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HeroQuest game balancing notes

Most of my HeroQuest Unreal Engine posts focus on code (and UE4), but this one focuses on game design.

I had a great holiday break and I was able to playtest HeroQuest (physical version) and review some of the game balancing.  I still plan to make the video game version focus on the authenticity of nostalgia.  However, there are some balance issues, design exploits, and other design improvements I plan to use for the video game version.  The tweaks (and interpretations) do not stray far from the original – even the original is open to interpretation because some of the rules are ambiguous and there’s two versions of the game – European and American (and some rules are clarified in expansions).  I also suggest using theses fixes (improvements) when playing the physical board game.

Problems:

1) What order to play the expansions?

2) Treasure Grind.  NA end of each quest you can search each room four times and get potions that you save between quests.  You quickly become absurdly OP with infinite potions of healing.  Treasure Grind is also the most boring part of the game if you do it.  You play an actual quest 1+ hours, then you spend another 1+ hours doing treasure grind which is boring and lame and OP.

3) Too many one-time use items, and not enough permanent leveling up.  Especially in the basic expansions (Kellar’s Keep + With Lord).  Especially if you keep treasure card potions between quests.  This makes the game put too much emphasis on what you did in previous questions.

4) Basic Expansions (Kellar’s Keep + With Lord) too easy

5) Door Camping exploit.  Heroes can stand by door entrance with 6 defense hero using a crossbow.  If Zargon attacks through the door, he only gets max two attacks per turn max.  But heroes can attack diagonally through the door with longswords (and Wizard’s Staff).  If heroes figure out this exploit, it completely breaks the game.

6) Line of sight rules are vague and confusing.

7) Some of the rules can be interpretted in more than one way

8) Game slows down if heroes try to optimize play and literally roll dice for every move, and search every room no matter what

9) Wizard spells add a lot of fun to the game but he has so few that it encourages hording of spells.  Elf only gets 3 spells typically Earth.

10) Advanced Expansions (Elf + Barb) too hard (unless you horded one-time use items then it’s too easy)

11) Each quest should be balanced as its own game that assumes you’re at a certain level.  Then balance each quest to be a challenge based on that assumption, which overall gradually increasing difficulty (and complexity).  Again, we can keep some one-time use items for emergencies or to get through difficult quests.  But these should be rare.  Instead, we want heroes to "level up" gradually eg with artifacts that you can use once per quest.

12) The game only has one difficulty setting.

13) Chaos Spellcasters are rare and fun.  Optimized hero attacks will kill Zargon spellcasters first turn which ruins the fun.

14) Expansion quests add stuff…  What do you do with the new stuff when you move on to the next expansion?

Solutions:

1) Elf and Barb expansions are definitely meant to be played last after your heroes are already maxed out.  So a basic North American quest order is original, kellar’s keep, witchlord, elf, barbarian.  If you want to include European expansions, then do: original, kellar’s keep, witchlord, ogre horde, wizards of morcar, advanced heroquest’s dark company, elf, barbarian.  In summary I call this original, then basic expansions (kellar’s + witchlord), then European (ogre + morcar + dark), then advanced expansions (elf + barb).  References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HeroQuest#History : release dates suggest: Basic Game (EU 1989), Kellar + Witch Lord (EU 1989), Ogre (EU 1990), Morcar (EU 1991), Elf + Barb (NA 1992)

http://aginsinn.yeoldeinn.com/faq.html : storyline suggests: Basic Game, Kellar’s Keep, Witch Lord, Ogre Horde, Morcar

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/530070/which-order-should-we-play-expansions : random user claims dark company is harder

2 & 3 & 4) The (original, kellar’s keep, witchlord) are too easy and (elf, barb) are too hard.  Make everything in the armory cost double gold, so heroes "level up" slower.  Treasure you can only search each room once (not once per hero).  Treasure card potions can not be saved between quests because they are overpowered (OP).  I think these treasure rules are the most reasonable way to interpret the EU rulebook – I’d actually call the NA version a "bug".  The EU character sheet does not even have a space to write ”Potions & Other Items” – this was added to NA version.

To allow the heroes to "level up" in basic expansions, make artifacts reusable as spells.  Most you’d give to the Wizard.  “Spell” means it counts as an action, and Wizard with wand of magic can use two spells.  Kellar’s Keep Q3 you only get one magic dagger.  Q9 magic daggers count as a second scroll, so you end up with 4 random spell scrolls in Kellar’s Keep (make them unique) (use 8-sided die or randomly pick one of 8 monster cards to randomize which of the 8 scrolls you get each time).  This gives the heroes incremental permanent leveling up (instead of hording one-time use items).  Sacred water (Witchlord Q2) also counts as a spell (use once per quest) (in EU it’s treasure card).

Even Elixir of Life and Ring of Return are reusable once per quest.  This may seem OP, but it’s much less OP than hording potions of healing.  Not keeping treasure card potions (eg potion of healing) between quests also makes the expansion potions less overpriced.  Otherwise you end up hording a million potions of healing and if you optimize it then you’ll save them all for Elf + Barb expansions, so you’ll end up with like 40+ potions of healing, which turns the Elf + Barb expansions from too hard to absurdly easy.  Also, when you can’t horde treasure potions, 500 gold for a potion of restoration becomes reasonable.

4) Even after these changes, Kellar’s Keep and Witchlord are too easy, assuming you started with heroes who are already maxed out from the first quest book.  You can live with it and just say okay these are easier quests that gives players a chance to increase their skill.  Or you could manually add monsters to each room.

5) To solve door camping, don’t allow spells and ranged attacks or diagonal attacks through a door into a room.  When a hero enters a room, a one-way Zargon force field blocks the hero from leaving through the door until all monsters in the room are gone (veil of mist or dust of disappearance can allow a hero to pass through the force field).  This forces heroes to enter rooms.  Zargon should surround the door but not attack heroes through the door in most cases.  It’s always the heroes responsibility to progress the quest.  It’s not Zargon’s responsibility to charge out after the heroes.  If this causes a stalemate then you could make a rule like every 10 turns a random hero loses a body point, but this shouldn’t be necessary as long as heroes understand their goal is to progress, and Zargon is really just the non-competitive AI (computer).

6) For hallways, use line of sight.  For rooms, if you’re in a room you can "see" everything in the room (don’t use line of sight).

7) I won’t get into all of these since some of them are quest-specific.  But one example that isn’t is the Battle Axe.  Heroes can have two weapons (or three), but Battle Axe means no shield.  By the end of the original 14 quests, maxed out non-Wizard heroes will have crossbow + (broadsword or battle axe).  Actually, one hero will have spirit blade instead of a broadsword.  One hero will have Orc’s Bane, which is a slight bonus vs. Orcs (better than crossbow or broadsword but not as good as a Battle Axe).  If you give one Hero Battle Axe + Borin’s Armor, then all three heroes can have 5 defense.  But there’s other combinations.  Plate Mail is also an option but be careful because rolling a 1 sucks unless you start at the door entrance.

7) Witch Lord Q2, it has something lame happen which we ignore (potentially lose Orc’s Bane + Borin’s Armor forever is lame).

8) To make quests go faster, we allow time warping assuming that everywhere was searched for traps and that there’s nothing special.  Usually this makes the game faster, more fun, and streamlined.  The rare time it’s an issue is when you have to tell heroes "no you can’t warp" in which case they know something special is coming which can ruin the surprise.  Another concern is situations like Witch Lord Q2 where the revolving door is meant to separate the heroes, but time warping makes them not get separated.  This may be less of an issue for video game.

8) Missing special treasure is lame (especially for physical game).  To optimize this, a good player will do every room.  But then you never have the option to complete a quest early by going straight to the goal.  To simplify this, we just say you can’t end the quest until you’ve found all special treasure.  So when you try to leave, Zargon will tell you you can’t until you go back and get all special treasure.  Like "2", this also helps make each quest more of a game in itself rather than being based on how well you optimized previous quest results.

9 & 10) This is already addressed by previous items.  But to take it a step further…  When you start the Elf expansion, give all 12 original spells to the Wizard, and give all 8 Elf spells to the Elf.  This is more fun.  I don’t think it’s OP because the heroes need a boost.  It’s also a way to make the game gradually increase complexity and challenge.  More thoughts see “14”.

11) I came up with these when playtesting the physical board game.  For the video game release, I plan to do playtesting of each Quest to balance it even more.  Heroes gradually "level up".  Quests get harder at a slightly faster rate than the heroes level up, and complexity increases as the player gains skill.  So we’ll have two copies of each map.  The original and the rebalanced version.  The original is technically the NA quest maps (note EU quest maps for original + Kellar + With Lord are technically different).  For the video game release, the player can choose "original" (easy) maps if he/she really wants to play them for the nostalgia, but the default will be the "rebalanced" maps.  The rebalanced maps will be 90-99% the same.  The rebalanced quest maps will just add additional monsters (and maybe fix some quest-specific bugs).

12) The rebalanced quest maps won’t be insanely difficult.  So the video game release will have an option to play an advanced difficult mode.  I’ll revisit this later.  My current idea is to increase monster stats (Attack, Defense, Body, Mind, Move).  Even the highest difficulty will still be beatable (in fact I plan to play through each quest on the highest difficulty with no cheats!).  Monster difficulty stat bonuses will get bigger as the quests advance.

13) You can’t attack a spellcaster until there are no other monsters in the room (or if the monster is in the hallway then its line of sight)

14a) New Treasure Cards: only use for that quest book?

14b) Wizards of Morcar: 9 spells:

http://english.yeoldeinn.com/wizards-of-morcar.php
=> spells detection to Elf: treasure horde too dangerous for wizard, other two ok for Elf
=> spells protection to Wiz: invisibility helps wiz stray alive, wall of stone too, dispell instead of atk
=> spells darkness to Wiz: all three use instead of atk

Kellar’s Keep artifacts:
* Q2: magical throwing dagger x2… instead make it dagger x1 and scroll x1
* Q4: fire ring… instead ring only blocks one spell per quest
* Q6: magical throwing dagger x1, random spell scroll x3… instead do scroll x1, scroll x2
* Q7: elixir of life
=> total: daggers x3, scrolls x3, fire ring x1, elixir x1…  so instead of (daggers x3, scrolls x3), we can do (daggers x1, scrolls x4) which is 4/8 unique randomly chosen
=> basic exp artifacts count as wizard spells (everything except elixir x1)

Witch Lord
* Q1: dust of disappearance x2
* Q2: sacred water x1
* Q3: magic dagger x2
* Q4: ball of flame x1, fire of wrath x1
* Q6: lose all gold (???)
* Q7: rabit boots x1, pass through rock x1
* Q8: anti-poison quill x2, heal body x1, courage x1
* Q9: armband of healing x1, daggers x2,
=> wizard spells: ball x1, wrath x1, rock x1, heal x1, courage x1, sacred water x1
=> anyone: armband x1, boots x1, dust (reusable) x2, quill (reusable) x2
=> magic daggers x4: too many + OP => just ignore them

After Kellar + With Lord, Wizard has scrolls x9, dagger x1, fire ring x1, sacred water x1 => x12 total… which is perfectly fine bc that’s x21 spells and the Elf will get x8
We also have armband x1, boots x1, dust x2, quill x2, which can go to anyone, they aren’t wizard spells, they don’t count as an action
Wizards of Morcar has another x9 spells, Detection goes to Elf, so wiz x27, elf x11…  Or if we let Elf keep one elemental (eg Earth) then its Wiz x24, Elf x14
There may be additional spells (or spell-artifacts) in other expansions, so I can revisit these details

When the video game development is further along, I will do extensive play-testing to balance the quests.

I also may end up adding spells earlier (gradually) to gradually increase the fun.  We want the quests to gradually introduce new items to the heroes.  This makes the epic questing experience gradually become harder (and gradually introduce more options / more complexity).

The early quests should be easy even if the player does newbie mistakes like separating the heroes, but by the time you get to the later expansions, you’ll lose some quests unless you play better (even on the default difficulty).  Of course players can always restart the quest until they learn to play better.

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