Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Combat and Eggs, the Breakfast of Champions.

Case Study: Enkidu SMASH!

The other day, I was testing a dedicated rush deck. It's a recycled "proof of concept" deck using a heavy pre-range card module, built to reinforce Enkidu against his innate weaknesses.  I'm very comfortable with the current combat module.  I was testing new sidekicks intended to improved bleed-based ousting power.

The mid-game hit, still with 5 players (maybe turn 5-6).  That's way too early for a combat deck to make big moves, but I really wanted to test those new components. So I fired part of my endgame-level combat package, despite knowing it was an overall strategic mistake.

Enkidu rampaged, my predator's and prey's ready regions emptied.  I was 3 turns from ousting my prey assuming I used all my actions, every turn, solely for bleed.....much longer if I had to take any non-bleed actions.  It's seemingly an eternity at this stage of the game.

By the time my next turn rolled around, all 5 minions I had sent to torpor were back in the ready region.  My grandprey rescued minions for both players.  My grandpredator rescued my prey's vampires.  In my opinion, most of these rescues were strategic mistakes almost as large as mine, but the message here is clear.

Only combat decks play a game permitting card-less interference from all four other seats.
Even relentlessly left-looking combat decks suffer from this weakness.

The Symmetry of Egg Shaped Objects.

Presumably, the mechanics of rush combat are balanced:

A rush deck can enter combat another vampire anywhere on the table.
So........a vampire should be able to rescue another vampire anywhere on the table.  

Symmetry exists inside that mechanic - on tactical level, when we are talking about short-term objectives, the individual assets in combat and rescuing.  Fair enough.

An imbalance occurs an a different axis - in comparing ousting methods, in a strategic view the game as a whole, in reaching the 3-player endgame, in winning it.  It's difficult to describe this imbalance without a ton of extra writing, but I'll try to summarize the thinking without all the proof.

FACT: Two VPs are needed to win any game, 
so "getting a game win" implies having played in the 3-player endgame.

MAXIM: When pure combat survives to the 3 player endgame, 
it usually has no VP.

Pure combat decks seldom oust their first prey quickly.  Some fraction of its available actions are dedicated to survival through back-rushing.  Scattered 1-bleed actions are almost worthless in the early going.  If the deck is tooling up bleed retainers/equipment, it won't even generate 1-bleeds.  All that conspires to making the first oust a time-consuming process.

Here's the ugly truth of reaching a 3 player game with no VP.
  • In a 0-2-0 endgame, a sweep of the remaining table is needed to achieve a 3-2 game win.
  • In a 0-1-1 endgame, getting the minimum 2 VP for a win is a de facto sweep of the remaining table, we get the third VP as last man standing for a 3-1-1 win.
It's important to note that it doesn't matter how the split of those first 2 VP occurs, assuming we don't get one.  Any scenario leaves us needing to clear the table in the 3 player endgame.  Of course, that doesn't take finals seeding into account, but lets get to the finals as the first order of business, OK?  

FACT: Any deck reaching the 3-player stage without a VP 
needs to achieve a sweep of that mini-game to garner a game win. 

FACT: Any deck reaching the 3 player stage without a VP 
cannot win a game reaching the time limit (because it does not sweep the endgame).

MAXIM: Pure combat decks will therefore usually need to sweep the 3 player end game.

Holy High Hurdle, Batman!  

Robin laid an egg?
We have to survive into the 3 player game QUICKLY, then sweep before time expires without our predator self-ousting while we peck at our prey.  Very few deck designs suffer from this weakness.  

All this points to combat being tactically balanced (rush/rescue), but strategically inferior.

Combat is symmetrical on one axis, but not the other - like an egg.  We'll definitely be looking at the ramifications of this in later posts.


  1. It's very nice to see the "3-Player Theory of Combat" getting confirmed by other people. Ours was based entirely from experiences of effective combat deck use.

    What I actually suspect is a good way for combat decks to ensure a minimum chance of time-out is to basically "Cut out the Deadwood" OR "Pick your Enemies". I think I'll write a post about it now...

  2. There's more in an upcoming post, not so much on picking your enemies (which is both hard to do and often counterproductive) but mostly on trying to get around the issues I raised here (crosstable rescues, VP deficits, avoiding the "table cop" role, playing the 3 player in ways that allow you to win, etc.). Expect that post in the next week or so - its proving tough to keep concise (might be 2 posts) and I parts 5/6 of Pool Management are eating time too.

    IIRC, the folks at Cause and Effect did a show that also touched on this somewhat, using a "tactical wheel" to describe the situation. Their webcast had some of the content you describe (picking a 3 player matchup)

  3. FACT: Any deck reaching the 3-player stage without a VP
    needs to achieve a sweep of that mini-game to garner a game win.

    I would state that this isn´t true.

    A pure salmon rush tactic will ideally get into the 3 player table with your original prey and grandprey with the grandprey having 1 vp. Since your predator was ousted first and then your original grandpredator gets ousted with 1 vp. You can then "miss" one vp by letting your prey take one vp and then oust him/her for a 2-1-1-1 table, but you should naturally try to get the three vp:s

    1. Thank you for the correction. It is indeed possible to salmon back-oust to 2-1-1-1.

      It's also something that I've never seen successfully done, in literally thousands of games over 16+ years). I guess that's why it wasn't on the forefront of my mind as an option :)

      But still, thanks again for pointing it out - I appreciate people pointing out inaccuracies (no, that wasn't sarcasm - it's genuine gratitude).