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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


R˙chean's Avatar
3-4 sets of reavers all weighted to one side is bad, but you already know this.

Originally Posted by dok
(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.)
This reminds me of players in StarCraft who have a bad experience against DTs so they declare them imbalanced.

I get what you are saying, but I don't think you get what I am saying which is my fault.

Is it a better measure of skill to deploy all your stuff in a fashion where it is potentially & obviously the most useful?

Or is it a better measure of skill to be able to adapt & adjust your play based on elements or factors that are unknown or have changed?

IMO, it is the latter.
Posted February 7th, 2012 at 03:57 PM by R˙chean R˙chean is offline
Updated February 7th, 2012 at 04:08 PM by R˙chean
dok's Avatar
Originally Posted by R˙chean
3-4 sets of reavers all weighted to one side is bad, but you already know this.
If I have more than 2 sets of Reavers, I can't but them all on one end of the startzone along with the offensive parts of my army. I have to spread them out.

Originally Posted by R˙chean
Is it a better measure of skill to deploy all your stuff in a fashion where it is potentially & obviously the most useful? or is it a better measure of skill to be able to adapt & adjust your play based on elements or factors that are unknown or have changed? IMO, it is the latter.
This is basically the same argument nyys made, in favor of not flipping until you land on the glyph. After all, that's even more random and requires even more seat-of-your-pants rejiggering of strategy. As I said to him:

Originally Posted by dok
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.
To put it another way: if you think throwing more uncontrollable elements at the player that they have to adapt to is good, then why stop at flipping glyphs after placement? Why not flip after landing? Why not add dud glyphs like pit trap and Brandar, and super glyphs like Ivor or Thorian or Nilrend?

I realize I'm probably not going to convince you, and that's OK. If I was really trying to make people change how they ran things, I would be posting this in an event thread instead of in a blog entry. Flipping after setup isn't terrible, it's just not my preference.
Posted February 7th, 2012 at 04:13 PM by dok dok is offline
quozl's Avatar
It's not adding more luck (ok, well actually it is). It's adding more risk management. That's the measure of skill that fans of the "don't pre-flip" method like.
Posted February 7th, 2012 at 04:17 PM by quozl quozl is offline
dok's Avatar
Sure, I'm not saying there isn't an element of skill in planning for uncertainty. It's a different kind of skill, but it's counterbalanced by adding much more luck.
Posted February 7th, 2012 at 05:10 PM by dok dok is offline
flameslayer93's Avatar
But is that sort of skill a bad thing? I've never thought so.

"Hope for the best, plan for the worst".
Posted February 7th, 2012 at 05:26 PM by flameslayer93 flameslayer93 is offline
dok's Avatar
No, that skill is not a bad thing. Sorry, I think I wasn't very clear.

Risk management is already an important skill in Heroscape, because there is a lot of uncertainty in the game already. Being able to adapt to changing conditions is already a very large part of what makes someone a good player.

When you add more uncertainty to the game, you make risk management more important, but you do it at the cost of making the outcome more random. When the outcome becomes more random, all skill becomes less important as luck takes a larger role.

In my opinion, Heroscape has enough sources of randomness already. Risk management plays an important role already. I would rather not do things that add more uncertainty to the outcome, and reduce the importance of all the other elements of skill in Heroscape.
Posted February 7th, 2012 at 06:19 PM by dok dok is offline
Xorlof's Avatar

Yes, please flip 'em first!

OK—here’s an idea. Let’s have a pool of 5 maps, each with numbered start zone spaces (1-24). Before actually placing any figures on a map, players must first determine which numbered space they will deploy each figure on (e.g., Raelin goes on space 4, Marro Dividers on spaces 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, etc.). After this “deployment pattern” has been determined, a die roll randomly determines which of the 5 maps you and your opponent will actually deploy your armies on. Play then proceeds as normal using the randomly determined map.

Originally Posted by R˙chean
Is it a better measure of skill to be able to adapt and adjust your play based on elements that are unknown or have changed?
Well, is it? I think we can all agree that the above idea for a new type of randomness in Heroscape would be "bad" for competitive play, but isn't it just an extension of not flipping glyphs first? The arguments used to support not-flipping-first still apply...Yes, looking at the 5 maps you could apply risk management skills to improve your average outcome. Yes, it would tend to encourage more even start zone deployment. Are those things worth the tradeoffs?

I don't see Dok’s flip-em-first proposal as trying to turn Heroscape into chess (no randomness). Rather, it is just something that helps keep it as far away from bingo (completely random, hence zero-strategy) as possible without changing the character of the game we all love. I can see how some might think it is more “fun” or “exciting” to flip them as you land on them, but introducing more luck/randomness in a game is usually a net benefit for an unskilled player. Since I’m not very skilled, that’s good for me, but I’m kind of strange in that I think a tournament should favor proficiency over incompetence.
Posted June 6th, 2012 at 01:54 AM by Xorlof Xorlof is offline
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