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CidRoman

Complexity, Depth, and the Momentum Mechanic

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I love Guild Ball. I love it because it I think it fills a number badly underrepresented niches in the gaming market. I love it so much I've spent more money on it than any one game in a long, long time. But there's a lot about it that frustrates me. There are a number things that I can't help but feel are core problems with the game's infrastructure. Problems that I hope might someday be addressed, or, at the very least, I hope someone will be able to explain to me why I'm wrong, and how these things are features rather than bugs.

I want to focus in on one aspect that bothers me in particular. That being the Momentum mechanic.

My first impression of it on paper was fairly poor. It seemed to me to be an unfortunate example of a positive feedback loop. Positive feedback loops always raise a red flag to me, as they rarely produce results most people would describe as "fun". For those unfamiliar with the concept, the definitive example of a game that hinges on a positive feedback loop is Parker Brothers MONOPOLY. Whoever's making the most money can buy the most properties, and whoever owns the most properties is making the most money. Before too long you've got a run away leader, also known as the only person at the table who isn't feeling miserable.

 Because it empties out at the end of each round, the positive feedback loop isn't as bad as it could be, but it's still fairly hostile/tilting for new players. For my first few games, it was pretty aggravating to examine the board state near the end of a round and see that not only was my opponent in a superior position, but in reward for getting there he was awash with resources that would insure he'd be able to keep it.

Now that I've had more experience with the game, I think I like it even less. Mainly because I feel it's largely extraneous. Like too many other rules in Guild Ball, I feel it violates one of the most important maxims in game design, "minimum complexity for maximum depth". The more complex a thing, the more often it breaks. The more rules to learn, the higher the barrier of entry.

I feel like Counter Attacks, Defensive Stance, Healing and Clearing Conditions, could all be done well and perhaps even be better served by Influence. I think it could create a lot more tension and hard decision making, potentially leading to scenarios wherein one might desire to leave influence unspent on a player in order to protect them.

As far as I can tell, there's three things Momentum currently does that are otherwise indispensable.

1) To act as a kind of universal incentive that wouldn't be as overwhelming as VP or strait bonus Influence: Something to make certain strong playbook options comparatively sub-optimal. Acting as a reward for certain actions on specific players due to their traits. Encouraging interaction with the ball. A catch-all candy handed out to encourage a wide variety of specific behaviors.

2) To make going first in the round feel less arbitrary: Its a nice change of pace from most games in the medium to be able to make choices over the course of the round that will affect this incredibly pivotal mechanic. Being able to decide who goes first in a given round is such a big deal that if that's ALL Momentum did I think it might still be valid. Much simpler, less powerful, but still an important consideration.

3) To make goal scoring on the first activation of a round more difficult: I don't currently have any ideas that could replace this. It's an interesting problem and dynamic for footballing teams to solve. Maybe if the only other thing Momentum did was determine who goes first, there could be some kind of minimum Momentum requirement for goal kicks? Like a threshold check?

Is anyone else dissatisfied with the ways Momentum currently works? Am I missing anything in my assessment? Are there any changes you'd make to it if you could?

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Personally I don’t mind the momentum mechanic. The second round looser getting one improved things.

 I feel the greatest barrier to new entrants in the number of different character plays and traits. (100+) With new ones turning up with every new guild.

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We actually ran into the same issue starting out and still feel that it hasn't changed. The snowball effect, which you refer to as the positive feedback loop. The one ahead of the game keeps getting rewarded for it, while the one taking a beating keeps getting more beat. I agree with you that it's not a very nice mechanic in a game and this game has caused way more frustration in our gaming circle than any other (and we play Dark Age) game. Mainly for the same effect you speak of. 

I found it quite a bit curious that you suggested making def stance, counter attacks etc on influence, so you could leave some on a model to leave it "protected" the same sort of a thing is in a game called Eden and it does work quite nicely, you get charged, you have your equivalent of influence on you and you can fight back, instead of just outright taking a beating and dying and losing all that, which on top of the opponent gets the resources to do these things back to you. 

It works well in Eden. 

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I definitely agree with the sentiment, but I can't really think of many solutions or alternative. Every player in the game has been designed with heed to how they will interact with momentum and so rebalancing the game around its erasure is a mighty feat.

I'm talking mostly about homebrews and tweaking for personal games, I think the larger GB community accepts momentum as-is.

Right now the game is balanced around it, and it's probably just too risky to rip a piece of this game's foundation out from under it.

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There are issues with teaching the momentum mechanics (another set of abilities to remember using a 2nd set of "action currency"?!), and definitely has some of the "win more" problems, but as a game, I think momentum is fine where it is, since as Jaccthelnsomniac said, there's almost no way to remove that from the game without a ground up re-design now.  

It's rough for beginners and very casual games, but if SFG designed the game for a certain type of audience (those of us who still play it even with the momentum mechanic), then they probably made a choice to only try to grow it with those players.

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10 hours ago, The Old Buzzard said:

I feel the greatest barrier to new entrants in the number of different character plays and traits. (100+) With new ones turning up with every new guild.

Actually closer to 400.

The thing to realise is that most of the traits and plays follow roughly a dozen or so similar templates. Once you recognise the repetitions they aren't that scary (although there are a few outliers that don't follow any pattern due to their unique nature). Admittedly that's not much use to the newcomer who is seeing all those abilities for the first time.

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While I think the momentum system as a whole is fine, I do have issues with a couple aspects of it. 

1) The hording of momentum by the  recieving team first turn as they do nothing but pass the ball amungst each other. The kicking team can rarely do anything first turn, can't get momentum, so guess who's getting initiative next turn? I feel this problem gets fixed if and when the new formations come in though.

2) Having initiative and the ball at the start of the turn, but no momentum to shoot with it. A lot of stirkers are not able to get an easy momentus hit like Shark or Midas, and so have to wait to take the shot, leaving them vulnerable to the opposing team. 

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1 hour ago, Redtiger7 said:

While I think the momentum system as a whole is fine, I do have issues with a couple aspects of it. 

1) The hording of momentum by the  recieving team first turn as they do nothing but pass the ball amungst each other. The kicking team can rarely do anything first turn, can't get momentum, so guess who's getting initiative next turn? I feel this problem gets fixed if and when the new formations come in though.

2) Having initiative and the ball at the start of the turn, but no momentum to shoot with it. A lot of stirkers are not able to get an easy momentus hit like Shark or Midas, and so have to wait to take the shot, leaving them vulnerable to the opposing team. 

I can definitively tell you #1 is solved by Pitch Formations.  :) Thank goodness to SFG for introducing that. 

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From experience, T1A1 goals are totally doable as a receiving Midas or Shark. They're just generally inadvisable unless your opponent decides to immediately go in for a return goal (or they're not experienced enough to know to try and kill it) because you're immediately giving up possession, so I don't really think 2 is actually a problem. Both Midas and Shark need a single momentous < on column 1 and their goal threat is live.

As for passing along the ball during the first turn - the teams that benefit most from that are beaty teams that are already built to be swimming in momentum, and if all it does is means they're top of turn for when lines meet that's not really a huge bonus. That's essentially what formations does.

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I usually dislike kicking because it does exactly that - leaves me low on momentum and guaranteed losing turn 2 initiative. But I discovered the other day that kicking off toward the wing and getting more aggressive (on the model that came out to collect the ball), I can actually turn that round a bit and have something to do other than wait for the incoming assault in turn 2. 

It’s after that point that the gameplan cards and momentum generally being a consistent slow cascade mean I can start planning for who’ll start turn 3 by the midpoint of turn 2. :P

Momentum isn’t perfect, but to be honest most of the fixes generate a bunch of other problems so I’m ok with it as it is, warts and all! :)

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