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Old July 31st, 2009, 01:41 PM
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Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

So, I've been rolling this around in my head for a couple years now, trying to decided what I wanted to do with it. I decided I need to write it all down someplace so I have a reference, and I figured that place might as well be one where I can get some feedback. Don't be surprised though, if it turns into a lot of chicken scratch and inane rambling.

My Heroscape collection sort of exists to me as the ultimate game building toolkit. It has so many genres and units and options and terrain setups I can essentially play the game endlessly without really getting tired of it. The one thing that does drag things down for me are the minor imbalances that stop every unit from competing with the best. Yes, those units get play in fun games here, but it usually ends in disappointment and frustration. The embodiment of this whole predicament for me is the Templar whose release was probably the greatest disappointment for me in the life of the game.

So, anyway, since Wave 7 I've started to think about the endless life of the game and how someday, those kind of imbalances just won't be acceptable to get the most out of my collection. Wave 9 was sort of a trigger for me as the last Craig Van Ness designed set of units, and since its release the appeal of playing by my own rules has jumped dramatically. I'd like to seriously sit down and rebalance the game with the magic of 20/20 hindsight.

I'm not saying Heroscape is a poorly balanced game; I wouldn't even dream of a project like this if it was. It's more a matter of it being so darn close, improving it isn't an impossibility. That's the basic idea though, changing what needs to be changed to ensure my entire collection is pretty playable. So here's my plan:

Phase 0: Raelin and Drake

Simply put, I'm tossing out the RotV versions of these characters and sticking to the SotM editions. Both are better balanced (though not always better) than their original versions, and in the case of Raelin specifically, are significantly less complicated to balance around.

Phase 1: Categorical Imblances

There's a few things in the game that are just more powerful than they probably should be, but for the most part, are quite well balanced within themselves. Range vs Melee and Hero vs Squads are probably the biggest two, but if anyone has any others I'd appreciate the . Things like this seem like things that a global houserule can hopefully take care, but they've really got to be hammered out first. Honestly, if this is all I accomplish, I'll probably be pretty darn happy with the results.

Phase 2: Custom Changes to Individual Units

I really want to keep away from this as much as possible, because its just an impossible task. If I really thought this was the problem, I wouldn't even bother with the whole thing. It just turns into a giant game of whack a mole until you've broken things beyond repair. I simply suspect there's a few units out there who no matter how much the game changes around them just won't work until they get changed. A couple of things I want to keep in mind however:
  • I really don't want to reduce what already works. Q9 is awesome and that's great, but I really don't want to balance the game by weakening him. More than anything he's a model of what works to aim for. The only reason I'd balance down anything at this point is to counteract the effects of a Phase 1 global houserule (which will make more sense later).
  • Absolutely no adjustments to point costs. Tweaking point costs invites madness and steps on the toes of how many figures you're really supposed to have on the field. Making one squad more "swarmy" or another more "elite" just messes with aspects of the game that shouldn't be changed.
  • Branching off of the above, I want to mention playability. Sometimes points don't even factor into a unit's popularity; sometimes, units are just hard to utilize with the game's mechanics. Making units fun to play is the primary goal of the entire project after all.

So anyway, that's the idea. I'm mostly just posting this to get things written down for my own reference. Comments, suggestions, and smacks upside the head when I miss something entirely are all well appreciate.
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Old July 31st, 2009, 02:41 PM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

Phase 1: Current Thoughts

So, as I said, the first thing I want to improve is a few categorical imbalances. This is really more my style anyway, as I can do so much of this in spreadsheets and math. Anyway, here's my current thoughts on the two biggest categorical imbalances:

Range vs Melee

This is really the first thing I want to take care of and probably the part where I started with this whole thing. Range has quite a few significant advantages in this game that really make them easier to play more effectively. As far as individual units are concerned, however, they're actually pretty effectively balanced under the idea that ranged strikes first, but melee is statistically superior once engaged.

I think the real imbalance is more an issue of Range vs Move. The stats themselves are handled pretty well, with most Range values falling within the threat range of the reciprocating Move. Engagement and Move 1st rules ensure that once caught up, melee units have a chance. I think where problems start to arise is the fact that Heroscape's terrain generally ensures most units get a space or two less horizontal movement than advertised, while Range remains unencumbered by terrain. This is what allows ranged units to stay out of sword's reach indefinitely.

What I have in mind for this is actually kind of funny (to me at least). I was actually considering this whole thing a few months ago and decided to hold back and see if Wave 9 would mess with it. Instead, one of the figures in Wave 9 essentially utilized the same idea. Anyway, here's what I had in mind:
  • Before moving, a unit may decide to add their current attack value to their total move. If they do so, the unit cannot use a Normal Attack, Special Attack, or a Special Ability that inflicts wounds, destroys figures, or removes Order Markers this turn. If a Special Ability triggers for more units than those moving this turn it will continue to do so for all figures except those that were activated this turn.
The basic idea is to give all of those units who hit hard, but have to get there first a better chance at actually getting there. Note the attack value is the current value of the card before moving, so you can get extra move out of attack bonuses like Highland Fury, Unleashed Fury, or Taelord's attack aura. You cannot consider bonuses that are target specific however, so having height on a figure does not increase your move.

For the record, when I did the math on this, it bumps the average move in the game all the way up to 8.55, which is actually a little low since it doesn't account for Special Abilities that enhance movement or attack (most notably the Marrden Hounds and Anubian Wolves). That's enough to cover the distance of a 7 range attack with enough extra to deal with a few changes in elevation. The one thing I haven't fully decided on is how to deal with 2x attack figures. Their attack is a little undervalued in the additional move, but I'm not completely set on giving Minions 10 move Flying just because they were close enough to Taelord.

Last edited by Eclipse; July 31st, 2009 at 04:54 PM.
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Old July 31st, 2009, 03:21 PM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

Phase 1: Current Thoughts

On to the second issue I suppose:

Heroes vs Squads

I went into this in some detail recently in the thread on the myth of Skulls vs Shields. To summarize, in the battle of Skulls vs Shields, the purpose of Shields isn't to block indefinitely, but to provide value to Attack values higher than 1. For the most part, this rarely happens in Heroscape, creating a situation where, frankly, you really just don't need that high of an Attack value to hit something. Instead, the more attacks you have, the more success you get every turn, which is why squads are so darn powerful. Heroes get hit with a double whammy in this situation as squads also benefit from an inability to lose more than one life per attack (barring the relatively rare AoE).

That's not to say squads themselves are actually a problem, just that its not as even as it could be. Most of the time you're better off swapping out a hero with more of the same squad anyway. The start zone rule helps with this somewhat, but it's really more about limiting the length of a game to me than balancing out the units. It does make room for a few high priced heroes, but the units it puts the greatest restrictions on really need their low price, swarmy nature to perform. It's a great tourny rule, but not one I want to stick with to make the most of my collection.

So anyway, I think the real problem with Heroes is simply a matter of defense. Heroes average around 3-4 defense with squads rarely breaking out of the 2-3 attack range. A whole ton of math later this comes to about 0.508 wounds per attack over time or about 1.5-2 wounds per turn. Obviously, this is where the problem sets in, as few heroes can survive the 3 turns required to take out even one squad even if they had 100% kill chance per turn, let alone the 50-65% kill chance they average.

I think the best solution is to play with something similar to Dismiss the Rabble. Give heroes 2-3 defense when defending against a normal attack from a squad figure (squad special attacks should NOT be included; all 5 of them are quite well restricted for heroes). In theory this should work, though I'm thinking this might be the reason I have to lower the stats of certain characters (Q9). Starting with Wave 6, quite a few heroes were designed with squad dominance in mind. Giving them a straight boost could easily drive things too far the other way.
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Old July 31st, 2009, 04:30 PM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to seeing more of your thoughts.

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Originally Posted by Eclipse View Post
the more attacks you have, the more success you get every turn, which is why squads are so darn powerful
Indeed, it's absolutely about the number of attacks. This is also why bonding is so powerful. Bonding is cool but the downside is it often makes it hard to pick armies that DON'T have any bonding.

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Originally Posted by Eclipse View Post
something similar to Dismiss the Rabble
That sounds intriguing.

Another option I've tried is to allow Heroes to use their normal attacks against EVERY adjacent squaddie (sort of like Shaolin Assault). This is supposed to simulate the ability of Heroes to cut through peons like butter. And yes there's probably lots of problems with doing this, but it certainly makes heroes more fearsome vs. squads. Perhaps limit it to a maximum of 3 attacks.
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Old July 31st, 2009, 11:25 PM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

I understand that you see starting zone spaces as time limiting, not game balancing, but have you considered just realigning what number of spaces are presumed to correspond to which point total? Dropping a 500 point game to 20 starting zone spaces doesn't make heroes more powerful, but having a hero almost always gives an army the edge over one that just ate the points.

One other proposed method (not my favorite, but I haven't given it a try to be honest)- heroes can use the X marker to take a fourth turn.
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Old August 1st, 2009, 12:46 AM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

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Originally Posted by bee View Post
I understand that you see starting zone spaces as time limiting, not game balancing, but have you considered just realigning what number of spaces are presumed to correspond to which point total? Dropping a 500 point game to 20 starting zone spaces doesn't make heroes more powerful, but having a hero almost always gives an army the edge over one that just ate the points.
Start zone limitations don't necessarily limit heroes, they limit characters based on the points per base of the unit. In your example, the start zone starts putting limits on characters that are less than 25 points per base. Certainly that places a greater limit on squads, but its a fairly arbitrary and non specific balance mechanic. Why give a bonus to the Krav (33 ppb) while punishing the Blade Gruts? (10 ppb) Why target low ppb units when many of them, like the Blade Gruts or Venoc Vipers who's only real advantage is the ability to field more bodies?

I don't like using starting zone spaces as a balance mechanic because it's not in any way a performance oriented criteria. There's almost no correlation in the game between ppb and effectiveness, so limiting units by ppb makes absolutely no sense. Why place a greater burden on Nerak than Nilfheim?

Besides, that's really not the point. I can just ban Q9 and call the game more balanced, but the idea isn't to improve balance by limiting options, it's to expand options by improving balance. I don't care if someone wants all squad armies, I just want squad armies or heroes armies or mix armies or whatever to be on more equal footing.
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Old August 1st, 2009, 03:22 PM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

I posted this in another thread, but I can track it better here. Here's the rules I've been testing out lately for large scale battles:

Order Marker Sets

Each player is granted an additional set of order markers per 600 points as follows:

Army Total : Order Markers used
10-600 : 1 set (RotV Grey)
600-1200 : 2 sets (RotV Grey, SotM Green)
1200-1800 : 3 sets (RotV Grey, SotM Green, Marvel Blue)

Special Rules for Placing Markers

At the start of a round, players place order markers as they normally would, with the following additional restrictions:
  • You can only place order markers of a single color on a card.

    Ex: You place the Grey 1 OM on Sonlen. You may place the Grey 2, 3 or X OMs on Sonlen's card, but you may not place Green or Blue OMs on his card.
  • You may treat each copy of a Common unit card as an individual for OM placement. In order to do this, you must separate a Common card to place the additional color on.

    Ex: Your army consists of Tor-Kul-Na, 1 squad of Marrden Nagrubs and 2 squads of Marro Stingers. You place a Grey OM on the Marro Stingers. You may place an OM of one other color on the Stingers in this scenario, as you have two Stinger cards. You cannot place all 3 OMs on the Stingers, nor can you place more than one color on the single card of Nagrubs.
  • You may place multiple colors on a single card once if no other options are available to you.

    Ex: At the start of a round, your only remaining units are Shiori and Sonlen. You place a Green Marker on Sonlen. You must place Blue or Grey markers on Shiori. You place a Blue marker on Shiori. You may now place Grey OMs on either Shiori or Sonlen, or spread them across both units.
  • EXCEPTION: A unit who may be moved or activated via bonding with another unit is consider to have OMs placed on it as long as OMs are placed on the bonding unit.

    Ex: You have 3 sets of OMs and an army consisting of Sonlen, Tor-Kul-Na and 1 squad of Marrden Nagrubs. You must place one set of order markers on Sonlen and one set on either the Nagrubs or TKN. If you place a set on the Nagrubs, TKN is considered to have OMs placed on his card, allowing you to place your third set on either Sonlen or the Nagrubs.
Activating Order Markers
  • After rolling for initiative, players take turns revealing order markers.
  • A player must reveal their order markers in numerical order.
  • A player may reveal any color order marker they choose at any time.

    Ex: 2 players are playing with 2 sets of OMs, the green and the blue. Player 1 wins initiative and may reveal either Green 1 or Blue 1. Afterwards, Player 2 may reveal the 1 OM of their choosing. Player 1 then reveals their remaining 1 OM. Should Player 2's remaining 1 OM be destroyed, Player 2 must pass that turn and Player 1 may reveal the 2 OM of their choosing.

Special Rules for Common Units
  • Any OM on a Common Unit may activate any figure of that Unit, but a single Common figure may only be activated once per numerical turn marker.

    Ex: You have 3 Marro Stingers cards, one with Green 1 and Green 2 and another with Grey 2. Upon revealing Green 1, you may move any of your 9 Marro Stinger figures. Upon revealing Green 2, you may again activate any of your 9 Marro Stinger figures. Upon activating Grey 2 however, you may not activate any of the figures you used after revealing Green 2.

    Ex2: You have 2 Marro Stingers cards, one with Green 1 and another with Grey 1, however you only have 5 Marro Stinger figures remaining. Upon revealing Green 1, you may activate any Marro Stinger figure. Upon revealing Grey 1 however, you may only activate your 2 remaining figures.
  • You may reactivate a Common figure if you have more than one colored OM on a single Common card.

    Ex: At the start of a round in a game with 3 OM sets, you only have 2 cards of Marro Stingers. You place Green 1 and Blue 1 on the first Stinger card and Grey 1 on the second. You activate Green 1 and move 3 of your figures. You activate Grey 1 and must activate your remaining 3 Stinger figures. When you activate Blue 1, you may reactivate any of your 6 previously used Stinger figures.
  • You must pass if you activate an OM on a Common card that has only one color OM on it, but do not have any unactivated figures for that Common Unit.

    Ex: You have 7 Marro Stinger figures and 3 Marro Stinger cards, each with a different colored OM 1 on it. You reveal your first 2 OM 1 markers and activate 6 figures. Before you reveal the 3rd OM 1 marker however, the 7th figure is destroyed. You must pass that turn as you have no unactivated Stinger figures.
I'm sure I'm missing some things, but that's what I'm experimenting with right now.

Last edited by Eclipse; August 1st, 2009 at 03:31 PM.
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Old August 2nd, 2009, 05:32 AM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

The ppb argument is a valid one, and I understand the philosophy behind it doesn't match what you're trying to acheive. It was merely an argument for simplicity in solution. There are a great many rules that may be implemented, however once you have balanced the game, it should still be learnable, and playable, no?

Then again, this is primarily driven from a standpoint of one who is thoroughly competent at the existing game, in all its nuances and rules as they stand; a few more wouldn't kill the fun.

Either way, I'm very interested in your progress and musings, and I don't mean to criticize your goals.
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Old August 2nd, 2009, 05:49 PM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

I didn't take it as criticism, I just wanted to explain why I'm not going that route and also why I'm not keen on arguing getting rid of it for tournaments

As for playability, it's something I'm keeping in mind and part of the reason I'm trying to minimize the changes. A couple global houserules aren't too hard to deal with, but it can easily get out of hand. Any unit specific changes I make though, I plan to do a custom card for as well.
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Old August 2nd, 2009, 05:52 PM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

I'm watching this with great interest! You're methodically and systematically improving and organizing the various hodge-podge of house rules I've been using and thinking about using. You're also solving some of the problems I didn't have solutions to. I especially like the Range vs. Move solution. I'll have to playtests that.

This is exciting!

Last edited by GreyOwl; August 2nd, 2009 at 06:02 PM.
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Old August 3rd, 2009, 08:18 AM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

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This is exciting!
Hear, hear!

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Old August 3rd, 2009, 10:16 AM
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Re: Custom Project: Heroscape 1.5

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Originally Posted by GreyOwl View Post
I especially like the Range vs. Move solution. I'll have to playtests that.

This is exciting!
Glad to hear you like the idea. If you get a chance to playtest any of these houserules, please feel free to post your findings. I'm always looking for problem units that get a little too much out of the rule. Right now I'm mostly focused on the range rule, as that's the most universal change. Once I get an idea of what units become outliers, I can start looking into refinements if needed, or add in the hero rule to see how that changes things further.
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