Friday, August 2, 2013

We've got Movement! A review and analysis of Arena Rex's playtest documents

A basic review

Trying out the Arena Rex playtest. This will be kind of a stream of consciousness piece, assessing things as I read them, concluding in a battle report that I'm sure will be full of errors and questions.

The first thing I opened was the file with the playtest cut outs. There were two things I noticed: first, they were pretty classily done, light enough that they wouldn't use a ton of ink, and with a clear front and back. Second, there are a ton of them. There are 4 pages' worth, and two versions of each so it's easy to tell two players' forces apart.

The second document I opened was the core rules. Conceptually, this doesn't look very different from the Kickstarter videos.

The layout is nice- better than a stripped-down, no image version, but definitely not a print-ready one either.

The biggest thing I noticed about the rules is how easily your models become Fatigued (2 Fatiguing actions and they can't do anything, but Fatigue also triggers Clear, and with it, special abilities). I was expecting more careful management of Fatigue, but it looks more like it'll resemble Heroclix's regular fluctuation of individual models' actions.

Regarding cards and individual models' rules, most of the models haven't been changed from the kickstarter previews, though a few abilities have been added and others renamed or clarified.

Only one model had a significantly longer rule, but it was clearly a reaction to testing, and only one model had new stats- this is encouraging in that it appears they're fine-tuning their pieces, rather than still unstable or completely set in their choices.

Interestingly, a couple pieces had "new art in progress" by their illustrations of mounted/dismounted models. While a little hedging, I'm happy to see the creators care enough to not be satisfied with "good enough" and want to let everyone else know the same. It reminds me of myself when it comes to creative projects, which is to say a compulsive perfectionist, which is a good thing when those people are making your game.

The volume of model-specific rules is something I appreciate, in that it looks like it'll give a decent variety and character, without going overboard like Malifaux (as much as I love the system).

I'm definitely feeling optimistic about this rules set. Nothing screams "problem," and the rules aren't overly complex. The biggest concern I have is no points system means the fine tuning all needs to be related to relative power and not by adjusting the cost. Even if some pieces are situational or support, all pieces need to be of roughly equal power, or some pieces will get ignored or always taken.

A more in-depth analysis of the game's structure

From looking at the collective stats, a few things to note:

Defense: the majority is 2, some 3, a single 1

Armor: split nearly evenly between 1 and 2, some outliers

Defense + Armor combined: 4 is most common, then 3, a few 5's, then outliers

Attack: again, the majority is 5, with a few split to either side

Health: 12 is the most common and the peak of the bell curve.

Favor: most models have 3 favor in their health.

Damage trees: Minimum damage (focusing on special moves) for all successes runs 5-10, while maximum runs 10-15. With ARM, this means it's nearly impossible to kill a model in one attack.

As demonstrated below, I expect you'll most frequently be doing around 1-2 levels of successes (modified by conditions, etc.), which will almost always net around 2-4 damage if just going for the kill. With a chance of missing, you're looking at a few attacks to kill each opponent, meaning the first strike isn't worth as much as it is in many games. Most often, this will also mean that every 1-2 hits that connect will generate 1 favor for your opponent.

Some probability
there is very clearly a baseline model they're working from and modifying. Two factions are ligher Armor than the other two, but otherwise there are very clear peaks in all areas.

Since I'm not used to the levels of success system, I thought I'd get a gist of the math involved with this. Taking average attack and defense scores,

1+ 77%
2+ 50%
3+ 23%
4+ 6%
5 <1%

Or, in simpler terms, 3/4 chance of doing one level of net success for the attacker, 50/50 of doing 2, 1/4 of doing 3

Adding some more modifiers, you get:

5x2 5x2 power atk 5x2 (+2 defend) 5x2(+2 defend) power
1+ 77% 97% 49% 82%
2+ 50% 85% 26% 58%
3+ 23% 60% 9% 30%
4+ 6% 28% 2% 10%
5 <1% 6% <1% 2%

A few things to notice here:

-a power attack will nearly guarantee at least one level of success and push 4 levels of net success from improbable to almost a 1/3 chance. However, it doesn't come close to doubling the value of 2 attacks, so is mostly important for either reaching a high success level; finishing someone off; or doing fewer attacks if your opponent can react.

-defending bumps likely success down by roughly half

-a power attack vs. defending (which increases fatigue on both sides by the same amount, though spread out for the defender) still gives you better odds than a straight attack.

-unlike most systems of attack stat + roll vs. defensive stat

...I considered factoring in favor dice, but decided that was enough math for the day.

Battle Report
This will be quick and dirty, because I'm just using some random proxies, and I'm sure that I'll be getting rules wrong.

Both sides have straight fighter and one skirmisher. All of these models had their rules previewed on Kickstarter publicly, which I've reproduced here, so you can follow along. (I'll be using their playtest rules and noting where they're modified.)

Note: I could have paired these minis as each Ludus (faction), but chose not to as to avoid over-complicating the first game.

Side 1: 
Aquila (very average, seems to be the poster boy)
Urbicus (just keeps going)

Side 2:

Hermes (very flexible, another pretty heroic dude, can generate favor from attacking)
Aemelia (some gender equality, also a skirmisher)

Set up: I made a quick square board at 28" a side, with 3 columns roughly evenly spaced in a triangle and a pit in the middle.

Side 1 got the high roll, set up on the side with 1 column.

Urbicus runs and is fatigued (but can still act when fatigued)

Aemelia react moves and is fatigued

Note: I don't see any range or direction for this- completely open-ended?

Aquila walks and Urbicus isn't fatigued

Hermes walks and Aemelia isn't fatigued (currently no fatigued models)

Aquila walks, Aemelia takes the bait, reacts, engages, spends a favor and a fatigue to make a power attack (5 dice with re-rolling misses vs. 2 dice). Even without re-rolls, Aemelia gets 5 5's, vs. Aquila's 1&2, meaning she gets her full 5 successes. (A pretty cool first attack.) She chooses togo for the blood and do the most damaging path and get one favor. She does 8 damage and Aquila gets 3 favor (2 from being damaged, 1 because he gets one from her.

Aquila then gets to make his attack (since it was his turn). With all the favor he just generated, he adds two favor dice and, just for good measure, exhausts himself for the power attack. Aemelia would rather not get killed so also uses a favor die(5 +2 favor  re-rolling, vs. 3+favor). Aemelia's dice are on fire, but Aquila has the advantage of re-rolls and more favor: she gets 5 defense successes to Aquila's 7. He goes for straight damage, she gets a Favor, so he does, too.

Aemelia isn't fatigued and Hermes runs up and attacks Urbicus (because he doesn't want to give
Aquila more favor from what he generates himself). Urbicus spends a favor die (6 vs. 2 + favor). Hermes nets 3 successes, getting 1 favor. Hermes is fatigued.

Urbicus circles with his movement to get Hermes' back to the pit and retaliates, needs to spend a favor die, power attacks and spends a second to make sure it connects (otherwise the favor is wasted); with those numbers, Hermes spends one himself (5+favor rerolling vs. 2 + favor). The re-roll manages to get 1 hit through, which is pretty embarassing but still pushes Hermes towards the pit. (Aemelia is too far away to react effectively)

Hermes isn't fatigued, Aemelia circles and attacks (fatigued) Aquila. She wants to make sure this one sticks (because she might get him into the pit with a high roll), so spends everything for +2 favor and a re-roll. Aquila spends 1 favor. 5 successes allow Aemelia to push him 3 times and kill him with the pit.

Notes: I'm not sure if he generates favor from his own damage or would have if she had gained one for herself. I was pretty sure the answers are yes and no respectively.

Urbicus chooses to Clear, Recover, and Maneuver b/c he doesn't want to get shoved into the pit like Aquila

Hermes attacks, Urbicus spends a favor. Hermes misses.

Urbicus attacks the exhausted Aemelia and lands 2 hits+ a shove b/c she's exhausted, nearly getting her into the pit.

Side 2 clears.

Urbicus attacks her. She chooses to counterattack. Urbicus spends his last favor. Both sides roll terribly, Urbicus scores 1 hit, but it's enough to push her into the pit.

Note: I'm not sure if he's fatigued during or after making the attack?

Hermes comes in swinging, Urbicus also falls in the pit. (It's getting crowded in there.)

I thought it was a cool skirmish game, and a bit surprising that all kills were tactical instead of through damage.

Favor and Fatigue were both cool mechanics that made decisions very dynamic, and I enjoyed the damage trees.

The only criticism is that there are a ton of options not written on cards, though I expect they'll become natural.

Definitely feeing good about this one.

(Oh, and the cross-genre pun was about how important maneuvering turned out to be, if that had you confused.)