[Angband] Competition entry episode 01

Angband is a free classic ASCII roguelike. I played (and streamed) this run as part of a competition. Due to a recording error, my videos start at level 12, which is still very early in the game. Classic roguelikes can be an intimidating genre to get started on. I made sure to explain my thinking as I played in order to lower the barrier to entry for viewers who want to try their hand at it.

[Dom4] Tempo advantages with the weak nation of Kailasa

YouTuber jBrereton is an experienced contender in Dominions 4 multiplayer games. Here he is playing as Kailasa as a handicap, as they are generally considered an underpowered nation. To perform well with them, jBrereton has to know and leverage every advantage he can find.

Most nations have a powerful mage type that can only be recruited in the capitol. Often, these top shelf mages are slow to recruit, meaning each one takes two turns to produce. Kailasa’s cap-only Yaksha and Yakshini mages do not have this drawback; each takes only a single turn to recruit. Assuming Kailasa has the income to bankroll such frequent and costly recruitment, this nation can potentially field twice their opponent’s numbers of top end mages:

jBrereton has opted for a Death 9 (and Water 4/Fire 4) bless strategy, meaning that his sacred troops when buffed with the Bless spell have their attacks enchanted to inflict magical decay damage. Kailasa has two sacred national troops, the melee Yavana and the ranged Yavana Archer. Sacred archers are unusual, and buffing their ranged attacks with the death bless sounded like a good idea to one commentator. jBrereton articulates that he has no plans to use the Yavana Archer, as they are worse than the melee Yavana at maximizing death-bless attack procs. The main points are these: the melee Yavanna has two attacks instead of one, and the single ranged attack of the Yavanna Archer is liable to wiff and hit empty battlefield tile. Melee attacks do not have this drawback:

To summarize: Kailasa despite being weak overall benefits from the ability to mass their best recruitable mages far more quickly than other nations can. Doing anything important TWICE as quickly as opponents is a very big deal! Second, Kailasa unlike the vast majority of nations has access to a sacred archer, and it sounds cool to use these archers to apply special bless attacks, but this is a noob trap. The melee sacreds have two attacks per round instead of one, and further the single shot per round of the archers is liable to hit empty tiles.

Both of these advantage are tempo advantages. Double rate of capitol-only mage recruitment lets more supermages hit the field faster, while other nations are still slowly massing theirs. Using the melee sacred over the archer is a tempo and value advantage, rooted in more rapidly and consistently applying the Death 9 bless’ special attack.

[HoMM3] Why Luck and Leadership are not good enough

“Oh and The Pendant of Courage! Aren’t we glad that we don’t have expert luck and expert leadership?” In the clip below this writeup, Heroes of Might and Magic III YouTuber Chris67132 celebrates not having Luck or Leadership skills on his main heroes . Why?

When a hero gains a level, the player is presented with two skill options and selects one for the hero to learn or improve. Each hero has eight slots for skills, so choosing a sub-par skill carries the opportunity cost of being unable to put a better skill in that slot later. The Leadership and Luck skills respectively increase morale and luck of units in battle, up to +3 at expert rank. Morale and Luck always range between -3 and +3.

For a number of good reasons, Chris places little value on these skills and tries to avoid taking them. Here we see one of these reasons: The Pendant of Courage artifact (which he just gained) effectively duplicates both Expert Leadership and Expert Luck, giving +3 Luck and Morale when equipped without requiring any skill slots. Since Chris usually plays larger, longer maps with many opportunities for artifacts to spawn, he generally can get his hands on most any item sooner or later. The opportunity cost of using a hero’s neck slot is much more palatable than permanently using up one or two of a hero’s skill slots.

The Pendant of Courage does come with the opportunity cost of occupying a hero’s neck slot when equipped. However, this cost is much cheaper than committing skill slots, as the Pendant of Courage can be un/equipped at need, while a hero’s skill set is set in stone once chosen.

There are reasons for disfavoring the Leadership and Luck skills. Morale and luck procs are unreliably random and cannot be counted on to help when needed, while other skills such as Logistics or Earth Magic give consistent bonuses that one can plan around. In HoMM3 strategy, variance is usually considered bad for the player because it reduces one’s ability to limit risk. If an experienced player willingly engages in a fight, they have a good idea of the expected losses they will incur. A morale proc (which grants an extra move) for one of the player’s unit stacks may helpfully but unnecessarily reduce losses, while a morale proc for the enemy can be devastating. Chris and other experienced players often opt to prevent both sides of a combat from having morale proc by equipping The Spirit of Oppression item:

So in summary: Leadership and Luck skills prevent oen from taking other more powerful skills. Their effects can be replicated via certain items (and spells). They are highly variant and variance in HoMM3 overall works against the player by reducing their control over combat.

[Civ V] Luck favors the prepared

Civilization V streamer BabaYetu uses a time-honored technique to try and milk the most out of an ancient ruin that his warrior (his southeastern unit) finds. Each ancient ruin contains a one time random bonus, which can be an instant extra citizen in the nearest city. Mechanically, this bonus gives the city exactly as much food as it needs to grow to the next size. Thus the free pop is less valuable if your city has stored food for growing the next pop, and more valuable if you’ve just grown and are at 0% towards yet another pop.

On turn 5 at the start of the clip Amsterdam is only one turn away from growing naturally, so getting a pop ruin would not save very much food. By waiting one turn for the city to reach size 2 on its own, Baba gives himself chances for a pop ruin to boost him all the way from from 2 to 3, saving 8 turns.

In this case, the ruin contained “evidence of recent barbarian activity” (the worst of the possible bonuses). Still, Baba played accurately by setting himself to get the most value in case it were a pop ruin. The idea behind the play is related to the concept of “playing to your outs” used in Magic: The Gathering strategy. Luck favors the prepared.

[SupCom] High rank ladder 1v1 replay commentary

This post brings you a Supreme Commander Forged Alliance Forever ladder match played between SpaceXMan and Turinturambar on Crossfire Canal. Crossfire Canal is one of the largest maps in the 1v1 pool. The map’s size makes for complex gamestates that take grueling focus to manage. SpaceXMan and Turinturambar are among the ladder’s top players and have played one another many times. Enjoy the match coverage!

[SSBM] Don’t chase a faster character!

Super Smash Bros. Melee professional Mango reviews his match loss to Leffen in the grand finals of GOML 2016. Leffen was playing Fox, while Mango (in all but one game) played Falco, Fox’s slower near-twin.

In this post, I’ve pulled points where Mango noticed himself making or avoiding the same strategic mistake again and again: chasing. He chases Leffen’s faster character into bad fights at ledges and platforms. Fox’s speed advantage gives him many options for turning on the pursuer, who has to correctly divine what is coming. Mango recognizes he should have patiently played from center stage instead of chasing, forcing Fox to come to him. Doing so would negate some of Fox’s speed/options advantage by forcing him to openly commit an approach. Mango’s chasing and other missteps cost him the first place finish, but reviewing the games helps him continue to improve.

Early in the match review, Mango asserts that “you can see he’s always running away from me already. Any time I do anything towards him he’s either full hopping or running away. That was his gameplan, which can easily be countered and am patient and have lasers.”

Falco on stage has trouble approaching Fox on the platforms. Leffen is using platforms and hops to approach at indirect angles:

“I’ve got to give up edge and go to center stage and laser.”

Continue reading “[SSBM] Don’t chase a faster character!”

[OW] Maintaining Momentum

In these clips we see early game momentum in action. YouTube and Twitch Overwatch analyst ‘flame’ here reviews map 1 of Runaway vs LW Blue in the APEX Season 2 semifinals. This is a King of the Hill map, where a team wins by possessing the central point for enough total time. For readers unfamiliar with Overwatch, check the wiki for hero abilities.

In the initial engagement, LW Blue’s Saebyeolbe tries to leverage Tracer’s mobility and damage, quickly crossing to the enemy back line looking to pick off Cox playing the squishy support Ana. The tactic fails, as Cox undoes the damage by grabbing a health pack. As you can see in the video, Saebyeolbe desperately tried to deny the health pack, but being at full health was unable to actually pick it up. He pulls out to rejoin the main fight, but the enemy Winston’s Barrier blocks his damage. LW Blue players all wipe. Of note, LW Blue’s own Winston died to a single shot despite his very tanky hit point pool, knocked off the map to his death by Lucio. The tactical shot dodged the need to eat through Winston’s tankiness. Losing both the 1v1 and the 5v5, LW Blue gets off to a rough start:

“Playing McCree into a good D.Va is really hard, like you see right there they just press forward and there’s nothing they can do about it…I like that they just pressed in; they didn’t have to back up…no reason to give them ground. They (Runaway) have better heroes for engaging so they just engage.”

Flame claims Runaway has stronger engaging heros at this skirmish on LW Blue’s half of the map, and in that there’s only one real mirror-breaker to look at. Both teams field D.Va, Winston, Lucio, Ana, and Tracer at the start of the extended skirmish. The mirror-breaker is Genji for Runaway vs. McCree for LW Blue, setting up a tactical aggro vs control situation. McCree is more of a long range stationary firing platform. He has a hard time escaping from multiple opponents at once, but if guarded can lay down consistent high damage from range. Genji’s damage over time is lower, but he has spike potential against squishy targets and is very mobile. The Genji comp has more tools to win in a close up brawl among the squishies, while the McCree comp has better tools to get ahead in a ranged standoff, using their tanks to defend more often than dive.

LW Blue’s Winston, D.Va, and Tracer started in front screening against the push, with McCree, Ana, and Lucio
coming from the base. Runaway blasts past the front line with their movement abilities, closing on the squishy back line and splitting them from their tanks and Tracer. LW Blue’s Winston, D.Va and Tracer, cut off by the dive, go for the point unsuccessfully. The LW Blue back line, relatively immobile and split from their tanks, falls quickly to the dive:

The LW Blue Tracer ran from and survived the fight above. She spots a window to knock out D.Va’s mech suit and possibly finish off Winston, but his shield barrier keeps him alive with a sliver of health and baits Tracer to her death. Flame rightly notes the importance that Kaiser (the Winston) survived with low hp. In Overwatch, heros ultimates charge more quickly based on the damage dealt, shielded, or healed. Winston’s large but mostly empty HP pool lets Ana and Lucio heal him and power out their ults to help keep the steamroll momentum going. And the momentum does keep going, with Ana using Nano Boost on Genji, who pops his Dragonblade and dives for 4 kills and escapes. The dive knocks back LW Blue’s regroup momentum by another respawn cycle while Runaway is ticking up point control time and charging ults:

Following this point, Runaway needs to mess up and throw away advantage to lose. They do try to throw, losing control of the point briefly while at 99% to winning, but they win the teamfight after respawn and finish the game victorious.

[Classic] Who’s the Beatdown

Who’s the Beatdown?” is a 1999 Magic article from by Mike Flores that introduced the ideas and terminology of the relative beatdown and control roles. The concepts are strongly relevant to other games (e.g. this OTC match) and still alive in Magic analysis today.

The heart of the article is:

The most common (yet subtle, yet disastrous) mistake I see in tournament Magic is the misassignment of who is the beatdown deck and who is the control deck in a similar deck vs. similar deck matchup. The player who misassigns himself is inevitably the loser.

In similar deck vs. similar deck matchups, there are a couple of things that you want to look at to figure out what role to play:
1. Who has more damage? Usually he has to be the beatdown deck.
2. Who has more removal? Usually he has to be the control deck.
3. Who has more permission and card drawing? Almost always he has to be the control deck.

If you are the beatdown deck, you have to kill your opponent faster than he can kill you. If you are the control deck, you have to weather the early beatdown and get into a position where you can gain card advantage.

Misassignment of Role = Game Loss.

Critically, Flores points out that even in a match between similarly fast aggressive decks or slow controlling decks, one of the two will be a bit more aggressive or more controlling than the other as a static gamestate element, via the cards each players put in their deck.

The beatdown (or aggro) should play aggressively in pursuit of a shorter and more resource-scarce tempo-oriented game. The plan is to force the opponent to deal with immediate threats and minimize the time and resources they can afford to use investing for later. When the op does invest resources towards non-immediate ends, the goal is to go for the throat and punish, reaching critical pressure before the investments yield returns.

The control should play defensively in pursuit of a longer and more resource-rich value-oriented game. The plan is to survive while preparing for the long term, turning the tables as the op runs out of steam. The goal is to fend off short-term defeat with as few resources as possible, investing with as much as the op’s pressure allows.

Use beatdown (aggro) vs control roles as a lens for thinking about other games. Correctly determining your relative role will let you make better choices, nudging the game in a direction that favors your setup.