These last few days have seen a flurry of updates to the Siege App. The below screenshot is from tonight's latest build. If you are particularly in the know, you may see that Matt and I are talking via the chat window there. That is notable because Matt is in Ohio, and I am not in Ohio.
No, I am in North Carolina. Which means by the power of the internet we have connected two instances of the Siege App and are starting to pass data back and forth. The clients aren't processing all the requests yet, so we still can't play games this way, but we are getting tangibly close. Look forward to more updates coming out. Hopefully soon we'll be moving our testing from Lackey to this, which would improve productivity and happiness fifteen fold.
After Matt spoiled the rules update (Matt edit: Sorry! I was excited!) with his epic game run down, I feel like I can get away with being a little heavy handed on the title...probably not. There are some good things to talk about on the rules front though. And the aforementioned game wasn't the origin of these changes, but it was the final nudge that made us spend some time to address some things that could have become issues.
Potential Issue 1: The never ending stalemate
I'll be honest that this issue has been lingering in my mind for awhile. The reason this issue hasn't been addressed more head on in the past is that these sort of stalemates all manifest the same way, and it's fairly rare for those scenarios to come up. In brief, they start when two players reach a sort of Nash Equilibrium - where if either player attempts to improve their position they actually help the other player (or hurt themselves). This results in periods of passivity where neither player can do much if anything to change their position in the game.
I'll be frank that I don't want to remove this from the game unilaterally. It's amazingly interesting when two players trade blows only to end in a standoff of two armies that can't advance into either other without the blowback crushing them. That's part of warfare, that's part of history, and it should be part of the game. What I don't want though is for this to ever become a dominant strategy, or something a player could try to create because it has the potential to be extremely non interactive.
Something I tried to address in designing the win condition in Siege is the issue of "winning by not playing" that you see in some other games. The idea being that you can win the game without ever really interacting with the other player. These sort of stalemates tend to work out that way since both players just draw their entire decks out waiting for the other player to move.
And that's the issue I wanted to prevent. The reason these sort of stalemates don't ever resolve is because both players are in a position where the strongest thing they can do is draw a card and hold their position. I think the reason for this is that there is always benefit in any card game to have extra cards in hand, and Siege is very relaxed in a sense that you don't have a maximum hand size, and there isn't any penalty for drawing out your deck. So if you have the option between "Advance into certain defeat" or "Draw a card that may help later" you'll always choose the latter because there is no downside.
So addressing this issue was tricky because like I said I really wanted defensive play to be possible in siege still. And hunkering down with an army and trying to weather the storm is healthy for the metagame and prevents powerful cards from just steamrolling a smart player. The solution, in my opinion, had to have a delayed onset and it had to be crippling enough that neither player would want it to go that far. That solution is Squander.
Squander: If you attempt to draw a card and cannot, discard a card and -1 friendly Morale.
Squander is a very simple rule that changes what I said above. Before squander was a thing, Siege had no penalty to drawing out your deck. I think this was a perfect opportunity to introduce a mechanic that heavily discourages stalling all game (and like most rules in Siege it has some surprising side effects that I think help the game balance as well). It also respects the Siege values by being a gradual change and not an instant one. You don't instantly go to 0 Morale, you don't discard your whole hand. You just start to squander your hand, and your Morale suffers for it.
What's the impact of this? For starters, waiting to draw your deck out now comes with a huge risk associated. If you try to play passively too long you'll find yourself in a position where the other player could potentially boss you around. If you don't have the Morale edge, it would really behoove you to start moving your forces and trying to change the tables. Otherwise, you'll have a hand of cards you can't play and our opponent will still be breathing down your neck. Secondly, it puts a gas pedal to the late game. This morale loss combines with effects from laying siege, and all other sources. It's like overtime where players know that if they can't act soon, they will lose the opportunity.
The impact to the game is actually very nominal. I think in the testing since we introduced the rule we've seen in come up once, maybe twice. And I think that's proof it's working. The point of the rule is not to see play. It's to discourage players from waiting, and to make sure that playing to win is the dominant strategy. Playing to not lose in Siege will get you beat, and that's good for the game. Squandering ensures this by making passivity synonymous with weakness.
Potential Issue 2: Structures are really good chump blockers
This issue is much more cut and dry. Structures used to serve as some of the best chump blockers in the game. You played them mostly for free, and if the enemy was in your support they had to spend 2-3 turns typically destroying them all before the army could advance on your home territory. This presented a huge issue where a player could be stuck trying to kill what are essentially resource cards and not get to finish the game off. The real issue wasn't balance though, it was just not fun to have a huge army stuck in a territory because a single Lumberyard prevented their advance on he main city.
It didn't make sense thematically, and it was really frustrating as the attacking player who for whatever reason has to divert their entire empire's attention to go burn down a basic structure. There is also the weird issue that a structure with high enough armor could be invincible to certain armies, even if that structure wasn't defended. This comes up sometimes when a tiny army is trying to burn down an opposing City and can't. The solution is pretty simple I think. Make structures vulnerable to armies at a rules level. The end result is pretty fun.
Raze:For each friendly battlefield structure that does not have a friendly local army, deal one wound to that structure each season.
What does this look like in practice? It means if there is any enemy army in your support or home territory, and you don't have any armies to defend your structures, they all take one wound each season. It means that any army, any size, can kill any structure if that structure doesn't have anybody to protect it. And this is has already proved to be an amazing upgrade to the game.
Now defending your support territory isn't just important, it's almost vital. Razing feels so viscerally satisfying as an attacking player. Getting to your opponent's support territory is a huge feat. Getting it clear of armies is another. And the reward now is you get to set fire to the territory and just go on a spree of destruction. It's incredibly cool and it helps games resolve faster and in a more enjoyable way (for both players honestly). As nifty as it was to use my Mines to prevent an enemy advance, I knew in the back of my mind that it was a silly tactic, and i'm glad that it's not a possibility anymore.
All that said, these two rules together do something really important: make the game more fun. They encourage active play and push players to be aggressive and take risks. The smart players will find ways to use tactics and effects to convert these rules changes into crippling leverage over their opponent. And both rules work within the existing structure of Siege and don't add burden or cumbersome overhead to the play.
That's all I have today, I'll be back shortly to update on some of the changes I've been making to the Siege Demo App.
Hey everyone! Apologies for the lateness of my replies (Simpson's reference, for anyone who gets it), but this month has been hectic. Been in training for the past week, and between that, moving, working, and wedding preparations, there hasn't been a whole lot of time for Siege development. So, we have a big update this week - Namely, three new concept words; Raze, Truce, and Squander. Brad will be writing about these shortly, and going into more detail about each of them (Except for Truce, that one's all me), but I'll be providing some background to how we reached the place that we did. We had a game that stalemated for close to 50 turns all-around, and ended without a winner. Intriguied? Read on.
So, we've been doing some more playtesting recently (Which any of you can hop in on if you'd like), and one game gave me a big, happy trout-slap in the face. I was playing Morale Legion, and my opponent was playing a weird Psiloi/Scavenger Weenie hybrid. A couple of the early skirmishes went pretty evenly, him trading some cheap, inefficient dudes for some of my Heavy-hitters (Which was really disheartening). His deck was really fast and forced me to stabilize early, which I did. After stabilizing, I had him backed up into his own first expanse, and he entrenched everyone there. The glory of Scavenger, as it stands, is that you can sit and entrench and just keep pumping dudes out at an alarming rate.
I had a decision to make. I had a Lomars in-hand, and promptly played it, but very quickly found myself outnumbered by his Scavengers. I could have laid Siege, as I was entrenched in center, but he was +2 on Morale due to an early Rome trigger. I had built the deck wrong, and couldn't recover from losses as quickly as he could. This was my first mistake. My second mistake, I didn't push early enough. He was weakest early, and as time went on, his board position just got stronger. So, we both sat, entrenched, for thirty-three turns, until we drew our decks.
Now, from a development standpoint, this was problematic. To each of us, we had the better position, entrenched, and sitting was probably the better option. For me, I could have made the argument that pushing early would have been a better move, but I would have suffered heavy losses in the process. But this is the great equalizer to Siege's combat system - Big, bad armies don't always equal a win. You could have the biggest, baddest dude on the field, and your opponent could have 16 little ones and rip your face off, Gangnam-Style (I still haven't figured out what exactly Gangnam-Style is, so I'm just using the term randomly until I get it right).
So, there we were, me with the territory and food advantage, with larger, deadlier armies, but him with the numbers break (Numbers Break: When your opponent has 7 damage up and it takes 8 to kill an army) advantage, and I didn't push, and didn't lay Siege. Both mistakes on my part, to an extent. So, we sat there, for thirty-three turns, and drew our decks. And I wanted him to move first. But this was the first roadblock in the development discussion Brad and I had - Who moves first? We had just spent 33 turns stalemated because the other player had the 'better' position. Whose responsibility is it to take the loss and move first? From our standpoint, this is bad for the game. I don't want players doing the "Draw-Go" thing turn after turn until the end. Does the game end in a stalemate? I say yes. If both players are unwilling or unable to move, the game ends in a Truce, and the teams go home. But this isn't official, just something I thought up as I was writing this.
So, I made the first move for the sake of curiosity. And he massacred my dudes. And I didn't drop any reinforcements the turn I moved in, either. Big, big mistake on my part. This one was my third. He had the numbers break advantage, more dudes, and was entrenched. So, after he killed all of my dudes, he moved up and laid Siege - In most cases, the appropriate thing to do. In this case, it cost him. Morale Legion punishes decks laying Siege, and five of my six Dire Evocati started equalizing the morale gap. But I walked directly into a well-timed Fight For Honor, dropping me to 0 Morale. I had 17 armies in-hand, four of which were Evocati, and more than enough resources to punish him and pull out the win.
So, he continued pushing, falling back, and entrenching as needed to keep up with my heavy hitters, and I made a few play mistakes in not ridding myself of his Praetorians to keep my Morale going (I had forgotten that you can play Dire Evocati while at 0 Morale to gain into itself), which were mistakes four and five. I had also forgotten to put in my single Theban Entertainers (Mistake six), and he finally got down to pushing into my expanse and killing structures. So, I started dropping Evocati in home, he got all of my structures in my Support, and we were prepared to play out the last two or three turns, when... Lackey exploded, crashed, and we lost the game.
Infuriated, Brad and I let our other playtester head home to his family, while we recreated the scenario. After all of the bloodletting and massacring, there were two cards left on the field - My Rome, and his Psiloi. Now, if that doesn't seem hilarious to you, that's okay. Because Rome has 2 armor, while Psiloi only has 1 attack. I couldn't play any more armies, despite having three left in-hand, and he didn't have any way to damage my City or win the game. Quandry, no? So, we started discussing what exactly happens in this scenario. Is it a tie? Do the Psiloi go home? Does Rome get slowly beaten down? They're behind their walls, untouched. Psiloi aren't going anywhere. No player can play anything.
So, this is bad. I don't want a game that just spent 50 turns stalemated to end in a stalemate (Or Truce). None of us wants that, really. So, we began pondering ways to fix stuff like this. And there were three problems to fix - First, players need an incentive to not sit for 50 turns entrenched. Sure, there are going to be decks that thrive on this concept (LMC is a deck that I will write about exploiting the Castle strategy), but for two aggressive decks to stall out like that, something certainly needed to be done about that. Secondly, the concept of an army unable to take any undefended structure seemed a bit silly to us. Of course, something like the city of Troy - or any heavily fortified city for that matter - would give armies trouble. And finally, there needs to be a way for players to end a game after all of the cards in a deck are gone. And these have given birth to Raze and Squander, which Brad will be talking about in the next article.
I will also be writing more frequently over the next couple weeks on this topic as well as others - and start to get into deckbuilding, development for the player, and Resource Identities. Until then, Siege on!