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The nature of difficulty, and how it changes with numbers


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Ok, lets see. The game has been asking me for my feedback since I started playing and I felt it was time to begin. I do not like to whine, since I do enjoy the game, but these are the issues that are most annoying and undermining of that enjoyment. At least relating to direct difficulty.

It will also, unfortunately, be a rather long text since I really hate whining without arguments to back them up (or refute). (And because I'm a long-winded old bore, of course)

 

1.

My number one issue with the game design is the one directly related to the topic title, "The nature of difficulty, and how it changes with numbers". More specifically, the number of heroes in the party.

 

There is something innately crazy about a game that gets more difficult as a whole (as opposed to more difficult on an encounter-level) when you have more heroes, but that is not really what is annoying.

The annoying part is that the change in difficulty is a matter of statistics and luck independent from the abilities of the heroes in question. More precisely, it becomes a matter of initial card order and little else. The problem, simplified, is this:

 

The game is set up so that you have 29 turns in total. These have to be enough to work through a number of 10 card piles equal to the number of heroes plus two. Over time we can count on the henchman/villain in each location being on average the 5 or 6th card. An average becoming more and more likely as we increase the number of piles. The increase in difficulty for party size is almost solely linked to this fact of statistics.

A party of 1 needs an average of 16,5 explorations to even find all of them, much less beat them.

A party of 2: average 22

A party of 3: average 27,5 (break point)

A party of 4: average 33

A party of 6: average 44

This means that the difficulty of a large party has nothing to do with the difficulty of encounters and challenges. It is the difficulty of actually finding the villain at all, a matter of almost pure luck. A party of 4 or more will be required to use up abilities for the sole purpose of skimming cards and hope they do not run into something inconvenient.

Even finding the villain early can also be more of a disaster for a large party if you fail to defeat it, or it escapes somehow, since it then eats one turn for each open location...

 

Of course, you might point out that a larger party has access to more in the way of items, blessings, companions and spells, but these too suffers from the same basic problem. There is no guarantee the cards you need are in the right place at the right time, and the chance of them being so decrease with the number of locations.

In short: Each heroes functional worth decrease in a manner that parallel the difficulty-increase, not counterbalancing to it.

This in itself is bad enough, but this is a difficulty multiplier in those scenarios when enemies become stronger based on numbers, such as Mom in "them ogres..."

To beat her you need to keep the cards you will have to use up in order to find her in the first place...

 

 

2.

Check difficulty and higher levels. The progression of difficulty for some checks feels skewed.

They progress to keep them difficult in relation to those classes that specializes in those stats, in general.

They should progress more in relation to those in the middle. A wizard should have serious difficulty avoiding things like dragonfire or rocks unaided. A rogue or monk should not. Especially when those checks have to be made by a random character (or several) almost every other round.

Blessings are useless in these cases, since you really can't afford to use the 2-3 blessings needed to give a D4 character a reasonable chance at a difficulty 8+ check.

 

3.

The third thing that annoys me, on a much much lesser level than the first two, also relates to difficulty.

Why is the limitation on movement only used in on legendary difficulty?

The restricted movements challenges the players skill in planing his deployments and encourages the use of movement related abilities.

It should be a separate difficulty option, since I think it would be fun to occasionally play with restricted movement without the horrors of two wildcards.

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I have to agree with the above especially point number 1. It does feel that in the larger party, whether you beat the villian or not, is really dependent on the LUCK of finding the villian before you run out of cards. While there are some builds that help more than other with this (augury, scrying, Seelah's abilities), it does feel like luck rather than skill or builds determines outcomes a lot of the time.

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My number one issue with the game design is the one directly related to the topic title, "The nature of difficulty, and how it changes with numbers". More specifically, the number of heroes in the party.

 

The rest of your analysis aside, the Obsidian app is a direct conversion of the Patfinder Adventure Card Game, made by Lone Shark games and licensed by Paizo. As such, Obsidian may be the wrong target here, and you might want to post it over at the Paizo forums.

 

I can see where you're coming from. When I first sat down to play with a 6-characters party, I was intimidated by the whole "80 cards in 30 turns" proposition ... but the fact that I never looked back and I have barely touched another board game in the last 3 years should be speaking volumes. I have over 200 games between the 3 iterations of the board game and the app, the vast majority of them - with 6 characters, and the times when I lost due to unlucky Henchman/Villain placement can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yes, it is a possibility, but it is highly unlikely.

Furthermore, I would point out that when comparing 6-char party VS , say, 2-char party, I have always felt more well-equipped for any given task at hand when I play with more characters. Yes, it calls for completely different strategy than when playing with a fewer members, but the number of strategic opportunities and decisions you make as a player increases exponentially - and it does feel overwhelmingly rewarding, to the point I've come to regard the 6-play as the one "true" way to experience PACG.

I'm not saying 6-char is to everyone's tastes but it IS a completely different experience, and calling for different approach; you may have experienced it in the app already, but the number of players will even highly influence the value you assign to some cards.

 

On 3. I completely agree about the arbitrary marriage of linked locations and Wildcards, and I mostly don't even bother with Heroic and Legendary, and I'll continue to do so, until someone has the idea that players should be able to chose their own Wildcards (and On/Off Limited Movement) and then *they should be rewarded based on the chosen combination*. Even now, you can 'game' the system by restarting scenarios until you get the 'right' combo of Wildcards, and the devs seems to bet on inconvenience as the only deterrent that they won't do it - which always strikes me as an unfortunate design decision. It kinda feels insulting. If I can 'reroll' the Wildcards unlimited times - just give me the opportunity to chose them already; I don't care about the gold, I just want to check off the Legendary difficulty, for Lamashtu's sake!

And yeah, I want Linked Locations, without the arbitrary "+ 4 to all check difficulty", thank you very much.

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You can use the 'Mark Solved' button beneath a post that answers your topic or confirms it's not a bug.

The time that devs don't have to spend on the forum is a time they can spend on fixing the game.

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The blessings deck definitely exerts more pressure when you play with more characters.  But at the same time you have more cards available to play (with 6 characters there's almost always a useful blessing somewhere).  Discarding is less costly because you have more decks to work with.  You have more tools at your disposal, and possible synergy between characters.  Overall I'm surprised by how well it all holds together.  For me, 3 or 4 characters is the sweet spot - but that is probably just due to my party composition, builds, and strategy.  I'm sure other players find 1 character or 6 characters to be ideal.

 

I completely agree about movement restriction being the most interesting part of legendary.

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I Also like a lot that movement restriction!

Yep. 6 player party is about spreading out, cornering the willain and temporary closing. Smaller parties can close individual locations and so on. The strategy is different in Many way. But is is easier or harder... it is in the eay of beholder. With big party you have right tool to everything, but more locations. With solo or small party you have less locations so more time, but you lack tools to owercome obstacless.

 

I like Lonshot idea about chosing your own Path with difficulty. It Sounds a lot like making your custom race in the Master Of the Orion.

The reward system is now Locked to normal, heroic, legendary, but maybe in the Skull and shacles the team can give more freedom to the players.

In this system each wildcard would give independed gold multifier. The problem would be how to open those Legendary rewards, but maybe if you take high enough combinations They will count as "legendary". There is always posibilities to tinker. Ofcourse some players like randomnes, so pic random wildcards button would be there to those players.

 

I did hope for movement restriction togle to normal and heroic games too a long time ago, but there were much more pressing issues back then, so it was not possible back then. But with programs there is always room to change and improvements so maybe I can play this game with movement restriction in lower (low) difficulty levels too.

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[...] the Obsidian app is a direct conversion of the Patfinder Adventure Card Game, made by Lone Shark games and licensed by Paizo. As such, Obsidian may be the wrong target here, and you might want to post it over at the Paizo forums.

Did not know this, but suspected as much from clues. Reason I do it here is mainly because here is where the game refers one when asking for feedback. :)

 

I can see where you're coming from. When I first sat down to play with a 6-characters party, I was intimidated by the whole "80 cards in 30 turns" proposition ... but the fact that I never looked back and I have barely touched another board game in the last 3 years should be speaking volumes. I have over 200 games between the 3 iterations of the board game and the app, the vast majority of them - with 6 characters, and the times when I lost due to unlucky Henchman/Villain placement can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yes, it is a possibility, but it is highly unlikely.

Furthermore, I would point out that when comparing 6-char party VS , say, 2-char party, I have always felt more well-equipped for any given task at hand when I play with more characters. Yes, it calls for completely different strategy than when playing with a fewer members, but the number of strategic opportunities and decisions you make as a player increases exponentially - and it does feel overwhelmingly rewarding, to the point I've come to regard the 6-play as the one "true" way to experience PACG.

I'm not saying 6-char is to everyone's tastes but it IS a completely different experience, and calling for different approach; you may have experienced it in the app already, but the number of players will even highly influence the value you assign to some cards.

 

On the whole I agree completely (except possibly about the probabilities). Easy to misunderstand my point really. I prefer the large party format on the whole. I have played all the currently released adventures all the way through with all but one character (the monk is lagging a bit), mostly with large groups (5 or 6) except in the beginning.

The bit about feeling well equipped I agree on, but I note that it is in general just that, a feeling. Think about it.

You might have characters and items that cover most situations, but there is no reliable way to make the skill meet the need except by luck. It is just as likely that your rogue runs into a magic puzzle (and fail) while your wizard runs into a pit trap (and fail, in pain... ...probably together with the poor monk, who can't use his skill to stop the stupid wizard dumping both of them in the hole) as the opposite. And since the pit trap gets shuffled away, there is no real point counting on the acrobatics there next turn, since it might now be at the bottom of the deck. :)

The one exception to this is, of course, location specific needs. Those can be rather demanding and really benefit from specific talents.

 

The main issues here is the fact that, in general, you either loose due to time or win so completely it's almost sad. And that the difference between these two is often one, or possibly a few, die rolls somewhere past the mid-game. Succeed and you curb-stomp the villain (two successive combat rolls of expected average 30+ usually suffice), but if you fail there is virtually no chance to recover.

(E.g. 8 turns left, encounter villain with (you think) reasonable preparedness (having found it with spells and moved the right heroes to the right positions). Then miss one simple temp-close (1/8 chance), which makes you not close another by banishing a card. Then miss a pre-battle check by rolling less than 5 on 2d12 [a 1/24 chance]-> bury virtually entire hand, including weapons/spells -> loose fight -> get hit with a 4 damage hit that hits everyone at location and may not be reduced, then loose 2 card from the blessings deck and loose track of where villain is with 7 turns left on tracker and very few cards in hand for at least 1 other hero... optionally, burn almost every booster every character have to avoid getting smashed down -> same situation, except that now every character has used most blessings they had on hand and you have one turn more, still... good night)

The extremely limited turn count makes it all about luck more often than not, since there is no real room to recover from a failure. And this... is at normal difficulty... (and yes, the above example actually happened) :)

 

But I used the phrase difficulty multiplier, and it is on heroic and legendary that this problem actually becomes aggravating. Since even minor increases in roll difficulty makes above scenarios a lot more likely (because of the nature of multi-die probability curves), even ignoring any scenario special rules like "each time you find a foe, manage a difficulty x or get cooked for y damage" or similar. Several of the scenarios are virtually unplayable with a large party at higher difficulty in my experience.

 

But on the whole my peevishness is not really caused by changes in difficulty (2 char parties are mostly boring, im,nsh,o).

My problem is one you pointed out. That it becomes, for all intents and purposes, different games. :)

 

On 3. I completely agree about the arbitrary marriage of linked locations and Wildcards, and I mostly don't even bother with Heroic and Legendary, and I'll continue to do so, until someone has the idea that players should be able to chose their own Wildcards (and On/Off Limited Movement) and then *they should be rewarded based on the chosen combination*. Even now, you can 'game' the system by restarting scenarios until you get the 'right' combo of Wildcards, and the devs seems to bet on inconvenience as the only deterrent that they won't do it - which always strikes me as an unfortunate design decision. It kinda feels insulting. If I can 'reroll' the Wildcards unlimited times - just give me the opportunity to chose them already; I don't care about the gold, I just want to check off the Legendary difficulty, for Lamashtu's sake!

And yeah, I want Linked Locations, without the arbitrary "+ 4 to all check difficulty", thank you very much.

This was the point which I suspected I would get most general agreement on. I'm glad I seem to be right about that at least. :)

Edited by Obbas
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The game changes with more characters, this seems to be by design really.

 

Yes with a small number of characters the blessing deck isn't usually the real clock - the real clock is the character deck. With a large number of characters the blessing deck becomes the clock - and the character deck less so. In a 1 character game that character could take 30 turns, in a 6 character game each character only takes 5 (assuming no deaths). This makes the game significantly different - you need to be trading cards in your character deck for cards in the blessing deck - which means playing "discard this card to explore" cards a lot. Whereas in a single character game some sort of healing to get discarded cards back in your deck will be very useful.

 

And sure some monsters become much tougher when there are lots of character - then again each character can add a blessing to the check. 

 

The physical game is pretty well known for being more difficult with more players. It's just how it works

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I really like that the game plays differently with a different number of characters. The physical game costs about $180 for the whole thing (and your costs go up if you sleeve your cards). The story is limited (33-35 chapters depending on the set). The fact that a 1-character game is very different from a 4-character game, which is different from a 6-character game, is a big plus.

 

I'd agree that in Runelords you have limited control over when you encounter the henchmen and villains. I don't agree with the idea that you don't have much control over whether you encounter them (in the course of the entire game). You build a 6-character party for exploring. You maximize this. Health is less of an issue than it is for a small party. You have more powers and resources available to help with checks, so you fail fewer (although it's true, a blessing played on a check is a lost explore). It's much more likely the character trying to close a location is a good match for the closing requirement, so you succeed at temporarily- and permanently closing more often.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ok, lets see. The game has been asking me for my feedback since I started playing and I felt it was time to begin. I do not like to whine, since I do enjoy the game, but these are the issues that are most annoying and undermining of that enjoyment. At least relating to direct difficulty.

It will also, unfortunately, be a rather long text since I really hate whining without arguments to back them up (or refute). (And because I'm a long-winded old bore, of course)

 

1.

My number one issue with the game design is the one directly related to the topic title, "The nature of difficulty, and how it changes with numbers". More specifically, the number of heroes in the party.

 

There is something innately crazy about a game that gets more difficult as a whole (as opposed to more difficult on an encounter-level) when you have more heroes, but that is not really what is annoying.

The annoying part is that the change in difficulty is a matter of statistics and luck independent from the abilities of the heroes in question. More precisely, it becomes a matter of initial card order and little else. The problem, simplified, is this:

 

The game is set up so that you have 29 turns in total. These have to be enough to work through a number of 10 card piles equal to the number of heroes plus two. Over time we can count on the henchman/villain in each location being on average the 5 or 6th card. An average becoming more and more likely as we increase the number of piles. The increase in difficulty for party size is almost solely linked to this fact of statistics.

A party of 1 needs an average of 16,5 explorations to even find all of them, much less beat them.

A party of 2: average 22

A party of 3: average 27,5 (break point)

A party of 4: average 33

A party of 6: average 44

This means that the difficulty of a large party has nothing to do with the difficulty of encounters and challenges. It is the difficulty of actually finding the villain at all, a matter of almost pure luck. A party of 4 or more will be required to use up abilities for the sole purpose of skimming cards and hope they do not run into something inconvenient.

Even finding the villain early can also be more of a disaster for a large party if you fail to defeat it, or it escapes somehow, since it then eats one turn for each open location...

 

Of course, you might point out that a larger party has access to more in the way of items, blessings, companions and spells, but these too suffers from the same basic problem. There is no guarantee the cards you need are in the right place at the right time, and the chance of them being so decrease with the number of locations.

In short: Each heroes functional worth decrease in a manner that parallel the difficulty-increase, not counterbalancing to it.

This in itself is bad enough, but this is a difficulty multiplier in those scenarios when enemies become stronger based on numbers, such as Mom in "them ogres..."

To beat her you need to keep the cards you will have to use up in order to find her in the first place...

 

 

2.

Check difficulty and higher levels. The progression of difficulty for some checks feels skewed.

They progress to keep them difficult in relation to those classes that specializes in those stats, in general.

They should progress more in relation to those in the middle. A wizard should have serious difficulty avoiding things like dragonfire or rocks unaided. A rogue or monk should not. Especially when those checks have to be made by a random character (or several) almost every other round.

Blessings are useless in these cases, since you really can't afford to use the 2-3 blessings needed to give a D4 character a reasonable chance at a difficulty 8+ check.

 

3.

The third thing that annoys me, on a much much lesser level than the first two, also relates to difficulty.

Why is the limitation on movement only used in on legendary difficulty?

The restricted movements challenges the players skill in planing his deployments and encourages the use of movement related abilities.

It should be a separate difficulty option, since I think it would be fun to occasionally play with restricted movement without the horrors of two wildcards.

 

 

I will offer the following thoughts.  While these are very valid perceptions on the game, there are a few reasons for what makes it fun.  For me, at least.

 

1.  Most board games are competitive, and thus more players make them harder by virtue of having other players be the difficulty.  Co-op board games are fewer in number and have to have a better way of making the NPC 'threat' still manage to be a threat no matter how many folks are brought to the table.  Some games, like Sentinels of the Multiverse, do this by directly buffing the power of the enemy in relation to the number of PCs.  Pathfinder Adventures balances this by giving more cards to deal with in relation to the number of PCs. 

 

If you look at it from a pure base numbers game, then yes.  The game does, in fact, get crazy hard with six folks vs. three or even one.  But this game is all about the cooperative nature of using skills and cards to beat the odds.  The chances are that if you have more than two players, one of them is likely a healer, and you're probably using those blessing/ally cards to great benefit to equalize the timer.  For that matter, very few bosses actually do increase in difficulty based on the number of players at hand.  They've got their target numbers to hit, and those numbers are often much harder to hit when you've got one or two heroes vs. four or more. 

 

You also need to keep in mind the temp-closing mechanic.  You don't actually have to sift through every pile, you just have to close two down to get to where you can kill the villain when they pop up, and that applies whether you've got one hero or the full six.  In fact with more characters, you have more ability to throw favorable location-closing combos where they're needed, and less worry about keeping every character's trump cards handy so they can bust those locations.  It's even perfectly valid to, say, focus-fire a couple locations down as a party, and then spread out to handle temp locations until someone finds the villain.  I've been working with a 4-person party myself, I very rarely actually run out of time on any but the strictest and craziest Legendary maps.

 

The third thing to keep in mind:  Failure isn't bad in this game.  The only time failure is bad is if you're going hardcore and get someone killed.  That's bad.  Otherwise?  If you don't succeed at a map, chances are you might have picked up at least one upgrade for somebody that will help the next run out.  The fun is in building the deck and finding the tactics that get you through the encounters.  By the time you're in Deck 3 or 4, you have enough skill-ups, card-ups, new cards, and powers, that it gets a lot harder for the game to properly phase your party.

 

2.  The checks themselves can be annoying, running into the wrong check with the wrong character and all, but that's how they reflect how it would happen in the tabletop game, and is another party-difficulty slider that's all about resources.  With only one or two players, you probably can't afford to throw too many extra blessings, and thus maybe it's a good idea to invest in an extra armor or two to keep around, just in case?  With only two folks, you have the extra turns to spare, so having a card in your hand occupied by a 'just in case' armor isn't going to kill you too much.  In a bigger party?  Folks probably focused more on having the extra blessings/spells to sift through decks and eat bosses, so there's usually somebody with an extra blessing or two to help you out so your character and his piddly d4 doesn't get his hand wiped out by that random pit trap.  This is, again, where the co-op in the game really shines, in figuring out how to spend as few of the party's resources as possible to win. 

 

3.  I'll agree that I don't understand why adding in pathing is what makes something 'Legendary' instead of 'Heroic'.  I would have much preferred something like the jump from Normal to Heroic, some further modification of the scenario's ruleset to add more difficulty.  Pathing doesn't actually add difficulty to the well-prepared group, if anything it just helps you assign who goes where out of necessity of keeping loss of turns to movement to a minimum.  The only map where movement was a big issue was Here Comes the Flood, and trying to outrace that stupid sea monster.

 

As for the wildcards...  To those of you who just reset for a better pick just to avoid 'annoying' wildcards, do you do the same thing in playing the real game and the first thing you run into is a bad barrier and a botched roll?  They're just like any other game rule, if you're going to play the game, you should just play with what you're given, and if you lose...then try again!  They shouldn't have to police whether people reset games based on the wildcards picked, they're there to add a difficulty to play through.  If you're just gold-farming anyway, I doubt half of the wildcards that can pop up actually put too much of a dent in any given run. 

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I haven't read all the replies, so my apologies if any of this is redundant. :)

 

First, I really enjoyed the OP. It's great to read in-depth game analysis like this -- such a breath of fresh air compared to all the superficial whining game forums usually see!

 

Now for my replies:

 

Point 1: In my 6-player campaign, I haven't lost a single scenario. And this is while talking and recording, so I make quite a few careless mistakes (and boy do some of my viewers rip into me over it :p). For many years, the consensus among PACG fans on the Paizo forums has been that the game is actually too easy, not that it's too hard.

 

What I think your analysis overlooks is that while you cannot indeed have "all the right cards at the right time," there's a lot of redundancy in the decks. All blessings can give an extra explore. Almost all allies can, as well. Thus, having "the right card at the right time" is usually just a matter of having any blessing or ally in your deck so you can explore again (or having any blessing so you can add a die to an important check). Yes, you sometimes get screwed because Seoni didn't have her Sihedron Medallion when some random monster blasted her for 3 unavoidable pre-combat damage, but mostly what you need to succeed is extra dice to make checks and extra explores to beat the clock, and in that particular area, the character decks have overwhelming redundancy.

 

Think of it another way: the time a big party loses by having extra locations to explore is gained when it succeeds at checks a smaller party would have failed. When a small party fails a check, the card gets shuffled back in and the explore is wasted, but it's okay because the small party has plenty of time. The big party doesn't lose that time in the first place.

 

Point 2: I agree completely. Obsidian tried to fix this in some ways, for example by giving Bandit henchmen the Veteran keyword (+1 difficulty per adventure level), but the problem is really pervasive and Obsidian didn't go far enough. The difficulty curve throughout the adventure is out of whack.

 

Point 3: I agree completely. Restricted movement should be an a la carte option. It increases difficulty in a novel, challenging, and (most importantly!) fair and beatable way, unlike some of the heroic scenario powers and wild cards (I'm looking at you, Night Approaches). Don't get me wrong, I enjoy and play both Heroic and Legendary, but I would LOVE to have restricted movement in my vanilla game without having to include all the ridiculous stuff.

Edited by Borissimo
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