I Made A Thing Part 1
Late post because Rogers Internet is awful and was down all weekend. What can you do?
I was cleaning up some things and stumbled across my old Summoner Wars Alliances box. Yes, this is a Summoner Wars post but the rest of my work is rather disinteresting so deal with it.
I’ve been pretty quiet on this little board game despite spending quite a number of posts covering my thoughts and feelings on it. As it turns out, I was gifted a whole bunch of Netrunner for my birthday and, as such, I’ve been transitioning to picking up that little hobby. I suppose you can expect more discussions on that game design in the future… once I start wrapping my head around it. Alas, Netrunner is a lot more complicated than Summoner Wars so it might take some time before I feel I have any input to make on that game. But between Netrunner and the day-to-day business of life, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to focus on the Summoner Wars. As such, it has started to gather dust quite a bit sooner than I would have anticipated. Thus, imagine my surprise when I opened it up and recalled that I had been busy tinkering away on the little thing.
Thus to the title of this article–I’ve made a thing. Specifically, I’ve created a custom faction for the game.
This started with my misguided attempts to tweak some of the shipped products I wasn’t particularly happy with. Primarily, I was trying to adjust the Tundra Guild so they weren’t quite so disappointing out of the box nor as reliant on cards that I didn’t own in order to stand a chance. As I’ve mentioned before, Summoner Wars is a rather simple game with straight forward systems which makes comparisons between factions and mechanics a lot easier to analyse than in something like Dota 2. Speaking of which, that’s coming up…
Anyway, after coming up with my own variant of the Tundra Guild, my sister was quite eager for me to take a stab at one of her favourite factions–the Mountain Vargath. I don’t know why she likes the little blighters but their performance in our games had always been underwhelming. I wasn’t originally going to tackle the challenge but once I started tweaking the Tundra Guild I struck a wellspring of ideas and couldn’t resist toying with her request.
I’m not going to post the products of either of those, however. They ended up being sufficiently different that I felt it was more appropriate to simply go ahead and treat them like unique factions all on their own. So, I created a “reinforcement pack” for my newly christened Sylvan Vargath and even went so far as to make a second summoner. It is this deck that I wish to post because I feel that it has the freshest ideas as I was unshackled from trying to tweak existing mechanics and concepts. I was free to explore any design space I cared for and after playing with them a little, I think there’s something valuable in what I produced.
Do note, I have not sufficiently tested these cards to say they’re balanced. As mentioned, our interest in Summoner Wars has waned to the point that we don’t really play it anymore. Which is a pity because I think there’s quite a lot of opportunity available now that we’ve broken the gate on personal modifications and house rules that could take the game into really fascinating areas. Anyway, this is my disclaimer that I wouldn’t try and sell this deck in the state it’s in. There’s probably a bit more number tweaking left to truly align it with the rest of the game. But here’s what I made and my thoughts behind it.
Andrasteia (2R-6W-Inescapable Night)
Inescapable Night – Enemy Units that start their turn within 2 spaces of Andrasteia can only move up to 1 space on their turn.
Well, no better place to start the preview than the summoner herself. I designed Andrasteia with all the tweaks that I made to the original Mountain Vargath in mind. She was, from inception, a second summoner so a number of her design elements take into account the abilities and play style of that first faction. It may make explanations a little more difficult but I’ll try to be as clear as possible when explaining my thought process.
First thing to notice is that Andrasteia has the standard summoner statistics. If I had taken a census, I don’t remember it now but I wouldn’t be surprised to find the majority of the summoners in the game to have six health and two ranged attack. Normally, this wouldn’t be noteworthy except I want to draw specific attention to Andrasteia’s ranged attack. Since I was trying to create a faction that my sister would like, I was restricted into trying to create a deck whose primary strategy would align with her preferred play style. Which is to say, the Sylvan Vargath have to be a rush down deck. My sister likes moving pieces across the board and pummeling her enemy’s face. Unfortunately, this strategy is one of the weakest in the game. One of the more successful implementations of it is the Cave Goblin Frick. But he relies on zero cost commons and extra attacks to overcome the inherent advantage a defensive player gets with instantaneous reinforcement and superior positioning. I couldn’t just copy the same formula but I also had to make sure that I didn’t inadvertently make something that would be better at defence than offence.
Thus, I focused on the Vargath design of goats and came up with the idea of ‘The Herd.’ The way the original summoner works is by making a very tight, compact phalanx of troops that are so robust they can weather a passive enemy’s defence but were near entirely melee focused so had to rush towards them if they stood any chance of winning. In the original deck, there is but a single card with the bow symbol and it’s an overpriced champion. In this deck, I decided I’d give the sole ranged option to the summoner herself. Part of this bled from a thematic perspective. The original Sylvan Vargath are all about camaraderie and cooperation. Andrasteia, I knew, was going to be the faction’s dark half. She was the outcast and, as such, she would eschew all the noble ideals of her society. Whereas the first summoner wants honourable man-to-man combat, Andrasteia was all about pitiless results and brutal efficiency. Thus, she didn’t want to be in the thick of the battle like her predecessor but nor did I want her hiding in a corner either. I wanted her to be in the middle of the board, a design space wholly neglected at that point.
So how do I balance that? Well, giving her a ranged attack will keep her from the very front lines. But I needed something that would encourage her to creep out of the furthest row. Enter the Inescapable Night.
Phew, what an ability. To be honest, I’m not one hundred percent satisfied with it. The purpose behind it is to lend some sort of superiority when the Sylvan Vargath get into their desired board state. Specifically, once they’ve locked their opponents down in melee combat, they need some sort of bonus that puts things more in their favour. Typically, melee units have far greater attack power and health, so they’re more likely to win one-on-one engagements. Unfortunately, it’s rare that combat is ever one card against one. Part of the difficulty of a rush down faction is that ranged units will add extra dice against melee targets. Especially when you’re taking the fight on their side of the board and giving them more territory to maneuver in. This is compounded further by events and card abilities.
Inescapable Night toys with that. Units caught within that short bubble around Andrasteia aren’t going anywhere. With properly positioned bodyguards, it makes it really difficult for opponents to flank or surround Andrasteia. It also–as the name implies–makes fleeing from her very difficult. In some instances, it becomes impossible. This is to play up the design idea of Andrasteia’s cruelty. So it’s trying to hit both flavour and design goals. Only issue is, I’m not certain it really makes it. The problem is, extend the radius on the ability and it will be too powerful. Make it too short and it’s nigh useless. I’m not certain there are enough spaces in Summoner Wars for Inescapable Night to hit that sweet spot. I erred on the side of making it too short otherwise the ability could win games all on its own.
This is certainly one aspect I’d like to re-examine and tinker with before I declared it final. But as a design concept–hindering the opponent’s movement in order to grant yourself an advantage–I kind of like. It also means that in certain late game match-ups, Andrasteia can be a titan on her own as weakened summoners will be unable to run away or attack from a distance in order to achieve victory.
But what good is a summoner without some events?
Pitiless Retribution (3) – Add 1 wound to every enemy Unit adjacent to a wounded Sylvan Vargath Unit that you control.
I feel that the most successful melee factions are ones that out wound their opponents. I suppose that could be said about every faction since wounds are the only way to win a game of Summoner Wars. More specifically, to overcome the positional advantage of ranged units, melee units should be able to wound on average more often than their ranged counterparts. The power of ranged units is that they get to–essentially–make a free attack against their enemy. If both cards are throwing equal number of dice, the ranged unit will win through greater successes because they’ll get more attacks to make. This arises because there’s no penalty to a ranged unit engaging a card in melee distance. Typically, ranged units have lower attack than their melee counterparts but with the numerous different cards released, there’s a number of factions that shore this weakness up rather handedly. Fallen Kingdom Warlocks, Sand Goblin Shamans and Javelineers are examples where this “balance” doesn’t hold. This wouldn’t be an issue if melee units had more tools and that’s where Pitiless Retribution comes in.
The Sylvan Vargath hold to the Vargath design of having hardier commons than normal. There’s not a single one health unit amongst the lot of them. This means they’re more apt to get into melee range (especially if you start to consider the reinforcement cards I created). Pitiless Retribution punishes every failed wound from the enemy. With three in the deck, you’re apt to draw one and, depending on timing and positioning, it can be quite a lot of free wounds. In practice, it’s closer to Greater Burn. You’re most likely to play it when you can achieve two wounds. Unlike Greater Burn, however, you can’t place them on the same target. Alas but another design goal was to push more towards common focus gameplay.
There’s a second element I want to draw attention to and that’s the wounded Sylvan Vargath trigger. Keep an eye on this as it’s a central theme to the Andrasteia deck.
Shroud of the Mother (2) – Any Common Sylvan Vargath Unit you control which is not adjacent to an enemy Unit may be placed adjacent to a Unit within 2 spaces of Andrasteia.
Positioning, positioning, positioning. The first Sylvan Vargath summoner looked at being a good rush down faction by granting units extra movements over their opponents. I think every melee faction is going to need extra help in getting their forces into the enemy’s faces if they want to succeed. Shroud I wanted to tie into Andrasteia’s darkness and give some thematic idea that she’s pulling her forces through this malevolent night and attacking from all angles to confuse and disorient her prey. I also wanted to grant this ability as much flexibility as possible. It can be great for reinforcing a forward push with freshly summoned units (assuming Andrasteia is in that sweet middle board spot) or it can save stranded members of The Herd that may have been isolated–assuming they aren’t already engaging their opponent in mortal combat. Finally, it needed the added flexibility of transporting units right beside Andrasteia in case she does get surrounded by being in that dangerous territory close to her enemy’s walls.
With only two in the deck, however, it’s not really a card you can rely on. It’s tempting to carrying it in your hand but it can also doom you to stuffing your draw while you wait for the most opportune moment to play. I think this finicky aspect of it keeps it balanced despite it being a super charged Fall Back.
Outcast’s Mercy (1) – Do not play this Event during your Event Phase. Instead, when Andrasteia wounds an enemy Unit, you may play this event to remove up to 2 wounds from Andrasteia and place them on her target.
What I always wanted from Summoner Wars was for one off events to feel really “ultimate.” I wanted these cards which you can only ever have one of to really impact the game like your opponent just lay down his trump card. That’s not what we have, though. Instead, things like A Hero is Born are the sort of standard for single events. They’re basically auto builds since they’re so niche in their application that the one magic far outweighs whatever ability is lost from not playing.
Thus, Mercy is meant to bring that wow factor. This card is an auto two wounds (so a Greater Burn) plus a heal wrapped in one. I knew I needed some sort of healing, otherwise frontline summoners simply don’t stand a chance without a huge health pool. I do like that Summoner Wars is very strict about its healing options for summoners, though. Essentially, this is a game whose economy is in wounds. You have to have hard restrictions on who can abuse that. Most discourse circles around the game’s costs in magic but really, all magic is funneled towards creating wounds. Mercy gives you a four wound swing on the most valuable unit. It also, once again, strengthens Andrasteia’s late game potential. If the match comes down to a slug fest as Mercy hasn’t come out, you’ll probably lose the showdown.
It’s also an ability that does nothing if Andrasteia isn’t wounded. You need to be hurt in order to give hurt, reinforcing that theme again and again. This is a card that will stuff your hand because its potential only increases as the game goes on. Statistically speaking, you need nine dice in order to drop Andrasteia in one turn and those scenarios are very hard to create. But leaving a wounded Andrasteia is asking yourself to get a large blow back on the following round. I love when things can create hard decisions for players.
Glimpsed Fate (3) – Do not play this Event during your Event Phase. Instead, when a Sylvan Vargath Common you control adjacent to Andrasteia is placed in the opponent’s magic pile, you may place a Child of Nyx from your Conjuration Pile on that space if able.
Child of Nyx (1M-4W-Being of Night)
Being of Night – At the end of each player’s turn, place 1 wound on a Unit up to 3 clear straight line spaces from this Child of Nyx. If you cannot, place 1 wound on this Child of Nyx.
Yes, Andrasteia has a conjuration pile. Yes, I lied about Andrasteia being the only ranged unit in the game. Yes, the Child is amazing.
Honestly, this card seems bananas. Even looking at it now I still think it’s ludicrous. But I wouldn’t change it. It’s the strongest conjuration with four health but that is a hefty challenge to get it on the board. Just take a moment to appreciate all the triggers that are needed:
1. Friendly Sylvan Vargath Common – restricts mercenary usage and champions
2. Adjacency – only playable if you’re getting swamped or you’re playing with bodyguards thus positioning needs to be exact.
3. Opponent’s Magic Pile – this only occurs at your enemy’s behest.
Point three is really key here. Anyone that’s played against the faction before will have the prior knowledge to know that any wounded unit hugging the outcast is looking to summon in a baby. This can be played around. And since Andrasteia has no ranged units, the onus is on the Sylvan Vargath player to make the scenario too drastic for the enemy to not want the child to be summoned. However, since its ability triggers at the end of both player’s turns, you have that double edged sword effect. You can get two wounds from this guy on your turn–one of which can’t be avoided–but your opponent can arrange his units so you get hurt at the end of his turn. This guy is a wound spitter but he’s indiscriminate about who he spits on.
Also, since the unit has to die beside Andrasteia, there are a number of scenarios that can arise where Andrasteia takes the first wound from his appearance.
Obviously, it’s not all bad, however. Four wounds for no magic is a steal (well, one magic from playing the event I suppose). As I mentioned, he’s a potential three wounds per the Sylvan Vargath player’s rounds too (one for each end of turn and his own attack). A 3/4 for 0 is silly good. Also, those auto-wounds can really benefit you as well. Remember Mercy needs Andrasteia to be injured, so soaking a few of the Child’s hits is fine. You can also set up Retributions from units the opponent wasn’t wounding. We’ll also see another beneficial interaction in the commons where self wounds add more benefits.
Really, the Child brings home the whole deck’s design. It plays with the economy of wounds like no other and it generates those wounds at a ludicrous pace. But those trigger conditions are not to be underestimated. It is tricky getting them out on the board. And you really need to bury any delusions you have of three of these guys dominating the field. The event will clog your hand, especially if you’re trying to set up the other tricky to trigger events in the deck. Plus, these things do nothing against walls and will kill themselves after a certain number of rounds. They feel so strong when you pull them off but it doesn’t take long for you to realize the downsides of the card and how it can be abused by both you and your enemy.
Tune in next week to see the meat of the deck: the champions and commons!