The Case Study: A Little Less Worst Case

Following up on the last post, I did some focused playtesting on limiting starting searchers to row 11 rather than row 12. These tests still presented the worst-case “wall of approaching searchers,” but because of the new starting position the searchers did not actually reach the players after the first search phase. I was hoping that the changed start would make even this most difficult opening interesting for the players. Unfortunately, the results were mixed at best.

On the one hand, trying to find a way to trick the searchers and get to safety actually was pretty interesting. I was pleased about that. A situation that had been devoid of gameplay (because the players couldn’t escape no matter what they did) now had decisions to make.

However, as time went on I became more and more disappointed with the solutions I was reaching. So far as I can tell, there is still no way for the players to trick the searchers so that they are safe going into turn two. At most the players can get to a point where they have a chance. Depending on how the searcher movement cards come out, the players might get lucky and escape–or they might not.

What’s worse, it really is a matter of the players getting lucky. Owing to the makeup of the searcher movement card deck, it is probable* that at least one of the searchlights will turn. With the limited amount of real estate in which the players can work on turn one, it is extremely difficult for them to be safe from these unpredictable turns. As a result, the players are unlikely to make it through the turn even if they make logical decisions–the risk is high and can’t be reduced very much.

Again, if there’s a solution that I’m just not seeing please let me know! However, assuming that that isn’t the case I have to declare this experiment to be only a very marginal success. Certainly, the players are no longer guaranteed to lose, and that was a key goal. The overriding rule, however, is that the players should be making interesting decisions, and right now that first turn still feels pretty doomed. It just takes a little longer for the doom to arrive.

In looking for another solution, I was inspired by this discussion on the League of Legends community beta. For those who don’t play LoL, the argument is about an in-game character named Yasuo. As of this writing, Yasuo is considered very powerful. The first post argues that Yasuo is inherently too good because he doesn’t have to worry about two resources which LoL commonly uses to control how often characters can use their special powers. Posts further down propose that Yasuo players have to manage other resources which are unusual and less immediately visible, and so he is more limited than he first appears.

Without getting into who’s right,** the notion of finding a new resource is an interesting one. Fiddling with the physical spaces on the board isn’t working well, but there might be metaphorical space elsewhere in the rules. I started down that road a little bit in saying previously that I didn’t want to give the players an additional thing they could do, and that’s still true, but in retrospect I closed off that line of thinking too early. There may be other ways the game could change to help players caught by the worst-case setup.

I’m going to take the next little while to poke at the rules and see where a change could be made to make tough starts more interesting. I’ll give an update on Friday.

On a completely different note:

While looking for ways to get out of the worst-case start I realized that it might be easier if players could move their tokens through each other. I’ve always played the game as if that wasn’t permitted, but the rules aren’t explicit on the point. When I next update the rules I’ll put that in.

I did check to see if players could escape to safety by moving through each other; I think the answer is still no.

* My math skills are decidedly rusty, but here’s my thinking. There are 60 searcher movement cards in the deck, with seven left turns and seven right turns. In the worst-case scenario, turn one involved all six searchers moving forward, so there are 54 cards left, 40 of which are straight movements and 14 of which are turns. The probability of drawing a turn is 14/54, or approximately 26%. As each search phase involves drawing six cards, with the odds of drawing a turn getting higher as straight movements are drawn out of the deck, the probability of getting a turn in those six is fairly good.

** Is it OK if I get into it just a little bit? I think Yasuo is a fascinating design because he’s all about using unusual resources. Every LoL champion can use minions as a resource in some respects (e.g., as a source of gold), and some can even use them as a source of mobility on rare occasions (e.g., Katarina shunpo’ing to a minion as an escape). However, Yasuo uses minions to fuel both his mobility and his short-term damage (by keeping his E revved up) to a greater extent than any other champion. He also uses his teammates’ abilities as a resource in a very direct way, since his ult is only reliable when used in coordination with a teammate who can consistently knock a valuable target airborne; this is different from, say, Miss Fortune, who wants teammates to CC targets but who can do without. Yasuo even made being able to walk around an important resource; Stattik Shiv did it first, but I didn’t see much interest in that item until Yasuo came along to synergize with it.

It might be that Yasuo is too good, but if he is there are ways to fix the problem. He’s still worthwhile for the new ideas he brings to the table.

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