Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rex Does Kongai: Rockers Six – Issues Going Forwards

Having had a few days to think things over, I believe we're about ready to patch up the Rock Stars with some needed fixes. However, I'm going to hold off on that for a little while since I'm deep into the Gangsters and we'll be having plenty of bar-filled goodness soon enough. Instead, I thought I'd share what issues I think are most pressing with the Rock Stars going forwards. The things that have been on my mind as I wrestle with improving them. More of a general overview than any real detailing but, perhaps, a guide for what's to come.


With the bopper we've solved the typical problem of a healing character – turns spent healing are turns not spent attacking – by making him into an active healing. One who's offense turns into defensive boosts to his health bar. We could have done much the same by making his skills drain life but, instead, made them proc heals on crits. The problem this creates is that we've now tied his healing into his damage. The Bopper gets to attack and gets to gain health back, along with having impressive protection. This threatens to make him extremely hard to defeat even as he's defeating his opposition. I' He's a character, after all, who can heal nearly 20% of his health each time he attacks, gaining 15 of his 80 hit points back. And I've calculated that, on average, he'll have as much healing power as would a character with Herbal Remedy attached (He'll have to buff up first unless he wants to rely on Skill #1's naturally high crit, though.). But, by going with random crits over something more reliable it's an extremely variable ability. In two hits with Skill #1, the Bopper can heal for a massive 30, he can heal for an average 15, or he can gain exactly 0 health. That's a very wide swing and that he can boost his crit rates up higher and remove some of the randomness doesn't really help.

In short, tying his offense and healing so closely together makes each more difficult to balance. Not impossible, but harder than it would otherwise be. If he's dealing too much damage then his healing makes him difficult to outfight. If he's healing for too much then he has a lot more opportunity to deal damage. If he's too good or too bad teasing out the root cause won't be easy.

Still, I think we're on the right track by treating him more like a tank than a scrapper and trying to find some magic ideal ratio that tilts him more towards attacking than healing. He's a card that needs to be dealing less damage than most, if only because he could be sticking around much longer than most.


Power. Too much power. The Glam Rocker is a cautionary example of what happens when you toss around too much raw power without thinking about the results.

I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating – his innate is making him difficult to balance. It scales up. It scales way, way up. And that's never a good thing especially when you're talking about energy. I thought we'd restricted it enough by limiting it to maximum energy rather than having it affect current energy (The two are related but different concepts. Basically, the way I see Glammy's innate working would be to add to his maximum based on every buff around. Giving him 100+n energy to work with. But that would just extend the cap on his yellow bar, not give him any more energy to work with. So, if he had 80 out of 100 energy left, he could have 80/120 or even 80/250, for that matter. But that 80 wouldn't change. This is horribly complicated and that's part of the whole problem here.). But it's not going to work – he gets the benefits even when he's in hand and, there, he can rest his energy to any level he needs.

And once he gets enough energy, he gets freaking nuts by blowing past the normal restriction of balancing. Making a skill cost more than 50 energy, for example, generally means that a character can't move and use it on the same turn. It's an important restriction that keeps powerful skills from being too devastating. And I'd argue it adds a lot of complexity to the game by creating a lot of maneuvering. And Glammer just wrecks it. With a big enough bar he can step and use his big damage Skill #2 all he wants. Even into a target that's already been stunned thanks to his perfect proc Skill #3.

That's another nightmare. I was hoping it would create an interesting foced switch scenario. An opponent who'd have to choose between running away and eat that stun in hand by shuffling to another card or staying to get in a hit that only to become vulnerable the next. But, really, all it's doing is costing an opponent a turn. Stunned or switched, you gain an advantage even if you guess wrong.

And then there's the energy stealing skill.

At the same time, although in some ways Glammer is completely nuts, he's also incredibly weak in some important aspects, too. Simply put, the stuff he has that's not completely broken is worthless because it doesn't do anything for him.

Look at his #4 Ballad, with costs a ton of eenrgy to raise end of turn regeneration. We don't want to be handing out easy energy, after all. Not unless we're making an insane innate, of course. But the energy that Glammer gains from Power Ballad isn't enough to offset the cost. He loses energy on the deal and because we're worried about infinite range shifts, he doesn't gain enough for it to really be worth shunting that extra energy into later turns (An effect that can be useful, I'd think, and something I've done before, but that really isn't a consideration here.). For his teammates, of course, it's gravy. The rest of the cards on Glammer's team get that free energy, so it's a skill that benefits other cards more than it gains him.

Something similar happens with the proc that his stupidly high damage Skill #2 can lay out there as well. The Glammer needs to be less broken but he also needs to have abilities that more directly help him when he's out there on the field.

Still, these are correctable problems. I've screwed up on the power levels here, fluctuating wildly between too much and too little. But the underlying structure is fairly sound. These are ideas that can be made to work, if only we could bring them into line with reality.


Votan has a few issues, mostly stemming from the realization that he's just dealing way too much damage.

Firstly, Votan is a conditional character. We've tied his innate ability to having a certain effect. Without it, he's not nearly as good. With it, he goes through the roof. And this need to get them on the field is why I've included so many ways for him to proc Bleeds. But because he deals so much damage and probably will even if after we tone him down, he's compressing the fight and he only has a few turns in which to meet that condition. His target should need to be Bleeding. They should need to get Bleeding quick because Votan isn't the kind of card who can really slow play and build up an advantage – he's more of the go for the throat kind of guy.

Second, Votan doesn't need to buff. He should need his Ballad to inflate his crit to ridiculous rates so he'll hit even harder. He should need a foe to be hemorrhaging health through their open veins, pushing his damage up even farther. But he doesn't. When buffing, the trade-off is that you're giving up a chance to attack in order to attack better in subsequent turns. If what you gain isn't at least equal to what you've just given up then there's no point in throwing away a turn – you should just press the attack. If you've got an attack that can kill the average opponent in 3 turns. And you've got a buff that raises its damage by half, you'd lower that time to kill to only 2 turns. But you'd still have taken 3 turns. So as long as you can work the energy out then why not just swing that first turn? Votan's got that problem since his buffs don't add enough to make it worthwhile to not attack.

Finally, One-Eye is a two-range character. We've given him only two attacks, one to work with at each range. But we've also set those attacks to the point where they're both very good. Each attack is the sort of energy efficient skill that works well with a lot of shuffling range changes while deals damage in the 30 to 40 range that can get lethal in a hurry. He lacks the big damage nuke but having a solid attack at either range means he can pick his battlefield – and opponents have to pick their poison. The question here is how does a card like Andromeda or Ashi deal with a card like this? He gets to their unfavorable range and works them over faster than they can make up when they can get back to a more comfortable place. Setting up a lot of drama on the first click of each turn but not a lot once the range is established. Simply put, Votan does too much damage from either range to be so effective at each.

All signs point due nerf here because we have got to get some of that damage out of his system. Because he deals damage so well, it's hard for his buffs to be meaningful, it's hard for landing a Bleed to supercharge his next attack, the battle is so squashed down that it doesn't matter. There's not much room to work with if he's killing folks in 2~3 turns already. Flattening out his damage curves will make those buffs and procs more important. At the same time, by lowering his turns to kill, he won't be able to so easily slice and dice single-range characters while being able to outpace the more flexible.


I'm not really sure where to start with Rocker #4. He's just a mishmash that hasn't taken shape nearly as well as I'd hoped.

The problem, though, as I see it is a lack of internal consistency. There's no one guiding mechanic here that lets everything make sense. This isn't exactly a fundamental flaw but it's holding him back.

If you look at the original cards then a lot them have skills that are pulling in all sorts of directions. Rather than bars that are concentrated towards a single, solitary goal. Those aren't bad cards, though, because what they lack in a clearly defined gimmick they make up for with all around strengths and the versatility to tackle a lot of different foes. A gimmick, on the other hand, has all of its eggs in one basket. It's tempting to build gimmicky cards but, often, the less flashy ones can be more effective. And if your gimmick is ill-thought or if the game manages to shift then you've got a useless card. Let's say you make a card with a trick, a single-range character with powerful hits that will make people run away. They'll push the range and leave your one-dimensional character stranded so, as an insidious form of payback, you'll give them a cheap ability they can use while at range to really pound their foe when they can get back in range. But, then, you find that people don't treat the movement buttons quite how you thought and that character you thought was balanced is turning into an overpowered nightmare. So you nerf and you nerf and pretty soon you've got Onimaru. But when people learn to actually play the game you'll have gone too far and need to make some changes again. Cards that are built without that central premise can suffer much less from shifts in the metagame or the overall skill of the players – or, at least, require less work to fix once they do. If your gimmick doesn't work or gets outdated then your card is sunk. But if all you have to do is shift some values and tweak some special modifiers then you can keep a card going for a long time.

Gimmick cards work best when they have a central trick that the rest of their bar supports. Solomon Grungy's really doesn't. Instead, Number Four reads more like I took a bunch of crap and threw it at the wall to see what stuck. Which is, you know, what I did. I set out a bunch of ideas and hoped they'd work themselves into something playable in time. But the problem is that nothing really has.

It's a problem, I think, with top down design. I started the Grunged One not with a clear idea of what I wanted his bar to look like or even a single skill to build around but, instead, with a general idea: Rocker #4 was going to debilitate his opponents. Somehow. And I underlined that somehow and wondered what it would be but figured that it'd come to me in time. It hasn't.

Working from the bottom up, you're more likely to get a card with a lousy gimmick but you at least start with a few things you know you'll be building around. I can't help but compare Rocker #4 with Rocker #5. With Izzy I started with only a single skill and not much else. All I knew was that a teamwide buff that raised speed was a given and I was sticking it on someone's bar. It was working around that and figuring out skills that could compliment that ability that led to the current card. And even I'm pleasantly surprised by how well it's turned out. The elements gelled into something that, while it might not be completely there, is at least a lot further along the way that I am with Rocker #4.

Here, I hoped I could take an interesting idea and have the right elements coallesce around it. There's still some value here and we've gone a long way towards making this an interesting card but we're still flailing around and trying to find a way to make it all work together. It's a problem that comes from the start. But it's still a problem we're stuck with.


Izzy is a pretty good card already but there are a few remaining issues here. They have to do with those last few final touches to turn her into a finished product. In other words, we need to find a fourth skill.

I usually find that the fourth skill on a bar is the hardest to come up with. It's easy enough to get two or three well-fitting skills but coming up with that capstone can be difficult.

With Izzy, the fourth skill, the odd one out, is her starting point. Skill #4, Speed Metal, her Ballad. Not only does she really not need it – she's already a fast card and she's got an innate that makes her even faster – it's going to be extremely problematic.

Like the thought of a Constantine with an 8 speed Pilebunker? Because that's what players can do with a teamwide buff that raises everyone's speed. Any card can be made faster, provided they can clear the low hurdle of getting on the field. Skills that were never meant to have high-priority can become blazingly fast. Worse, skills that could be absolutely broken if they were speedier can be given the same jolt. Forget an 8 speed Pilebunker. How about an 8 speed Hypnotic?

Izzy's Ballad isn't of much use to her. But it could prove immensely useful when it winds up on the wrong cards. My instincts are to keep it throttled back but it's already pretty poor as far as the card actually using it is concerned. But that might have to be the price it pays for having so much potential for mischief.


The danger here is that Juke Box is turning into a support card. And support cards, as a general rule, suck. Hard.

What I mean by support card is a character who's purpose in your deck or on the field is to make everyone else better. They're a force multiplier that helps to emphasize team building and team work, both elements that we want to play around with in this proposed set. But the problem with a card who's there simply to toss out buffs and make another card shine is that they're probably not going to be doing much by themselves. They're someone else's bitch, only as good as what's surrounding them. And with deck constraints what they are in Kongai, it doesn't pay to have one fill out your hand. Because, in your deck, in your matches, your support character becomes your team's weak link. And when they go down before they can pump out that boost you were counting on, well, your plans have unraveled and your team is going down.

The concept that's evolved with our Juke Box Hero is that he's the complimentary Rock Star. A card that you might want to take a strong look at if you've already got another Rocker in your deck Because his big schtick now is to make any Rocker an even bigger star. But if all he's doing while he's out on the field is to extend their buffs and, perhaps, lay down a few of his own, then he's not doing enough. Support should be a background theme but it can't be the only note he plays.

I think we're doing alright, though, since JBH not only makes buffs work better, buffs make JBH work better. If they increase his own abilities as much as his increase theirs then being a companion works to his advantage as well.

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