Good morning everyone! We got a nice little bomb dropped on us this morning by the Steamforged staff. I’ve finally lost the war against Chris Schlegel and Fish will no longer have momentous damage results. This post was originally written as a bit of a rant about “design space” but I scrapped it because it was a bit too salty. After reconsidering, however, I did find there were still a few genuinely good ideas I wanted to explore.
This post is a bit of a response/musing on a few key sentences of recent S4 blog posts:
It’s pretty easy to see a common thread in the Season 4 posts so far. SFG is taking time to revisit each team’s design, not only to evaluate if it is working, but how distinguishable one guild is from the next. Today I’ll be talking about the later. That word “homogenization” really stuck with me.
So what is homogenization? Personally I think there are a few different layers to this answer which I will try to break down from most to least specific.
- Homogenization within cards
- Homogenization within roles
- Homogenization within win conditions.
Homogenization within Cards:
This one is pretty easy to call out. When we, as players, see two models with similar cards we know it pretty quickly. We often see the repeated use of the same abilities across multiple characters. I’m talking about Stoic, Unpredictable Movement, & Charmed. You see a new model with Tough Hide and you immediately understand part of what that model does. This extends to some common Character Plays as well such as Butchery, Tooled Up, and Acrobatic.
Typically, a single matching trait or play, doesn’t automatically create a homogenized card. In fact, I believe the moderate reuse of certain abilities is good for the game. It helps tie the models into a cohesive universe and defines Guild Ball itself.
This could also be said for stats and playbooks. When we talk about damaging a model or looking for a playbook result we often compare it to 4+/1 defensive stats. That’s because it is the most common in the game. We consider a 6” jog or a 2/4 influence stat fairly standard. For a long time playbooks saw almost every model with a 1 damage result on 1. With Damage, CPs, Pushes, Dodges, Tackles and Knockdowns there are only so many realistic combinations a playbook can take.
Between all the ink on a Guild Ball card we could see millions of combinations of player cards. I believe someone ran a Neural Network once and the outputs were hilarious at times, but also fairly on point elsewhere. I think Steamforged does a pretty good job of keeping this aspect fresh. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a model and felt “wow that’s a x clone”. Very Rare. Even when this does happen I’ve never seen it be in guild, so even if a model is similar to another it has a different context based on the models surrounding it. An example that comes to Mind is Flint and Ikaros:
These two cards are pretty homogenized. They both have almost identical stat lines/movement capabilities/and striking ability. Even their most common playbook results mirror each other. However, it’s totally ok because Falconers as a whole versus Masons as a whole do different things. Some of the Spirit of their Guild is transferred to the model. Again SFG Does a pretty good job at making individual cards feel diverse and unique.
Homogenization within Roles:
It gets a tiny bit sketchier when we broaden our scope past cards and onto Roles. Most guild ball models are pretty easy to bucket into some sort of Role. No I don’t necessarily mean the position on their card as that can be fairly meaningless, but rather the slot they fill on a team. You’ve got your strikers, you’ve got your melee damage/beater models, you’ve got your kinda center-linebacker type dudes, support models etc. The newly coined “Pivot” models exist. It seems to me at this level it’s a little more apparent to see where model homogenization can occur.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Go ahead and hold in your mind the idea of a new striker model. I bet if we polled the readers we’d find a few trends. We’d probably see some combination of the following:
- Faster than average MOV.
- Reasonable KICK stats.
- Low to average TAC with playbook dodges but not much damage.
- Pretty good defensive stats but low HP.
- Some sort of survival trait.
Did your idea striker have some of these features? Let’s try again. Let’s go for a build your own big guy.
- Slower than Average.
- Poor KICK stat.
- Average TAC with easier pushes and KDs.
- Weaker defensive status, but reasonable HP.
- Some sort of ability to protect their team.
Now obviously individual models are going to have their own flare. Kraken and Brick don’t overlap all that much. Mist and Bonesaw are pretty different. But there are really only so many roles and functions a model can serve in the game of Guild Ball. You might get a model who is kind of in the middle of the ven-diagram, but the buckets themselves don’t really change no matter how many models or teams we see.
I do think this is something Steamforged to could start to work on. I’d really like to see models, or even a guild, which is unlike anything we’ve seen before with totally unique roles. As cool as it is every time we get a new guild we tend to see the same tropes repeated. Your 6 man box probably has a big guy, a damage dealer, and a striker.
Farris got a lot of hype because of how different she seemed from the rest of the pack. I actually think Vet Honour was an attempt at this too and I wish her first iteration would have been more useful. A “coaching” model was a pretty cool /novel concept. Maybe this is a good opportunity for the community campaign. Maybe a few of the new characters will be things we’ve not yet seen. Let’s work on it SFG. I challenge you all to give us a handful of models which break the traditional molds. Maybe we see a striker who is slow as heck, but has a ridiculously long kick stat? Maybe we see a team like the fan made Monks who have almost zero damage? The world is your oyster here.
Homogenization within Win Condition:
It goes without saying every guild in the game requires 12 VPs to win the match. Baring, +VP abilities, victory is strictly achieved via:
- 3 goals and 0 take outs.
- 2 goals and 2 take outs.
- 1 goal and 4 take outs.
- 0 goals and 6 take outs.
This means regardless of how many guild designs you come up with, regardless of how extreme, colorful, number of models, badgers, pirates, astronauts… you’re guild *must* complete one of these four bullet points to win the game.
This is the most homogenizing factor in guild ball. It’s also the area I think SFG’s design team can improve the most in S4.
To take it one step further the two extremes here tend to be fairly rare. 6 take outs can happen from time to time, especially with Guilds like Butchers and Farmers, but it doesn’t tend to be the primary target going into the kick off. Look at Vet Rage teams for instance. Most of them run Mist to hammer home the final points. Even beater captains like Fillet and Hammer love the 6 point activation.
The 3 goal strategy is the most game-state / dice-dependent win condition of the 4. The number of Guilds/Captains who can reliable pull it off is almost zero. Maybe a few others come close, but Shark is probably the only one who can truly claim it as his “primary” win condition. I’ve gone 3-0 about half the time with Windfinder, but I tend to start the game aiming for 2-2. Maybe new Skatha can pull it off if she gets some striker support? Apparently Piper is aimed at 3 goals now as well.
So in reality the game has limited itself to having two main paths to victory with the occasional one-off here and there.
It seems like this homogenization might be about to get worse. We’ve clearly not seen all the cards, but if the Rat Catcher’s blog is to be an indicator of more to come, +VP abilities are about to go the way of the dinosaur. I think this is what strikes me as the most odd about today’s fish post. They seem to acknowledge the “sameness” of the win conditions and how they want that to diverge. Yet at the same time curtail some of the more interesting alternative victory point methods. I don’t think it is a good idea to abandon these and I hope Rat Catchers are a one off.
Furthermore, I really hope SFG takes the opportunity with Minor Guilds to explore more options for the 3 goal and 6 take out style. It seemed like Navigators and Order were going to go for the 3 goal strat, but then SFG hedged their bets with models like Azimuth and Vet Fangtooth. Falconers are capable of a ton of damage, but from what I’ve seen thus far they don’t have the sustainability for 6 kills. Maybe we can look to Cooks to bring back the 6 kill game? Obviously they’d need high damage, but they’d all need to have poor footballing with solid ball control abilities. I sure hope so.
Summary / TL;DR:
Overall I don’t think we’ve got any issues with keeping models feeling distinctly different from one another. I do hope and expect we’ll see a few surprises soon regarding what roles a guild ball model can fill, but I think SFG has a bead on that. The gunslinger and guitar guy felt like new territory at least.
However I do believe the fixed win conditions of a team pose a problem and intrinsically limit what sorts of things SFG can print. It feels like the 2-2 and 1-4 win condition is too common across Guilds / Rosters. It’s far too rare to win with 3 goals or 6 take outs. Yeah it happens, but not enough rosters have this as their primary aim from a design perspective. I think this is what causes the most Homogenization between Guilds. Their win conditions are too identical.
Finally, I hope the +VP abilities aren’t totally gone because they’ve been a good way to buck that homogenization in the past. +VP abilities create a different game play experience. They also create unique and memorable moments. Who doesn’t love putting a model in the box or a good witness me? I’d like to see more of this, but I’m worried it is going away.
Thanks for reading guys. I hope you enjoyed this one. It was a little more of an op-ed than normal I guess, but it was fun to write. Here’s to a great spoiler season!
UNUSED BONUS GRAPHIC THAT NO LONGER MAKES SENSE: