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Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition)» Forums » General

Subject: Game balance... or players' (in)competence ? rss

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Robin Reeve
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I have a question that could be adressed to other games and gamers.

Some debates about heroes or the overlord being over/underpowered often take the way of putting all the weight of blame upon the game.
Sometimes, doubts are clearly expressed about the quality of playtesting and design to "explain" why the results of the games played are not satisfying.

However, I don't often see anyone having doubts about the players' competence.
Competence in playing the rules correctly.
Competence in playing the mechanics with tactical and strategical insight.
And, finally, balance between the players themselves.
Could an Overlord who complains that the heroes are favoured simply be a less good player than his opponents?
Could heroes complaining that the OL always beats them ask themselves if they are not organizing themselves within the game system as well as their archfeind opponent? That they didn't grasp the quests objectives as well as him?

Can it be reasonable to integrate the player's (in)comptence into the equation, rather than go the easy way, saying that the game system (or playtesting, or quest design) is the only possible suspect ?
Thus many attempts by players to "fix" the system without any self-criticism, offering house rules and variants as ways to "change the exterior world", rather than consider that they could have to change themselves...

I am not trying to express that the game is perfect or that FFG are infallible.
I am just implying that players can be greater factors of their disappointments than the game itself.
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I agree completely.

Originally, my boyfriend played as Overlord against me and my two friends... we stomped him really bad. I took over as Overlord against my boyfriend, my two friends, and an additional friend, and I won many of the quests that are thought of as favoring the heroes. It all depends on the players and how well they A.) know the game, B.) work well together. The heroes have the advantage of using four minds, but if the teamwork isn't there, then the Overlord will definitely triumph.

Hell, during "Fat Goblin 1," the heroes left their runemaster by the entrance to constantly be devoured by spawning barghests.
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Ken Marley
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Yes and no.

Yes, the better player(s) will win in Descent 2.

It is possible for the heroes to win every quest and it is possible for them to lose every quest. And player skill has a large part to play in this.

This doesn't mean the quests/campaign are/is balanced. In fact it is impossible to make a quest that is balanced for all hero/skill/monster/OL card combinations. This is especially true in act 2, where the phase space is gigantic.






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Robin Reeve
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Of course, there also is the skill vs luck factors, which make a decisive conclusion about game balance difficult too.
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Craig Hogan
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I think player competence is part of the equation, but my impressions so far are that Descent is quite unforgiving of incompetence. That is to say that if one side is not totally on the ball (or even one player, in the case of the heroes) then their chances of success rapidly approach zero.

Since a couple of the players in my group are more towards the casual end of the gaming spectrum, I'm wondering if this might not be the game for us.
 
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Robin wrote:
However, I don't often see anyone having doubts about the players' competence. /../ Can it be reasonable to integrate the player's (in)comptence into the equation, rather than go the easy way, saying that the game system (or playtesting, or quest design) is the only possible suspect ? /../ I am just implying that players can be greater factors of their disappointments than the game itself.


I have yet to meet a person who would seriously claim that 'balanced' means being able to win without being competent. Unless the game is completely luck based, which Descent obviously is not. So, yes, competence has a huge impact on the outcome of a particular Descent quest. However, how would you 'doubt' someone's competence in forum environment wthout being offensive ? I do not think that I want to read comments ' the game is perfect but you are stupid' any more than 'the game is broken because I played it once but did not understand it'.
 
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Robin Reeve
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Cruelsader wrote:
I have yet to meet a person who would seriously claim that 'balanced' means being able to win without being competent.
I have met some who believe that they are perfectly competent and blameless when they happen to lose a game.
If they loose, they will immediately consider that the game is not balanced, because they don't have the slightest doubt that they could themselves be a decisive factor in their failure.
Cruelsader wrote:
However, how would you 'doubt' someone's competence in forum environment wthout being offensive ?
Quite easily: by doubting about my own competence when analyzing a phenomenon.
I am adressing the fact that a natural human tendency is to blame about every possible exterior factor before questioning oneself.
Cruelsader wrote:
I do not think that I want to read comments ' the game is perfect but you are stupid' any more than 'the game is broken because I played it once but did not understand it'.
I don't like the "you are" accusations either - they attack the essence of people.
I certainly am not speaking of pointing fingers at other people and call them names.
On the other hand, if someone cannot take as a factor that he possibly did not play optimaly or did not understand the rules correctly, I am not that much interested in comments like "Descent is broken", "FFG sucks", etc. (which, to take the reverse of your example, is saying "This game is BS and those who don't agree are stupid").

But I do see some interesting perspectives in questions asked about how the game works, how to solve a seemingly unsuperable tactical situation, etc. by players who don't jump asap on the conclusion that all the guilt comes from the game.

My only point, here, is that the human factor should be included in analyses about the game's balance or quality.
You know, that slight shadow of doubt that keeps one from blanket, absolute statements...
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Triu Greykith
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Cruelsader wrote:
However, how would you 'doubt' someone's competence in forum environment wthout being offensive ? I do not think that I want to read comments ' the game is perfect but you are stupid' any more than 'the game is broken because I played it once but did not understand it'.

I don't think anyone thinks the game is perfect. Competence is not the same as intelligence. You can learn to be more competent through better understanding of the rules, strategy, and tactics. Some people are discussing competence, talking about RST, rather than bashing the game or coming up with a wikipedia of house rules. I understand the OP's POV; there has been a lot of negativity. Tossing in grenades like "stupid" doesn't raise the bar.
 
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Matt Seckman
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I've played Descent 1 quite a lot, and I think that it is quite balanced. I would like to think that I'm a good Descent player (based on my experience from D1) and our Overlord is a great Descent player, but with D2E we both feel that there is something wrong/unbalanced with it. The overlord destroys the heroes each and every time. It usually comes down to crappy dice rolls and limited actions. There are only 4 (single space) heroes on the board who can perform actions to reach their goal for the encounter. The overlord, on the other hand, usually has 3 times that many (single space) figures on the board (or 4 multipace figures) to accomplish his goal. Considering every encounter is just a race to finish your team's goal (sadly, with little focus on story or gameplay), having more figures on the board performing attacks/actions or having large figures that can completly block the heroes path (and take several actions to defete) make this game weigh too heavy on the OL, in my opinion. Even more, it seems that if one side (in our case, the heroes) has a bad first counter or two, there's a snowball effect and you just can't catch up. D1 was never like this. This game weighs too much on chance and speed. If a bad roll cause you to get hung up, even for 1 round, your chances of winning the level plumit. And some are just unfairly sided towards the OL and his card frequency. For exapmle, we played the Frozen Spire level last night and the OL had two Dash cards (monsters double move in addition to their one action) for the second encounter. After the heroes first turn the overlord was able to move his monsters over to the closed door, open it and block the exit (his winning condition) in just one turn. We tried it with two different monster types and he could do it both times. How is that balanced? We figured, the only way we could have stood a chance, was to leave one hero to open the door themselves and then just stand on an exit space the whole time (and hope they don't get killed), while the others run around killing monsters and attempt to knockout the farmer and rescue him. When levels are so dependant on one specific tactic, it looses replay value. I still like the game, but it's too unpredicitble. First edition was never so based on chance die rolls and cards drawn. But agian, this has just been my experience.
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Jeff Butler
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Junior6288 wrote:
(Snipped wall 'o text...)


I'm the OL for this group, and I was just about to quote this post with an emphatic "EXACTLY!", when I realized who was posting, and that it was, in fact my group.


(I will note that this is the first encounter of Act II, but the entire game has been pretty one-sided, thus far.)

We played through that exact adventure way more times than a sane person would, just to try and figure out where we were going wrong... We did the first half twice, with almost identical results both times, a TPK in about the 3rd OL turn or so. The second half, we tried over. And over. And over.
Nothing seemed to have an impact on the outcome. If the heroes tried to block the hallway as a chokepoint, either monsters killed them to get past, or I used goblin archers with scamper.
I will admit, ONE of our playthroughs of this level lasted almost three rounds, simply because I used goblins to open the door, and had two of the ice worms as the second group. Since the worms were too large to fit in the exit while the goblins were there, I had to wait another turn. I did, however, dash in during the next turn.

We've tried just about everything we can think of (even switching me over to the player side for a quest), aside from resorting to house rules, wanting to give the "official" rules a true fair chance first. (And we've pored over the rules pretty thoroughly, so I'm pretty sure it isn't just a case of us missing something glaringly obvious...)

Either something just isn't clicking with our group, or something is "broken"...
 
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Robin Reeve
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carnagecjb wrote:
Either something just isn't clicking with our group, or something is "broken"...
Either... or.
Perhaps a shade between those two extremes?
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Jeff Butler
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Robin wrote:
carnagecjb wrote:
Either something just isn't clicking with our group, or something is "broken"...
Either... or.
Perhaps a shade between those two extremes?


Bah.
Extremes is where a life is best lived!
 
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Jerome Lapointe
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I just think most people reporting in are not even close to Act II yet and frankly... overestimate their grasp on the game.

For the most part in my short experience with the game I found that you can often trace back the deciding factor of a victory to a single unforgiving bad decision (or lets call it a decision that did not pan out the way that player thought it would)...

I'm sure you can have a bad hero setup... I'm also sure it's possible for the overlord to exploit weaknesses of the group in his choice of OL cards and open groups monsters... At the same time I think a group of heroes should identify their weaknesses and seek to mitigate them as they level up.

Maybe you could have the heroes gain an Open Group veto every time they lose an encounter (or even part of an encounter). They could then ban a certain monster choice to fill the open group...

Conversely you could go for a similar OL "catchup" mechanic when the heroes win... just can't think of one yet.
 
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Jeff Butler
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Jerome75 wrote:
I just think most people reporting in are not even close to Act II yet and frankly... overestimate their grasp on the game.

For the most part in my short experience with the game I found that you can often trace back the deciding factor of a victory to a single unforgiving bad decision (or lets call it a decision that did not pan out the way that player thought it would)...

I'm sure you can have a bad hero setup... I'm also sure it's possible for the overlord to exploit weaknesses of the group in his choice of OL cards and open groups monsters... At the same time I think a group of heroes should identify their weaknesses and seek to mitigate them as they level up.

Maybe you could have the heroes gain an Open Group veto every time they lose an encounter (or even part of an encounter). They could then ban a certain monster choice to fill the open group...

Conversely you could go for a similar OL "catchup" mechanic when the heroes win... just can't think of one yet.


Honestly, IMO, a lot of the heroes difficulties (in our group, at least) come from two main sources:
Die rolls. When we have six attacks against a single (minion) shadow dragon (plus additional re-rolls due to skills & abilities), and only one of them actually connects, and that single attack only manages to do 3 damage because of defense, there really isn't much that can be done about it.
Trap cards. The heroes sometimes go to great lengths to plan out movement and attacks for maximum efficiency. I, personally, am a fan of traps. I would say that, probably 80% of the time they plan things down to exacting detail, I will throw a trap card. In my humble opinion, I'm pretty deadly with the traps, throwing them on the heroes most likely to fall victim. The rest of the carefully planned turn is then fubar'd...

I will fully admit that our hero setup isn't "optimized". However, neither is my OL. I REALLY like monkeys, so that was the very first thing I tried to get, regardless of what the "best" cards were. Plus the fact that I refuse to get rid of cards from my deck...

We've tried using a couple variations of the open group veto. Assuming the open groups are X, I select X+N monsters. The hero players can then pick from those. Sometimes, I let them explicitly exclude certain creatures, others, I let them pick a (X-1) of them that will definitely be included, and I pick the final one.

Honestly, it doesn't seem to matter. At all.
Aside from potentially letting them pick ALL the monsters (and what OL is going to do that, honestly), I've not been able to come up with a good method that actually does influence things...

Granted, I own the conversion kit, so I have a decent number of creatures to choose from, but, still, I can't shake the feeling that something is "off".
 
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Chadwick VonVeederVeld
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our act II experience was brutal on the OL, the heroes cake walked to a victory...BUT, they had an awesome group with perfect upgrades...it was well played and a much deserved victory....
 
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Triu Greykith
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Not all encounters are evenly balanced for every possible combination of heroes, skills, open groups, OL cards, and die rolls. Some encounters are considered to favor one side or the other in general. The consensus seems to be that the OL has an advantage until heroes gear up, gets a big boost with Act II monsters, but loses that advantage as the heroes continue to advance.

IMO if you lose an encounter / quest, write it off and move on. Finish the campaign (or forfeit if it really seems a lost cause), choose new heroes (maybe let the OL abandon Team Evil & have a hero cross to the Dark Side), and have at it again (or give up on the game if it's unplayable for you). The forums are full of posts saying that both sides have an unfair advantage. I think the truth is somewhere in between.
 
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Robin Reeve
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Just a question : if the result of a quest relies upon a single (good or bad) decision, how does that match with the complaint of an excessive (good or bad) luck factor?

I mean, can't luck rebalance (or definitely unbalance) a situation?
In wargames (I play ASL, among others), there often is a tension between the weight of skill and of luck.
There are good players, but they can sometime be "diced" and lose a scenario.
Could that happen in Descent too?
I believe so.
 
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Jeff Butler
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Robin wrote:
Just a question : if the result of a quest relies upon a single (good or bad) decision, how does that match with the complaint of an excessive (good or bad) luck factor?

I mean, can't luck rebalance (or definitely unbalance) a situation?
In wargames (I play ASL, among others), there often is a tension between the weight of skill and of luck.
There are good players, but they can sometime be "diced" and lose a scenario.
Could that happen in Descent too?
I believe so.


That can most definitely happen. In fact, I would surmise that, for our group, at least, this is one of the major problems we encounter.

Whether it is a case of a hero with four might failing an attribute test, the damage roll being negated by the defense roll, being unable to obtain the necessary range / surges / etc. to even successfully attack, or some other randomness factor, we're leaning towards the opinion that the randomness of the dice has at least as much to do with the outcome as any possible strategy, if not more.

Since it is my game, the dice prefer me to the players. I'm pretty sure that has a lot to do with why I've been winning.
 
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Triu Greykith
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carnagecjb wrote:
Since it is my game, the dice prefer me to the players. I'm pretty sure that has a lot to do with why I've been winning.

The other players need to bring their own dice ... whistle

There's an app for that!
 
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Robin wrote:
Quite easily: by doubting about my own competence when analyzing a phenomenon.


I think we misunderstood each other. You can, of course, discuss the impact of competence in an abstract way. However, in a concrete case - someone is claiming that quest X is totally imbalanced - it is going to be very difficult to 'doubt' the poster competence without annoying the other poster. Especially if the persons in question 'believe that they are perfectly competent and blameless when they happen to lose a game'

Robin wrote:
I am not that much interested in comments like "Descent is broken", "FFG sucks", etc.


I am also not interested in comments where people express their frustration without providing arguments. However, isn't it evident that such comments have zero value in discussing game balance?

Robin wrote:
My only point, here, is that the human factor should be included in analyses about the game's balance or quality.


My main point is that discussing 'human factor' in forum environment tends to lead to finger pointing and name calling.
 
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Triu wrote:
I don't think anyone thinks the game is perfect. Competence is not the same as intelligence. You can learn to be more competent through better understanding of the rules, strategy, and tactics. Some people are discussing competence, talking about RST, rather than bashing the game or coming up with a wikipedia of house rules. I understand the OP's POV; there has been a lot of negativity. Tossing in grenades like "stupid" doesn't raise the bar.


By the use of the word 'stupid' I only tried to demonstrate where discussions about comptence tend to lead. Yet, you seem to be annoyed. I rest my case.
 
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Robin Reeve
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I know that forum debates can degenerate.
But I also have seen challenging discussions where people are mature enough to abstain from personal attacks.
Things go usually well, when debators are not overly serious about themselves.
 
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Matt Seckman
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@Jeff: You dice told me last night that you beat them when they don't perform right...so what do you expect?

@Triu: Done and Done. I just downloaded a really neat app last night for my iPhone called Descent iDice. Loved it, but still couldn't roll for $&%#. failed 2-3 attribute checks back to back....with a 4 attribute!

I've played enough board games to know how much die rolling can make or break u in a game. Descent is my baby, it's my favorite game, and with 2ed, I want to love it SO BAD...but I just feel like there's something wrong with it, sadly. I'll still play it, and preach the Descent Gosple to everyone I meet, I just hope one of these days I figure out what the problem is.
 
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Ken Marley
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My suggestion don't use the conversion kit. It helps the OL more then the heroes. Start again using the base game.

The base game is mostly balanced.

Whenever I hear that OL is winning all the time with experienced players they are always using the conversion kit.

My guess is that the conversion kit unbalances the game.
 
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Jerome Lapointe
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youperguy wrote:
My suggestion don't use the conversion kit. It helps the OL more then the heroes. Start again using the base game.

Well... I partly agree with you.
I feel that the Conversion kit right now adds so much choice for the OL that... even if all the Monsters would be perfectly balanced... the reality is that they offer certain specialization that just might be perfect for a particular scenario OR are perfect against your group... especially when you have 3 or more heroes going on. So while they might be balanced generally speaking... a wise OL is gonna be able to pick the perfect tool for the job at hand.

A good example of that right now is that my group's cleric has yet to get his cleanse, he's missed a few quests (we just decided to boost him to the rest of the groups level last week) and the group has 1, 1 and 2 for their respective constitution(?) stat (or is it might?... that little fist icon) anyways so monsters with poison are always a major annoyance for them... they rarely ever pass that check.


So while it's very nice to get some variety with the conversion kit... especially for the OL... having the choice of so many well targeted abilities (especially when you get enough players to go in the red monsters) is almost just unfair and at the end of the day I do want to keep my group happy so I am seriously contemplating going about this way:

Out of my entire pool of suitable monsters I'll let them veto something like 15% and I will myself veto 15%. From that point they'll get to select 2 to 3 Monsters and I'll get to do the same (maybe more since that's supposed to be my advantage)... we'll draw one randomly from that. Maybe I'll have to up the percentage more... the basic idea being to randomize stuff and also rule out those "perfect candidates".
The only thing that I worry about with this is adding too much to the setup time.
 
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