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ARV Maps - July 2018

Posted July 1st, 2018 at 10:06 AM by HS Codex

Map Craft
10 Map Building Tips
By: BiggaBullfrog

Hello, mapmakers! With our next contest—“Secret Treasures of Valhalla”—announced, we’re looking forward to the maps that you’ll be creating! To help you in your mapmaking, we present you with this article of tips to remember when going through your creative process.

While creating a fun, original map is an exciting process, making sure that it’s balanced can at times be difficult. There are some common themes, however, that we find when we’re looking at potential tournament maps. Sir Heroscape compiled a list of ten items that we commonly see when evaluating maps and put them in the ARV Contest Thread as tips to consider when creating a map. In this article, we’ll go a little more in-depth with each of these tips and examine exactly how and why these things can hold a map back from competitive play.

A (very important) beginning note: I often maintain that one of the most important parts of a good map is the interaction that it provides (and encourages) between armies. A game isn’t enjoyable when one player can just perform one move and then automatically be in a better position than their opponent, or even just win outright. As you read these tips, you will find that a lot of them are discouraging such power plays.

Remember that sometimes having one of these things on your map is okay, especially if you work to counteract it in other ways, but if you find two or more of these issues on your map, you’ll likely want to critically re-evaluate it.

1. Does Raelin break this map?

Rise-of-the-Valkyries Raelin is one of the most central components to competitive play, and is notorious for rendering some maps unusable in a tournament setting. If she can get onto a piece of high ground early on and then surround herself with a screen of units, her defense aura will make any push from the opponent exhaustingly difficult. You will especially want to look at any place that she can land in one move from the start zone (6 move with Flying) and see if there are any key points that she can hold from a strong position. These particularly include glyphs and high ground, along with chokepoints.

Of course, Raelin will always be able to cover strong points to one extent or another. You’ll rarely have a map where she can’t cover a glyph or the highest ground on the map. The problem arises if she can cover more than one glyph or a glyph and high ground. It’s also a problem if she can cover a key area while on a strong vantage point of her own. If there is a single hex of height that she can fly to (a “Raelin perch”) and cover key pieces of real estate, her presence alone can break a map for competitive play. Remember, all height is relative, so it doesn’t matter if the Raelin perch isn’t the highest point on the map — it just needs to be higher than where the attacks are coming from, and she’ll have her bonus defense die.

2. Does a Dragon build break this map?

Flying figures with range can really take advantage of a map’s features, and dragons are some of the most notable of those figures. If a figure can fly to a high point on a map and continuously attack with ranged attacks while melee units take a long, slow crawl towards them, the opposing player is going to be pretty frustrated. This is one reason why you don’t see many (if any) tournament maps that use capped fortress walls: it’s really easy for a dragon to hop up and just win. The strength of dragons increased even more when the Greenscale Warriors were introduced, meaning dragons can now claim a strong point and develop map control at the same time.

Also of note is the infamous Z-Bomb—the move where Zelrig flies out of his start zone and attacks the enemy start zone in the same turn with an explosion attack that destroys common figures. There is some debate as to how much effect this should have on a map’s design, because a lot of variables need to align for it to happen (one player must have Zelrig, other player must have so many commons that they can’t avoid clumping them together, the Zelrig player must win initiative, and the map must allow it), but it is an item for consideration. Possibly more important than the power of Zelrig (and other dragons) alone is the opponent’s ability to react to them. If a dragon can make an aggressive play and then kite back to its own start zone while staying on height and taking shots at advancing troops without them being able to attack back, you may want to adjust your map to limit the dragon’s power.

3. Do rats break this map?

To make sure we’re on the same page for any newer mapmakers, “rats” are Deathreavers, and they are excellent at clogging up a map (along with Gladiatrons, who should also be considered in mapmaking). If a map has a lot of chokepoints, then a player can just throw a rat or two into a couple of the most key ones, keep their ranged units behind, and shoot approaching enemy units to their heart’s content. If there’s no way to circumvent a rat blockade, it can be pretty frustrating for players and unfair on units that can’t outrange their opponent. Granted, sometimes a player will just be able to get rats everywhere and the opponent will almost always have to kill some before getting to the meat behind the screen, but there should be interaction between plays and counter-plays as the game progresses. If it’s going to turn into a wall of Deathreavers against a wall of opposing figures and essentially just a dice off, the game will be boring at best, and maddening at worst.

4. Is it impossible to place the Hive in the start zone?

This one is simple enough. If a player can’t place the Marro Hive in their start zone then they will start the game down 160 points and without one of the, if not the, most key parts of their army, and that would make any player pretty salty.

5. Is it too easy for pods to set up?

A common issue seen in maps is high ground located near the start zone. A piece of height that is easily defensible allows armies to sit on it and wait for their opponent to come to them. This is especially true for range-heavy armies. If a piece of height allows ranged units to shoot anywhere on the battlefield, or even most of the battlefield, without moving from it, then the game will be heavily skewed in favor of whichever army has the longest range (and having long range is already a strong advantage in an army). It should be noted that these pod locations don’t have to be the highest points on the map: they just need to be higher than the surrounding areas so that melee has to attack up.

Also to be noted are small pockets of height that ranged armies can control, forcing opposing armies to run from point to point while being shot from height the whole time. Even height closer to the center of the map can create an annoying pod location if it’s too easily defensible or provides too much control of the battlefield, or especially if there are two hills promoting a your-side/my-side scenario.

6. Is it too easy to defend/control glyphs?

Glyphs are an important part of a map (except for maps that don’t use any, of course). They create points of interest for armies to fight over and can change the course of a game. While they shouldn’t be completely vulnerable (as mentioned in the previous point, having glyphs be too vulnerable to high points only strengthens the power of ranged figures), they should be able to be contested. You’ll find that most tournament maps have glyphs in a spot where they can be attacked from a few adjacent spaces, with at least one of those spaces being higher than the glyph to allow contesters an advantage. If a glyph is on too powerful a part of the map (an already strong high point of the map, for example), then often an army controlling it will have an even stronger advantage over the game.

7. Is there elevation in the start zone?

Similar to tip 5, having height where armies can easily camp doesn’t encourage the interactive play that tournament maps are looking for. Instead it puts a power point in the start zone where figures don’t have to even move in order to have an advantage.

8. Can figures with move 5 or 6 reach glyphs on turn #1?

If your average figure can claim a glyph on their first turn out of the start zone, then games often just turn into an initiative war where players go straight for glyphs to buff their armies, and the first person to reach them often has an advantage. It also focuses a lot of attention on those glyphs instead of the rest of the map. There may be cases where you use a yours/mine system to help balance aspects of the map, but those should also be utilized with care.

9. Are there too many chokepoints?

As I’ve mentioned, good maps capitalize on allowing dynamic interactions between players. A map with chokepoints slows the action and turns the game into a dice off rather than strategic use of the map. This isn’t to say all chokepoints are bad; they can be used to enhance a map’s decision making (see the example of Highways and Dieways in my pathing article). But if you only have two to four narrow routes for armies to take, the action on your map will get stale quickly.

10. Are you unable to develop armies quickly?

Army development is a critical part of a game of Heroscape. However, people usually don’t want to spend more than a couple of turns getting their figures into position, especially in a tournament game where time is a factor. Most tournament maps allow at least initial skirmishes to begin by the end of the first round, with full engagements happening in round two. If start zones are too far apart, or routes out of the start zone slow your army too much, too much of the game will be spent on non-interactive army movement. Be sure to pay attention to distances and elevation changes when considering how long it takes figures to get from point A to B.

A final note:

You will notice that a lot of these tips have to do with defensive play. Most armies that are “map breakers” are defensive by nature—rats + Raelin + range, 4th Mass, and ’Trons to name some of the most noteworthy—so when a map rewards defensive play with big hills close to the start zone or powerful glyphs in easily defensible positions, it renders that map unfit for tournament play because those armies are already so strong and have so much of an advantage over most other armies. Even truly competitive maps don’t hurt them too much. So while it’s fun to make a map with hills on either side and a lot of flat land in the middle, with maybe a river running through it, such maps are generally avoided when competitive play is considered (unless they’re really well done). Instead, maps that are able to reward offensive and dynamic play are usually more sought after. If you can make a map to do that, you’ll be well on your way to making consistently competitive maps.
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