Thursday, May 18, 2017

World Boardgaming Championships: Beginner Rules

I have been looking forward to this year's World Boardgaming Championships more than I have in a long time. I've been obsessed with a game that came out last year, Star Wars Rebellion, and it got voted in to be a trial. It hits all of my buttons: a two player asymmetric card driven wargame with a fantastic theme. It's long, with small numbers of dice, but it has a lot of intricate details where player skill can make a huge difference. It's like Twilight Struggle, except I get to get in on the ground floor of strategy and tournament results.

They just released the event previews which explain the tournament format in detail. They're running continuous single elimination with adjudication after 3 hours and 45 minutes. That feels too short but maybe my games with Byung take longer than average because we're evenly matched and he's a tad slow. That said, there are plenty of people at WBC who are also slow... On the other hand, I was expecting to have to play 2 and a half full days if they were running 5 hour rounds, so that at least is potentially a welcome change.

Ending in an adjudication is a scary prospect though. How good is the GM at this game? The preview lists a bunch of things he'll look at to decide who wins, and they all make sense, but which things will get the edge in a close game? The proper side to bid on can change depending on how the GM rules in his adjudications and I have no way to access that information right now. This is a little frustrating and curbs my enthusiasm a little bit.

But that's not the worst part. The game comes with a 'first game setup' to help new players ease into the game. There are a _lot_ of great strategic decisions that happen in the initial setup and new players will have no idea how to make those decisions. The game definitely needs to ship with those rules. Unfortunately the default at WBC for every round is going to be using this initial setup. If both players agree they can play the real game, but the default is to play the initial setup.

Now, I think WBC brings in a wide spectrum of players with a wide variety of skills. I think it is important for games at WBC to have demos and to try to accommodate new players. But I also think it's important that a tournament work to test the skills of the players to the utmost. It's a spectrum, for sure, in terms of how much you want to encourage new players versus how much you want to fine tune the games for the experts. I've argued against Agricola using decks that didn't come in the box, for example. I've been against banning cards in Agricola because I think there's value in having people play the game they can buy in a store and not a modded version of it. But the experts don't want to lose to someone with a wood hut extension, and they won that fight. Maybe this is the same sort of thing? But Star Wars Rebellion ships with rules for setting up the game that aren't the initial setup, so I think it's in a different spot on the spectrum. Oh, and the rules for 'First Game Setup' explicitly state 'for future games, use the "Advanced Rules" on page 18'...

I think a fair compromise would be to default the first round to the base game (that's where the people learning the game at the demo are going to be playing anyway) and make the mulligan round and all future rounds default to the advanced game. If two newer players win the first round and meet in the second round and want to base game it up, let them, but forcing experienced players to play the base game just feels awful.

How bad is the initial setup in the base game? I've never played it, so I wanted to dig it out and see...

The advanced setup randomly assigns 3 of 5 systems to the rebels, and 5 of 7 systems to the empire. The base game assigns specific systems, and those systems seem to favour the empire. The rebels don't get to start in Mon Calamari, the empire gets loyalty in both Corellia and Mustafar. It's not an ideal start for the empire, but it isn't one of the disastrous ones either.

The unit mix for each side is the same in either setup, the difference is that they're preset in the base game and you get to make decisions that shape your future plans in the advanced game. The base game spreads out the empire units, which in my experience with the advanced game is a horrible plan. You don't have enough actions to move 6 different forces around, and the rebels have enough units to pick off 1/6th of your forces in any given spot. Spreading out just gives them more targets without really giving you more options.

On the other hand, the reason the empire needs to worry is the rebels are supposed to see the initial setup and then pick any space on the board to deploy their smaller force. You get to split between the rebel base and any system, and then the rebels get to take the first action in the game so they can attack the empire in any poorly defended spot. In the base game they force the rebels to split up their forces in a truly terrible manner, and they force them to be placed away from ANY of the 6 empire spaces.

How awful is the split? Well, my experience has shown that the rebels only really care about their fighters and their speeders. They start with 2 of each and you want to save them for a crucial time because they're very useful and hard to come by. The basic setup splits them down the middle with 1 x-wing, 1 y-wing, and 1 speeder in each of the two spots. You can't realistically get them back together to make use of them without wasting an action on turn 1. And that action will only consolidate them into the rebel base, not somewhere useful where they can do anything to harass the empire!

The worst part is they start those units in one of the 3 rebel systems, so the empire now has a single place to go in order to both remove rebels builds and to destroy rebel forces. There aren't many rebel units ever (they start with only 14 bits and probably build 4-6 every 2 turns), so having 8 of them start in a vulnerable, worthless space is terrible!

Our feeling is the rebels are the better side, but everything about the base game setup screams advantage for the empire.

Maybe there's some play in the base game that I'm missing? Maybe saving the time from doing an initial setup and by restricting opening strategies is worth playing a worse game? Maybe I'll calm down in time? But right now, after looking at the base setup, I am not really very keen on playing the game. and by extension, not nearly as excited about WBC as I was earlier in the week.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Twitch Affiliate

Last week I had a viewer ask me if I was hoping to be part of the Twitch Affiliate program. I didn't even know what that was but told them I'd take a look at it when I got a chance. Well, it turned out I'd already been invited to take part in it and just hadn't noticed the email or notification. Their criteria for who they'd invite is public but they were going to be rolling invites out in waves so while I certainly qualified it wasn't clear if I'd have gotten in yet or not. It turns out I was invited the first day they started inviting people so I'm taking that to mean I'm doing pretty well when it comes to not being a partner.

For those who may not know, until last week there were two types of streamers on Twitch. Partnered streamers (who have a bunch of monetization schemes available to them like monthly subscriptions and ad revenue) and everyone else. Becoming partner requires filling in an application and meeting some nebulous requirements. Now there's a tier in the middle that you can autoqualify for and that brings some of the perks of being a partner and doesn't require a live person to go over your application. It feels like a win-win for both Twitch and up and coming streamers!

Anyway, the requirements to qualify for affiliate are 50 followers, 500 minutes broadcast in the last month, 7 different days live in the last month, and an average of 3 people watching at a time. In April I streamed for 10262 minutes across 22 days with 22 average viewers and I have 899 followers. That's a little more than the minimum!

What does being an affiliate get me? For now, not actually a whole lot. I get access to the bit cheering system and higher priority for getting quality options as their servers allow. The priority thing actually doesn't really change anything because they already had a priority system based on number of current viewers. I guess it'll help if I stream a game where I get significantly below my average number of viewers (those few people might get quality options now when they otherwise wouldn't) but it's really not a big deal.

The bit cheering system is an interesting one. It's something Twitch added a while ago as a way to protect streamers from chargeback fees on various online money sites like PayPal. Basically Twitch will sell people bits and they can use those bits to tip streamers. Streamers then get a payout each month based on the bits they've been given and if someone uses a stolen credit card to buy bits then Twitch will eat the loss instead of the streamer. In return for that protection Twitch takes a significant chunk of the revenue upfront. (A bit is worth 1 cent but Twitch charges you $1.40 for 100 bits. They have bulk discounts too, but they're always taking a pretty big cut.) Now, PayPal also takes a cut of donations too (2.9% + .30), but it seems that fraud notwithstanding it's actually worse for me to get paid via bits than via PayPal. Especially since affiliates need to wait 60 days from the end of a month to get paid for bits. And that they have to pay a fee to get that payment (2% to PayPal is the option I chose)! And if I understand the tax forms they made me fill out in order to sign up the US Government is going to take 30% hostage as well!

There are other ways to get bits than buying them from Twitch, though. People can earn bits by watching ads, apparently, and they can be found in loot crates that they've started giving out in various ways. And obviously no one is going to complain about addition potential revenue streams! It also helps that it's fully integrated to the Twitch system so it's much easier for a viewer to buy some bits and then spread them around when they feel like it instead of having to log in to PayPal or whatever. Getting access to the bit system is definitely a plus!

Coming Soon (tm) they'll be adding on subscriptions, game sales, and ad revenue to Twitch Affiliates, all of which are more exciting to me than cheering was. Subscriptions are a consistent source of revenue and getting even a single channel emote would be really cool. Ad revenue would be nice since Twitch plays ads on my stream without my ability to remove them so getting some recompense for that would be good. And game sales... I know for a fact I'm already selling games to people. Last year I got people back into World of Warcraft from watching me play and I know people have bought things like Factorio and Blood Bowl II because of seeing me play the game and thinking they might like it. So getting a 5% cut of those sales (and making it easier for people to be able to buy the games) just sounds fantastic to me.

So things are looking up. Hopefully I can manage to stay unglutened and put in a string of good streaming days and see where things go from here.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Blood Bowl: How Bad is Stab?

A couple weeks ago I played against a Dark Elf opponent that was running two assassins on a relatively unleveled team. This means they chose to take the assassin over other positionals, which means they must have valued them pretty highly. Twitch chat was not very charitable to the skill level of my opponent, and the assassins actually accomplished basically nothing. They spent a lot of time intentionally standing beside my guys and then getting hit for it with their 7 armour, but that held up just fine.

It got me wondering... Should I have been able to just get free SPP for killing them? Should he have been able to hurt any of my guys first? Is conventional wisdom about how bad they are correct or should I be trying them out? Setting up with 2 of them on the line, making stabs, and then blocking away anyone who didn't get stabbed feels at least worth investigating. (My opponent tried this, but I was playing necro and the players he was stabbing had 9 armour and stand firm so blocking them away couldn't happen.) What are the odds here?

Nothing Stun KO Cas
7 AV 58% 24% 10% 7%
8 AV 72% 16% 7% 5%
9 AV 83% 10% 4% 3%

TO Push Down Stun KO Cas
7 AV 3% 22% 44% 18% 8% 5%
8 AV 3% 22% 54% 12% 5% 3%
9 AV 3% 22% 63% 7% 3% 2%

TO Push Down Stun KO Cas
7 AV 11% 33% 32% 14% 6% 4%
8 AV 11% 33% 40% 9% 4% 3%
9 AV 11% 33% 46% 5% 2% 2%

TO Push Down Stun KO Cas
7 AV 11% 58% 18% 7% 3% 2%
8 AV 11% 58% 22% 5% 2% 1%
9 AV 11% 58% 25% 3% 1% 1%

The first table is for stab against the 3 likely armour values the target is apt to have. The next one is the odds for a 2 die block with block against someone without block. The next one is the odds for a 2 die block without block against someone with block. The last one is the odds for a 2 die block without block against someone with both block and dodge.

The first thing to point out is that there is no downside to the stab. Throwing a block without block has an 11 percent chance of knocking yourself down. You can reroll it, of course, but burning up rerolls on opening line blocks feels really bad. Especially when the upside of throwing the block is only a 4% chance of removal!

Then there's the fact that even if you give up a 2 die block back after failing a stab they are only 13% to remove you back. If you're stabbing a 7 AV person that means the stabber has the advantage. Otherwise you're less likely to hurt them as you are to be hurt back, so you really need the followup block from a friend trying for a push to free you up. Hitting a flesh golem with an assassin is not a good play.

That all said... A 13% chance to be removed back is actually a really big deal. And that's assuming they don't have mighty blow, which, now that we mention it...

TO Push Down Stun KO Cas
7 AV 3% 22% 31% 20% 13% 11%
8 AV 3% 22% 44% 15% 9% 8%
9 AV 3% 22% 54% 10% 6% 5%

Now we're up to a 23% chance of being removed! Those are the sorts of numbers I'm talking about. Mighty blow really lets you murder the 7 AV dudes with no skills. No wonder my rats keep dying...

The next thing I notice is just how hard it is to hurt someone with block and dodge with a regular hit. Even with 7 armour you're only getting removed on 5% of hits. 5% of regular hits, anyway. Throw on tackle and mighty blow and things get a lot scarier. But it's not like a Dark Elf team is going to have many (or any) players with those skills. If we're trying to kill a gutter runner or a skink or something then maybe the assassin is the way to go. 17% instead of 5% is a pretty big change!

My feeling now after looking at things a little is that blitzing anyone except for a low armour dodgy dude is a mistake with an assassin. This means they have to start in contact on the start of your turn to get a hit off, which is very dangerous for a 7 armour dude with no defensive skills. Using them against enemies on the line feels pretty good though. Take a free armour roll, then hit them with a regular block to push them away (or knock them down) afterwards. If you knock them down beside the assassin then next turn they have to dodge away or give you another stab...

It also feels like they just aren't likely enough to knock anyone down to justify using them on the ball carrier if you have an actual ball removal player. Tackle, wrestle, strip ball... These are all better tools than the assassin. But those all require a lot of levels; the assassin comes straight out of the box with stab.

Another downside is the stab doesn't earn any experience, so the assassin is a removal tool that doesn't level through removals! Can you feed them touchdowns to level them up? All the players on a Dark Elf team want to level up through touchdowns, can you justify feeding the spp onto the assassin?

And really, that's what it comes down to... Assassins are expensive players on a team full of expensive players. They're pretty much the squishiest player in the game, too, since they have only 7 AV and no defensive skills. Even goblins, which have stunty, start with dodge, so they're harder to hurt. Harder to hurt for everyone but an assassin, anyway!

So I feel like I'd maybe want an assassin (or two!) against some specific teams but very much not against others.

Good: Skaven, High Elf, Brettonian, Wood Elf, Lizardman, Norse, Khemri
Ok: Human, Dark Elf, Undead, Chaos Dwarves
Bad: Orc, Dwarf, Chaos, Necromantic, Nurgle

Hmm... Looking at it there are actually 7 of 16 teams where I'd probably want an assassin and only really 5 where they'd be a real detriment. Of course on the champion ladder it turns out that the bottom group there contains a lot of the most played teams. Orcs are #1 by a large margin, with Chaos and Chaos Dwarves as the next two. Those 5 bad teams represent 40% of all games played and that really makes me question wanting to play assassins on the ladder.

But in a league? That's more tempting. Especially if the league enforces some kind of race parity like the NWFL league I played on FumBBL did.

Of course you could just be looking at having your expensive defenseless 7 AV player die in the first game...