Friday, April 18, 2008

Kongai: Sausaletus's Big List O' Balance

Again, I'm cross-posting this on a time-delay from the Sirlin forums. Recent changes have made some of my observations obsolete. Subsequent re-examination has made other insights laughable. Such is life.

I'm working on a revised version even as I type (What? In my head. I can write more than two things at once, it's part of why I type so fast - it's the only way I can keep up with myself.) but, at minimum, I think Helene, Rumicans, and Ambrosia all drop a tier. While my current problematic card would include Le Morte, Yoshiro, and Tafari. Still,this isn't a post about being accurate but more archiving my state of mind at the time, so here it is, as unedited as I can make it.

I posted an abbreviated version of the following over at Kongregate. In the Kongai comments thread where it soon spun into oblivion underneath a wave of calls for a redo on starter cards and complaints about the AI. And where it was reduced to a mere scrap of its former glory underneath the crushing weight of a restrictive limit on maximum characters. Still, I think it was helpful so let me just put it up here where there's room for it to breath anew.

I could (And, sigh, have in my mind) write a full post on many of these characters and their issues. But, instead of further pushing the maximum character length around here, I'll try to keep it to a brief overview of each character. But, first, my current priority list for balance. Keep in mind this isn't intended to note which cards are best merely those which are most in need of a change or three. Stronger cards, by their very nature, scream out for a pummeling with child-safe foam - because it's easier to tone something down than making bringing something else up to sane but useful - but not always.

Also note that these opinions are from before the latest patch which is - to the best of my knowledge - not live yet. Once it does, I'll try and update my thoughts on the characters affected. With the exception of Yoshi and Helene, I don't think they change much.

Problematic cards (Cards that need an overhaul):

  • Rumicans - Needs her skills to work together better
  • Helene - Needs to be more like Ashi or more unlike her. I choose the later option.
  • Le Morte - Needs to deal more damage or be more efficient I choose the former option.

Cards that need a tweak (Cards that need one or two minor changes):
  • Higashi - Needs a bigger achilles heel
  • Tafari - Needs an innate that punishes actions but doesn't prohibit them.
  • Zina - Needs a better innate
  • Anex - Make Enchant count?
  • Ashi - Less Bleeding, more Signature
  • Phoebe - Stronger Kick = Reverse Higashi
  • Ambrosia - Make Blood Ritual count? (Need to see how the new version plays out.)

Cards that are alright by me (Cards that require little to no attention at the moment):
  • Amaya - Fiddly but strong
  • Onimaru - Ancestral Curse affects the field?
  • Yoshiro - Needs a better innate
  • Juju - A solid newbgate
  • Popo - Swingy but strong
  • Ubuntu - Maybe a little too strong at range?
  • Andromeda - Good enough as is.
  • Constantine - Up the cost of Hypno-toad slightly
  • Solomon - Needs a different innate than Anex
  • Voss - Solid if unspectacular


Amaya - Deceptively powerful card that requires careful tending to shine. I don't think he needs any changes, really.

Higashi - Hands down the best card in the game. Strong at both ranges, really gives opponents headaches. And that's before considering his wonderfully elegant innate. The only thing is, I think he's a little too good. I don't want to nerf him out of play but I would like to give him a bigger achilles heel and, I think, that can be accomplished with one small change - turn Chi Blast from a straight hit into a multiplicative attack. You don't even have to cut the damage, make it 5x13 or 8x8. But that would mean that characters like Voss and Phoebe and even Amaya don't have quite so much to worry about when backing off to range. He can always run them down with Dashings but he won't be able to fire off death beams. And it keeps him from using General's to turn it into a one-hit for nearly everyone else.

Onimaru - Sub-par. But there are several other strong melee bangers so I can live with it. What I'd like to see, though, is turning Ancestral Curse from a skill that affects the opponent to one that affects the field - let it take away Kobionimaru's big drawback even if the opponent switches out and then he gets significantly more threatening when he can close to range.

Rumicans - Not a fan. Rumiko is caught in a weird space, I think, when she could be much more effective going in a different direction. The issue is that her skills don't play well with one another. Look at Eviscerate - which is weak compared to other skills that cost 70 energy - and ask yourself this, "Okay, so it hits. And the stun procs. Then what?" Do you follow with a ninja-port? That'll leave you with no energy and nothign to do but Poison Dart. Step back to range for some Shuriken throwing? Sorry, but you don't have the energy until the next turn. Poison? Sure, if you want to keep yourself in your current energy hole. Use the opportunity for a free switch out? Breastiko already gets the easiest swap-out in the game so why did you need to make it even easier?. Even Shurikens, which is strong by itself, isn't quite that great since you won't be able to range-fight and still have the energy left over to toss them (Oh, sure, "I'll just use Ninja-port, that'll save me energy". Not so fast because next turn your opponent is going to push up. And if you want to stay far you'll have to burn the energy to stay there and that leaves you with only 35. Not enough to cast Shurikens. This is exactly what I'm talking about. Even when it works exactly like you planned you're only buying yourself one Shuriken, not two.). Now, you could tweak her, changing her costs and other values until you found a sweet spot. But, personally, I'd rather get nuts here by radically repurposing her into a character that's more about field control and disabling your opponent than defeating them. I'd cut the damage on Shurikens - 6x6 maybe even as low as 8x4 - but give it the "hits fleeing" condition. And....there. Maybe up the stun chance on Eviscerate but that would do it for me.

Yoshiro - I'm still not sure why anyone grabs Yoshiro when they could pick up Higashi. Unless they really, really hate Higashi, I guess (Not just through personal preference but Yoshi actually matches up fairly well with Higashi.). But I wouldn't want to change his skills since they're about right. I think, really, he just needs a more effective elite. It's probably not going to be enough to kick him into the spotlight but it would keep him from the reject pile, for me.


Juju - I think Juju's about right. He's got some interesting tricks. I don't happen to think they're worth all that much but he's solid enough for me not to care given the work some other cards need. More to the point, I don't want to play a game where Juju is among the stronger cards - just one where he's pesky enough to be the occasional threat.

Popo - Awesome. Way too swingy for my tastes, the character most likely to cause top players to slit their wrists when they lose to some random playing a nothing deck. But that's exactly what makes this card so beautiful.

Tafari - Let me quote from some character who crafted some particularly keen concepts in the Kongai comments at Kongregate (Say that five times fast, why don't you?) "Tafari's innate is just dumb design, pure and simple. It prohibits certain actions, altering the basic gameplay in unfair and frustrating ways by forcing your opponent into bad actions. Putting your enemy behind the 8-ball isn't a bad thing and is, in fact, the cornerstone of the game. It's just that Tafari does it by fiat instead of punishing certain actions so as to make them disadvantageous for a player to perform....What he needs to do is place the onus on the other player to make the right call rather than simply dictate what's to be how Tafari and Higashi's innates change how you play the game. One of them is a good idea, working by influencing a player's action and, thus, ties into the core concept of the game's design... The other is just dumb by limiting those options mechanically." Oh wait, that was me and, although tragically cramped by the space limitations, I think the point still stands. Tafari's innate doesn't make your opponent think. It doesn't make them react. It simply takes a basic option away. Its strength keeps Tafari's skills from being evaluated on their own merits - instead it all but relegates them to awfulness because anything like an effective skill list makes Tafari not just problematic but hopeless to play against. Change his innate to something more fair and more interesting (I've yet to hear a better idea than making him a Mega-Caltrops) and everything else can change. But as long as he forces people into bad match-ups automatically he can't be a strong character.

Ubuntu - Basically fine. Ubuntu's a card that makes other cards better, going to be strong in 5-card than 3 by definition (As are cards that focus on hitting the field like Amaya or Zina). I'm not sure he has a space in my decks but there's no denying it's a fertile design space. I'd like to see his close range attacks changed so the point is the buff and the damage is the incidental after-effect - that way they can proc even on a switch-out or a miss - since dealing damage with them is just gravy anyways but that could just be my own sick mind. I'm also a bit puzzled by Spirit Assistance. Which gives him a surprisingly effective two-round kill from range. One that's hard to swap out of, too. It just seems to me like the Spirit, like Touch of Doom or Enchant Blades, should be one of those status effects that shouldn't stack. But, then, it's not like Ubuntu has much killing power otherwise so I can live with the mental disconnect.

Zina - Zina's big flaw is her subpar innate. And when I say subpar I mean it's so far beneath others in terms of raw power and utility that it's taken up squatting in their basement and they're starting to wonder about the odd smell. Two rounds of +10% damage (Which is, by the way, +4 damage on her big nuke.) and toggling your damage to another type - which might or might not be useful - is many things but good is so far off that list that good thinks the list exists only in fairytales and myths. And worse, you only get it for killing someone which is rather hard to do. Rather than impacting play it's incidental. I'm not a big fan of "win more" abilities in the first place but this is helping you win about as much as your roommate stepping on your powerstrip while he's dancing around in his underwear (Why is he giving you a free show? Because he saw Blood Feast and the dark knowledge of hopelessness and despair it etched across his brainpan drove him insane, that's why.). But I'll live with an uber-buff on card death as long as it's actually working. In order to do that, it has to proc something that makes your opponent exclaim "Oh no, it's Mecha-Zina! Run for your lives, Tokyo is doomed!" Really groan at having lost a card to the kitty's claws, in so many words. I'm not sure exactly what it takes to do that but I'd, at a minimum start by lengthening the duration and giving it a bit more oomph. Giving it abilities exactly like Misstress's Command makes that skill unnecessary which I don't like but there's no denying it's powerful.


Andromeda - Figure out the infinite push loop and she's golden.

Anex - I don't know, really. Anex isn't a strong card. She isn't a bad card. I don't throw up my hands in disgust when the RNG hands her to me and, in fact, I've been putting her to good use. I love the "hits on fleeing" off of her Chakkra and Power Toss can be devastating - I like forced switches almost as much as I like fleeing hits and the net effect is that Anex is very good at controlling the field. But she just doesn't feel like a superstar and I'm not sure what it is that's holding her back. I think the main problem is that Enchant feels like it's not doing enough. She doesn't have a "times x" skill like Helene (And I'll save the rant for why it's lame to have two characters with the same exact skill for another time. Don't think it's not coming. I'm just letting the ire seethe and the anger fester.) to send into the stratosphere and is adding mere percentages to her damage (It also doesn't apply to Power Toss, which is weird.). And since she lacks a dark magic attack it's also not nearly as useful for getting around resistances.

- Ashi is near perfect. Not invincible but she'll rage all over your face and leave a fine, bloody froth in her wake if you let her. The only thing that really needs a tweak at this point is Bleeding. Not only is it cheap, not only does it cause massive, "two hits and you're dead, I don't care who you are" damage, with an auto-hit chance, it's also a light magic attack. Which means for her go-to move, Ashi gets to ignore things like Elusive Feather and Hide and everything else that opponents might be hoping slows down the pain train. I'd like to see the damage come down ever so much to the 35 range with only 8 extra damage (4 for 2 turns). That's enough to leave powerhouses like Onimaru or Helene still standing. At the same time, I'd switch it to a physical attack while making the overlooked Signature Slice into a light attack - that gives players a reason to use it instead of Bleeding, I'd think.

Helene - Helene combines high speed attacks, energy-efficient attacks, and high damage attacks. Two of those three would make her a great card. Three of them is a little too much especially since she has a damage toggle that lets her skip over any resist she runs up against. Since we already have Ashi, I think the answer is to cut back on her killing power and make her the close-range character who's going to chip their opponents to dust rather than pound them to rubble. One who's going to be able to step and rest, step and rest, nearly as long as she wants. This requires an across the board reduction in her damage potential as well as her skill prices. I'd strip Frenzied of its energy engine - it's already good enough by letting her get around physical restrictions and swap it over to Sword Slash, dropping the weak Bleeding conditional. I also think Shield Bash is a bit strong for her. I'd rather turn it into a cheaper but more dicey interrupt - one that, like Tackle, doesn't have a certain chance to work. And I think Enchanting could use a bit of a revamping to make it more useful to Sword Slash and not just automatic lead to a Frenzy (That's just going to lead to a double damage spike if their target caller is on the ball and...oh, sorry, forgot which game I was discussing there.).

Pheobe - A very solid ranged card. I think the innate could use a little looking at since it's a little bit of a crapshoot but that's just me. The problem is we already have Andromeda - Phoebe is a little weaker from range and a little stronger up close (Thanks to Deafening. I heart Deafening.). And I want to make sure each card has its own particular niche rather than a few different archetypes out of which any given one card is going to reign supreme. And the thing is, I think Phoebe's only one more solid skill away from being a great card. One that, like Higashi, poses a threat up close and from long range - a card that forces opponents to pick their poison. And that, I think, is a drastically more effective Kick. It doesn't have to be a close-range Chi Blast - doing massive, massive damage because she already has Power Lash - it just has to make opponents think twice about closing with Phoebe because they'll risk being booted to the discard pile.


Ambrosia - Blood Ritual. I don't like it. Nor am I particularly fond of the proposed change (Love the idea - hits fleeing is awesome. But, again, buffs are weak.). Have to see how that one plays first but I suspect it's going to be underused and make her skills overpriced in isolation, without the buff. I'd try something really nasty like "Blood Ritual. For x rounds, your dark magic attacks work from both ranges."

Constantine - The concern here is how often he can pull a Hypno-Toad out of his pocket and wave it in his enemy's face. At 30en he'd only be burning 10 energy a round and that's a long time to stand there flashing the googly eyes. Worse, it's enough to Hypnotic a few times before or after a Pilebunker. A slight uptick, even to 35en, keeps it from being chained together so well.

Le Morte - There are two ways to go with Le Morte. The first is to cut his skill costs but I don't like that because it doesn't solve his fundamental problem - the Maquis doesn't create enough of a threat. And lowering his costs turns him into a prime character for stalling - warping around the field and bloodburning off until you're finally forced out. Instead, I'd propose a massive retake on him in order to make him a high damage card but one that's going to burn out quickly and need to be switched out - where he starts to gain from his innate but you have to risk the intercept your opponent knows to keep ready. That starts by cranking up the damage on his skills to the point where he can two-hit - which, actually, I don't think takes much. I'd also cut the energy on Teleport. Sure, it's the only skill that lets you set to Close but compared to the Ninja-Ports - which also deal damage - it's overpriced. Turn that into a null-cast (ie 20 energy or less) and the Marquis gets nasty while a low priority keeps it from being too abusable (Ie you switch to far then you pop teleport ad naseum.). I'd also ditch Bloodburn in favor of a skill that lets him make use of all that health he should be stealing. I just have to fight the temptation to call it Blood Is Power.

Solomon - I have problems with Tantrum that go to my general misgivings about buffs in general, but it does make those multiplicative skills of his go nuts - it's just hard to work into a combo since it's close-only and drains so much energy. But, really, my biggest problem is that his innate is exactly the same as Anex's. I like what it does for him but I'd rather each character/skill be distinct so, instead, I'd want something like "Cain Solomon gains 1% damage for each 1% of health lost, maximum (25~75%)." - ie. at 42HP or 60% he'd be doing +40% damage which is a lot but makes up for taking one in the chin while you burn a turn pitching a hissy fit. Gives him the same "gets stronger as things go longer" feel but with just that little twist different.

Voss - Great as is. Maybe not the best card out there but solid and versatile.

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