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Embrace the Suck

Posted March 13th, 2008 at 01:09 PM by rdhight
Bad units in general seem to have gotten a lot of exposure on here lately, such as here, here, here, and here. The latest one is here. I've posted in a lot of these threads, but I feel like I've done a pretty bad job of explaining what I think. Here's my take on the big picture.

One line of thinking maintains that there really are no truly bad units, that every card can be powerful when played properly in the right army and in its own favorable situation. I remember one post by Revdyer saying, "I am willing to allow anyone who has play-tested a figure for 1,000 hours to propose a different point value for it. But, until you have spent that much time play-testing, I'd stick with the point values established by the professionals." The idea is that we as players aren't really qualified to say that Kaemon Awa is better than Runa. We think he is, but we don't know. It just so happens that right now, Heroscape players can extract a lot of the true potential power of Kaemon, but not very much of the true potential power of Runa (which we will someday discover is about the same when we collectively have more insight and skill). A lot of Unit Strategy Reviews fall into this category as well, doing everything they can to burnish the reputation of some disrespected figure and make the case that it's really not so bad after all, just being used badly by players who aren't accessing the full power that the designers and developers saw when they costed it.

I disagree with this view. I think that some units really are much worse than others deep down inside, and that even if we unlock the absolute last ounce of potential in every card, there will still be a wide gap between the good units and the bad. Many of you who are now nodding your heads in agreement-- Well duh, bad units exist, thanks for that-- would like to go farther and change the prices or powers of the bad units to improve them, or penalize the good ones to bring them down. I also disagree with this. I think that bad units are an essential part of a healthy Heroscape, and here's why:

1. Occasional overpriced units tilt the field in favor of skill. Every once in a while, a thread pops up with a discussion of adjusting unit point values according to their power ranking or how frequently they show up in top tournament armies. These people have a vision of a world where the best way to spend X points and the worst way are much closer together than they are right now, maybe as close as we can possibly make it. I think this would remove much of the skill factor.

From my post here: "What's the point of playing an army-building game where every unit helps your army the same amount, or anywhere near the same amount? Recognizing that (99.9% of the time) Krug, Kaemon Awa, or Stingers x2 are a better use of 120 points as opposed to Runa represents skill at playing the game. The bigger the gap between the bad units and the good ones, and the more the bad ones look good, or sucker people into playing them through coolness and looks, the more skill predominates over randomness. If you make the bad units better, you're removing the rewards players would normally get for digging into the nature of the game and learning to fight more effectively."

When I started playing the game, I thought Deathwalker 9000 was good, and I put him in my armies frequently. As I improved, I learned that he was really bad, and I stopped playing him. As a result, my armies became stronger and I won more often. If I had been playing at a table where a well-meaning owner had house-ruled DW9K to be good, I would have lost that opportunity for skill growth. The more the designers can trick bad players into playing bad units, the more the good players will win.

2. Some players enjoy units that are bad, or at least have a bad reputation. I can't say it better than killercactus: "Runa will never get any love.... I must win a tournament with her. That's all there is to it." From that same thread, Lord3 wrote: "heres my army...
Deathwalker 7000 -100
DŁnd -110
Spartacus -200
Gorillinators -90
total -500"
Just as some players derive satisfaction from knowing that they're playing tournament-worthy armies, others avoid the Q9s because they're good and purposely play with unloved figures. Myself, I like to play the Einar Imperium every chance I get. Knowing that their power ranking is a well-deserved C makes it all the sweeter when they horribly murder a popularity-contest champion.

3. Some abilities need to remain inefficient. From my post here: "I think the overall health of the game requires certain powers to be overpriced. You've mentioned DŁnd and Taelord. If they were great figures, Heroscape would suck! Imagine if the best "strategy" were to just pick the guy who gives everyone more attack! It's good for the game that you have to work harder than that. DŁnd is the same way. He can clear the order markers off any card. There's no real way to counter-draft him. If he were good, he would ruin a lot of the rock-paper-scissors effects. Sometimes, an individual card needs to get watered down to avoid over-simplifying army building."

Other units need a little price bump because of their potential to slow down the game and enable stalling. It's probably good that Major X17 and Kelda aren't aggressively priced. A lot of people have wished the Zettian guards were common, and thought that for 70, they should have been. Personally, the thought of Zettians x6/rats x2 at 500 points makes me very happy they're not. Abilities that speed up play and lead to heavy casualties, like bonding, disengagement, and anything that involves friendly fire or intentional sacrifice, should be cheaper than effects that lengthen games, like healing, blocking, and coming back from the dead. (Why this didn't apply to defensive superstars like Raelin and rats, I have no idea.)

4. Obvious armies shouldn't be the best armies. A lot of the worst heroes in the game-- Spartacus, Acolarh and Hatamoto Taro, Khosumet-- are hard-wired to encourage themed armies built around a particular race, class, or general. Players should face an uphill battle when playing most such armies. Why? Because they're so obvious. Imagine if you laboriously experimented with dozens of cross-general teams, looking for hidden synergies, only to find that a gladiator army or an elf army that the designers wrote right on the cards for anyone to see was better than all of them! Some of the units heavily invested in obvious army builds need to suck for the greater good. As it is now, the best super-obvious armies (glads/blasts and arrow gruts, I guess?) are even with or maybe a little below the best hodge-podges, which is where they need to be.

5. Bad units now allow for good units later. Each bad card represents an opportunity for a good card to come along later and pick up the slack. Ornak is not great, but that left it wide open for more strong Utgar heroes like Isamu, Marcu, and Cyprien. Acolarh and Morsbane are weak, but that (I fervently hope) should allow others in the Ulginesh elf wizard group to push the envelope a little. On the other hand, the 4th Mass and Gilbert were so good already that they left little room for the Templar Knights to be good too.

For those of you that read this far, thanks. I hope I convinced at least a few of you to look at bad units not as designer mistakes, but as a necessary, intentional, appropriate part of Heroscape.
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Melwing17's Avatar
I know this is kind of older, but I just stumbled upon it. Great read.

I'm kind of on the fence about what kind of army to put together for the next tournament. Part of me truly wants to "embrace the suck", as you put it... but the other part of me reminds myself that I kind of suck anyway, so that might not be the best idea.
Posted February 20th, 2009 at 05:22 PM by Melwing17 Melwing17 is offline
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