Into the Record Books: March 2019

Man, what a way to start the new meta period. Lots going on here this month everyone. We got the first wave of new captains splashing in. We’ve got miners. We’ve got errata. Let’s see how this whole thing shakes out!

Played Rates:

History

First, Congratulations everyone! We’ve got a new record high for the most games played in a single month! 1996 games! #HYPE it is always good to be growing. The highest number we had before this was October 2018 which was heavily inflated by Steam Con US.

March tends to mark the kick-off of our annual competitive scene. This last month we saw Vengeance, Adepticon, as well as a slew of smaller competitive events. Hey, even I ran a solid 24 player event with folks from across the south eastern United States. For comparison sake last March had 1286 games, so this year we’re looking at a roughly 55% increase in competitive games played. It feels like events are getting larger and more frequent. Keep supporting your local scenes everyone, show your organizers some love and get out there on the road!

Moving forward I see the west coast of the US being a huge untapped market for competitive gameplay (not to mention sales). There are already a ton of great players out there. All it takes is a little SFG support and a few dedicated folks to start building larger events.

On to the Guilds!

PR High

On the top of this hill this month… Surprise! It’s Butchers at 12.4%. Butchers continue to be a fan favorite and the addition of a cool and powerful captain kept them up there. Oddly, they actually lost market share from last month though. This is likely due to Miners eating up 7.9% of the player base in their first month. Pretty significant given a ton of folks who bought them still don’t even possess them yet. Morticians and Hunters, with their new captains, show solid numbers as well at 8.4% and 7.3% respectively. Farmers took home 7.8% which is fairly flat for them overall.

PR Med

We do need to remember the theoretical “average” play rate fell from 6.6% to 6.3% due to the inclusion of Miners, so a flat play rate is in reality growth or at least resilience.

Alchs and Fish come in just below the top at 7.3% and 7.1%. I’m actually surprised to see fish lose ground given Yukai’s release. Blacksmith’s lost a good deal of ground falling from 9.3% to 6.4%, but Brewers gain a few points to 6.6%. Odd given neither really changed much in March. Perhaps brewer fans are just more dedicated? Blacksmith Fans fed up with trying to chase that Scottish gold?

PR Low

On the low end Masons and Navigators, seeing no change, aren’t terribly surprising at 4.9% and 4.3% of the field. Falconers and Rats both gain followers, but still are pretty down there in the ranks. Seems to me Miners probably ate up the players who were looking to buy something new. Why buy Piper’s box when you can buy Shaft?! Engineers and Union both stay near the bottom at 3.2% and 2.0%.

Win Rates:

Going to talk about Miners at the end so bear with their absence from the charts for a minute.

Aside from our subterranean friends can we please just take a moment to appreciate how insanely well balanced the rest of this is? It’s kind of astounding. 10.6% is all that separates the top from the bottom. Incredible. Look at that cluster. Look how much Bryce loves it.

cluster one
Tell your dog I’m sorry I turned him into a graph.

WR High

Aside from Miners we see Butchers, Morticians and Farmers earning the top spots (53.4%, 52.2%, and 51.4%). I don’t think Thresher or Vboar is a surprise, but it is good to see Morticians still hanging up there. This is mainly Scalpel and Obulus. Mourn is kinda down there in the middle of the pack for captains. We’ve also got Order showing off their ball of light, but due to Miner’s skewing apparently you can have a sub 50% win rate and still make the top graph. Nuts. Finally… What are you doing here Union? Go home, you’re drunk.

WR Med

The middle of the pack is pretty equitable floating between 46%-48%. Seems like some of that Scottish blacksmith tech might be wearing off. Fish are sub 50% which makes me wonder if Yukai failed to launch (she has a 38.5% captain WR). Engineers take a hit as well. Navigators continue to show they’ve flatted out and hey look! Rats are playable again!

WR Low

On the low end we’ve got Brewers and Masons, but hey 42.8% and 43.3% are respectable enough. Glad to see we are kind of back within normal distributions of play. Nerfed hunters took a pretty significant hit. They’re down over 12% from February. I think most folks kind of anticipated it though. They’re still a reasonable choice. Also look at falconers rising up a bit! Good to see them get a reasonable amount of games with a reasonable degree of success. Overall, even these Guilds in the low bracket will always come down to player skill. This month pretty much shows you’re never really out of a game due to your Guild selection. Guild Ball is more balanced than Chess after all.

Victory Index:

Victory Index

On the raw wins side this month, everyone’s favorite butchers lead the way. They’ve earned 13% of the wins for this month. Miners carve out a huge chunk of the pie at 11%.

A few other highlights include Blacksmiths and Hunters eating pretty significant losses. Ball of Light tripled orders wins from 2% to 6% so that’s pretty impressive as well.

Special Feature: Digging Holes –

The Canary died ok? The dev team has realized this quickly and is already working on an evacuation. Everyone is talking about it, but you know what, I am going to throw my hat into this ring as well. Get ready for a long form, highly speculative, opinion piece!

Real Quick, I do want people to really appreciate the situation. I don’t post it often, but I do keep a running histogram of the ENTIRE win rate history of Longshanks. Here you’ll see every single guild’s monthly win rate bucketed. Shaft and crew absolutely Shattered Thresher’s December 2017 record. Dude is above 3 standard deviations. Nuts.

Histogram

Thankfully the Dev team is willing to jump on this quickly. Normally I would have said give it another month, Every guild kinda storms onto the scene at first then tampers down. I am sure some of that is the case here with Miners as well. However it is simply too hard to ignore such an astoundingly out of place rate of success in an otherwise very finely tuned game.

I want to kind of muse a little on what happened here because I think this is a learning opportunity for everyone. Those of us in the media program had pretty advanced knowledge of these models and no one really seemed alarmed. Yeah, we all thought they were very solid. Probably the best Minor guild printed. Many of us even predicted they’d be amongst the top in the game. Heck, look at my tier list at the bottom of last month’s article. We knew they’d be good, but we didn’t know they’d be 70% win rate good across all levels of play.

So why is that?

First, I think these guys simply didn’t seem that crazy on paper. It was very hard to evaluate the strength of the 2” place. That’s not really been in the game in a significant way and the team’s ability to pure-t slip out of a situation was unprecedented. I think a lot of us heavily underestimated a few key pieces of this team as well, specifically Mule and Fissure. I recall reading from time to time many folks thought Fissure might be a drop. Mule’s character plays along with Fissure’s “you’re coming with me” really had to be seen on the pitch before one really understood their efficacy. Miners also have a very reasonable take out plan which I honestly feel was unintended. The way Mule can throw people around and the way the team can generate crowd outs reminds me of Season 3 Corsair, A&G, and Vet Siren. Probably stronger. Maybe we were shell shocked by Vet Boar and Yukai, but all in all, Miners, on paper, didn’t seem so above the power curve. I am willing to bet the Dev team felt very similar.

Minor Guild History

Second, perhaps there needs to be some brief reflection on the concept of Minor Guilds as a whole. It was mentioned to me that this isn’t the first time the Dev team has missed the mark on a Minor, but people don’t really complain as much when something is weak. We all had a good time pointing and laughing at Falconers and Ratcatchers struggles in Season 4.0, however an absence doesn’t speak as strongly as a national championship flooded with a new team. Rats and Falcs were the other side of the Minor coin right? Dramatically too underpowered to Miner’s insane success? Well the history actually looks a little different. Ratcatchers followed a pretty reasonable trend line in Season 3.4. Falconers look like they might have followed a similar pattern as well. However, Season 4.0 saw them crash hard. Season 4.0 saw most of the majors get stronger and Falcs/Rats were overlooked. While it was certainly a rough patch, that wasn’t a failure of initial design. They were simply forged for an older form of the game. In fact, navigators, designed explicitly with Season 4.0 in mind turned out very well. To summarize here, it seems Minor guilds are more difficult to balance when the game is changing around them. I think we’d do well to keep that in mind. To be honest, I am a little worried about Cooks. Designed well over 6 months ago, their production delays may cause a debut into a world they’re ill-equipped to handle.

Finally, I’ve seen a couple folks question the playtest group. How could they let something like this happen? My gut instinct is Guild Ball is largely balanced around just that – Gut Instinct. Those of you who know me know I am not one to make excuses to steam forged, but they do not have million dollar play test budgets. This game takes 2 hours to play, not 10 minutes. Blaming the play test group feels to me like taking pot shots at an easy target. Of course it could be stronger, but I don’t know that such a solution is grounded in reality. Purely speculative, but I’d be willing to guess each model gets around 50-60 playtest games across all of its rules iterations. The final version probably sees a couple dozen followed by small regional playtest events? I guarantee a new product sees more games in the first week or so of retail release than could have ever been possible in playtest. Simply put I don’t know the playtest group can physically play enough games fast enough to satisfy the demand for such a fine-tuned game. Perhaps the more practical solution is to accept the fact new releases have some chance at being at the far end of the spectrum, allow the public to demonstrate, and make the adjustment as needed. Accept that Guild Ball is a breathing, always evolving, game.

So anyway, now that we know where we’ve been, where do I think we’ll go? Let me pull out my Tarot deck real fast.

Miner Design Goals

The dev team, even when they make changes, tend to like their design goals. These were what was originally pitched at SteamCon US. If you think Miners are going to stray too far from these goals… well you’re probably mistaken. So what does this tell us about potential changes? Let’s take them by bullet point.

  • High Resilience – Don’t look for major decreases in defensive tech. Maybe a health point here or there but I don’t expect tough hide to disappear or even reanimate. Maybe Mule loses an armor or something? But they’re still intended to be reasonably tough to kill for a goal scoring team.
  • High Goal Scoring Focus – If Fish and Rats have taught me anything it’s that the devs don’t like a team which is supposed to score goals to be overly fighty. I think that’s a pretty big sign of things to come here as well. Simply put, Mule and Shaft just manufacture a scrum a little too well. I’d look here for some tone downs. Perhaps small playbook changes. Perhaps we lose some momentous damage results or see some other offensive handicaps. It’s not that 2-2 shouldn’t be possible, but it should probably be much more difficult against all but the squishiest of teams.
  • Highest number of Place effects – I’ve seen a common call to reduce the secret tunnel to 1”. Honestly I wouldn’t count on that. Secret tunnel is the marquee ability. Rather than change that…
  • Medium to Low MOV stats – Look to MOV stats to be adjusted slightly downward. Although the MOV stats aren’t astounding alone, secret tunnel just put the mobility through the roof. I think the 2” place was evaluated at about 2” when it really should have been looked at in the 3.5”-4” range. I mean look at Fuse and Space for Solthecius’ sake. Even at 5”/7” and 4”/6” they’re moving for days. Mule and Fissure’s 50mm place is 4 whole inches. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a global -1/-1 MOV decrease across the board.

Please know I have absolutely zero advanced knowledge of anything. This is just my own personal reading of the tea leaves. I will say I don’t expect an insane amount of changes. To be fair I don’t think they need it. I’d venture to guess +/-5% of this win rate is exactly what Jamie says here:

perkins

I believe that is true and I believe the dev team will take a measured approach. Just as Print on Demand will allow for swifter changes it would also make sense for those changes to be more careful and deliberate. Basically, tweak something a little, watch if it falls in line, and if not tweak it again. We’re already seeing top level players are already coming into ways to combat these guys. Vince had some good thoughts regarding morticians. I’ve seen other top level players in discord talk about ways to combat them as well. The theory crafting is there and I suggest you join in. You’re going to need to figure out a way to play against them for the next month anyway. More than likely they’re still going to be strong even after April. Don’t be looking for a total cave in.

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Anywho, Overall I think this is a great time to play the game. Excitement is in the air. Competition is rising. New products are on the way. If you get discouraged, again, just look at Bryce holding the March win rate cluster. It’s really a thing of beauty. Be well and take care everyone! Oh! and Stay tuned for Corbelli!

 

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