Designer/Playtester Question - Spirit "Balance"

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robb8888
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Designer/Playtester Question - Spirit "Balance"

As detailed in a different thread, I've been playing around with a proxy/PNP version of Volcano Looming High based on the one seen at PAX, and not having much success with it.  Keeping in mind that the new Spirits are still "in development" (and that from the sound of it, the current version of Volcano may already be quite different than that originally revealed), some of the (very helpful and much appreciated) comments I was getting were along the lines of "maybe X adversary/the thematic board are not good matches for this Spirit."

That got me to thinking -- when building/playtesting Spirits, what is the general philosophy?  I thought I remembered reading somewhere that the idea/philosophy was that with great gameplay (and not inordinately bad luck) any Spirit should be able to win a solo game against any Adversary on any board.  But when I think of (ex:) trying to play Serpent Slumbering against Brandenburg-Prussia at the highest difficulty level, that idea seems a little hard to swallow.  Is every Spirit supposed to be able to fend for itself in a solo game, or are some really intended more to be great teammates rather than solo players?  Do you purposefully design them with weaknesses that could/should be filled by other Spirits, like (ex:) "This one would be great against Brandenburg/Prussia, but terrible against France," or "If the Invaders hit the Wetlands/Sands early, this one is in trouble"?

Just some curiosity from a big fan of the game.  Thanks a bunch!

Edited by: robb8888 on Jan 7 2019 - 4:46pm
AdamH
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Well I have some thoughts about this, but obviously I'm not a playtester.

I think on the easier difficulties you can win with pretty much any spirit because there is a lot of wiggle room. As I've increased the difficulty though, I've found that I can only win "good matchups" and it seems a bit hopeless to play anything else.

For example I wouldn't play a defensive spirit against Sweden, or I wouldn't play a control spirit against England, or I wouldn't play a slower spirit against B/P (I suppose I wouldn't play a slower spirit against any difficult adversary now that I think about it).

Of course there are exceptions like power combos including River/Lightning or River/Ocean, but for the large part this has been my experience. Maybe I just need to git gud but it's hard for me to imagine winning a bad matchup on a higher difficulty.

This has led me to a couple of things:

First, it seems like offense is always good. There is no bad matchup for offense. I wish there was an adversary where offense was bad and you had to do something else. I have no idea what that would look like (but then I didn't think the second point below was possible and it looks like we might be there).

A similar thing for an adversary that gives you time to build and be flexible but has some kind of inevitibility so that slower spirits like Serpent are actually good against them.

Second, it makes me really excited to try the Finder of Paths Unseen because it's a control spirit that looks like it might actually work against England. Unfortunately I have played Spirit Island once in the past 3.5 months because I've been busy with a newborn, but that could possibly change this week...

Anyways these are just my thoughts. I'm interested to hear a designer or playtester's take on them since they have a lot more experience with the game than I do. It would be exciting to be wrong about things :-)

dclietz
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AdamH wrote:

I wish there was an adversary where offense was bad and you had to do something else. I have no idea what that would look like (but then I didn't think the second point below was possible and it looks like we might be there).

A similar thing for an adversary that gives you time to build and be flexible but has some kind of inevitibility so that slower spirits like Serpent are actually good against them.

I'm a noob, but I like the idea of adversaries that get stronger over time. Perhaps you could also make offense worse by making the smaller adversary units harder to kill, or alternatively harder to kill if they have no neighbors. Both of those would require defense to hold out until your offense was strong enough to mount a come back. 

robb8888
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AdamH wrote:

....I wouldn't play a slower spirit against B/P (I suppose I wouldn't play a slower spirit against any difficult adversary now that I think about it).

That's one of the issues my friends and I have been coming up against.  We really like Serpent (and were trying to play Volcano), but they're both so slow to develop that it seems like they're just not cut out for the more difficult adversaries, who either start out with lots of stuff on the board (England), or who put stuff out on the board really really quickly (B-P, France).   And that in itself seems counter-intuitive:  Ostensibly, Serpent (a Jormungandr-analogue) and Volcano should be among the most "powerful" spirits, but they really only do well against the least-powerful adversaries.   Any thoughts/tips/ideas out there from the designers/high-level players?  How do you make a "slow" spirit work against tough adversaries?

AdamH wrote:

Second, it makes me really excited to try the Finder of Paths Unseen because it's a control spirit that looks like it might actually work against England.

I'm assuming they're going to tweak that one too, but we've played it a couple of times, and absolutely love it.  We've never triggered Presence-destruction by killing any Invaders with its powers, yet have mopped the floor with our opponents (Lvl 5 France and Lvl 5 B-P).  It is truly astounding the number of wrinkles/things you can accomplish by simply moving Invaders, Presence, Dahan, and/or Beasts.  And most of the time, we don't even really care about card draw -- Finder starts with 6 cards, and its starting cards are so good for triggering its Innates, and have powers that are so useful, that you don't really need too many other cards to get its engine going.  Once you get up to 3-4 card play, it's lights out for the bad guys.

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I'm not really good enough to handle difficultly's above 7, so in order for me to have a shot at harder adversaries I would need a really good matchup/Spirits Combo. With that said I'm not sure if players who are better than me might be able to win at higher levels even with a bad matchup. I think Eric might have touched on his approach to adversary difficulty in his design dairys, so it could be worth taking a look back at those.

gpope
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I can't speak to the designers but it's my understanding that solo play is not a primary focus for them. That said, I feel that you can safely say:

1) In solo games, any published spirit with reasonable luck can beat any adversary up to about level 4. 

2) In team games, any published spirit with reasonable luck can beat any adversary with at any level, given an appropriate partner.

Which is a pretty decent benchmark for balance, IMO. There are not many games with as much variety between character/faction options that nail the balance that well.

Lorkenpeist
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gpope wrote:

I can't speak to the designers but it's my understanding that solo play is not a primary focus for them.

Not only that, but we're actually discouraged from playing solo games while balance testing a spirit.

AdamH
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When the baby was just born I found myself with a lot of time where he was sleeping on me and I had one hand availble. I tried doing solo games of Spirit Island but quickly changed to doing 2P games where I controlled both spirits -- many spirits just didn't really make sense to be played by themselves and the only ones I could really win with were the ones that had a real offensive component. It's like you can't win the game without at least some offense.

It would surprise me if any balancing was done based around solo play.

dpt
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AdamH wrote:
It's like you can't win the game without at least some offense.
This is true, but of course you can gain offense with any spirit. I can win Level 6 solo games against any Adversary with any Spirit.

Quote:
It would surprise me if any balancing was done based around solo play.
The focus is multi-player, but solo games were considered in the design.
robb8888
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dpt wrote:

AdamH wrote:

It's like you can't win the game without at least some offense.

 

This is true, but of course you can gain offense with any spirit. I can win Level 6 solo games against any Adversary with any Spirit.

Then I'm definitely looking forward to our PBF game, because I'm nowhere near that level, and I'd really like to up my game a little!  :)

rampsnakes
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As a side note I have beaten BP 6 with serpent before, but I think to do so you really either need growth through sacrifice, a 2 blight card, or to draft things that allow you to activate your prescence placing innate. You should probably allow lands to be blighted if in exchange you get to activate your prescence placing power but that could be risky as the prescence removing blight cards pretty much crush you. You do usually at least get to generate 2-4 fear/ turn via serpent rouses beofre hitting your power spike (absorb essence+flowing power+aegis gives 2 moon, 3 fire, 2 earth, 1 any as well as giving you energy income). Also elemental aegis stops the typical solo play issue of turn 2 blighted island vs BP (usually possible to stop 3-4 blights with proper planning). Edit to add: Ran through a solo serpent game, I managed to get a lucky prescence out off of elemental aegis+gift of primordial deeps+any+nature's resilience, with this I managed to get max level serpent rouses in anger (when earth is uncovered even elemental aegis +absorb essence gives you the ability to add prescence) the turn the invader deck ran out. I think it may be more important playing primordial deeps a lot and not just aegis +absorb essence as I originally implied above. You should be able to stay with reasonably few cities on the board and can kill them quickly when they spring up so a terror level 3 victory may be plausible if you fail to accelerate your prescence tracks much.In my game i only had a city or 2 before serpent rouses went off so one solid major power might be enough to win the game on the last turn if you haven't been able to reach 4-5 card plays. 

AdamH
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So out of all the published spirits there are two of them that I've never played solo: Ocean and Serpent. It just seemed like a fundamental design of these spirits would be broken without another spirit in the game. Perhaps things get weird with Serpent when you can target yourself with things that target other players, since I think that's the main change in solo games, right?

Anyways it seems nuts to me that anyone has ever beaten B-P on the hardest difficulty with just Serpent (or with Serpent in the game at all). Maybe I'll try doing it if I get really bored one day where whenever there's a random outcome I choose the result and see if I can do it, at least as a proof-of-concept. Who am I kidding I have a newborn this is never going to happen.

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I've soloed as Ocean before - randomised the board and got the one where the furthest land from the sea is a Wetland. It got pretty crowded over there until one turn when I played Reaching Grasp and Sea Monsters together. It was considerably less crowded after that >:). I think I might've played as solo Serpent once as well, I think I won - Elemental Aegis got played a lot. And when I tried a solo game as Bringer I ended up cycling Dreams of the Dahan and...the other one (forgot the name)...pretty much every turn. So the one that gives Defense when Fear is generated and the one that generates Fear per Dahan in the land. Won that game too - much easier when you only need four Fear for a single Fear card >:).

Of course, I've not tried against any Adversaries so I suppose I'm playing Easy Mode ;).


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gpope
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Ocean winds up being one of the stronger solo spirits against higher level adversaries because of how much energy you wind up generating. Throw enough major powers at the problem areas and you'll usually pull through.

Lorkenpeist
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gpope wrote:

Ocean winds up being one of the stronger solo spirits against higher level adversaries because of how much energy you wind up generating. Throw enough major powers at the problem areas and you'll usually pull through.

 

Yup! I've soloed all the adversaries at highest level with Ocean and won each time.  The extra energy from drowning really makes a big difference. I typically get 1-2 Minors then shift entirely to Majors.  It's usually not hard to find one with enough range to overcome the coastal presence restriction.