power points from the monsters is basically setting the monsters back by 2/3 of a turn, which is better than just about any other card. (For instance, Prince gives one player 3 cards, which in a 3 player game basically means the group gets 20% more cards that turn. But Priest means that the monsters get 66% less power points.) Another good thing about Priest is that it is a good way of protecting against cards in the MPA. With a Seal you have to buy the Seal before there is a card in the MPA (running the risk of drawing the Seal dead if there are no cards in the MPA when you draw it) or you have to buy the Seal only after a card gets into the MPA (meaning you have to wait for it to cycle through and draw it, during which time the MPA is generating more power). With Priest you have a way of removing cards from the MPA and it is rarely a dead card.
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Philip Morton
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Alex319 wrote:
Philip: You *do* discard all the town cards and lay out 5 new cards normally. Freezes are special because unlike other cards, they stay in play in the town area and take up a slot until you destroy them.

I'm saying that, for purposes of a second printing of the rulebook, the concept of "town slots" should be more explicitly spelled out. The difference between "discard the town cards and draw 5 new ones" and "discard the town cards and draw new ones until there are 5" is that the Freezes don't function properly with the former, since there's nothing built-in to the rules telling you to draw less than five if there's some special town cards sticking around.
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Brian M
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Alexander - out of curiosity, do you have much past experience with deck builders? Shadowrift shares a lot of mechanics and flow with games like Dominion and Thunderstone. If you're already good at these game, it's likely you can apply a lot of the skill to Shadowrift. Essentially, you aren't going over the same level of learning curve that a new player would be.

My girlfriend and I have won all our plays with just the two of us so far, but we're very experienced with this sort of game. It has still been a tough and challenging (and fun) fight each time. And we got pretty creamed when playing with others!

Killing monsters quickly doesn't seem as easy as you make it sound. You usually only get one turn to attack a monster from when it comes out to when it makes its first kill, which will start depleting your villages and loading the town with corpses. And your decks begin acculumating wounnds. Making attacks ranged is pricey and eats into your buying power.

In any case, if the game is being too easy for you it seems very easy to just start the monsters with a bit more power in their pool, or if you are feeling really masochistic to give the monsters an extra point of power (or more) each turn.
 
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Brian M
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Hee hee...ok, well I have to admit, we absolutely mauled the Stormlords last night playing as 2 heroes each.

But...we had fun anyway
 
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