Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Marine to Bug Ratio

A bit of a follow-up to my post a few weeks ago on the Space Hulk: Death Angel cooperative card game. Upon getting the rules right*, the game has indeed proven to be a little more difficult than our first impression had it. However, we still haven't found it to be nearly as tough as some reviews made it out to be. Since I've been over the rules repeatedly to make sure we aren't still doing something wrong, I can probably rule out user error. In the process of double-checking everything, I think I figured out why some folks are so much trouble winning the game.

Death Angel is MUCH harder for 3 players than for 2 or 4. If the majority of your plays have been with 3 or 6 players, you're bound to walk away thinking the game is pretty nasty. The one time I played it 3-player, we got our shiny armored butts handed to us.

The source of the difference is the 3-player version of the Void Lock location. It's a distinction that's really easy to miss if you always sit down with the same number of players. Each Void Lock card has two triangles on the bottom that set how large of clusters the genestealers arrive for the duration of the game.

The 2- and 4- player Void Lock has a triangle with a "3" and a triangle with a "1". By contrast, the 3-player Void Lock has a triangle with a "5" and a triangle with a "3". Having exactly 3 players gives you 150% as many marines as you'd have in a 2- or 4-player game. However, when the red-and-yellow triangle is activated, you get 166% as many genestealers, and when the white triangle is activated, you get 300% as many.

Why the designers chose to make 3-player so much harder is unclear to me. Not only is the percentage increase huge on the white triangle, but the clusters of "5" on the other make it a double-whammy. If there's 5 or more genestealers in one swarm, that's generally an auto-kill on the nearest space marine. There's a few defensive cards that can let you squeak by it, but more often than not, they'll start killing marines before you can set up the sort of maneuver required to clean out a big cluster like that. Seems like a recipe for frustration and game loss.

Better numbers for the triangles on three-player would probably be "4" and "2" (133% and 200% of the numbers on 2-player). Your overall Marines-to-Bugs ratio would then be very similar to that of the 2-player game. Time to break out the sharpie.

P.S.: I just learned that FFG is releasing two micro-expansions for Death Angel via print-on-demand. Lightning-fast and much-needed support for an awesome game yearning to be expanded upon. I'll definitely be picking those up soon.

*: About the mistaken rule. That's my bad, I'd somehow missed it when reading, despite the rulebook being well-written and generally quite clear. What I'd missed was that each Terrain card can only be activated once per round. Since some terrain (such as the very common Doors) can eliminate genestealers with every activation, this was a huge advantage. It also made at least one of the mission objective cards ridiculously easy, as nearly every marine would try to activate the control panel in that final location. As mentioned previously, as soon as we figured out what we were doing wrong, our win ratio dropped noticeably. Still not as steep as it drops when you add a 3rd player...

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