I only experimented with the mechanics and gameplay, but Calmdown and some mates over at Bad Karma has explored the campaign, and already spotted some balance issues. He is supportive of the game but he points out a few issues he has encountered in the campaign system. He has also made some suggestions to "fix" the issues encountered with houserules, so it's not a negative post - I found it interesting from a game design perspective (it echoes quite a few things I said in a post last year). There are about half a dozen points, but I feel they fit under two main headings:
Kills/Deathmatch > ObjectivesDue to some scenarios with no game length, once you get ahead in collecting treasure, it's preferable to switch your focus to "kill 'em all" - kill or chase your opponent off the table, and thus get all the treasures by default.
The second related point is wizards are overly rewarded for "kills"/"damage"... Hmmm. I think this was also a problem in Mordhiem. I recall dual wielding was a must-have, as doing more damage always gained more XP than defence, thus levelling your character faster. If XP is tied to kills, damage-dealing spells/stats are always preferable. In Frostgrave, certain classes of wizard have better damage-dealing spells, and thus level up faster (more than double, in the test campaign) than wizards who merely buff/debuff.
Warband Balance ("Snowballing")The article highlighted how easy it was for one Frostgrave warband to quickly "snowball" in power and pull ahead of opponents - i.e. noticeable in game 2, and by the end of game 3, there was four wizards at level 12, 12, 6 and 0 respectively - quite a large power gap between the haves and have nots.
Tied to this was a fourth point, which was once you lose your wizard (and thus 10 levels), you had an almost insurmountable gap to make up.
Finally, there was the ability for powerful warbands to go shopping for any specific powers and items they want - to sell off unwanted magic items etc for cash, Diablo-style, and to max out magic gear, base upgrades and for rich warbands to replace losses without blinking.
They've made a post and have some a download on how to fix the issues, and they look sensible to me. Don't go cancelling your Frostgrave order, folks!
Ok, Why R U Bashing Frostgrave?
No, I recommended it. I said it's the closest thing you'll get to Mordhiem. I also said its mechanics, while simple, aren't perfect. And it's evident its campaign isn't balanced. But is that a surprise? I suggested campaigns are naturally imbalanced - and will naturally snowball "the rich get richer" unless you take strong steps to limit it. This post is more a "how to balance a Mordhiem-esque game" rather than about Frostgrave per se.
I'm using this example as a way to reflect and expand on my previous post. The points from my old post relevant to the case are included with (*), along with extra things I learned from the Bad Karma blog.
*Advancement not be tied to winning/killing. Interestingly, it's one of the first steps the "house rules" have taken to balance Frostgrave in the example given. "Don't punish the loser" - his extra losses in men and material are punishment enough. You can learn from your defeats as well - usually more than from your victories. (At least, that's what I've noticed in coaching sport - which I do for a living)
*Campaign lengths be pre-set. This allows you to dole out a steady gain in XP/gold, at a rate where you can expect a winning warband to peak (i.e. by game 8, for example). Otherwise you might have maxxed warbands that "have it all" by game 3.... Something I didn't consider - the need for pre-set game lengths, to stop superior warbands simply picking off weaker ones at leisure then collecting all the loot. Players can play beyond that set point, but at least you've balanced it as well you could up to that point.
*Playing catch-up. A Frostgrave house-rule suggested was to allow losing warbands to scrabble around for some gold, i.e. kinda a "mercy payment." I like the idea of a NPC-style game where a warband plays against the local fauna (controlled by either dice rolls or a human opponent) matched to their level; which allows them a chance to "level up" in a fun way without competing directly against a tougher enemy warband.
I also suggested warbands who miss a game (or take a terrible loss) still get to roll for XP or advancements. At a lower rate than winning, sure, but there should still be progress. Like a bye in sport. They could be spending their free time practicing their archery/swordsmanship/spells or whatever, if you need to justify it.
*Handicap min-maxing. I was thinking along the lines of random skill rolls to prevent players getting the perfect attribute set. E.g. in the case of Frostgrave, you can pick your school of magic, but must roll and sometimes you get a random one, not the one you wanted. However this also applies to gear and replacing losses. Even the richest warband might not be able to replace a loss if no one is available. You can't always get the precise +2 flame-enchanted sword you want. They're rare magic items, after all. As the Bad Karma post pointed out, it shouldn't be like shopping at Tescos.
They house-ruled it by limiting what you can do out-of-game - you can improve your base, or recruit a soldier, or buy gear. Not everything at once. This also forces "decisions" on players in the out-of-game phase. A rich warband can replace its losses, but misses out on buying up on magic items. I also like a hard limit on how much mini stats can be increased - 20% is max increase (given by a PC FPS MMO) at which skill and tactics can still triumph over better 'hard' stats. Past the 30% mark and the advantage of the better stats is almost impossible to consistently overcome.
PlaytestingI've since discovered that Frostgrave is the product of one of the guys over at the LAF. Now that (sterotypical and narrow minded as it makes me appear) brings to mind a certain style of player - more interested in narrative, cool paintjobs, and open ended, imaginative games and whacky charm than game balance or competitive rules - just like TMP brings to mind anal retentive, angry/arrogant old men who like historical games - and Dakka Dakka brings to mind 40K addicts who flirt with other points-based competitive games, and include their win/loss ratios on their forum signatures.
I'd be interested to know how extensive the circle of playtesters were for Frostgrave - and if they were primarily like-minded individuals to the game designer, or from his club.
It also highlights that the more special rules (be it spells or abilities), the more difficult a game is to balance, and the more it heads into the realm of "rule of thumb" rather than math and %. Although properly "scientifically" playtesting a game, I reckon, is all but impossible.
By the way, if you are new to this blog or the game design series, Brent Spivey did a great article on playtesting games which is recommended reading.
I found the whole Bad Karma discussion about campaign balance interesting. It adds quite a bit to what I know, as well as supporting many ideas/suggestions I had previous made. (I'll refrain from saying "ha! I told you so!"... oh wait...)
Furthermore, it is an useful lesson on the pitfalls of balancing a campaign. And it shows players DO care about campaign balance, even if the designer doesn't. Chucking a bunch of cool spells and gear into an advancement section doesn't cut it if your game is going to make campaign play the centrepiece (I doubt many would play one-off pickup games of Frostgrave - the mechanics aren't that crunchy) - the campaign section needs to be planned every bit as much as the mechanics. Unbalanced campaigns might be realistic, but they are not fun.
And if you like Frostgrave, a lot of solutions and ideas came out of the posts/blogs, making it a better, more balanced campaign/contest.