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.