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Flip 'em first

Posted December 22nd, 2011 at 06:44 PM by dok
In the discussions in the online Heroscape tournament, I've realized that there are a bunch of different interpretations floating around about when we are supposed to reveal random power glyphs. Obviously, this is something that gets handled differently in different places. I have a strong preference for how to handle it, but rather than launch into a long diatribe there, I'd like to explain it in a blog entry.

Let's start by listing the options for how to handle the placement of random power glyphs on a map:
    1. Power glyphs are placed power-side up before sides are picked or armies are set up.
    2. Power glyphs are revealed after sides are picked but before armies are set up.
  1. Power glyphs are revealed after armies are set up but before the game is played.
  2. Power glyphs are left symbol-side up and only revealed when a figure lands on them. (This assumes that Kelda is not in the random glyph pool; otherwise it breaks the rules, since only a wounded hero can land on Kelda.)
(1a) is the way every Colorado event is run, and I know many other events are run this way. In fact, we usually decide all the glyphs ahead of time for each map, and just leave them face-up and fixed in place all day long.

I've never heard of an event using (1b), but I include it here for completeness. On a reasonably symmetrical map, this is the same as (1a). Given that most maps are pretty symmetrical, this ends up not really being so different. I'm just going to refer to "1" in the aggregate from here on out.

(2) is how events are run at Gencon as well as in Texas, and I assume many other places.

(3) is used as well... I know from battle reports that it is used at Tree Town Open, and I assume that some other midwest tournaments follow their lead.

Before I get into my preferences (although the blog title is a spoiler), I'd like to note that most good map designs that include random glyphs balance the access to both random glyphs from both sides fairly well. Of course, it's not perfect, and depending on the army matchup and the glyphs I would probably prefer to have a certain glyph on my left or my right. But most maps these days try to make it so that both sides have nearly equal access to both glyphs and a nearly equal ability to attack the glyph-holder.

Anyway, my contention is that option 1 is better than option 2, and option 2 is much better than option 3.

Basically, this comes down to reducing the impact of random, uncontrollable elements in the game. Heroscape is inherently a game of chance, and there will always be some games that come down to a roll of the dice that you don't have control over. However, the more the game is about player skill, the more interesting it is to me. I don't see the point in making things any more random than they have to be, and that's what delaying the glyph flip does.

Whether the glyphs are power-side up or not, they are what they are. If what the glyphs are and where they are is going to be beneficial to one army over the other, then hiding them doesn't change that. If a dud glyph is concealed, all this does is potentially cause a player to extend their army in the wrong direction, thus creating an extra disadvantage for that player that was caused by a random factor.

The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, if you wait until after setting up the armies to reveal glyphs. Take the common case of a map with two random glyphs, one on each side. An army is often oriented primarily towards one glyph or another in setup. If one army in a matchup is oriented towards a valuable glyph, while the other is oriented towards one that won't be heavily contested, that first army will have an unearned, random structural advantage.

Contrast that to what happens if the glyphs are flipped before armies are placed. In that case, both players know in advance which parts of the map will be most important, and both of them can plan their army setup accordingly. Since most maps give both players a fair shake at both glyphs, this will result in a situation where the random distribution of the two glyphs will have had as little of an impact on the game as is possible.

Now, if the glyphs are flipped before armies are placed, then there will be cases where a player will prefer one side to another. Although maps try to be balanced, some armies will have an easier time contesting a certain glyph from one side or the other. As I explained above, concealing which side is better for each army until after armies are placed doesn't "solve" this problem. Hiding the glyphs won't make it more fair - it just makes it more random.

But there will be times when the players decide to dice off for sides. That's fine. One mitigating factor you can use to offset the luck of that die, though, is to force the player who wins choice of side to place their army first. After all, placing your army second is a small advantage in itself. So, the winner of the roll off picks a side and places their army, and the loser of the roll places their army second, in the other startzone.
Total Comments 22

Comments

Old
flameslayer93's Avatar

Flip the burgers!

Great read dok.

Although I don't necessarily agree with your anti-upside down glyph points, I do see what you are saying.

Cheers!
Posted December 22nd, 2011 at 08:03 PM by flameslayer93 flameslayer93 is offline
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Typhon2222's Avatar
Absolutely agree dok. I love 'Scape, but feel strongly that the last thing it needs is more randomness. Make as much information known as early as possible.

It's from this position that I early in my cartographical excursions only made maps which featured duplicate glyphs. (Two Wannoks, or two Valda, or whatever.) That has the effect of reducing randomness even further. Duplicating glyphs also allows them to be positioned anywhere on the map — they need no longer be equidistant from each side, as long as they're placed symmetrically, since they confer the same advantage. I know that's a minority position, and so I've bowed to consensus in my map design now. But anyway..... flip 'em at the beginning!
Posted December 22nd, 2011 at 08:30 PM by Typhon2222 Typhon2222 is offline
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ZBeeblebrox's Avatar
What about the Pit Trap Glyph...if they are revealed before starting then that Glyph is pretty useless. I usually play that they are revealed when they are landed on for that reason.

But the biggest factor is the Glyph pool, if you are using Kelda, then it make more sense to follow A or B...but if you are using a Pit Trap, then C makes more sense.
Posted December 22nd, 2011 at 11:11 PM by ZBeeblebrox ZBeeblebrox is offline
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dok's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Typhon2222
It's from this position that I early in my cartographical excursions only made maps which featured duplicate glyphs. (Two Wannoks, or two Valda, or whatever.) That has the effect of reducing randomness even further. Duplicating glyphs also allows them to be positioned anywhere on the map — they need no longer be equidistant from each side, as long as they're placed symmetrically, since they confer the same advantage.
Interesting point. I'm actually currently looking at making a map with as many as seven fixed, face-up glyphs, and only (up to) three of them would actually be in a balanced spot. That's obviously an extreme example, but I get what you're saying. Fixed glyphs do open things up a bit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ZBeeblebrox
What about the Pit Trap Glyph...if they are revealed before starting then that Glyph is pretty useless. I usually play that they are revealed when they are landed on for that reason.

But the biggest factor is the Glyph pool, if you are using Kelda, then it make more sense to follow A or B...but if you are using a Pit Trap, then C makes more sense.
Actually, Gamebear has used the Pit Trap in a face-up context a couple times, to good effect.

If you're tossing Pit Traps or blanks (Brandars) in a random glyph pool, then obviously, they will be completely ignored if you put them down face up. But to me, that's just another way of saying that you ought not throw those in the glyph pool. Still, all the arguments I make about adding randomness apply just as well to Pit Trap and Brandar. At least if they're face up, you won't waste time sending troops in that direction.
Posted December 23rd, 2011 at 12:14 AM by dok dok is offline
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rednax's Avatar
I dislike the ideas of pit traps and duds mainly because cartographers usually place glyphs in less desirable positions, to spread action across the map. If you know there's a chance that going after a glyph is pointless and even detrimental then often times the area doesn't get used.

And for what it's worth, there could be another option above potentially. I know at least once while I've played I've revealed glyphs after first initiative and order marker placements as well.
Posted December 23rd, 2011 at 02:26 AM by rednax rednax is offline
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Tornado's Avatar
I think I played in that tourney rednax. I agree with your stance on the duds. I would actually prefer no power glyphs and all treasure glyphs. It helps to promote the hero aspect of the game of HEROscape.
To flip or not to flip comes down to the glyphs involved.
Posted December 23rd, 2011 at 08:37 AM by Tornado Tornado is online now
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Is this a butter battle?

I like the randomness aspect of the game although I understand where you're coming from Dok.

From my point of view though, while strategic skill is what truely counts in matters of gaming, if you add random elements, you're adding to the difficulty level of the strategy by forcing players to choose between possible duds (traps and wild goose chases) and facing an army without potential bonus.

I guess I prefer my butter on the down side. Number 3 that is.
Posted December 23rd, 2011 at 10:16 AM by AMIS AMIS is offline
Updated December 23rd, 2011 at 10:17 AM by AMIS (Well written Dok. I enjoyed the read.)
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I think you should take into account the relative skill levels of the players. If you have players that are playing at a similar level, then it's best to minimize randomness to see who the better player is. However, if you have highly skilled players versus novices, then it can only be to the less skilled player's advantage to have a more random game.

So, from a tournament perspective, it might make sense to have symbol side up glyphs in the early rounds, then power side up glyphs in the later rounds. And then no glyphs at all in the finals...
Posted December 23rd, 2011 at 10:38 AM by Elginb Elginb is offline
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dok's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elginb
So, from a tournament perspective, it might make sense to have symbol side up glyphs in the early rounds, then power side up glyphs in the later rounds.
Only if you think it's a good thing to have more random results in early rounds; there's no reason to really want that. I agree that the expert-mopping-the-floor-with-the-novice is a boring and undesirable result, but for every blowout win you turn into a marginally less boring win, there will be a would-be interesting game that gets turned into a blowout, or a close win one way that gets swung the other way by some bad glyph luck.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elginb
And then no glyphs at all in the finals...
I disagree that a game without glyphs is a more pure test of skill. On many maps, removing the glyphs altogether can lead to one-note strategy where both armies rush for the highest spot, and the one who gets established there first wins. By having the right glyphs on otherwise less desirable spots on the map, you put more of the map in play and make the strategy more complex.
Posted December 23rd, 2011 at 11:17 AM by dok dok is offline
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nyys's Avatar
In all the events I've played in that used glyphs, unless the map specifically called for the glyphs to be played face up, has used #3.

The glyph pool is decided before the tourney, and each map is outfitted with all the glyphs. During set-up, two are chosen blindly at random and placed on the appropriate map spaces.

The glyph pools used are generally Common Attack, Unique Attack, Defense +1, Move +2, Wound, and Initiative (with the occasional pit trap thrown in).

I don't really care for #1 or #2. I much prefer the random chance, and having to react to what that chance gives.
Posted December 28th, 2011 at 02:44 PM by nyys nyys is offline
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kolakoski's Avatar

Me too!

Well met!

I seem to remember playing a lot of blind permanent glyph games. Grishnak had us roll a 20-sider for his tournament glyphs, with 20 different effects!

Personally (how else would I post? I've been living in NYC too long!), I prefer Power glyphs to be known ahead of time (and few in number), and serve a dramatic purpose, rather than merely as a vehicle to make bottom land attractive. I think having their natures unrevealed is more suitable for Treasure glyphs.
Posted December 28th, 2011 at 05:46 PM by kolakoski kolakoski is online now
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quozl's Avatar
Unknown glyphs forces you to spread your army out to cover all glyphs and not just ones that are beneficial. In other words, it hurts Raelin, which is a good thing.
Posted December 28th, 2011 at 11:32 PM by quozl quozl is offline
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dok's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by nyys
I don't really care for #1 or #2. I much prefer the random chance, and having to react to what that chance gives.
Sure, there's skill in reacting to what random luck deals you, but that's true of every randomized thing in Heroscape. But there's more skill in being able to plan things out in a high-information environment. After all, it's the perfect information games, like chess, that are considered the truest tests of skill. I don't see the need to dial up more randomness in Heroscape than there is already.

Quote:
Originally Posted by quozl
Unknown glyphs forces you to spread your army out to cover all glyphs and not just ones that are beneficial. In other words, it hurts Raelin, which is a good thing.
That's only true to a very limited extent. It's true that two strong glyphs on opposite ends of the map make it hard for Raelin to cover both, but until the glyphs are revealed, I'm not going to commit more than a pittance of figures to each side. So, at best, hiding weak glyphs is only going to cause me to hang a handful of figures outside of Raelin's aura that I wouldn't have otherwise, with face-up glyphs.
Posted December 30th, 2011 at 01:53 PM by dok dok is offline
Updated December 30th, 2011 at 02:29 PM by dok
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R˙chean's Avatar
After deployment encourages even distribution of units in start zone.

Are you too smart to comprehend something so simple? or am I too simple to comprehend something so smart?
Posted February 7th, 2012 at 01:54 PM by R˙chean R˙chean is offline
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dok's Avatar
I would hope that neither of those things is true...

Quote:
Originally Posted by R˙chean
After deployment encourages even distribution of units in start zone.
Is this an end unto itself? Why is it good to have an even distribution of units in a startzone?

But is that really true, anyway? Let's thing about different army types.

If I have an army that doesn't have a central core of heroes, then I'm going to be pretty balanced either way, because front row near the worse glyph is usually about as good as back row near the better glyph, anyway.

If I have an army that does have a core of heroes or high-value figures that work well together (say, TKN, Krav, and Raelin), then splitting the valuable figures that share synergy usually won't work out well for me. I'm going to pick a side, stash them all together, and hope I guess right.

(I call the picking of a side in these cases "glyph gambling". I lost the gamble when we played in 2010 - I had all my heroes on my left and Gerda ended up being on the right.)

I suppose that if I have an army with several independent powerful elements, I might go for a balanced layout with unflipped glyphs, and an unbalanced layout with flipped glyphs. But that's not a very common army type, is it? And again, why is an unbalanced startzone layout such a bad thing?
Posted February 7th, 2012 at 02:54 PM by dok dok is offline
 
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