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Godtear - Who is it for?

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Hi all,

I thought I would christen this new forum with a post by Former Guild Ball God and all-around good guy Alex Botts. Alex is known for his ability to write long, well-thought out theses about almost anything and recant the history of competitive SMASH in painful detail. You can find the original HERE.

As a point of discussion, I am interested to hear how the changes that have occurred in the game since this was written (in March 2018) have served to address these concerns, and which ones still remain (and whether these are a concern to be addressed, or a feature to be embraced):

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Hi all! I haven’t posted about Godtear at any length before but I’ve been thinking about/discussing the game a bit lately and, since I want it and Steamforged to do well, I thought it’d be good to collect my thoughts and post them here. I’m worried that the game’s core mechanics (regardless of balance) do not make it fit for sale, particularly in a genre that has a lot of great and popular games either already out or coming out. Apologies right off the bat for the wall of text!

 

The Ecosystem

Godtear is entering a genre and gamespace that is very popular right now, and it’s entering it late. Shadespire is already out and wildly popular (blowing away even the company’s own expectations at Adepticon for signups, such that they had a huge waitlist for the Shadespire events that were there), Aristeia! is already out and apparently very well-loved, Monsterpocalypse is returning almost certainly more quickly than Godtear will be out. The first two games in particular are working off of established IPs in addition to being released already, so Godtear better come out swinging if it’s not going to die on arrival. Right now Godtear’s working with a fluff world that, whether or not it’s unique if you take a good look at it (I don’t know if it is), only serves to churn out well-executed generic fantasy miniatures. Generic Fantasy World is where I assume these creatures live, because they are Generic Fantasy Creatures. Currently, Generic Fantasy Creatures are stuck in a Generic Endless Battle over Faceless Hexagons That Don’t Do Anything.

I appreciate that you mostly want feedback on gameplay mechanics, but I had to address this, because it makes me very worried. If I walked up to a table playing Godtear right now, even if the objective hexes had nice art on them, all I would see would be a bunch of very nice miniatures clumped up into balls in a grassy plain. At any given gaming convention there’s a bajillion games with super sweet miniatures, many of which come from more distinctive worlds and are accompanied by more engaging sales pitches. Godtear does not make the unusually good first impression it desperately needs to break into the genre to which it’s arriving late.

 

The Basic Mechanics I Do Like

I’ll start out, I guess, with the mechanics and ideas that I think are fine. The basic concept of the game, creating two teams of heroes and their minions, is not totally uncommon but seems fine. The Battle Ladder is actually a pretty cool way to measure how to “win” a turn. Different scenarios awarding different points for different turns throughout a game is also really nice, and could create different pacing between scenarios, so I like that. Having scenario packets govern the entirety of the rules for how to win and lose is good because it means a lot can change based on scenario, which will hopefully give replay value. That’s good too. The idea of dice math changing for followers based on how many are in a given hex is really interesting too and I can see it being a really exciting way to differentiate followers’ tactics. The distinction between strategy and tactics phases and cards is also a nice touch that feels complex but invites strategizing and planning. Finally, a hex board is not a problem and I think the size of the board relative to the ranges in the game and the size of your average gaming table is a good balance. The game is physically scaled well.

The rest of the main mechanics in the game I have problems with. Not too worried about balance, that’s a late-in-beta issue at the earliest. But I think the game has lots of structural problems all over the place.

 

The Dice

This is a dice game, and this game has custom dice, so I think it’s only fair to carefully and meticulously critique the dice upon which this game is built and that the design of the game thinks are warranted over your basic D6s of which everybody, gamer or not, has plenty.

A lot of people groan and roll their eyes when they hear the phrase “custom dice,” and the dice in Godtear are a good example of why. Godtear’s dice do nothing different than normal dice, but they do take away what most casual players like about dice, their volatility. Godtear dice as they currently stand average a result of 0.83. They barely deviate from that: 0.83 in one direction at a maximum, 1.17 in the other direction. They’re remarkably consistent, and since they don’t do anything but print a number, “consistent” also means “boring.”

If people who read this know me they probably know me as a competitive Guild Ball player or media person. A competitive player of any game will want less RNG and more consistency so they can plan actions around what they can expect to happen in a game. So let me be 100% clear: I understand Godtear is allegedly supposed to be for less competitive players. I think that’s great! But these dice do nothing for any type of player. For a competitive player, they are consistent but offer up no real strategic interest: they tend towards failure (that is, they will show no hits ⅓ of the time), so even a carefully-laid plan is fairly likely to fall apart at no fault of the player, but that same player can’t really take advantage of a surprising spike of success, since the spike is so close to average and the extreme lack of actions per activation limit their ability to change their plans. And for a casual player, the dice totally lock them out of those exciting moments where something goes crazy: no roll can really go crazy in this game, since the max-effectiveness state of each die is only [a bit over] one different from the average, and rolls will often completely flub, which might not matter strategically to a beer-and-pretzels player but definitely will not feel good or interesting.

To put it another way, the dice in Godtear are custom dice which replace standard dice, and in doing so

  1. Increase the likelihood of failing by no fault of your own

  2. Increase the likelihood that adding an additional die to a roll actually adds nothing (This is a huge difference; a normal die is guaranteed to add at least 1 to whatever you’re rolling, a Godtear die has a 33% chance to be an objective waste of resources regardless of context)

  3. Decrease the likelihood of wild success

  4. Make every activation more predictable, but

  5. Add no new options or avenues of play in failure, success, or spike situations

They do all of these things for… no reason that I can see, other than possibly compressing stats down to the 1-3 range. That seems bad in itself, for reasons I’ll cover later, but even if it was important for some reason I can’t imagine a world where it’s worth making your main dice so boring and serially disappointing.

At Adepticon I played two games with custom dice, Seasons and Aristeia! Both of these games effectively use the same style of custom dice: The dice have different symbols on them in different combinations based on the color of dice (Aristeia! has hits, shields, and exclamation marks, while Seasons has stars, dots, cards, and the four traditional elements). In both games you roll those dice, apply modifiers, and then allocate what you rolled as resources. Aristeia!, Godtear’s direct competitor, uses those symbols wildly differently based on what character you’re playing. A samurai might convert !’s into dodges to a new target, while a hacker might use them to debuff opponents. Without even getting into the probabilities of these special dice, it should be obvious that their custom dice systems are miles ahead of Godtear’s in terms of being engaging and providing choices and excitement.

 

The Limitations of Small Stat Systems

So, I’ll be honest, during SCUS and SCUK I did not pay much attention to Godtear. I was hyped about new Guild Ball stuff and so didn’t really internalize any of the marketing fluff we got while Godtear was being revealed and talked about. I barely remember any of it. That said, it’s my understanding (and a cursory Google search of marketing materials and press releases/articles about Godtear reinforces this) that Godtear is meant to eventually have a kind of legacy/level-up system where, over multiple games in a league or campaign, you are able to level up characters or grow your warband in some way. That all sounds cool and I’m glad Steamforged is trying that out, since that’s a type of game I’d like to try and I’m young enough that I missed the original era of Bloodbowl, Necromunda, and other, similar games.

Why, then, if these models are going to level up, is every stat a range of 1-3 or, in the case of dice pools, 1-4? If you’re going to have incremental change to statistics, you need to be able to make small adjustments. Dungeons and Dragons has their base stats move from 8 to 20 rather than 2 to 5 for a reason, even though that’s an identical ratio. It’s because you need to be able to progress over the course of 20-30 levels during a campaign, and get incremental changes each level and in various circumstances that feel like you’re advancing but don’t make for gigantic power swings.

Godtear is poorly set-up for a legacy system as it currently stands. Any single number change up or down is a gigantic change in where that model stands in the ecosystem of the game, both because of the tiny stat values and because of the awful dice. Here’s an example: Right now Lorsaynne has a Dodge stat of 3, the highest in the game. That means that, at base level, there are currently 8 damaging attacks in the whole game (including herself) that are MORE LIKELY TO HIT HER THAN NOT HIT HER, before checking armor. 4 of those 8 attacks are when a group of followers has 3 in a single hex. If Lorsaynne was, through a totally reasonable-to-picture elf advancement of some kind, able to level up and increase her Dodge stat to 4, then the number of attacks more likely than not to hit her drop to 2, and no longer includes ANY ATTACK A FOLLOWER UNIT CAN MAKE. Again, for a +1 stat increase, the smallest possible stat increase in the game, Lorsaynne reduces the number of damaging attacks likely to connect with her by 75% across the whole game as it currently stands.

Dodge is, no question, the most egregious stat to look at here, since it creates the regrettable and common total-fail-states in Godtear where an attack neither resolves its hit effect nor deals damage. Other stats in the game have comparably huge swings with a +1 or -1 change, with the exception of dice pools, which suffer from the problems outlined above in the dice section. The point here is not that Lorsaynne is broken, or would be broken in a future version of the game; the point is that the system is broken, and fails to allow for incremental advancement of any kind.

The only real reason I can figure out for why the stats are so small is that there seems to have been the decision that Godtear should be as simple as possible across the board. This leads into the other major way in which I think the system is limited: Boons/Blights.

 

The Limitations of Boons and Blights as a Catchall

Boon and Blight dice are a very efficient way to mark stat bumps/stat costs and I think that part of the system is good. It doesn’t take a ton of materials and I could see these exact same mechanics being represented with fiddly cardboard bits you lose constantly. The problem I have with Boons and Blights, beyond the fact that they are subject to the above problem of miniscule stats with huge swings, is that the design of boons/blights seems to be intended to fully replace any other persistent effects on models. Currently, in Godtear, there are no effects that 1. Are not Boons or Blights and 2. Outlast the current activation. There are no status effects like Poison or Bleeding or whatever, and there are no persistent out-of-activation buffs/effects like (in Guild Ball) Blind, Tooled Up, Blessing of the Moon Goddess, etc. There are also no once-per-turn traits that need to be marked, like Counterchar ge, Unpredictable Movement, or whatever. I get the impression—though without being inside SFG I can’t be sure—that Boons and Blights are supposed to represent the sum total of persistent effects, and the lack of other types of effects is either 1. To keep the game mechanically simple or 2. To keep the game token-lite. Or both.

If this is, in fact, the intent, it really worries me. The amount of expression the designers can get out of this system is woefully small for a game that promises to not only have many Champions, but have Champions advancing and changing over the course of a campaign. First off, you’re going to end up with a lot of same-y abilities. No matter what you call it, if an Orc quickens a target and then an Elf quickens a target, that’s the same spell. In a world where you have 6 Boons, and you want as many spells as you can get that apply exactly 2 Boons to something, you have 15 different spells. That’s not a lot of spells, and if Godtear really has 15 different spells that are just 15 different combinations of 2 Boons, that is NOT an exciting level of “variety.”

Secondly, and even more damning, there are a ton of types of effects that are either impractical or flat-out impossible to implement in Godtear if there aren’t some kind of token denoting an ability that isn’t a Boon or Blight. I’m going to list just a few ideas of VERY COMMON EFFECTS IN GAMES that are impossible to mark down in Godtear since there are no tokens other than Boons and Blights (with Guild Ball examples since most people reading this will know Guild Ball):

  1. A non-damage, non-accuracy effect on the target’s next attack or activation (Blessing of the Moon Goddess, Confidence)

  2. A new resource (like a reroll) that can be expended later at your leisure (Bag of Coffers)

  3. Another Activation or another Action that is not immediately expended (Superior Strategy, Bag of Coffers)

  4. An activation-long change to a target’s stats, or a change to a target’s stats that is not a Boon or Blight (Use This!, Blind, Heavy Burden)

  5. A once-per-turn triggered ability or response ability (Countercharge, Poised, Unpredictable Movement)

  6. An effect on a target or area that changes the way in which other models interact with that target or area (Marked Target, Ghostly Visage, Defend the Ground)

Again: These are not just effects that are not in Godtear currently. These are effects that cannot be implemented in Godtear if the intent is to not use effect tokens outside of the very simple Boons and Blights. The idea of pigeonholing your game into such a small range of expression both hurts the fluffy character of the things in the game (since it’s harder to communicate an idea mechanically) and is very likely to make Godtear boring and same-y when comparing characters. There are a great many ideas that can’t be in the game right now that are common to other wargames and RPGs. If the only reason for this is to “keep Godtear simple,” then I think that’s shooting yourself in the foot. You’ve failed to make a game simple enough for children to learn, but you’ve succeeded in making a game bland enough that most adults will be bored instantly. In the current format it will be incredibly difficult to add depth and diversity.

It’s worth noting that, in some ways, Aristeia! has a similar issue. It lacks persistent-effect tokens beyond conditions. But not only has Aristeia! bit the bullet and added more conditions as it has expanded (something that will break the formatting of having all six of Godtear’s conditions on one die), it also has many other vectors through which to add effects. A! has a Tactics deck that is a constant source of game-changing effects, some of which are based on specific characters and some of which are basic to each player’s hand. Between that mechanic, more interesting conditions (A!’s Blind reduces all ranges to 1, for example, rather than just being a stat bump), and a much better dice system with more room for expression, I expect it will be a lot longer time before any given A! character or effect looks identical to any other one. So I think this is a problem these types of games will face in their growing pains of getting away from standard wargames, but I’m worried Godtear will have prematurely stunted growth in this area particularly as a progression game.

 

The Failure to Learn From Guild Ball

This isn’t specifically a critique of Godtear alone, I suppose, but it’s something that’s totally baffling me about Godtear’s design. Guild Ball is my favorite competitive miniatures game on the market and, in my opinion, is designed incredibly well. Its design solves some issues with these type of games in general, so it’s confusing to me that Godtear falls into the issues that Guild Ball has already solved! Godtear’s current design honestly makes me feel like the designers at Steamforged are unsure why Guild Ball is good.

The biggest and best example of this is Guild Ball’s playbook. The playbook is probably the single best innovation in GB’s repertoire. It takes a standard dice pool system and gives it an exciting gradient of success. Attack in GB infrequently outright fail; dice vary wildly and can spike or disappoint, but in doing so they rarely ever make for a totally ineffective activation, and because of how playbooks work you typically have options about what you do with your die roll. In a way, the playbook imitates the great custom dice systems I mentioned above, since you get a # of successes and then “allocate” those successes to an effect or set of effects of your choice. Those effects available to you are based on your character, so the character of each model is expressed through the playbook as well. But the playbook is arguably even better than those custom dice systems, since it uses standard dice! Dice become a resource that can be allocated, every attack, to all sorts of crazy effects, from damage to movement to character plays to conditions. Plus, every single new die adds more options to your possible pool, since attaining more playbook columns and/or wrapping gives you access to new effects. This whole process of adding up dice, rolling them, then allocating your successes to the effects you want happens EVERY. SINGLE. ATTACK. It’s really a spectacular system, a new take on dice pools that opens up the field for creative and adaptive play and a ton of consequential decisions.

So… Why doesn’t the Godtear system do any of that? Instead of using materials every gamer already has in order to make a huge, deep, complex decision tree with every resource expenditure, Godtear demands you use new, exclusive game materials but then severely limits your ability to decide or adapt to the gamestate at every turn. It doesn’t just feel like the designers don’t know why the playbook is good; it kinda feels like they actively think it’s bad, when really it’s Steamforged’s best idea and they have a whole incredible game built upon it.

I don’t expect the developers to just port the playbook directly into Godtear, and I definitely think designers should be innovating and trying new things with every project. I’m just wondering why they were able to solve a host of issues elegantly with the playbook, but then were fine reintroducing those same problems to Godtear and not taking any lessons from what worked so well for Guild Ball.

 

Conclusion

In its current state, I would have trouble recommending Godtear to anybody. Pitched as a game for… somebody (the one article about who the game is for effectively said “everybody”), it arrived to Early Access players as a game with a constant-failure problem where the majority of your actions that allegedly interact with your opponent would end up doing nothing. That issue has since been partially patched away, but we currently have a system that uses less (and less diverse) dice, still has a high failure rate, has few actions and fewer decisions per activation, and is ultimately a game about applying bland statistical buffs to bland characters that then get to attack or move better, once, in a push-and-pull battle over hexagons that don’t do anything.

It’s hard for me to picture competitive players playing Godtear, since while it’s consistent in a bland way there are very few decisions at any point in the game and very few opportunities to dramatically or unexpectedly deliver a flashy coup de grace or reveal a brilliant tactical outplay. But it’s actually even harder for me to picture casual players playing this, since the dice are so routine and boring, whole cool-guy activations frequently amount to literally no effect, the characters’ abilities are totally flavorless, and a legacy system attached to the game as it currently stands would result in the first person that gets a +1 stat bump stomping people through the gigantic mathematical gulf between their guy and your guy. There are plenty of legacy/campaign games absolutely drenched in flavor and atmosphere, and with Games Workshop picking up the pace lately it feels like there will soon be many more with a nostalgia factor Steamforged simply can’t compete with. I very, very much want Godtear to succeed, if only because I am a big fan of the people at Steamforged and I don’t want Guild Ball to die anytime soon as a result of a different game.


 

 

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I've unfortunately not had as much time to play as I would have liked when throwing my lot into the early access, as such I don't know how accurate or valid my personal opinion is.. I do however agree with the comments provided about how having a low varience in dice rolls can make any game feel a little stagnant.. While having an almost sure plan for success fail on a roll of the dice can be crippling, having the options to bet it all on on a lucky spike and turn around a game gives you those "wow" moments you talk about on the ride home and potentially for months to come.

I do also agree that the "playbook" system is one of the best dice / combat systems in tabletop gaming currently and while I understand they didn't just want to port this over, I do feel it helps to control what a character is capable of while allowing for that occasional spark of heroic brilliance..

Either way, I'm throughout looking forward to getting my hands on my Kickstarter bundle and seeing how they tie the core rules into casual / competitive and campaign play..

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Oh boy.

So I guess first off, this is an ugly way to start a new section of the forums, and it makes me kinda sad I asked for it, because now I feel sort of responsible. Context: I know who Botts is, I listen to his podcast, and enjoy it. I consider myself a semi-competitive Guild Ball player in the sense that I feel I am substantially better than most locals and have a fine record against people who travel to play Guild Ball (including those who meet Botts in the top 8 of SCUS), but I travel to play other games. I used to travel to play Warmachine, and was an X-1 or X-2ish player for a couple years. I thought about responding to each point, but I've decided against.

Dice pools seem larger than when Botts played, and I'm not as against actions failing to work as he is. In fact, I quite enjoy a certain WW2 miniatures game because actions fail so often. It's exciting for the person BEING attacked, instead of the person doing the attacking. One of the most cutting criticisms of a certain Sci-Fi miniatures game is that every attack is TOO effective, and it's just picking up piles of very expensive models whenever your opponent looks at them unless there's terrain EVERYWHERE.


I think the small numbers/campaign mode criticism is potentially valid, but with literally no context on campaign mode I can't comment.

 

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