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Fungible

My gaming purchasing decisions go through two processing stages:

  1. Is the game discounted from MSRP?
  2. Do I anticipate more fun spending X on this game, than X on Y game(s)?

That second step really stops the vast majority of my purchases, especially since the advent of Humble sales and similar bundles. Ironically though, I often don’t end up purchasing those cheaper, great (indie) games because they get caught in the same filter, creating a sort of recursive loop that prevents all purchases.

You will note that my backlog of games shamefully has no impact on my purchasing decision.

Last night was the final day that I could preorder 70 packs of Hearthstone’s latest expansion, Witchwood. I sat looking at the purchase screen for a long, long time. I would not say that Hearthstone is necessarily a must-play game for me, but it is something I have been playing off-and-on for… how long? Jesus Christ, five years?! Wow. How is that even possible?

What was I talking about again?

The preorder for Witchwood was $49.99. For a game I have been playing for 5 (!!!) years, that doesn’t seem like a lot. But you know what else is $49.99, listed in the same Battle.net launcher? WoW’s next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. I’m not super excited for the next expansion, but I do have $70 in BlizzBucks on my account (from selling my Legion stockpile of gold) and a New Year’s resolution to fund my Blizzard gaming using it. Between the two, WoW is absolutely going to give me more bang for my BlizzBucks.

There is also the more salient point that $50 can get you a LOT of gaming these days. An absurd amount, honestly. The current Strategy Bundle at HB will net you Endless Legends and Endless Space 2 for $12. There is a complete edition for Civ 5 which is like $15. There is something to be said about fun depth probably being better than simply time spent (e.g. just because you spend 500 hours playing Civ, doesn’t mean it’s your favorite game ever), the fact remains that you can get a lot of value for your dollar these days and games are largely fungible.

Of course, what ends up happening far too often with me is that I get in the mood to play a particular type of game, and everything that isn’t that specific game becomes less fun to play. Which means I am generally better off buying games on sale, even when I have a ridiculous backlog, in the off-chance that my hankering is satisfied with something I already bought.

Or, sometimes, I just end up playing the same damn game over and over for a long-ass time, until my mood shifts again. Have I mentioned I have 70 hours in RimWorld now? The only thing that could bring me out of this Survival kick is an update to 7 Days to Die or me deleting enough games to make room for Ark again (100+ GB, ugh).

Or until the winds change again, I suppose.

caRNaGe

There is a lot to be said about the RNG inherent to Hearthstone. A lot of the games can be decided by coinflips, outrageous Discovery choices, and all sorts of random nonsense.

You know what’s infinitely worse IMO? Not drawing your cards.

Jesus Christ, I have had some insanely bad luck in the last four games I played. We’re talking getting to the last 7 cards in my deck, which consisted of four mana-ramping cards, the Malfurion DK Hero, Ultimate Infestation, and Jade Idol. As in, I somehow held on and dug through my deck that far, but not far enough for it to matter. If any of those had been closer to the top of the deck, I might have had a fighting chance. Switched decks to Spiteful Priest, then faced the mirror match wherein my opponent hit both his Spiteful Summoners on Turn 6 & 7, but mine were nowhere to be found.

Do I care that his summoned a 7/14 creature that I had no clean way to counter? Nope. RNG is RNG.

What I care about vastly more is how badly my deck(s) have bricked the last half dozen of games. Your opponent top-decking the exact answer they need, or having a God-Hand that kills you on turn 4 is not something you can really do anything about. Your own deck not giving you anything – literally against all odds – is something else entirely. Give me those 50/50 losses over an improbable streak of 10% failures that leave you with no options.

Except, it’s worse than 10%. Seriously though, look at this:

Hearthstone_RNG1

Sadly, the deck tracker is an overlay that wasn’t captured.

I ended up 14 cards deep into my deck before drawing my first dragon, when there is eight of them in there. According to this Hearthstone calculator, the odds that I should have had at least one in my hand by then is 99.5%. That doesn’t even account for the fact that I mulliganed two cards.

Statistically, 0.5% days happen. But when multiple of them happen in a row, when you only play ~20 games a week… yeah. Let me play against my opponents and lose due to a bad matchup or poor trades. Don’t let me lose to the equivalent of Mana Screw in Magic: the Gathering. That is way worse than losing coin flips, IMO.

Impression: Slay the Spire

Slay the Spire is basically a deck-building roguelike in the vein of Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run with a splash of Dominion. While still in Early Access, damn near everything about the game was compelling enough to grab my attention for 20+ hours immediately after purchasing.

SlayTheSpire_1

Not a good hand at the moment.

The basic gameplay cadence is to pick one of two classes, and then complete encounters on your way up the Spire. At the start, you have 10 cards in your deck, and three energy to spend each turn. After each turn, cards you played (and any you didn’t) go to the discard pile and you draw 5 more cards. When you run out of cards, the discard pile is shuffled into a new draw pile, repeat ad infinitum.

Your beginning deck is basically filled with 1-energy Attack (deal 6 damage) and Defend (gain 5 block) cards. As you defeat enemies, you get a choice of one of three cards to add to your deck. Some of these are strict upgrades to your basic cards (Deal 5 damage AND gain 5 block), but many of them are completely different mechanically (discard your entire hand, draw that many cards). Adding these new cards to your deck makes it more powerful, but just as with Dominion, a deck with 30+ cards is not as powerful as a deck with 15 cards – you are simply less likely to get the combo pieces you need when you need them.

This is where the brilliance of Slay the Spire comes in. For one thing, it allows you to forgo getting new cards if you wish. Additionally, in shops and certain non-combat encounters, you can choose to remove cards from your deck. This is good both for thinning the lower-impact cards from your deck, and also removing Curse cards (usually just a dead draw) you might have inadvertently picked up. In addition to cards, you can also get one-use potions, and gain Relics, which are typically passive abilities that augment your run in some way.

All of this is on top of a robust buff/debuff system, a dozen or so different enemy types with their own behaviors, a bunch of bosses/elite encounters, some non-combat events, Shops that let you purchase new cards, one-use potions with nice effects, and so on and so forth.

Oh, and have I mentioned that the two available classes have different card pools?

Since purchasing the game last week, I have beaten the final encounter a couple of times with both classes, using (by necessity) several different methods based on which relics I managed to pick up. For example, one relic gives you 3 Block each time you discard a card. Suddenly, Calculated Gamble (Discard your hand, draw that many cards, costs zero) becomes the best defense card in the game, while simultaneously moving you closer to a your win condition cards. Other games required playing and fetching the same two cards as many times as possible. Still other games saw me die to the first elite encounter I faced, three moves into a run.

Roguelikes sometimes dislike rogues, know what I’m sayin’?

In any case, if you were looking for something less RNG than Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run, or enjoy deckbuilding in general, I highly recommend Slay the Spire. It is in Early Access, so technically it could get better or worse, but they would have to essentially gut the entire game at this point to make it not worth the $13 (on sale) I already paid. Buy it, or keep it on your radar once it releases for real.

Dungeon Run Strategy

I had a much longer article started on the various strategy considerations one needs to ponder in order to clear Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run game mode with all nine classes. Then I realized that perhaps a TL;DR version might be better. So here it is:

Passive Buff:

  • Captured Flag (+1/+1 to your minions)
  • Cloak of Invisibility (permanent Stealth)

Treasure:

  • Wax Rager (5/1 Deathrattle: resummon)
  • The Candle (4 damage to enemy minions, reshuffle into deck)

You can win without this combination of passives and treasures, and you can absolutely lose even if you get all of them. Dungeon Runs are the typical Hearthstone clown fiesta of RNG cranked to 11. But the short version is that giving all your minions +1/+1 allows you to counter a ton of boss gimmicks, permanent Stealth bypasses targeted removal and bad trades, and Wax Rager can usually win the game on the spot with infinite value.

As far as deck composition, you will want two things: creature-based tempo plays and an emergency value generator. Spells are incredibly discouraged in Dungeon Runs, as Boss health generally makes it impossible to kill them before getting overwhelmed yourself, and several Bosses actively punish spell use. At the same time, it’s possible to run out of gas if you’ve been trading all game, and bosses have more cards than you do. In those cases, having an Antonidas or Lyra can pull you from the brink. Those value cards just can’t be your win condition themselves, as they are much too slow versus the bosses that win on Turn 5.

And… that’s basically it.

If you’re looking for tips regarding specific classes, it can basically be summed up as:

  • Shaman/Druid/Rogue: Picks Jades.
  • Everyone Else: RNGesus will guide you home

Priest was by far the worst class for me, although Shaman cut it close. In both cases, the starting deck is just bad, so you have to lean hard on getting good Passives/Treasures and strong card picks after each boss. I had perfect picks in half a dozen of my Priest runs, and it still took a total of 15 attempts before I squeaked by. Even then, the winning run was due Lyra giving me a Power Word: Glory, which I was able to leverage into an incredibly unlikely win versus Waxmancer Sturmi as he repeatedly copied the enchanted Sylvanas.

 

Dungeon Runner

I have spoken about Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run mode before, but these last few weeks I have finally figured it out: Dungeon Run is the mobile version of Hearthstone.

That is, of course, a pretty silly thing to say considering a feature-complete version of Hearthstone is already an app. In fact, you can only access Dungeon Run from within the regular Hearthstone app. But having played it at work pretty regularly now, consider the following:

  • It requires no prior card collection
  • Randomized bosses/abilities for variety of experiences
  • No Rope, e.g. time limit on turns
  • Relatively fast games
  • No real penalty for losing (or winning)
  • Can stop and start at your leisure

The last point is a bit dubious, as I have had my Run prematurely canceled when I closed the app in the middle of a match and came back hours later. But aside from that, as long as you complete the current match, I have been able to come back and choose my set of cards for the next round.

In short, I have been having a lot of fun with Dungeon Runs on mobile that I was not having playing at home. And that is largely because I wouldn’t play regular Hearthstone at work, because I might have interruptions that would cost me a game (and ranking). Clash Royale has the same issue, honestly, but losing 2v2 is not a big deal, and each round takes a maximum of 4 minutes in any case. And on the flip side, playing Dungeon Run at home feels pointless because there aren’t any rewards or real “reason” to, comparatively.

Not that it would happen, but I honestly think Blizzard should just release Dungeon Run as a standalone app in the future. Hearthstone on mobile is incredible bloated – the latest balance patch was over 700 MB worth of downloads, and the overall install sits at 3.41 GB, which is absurd for an app. Then there are all the 3Dish animations for cards and minions that are not strictly necessary and could be simplified. So, size, CPU usage, patching… all of those things could be scaled back and optimized as a standalone package.

Or, I suppose, I could try finding a good CCG-ish app that already does those things.

Uh… any recommendations? Aside from Shadowverse, of course – I’m looking for more Ascension-esque than a competitive CCG. I’ve heard good things about Slay the Spire, but that’s Steam only.

[Hearthstone] Seriously, Blizzard?

The latest round of Hearthstone nerfs have been announced ahead of the set rotation, and they’re great… if it was 2016.

HS_Patches

The biggest news in there is the nerf to Patches, a card that was released in December 2016 and has been a meta-defining, chase Legendary ever since. Blizzard has acknowledged his power several times, but their explanation for the timing is… well…

As we move closer to the new Hearthstone Year, we had some concerns about allowing Patches to remain in his current state after moving out of Standard. Patches’ strength has caused almost every class to add some Pirates just to benefit from him, and his early game power forces control decks to include a good answer to him. This change should give Wild players more flexibility when building their decks.

What the literal shit, man? Can that be read any other way than “we are fine with Patches’ current state in Standard”? I mean, obviously they were fine with the card’s broken state up to this point as evidenced by a lack of any nerf for over a year. But to me, this just says that Blizzard genuinely believes that card set rotations should be the arbiter of balance in this game. And that’s fucking nuts.

Granted, Corridor Creeper is also getting deleted from the game nerfed in this upcoming patch. That does not particularly make me feel any better though, because A) how they nerfed it, and B) what they didn’t nerf. All Corridor Creeper needed was to only count your minions, rather than every minion. Hell, most of the pros that previewed the card felt like it was Epic trash because they read it that way to begin with. Instead, they turned it into literal garbage that you will be very disappointed to open in a pack after February. Meanwhile, no changes to Cubelock or Ultimate Infestation, etc etc.

Why does any of this matter given the clown fiesta that is Hearthstone’s RNG? Well, I still like playing the game occasionally. And really, the RNG does not particularly bother me – sometimes it’s in your favor, sometimes it’s not. The more fundamental problem is Blizzard’s current balance philosophy undermines any faith I have in the game’s long-term direction. Set rotations are not how you balance a goddamn game… unless the entire goal is pump & dump. Sell those packs to people chasing overpowered Legendaries/Epics and then nerf them later so the next set appears just as OP as the last. Otherwise known as the Supercell Gambit (Clash Royale says Hello).

It’s all cynical, unnecessary bullshit. These are supposed to be games, not vehicles for quarterly profits. I mean, they are that too, but I shouldn’t have to open the latest expense report to understand what the designers are smoking and where they are taking the game’s direction.

The Dungeon Runs

Hearthstone’s latest expansion, Kobolds & Catacombs, introduced a new single-player feature: Dungeon Runs. Designed to emulate roguelikes, it has you face off against a random assortment of bosses – eight in total per run – with each success resulting in selecting between three sets of three cards, which then get added to your current deck. Sometimes you get bonus cards, which can either just be overpowered cards, or passive effects like doubling your starting HP, or having your Battlecry effects trigger twice.

Dungeons Runs are the most entertaining addition to Hearthstone in years. And the least rewarding.

Just to be clear, there are NO rewards to Dungeon Runs. Well, unless you count a card back for clearing all the final boss with all nine classes. No daily wins, no quest credit, nothing. “Fun is its own reward!” For now, that is indeed holding my attention steady. However, considering I could be playing on ladder, or casual, or even in a Tavern Brawl (most days) and be getting rewarded while also having (less) fun, I am actively harming my collection progression. And let me tell you, Blizzard has the thumbscrews firmly in place this expansion, as usual – all the staple cards are Epic or Legendary. So, in effect, I am having fun at the expense of my future self.

Beyond that, Dungeons Runs can be extremely frustrating too. Yeah, Hearthstone is always random, sure. But this game mode is about sixteen different layers of RNG, starting from what cards you are offered, which bosses you encounter, what your random effects do, which cards you draw, what cards your boss draws, etc etc etc. Fights that should have been easy are instead lost from a single coin-flip. This isn’t like Binding of Isaac where your reflexes could theoretically save a bad run.

Also, can I just say that Azari is a complete bullshit last boss? I’ve gotten him like 80% of the time, and it essentially means I have to chew through 70 HP with just half my deck – he automatically destroys your top 2 cards each turn. And he starts with 2 mana crystals? And that hero power costs zero? Some of the bosses are unfair, but goddamn.

Perhaps I would be more upset if there was a defined prize at the end. So in that sense, Blizzard might be doing me a favor.

Regardless, I remain fairly surprised at how compelling the game mode can be, and how ingenious in a way. If you are a brand new player with a small collection, Dungeon Runs give you a peek at how powerful older cards could be, or new cards for that matter. In that sense, it can be a pretty good advertisement for buying a few packs and hoping to pull one for everyday play.

I do wonder what Blizzard intends to do in the next expansion. Will Dungeon Runs be supported? Will there be newer cards, newer bosses, or anything else? Most people are saying “No,” but a flood of posts on Reddit got Blizzard to change their mind with DK Rexxar, insofar as his hero power will incorporate newer beasts going forward. Which pretty much ensures that Blizzard won’t be doing that sort of ability ever again, but good on them changing their minds.

Love/Hate the Meta

Metas are interesting things.

In Hearthstone, the latest expansion (Knights of the Frozen Throne) just recently came out. New expansions and nerfs and such destabilize the meta in CCGs pretty well, and this expansion more than most. Whereas the previous Hearthstone meta was all about Pirate Warrior and aggro, the new one is more Control-oriented. Well, that and Jades. And Murlocs. So, basically, Druids and Paladins are 60% of the entire field until people get done experimenting and deck lists get more refined.

I so, so hate this transition period in Hearthstone. Because honestly? Hearthstone isn’t a CCG I especially like to experiment with. I like when the meta is stable, and I have a pretty good idea of which cards my opponent could be playing on any given turn. About to be Turn 7 against a Mage? Better watch out, because he’ll deal 4 damage to my creatures by playing Flamestrike (as a somewhat dated example). In other words, having some knowledge about common net decks allows you the ability to constructively play around cards. When people are throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks, you either have to play around cards they don’t have (and get wrecked), or not play around cards they do have (and get wrecked).

And, to be fair, some of my acrimony is based on the fact that I have so few of the new cards. Crafting Legendaries without a stable meta is extremely risky, as the value of any particular one is dependent on what rises to the top of the heap over time. Craft the “wrong” Legendary and it will take ages to get enough Dust to craft the actually useful one.

Thus, I like a well-seasoned Hearthstone meta over this period of chaos.

Meanwhile, the Clash Royale meta has been stale for almost half a year now, and it’s driving me nuts. Supercell had a balance patch in the last few weeks, and it has definitely caused some cards to go from Hot to Not pretty damn quick (e.g. Night Witch). Some of these changes have had noticeable ripple effects – nerfing Night Witch means that Executioner is less necessary as a hard counter, which then lets cards that were countered by Executioner to flourish, and so on.

…but ultimately the meta is still stale as shit. Win conditions are still Hog Rider, Royal Giant, Golem/Giant beatdown, LavaLoon, Splashyard, and Siege. About the most interesting development in the past few months has been the Bridge Spam strategy, 3 Musketeers + Heal, and maybe Miner + Poison. Now, perhaps nine different win conditions sounds like a lot, but the problem is that these strategies are so oppressive if one doesn’t actively “hate” against them, that you end up needing to use cookie-cutter counters for half (or more) of your deck.

For example, you’re going to need something to deal with Beatdown, which consists of stacking a bunch of glass cannons behind a slow-moving tank. Most people go with Inferno Tower, which can melt tanks after a charge-up period. Beatdown decks have counters to this, of course, which often reset the charging, if not blowing the tower up entirely (e.g. Lightning spell). So, you’ll probably need two strategies to counter… but that second strategy can’t be something like the Mini P.E.K.K.A, because Lightning blows him up too. Often, the strategy then becomes to ignore the tank and rush the opposite lane, hoping that the other player drops his glass cannons there instead of behind the tank.

So, in practice, there are really only three kind of decks, not 9+: Beatdown, Cycle, and Chip Damage. Personally, I have always enjoyed Chip Damage decks, as my favorite card in the game is Furnace, which spawns suiciding Fire Spirits every couple of seconds. It’s definitely out of meta, but that hasn’t bothered me too much, up until Beatdown/Cycle decks became refined enough to counter Chip Damage decks by accident.

“Just adapt.” Of course… except in the 4000+ bracket, if your cards aren’t at par (or over-leveled) with everyone else’s, you are at an incredible disadvantage. A level 9 Fireball (4-mana) will one-shot a level 8 Wizard (5-mana), and likely deal some tower damage at the same time; a level 9 Wizard will survive with a sliver of health. These sort of unit interactions are critically important in guiding your strategy, and will make or break games. Thus, I couldn’t change strategies if I tried – unless I wanted to drop down the ladder for months until I scrounged up enough gold to level other cards.

Hmm.

Originally, I thought there was a contradiction between how I felt about the Hearthstone and Clash Royale metas. In Hearthstone, I hated the fluidity of the early expansion meta, whereas in Clash Royale I hated the opposite. But thinking about it, the common denominator is how onerous it is to adapt to either meta. I can’t experiment in either game because I’m not willing to spend more cash. Without cash, my mobility is extremely limited. With low mobility, I cannot adapt to changing metas, which means I effectively get shunted off the playing board when my cards get hard-countered.

It sucks, man. The more you like these “F2P” games, the more punished you get.

Looking Forward

Everything got put on hold due to my Darkest Dungeon infatuation. Now that I might be coming out of that fugue state soon, I wanted to take stock and see where things are headed everywhere else.

Final Fantasy 14

I have officially paid for an entire month’s subscription without logging in once.

The good news on this front is that my miserly ways will allow me to get Heavensward for free should I buy Storm Blood. I haven’t actually bought anything yet though, for the very real chance that I never make it to the original endgame. For example, one of the things that happened right before I drifted away from playing was a 20+ minute DPS queue for a mandatory “dungeon” which consisted of a single boss and no trash. Mandatory. Because reasons.

Guild Wars 2

While I have not logged into GW2 for a hot minute, there was a period of a few weeks where I was logging on everyday to complete the daily quests “achievements” for 2g and a few assorted goodies. Especially the One Free Level books every week or so. It is not as though there is particularly much to do in GW2’s fashion endgame, but it gets really boring running through the same beginning zones over and over whenever you try finding a class that is fun to play.

That said, there is supposedly another expansion coming in the Fall. And just like with FF14, buying the expansion gets you the previous expansion for free. So, no thanks ArenaNet, I’m going to pass on the recent $15 Heart of Thorns deal.

Hearthstone

New expansion comes out in August, and it’s set in Northrend. Time will tell how the new cards affect the meta… but to an extent, it almost doesn’t matter. I never really play Hearthstone more than an hour or two at a time, maybe once or twice a week. Most of the time I find it almost as fun (if not moreso) to watch other people play on Twitch. Say what you want regarding how RNG makes skill meaningless, but goddamn does it make spectating amusing. All of the excitement and none of the salt, because the bad stuff isn’t happening to you!

As usual, I expect to spend zero real-world dollars on the expansion. Gold and Dust should be enough to hold me over, as it has in the prior few expansions.

7 Days to Die

Since I last brought it up, 7DTD has rolled over into 16/16.1 Alpha Stable release. There aren’t any major changes to anything, but this does mean that the dev team can start working on A17 and “settlements,” whatever that ends up looking like. If the devs end up adding actual NPCs into the game (rather than Traders who don’t move from their counter), that will change the gameplay rather significantly. After a while, one gets used to easily meleeing zombies to death with clubs; Bandits with firearms sniping from rooftops would be something else altogether.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I really should go ahead and start finishing this, shouldn’t I? Just to say I did.